When Takeover Bid passed the post in first place in Sunday’s Newmarket Handicap in Cork, Irish racegoers could be forgiven for consulting their cards and asking just who is trainer Niall O’Callaghan. Many might have correctly deduced that it was the 46 year old Cork man’s first winner as a trainer here in Ireland, but they would be mistaken in assuming that success was anything new for the Kilmichael native.
O’Callaghan, who has been training for the past 18 months at his original home, 12 miles outside Macroom, was returning to a place he is all too familiar with: the winners enclosure. A 29 year career in America saw him recognised as one of the country’s top trainers, with over 80 Graded winners, and prize money in excess of $27 million.
His best horse, Guided Tour, won the prestigious Stephen Foster Handicap, worth over $800k in 2001, in the process beating that seasons Dubai World Cup winner, Captain Steve. A further victory in the San Antonio Handicap added his name to a list of equine stars that includes the great Seabiscuit, and running in the Breeders Cup Classic that same year, Guided Tour finished a close up 5th behind dual winner Tiznow. Not bad for a yearling that cost $100k and was returned to his owner after just one run by his previous trainer. It was only after being gelded and sent to O’Callaghan that his full potential was realised – in all, he won just under $2 million in prize money.
When one marvels at the legacy of the Cork natives US career, it is perhaps not surprising to learn, that like so many before him, he started his racing life here in Ireland with Jim Bolger. O’Callaghan spent a year with the County Carlow trainer before moving on to become a stable apprentice to Paddy “Darkie” Prendergast, for a further two years. Although in the latter stages of his career, Prendergast had many stars in his stables at the time, including the likes of Nicoli, Artic Royale, Snow and Ardross. O’Callaghan rode Ardross out every day and was the regular work-rider when the horse finished second in the 1980 Ascot Gold Cup to Le Moss. He was also responsible for breaking in the filly Artic Royale, who became another stable star when winning the 1981 Irish 1000 Guineas.
Returning to his roots in County Cork in 2008, he has re-established himself here, steadily building his present string up to number twenty inmates. At present many of the horses, including Takeover Bid, are owned by the locally based Kilmichael Syndicate, which comprises the trainer’s brother John, his cousin, director and screenwriter Maurice O’Callaghan and local businessman, Chris Dineen. Accustomed to overseeing a much bigger operation, O’Callaghan is not daunted by the prospect of future expansion and has been active at the sales over the past number of months seeking out horses with form in the book and that represent real value in these recessionary times.
With a proven track record and the desire to make a real success of training in his native country, we can be assured that Niall O’Callaghan will be making many more visits to that winners enclosure.