Less than two years after going solo, Cork native Brendan Walsh is looking forward to saddling his first runner at the Breeders’ Cup meeting, which begins tonight at Santa Anita, California.
It’s a remarkable achievement for the Kentucky-based 40-year-old, who doesn’t come from a horse racing family but spent many years as part of Godolphin’s globetrotting team.
In tonight’s BC Marathon (8.45pm), six-year-old Worldly will carry the hopes and dreams of Walsh in what could be a very important three minutes in the fledgling career of his handler.
“Sometimes you get moments when you find it hard to believe,” admitted Walsh. “But the horse travelled well, did well in his preparation and everything is as good as you would want it to be. He hasn’t done much since he came out here. We’re just keeping him ticking over, and he’s fit and ready to go.
“He got a good draw, too. He drew the outside, which on the face of it people would say ‘oh, you need to save ground’ but, for him, I think we’re in good shape.
“There are three or four horses in the race that like to go on and the last thing I want is to get caught up in a speed duel or get stuck down the inside and get a lot of kickback.
“It’s key that he gets a bit of room because he will relax and then there’s every chance he’ll stay.”
Stamina for the mile-and-six race is an unknown factor for most of the runners, but Walsh, whose father, Pat, is a popular figure in greyhound circles in Cork, is confident his charge can get home.
“He is bred to stay. His dam (Urbane) was a good two-turn mare,” he added. “She finished second in the Kentucky Oaks and won a Grade 1 going long (a mile and an eight).
“It’s hard to prep a horse for this as a mile and a quarter is about as far as they go most of the time.
“Basically, it’s the same for everybody. I watched the re-run of last year’s race a bunch of times and there were horses dropping off quickly. They can go off very quickly.
“I’m thinking we might be able to slot in wherever the horse is happy, get him to relax and hope he can just take his time and keep out of trouble. If he’s still travelling at the end I think we’ll be in with a hell of a chance.”
The bookmakers rate Worldly a 6-1 chance to land the $½m prize.
“If you were a 50-1 chance, you’d be just hoping to pick up a piece of it but I think he has a really good chance to pull it off,” said Walsh, earnestly. “It it was a mile and a quarter he’d probably be a hot favourite. He has been running against some really good horses all year.
“No disrespect to these horses, but there’s no Fort Larned or Prayer For Relief among them. There may be one or two that will be really suited to the trip and will step up, but hopefully he’s one of them.”
Walsh, who spent his first few years in America as assistant to Waterford-native and Breeders’ Cup winning trainer Eddie Kenneally, is not getting carried away but he’s also acutely aware of what a victory at this meeting could do for his career.
“You’d like to think that if he was successful, I might pick up another few horses off it and you might even be back here next year, or even have a better quality of horse — perhaps something for the Kentucky Derby.
“Whatever happens, it’s a great learning experience. I’ve been around great horses and big races all over the world but to have one running for yourself is hard to describe.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re assistant for 20 years, you cannot prepare enough for something like this. You call the shots and if you mess it up it comes back on you, and if you get it right it’s good for you too.”
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