The contrast is both touching and hilarious. On Wednesday night a 34 year old former Manhattan street vagrant picked up his guitar and set the room rocking as he sang Blue Suede Shoes at Newmarket. On Thursday morning a 73 year old Saudi Prince sat in the salon of his house in Paris and talked quietly of the families he has created. But next week the pair will stand in competition against each other. That’s the link of Royal Ascot.
In Saturday’s Golden Jubilee Stakes Irish-born Carl O’Callaghan will saddle star sprinter Kinsale King to try and become the first American horse to take the race already won by runners from Australia and Hong Kong. He will cut a lanky, unconventional figure in contrast to the slighter, much more reserved, not to say infinitely more immaculate figure of Prince Khalid Abdulla who will be in the same paddock as owner breeder of race favourite Showcasing. It will be one of the best tests yet of the adage “all men are equally over and under the turf.”
The last the wider world saw of O’Callaghan was his half crazed victory celebrations as the one time $24,000 Kinsale King came home in the £1.2 million Golden Shaheen on that sweltering Dubai World Cup night at the end of March. But any idea that his enthusiasm would not be in tune with racing’s more traditional heartlands were dispelled on Wednesday night when he not only got such icons as Henry Cecil and Michael Stoute bopping in the ultra conventional Jockey Club Rooms but revealed that he trains his star on Guinness and eggs – and that was the diet of Arkle, the greatest equine hero of them all.
Carl was just 16 when he quit the farm job for which he had left Ireland and roamed the streets of New York with his two dogs singing songs and washing cars. He was a would-be DJ and Belmont exercise rider when he first met Kinsale King’s Saturday pilot Kieren Fallon. He was a first year trainer with just 4 horses when he punched the air in Dubai. “I now have 48,” he says, “this could be difficult but the horse is in great form, I have always been a dreamer and I will try anything once.”
The most recent image of Khalid Abdulla was of him standing, a touch shy and severe, on the Epsom podium to receive the trophy after Workforce had become the third and surely finest of the Derby winners produced by his international Juddmonte breeding operation. On Thursday morning he was not exactly strumming a guitar but he was telling of his own racing dream. Of how he was taken to Longchamp in 1956 and promised himself horses to run in his colours if he could make a success of his life. Of how 34 years on from buying just 4 horses at the yearling sales he now has some 250 spread across Europe and an America in what has become the most successful individual transatlantic owner breeding operation the world has ever seen.
Showcasing is just one of more than a dozen runners set to carry the famous green and pink silks of Abdulla this week. Everyone of them will have been bred in the purple, reared and developed in the highest of equine scholarship streams. The pick of them have to be the brilliant but exasperating Zacinto who pitches in against the remarkable French mare Goldikova and the smooth travelling Paco Boy in the Queen Anne on Tuesday, the talented pair Byword and Take Over who dispute favouritism in The Prince of Wales on Wednesday and the big 4 year old Manifest who heads the list in the Gold Cup on Thursday.
Manifest, who is trained by Wednesday reveller and long time Ascot king Henry Cecil, is by the Arc winner Rainbow Quest out of the dam of Oaks winner Reams of Verse. He is the ultimate blue blood and his long striding, slow-grind style of running looks sure to suit the Gold Cup’s two and a half miles, more than three times the blazing straight 6 furlongs of the Golden Jubilee. “But nothing is ever certain in racing,” said Prince Khalid as he sipped his coffee on Thursday, “and this Gold Cup is a race I have never won.”
If Manifest does take the Gold Cup or Showcasing the Jubilee, don’t expect any Abdulla bopping in the unsaddling enclosure. But don’t also bet that a tall lanky figure with guitar callouses on his fingers might not be across to share the glow.
Much else will happen at Royal Ascot and the first day could have a perfect lift off if Frankie Dettori can bring the Australian colt Nicconi from last to first in the hotly disputed Kings Stand Stakes and thrill the crowd with the flying dismount which still remains his patent.