Ascot braced for Yankee raiders with an accent from Co Clare

The lead singer is Irish, almost to the point of self-caricature. The stage, meanwhile, could not be more quintessentially English. But the dream – as though scrupulously conforming to a patent, the dream is American.

Incongruously enough, to those who remember it as a bastion of insularity, Royal Ascot has become the most cosmopolitan race meeting in Europe. In recent years, its management has literally gone out looking for trouble, inviting horsemen from all round the planet to come and beat the Brits in their own backyard.

First came the Australians, who swiftly exposed a deficiency of speed in the indigenous sprinters. Then, out of left field, Wesley Ward arrived last year from California with a team of second-tier juveniles. And two of them had their races won by halfway.

This time round, the Americans are returning with a rather different accent. Tomorrow, on the first day of the meeting, we have the engrossing spectacle of a colt good enough to run fifth in the Kentucky Derby, quitting the Triple Crown trail to meet two European Classic winners on home turf. And then, on Saturday, one of the most implausible romances of the modern Turf nears consummation when Carl O'Callaghan saddles Kinsale King in the Golden Jubilee Stakes.

Twenty years ago, O'Callaghan arrived in Brooklyn from rural Co Clare as a waif, a naïf, clinging dreamily to the ancestral redemptions of those starving compatriots who crossed the ocean in the 19th century. Sure enough, he ended up sleeping in a cardboard box, under a bridge, with nothing to comfort him but two hungry dogs and a guitar. He was 16.

Somehow he was sustained, in body, by the fellowship of the streets – and, in spirit, by an imperishable ambition. Other homeless folk took him under their wing, showed him how to forage in restaurant trash. He washed cars, saved up for phonecards, rang home and dissembled. Everything was grand.

After a couple of weeks on the streets, he woke up one morning and walked into Belmont Park. He found John Kimmel's barn, asked for work, and stayed for seven years. Then he heard that a man named Todd Pletcher was getting started, so he went and joined him, again for seven years. Eventually, he decided to try his luck in California, got himself a licence and assembled four or five horses. One of them, Kinsale King, won a Grade Three race at Hollywood Park last December. O'Callaghan had been waiting too long not to recognise his cue. He put Kinsale King on a plane to Dubai, watched him win a $2m (£1.4m) sprint and danced around the parade ring like a man who had found the end of the rainbow.

When he takes Kinsale King back to California, he will have near to 50 horses in his barn. Should he win on Saturday, however, he will first take him back to Newmarket-on-Fergus, and show them all what happened to that tall, freckled adolescent who bought a one-way ticket to New York.

"I'd love to put a pen up in the middle of the town and have a big party," he says. "We've got busloads coming to Ascot. My parents never knew what really happened, when I left, but I suppose they'll find out now. Everyone has a dream and hopefully I can send some kind of message. If there's someone watching me, or learning from what I'm doing, then I'm happy."

Not every adventurer, clearly, could summon the same reserves of charisma and dynamism in a crisis. Since lodging his champion in Newmarket, O'Callaghan has been charming the locals with his music – he has released four albums in the United States, to raise funds for a cancer charity – and homespun ways. He feeds Kinsale King on eggs and Guinness. "He has two pints in the morning, and two in the evening," O'Callaghan explains. "It's an old myth but there's yeast in it, I think it puts a shine on his coat. It's just like putting molasses in his feed."

Whatever his secret, he's doing something right. Kinsale King has delicate feet, and it can take five hours to get them shod. O'Callaghan was also sufficiently professional to fly Kieren Fallon – another son of Co Clare – out to New York last week to gallop his mount.

"Kieren has been an idol all my life, though I've only known him two or three years," O'Callaghan says. "We all know the road he's been down, but he's paid his dues and he's working hard. And this horse has a lot of heart, a lot of character. He's got to take to the turf, got to take to the straight line, but one thing's for sure – he's gonna run. He loves to run. You just take care of him, point him in the right direction, and he'll run for you."

As it happens, Fallon has also picked up the mount on Noble's Promise, whose trainer, Kenny McPeek, is a far more familiar face on the elite American circuit. This, after all, was the man who found Curlin, a record-breaking champion, for just $57,000. He also has a unique training facility, rotating horses from the monotony of trackwork to a converted stud farm in Kentucky where they can gallop – as Noble's Promise must tomorrow – over turf and right-handed.

He was emboldened in such innovations by a pioneering visit to Ascot in 2004, to saddle Hard Buck as runner-up in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Which other American trainer would even contemplate taking a three-year-old from leading into the turn in the Kentucky Derby to the St James's Palace Stakes? "He needs to be shortened back to a mile, and back home we don't have the right races available," McPeek says. "The truth is that in American racing we need more choices. We train horses left-handed between 6am and 10am – and if you don't like it, you can go somewhere else.

"Wesley consulted with me repeatedly before coming here last year, and I told him it's not that big a deal. It just takes a combination of a horse that's good enough, and an owner that's brave enough. And I've shocked the world before. I've had a 70-1 Belmont winner."

And Noble's Promise, like Kinsale King, certainly fortifies the sense that America's horseracing is one of the few 21st century environments still enriching the country's national mythology. He was found as a foal for just $10,000 and is owned by a blue-collar syndicate of two dozen – postmen and the like – paying $416.67 apiece.

The same themes, then, are elaborated on two legs and four. O'Callaghan says: "I just needed someone to take a chance on me." But that's also the way he likes to treat horses – to talk with them, to communicate, give them a break. "It's no different from human beings," he reasons. "If you give and give, you receive. We never have a bad day at my barn. I want everyone smiling. If I can't make people smile, they move on. I'm always confident, it's how I live my life. I never regret anything I've done, any choice I've made – I did it, and survived."

And, McPeek agrees, that's just the way it should be. "Horse trainers are positive people," he says. "We have to be, because we lose more than we win. But I wouldn't put this horse on the plane if I didn't think he could do it."

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's nap

Victorian Bounty (7.40 Windsor)

Has been in the doldrums but well treated on his best form and looked to have turned over a new leaf on his reappearance here, showing all his old dash before tiring into third.



Next best

Amazing King (8.25 Warwick)

Showed a lot more last time, tiring only inside the final furlong, without preventing another handy drop down the weights. Style of running suggests this shorter trip could suit him even better.



One to watch

Cult Classic (R Hannon) made a promising start to his career at Newbury last week, isolated from a steady pace before making up good ground into fourth.



Where the money's going

The Hong Kong raider Happy Zero is 7-1 from 10-1 with Ladbrokes for the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: CORPORATE SALES - MARKETING SOFTWARE - £90,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £90k OTE uncapped, Mob: h2 Recruit Ltd: CORPORATE ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager -Healthcare Software-£70,000 OTE

£40000 - £60000 per annum + £60,000 OTE+Car+Mobile: h2 Recruit Ltd: Business D...

Cancer Research UK: Volunteer Area Manager Mentor/Coach

Voluntary : Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for volunteers who will use thei...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game