Giveaway filly puts Ulster's rising star Oliver on the map
Trainers must cut their cloth according to their means – meaning that even that astounding, seventh consecutive Irish Derby for Aidan O'Brien was not necessarily his profession's standout achievement at the Curragh last weekend.
Andrew Oliver, a young trainer putting Ulster on the Flat racing map, saddled a runner in both juvenile Group races at the meeting. On Saturday "a four grand colt" named Tiger Stripes finished third in the Railway Stakes; the next day, Sendmylovetorose won a Group Three prize for fillies. Oliver found her for just £5,000 at Doncaster last autumn.
"She obviously didn't tick all the boxes for every agent," he said yesterday. "But her conformation was fine – and she was bred to run. I always take the pedigree as the starting point and, as the old adage says, a horse doesn't know what it costs. If the ability is in there somewhere, it's my job to coax it out."
If his words evoke Mark Johnston, it is no coincidence. Oliver, who also set out by qualifying as a vet, learnt the ropes as assistant to Johnston before returning to set up a yard on the family farm in Co Tyrone. Apart from that stint in Middleham, and previous veterinary work in stables round the world, he declares: "I'm afraid any wit I have, I was born with."
Oliver now has over 50 horses being ridden out daily. "For a trainer, Ireland is perhaps as competitive as anywhere in the world, both in the quality of the horses and the horsemen," he said. "But I quite enjoy that. If you win a Curragh maiden, you have a good horse – and you've done your job well, no argument. It is a tough environment, but you can still find your niche."
It must have been hard to remain so positive, however, when Sendmylovetorose, seeking a breakthrough success for her stable in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, became trapped under the stalls.
Oliver watched aghast. "It came as a complete shock," he said. "At home she's a placid, stoical filly, with no quirks at all. We got her home and looked her over. Physically, she seemed fine, but you couldn't know what the psychological scars might be. So really things could not have worked out sweeter on Sunday – everything was straightforward, and she showed a great attitude. It was great to repair the situation."
On her only previous start, Sendmylovetorose had won a Navan maiden by five and a half lengths. One option now is the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket next week, but Oliver is wary about travelling her again so soon – and she may yet be supplemented to the Phoenix Stakes back at the Curragh.
A Group One podium place would be an extraordinary dividend from such a cheap yearling, with her breeding career in mind. "She's won her place there now, in prize-money, if the owners want to go," Oliver said.
"Yes, it is satisfying – it feels like you're making progress. All credit to my staff, we had 14 runners over the three days at the Curragh. And we had our first Group winner last year. Hopefully, we're climbing our way upwards."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Dora's Sister (4.20 Catterick) Caught the eye on her reappearance on heavy ground and excuses on both subsequent starts, when caught out by quicker ground and a longer trip respectively. Slots into this perfectly.
Ibtahaj (9.05 Kempton) Just a matter of whether he can back up last week's emphatic C&D win, as his penalty in no way measures how much he had in hand of his rating.
Where The Money's Going
Nathaniel is in big demand for the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday, now 5-1 from 9-1 with the sponsors.
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