Tony O’Sullivan probably won’t have time to catch his breath in this year’s Breeders Crown until it’s over.
O’Sullivan will send out a whopping 11 starters on the 12-race, $6 million card Saturday night at Woodbine Racetrack, breaking the record of 10 set by fellow New Zealand native Brett Pelling in 2005. Pelling won the sophomore colt pace with Rocknroll Hanover and took home close to half a million in purses that year.
"That's pretty impressive to break a record like that," O'Sullivan said between morning training and getting ready for tonight's program.
"The earnings part is nice of course."
Eight of his charges (all girls) were resting comfortably at Mohawk retention, while the three "boys" were at Woodbine.
O'Sullivan has five alone in the Open Mare Pace: Maureen Rocks, On The Glass, Ticket To Rock, Blissful Smile and Laughandbehappy. His other starters include: Sing For Me George in the Two-year-old Colt Pace; Drop The Ball and Honky Tonk Woman in the Three-year-old Filly Pace; Hey Mister in the Three-year-old Filly Trot; Luckycharm Hanover in the Three-year-old Colt Trot; and Alsace Hanover in the Three-year-old Colt Pace.
"Eleven’s a lot," the 35-year-old native New Zealander said this week during a break. "It’s actually good to be busy because then you don’t have time to be nervous. We raced 12 horses last Saturday (in the eliminations) and it was go, go, go, so you really don’t have any time to stop and think. You just do it, which I think is almost better than having one or two and you sit around worrying what are you going to do with this many head. We just worked."
O’Sullivan has the help of his two assistants and grooms, but will employ some "outside" help, including his wife, Heather, a former caretaker now working as a mortgage consultant. He figures there will be 13 people in all for Team O’Sullivan.
"It’s going to be hard, but once the warmups are done, getting them to the track is no big deal," he added. "Getting five warmed up in the one race, that’s going to be the hardest things."
Not to mention working out pre-race strategy with his drivers, so that they give O’Sullivan and themselves the best chance to do well.
But O’Sullivan also admitted it’s a good problem to have.
"I’m very lucky," he said. "I personally have good horses. I’m very lucky to be sent some good horses. It’s a lot of hard work, but this is what we do it for; this is what’s it’s all about. To be lucky enough to have 11 and three or four with legit chances of winning, I’m pretty lucky."
Many of the horses he will send out come on loan from Eric Cherry’s Let It Ride Stables’ and partners’ that employ Ross Croghan as its conditioner in U.S. races. Croghan is an Australian whom O’Sullivan began working for 16 years ago when he came to U.S. to work in New Jersey. He travelled with the Croghan horses that were raced in Ontario. Croghan contacted O’Sullivan in February and told him he’d been receiving the Let It Ride horses that would be sent to Ontario for the summer stakes races and the Breeders Crown.
O’Sullivan’s only horse to win a Breeders Crown race so far is Susies Magic in the three-year-old Filly Trot in 2006 at Woodbine. O’Sullivan was sent the lass, who placed second at 13-1 odds in her elimination race and then pulled off a huge upset at 20-1 odds, leaving O’Sullivan shaking in the winners circle and for a good three days afterward. He had only begun training full-time on his own the previous season.
His strategy for taking on other horses, even if only for a race, is simple.
"You kind of just keep up what the other people are doing," O’Sullivan said. "You’re the caretaker. We’re training them and obviously I call the day-to-day shots, but overall the horses I train all year I do everything with. They’re my horses. The ones that get sent to us, it’s just a matter of trying to keep them in good form for the other connections. It’s tough. I don’t take a lot of credit for those ones. Having said that, I’m Johnny on the spot – we certainly don’t just line them up and not do anything with them. It’s different but we try to do our best with each one."
O’Sullivan has won in excess of $3 million in purses this year, more than double last year’s career-best, and his success has led to improved stock.
"I am lucky. I have wonderful owners and they play on the big leagues," he remarked. "Once you get into the big leagues and you have some success, it’s like any business – it starts to steamroll a little bit and you get recognized rather than being an also-ran. In the case of Croghan, it’s purely because I worked for him. The better you do the more you get recognized."
O’Sullivan listed Drop The Ball, who has a record of four wins in 12 starts this year and was a comfortable 3¼-length win in her elimination race, as his best chance to win. She is the 5-2 morning-line favourite to win her race.
"I said after the race we were lucky enough to race her in the Breeders’ Crown," he said. "If she’s anywhere near that, she’ll be awfully hard to beat."
He also fancies the Joseph Martinelli-owned Sing For Me George, who has won four of nine races and finished second by 2½ lengths in his elimination race.
"If he gets a trip, I think he may go close to winning," O’Sullivan said. "He's really coming into form right now and got a very tough trip last week."
Alsace Hanover, who has won seven of 14 races this year and $712,351 for owner John Fielding of Toronto, has a particular place in O’Sullivan’s heart because of his association all along with the colt. Alsace Hanover, winner of the $500,000 Delvin Miller Adios in a world-record time of 1:48 3/5 for three-year-old geldings, finished a fast-closing second by a head in his elimination. O’Sullivan said that The Panderosa colt has as good a chance as any horse on the card to win a race.
"The ones that I get sent to race in the Breeders Crown, it’s great that their connections put the trust in me, but the ones I have all year obviously mean a little bit more," he said. "It’s not to say we work any less on the others, but Alsace Hanover is an amazing horse. It’s amazing the miles he’s put up. He’s not perfectly put together in terms of his confirmation. He overco