Sometimes a great story just falls into your lap. Recently, on the FB page for “Zenny’s Tribe” (a group formed by those of us who met on Zenyatta’s web site a few years ago, when Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs was “the voice of Zenyatta”), Stephanie left the story that appears below.
We were so moved by its sincerity and message that THE VAULT asked for Stephanie’s permission to tell her story here. And Stephanie very kindly obliged and is the co-editor of what follows.
THE VAULT also wishes to thank KAREN GOGUE and CASEY PHILLIPS for their generosity in providing video and photography.
There is so much wrong in just about any industry these days. It’s no secret the Thoroughbred industry has its fair share of wrongs. Social media has allowed many of us access into a world we could only watch on TV or at the track, from the stands. With that, we have seen the down side of what happens to horses when things don’t go right. At times, catastrophic accidents that we all wish did not happen and make us cringe, at other times there are major injustices to the animals that bring us to tears and overwhelming anger.
On the positive side, many trainers have been much more approachable over the past few years, allowing us, the fans, to be engaged and to visit their barns. To all of them a HUGE thank you. I believe that most truly care about their charges and want what’s best for them.
But it is one of these visits that I want to tell you about today: Carl O’Callaghan opened up his barn to fans of his beloved Kinsale King to celebrate the big beautiful bay champion’s 8th birthday. In meeting and loving on Kinsale King and visiting the other horses in the barn, I met Hedger — a lovely 4 year-old colt, whom I knew nothing about. Upon returning home that day after a great day of racing and meeting great people back at the O’Callaghan barn, I looked up Hedger.
Hedger had only run 6 times and had hit the board twice, but was still a maiden. I added him to my virtual stable and within a few weeks, noticed he was entered at Golden Gate in a $5000.00 claiming race. I sent Carl O’Callaghan a message and asked if Hedger enjoyed his job or if he would be better suited to another career. After a couple of back and forth conversations, I said that I would like to buy him. Carl said that Hedger was a very nice horse and if he was not claimed, I could have him. Well, Hedger was claimed.
Karen Gogue (another member of Zenny’s Tribe) took this video of Hedger, Carl O’Callaghan and members of O’Callaghan’s stable, getting ready to head into a race (May 13, 2013):
Carl promised me he would keep an eye on him, and I told him that I would do the same. The wait was not that long, but felt like forever. Finally, Hedger was entered in another race. I called Carl, and we got the money in place and hoped to get him that July 13th. As fate would have it, Hedger clipped heels and went down, and so no claim. Thankfully, he was fine. But another wait.
Next time was August 3rd and Carl was good to his word. Five minutes after the race, I got a text from him: “Call me”. Hedger was mine!! AND HE BROKE HIS MAIDEN. That was 3 days ago and Carl has brought Hedger home to Hollywood Park! As if that was not enough to do for someone you hardly know, Carl has arranged his vet care and now he will go and spend 30 days relaxing at a great place, before coming home to me. And just yesterday, Carl told me he might keep Hedger with him a little longer before sending him “to camp.” He plans to start him under saddle as a “non-racing horse” for me and is even going to help get Hedger down to me when the time comes. He really has been unbelievably great.
I can not thank Carl enough for all of the help he has given to get Hedger off the track and to start him in a new career, even if that career is just to be my pleasure horse. In time, Hedger will let us know what he is supposed to do.
Thank you Carl O’Callaghan for taking care of this guy and making me a very happy new owner. Oh…and if the rest of your don’t know, Carl donates his time to the wonderful organization, “Wish Upon A Teen.” His new book, “Wish’s Derby,” starring Kinsale King , has just been published and all proceeds go to benefit “Wish Upon A Teen.”. Buy the book. It’s a beautiful story. I believe you can order on line at http://www.wishuponateen.org. Or, if you are in San Diego, Carl will be at Macy’s in UTC for his second book signing on August 22nd. Carl is an all around AMAZING guy!
…. I now own Hedger, thanks to Carl. I just want people to know that good things happen too.
CARL O’CALLAGHAN: “…An all around GREAT guy”
Those who know trainer Carl O’Callaghan won’t be surprised to learn that he is the “leading man” in Stephanie’s story. Carl is one of those people who inspires others — be they 2- or 4-legged — to be the very best they can be. And, like most who possess this exceedingly rare gift, Carl doesn’t really think about it. It’s just who he is.
Kinsale King sure recognized what made Carl special, developing from a shy, intimidated horse with some pretty serious foot issues, to the champion whose victory at Meydan in 2010 in the Dubai Golden Shaheen brought racing fans the world over to their feet. Below is Kinsale King’s win at Meydan, followed by his run at Ascot in the 2010 Golden Jubilee a short time later. Both attest to what horses do when someone believes in them — and teaches them how to realize their potential. But the heart and the courage — that’s another story altogether. These are qualities of greatness.
From his first look at Kinsale King to the Champ’s retirement in July 2013 (to become Carl’s stable pony), man and horse were touched by magic. Perhaps Carl’s appreciation for the courage and heart of his champion came from a part of his life where he came face-to-face with the challenges of realizing a dream. Or maybe it’s another dimension of O’Callaghan’s giftedness as a trainer, the kind of person that just knows horses and understands what they’re all about — from the inside out. Either way, Carl and Kinsale King are best mates — and this quirky gelding, with his bad feet and huge heart, would walk through fire for the man he loves.
Carl worked his way from his native Ireland through various odd jobs, to exercise rider and training assistant, to where he finds himself today. Where he finds himself is a good place, by his own standards: in his own stable. O’Callaghan’s training style is very much hands-on and, like any great teacher, he takes his horses from where they are to as far as they can go. But he relies on the horse to tell him and has the patience to work with horses in a horse-centred way. He’s always thrilled to be interviewed or to enter the winner’s circle, while appreciating every one of his charges’ efforts on the track — win or lose. His barn is a place that warmly welcomes anyone who shares a love of thoroughbreds and perhaps especially the racing fan.
O’Callaghan is a man who is constantly seeking ways to give back some of the joy his career — and his journey with Kinsale King — have brought him. Horseshoes and bridles have been donated to charities, and The King has also created a MONEIGH. Another initiative has found expression in a children’s book for the charity for which Carl serves as ambassador, WISH UPON A TEEN. A collaborative effort involving photographers like Barbara Livingston and illustrator Drew Zimmerman, a 17 year-old who is part of WISH UPON A TEEN, “Wish’s Derby” tells the story of a colt who learns to overcome a number of challenges to win a race, supported by the coaching of a very wise goat (Ruben, O’Callaghan’s stable goat).