After a layoff of more than a year Kinsale King is back in training in preparation for an attempt to wrest back his crown in the Dubai Golden Shaheen in March.
The seven-year-old thoroughbred provided an unexpected win in the inaugural US$2 million (Dh7.3m) sprint at Meydan Racecourse in 2010 for Carl O'Callaghan, the formerly homeless US-based Irish trainer, and Garrett Gomez, the American jockey.
With Krypton Factor, this year's Dubai Golden Shaheen victor, already based in Dubai for a defence of his title and Rocket Man, the 2011 winner, pencilled in for a fourth appearance in the Group 1 sprint, the six-furlong contest promises to be one of the most interesting clashes in the international calendar.
"I gave him a year off because after travelling to Dubai I think I burnt out the candle in him," O'Callaghan said. "After all the travelling around the world at his age it just wasn't for him. We have learnt our mistake, he's back in training and I'm excited about trying to get him back to Dubai."
O'Callaghan is aiming to have Kinsale King race fit by February, when a $50,000 sprint is staged on Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields in California. It will be Kinsale King's only prep race before he ships to Dubai, although the Mahab Al Shimaal on Super Saturday in early March, won this year by Krypton Factor, provides an opportunity to get an extra race in.
After beating Rocket Man by half a length in Dubai, Kinsale King shipped to England, where he was third in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot behind Starspangledbanner and Society Rock. From there he raced in the July Cup at Newmarket a month later before returning to America where he ran at the Breeders' Cup meeting.
O'Callaghan, well known for his Irish "River Dance" celebration of joy around Meydan Racecourse, had promised to perform some "breakdancing" should Kinsale King have followed up his win in 2011. The gelding was dramatically scratched from the race, however, due to an allergic reaction only hours before the clash with Rocket Man.
Kinsale King, owned by Patrick Sheehy, a 72-year-old Irish doctor, last ran in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in August last year. The horse has had problems with his feet; even though his hoofs have had a chance to grow back over the past 12 months Kinsale King has already suffered a setback. He came back into training during the late summer and as he began to show flashes of his old brilliance his hoof cracked. It has required a spell at Hidden Springs Ranch in Arizona, where at altitude of more than 1,200 metres seems the perfect place for a recuperating athlete to get back in to fighting trim.
"We've been swimming the heck out of him," O'Callaghan said. "He has just been swimming and galloping, swimming and galloping in an effort to get him back in time for one last fling."
O'Callaghan trains in California, where he runs an operation of around 25 horses. Among those is a horse he has always felt was better than Kinsale King, but unlike his stable standard-bearer has not had a clean run due to various injuries. The five-year-old Leaving New York is being trained with a trip to Royal Ascot in mind and the upbeat Irishman hopes the son of Tribal Rule can go two better than his stablemate achieved in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in June.
O'Callaghan already has fitted Leaving New York with the same all-in-one compression suit that was showcased by Black Caviar in Australia and England this year and he believes it is a key component for keeping his horse sound.
"I think I am the only one in California with one and I will get one for Kinsale King when he gets here" O'Callaghan said.
"I know this horse runs well fresh and I'd like to go straight to Ascot, although there is a prep at Santa Anita in February and one in Florida, which would allow us to test if he is a good traveller. He's pretty crazy."
Crazy but talented. Much then, like his colourful trainer.