Bobby Zen

Do you want to feel old? It’s over a decade since a baby-faced Connor King burst onto the scene in Ireland and landed Champion Flat Apprentice titles in 2013 and 2015. 

King rode winners for some of the biggest names in the sport but his career on the Flat was cruelly cut short when he started to fill into his massive frame. In short, nature took its course. 

After a spell riding under National Hunt rules, King is now concentrating fully on training winners rather than riding them, and sent out his first runner at Killarney this week. 

Oscars Brother (Ire) (Malinas {Ger}), the sole horse the young man has to go to war with on the track, ran a respectable race under his own brother and promising young National Hunt pilot, Daniel, in a novice hurdle at the Kerry track. 

That horse should have days in him over fences, according to King, but more pressingly, there is a certain Make Believe (GB) colt that the Tipperary-based handler is getting excited about ahead of the Tattersalls Ireland Breeze-Up Sale.

King said, “The Make Believe is a lovely horse and I’m very happy with him. I’m very excited to be going to the sales with him actually. He seems to be going very well. I spent €12,000 on him at Part 2 of the Orby Sale at Goffs. He has a decent pedigree and is a half-brother to Impact Warrior (Ire) (Saxon Warrior {Jpn}), who was a decent filly for Paddy Twomey–she was actually third in a Grade I in America last year. The mare got black-type and is by Lope De Vega (Ire) so I am lucky to have gotten my lad for the price that I did.”

He added, “I had worked for Paddy and was obviously keeping an eye on all of his horses at the time. I was familiar with the filly so, when I saw her name on the page, it jumped out at me straight away. When I was looking at the pedigree at the sales, I thought to myself that I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford the colt. Luckily enough, I did.”

One of the stories of last year’s Tattersalls Ireland Breeze-Up Sale was the touch the Shinnick brothers secured with a filly by Make Believe. It was Johnny Shinnick who came out with the memorable line, “she looks quick going past thistles,” after selling the filly for €170,000. A similar result would do nicely for King.

“That was brilliant,” he recalled. “If we got even half as good a result as that it would be great. The lads did very well with their filly last year and the sire is going well. He has a couple of nice horses on the go, so fingers crossed. He’s probably a value sire at €10,000.”

On his career change, he added, “I’ll be 28 in August so it’s coming up on 12 years since I had my first ride. I don’t know where the time has gone, to be honest. It took me a while to realise what I wanted to do after I was finished riding on the Flat. I rode over jumps for a while but it wasn’t easy, especially when I had no claim. But I did enjoy that and got plenty of experience. It just wasn’t for me, though. That’s why I decided to go down this route. I had my first runner the other night. I took out my restricted National Hunt licence and he’s the only horse I have in training at the moment. But it did take me a while to figure out what I wanted to do.”

King was the prime example of what an unstoppable force a talented young apprentice can be. He went from sitting his Leaving Certificate to being to most in-demand young jockeys in Ireland and rode high-profile horses at some of the biggest meetings there is. 

But the harsh reality is that it was never going to last. His body was better suited to playing in the NBA than guiding thoroughbreds to victory but he was bloody good at the latter which made letting go and allowing nature to take over all the more difficult. 

“At the time, I thought it was going to last forever. People were telling me that I needed to mind my claim but one high-profile jockey told me to just make hay while the sun shined and to ride as many winners as I could while I was able to. Looking back now, that person was right because my height meant I was never going to make a long-term career at it. When I was going well, I did try to convince myself that it would last, but it didn’t take long for reality to kick in.”

King added, “I feel like I had a good run and lived my dream for a good few years when I was younger. You know, all I wanted to do when I was younger was to race-ride and I did it. I looked up to Pat Smullen, Billy Lee, Wayne Lordan and Joseph O’Brien when I was kid. What felt like five minutes later, I was sitting in the car with those lads heading to the races and sitting beside them in the weighroom. It was brilliant.”

The dream has changed insofar that he now has designs on training winners rather than riding them. Working with the youngsters and setting up a breeze-up arm to his business is another avenue that he is keen to pursue. That’s not to say that King will be diving in head first after what has proved to be a tricky few weeks for his fellow breeze-up consignors. 

He said, “I breezed one horse last year and he won twice for Ed Dunlop. It was brilliant watching him go on. He ended up being called Hint Of The Jungle (Ire) (Bungle Inthejungle {GB}). We bought him for €20,000 and sold him for 30,000gns but watching his entries and seeing him run–it was like we still owned him.”

King added, “If you were just reading the sales reports and looking at the big-money sales, you could get sucked in, but you have to be realistic. A lot of people seemed to be coming home with horses from the sales. But the fact that I am operating at such a small scale for the moment, it’s not going to affect me too much. Going forward, you’d certainly be cautious. At the moment, I’m just taking things one step at a time and we will see where we end up. 

“Hopefully we can get on well with this fella first and I can’t wait to get him up to Fairyhouse for him to show people what he can do. I think he’s very nice so hopefully he proves me right. I’d be fairly confident that, wherever he goes, he’ll be a fairly good horse.”

The post ‘I Lived Out My Dream’ – King Looking Forward To New Chapter In Training Ranks appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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