Leo O'Reilly has had four previous Group 1 starters. Photo: Matt Markham.
Leo O’Reilly can count the amount of Group One starters he’s had in his training career on just the one hand, but the Rakaia horseman is thinking his fifth one might just give him his best result this weekend.
O’Reilly lines up tough pacer James Dean in Saturday’s $100,000 Easter Cup at Addington and despite a $35 fixed odds price with TAB Bookmakers, making him the equal rank outsider of the nine-horse field, he’s going in thinking he’s a chance.
“I think people will be surprised with how well he goes,” O’Reilly said.
“I’m expecting a big run from him.”
A noted stayer, O’Reilly was left scratching his head a little after a lacklustre trip to the West Coast early in March where James Dean was expected to be a force to be reckoned with in both the Country Cup features, but he failed to fill a placing in either event.
“Not much went right. He blew really bad after Westport and then got wiped out at the start at Reefton.
“I nearly pulled him up there, but he needed a good run under his belt.
“But then It took a while for him to get over it when we got back home.”
Although he only beat one horse home in last week’s lead up to the Easter Cup, O’Reilly came off the track positively beaming and knew he was on track for this weekend’s 3200-metre slugfest.
“1950-metre races aren’t his go; he was left flat-footed when they sprinted but his last few hundred metres was really good.
“He was coming at the finish and then took an age to pull up after the winning post and come off the track and would have barely blown a match out.”
The step up in distance this week is a major plus and O’Reilly’s hopeful he can find the markers and settle on a solid tempo, which will bring him right into the race.
“He’s not going to go out there and just win it or anything, but he will go a really good race.
“I’ve been rapt with his work this week and to be honest the only thing that has concerned me is the handicaps as we’re off the same mark as some pretty nice horses.”
O’Reilly’s four previous Group One starts as a trainer haven’t yielded the best of results.
Kiwi Victory’s fifth in the 2002 New Zealand Trotting Derby won by Sundon’s Luck is the best of them.
Others were Kajura’s ninth in Burlington Bertie’s 1995 Auckland Cup, Bushfire’s 11th in Sleepy Tripp’s New Zealand Derby of 2009 and Dreamit’s eighth behind Vulcan in the Four-Year-Old Ruby at the 2011 Harness Jewels.
“They’re hard races, that’s why they are Group Ones, but it’s always nice to have one lining up in one.”
Driving-wise, he’s been a little more productive in the Group Ones with placings on Staka’s Pride in the 1992 Dominion Handicap and also Enterprise in the 1984 New Zealand Free-For-All won by Dillon Dale.
And while it would come as a huge upset, there’s every conceivable possibility that by Saturday night, he might have added to those statistics.