09/07/2012 2:55PM

Fort Erie: O'Connor has a solid foundation on which to build

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – David O’Connor worked with Thoroughbreds growing up in Ireland and ever since he arrived in Canada some 40 years ago.

“My teenage years in Ireland were spent at Glencairn Stables, owned by the famous Irish horseman Seamus McGrath,” O’Connor said. “They teach it all at Glencairn and at 14 years of age I was doing it all, from hot-walking to grooming to galloping.”

O’Connor, 56, said that as an apprentice, he was assigned to the low level of the stable environment.

“The stable is split between two distinct levels, low and high, thus the experienced grooms all worked at the high level, where classy Thoroughbreds abound,” O’Connor said. “In my learning stage, I was focused on one thing only, graduating to that high level.”

Arriving in Canada in the mid-1970s, O’Connor first settled at Fort Erie.

“My apprenticeship in Ireland put me in good stead right from the start, and I was lucky enough to connect with quality trainers such as Roger Attfield,” O’Connor said. “Winters found me in Florida, where I galloped horses for the likes of Gateway Farms and then began to freelance for a number of different conditioners.”

O’Connor continued: “When the “A-B” meet of Woodbine and the Fort began, I was happy to spend my afternoons as the outrider at the Fort in the afternoons.

“My freelancing also continued, and in 1983, with the help of Alex Bankuti and Emile Allain, I gained my trainer’s license and began conditioning six runners, three provided by Bankuti and three from Allain.”

In the following years, O’Connor advanced his career by working alongside the likes of Norman Casse – the father of trainer Mark Casse – and other top trainers.

“I eventually hooked up with owner Bruno Schickedanz and raced in Canada and at tracks in Philadelphia and New York,” O’Connor said. “Then, in 1997, a year when I won 28 races, a serious accident on the track left me with severe injuries.”

Forced to change roles, O’Connor became a successful jockey agent, working with the likes of Jack Lauzon at Woodbine and then at Fort Erie with a number of riders, including the recently retired top female jockey Francine Villeneuve.

“There were plenty of high moments as an agent,” O’Connor said.

“Lauzon, a Queen’s Plate-winning rider, enjoyed many great years, and Villeneuve was always a class act and a winner. In 2005, the Paul Nielsen-trained Le Cinquieme Essai, with my rider, Brian Bochinski aboard, won the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes.”

This year the “training itch” returned.

“I am working at both levels, high and low, and doing it all,” O’Connor said. “My days are full as a one-man, three-horse operation.”

O’Connor started the 2012 season late and currently has a 12 percent win record with 2 wins from 16 starts.

“This winter, I hope to find an assistant trainer role in Florida,” O’Connor said. “For now, next season is still an open book.”