07/29/2011 2:22PM

Irish eyes will all be on Kinsale King in Bing Crosby


Some horses get caught up in their own stories. Kinsale King is one of them.

From the moment he came bounding down the stretch at Santa Anita in October 2009 to win at odds of 61-1, Kinsale King has been a horse of high drama. The fact that it happened on Halloween Eve only added fizz to the drink. Was it a trick? Who cares? It was definitely a treat for Dr. Patrick Francis Sheehy, his veteran owner, and fledgling trainer Carl O’Callaghan.

Before anyone could catch a breath, Kinsale King added victories in the Vernon Underwood at Hollywood Park and the Palos Verdes at the 2010 Santa Anita winter meet. Then came the climactic moment in the desert of Dubai, when the World Cup Festival made its debut at Meydan, Sheikh Mohammed’s modern racing Xanadu, and Kinsale King stole a sizeable piece of the show by winning the $2 million Golden Shaheen.

Sheehy, trembling with joy, could hardly speak. O’Callaghan, as if living a dream, could not stop shouting for joy. Suddenly their stories began to emerge, of Sheehy, who went by Frank, a Newport Beach oncologist and published author whose love for Thoroughbreds went back to his Irish roots, and of O’Callaghan, formerly an exercise rider to the stars, second generation musician and balladeer, on his own as a trainer on a wing and a prayer.

“My father is a successful musician, very popular,” O’Callaghan said. “When I asked him to teach me the guitar he said, ‘No, I won’t. Any fool can play the guitar. Learn something worthwhile. Learn how to ride a horse.’ ”

Sheehy hails from County Cork, in the southwest part of the country, where Kinsale is a significant town. O’Callaghan fled to New York at the age of 14 from his home in County Clare, just to the north. Sheehy searched for a polite way to describe the difference.

“They wouldn’t be as smart as the people from County Cork,” Sheehy said, adding a genial laugh.

“As for Carl, I don’t think he knows how to end a sentence,” Sheehy noted. “They must not have taught about periods where he went to school.”

No question, O’Callaghan is a inexhaustible teller of tales, both onstage when he performs with guitar and electronic kit as well as off – if he ever really is offstage. One of his favorites, in a repertoire the length of the stretch, is of his first encounter with Sheehy at a horse sale in the Barretts pavilion.

“I was at the bar with each arm around a girl when I noticed Frank and offered to buy him a drink,” O’Callaghan said. “Of course I didn’t have the money, but I thought the gesture fitting. We got to talking and I said I’d love to train a horse for him. He said he’d send me one, though he didn’t, at least not right away. But he did buy the drinks.”

Now, all of O’Callaghan’s 14 horses at Del Mar are owned by Sheehy, with a group of 2-year-olds ready to join them when the show returns to Los Angeles. Make no mistake, though. To borrow Buddy Delp’s description of his stable with Spectacular Bid, Sheehy and O’Callaghan have the one horse. The rest follow.

“He’s truly royalty, isn’t he?” Sheehy beamed.

Absolutely, at least as royal as you can get living in a small, worn barn at the desolate west end of the Del Mar stable area, hard by a guinea stand, an in-gap, and a red beacon that snaps to attention whenever there’s a loose horse. The King’s cool corner stall is at least sheltered from excessive distraction as well as the sharp afternoon sun.

No matter where he resides, Kinsale King gets his raw eggs and four pints of Guinness, his two baths a day, and his hours outside, fooling around under O’Callaghan. For all the talk of layoffs and dicey feet and quirky training, Kinsale King is unquestionably one of the nation’s best sprinters – at least over synthetic surfaces – and O’Callaghan’s handling of him has been inspiring, if unconventional.

On Sunday at Del Mar, Kinsale King goes back to work in the $250,000 Bing Crosby, a six-furlong event honoring the founder of the track. But this was still Thursday, and as the last of the races thundered past the nearby chain-link backstretch fence, Kinsale King dozed on his feet, calmed by the touch of equine massage therapist Gail Matthews and content in the knowledge that his feed tub was full and handy. He had schooled that afternoon – a good idea since he had not raced since February – which meant there wasn’t much left to do but get the ball rolling again.

For all his storybook trappings, it is an unavoidable fact that Kinsale King defeated Rocket Man in that 2010 Golden Shaheen, and Rocket Man came back to win the race in 2011 while the King languished in his Meydan barn, a late scratch because of a leg problem. Neither should it be ignored that in finishing third, beaten less than two lengths in a flamboyant trip to the 2010 Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot, Kinsale King fell a head shy of second-place Society Rock, the same Society Rock who returned to win the Golden Jubilee in 2011. This is called franking the form, in spades.

Now, though, the fairytale part of Kinsale King’s career should take a breather. Commencing with the Crosby, he needs to buckle down, stick around, and do the hard work of a racehorse with an established, though receding, reputation. His effort on Sunday could lead to another run in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, where he finished seventh last fall coming off four months without a race. This year, that will not be the case.

“We would have loved an easier spot,“ Sheehy said. “But he’s a Grade one horse and he belongs with Grade one competition. At least he runs well fresh. And while he may be a work or two short, he needs to run. He’s such a courageous little horse I think he’ll let the other guys know he’s there.”

And for those who insist on believing in the power of lyrical coincidence, especially when it comes to Kinsale King, take comfort in the fact that Bing Crosby sold more than a few million copies of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and it didn’t hurt that his mother’s family hailed from County Cork.