06/19/2013 3:54PM

Jay Hovdey: O'Callaghan returns with a golden oldie in Kinsale King

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Kinsale King, with trainer Carl O'Callaghan, won the Golden Shaheen in Dubai back in 2010. He returns off a 21-month layoff on Friday.

The return of Kinsale King has had Carl O’Callaghan’s smart phone ringing off the hook. This should not be a surprise. O’Callaghan is a push-button interview. Reporters have been known to leave the room with a tape recorder running and let Carl take it from there. Ask him nice, and he’ll even sing a tune.

Then there’s the horse. Kinsale King himself is good copy, from his imperious blaze to his dicey feet to his singular spring of 2010, when he won the Dubai Golden Shaheen over international star Rocket Man and then reappeared at Royal Ascot to finish a close third in the Golden Jubilee.

Toss into the mix Kinsale King’s owner, Dr. Patrick Francis Sheehy, better known as Frank, and you have the advantage of a highly regarded California-based physician whose reputation in the fields oncology and hematology is backed by his peer-reviewed medical writings.

Racing fans love a comeback, a turnaround, a resurrection of any kind. The reversal of form by Palace Malice from his foolhardy Kentucky Derby run-off to his thoroughly professional Belmont was more than satisfying, as was the impressive recent return of 2012 Haskell Invitational winner Paynter, from the brink of death by founder last summer.

At this point, though, Kinsale King’s story has an ancient history kind of feel. He hasn’t won a race since February 2011 at Golden Gate, and nothing of consequence since the Golden Shaheen. Horse racing is an unforgiving, what-have-you-done-lately kind of game, which means Kinsale King’s appearance Friday at Hollywood Park in a five-furlong grass sprint must be greeted with a raised eyebrow and more than a grain of skeptical salt.

It could be argued that O’Callaghan has not been able to find a suitable race for the old boy with “Golden” in its name. In fact, Kinsale King has been kept under wraps for the better part of a year and a half while growing fresh hooves. Lately, he’s been submitting to the ministrations of uber-farrier Wes Champagne, which is always a good news/bad news deal, as in, “The good news is that Wes Champagne is taking care of his feet. The bad news is that he needs Wes Champagne.”

Poor feet do not put Kinsale King in special company. Northern Dancer was almost as famous for his Bane patch as his 1964 Derby and Preakness wins. Bates Motel won the 1983 Santa Anita Handicap with a hoof wall repaired with plastic wood. And young blacksmiths everywhere still study the acrylic and wire aparatus Ian McKinlay used to help get Touch Gold from his foot injury in the 1996 Preakness to victory in the Belmont.

Kinsale King spent a good portion of his rehabilitation at Hidden Springs Ranch in Arizona, at about 4,500 feet of elevation, so he shouldn’t be short of wind. Whether or not he still wants to be a racehorse, at the age of 8, remains to be seen.

“As far as his works are concerned, he hasn’t lost a step,” O’Callaghan said this week. “As he was coming back, I spaced them out and took the blinkers off, then put the blinkers back on him when we wanted a little more speed. Acting like that, you never quite know if they’ve got the old desire to race until they go out there and try, but I think he’ll give a very good account of himself.”

While Kinsale King could care less about anything other than his four pints of Guinness a day, O’Callaghan made the mistake of becoming an overnight sensation as a result of the win in Dubai. His emotional post-race celebration set a new standard for Irish exuberance and went viral in the digital world. As a result, O’Callaghan became known for his personal legend, which included a musical Irish family, living rough in New York, and valuable apprenticeships with John Kimmel and Todd Pletcher.

Bear in mind, O’Callaghan’s only been training under his own banner four years. Once the fairy tale of Kinsale King lost steam and reality set in, the trainer looked around and recognized that he did not yet have the kind of racing stock he needed to be consistently competitive in Southern California. Fortunately, it’s a big country.

O’Callaghan discovered Turf Paradise, near Phoenix, and during the 2012-13 meet won six races there with a small string. This is a far cry from leader Miguel Silva’s 83 wins, but it’s not bad from 24 starts.

“I’ve sent the Turf Paradise horses to Canterbury Downs now,” O’Callaghan said. “What a great place. Welcomed me with open arms. It’s a bit of traveling sure, but I love it. I feel like a junior Jerry Hollendorfer.”

Although filling spare time does not seem to be an issue, O’Callaghan has involved himself recently with the Michigan-based Wish Upon a Teen, an organization that serves the social and emotional needs of chronically hospitalized teenagers dealing primarily with autism and forms of cancer. O’Callaghan has become active in the Los Angeles chapter.

“I was never around a person with autism until recently,” O’Callaghan said. “On closing day at Santa Anita, I brought a kid to the racetrack when I had a horse running. He’d been with me all morning, watched the horse train, met the jockey. The horse ran terrible, and the kid got so upset, acting like it was the end of the world. I couldn’t get him to calm down.

“Then in the next race we picked the favorite, with Garrett Gomez, and he won,” O’Callaghan went on. “His attitude changed right away. I took him to the paddock to meet Gomez. Garrett gave him his goggles, and it was like the world was suddenly a different place.”

O’Callaghan was impressed enough with the organization’s work that he wrote a children’s book, called “Wish’s Derby,” which is about to be published for the benefit of Wish Upon a Teen.

“I’m no writer, but it’s not a reach to see working with these kids can be a lot like learning what a racehorse needs,” O’Callaghan said. “I know I’m oversimplifying, but they don’t learn in a conventional manner. If you listen to them, you’ll come to figure something out.

“I didn’t realize it until recently, but my brother back in Ireland works with a group called Surf to Heal,” O’Callaghan added. “He teaches autistic kids how to surf. I guess I must have been meant to be doing this after all.”