O'Donoghue prepared to take his limited chances
Long-time Ballydoyle lieutenant tells Richard Forristal about the challenge of keeping himself sharp
Colm O'Donoghue will only discover whether or not he is to be reunited with his Oaks-winning mount Qualify in Saturday's Irish Derby at the Curragh after the final declarations are made this morning.
That is the reality within which he has existed all of his working life. Save for a six-month stint in Hong Kong the winter before last, he has been part of the furniture in Ballydoyle for touching on 20 years.
In all that time, though, O'Donoghue has been preceded in the hierarchical structure by significant others, be it Christy Roche, Mick Kinane, Johnny Murtagh, Kieren Fallon, Joseph O'Brien, Ryan Moore or even his fellow long-serving deputy Seamie Heffernan.
He and Heffernan have never known any different. Getting Qualify up on the line to deny the 1,000 Guineas heroine Legatissimo a famous Classic double may or may not be enough to give O'Donoghue the opportunity to partner the Fastnet Rock filly in her own quest for a historic Classic brace against the colts in the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored Group One.
"I don't know what I'll be riding in the Irish Derby or even if I'll be riding in it but obviously I'd love to have a ride in it," the 34-year-old said yesterday. "It has been really lucky for me over the years so fingers crossed."
Giovanni Canaletto and Highland Reel, both of which ran well in the equivalent events at Epsom and Chantilly, might be more likely mounts for Moore and O'Brien. That could leave O'Donoghue to ride Qualify, which is owned by Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez, a newcomer to the Ballydoyle fold.
Kilimanjaro is also in contention. Despite the uncertainty, O'Donoghue is well accustomed to dealing with finding out where he fits in late in the day.
"You don't burn energy worrying about it," he says matter-of-factly. "Like, if it happens, great, if it doesn't, you move on. It's just part of the job. Sometimes you might get on a good one but you mightn't ever ride it again - that's part and parcel of the job."
The Co Cork native has won nine Group Ones on eight different horses for O'Brien, which illustrates his point. Treasure Beach, the horse that carried him to a memorable career-high triumph in the 2011 Irish Derby, is the only one that he has won two aboard.
The duo had just been thwarted a head by Pour Moi at Epsom at odds of 25/1, so, while there are times that O'Donoghue might feel like the corner-forward that shoots the lights out one day only to start on the bench the next, that is a significant precedent.
Five of O'Donoghue's nine victories at Flat racing's highest level were achieved at double-figure starting prices.
Regardless of the horses' odds or whether it is deployed in a pace-making capacity, he gives everything a ride, and the corresponding table that highlights his remarkable record in the Irish Derby reiterates as much. "The thing about riding for Ballydoyle, I know they are well-bred, so I don't care what price they are," explains the jockey who steered O'Brien's first Dubai World Cup night winner when plundering the 2012 UAE Derby on second string Daddy Long Legs. "I always approach it positively because you never know what can happen."
Epsom confirmed as much in spectacular style. In a frenetic finish to a rough Oaks, O'Donoghue swooped to chin his Coolmore employers' fancied runner on Ballydoyle's apparent third string, a cool 50/1 triumph that is the joint longest-priced win in the Classic.
That was O'Donoghue's first ride for O'Brien in Britain or Ireland this season. He has long been a trusty lieutenant with a big-race temperament and an international pedigree, but, with two champions in Moore and O'Brien now sharing first-choice duties, he has slipped down the food chain.
In a Listed race at Naas last night, he had his first ride on home soil for O'Brien this year aboard Outstanding. On the 7/1 second choice, he rode his rivals to sleep from the front.
As ever, O'Donoghue more than delivered, yet his season has been almost stillborn. His only other domestic win was at Tipperary over two months ago, and he has had one other at Chester for Yorkshire's Brian Ellison.
It's a far cry from when he totalled 34 Irish wins in 2009, but, as he points out, opportunities in general aren't what they were. He has no ride at Leopardstown tonight, where the fields are ominously small. Still, it is a peculiarly incongruous predicament.
"I'm in Ballydoyle seven days a week, so I don't ride anywhere else, but that is what it is," O'Donoghue relates. "I enjoy being part of the team. The thing is to try and still be match-fit and sharp enough when you do get an opportunity in the big races.
"Mentally, it doesn't bother me at all, but, when you are quieter than usual, you need to still be ready, so I approach every day as though I am riding the next day. I ride out, go for my walk, have a little sweat, eat the right food, maybe go to the gym. You have to do it for yourself, because when the circles turn, you can't miss them."
"I am a very positive person anyway. You have to have belief in your own ability, whether it be in good times or bad times. I will go out every day and give 100pc for everybody that I ride for. The horses I ride, they don't know their price, but I'd like to think I give them the best rides possible regardless of how well fancied they are."
O'Donoghue's record tells us that much is true. Should he get the nod for Qualify on Saturday, though, it would constitute one of those rare occasions when he has the opportunity to showcase his steady hand on a horse with a little more than an outside chance in a marquee event. Few would argue that he hasn't qualified for as much.