Condon lives Derby dream as Success Days chases glory
The winner of the Investec Derby is generally a blue-blooded colt, his brilliance distilled over many generations, running in a famous set of silks, and handled by a well-known trainer.
That is precisely as it should be, and rarely was this more the case than last year when Australia, the product of a union between a Derby winner (Galileo) and an Oaks winner (Ouija Board) won for Aidan O'Brien.
Against that background, therefore, it would be mildly ironic were Success Days to triumph for Ken Condon, a trainer with just 30 horses, and Shane Foley, a top-five jockey in Ireland but relatively unknown to English scribes.
Almost everything about Success Days is unfashionable; even his colour. No grey has won the Derby since Airborne in 1946.
A cursory glance at his pedigree - by the late Jeremy, a miler best known for the Triumph Hurdle winner Our Conor but difficult to pigeon-hole as a sire - and out of a mare, which was a precocious two-year-old and a hospital case with major feet problems by the time she bore this colt, makes it easy to see why owner Robert Ng, a businessman in the Far East, did not enter him at birth for today's race.
But on the back of winning the two most established Irish Derby trials, the Ballysax Stakes and then the Derrinstown, a 'double' achieved by both Galileo and High Chapparal on their way to winning at Epsom, Ng stumped up £75,000 to pit his colt against the best.
Among the many question marks ahead of this year's race, Success Days - a 10-length winner of the Derrinstown in heavy ground - remains the biggest unknown quantity. Can he be as effective on good ground? Is he a freak of breeding?
"I genuinely believe he's a Group One horse on the soft," says Condon. "We won't find out how he handles the ground or the course until the race is run."
Condon, 40, is the son of a GP from the hurling heartland of Ballyhea in North Cork. He took riding lessons aged eight, did Pony Club and peaked when selected to ride for the Irish Junior Event Team on a 'converted hunter'. After two years as an accountant, he 'followed the fashion' and spent a summer at Mount Coote Stud, in Limerick, followed by spells with other studs until he went to trainer John Oxx for five years - during which time Sinndar won the Derby for the yard. His only visit to Epsom prior to today was with Oxx's Ebadiyla in 1997.
In 2002, he took out a licence to train on The Curragh and is now one of a number of hard-working, young trainers, who have to trade their horses in order to compete with the monoliths of Irish racing. "It was a necessity to sell any nice horses that came through our hands, it was part of the business plan," he recalls.
In 2007, he had something of a breakthrough year with Norman Invader before he was sold to Hong Kong while another good filly was exported to America. There then followed several quiet years when, at one point, he was down to three winners. "Ireland is slightly different to England," he pointed out. "If you had 20 winners here in a season it would be a decent total, in England no one would notice."
His first yearling for Ng did not set the world alight, but Condon suggested she might do well in Singapore and she duly won four races. His reward for that was three more - including Success Days.
"I saw him as a yearling and the thing about him was his great action, he had a great walk on him," said the trainer. "He was a late developer and is an undemonstrative colt, he doesn't show his best in the mornings. He won his maiden second time out at 25/1 and eight weeks later we ran him in a Listed race, but he ran a bit fresh. I was disappointed, but not despondent."
This spring, however, Success Days started showing more and began coupling it with consistency. "If any horse has Classic aspirations he has to keep improving month by month," reasons Condon.
"He's 14kg heavier now than he was at Cork first time out this season. All he does is eat and sleep. His biggest asset is probably his temperament. From his demeanour and the way he's training he has improved again from the Derrinstown, but realistically he needs to find another 7lb to be in the mix, but he doesn't bend his knee like a lot of soft-ground horses."
For today, though, Condon is living the dream of all young trainers. "It's the beauty and romanticism of racing that a good horse can turn up in a small yard. He's done it in the trials, now he needs to do it at Epsom." (© Daily Telegraph, London)