Sunday 26 January 2020

Oxx has Classic touch abroad

Chris Cook

Which trainer has maintained a 28 per cent strike-rate in Britain since 1995, despite racing his horses almost exclusively in the best races? Berate yourself severely if you named someone who is actually based in England. The answer is John Oxx and he has a big chance of another English Classic on Saturday.

Instinctively wary of media exposure, Oxx nevertheless became highly visible in the summer of 2009, when he attracted widespread acclaim for his handling of Sea The Stars, the winner of six Group One races in six months.

Born To Sea, second-favourite for the 2,000 Guineas next weekend, is a half-brother to that sensational colt but, thanks to the identity of his trainer, would still have to be respected if he were only the son of a pit pony.

"I don't have anybody putting pressure on me to run horses in England," Oxx explained last week, when asked about his record there. "Unlike trainers who are based in England and probably have owners who want to see their horses at Royal Ascot or in the Guineas or the Derby, mine only go if they have business going."

His average is four runners in Britain per year, yet he has two victories in the Derby to his name, and two more in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Few men are better placed to benefit from the millions being poured into British racing by Investec, sponsors of the Derby, and Qipco, backers of the Champions Series.

Even so, he is basically content with the prize money in Ireland and is hardly the kind of man to chase high-profile contests elsewhere just to keep his profile up. "We have opportunities here, they do most of their racing at home and, if a horse is chosen to travel, it is usually worthy of the undertaking."

While he does not expect to find another horse like Sea The Stars in his stable or anyone else's, Oxx notes that Born To Sea has the potential to be much better than he has so far shown. "He has a degree of his brother's ability, we just don't know how much," he said. "We're still guessing about him."

When Born To Sea won his debut race at The Curragh in September, the Racing Post was rather breathless in reporting that he "possesses a more potent turn of foot than his sibling did at this very early stage of his career".

All such excitement seemed premature when he was then beaten at Leopardstown in October but, around 15 minutes after the race, it became clear that he was injured.

"He tore a muscle at the top of his quarters," Oxx reports. "I think it must have happened at that start of the race, he pitched on to his nose when the stalls opened. As the race developed, he seemed to be climbing, he didn't have the push from behind. I think he did well to run as well as he did."

Born To Sea is now fully recovered, has had "a good winter" and is enjoying a trouble-free preparation. Whether he is good enough to beat the hot Guineas favourite Camelot is not a question the trainer dare answer directly. "In a minute and a half, we'll know," he said.

Oxx says he usually has no budget to buy yearlings at auction and must rely on the horses bred by his regular clients. This means he experiences some good years as well as others in which "you wouldn't have anything remotely near Group One standard".

So far, the signs for 2012 are promising. He also has Akeed Mofeed, second-favourite for the Derby and being prepared for a trial race at Leopardstown on 13 May, despite a recent setback. Call To Battle also has the Epsom Classic as a possible target, which he may perhaps reach via the Chester Vase on 10 May. Saddler's Rock will be aimed at Royal Ascot's Gold Cup.

Oxx would far rather map out plans for such talented beasts than contemplate the day when he no longer has such responsibilities. At 61, he is now fielding queries about retirement, though the question draws his heartiest laugh of the conversation. "It's not even remotely on the horizon. Most of us just have to keep working. I haven't made enough money to be stopping now," he said.


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