I have no idea how long ago our paths first crossed, but what I do recall, is that I first shook hands with a charismatic Irishman of senior years when we acquired Northern Guest back in the early 80s, and who would in the passage of time become a living legend. His name was Phonsie O’Brien. The other gentleman I met not long after courtesy of Bridget Oppenheimer, who was hosting him during the KZN racing season at their palatial home, Milkwood, in the dunes of La Lucia. Henry Candy was the quintessential English gentleman. We owe it to our good friend Chris McGrath for alerting us to the heights that have characterised their respective lives.
This was a week for perspectives at Ballydoyle. The poignant circumstances of a former stable jockey's retirement have been amply reprised in the many compassionate tributes paid to Kieren Fallon. And then there was the loss of Alphonus Septimus O'Brien, universally cherished on the Irish Turf as “Phonsie”, the youngest of Vincent's brothers, but intimately involved in his success.
It was Phonsie who fetched Cottage Rake into the yard by driving him several miles along the road in a trap. For the first of that horse's three Gold Cups, it was Phonsie who shipped him to Liverpool surrounded by cattle and draped in a tarpaulin. The following year Vincent upgraded them to a plane, along with Hatton's Grace and Castledermot, who further vindicated this bold innovation by winning the Champion Hurdle and National Hunt Chase respectively. It was also Phonsie who supervised the stable during the notorious suspension that so vexed Vincent, winning an Irish Derby (Gr.1). But he will be remembered above all for the way he and Tom Cooper sieved the initial longlist of Keeneland yearlings for inspection on the great Kentucky farms during the 1980s.
To the many friends he made in those heady days, while gratified by the mental acuity that gave full value to his generous span of years, his exit marks the end of an era.
Purely in terms of the demands made on his time and energy, you can see why training is said to be a young man's game. But the recurring dilemmas raised by the mental and physical frailties of the Thoroughbred surely redress the professional balance in favour of his elders. And the fact is that many of those fashionable young thrusters whose patrons favour them with yearlings far more expensive than have ever found their way to Kingston Warren were not even born when Henry Candy, learning the ropes in Chantilly, travelled to Epsom with Sea Bird II himself.
Yet the decline of owner-breeders of the old school has required a man who once trademarked his patient handling of horses in the mould of Time Charter and Master to re-invent himself as a master in the honing of raw speed. But if the materials are different, be in no doubt that the craft is the same. In converting the base metal of the bloodstock market into sprinting gold, to the extent that he has now won two Group 1 prizes inside three weeks, Candy has been able to apply a judgement seasoned over half a century. And, if his understated bearing nowadays encourages lazy caricatures of a lugubrious old pessimist, then nor has he remotely lost the kernel of ambition that sustained him when the same demeanour, in a rather younger man, was more accurately identified as a courteous aversion to the flaunting of ego.
As such, nobody should underestimate the satisfaction he would find in the decidedly unconservative aspirations available to Limato following that superb performance at Newmarket on Saturday in the Darley July Cup. There are many catalogue pages Candy can nowadays put a line through as impractical, without even having to look at the horse, but he could yet end up sending this £41,000 gelding to mess up the stallion brochures of Classic winners in the Breeders' Cup Mile (Gr.1). Candy’s quirks could make for an unnerving journey, but it would surely be worth the punt, given Limato's relish for fast ground and the congenial premium on speed at the trip. And if the locals could be pardoned any misapprehensions about so classically undemonstrative an English gent, then his compatriots should be in no doubt as to the ardour that would embolden such an adventure.
Extracts from Thoroughbred Daily News / Owner Breeder (p)