O'Sullivan turns his attention to the bright lights of the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2007, 12:00am

The conservative nature of Paul O'Sullivan is strong enough to stop him declaring he will win the 2007-08 trainers' premiership, but the New Zealander does admit to being ready to give it his best shot.

O'Sullivan is entering his fourth season and prepped for it with a well-run second to Caspar Fownes in last year's title chase on a 61-52 scoreline.

There is a huge weight of expectation on O'Sullivan at home in New Zealand, a country that revels in the reflected glory of international successes such as their All Blacks rugby team or the America's Cup in sailing.

O'Sullivan has tasted that adulation before as the co-trainer of Horlicks, who gave New Zealand racing its biggest day on the international scene by winning the 1989 Japan Cup. And having been runner-up as Hong Kong's champion trainer last term, there is a clear expectation that he can go one better.

'I'll be in there trying, don't worry about that,' the affable Kiwi said. 'But it's going to be tough because, realistically, there are six or seven trainers out there who could very well win it. Caspar could easily win it again, Tony Cruz looks like he's going to come out with all guns blazing, and John Size has stocked up again and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't have a big year. So winning the title isn't going to be straightforward by any means.

'However, looking at our team, I'm reasonably confident I can get the same kind of results as we did last year, and if 50 to 60 [wins] can win the premiership this season, then we're in with a shout.'

O'Sullivan said his end-of-season debrief of the 2006-07 term left him with one glaring area for future improvement.

'There's no doubt we have to improve our game at Happy Valley,' O'Sullivan admitted. 'I have tended to avoid it because I prefer to race them on the bigger track at Sha Tin, but I know it cost me last season.

'They race for the same prizemoney at Happy Valley as they do at Sha Tin, and it's something we simply have to focus on more.'

Undoubtedly, the difference between Fownes and O'Sullivan last season was the way they handled the city circuit. For Fownes, it was the foundation of his championship, winning 33 races on the idiosyncratic track at a strike rate of 17 per cent.

It was also where O'Sullivan lost it, winning just six races from 114 runners (5.3 per cent), though two of his 'winners' had it taken off them on protest in the stewards' room.

However, at Sha Tin, O'Sullivan was supreme. He trained 46 winners from 287 starts at a strike rate of 16 per cent, putting Fownes (28 from 402, SR 7 per cent) in the shade.

'Hopefully, I'll get the balance better this season,' O'Sullivan said. 'I admit I haven't liked the idea of having horses entered at Happy Valley, drawing very wide and then that often means you can't win and have wasted a run.

'I've just got to get over that attitude because they won't all draw wide and for some horses it will be their only winning opportunity so you have to avail yourself of it.'

O'Sullivan is also looking forward to the Cathay Pacific International Races in December, when he could potentially have two horses - Vital King and Ever Bright - in the Group One Hong Kong Vase at 2,400 metres.