David Ord visits two very different trainers who are chasing the same dream at York this week.
Willie Mullins sits back at his office desk with the list of the latest acceptors for the Sky Bet Ebor in front of him.
The red pen hovers over every name on the piece of A4 paper, ready to pounce on any we know are missing the race – or even those who might. There aren’t many strike-outs. It's a waiting game.
One he can quickly pass over is Sea The Lion. He's running.
The decision to visit his trainer Jarlath Fahey was a late one – but was rewarded with rich content and an insight into how David can occasionally bring Goliath to his knees.
Jennies Jewel first offered a glimpse at the capabilities of the Monasterevin trainer and his family-run operation when crossing the Irish Sea to win the 2016 Ascot Stakes. It would be an even bigger pay-day if Sea The Lion were to follow her lead and land Saturday’s showpiece but similarities between the two are in short supply.
“They are two different types of horses,” Fahey said. “There was always a little temperament thing with Jennies Jewel. We had to keep a lid on her more than anything away from home. She could get difficult and freshen up too much.
“This lad is a laidback customer. We’ve never travelled him before so we’re a little worried about how he’ll cope with the ferry and things like that but he’s a very cool, switched off character and we don’t expect any problems."
Don’t write this off as a small yard shooting at the moon though. Sea The Lion has earned his place in the field with three successive wins this season. He – like his trainer – is no bit-part player.
“When you’re dealing with a small number of horses and don’t have a huge budget you are the underdog but Its such a condensed race you need a proven horse to get in for starters. It’s not like we’re taking a horse with no chance. He’s only 16/1.
“I suppose you’re under a bit more pressure because we only have one horse qualified for the race so we concentrate on him. The bigger yards have three, four or five and can pick the best of them. We have one and have to get everything right, we don’t have a substitute.”
But try telling Mullins there’s safety in numbers. Of the 11 he has in the race only Whiskey Sour is guaranteed a place seven days in advance.
It’s an exciting time of the year for the genius master of Closutton. As the four-strong team for the Knavesmire warm-up for their morning canter, they are joined by some giants of the winter game.
Un De Sceux, Faugheen, Min and Footpad loop around in front of his watchful eye. They’re back and looking very well for a summer when grass could have been in short supply. Thankfully, judged by their blossoming condition, it wasn't.
They’re taking the tentative first steps before the big days that lay ahead – for Stratum it’s here. When Mullins first set eyes on him at the Tattersalls Horses In Training Sales last autumn it was for days like this that they handed over 160,000 guineas. So what persuaded them to add him to the string?
“His stamina – he looked like a horse that would be suited by a test of stamina. That was our main goal and when we saw him he was a fine, strong horse. He was big-boned. He's not flashy, he's workmanlike. For our game, and the staying game. that's what you want.
“He’s surprised me with how much work he takes. I’m giving him plenty and he’s taking it all – I hope it means he’s improving.”
Mullins isn’t a man who’s going to be uneasy saddling a warm favourite for a big race. He’s somewhat accustomed to the pressure that brings. But he is genuinely surprised to see Stratum at 4/1 and the next horse in the bookmakers' list at double digit odds.
“It’s such an open race and I’m fascinated that our fellow is such a clear favourite. We’re coming back three furlongs – I’d worry about that – but he’s in terrific form going there so we'll keep our fingers crossed.”
For Fahey victory in the Sky Bet Ebor wouldn’t necessarily be a life-chagning event – but then again racing has already been that.
“Ours is mainly a family-run stable. I get some people in to help out at busy times such as now, during the summer, and they’ll ride out but it’s mainly run by ourselves. It’s the yard behind our house that I started out with," he said.
“I was a fork lift driver – I think Aidan O’Brien was too at some stage so we do have one thing in common! This was a hobby. We originally started in pony races but as we got bigger we needed bigger horses to carry us! I had a few horses of my own to ride in bumpers and enjoyed it. When it started going well and I got a few more to train and took out a licence.”
Sea The Lion heads to York not chasing a financial windfall - as welcome as it would be - but something more precious to his team.
"It’s creating memories that people in racing, who’ve spent an awful lot more than we have, will never create. Memories will always be with you. The races will come and go, the prize money will eventually go, but the memories will always be there. Sitting back in the rocking chair you’ll wonder – did we really do that?"
That's something Mullins has made a habit of for many years now. His team have provided countless days that will never fade. He and Fahey may operate at different ends of the training spectrum but on Saturday they are chasing the same dream.
It made for a compelling trip to Ireland.