From Rag and Bone man to ace point-to-point trainer, Joe O’Shea bears similarities in his work method to Guillaume Macaire. Just like the French master he’s not lacking in confidence when it comes to his horses. With the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase less than a week away, confidence is as high as ever around the chances of Road To Rome who heads to this year’s renewal.
The yard were in shock just two weeks’ before the Aintree Grand National Festival last year when news reached them that friend and colleague Vicki Parkes had passed away at the age of 62.
Parkes had been an integral and well-respected part of O’Shea’s Cheshire yard and despite being one of the older members of the team, could still work-ride better than most. She was responsible for working the stable’s Foxhunters’ hope, Lilbitluso.
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Lilbitluso lined up at the tape on 12th April 2018…the very day that would have been Parkes' 63rd birthday. But there was to be no fairytale. Lilbitluso was fatally injured during the race. His trainer had the proverbial mortgage and diesel money for the return trip on his runner. Days do not come more difficult than that.
Still highly emotional about losing both, O’Shea is determined to honour their memory by winning the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase a year on… and he believes he’s got the right candidate in the shape of Road To Rome.
“It all happened suddenly, Vicki was 62 but was still fighting fit and had loads of energy and she really was a great woman. After what happened last year it would be good for her looking down to see us win the race,” said O’Shea.
“Her memory lives on strongly and what happened this time last year was tragic and really hit me hard. But we are here now and giving it another go.”
O’Shea has got closest to winning the race with Cottage Oak who contested the race on three occasions. The nearest he got was in 2014, when he finished fifth under Gillan Crow. The winner that day, Warne, was ridden by none other than Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning amateur, Sam Waley-Cohen.
Waley-Cohen has partnered Road To Rome on his last two starts, and all being well will get the leg up once more at Aintree, in a race which he has won a further two times.
Taking a glance at Road To Rome’s breeding and you will be surprised. His sire Choisir, was best known as a top-class sprinter and winner of the 2003 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. Even though he gets more jump performers than you might think, we don’t see too many of his sons competing in three mile Hunter Chase races.
It may be the fact that he’s out of a Slip Anchor mare who ran over hurdles in Ireland that has provides him with the necessary stamina to see out these longer distances.
2019 has borne some serious fruit for Road To Rome thus far. The last of his four-straight wins in two months came in the Walrus Hunter Chase at Haydock Park in the middle of February, where his strength in the jumping department shone through with Waley-Cohen aboard for the first time.
The pair then teamed up at The Festival™, presented by Magners in the St James’s Palace Foxhunter Chase, and as O’Shea has learned since acquiring the gelding, he enjoys doing his own thing out in front. So there was no messing around as the duo set a fair pace and jumped well if a little to the right. Only before the last was Road To Rome headed and finished a creditable fourth.
O’Shea added: “Look, it’s our local track and this has been the plan all along. The owner Graham Briscoe was keen to run at Cheltenham, as it’s been a big ambition of his for a long time, so we gave it a go and we were happy with how he got on.
“We won’t be messing around again and it’s great to have Sam on board given his record in this type of race so I’m very happy at this stage. He’s full of beans and in great health so here’s hoping.”
His clear chance on the form-book certainly hasn’t been missed by the bookmakers but come April 4th should every fall into place, then we are bound to see a few tears in and around the winners’ enclosure.