David O'Meara targets Ayr Gold Cup with Pepper Lane
Last updated on .From the section Horse Racing
Spirits on Flat racing's northern circuit are buoyant, nowhere more so than on the edge of the North York Moors National Park at Arthington Barn Stables, Nawton.
From here, David O'Meara has quickly made a mark competing alongside prolific near-neighbours, like jockeys Paul Hanagan and Silvestre de Sousa and fellow trainers Richard Fahey and Mark Johnston.
A mere 15 months after taking over the licence at the then down-at-heel yard, a successful squad of 60 horses - and counting - is establishing O'Meara, 34, as amongst racing's brightest young stars.
Already the ex-jump jockey has landed major prizes with Blue Bajan and Smarty Socks.
But on Saturday, he chases his most valuable pot so far when the filly Pepper Lane lines up as favourite for the £120,000 Ayr Gold Cup, Scotland's premier flat race.
"It's been fantastic," he said. "Training is something I always wanted to do when riding, and I tried to watch and learn. The job here came up, and I count myself very lucky.
"It's a lot busier compared to being a jockey, and it really feels 24/7 - I must work 100 hours a week - but obviously it's been very rewarding, so you don't really notice."
From County Cork, Ireland, O'Meara - who studied veterinary science at Limerick University - rode 140 winners as what could be fairly termed a 'journeyman jockey'.
But, revealingly, at the same time, he was learning his trade from some of the shrewdest brains in the business including trainers Jim Bolger, Philip Hobbs and Peter and Tim Easterby.
It was for Hobbs that he recorded his biggest success in the saddle when Bells Life landed a race over the famously tricky Grand National fences in 2000.
Pepper Lane is on a roll as she travels for Saturday's fast and furious Ayr Gold Cup, a 27-runner, three-quarter mile dash, having recently completed a hat-trick of wins, in the prestigious Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon.
"People wonder if she is maybe a Ripon specialist because she's won there three times, but she's done it at Redcar too, and been second in a nice race at Pontefract which is very different," said O'Meara.
"She'd be one of the smallest horses I have, so her improvement isn't down to her growing, but we have learnt quite a bit about what she likes, and she thrives on not too much work at home.
"She's fit and well but the one thing is that I couldn't be sure how she'd handle very soft ground."
Pepper Lane's improvement has been little short of astonishing since coming under O'Meara's care last year and she shows no sign of stopping
Ayr has already been battered by the remnants of Hurricane Katia this week (hence the expected soft going); now David O'Meara and Pepper Lane are on their way to storm the place.