Trainer Jeremiah O'Dwyer saddled his first stakes winner in January, watching a filly he picked out of the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile sale for $55,000 score in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes. Last Saturday, Needs Supervision raced wide throughout and was knocked around a bit on the far turn to finish fifth in the G2 Rachel Alexandra.
At 37 years old and in just his third full year of training on his own, O'Dwyer couldn't have been disappointed in her effort.
“She's bringing me on a heck of a ride,” he said on the morning of the Rachel Alexandra. “I just hope that she's a stepping stone to more to come. It's all about stepping stones and showing up every day.”
Needs Supervision is only the third horse owned by Howling Pigeon Farms, the nom de guerre of a group of friends O'Dwyer met through his fiancée, Alison Wilaby. Each of the group's three horses has found the winner's circle, helping O'Dwyer start making a name for himself beyond his home base of Maryland.
Born in County Tipperary, Ireland, O'Dwyer developed his love of horses as many young children do: on the backs of chubby, rotten little ponies. He graduated to riding Thoroughbred racehorses after school under the tutelage of trainer Tommy Stack, best known as the pilot aboard Red Rum in that gelding's third triumph in the Grand National (1977).
From there, O'Dwyer started riding in a few races in Ireland, England, and around Europe, but admits he “wasn't very good at it.”
In 2010 he made his first foray to the United States to take a job working for trainer Al Stall, Jr., and found himself with a front-row seat to one of the biggest upsets of the Breeders' Cup Classic in history: Blame defeating Zenyatta.
“That's what really made me fall in love with America,” O'Dwyer said. “There's just a thrill of being around good horses; that's what really cemented me wanting to stay here.”
In the next several years, O'Dwyer spent time working for Niall Brennan, Michael Matz, Eoin Harty and Andrew McKeever before striking out on his own.
O'Dwyer owned three horses in Lexington at the time and took a leap of faith in shipping all three up to Laurel Park in 2017. He did well enough to pick up a few owners, finishing the year with 10 wins from 64 starts and earnings of $220,738. In 2018, O'Dwyer did even better: he won 17 of 111 starts with earnings of $518,939.
His biggest point of pride is the ability to pick out his own 2-year-olds at the sales, including Needs Supervision. He starts his search with the breeze videos, rather than the catalog.
“When you don't have unlimited funds to play with, you're always looking for that diamond in the rough,” O'Dwyer explained. “It's always hard to explain exactly what you're looking for, but you're looking for a horse that looks to have a nice smooth breeze, looks to do a nice time but look like there was more left there. It's all about how they do it, not even how fast they do it.”
After choosing his favorite breezes, O'Dwyer looks at the horses in person and narrows down the list even more. Only then does he look at the pedigree, to see if the horse might be in his price range.
Additionally, O'Dwyer said he sometimes hopes to find “a little writing on the page” of a horse's vet report.
“There's a fine line, but there are some things that aren't such a big deal,” he said. “The best way to learn is to put up your own money… I try to keep 10 percent of the 2-year-olds myself, and I try to make it a business for the owners so they can have fun but also have a chance to make a profit.”
This is O'Dwyer's first winter at the Fair Grounds, where he has six stalls, as well as 10 for the rest of his string up at Laurel Park. When it's possible, O'Dwyer likes to ride his horses himself to “get a feel” for them, including his stable star.
“She's done nothing but improve,” O'Dwyer said of Needs Supervision. “It's easy to tell when she's in good form. She's got a lot of personality about her. She comes out there like she's in charge…
“She's not a big imposing filly but she's not small either. She's just very pretty and very efficient like a ballerina. I wouldn't swap her for anything else in the country. Maybe it's sentimental because I had her and picked her out at the sale and got to develop her myself. She's something special.”
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