Kinsale King: From Dubai to Detroit

Trainer Carl O'Callaghan with 14-year-old Dominic in his room at UCLA Medical Center. Photo courtesy Wish Upon a Teen

Editor's Note: Wish's Derby is now available for purchase. The first 500 copies sold will feature an original signature from trainer Carl O'Callaghan as well as hoof prints from Kinsale King and barn goat Ruben. All of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Wish Upon a Teen to help maintain programming for teens with life-threatening or chronic illness and teens on the autistic spectrum. For more information, visit www.wishuponateen.org

When Kinsale King won the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen on the 2010 Dubai World Cup undercard, it was a memorable moment for anyone watching. Trainer Carl O'Callaghan's celebration made sure of that. What no one knew at the time was that victory would still be paying dividends three years later.

A slew of very talented American-based runners are gearing up for a night of incredible racing at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai on March 30, and all of them are hoping to add their name to a list that Kinsale King currently occupies all by himself.

Since Meydan replaced Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in 2010, he is the only American horse who has won on racing's most lucrative stage.

That night, Irish-born O'Callaghan celebrated with such enthusiasm that a video of him dancing can still be found online. Today, he is using his horse's likeability to raise awareness for an up-and-coming charity named Wish Upon a Teen, which is based in Detroit.

Later this spring, a children's book entitled Wish's Derby is being published, and although the main character is named Wish, he is based on Kinsale King. All of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the charity.

"It tells the story of Wish coming to my barn," explained O'Callaghan. "He is very shy and very intimidated by other horses and people. Then my goat Ruben talks to Wish and tells him he has to brave up and be good. Ruben gives Wish some courage, and he ends up winning this big race."

O'Callaghan We all have problems, everyone has something going on in their life, but when you leave that hospital, you are on top of the world. There is no greater feeling than to help somebody.

-- Trainer Carl O'Callaghan

The illustrations for the book are currently being completed by a young man with learning disabilities named Drew Zimmerman, who is part of Wish Upon a Teen. The 17-year-old is artistically inclined and will be the first person who is certified through the charity's music technology program. He plays piano, draws, and hopes to attend a creative college in the future.

"He is a very talented young man," said Michelle Soto, Wish Upon a Teen's founder and president. "Our goal is to help him build up a resume. These kids learn very differently, but he can go in and say, 'look at what I have already done.' "

Wish Upon a Teen aims to make a difference in the lives of challenged teens. According to the organization, its mission is to provide resources, time and opportunities to teenagers dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or recovering from injury or chronic illness. Through creative and interactive social and educational events, these teens will rediscover and rebuild their self-esteem as they continue their journey to adulthood.

Any money raised from Wish's Derby will help the cause.

"I think a lot of people can relate to the book, even if they aren't autistic," said Soto. "Yes, it is mainly a book about an autistic horse, but so many people can relate to having those awkward moments, not feeling good enough and wanting people to believe in you. If we have people believe in us, we can accomplish anything. Even as an adult, I need people to believe in me. That's what you need in life."

The organization will celebrate its second anniversary in May. Although it is based in Detroit, Soto has been focusing on getting the Los Angeles branch running at full strength. Earlier this year, O'Callaghan was named a celebrity ambassador for the charity.

"Carl and I met through mutual friends at a fundraiser, and it sort of spiraled from there," said Soto. "We have gone shooting out of the gate, and we haven't looked back. It has been pretty exciting. We knew we wanted to do something together, and here we are."

Wish's Derby is far from the only thing O'Callaghan has done for the charity. He has had children visit the racetrack, and he also goes to the hospital to help out there as well.

One of the charity's programs for teens in the hospital is Design My Room, which is exactly what it sounds like. Thanks to a partnership with local hospitals, the organization is able to gain access to the teenager's room and decorate it however the teen would like, within the guidelines of the hospital.

The first room O'Callaghan funded was for a girl who had been in the hospital for 375 days and wanted her room turned into a candy store. Then on March 18, O' Callaghan helped a 14-year-old boy named Dominic feel more at home while staying at UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica.

"He is struggling with a spinal disease, and he wanted his room all dolled up in Star Wars," said O'Callaghan. "They had Mickey Mouse in there for the girl who was there previously, and obviously he wasn't too impressed. Just to see him smile is the main thing. I am going to try and do that every month. For every winner I have, I want to take $500 of the purse and do a kid's room up.

"I am just trying to do my little bit. I am not very wealthy, and I don't have a whole lot of time on my hands, but I do the best I can with the time I have to spare. We all have problems, everyone has something going on in their life, but when you leave that hospital, you are on top of the world. There is no greater feeling than to help somebody."

Although O'Callaghan's connection with Wish Upon a Teen is fairly new, his desire to give back is not. He routinely spends the holidays helping to feed the homeless, and he recently turned to Facebook to help raise funds to rescue seven horses and a donkey bound for slaughter. He received donations from not only America, but places as far away as Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

"We all can help a little bit, here and there," he said.

As far as Kinsale King goes, the now 8-year-old gelding recently returned to O'Callaghan's barn after a lengthy break from the track.

"He has settled in great, like a 3-year-old," said the trainer. "We didn't have to turn him out because he was injured in any kind of way, we just gave him time to recuperate, rest and relax. We are going give it one more whirl around and see what happens. He is happy, but if he doesn't come back and want to be a graded stakes type of horse, we are not going to push him. I am going to find him easy spots, and we would never run him for a claiming tag or something like that. He will just end up being a barn pet."

To say O'Callaghan has a soft spot for his most famous charge would be an understatement. As a result, he is also looking to turn the true, complete story of Kinsale King into a book for adults.

"His story is not your normal story, it is a fairy tale," he said. "I met his owner, Dr. Patrick Sheehy, at Pamona. He was going to get out of the business, and instead, he gave me a horse. I was sleeping in a tack room and didn't have anything. Then we won an allowance, then a Grade 3, then a Grade 2, then won in Dubai and finished third at Royal Ascot. How crazy is that? That doesn't happen.

"King loves people and people love him. He gets lots of people who come to see him. It is nice. It picks up the barn, having one big horse like him. Everyone is so alive -- the grooms, the hot walkers, the owners. Everyone comes to see him because of what he has done for small people like us."

Of course, come Dubai World Cup day, you can be sure that O'Callaghan will be paying attention to how the Americans do. But he also fesses up to having mixed emotions about the possibility of someone joining Kinsale King as an American winner at Meydan.

"I honestly hope the Americans do really well, but then again, I kind of hope they don't," he laughed.

Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at amanda.duckworth@ymail.com.