Category Archives: Ireland

Preview: Irish 1000 Guineas

Curragh

The Irish 1000 Guineas will rise and fall with the Jessica Harrington trained Albigna. The only top-level winner in the field has the best form in the book and will be hard to beat with natural improvement.

Albigna’s victory in the Prix Marcel Boussac is the strongest form on offer from last year – by far! Not to forget the classy filly was far from disgraced in the Moyglare or the Breeders’ Cup.

In a weak Guineas field there is no denying that she holds all the aces. The equation is a simple one: if the daughter of Zoffany can run to her juvenile form then she is more than likely to run away with the race this evening.

However – and I may repeat myself in all these Guineas previews over the last week – Albigna is an experienced individual, who saw a racecourse for the first time in May last year. There is every possibility that she was simply ahead of her rivals in terms of mind and body.

And given that the Guineas is held a month later than it usually is, there is a danger that others have been able to catch up with time and age on their side. In saying that that I also feel odds around 2/1 are entirely fair, if not even a tad generous.

Aiden O’Brien appears to have weaker hand than usual in the 1000 Guineas. None of his three fillies tasted success on Group level yet – that is rather unusual. But the lightly raced Peaceful may well be the biggest danger to Albigna I feel, as she caught my eye on a number of occasions last year and she could have any amount of improvement to come.

The most intriguing filly in my eyes, though, seems to be completely overlooked: that is the Michael Halford trained Ridenza. She is a huge price in a race that lacks depth.

The one-time raced Sea The Stars daughter is tremendously well bred, given her dam is the 2014 Debutante winner Raydara. She will probably stay further than the Guineas trip but makes appeal over a mile as well, certainly at the current price.

Ridenza lacks experience. She made a winning debut at Leopardstown in a seven furlong maiden last August and was put away ever since, not helped by an injury she sustained.

That piece of form looks strong: the fourth placed Lemista won a Group 3 earlier this year and the 9th of that race, Peaceful, won a Listed contest and is the 3/1 second favouite today.

In fairness, the Aiden O’Brien filly got a very light ride that day and looked to have tons left. Nonetheless it was really positive sign that Ridenza was able to win on debut, overcoming plenty of greenness over a trip that is possibly on the sharp side.

Trainer Michael Halford noted after the race that this was indeed Ridenza’s very first time away from home and even the first time of her tasting turf. He also mentioned that she has plenty of growing to do, which was probably the reason why we didn’t see her again as a juvenile.

He also described her as “a smart filly, very well bred and she’s always shown plenty at home” in addition to being quite hopeful that there is much more to come when she turns three.

Obviously there is a reason why Ridenza is a 18/1 chance today: how has she wintered? Has she trained on? Is she ready to go? is she over the injury? Is the trip potentially too sharp?

But at the same time, given her fantastic pedigree, that points to excellent form over the shorter distances as well, I’m inclined to give her a better chance than the odds suggest.

Selection:
10pts win – Ridenza @ 18/1

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Siskin Delight in Irish 2000 Guineas

It was an incredible victory for Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas last night. The favourite did it the hard way, having to fight for a gap to get out late and thunder home, beating the Aiden O’Brien “football team”.

If you read my race preview you know I had major doubts about his ability to stay the trip as well as actually being good enough as a three-year-old. He proved all doubters wrong. How well Siskin stayed the Curragh mile and ran strongly to the line, no care in the world for the uphill finish?!

There was a lot of love for Ger Lyons as well. For him it was a very first domestic Classic success. A man who always speaks so well, who is open and honest with the public, it was wonderful to see the man reduced to tears in the post-race interview.

Preview: Irish 2000 Guineas

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The Irish 2000 Guineas shapes as an intriguing contest, albeit a wide open one. Can ante-post favourite Siskin reward trainer Ger Lyons with a first domestic Classic success?

The 2020 renewal of the Irish 2000 Guineas, while intriguing, looks hardly a vintage Classic. There is no proven superstar here today – unlike in the English equivalent a few days ago – and given the delay of the season, the race has become an even trickier puzzle to solve.

More than half the field is trained by one man: Aiden O’Brien. While that isn’t anything new, it remains a sad fact that six of eleven runners come from the same yard in an Irish Classic.

Ante-Post Favourite:

The Ger Lyons trained Siskin is the ante-post favourite ever since he ended 2019 unbeaten. Four starts and four wins as a juvenile, with the highlight clearly a first Group 1 success when landing the Phoenix Stakes in August at the Curragh.

On form he is the horse to beat. However, only a week ago we saw that it’s never an easy task to carry over exceptional juvenile form to a classic season – particularly when achieved over shorter sprint distances – when facing rivals that have caught up physically and mentally.

With that in mind one could ask the very same questions as last week when wondering whether a precocious Pinatubo will be able to continue his incredible superiority.

Siskin started his juvenile campaign in May 2019. He raced four times over six furlongs before being put away for the winter after a final victory in the Phoenix Stakes back in August.

The key questions are obvious: Can Siskin improve? Will he stay additional two furlongs?

As mentioned last week in the English 2000 Guineas analysis, the fact that the Guineas is held much later than usual will have a significant impact on what type of horse it’ll suit. It certainly will give the precocious, early foals less an advantage than it does in any normal year. Siskin falls into this category.

On the stamina question: As a juvenile he never left the comfort of the 6 furlongs distance. That doesn’t mean he can’t stay a mile. However his sire First Defence was quite speedy himself and his offspring tends to perform best over shorter distances as well, with a noticeable decline in performance as they step up to a mile – in general terms.

Siskin’s dam stayed a mile, which is encouraging. So is Simon Rowland’s striding analysis that suggests he has a fair chance to stay the new trip.

Probably my biggest issue with Sisikin is that his form is far less impressive than four wins on the trot would usually suggest. He largely beat the same horses over and over again. Most depressingly, even though he had ample opportunity to run fast, he’s never done it.

A career-best 89 topspeed rating is not up to the standard of a top-class colt. Yes, these ratings aren’t the holy grail and have to be taken in the right context, but in my book they do continue to be a fine predictor of class and future success.

Having said that, I simply have to oppose Siskin as the Irish 2000 Guineas favourite. Mind, this isn’t an overly strong renewal. He has a fair chance to go close if he can find answers to the two key questions.

Aiden O’Brien Contenders:

From the comments AOB has made in recent days it feels like that Armory is Ballydoyle’s #1 here. And you can see why.

This son of Galileo was fast enough to win Group races over 7 furlongs, plus was a good runner-up, albeit a long way beaten, behind Pinatubo in the National Stakes and has already Group 1 form over a mile, when finishing third at Longchamp behind subsequent French 2000 Guineas winner Victor Ludorum.

He’ll likely stay further than the mile and should have a bit more to come once stepping up in trip. He ran already to a career-best topspeed rating of 95 and certainly wouldn’t mind any more rain (it has been raining a fair bit here in Kildare over the last 24 hours, and continues to do so as of writing).

Royal Lytham with first time blinkers is interesting stepping up to a trip that could suit on pedigree. He showed good form as a juvenile, in particular when staying on strongly to win the July at Stakes at Newmarket.

He got within a lengths of Siskin in the Phoenix Stakes when things didn’t quite worked his way. He’s an interesting horse but needs to find improvement as he’s yet to run particularly fast.

It’s hard to see Monarch Of Egypt to land a blow. He has a lot to find even with his stable mates. Fort Myers as a big price is a more compelling each-way contender if one wants to back one. His juvenile form is solid, if not spectacular. He should stay the mile and will appreciate if he ground stays decent.

Vatican City is an unknown quantity. A disappointing debut at Newmarket, followed by a visually impressive success on Dundalk’s All-Weather – what that form is worth is difficult to evaluate. Aiden O’Brien speaks fondly of the colt and he can improve any amount, so to speak.

In my view the most intriguing horse from team Ballydoyle is Lope Y Fernandez, though. He showed good form as a 2-year-old, in particular when a strong runner-up behind Pinatubo at Royal Ascot and he also stayed seven furlongs already.

He is a full brother to Al Hayyah who competed well in listed company up to the 1m 2f distance and his dam is a Listed placed miler.

Lope Y Fernandez has ran twice to 90+ topspeed ratings already, including a 95 rating, which is joint-best in this field. Although that is still a bit off a proper Group 1 winning horse, he looked like one in the making when winning the Round Tower Stakes at the Curragh in excellent style, proving himself to be in a different league to the rest of the field in the Group 3 contest.

Also Running:

The unexposed Sinawann stayed a mile well last year already. He looks interesting given the clear indication that he’ll be a much better three-year-old. The son of Kingman will need to improve quite a bit if he wants to emulate his prominent father, but it’s not impossible that he does.

Jim Bolger’s colt Fiscal Rules lacks experience. It has be pointed out, though, that his runner-up debut behind Wichita reads really well, given how well the Aiden O’Brien trained ran at Newmarket last week. Yet, it’s a tall ask to be pitched right into a Classic with only a single start under his belt.

Also quite unexposed is the Jessica Harrington trained Free Solo. A fine winner on his second start last July, he hasn’t been seen yet. The yard is going strongly, so that is a positive. But it’s total guesswork whether this son of Showcasing is good enough to land a blow.

The Verdict:

Only one horse I am really interested in from a betting perspective: Lope Y Fernandez. The fact that he is an April foal who showed quite strong form as a juvenile already while giving the impression he may need a step up in trip to be seen to best effect, I have reasonable hope that he can find the required improvement to be a major player in the 2000 Guineas.

With that in mind he appears to be a bit overpriced for all that there are so many question marks over the other market principles.

Selection:
10pts win – Lope Y Fernandez @ 5/1 VC

Preview: Irish 2000 Guineas 2019

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Finally we get the race we wanted: Too Darn Hot vs. Magna Grecia: meant to happen at Newmarket, now taking place at the new Curragh. A match made in heaven?

Probably not. I’m firmly against the chances of Too Darn Hot. All the hype over the winter has evaporated after injuries forced him to miss his early assignments and a recent defeat in the Dante Stakes have connections revert back to a mile.

For a horse that had issues earlier this year, to go back-to-back so quickly, after stretching out to a trip beyond the comfort zone, now travelling over to Ireland, going back to a mile, right up into Group 1 class – there are a lot of arguments against Too Darn Hot.

Certainly at a short price, despite seeing him on the drift that still has him around a 40-45% chance, I can not have him at all.

The market has it spot on, Magna Grecia is the righteous favourite and I have him pretty much a slightly better than 50% chance – so current odds are more than fair.

The English 2000 Guineas champ has – at least in my mind – stamped his authority firmly on the mile division with the Newmarket victory. The much talked about draw bias was more like a pace bias. After all, Magna Grecia won well in the end, and it appeared to me that in any circumstance he would have been the best horse in the race. 

It was his first start in 2019 and he can only improve going forward, is my reckoning. He ran to a time speed rating of 105 that day, in line with previously achieved 102 and 107.

The Newmarket third Skardu remains of high interest. I was sweet on his chances back then. I still like the colt. However he has to find more improvement, which isn’t unlikely given his lightly raced profile, but running subsequently to TS ratings of 90 and 92 is, even though progressive, not quite what’s required here today, I feel.

At around 7/1 he is a fair chance, but nothing more, hence not a bet for me. As I try to refrain from backing below 3/1 usually, I’ll also swerve the notion of “buying money” with Magna Grecia.

The next in line in this Irish 2000 Guineas field are all minority chances. So, anything else with a realistic chance of going close?

Well, the one that I am intrigued by, and always been since his juvenile season, and am delighted to see him here as I would have been interested if he would have lined up at Newmarket, is at a whopping price the other Ballydoyle runner Mohwak.

He’s one that was thought to be a Derby horse. And you could argue that still holds true as he needed a mile to win as a juvenile and ran on well at Chester in the Dee Stakes recently, which is a fine Derby trial in its own right.

Still, in mind stuck is the vision of how he won the Royal Lodge Stakes in rather cozily fashion last season – over a mile on fast ground. He achieved a TS rating of 104 that day – which is close enough to those ratings the two market principles have achieved.

Mohawk seasonal reappearance at Chester earlier this month, when second behind a stable mate who enjoyed the run of the race, in desperate conditions, was an excellent performance, given the circumstances.

I feel, though, the return to a sound surface will see him improve leaps an bounds. And also now fit from his first run in 2019, I can see this son of the almighty Galileo show much more than anything we’ve seen to date.

The mile trip look sharp enough, most likely. The stiff uphill finish of the Curragh can suit, on the other hand.

Whether he is good enough over this trip to battle it out with Magna Grecia remains to be seen. At prices I firmly believe Mohawk is massively undervalued in both win and place market.

Selection:
4pts win – Mohawk @ 27/1 MB
6pts place – Mohawk @ 4/1 MB

Impressions: The New Curragh

The new Curragh opened its doors for the general public for the first time today. A new era for Irish (flat) racing. A monstrous project in the making for the last four years, associated with a price tag of around €80 million – it’s better be a success!

Whether it’s going to be a long-term success with crowds embracing the new facilities beyond this opening day remains to be seen. Judged by the attendance today the word ‘promising’ may be on the lips of many, though.

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a good few years: finally back at the Curragh! Driving down the N7, get off at exit 12 and there it is, right in front of your eyes, the imposing new grand stand!

Upon arrival my first thought was: WOW! This is spectacular! Stunningly beautiful from an architectural point of view. I didn’t expect it to be that good. No way! After all, this is Ireland where these type of projects rarely go to plan. This project had its own little issues, but the outcome is magnificent – and that is what matters most.

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What’s good? Great views from the parade ring. Plenty of space. Only short walks between parade ring, betting and the grand stand. First class elevated viewing for the regular racegoer from the stand itself. Everything is shiny, new and gives the impression of classiness.

Opportunity for improvement? Getting your hands on a coffee is a tricky adventure. Long ques for food and drink wherever you go. Maybe I missed them, but there were no mobile coffee vans like they used to exist at the old Curragh.

Food prices are not for the fainthearted. But that’s nothing new. Regular ticket prices are €20. A season ticket is €265 – that’s a whopping €90 more than when I bought one the last time in 2015, the year before construction began. This isn’t a cheap place.

I didn’t go racing at the Curragh during the construction years. I was – quite frankly – pissed off. Holding a season ticket for a number of years, I would have expected some concessions to existing members while racing continued at what was effectively a building site – a decision in itself I didn’t like. It showed a lack of regard for the general racegoer.

Whether the new Curragh will be able to attract on regular basis the sort of crowd that came through the turnstiles today for the more low profile days is a question the future will tell. I’m not so sure, unfortunately.

I hope it does, I really do. This new Curragh deserves it. It’s an amazing place to watch horse racing. It’s the perfect stadium for our equine heroes. Having been to many racecourses around the world I can honestly say the Curragh is right up there with the best.

Now they have to work on service for the general public, think about pricing and any further enhancements that could be made to the raceday experience in order to lure punters to the track more often.

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The Curragh Is Back!

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Finally back at the Curragh! Today is the first official race day at the new Curragh. An expensive project, developed over the last number of years, racing continued at the constructionist side in the meantime.

I didn’t got in those years. Having been a member for a number of years before, I didn’t like the idea of racing to continue during the rebuild. I also didn’t entertain the idea that ticket prices remained static and that no offers were made to existing members during the time.

I may not become a member again, even now that the Curragh is a shiny new place. Prices are simply too high.

Nonetheless I can’t wait to be back today! In fact I hardly could sleep because of excitement and woke early. From photos and videos seen, the new Curragh looks stunning. Here’s hoping the real thing lives up to the promise.

It’s not a day to get carried away betting wise. And my record on Irish races is dismal anyway. I found a few interesting selections, still. So fingers crossed it’ll be a triumphant return to the Curragh of Kildare!

I shall come back with a nice little report and a few snaps tonight.

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3.35 Curragh: Group 3 Athasi Stakes, 7f

Hot favourite Happen looks hard to beat if she can improve from a good runner-up performance in the 1000 Guineas trial behind Lady Kaya. Obviously that is the strongest piece of form available, and you would expect her to come on for the run.

However, I strongly believe she will benefit even more from a step up in trip, and that 7 furlongs is plenty sharp enough for her already, particularly if she’d encounter some speedier types.

In truth, there is little in this field to rival her in terms of class. But Dermot Weld’s filly Titanium Sky is clearly the one who could be with further improvement be a big danger.

The grey filly was only seen once last year in a messy Gowran Park maiden where she ran out an excellent 5th given circumstances.

She returned last month at Leopardstown in a 7f maiden which she won in taking style. Always travelling well, she benefited from a strong pace. Nonetheless, it was impresse how she ate up the ground of the leaders in the final two furlongs.

That form already works out well, so the fact Titanium Sky did that so easily suggests she is potentially a Group horse. Dermot Weld said afterwards he certainly hopes to win some blacktype with her, and maybe she can even be an irish 1000 Guineas candidate.

Selection:
10pts win – Titanium Sky @ 10/1 Coral

……..

4.45 Curragh: 45-70 Handicap, 6f

This looks ultra-competitive, as you would expect for a 30 runner strong field. But in truth only few of these appear in with a fair chance of winning.

No doubt the JOB trained Little Clarinet is a fair favourite. Third up after a break, excellent recent form, she is handicapped to win. However, her overall record is off-putting, given a rather skinny price.

More intriguing at given odds is the rather unexposed Clifftop Dancer. The filly had only five starts to date but certainly returned with a bang on her first run finishing an excellent runner-up at Naas last month behind a supremely well handicapped winner.

If she can repeat that effort, possibly improve just a tiny bit, she’ll be a huge runner today. She ran to a TS rating of 65, so upped by 3lb to 67 gives her every opportunity today as ground and trip should be perfect and the testing finish at the Curragh may be ideal.

Selection:
5pts win – Clifftop Dancer @ 12/1 MB

……..

5.20 Curragh: Apprentice Handicap, 7f

Fit For Function comes here on the back of an excellent comeback run at Naas in a big field. He finished 5th, tiering in the closing stages.

Stripping fitter for the run, able to run of the same handicap mark, I feel Fit For Function has a huge opportunity today. He’s not that easy to win with, but has ran plenty of credible races in defeat.

As he was an excellent 2nd here at the Curragh over 6 furlongs last summer of a 6lb higher mark than his current 72 rating, which was a follow-up effort after winning at Listowel a few weeks earlier, then over 6.5f of a 74 mark.

Fit For Function looks well handicapped today, based on that and he also has ran four times to TS ratings of 72+ in his career already, two of those performances came only last year and with his recent comeback run still fresh in mind, there is little reason to fear he’s not as good any more.

Selection:
5pts win – Fit For Function @ 12/1 MB

Preview: Irish Champion Stakes 2018

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This years renewals of the Irish Champion Stakes wins in excitement purely on the basis of the renewed clash between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior. Both met several times in big races over the last two seasons and it has been interesting to see how each individual progresses differently.

One could argue that since the 2017 Racingpost Trophy Roaring Lion has been the more progressive one; certainly since Saxon Warrior landed his own early season target with the 2000 Guineas, Aiden O’Brien’s charge has been playing second fiddle on three occasions behind “The Lion”.

The last time, in the Juddmonte International, the gap was at its biggest ever since these two dated each other for the first time. 5 lengths Roaring Lion had to spare that day. Will it be different today?

It’s been a long year for both horses now and it probably comes down who’s able to hold his form.

On paper Roaring Lion is poised to win another battle today. Ground and track should suit him, and the fact AOB seems to throw the kitchen sink at him reminds me a little bit of 2009 when the same happened taking Sea The Stars on.

Regardless, taking prices into account, I find it impossible to back the favourite, even if he is the most exciting horse of 2018 and he’s likely to win today. Odds-on is a no go for me. And this particular race has proven over the last number of years it can be a bit of a minefield for short priced favs.

So I settle happily with Ballyoyle’s second string: Rhododendron. Her Lockinge Stakes win earlier this year rates as a superb piece of form and as she has proven in the past to stay 10 furlongs she would be a much shorter price if not for an abysmal run of form.

I bank on her to find back to her best today, for the simple fact the AOB yard wasn’t right for some time this summer and her runs were simply too bad to be true.

The setup of the race today could suit her well. In saying that, she has to find with the two market principles, of course. But then, she is a massive price, and on her best form she should be half of the odds available today.

Selection:
10pts win – Rhododendron @ 22/1 PP

Opinion: ATR Out? RUK In!

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So, it’s finally out in the open. Officially, that is. Been an open secret, heavily discussed on social media, for a number of days already – now Racing UK confirmed it will, indeed, broadcast Irish Racing from 2019 on while At The Races loses the rights.

A big blow for ATR. They also lose Chelmsford at the same time. Probably affordable to lose this particular All-Weather track – affordable in the wider context, given the fact it was Irish Racing that’s been the big deal for the channel.

Now, there is a lot of speculation, a lot of unanswered questions so far. It’s hard to know what’s the true reasons for this change. Money? Most likely. Though, there must be more to it. Horseracing Ireland can’t be so naive to believe it’s a good thing if their product vanishes behind a paywall. Or can they?

An expensive paywall that is. A hefty 30 quid in Ireland racing fans have to fork out in order to add Racing UK to their existing TV bundle. That says, ATR isn’t entirely free either. You need to have a TV bundle in place, too. However, you pay one subscription fee and that’s that. RUK requires a secondary fee.

Would At The Races have gone down the paywall route as well in the future? This rumour made the rounds. HRI will need to do some explaining if it wants to justify this change and even more so if it wants to change the course of public sentiment on it – which is incredibly negative at this point in time.

My personal view is pretty simple: I am no ATR fanboy by any stretch of the imagination. Poor picture quality, their coverage hard to take serious more often than not – it is a different, more casual approach than the one the much more serious, sometimes stiff and definitely not funny RUK offers.

I do prefer the factual, serious, analytical coverage RUK provides, no doubt. On the other hand, credit has to be given where it’s due: At The Races has done a pretty damn good job if it comes to covering Irish Racing. It’s like ‘free’ PR for the sport in this country, given many have a TV subscription where ATR is a standard feature.

ATR has put tremendous effort into the promotion of Irish racing. One only has to look back at the most recent example, the Dublin Racing Festival. Furthermore, the channel does cover the smallest of meetings and gives proper air time when speaking to trainers, owners and jockeys – the small ones and the big ones.

Irish Racing is the main thing on ATR. And you feel that in anything they do. Also, to have the ability to watch full replays of each race only couple of minutes after races finished, without the need to see the result in first place, is an excellent service.

As for Racing UK: I was a subscriber for a number of years. I can afford the 30 quid, no problem. It’s not so much about the money as more about the fact you have to pay 30 quid for 1! single channel. Let that sink in.

A channel that does allot of good things. A channel, however, that shows half the day replays on the loop, also. Replays you can find online for free. There seems to be more original content produced these days. New shows, more analysis, decent pundits. Still, it is not enough to warrant €30, in my opinion, at least.

Put that in context: I subscribe to Watch AFL. A year-long subscription worth €149 gives the ability to see every game of the AFL/WAFL season – live or on demand, whenever you want, plus access to the 24h Fox Footy channel and of course you can watch all the excellent live shows they produce (you might miss because of time zone difference) on demand too. That is value for money!

Now, I don’t want to go into detail regarding how Racing UK will accommodate all the additional racing from Ireland in their already incredibly busy schedule, particularly during the flat season. You can read it all in this Q&A.

Let me say only that: the answers provided to the questions are hardly satisfying. To be fair, though, we need to give Racing UK time to figure out how they gonna do it. We got to give them a chance and who knows what plans they’re going to pull out. Maybe it all turns out great….

From the outside, certainly, this move does seem odd and far from encouraging. The danger is a lack of visibility for Irish Racing moving forward. So let’s hope for the best, shall we?!

……..

Follow-up Piece: Racing Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

2018 ITM Stallion Trail – Photos & Report

4th October 2009. A day ingrained in memory. For ever. The day perfection in equine form became real. The day Sea The Stars wrote history.

I was still living in Germany. Following the 2009 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on my computer with the help of an almost colourless 240p internet stream. It didn’t matter. What mattered was the race. And the horse with the guy in the yellow silks riding.

It was my first full season following the sport of horse racing. Couldn’t have been a better year to get into it, right? Following Sea The Stars’ progress throughout the year, slowly but steadily understanding the historical importance of his achievements – what a wonderful, thrilling and emotional six months it were to witness. Horse racing at its best!

A Star Too Early

Sea The Stars came too early – or I came too late to party – I never saw him in flesh. It was only a couple of years later that I should eventually end up Ireland, though. I missed him by two years.

Ever since my love for the sport has grown into a passion that saw me creating this website and going racing near and far – from the Curragh in Kildare to Hanshin in Japan.

Still, there was the elusive dream: ever since this magical autumn day in 2009 all I wanted was to see the almighty Sea The Stars with my own eyes.

Trail of Greatness

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An elusive dream no longer. Thanks to the Irish Thoroughbred Trail! An initiative by the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM), running for a fourth consecutive  year now – though in earlier years I never made it for various reasons such as work- & travel commitments as well as a simple lack of awareness.

This time ITM made a huge effort to put the word out and make sure the message gets through to everyone: breeders and racing fans alike, come and join us for the Irish Thoroughbred Trail; 29 stud farms have taken part on Friday- and Saturday 12th/13th January 2018.

Such esteemed names as the famous Coolmore Stud, the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud, Shadwell’s Derrinstown Stud or Darley’s Kildangan Stud all opened their doors for visitors.

Come To See A Star 

Safe to say I didn’t let the chance slip this time. A moment of magic it was, indeed. Eye to eye with the champion. He musters you, a straight look into your eyes; I pick up the camera, holding the big lens right in front of his nose….

Ears pricked, relaxed, standing proud and tall surrounded by an aura of pure confidence. Sea The Stars knows. He’s got the awareness. He’s the king here and everywhere.

The now 12-year-old still looks the part. The most beautiful thoroughbred one can imagine. But it’s his aura that stands out for me – there’s something in the firm, clear, obvious, assured, yet gracious and elegant way Sea The Stars presents himself. I haven’t seen nor felt anything like it in the presence of any other horse.

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A Wonderful Experience

Gilltown Stud is doing a wonderful job. Friendly staff greeting you at every corner; handing out Sea The Stars gift bags for ever visitor; heated shelter and quality refreshments made available. Top class!

Half an hour further down the road is Darley’s Kildangan Stud. The second and final stop on my personal Stallion Trail. The weather turned grim by now. Wind and rain whipping in people’s faces. At the stud they do their upmost to make it the most enjoyable experience, regardless. I can only applaud the studs and their staff for putting in such tremendous effort.

13 stallions parade in front of eager eyes; young and old is here, braving the weather. Exceed And Excel still has the appearance of a racehorse. Beautifully defined muscles – you can see why he was such a top-class sprinter back in the day.

Ribchester has settled well in his new home it appears. He’s one of the more relaxed stallions. Takes it in his stride. The imposing Dawn Approach doesn’t cease to impress whenever I see him. Teofilo, Belardo…. it’s an esteemed list of superb racehorses enjoying their second career here at Kildangan Stud.

 

 

To open the doors, not only for breeders but also for racing fans, has to be applauded. The studs play the vital part here, without their welcoming openness the Irish Stallion Trail would not be a thing.

A Step In The Right Direction

At the same time only this welcoming openness – and I would add transparency which drives education on how the sport functions – has to be the way forward for horse racing.

Irish racing in the past has not only been accused but in fact has neglected the interest of the common racing fan. The most recent example was to continue having the major Group 1 meetings, like the Derby, at the Curragh during the time of its rebuild.

From my own experience, Irish Racing also tends to – or did so at least in the past years for as long as am going racing here (since 2011) – to cater for the casual once-a-year-event-goer rather than the racing fan who’s also there when they run a low-grade card a on a dreary January Sunday.

Thankfully this is changing. And it has to – if the sports wants more than pure survival but also wants to thrive. It is all well intended to try attract new groups of people for the sport. However, don’t forget your existing fanbase.

Initiatives like the Irish Thoroughbred Trail (or the equivalent Champion Trail during Irish Champions Weekend) provide a superb opportunity to do exactly that – exiting new potential race goers and at the same time offering value for existing racing fans alike.

Because think this way: how are you supposed to spark the interest of people who don’t know yet that they might develop an interest for the sport, if you fail to keep the fans you already have interested and excited?

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Embrace The Fans

Racing needs to embrace its fanbase. It’s their enthusiasm that fills racetracks with life on those low-key days that aren’t part of Festivals. And they do so because racing provides a unique experience that makes it so inherently different from most other sports.

Where else can you get so close to the stars, equine and human alike? Where else can fans become an actual part of the sport? Racing it is! You can’t have a chat with Jose Mourinho or pat Lionel Messi without being dragged away by some heavy security guard.

But you might be able to give Sea The Stars a pat on the head when you visit him at stud – or, as one of personal favourites – discussing with Tom Queally at Wolverhampton the Champion Stakes a day before the biggest ride of his career on Frankel.

That is what I love about horse racing. You are so close to the game – if you want. For some it is a mere betting medium with two handful of nags running around in circles. But for many others it’s so much more; passion – a sport that sets raw emotion free in us.

So, it was certainly great to see ITM making such a big effort with the Stallion Trail this year. There was a real buzz, certainly on social media – racing fans got the chance to meet their heroes but it as also a superb opportunity to engage new people and excite curiosity. This is the way to go. We need more of these initiatives that show horse racing in a different light apart from gambling and drunk ladies in short skirts.

Thank you ITM for making this possible. For giving me the chance to meet my all-time equine hero. I had some tears of joy in my eyes.

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Photos & Review: Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle Day

Beautiful day for racing it was today. Went down to my local track here in Naas to watch a couple of races. The 2m Novice Chase and the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle were of obvious interest.

Next Destination was the class act on the day, winning the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle in fine style. Jumped well and was well on top in the closing stages. Visually probably not as impressive as many would have hoped, but lest we forget it was heavy ground and a Grade 1, after all.

Next stop is Leopardstown and the Dublin Racing Festival – if all goes well, said Willie Mullins afterwards.

Willie Mullins unveiled French recruit Demi Sang in the Novice Hurdle half an hour earlier. The five year old looks a nice prospect, staying on nicely to deny three years older Avenir D’Une Vie. He needs further, in my mind.

The Arkle route is the one Mullins wants to pursue, though. Not sure if that is what this lad wants, given he already won over 2m 3f as a hurdler in France.

Some of my photos from the two feature races:

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Preview: Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle

Naas

1.45 Naas: Grade 1 Novice Hurdle, 2m 4f

No Samcro in the race makes the task on hand for Next Destination somewhat easier. One would think so, at least. A brilliant Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle winner, comes here with plenty of positive experience.

He created a big impression on a number of occasions now. A fine bumper horse last season, he proves even better over hurdles. 2/2 now, overcoming a slight fright at at the third last but came back on the bridle and putting the race to bet in impressive style.

He’s the clear favourite on anything we know. What we don’t know yet, how much upside does the Joseph O’Brien trained Speak Easy has to offer?

He landed a maiden hurdle when debuting under rules at Navan last month. Clearly green and not quite sure what to do, he made Mark Walsh work a bit throughout and missed a couple of jumps.

However the way he made progress and motored home without ever being really touched, in a maiden hurdle that looks like solid form, is something to take note of.

Connections decided against the Tolworth and rather opted to come to Naas. They will hope he has learned plenty the other day. He’ll have to be a fast learner if he wants to trouble the favourite.

However in his favour is the step up in trip. 2m 4f should suit much better than 2m. Given how good Speak Easy already looked when showing plenty signs of inexperience, one can only imagine how much more he can bring to the table if understanding more of what his job is.

Interesting side fact: Speak Easy has achieved the highest time speed rating in the field so far. Not always an indicator for success, nonetheless the fact Next Destination hasn’t run better than 109 yet, is another small piece in the puzzle that let me come to the conclusion that there is potentially less between these two than the market suggests.

It is hard to see anyone else from the field having a realistic say in the outcome of the race. So at 11/2 it is impossible for me to not back Speak Easy. Maybe Next Destionation is the better horse and can use his experience to full extend – however on pure price reasons, I feel Speak Easy has a better than 16% chance to win.

Selection:
10pts win – Speak Easy @ 11/2 Bet365