Category Archives: Ireland

Preview: Irish Grand National

Last week we enjoyed a spectacular English Grand National at Aintree. This Easter Monday now all eyes will be on the Irish equivalent which is no less a cracking race to witness!

One of the biggest differences is that unlike the Aintree version, the Irish Grand National has been won by a female jockey – it’s the very same one who came closest to win the English National on Seabass in 2012 when finishing third.

Seabass has sadly passed away last week – may he rest in piece – but Katie Walsh has a ride here – however not on her 2015 winner Thunder And Roses but on the six year old Baie Des Iles. Can she do it again? Well, the odds are against here an it looks a difficult task for this young horse, indeed.

The champs of the last two years will find life difficult too. Thunder And Roses for one hasn’t got his head in front since landing the race in 2015 (and winning me a huge pot!). He was pulled up at Aintree, so was Rogue Angel, who got up in a thriller twelve months ago.

No worries for Gigginstown, though, as the powerful operation has another twelve runners in the race to land them the big prize for a third consecutive year!

That says none of them is particularly well fancied, with Cheltenham winner Tiger Roll  the best of the lot seemingly. However the seven year old has to carry a penalty and is a sketchy jumper who may find this test probably beyond him.

Another seven year old owns the position of red hot favourite. Our Duke, a fairly short 6/1 chance with most firms, comes here with a huge reputation on his handicap debut, after winning two of his three career starts over fences, including a Grade 1 in Novice company.

The only time he did not win, he finished a very gallant runner-up behind Disko at the Christmas Festival – form that looks incredibly strong.

Now, though, he has to bring his credentials to this much more demanding test, against seasoned, experienced animals and in a field as big as he’s ever encountered. Our Duke is a talented horse, but to back him at this short price with all these things in mind? I’d rather not.

The two that I like allot: current second favourite Fletchers Flyer and Gorden Elliott’s Noble Endevour.

Harry Fry hasn’t made a secret of the fact that this race has been the long term plan for Fletchers Flyer ever since he won a big Handicap Chase at the Punchestown Festival last year. He obviously handles this type of fast ground, goes well on a right handed track that is to some extend similar to Fairyhouse and he jumps well in a big field.

This still quite lightly raced chaser has seen a racecourse only twice this season. His comeback run is one to put a line through, however a third place in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot in February is a fine piece of form.

He should come here in tip top shape, certainly fresher than most and could easily find a bit of improvement in these conditions which means his mark of 145 could undervalue his real talent.

Noble Endevour is a bit more experienced and very much race hardened. He looked superb when landing the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and he followed up with another huge performance at the Cheltenham Festival when third behind Un Temps Pour Tout in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

You always wonder how much energy that must have cost but he had only four starts this season so may well have still something left in the tank. Second highest weight in the race isn’t an easy feast but he should love these conditions as he clearly excels in big fields, his jumping is big and bold, he travelles strongly and the only slight question mark, other than fitness, is maybe the fast ground.

He has shown to handle it in the past, though his very best form comes on slow ground. Given that he usually travelles so strongly through his races I give him the benefit of the doubt.

Selections:
5pts win – Fletchers Flyer @ 11/1 Betfair SB
5pts win – Noble Endeveaur @ 16/1 Bet365

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6.00 Redcar: Class 6 Handicap, 6f

Of course with three year old’s early in the season you can’t be quite sure how the race pans out pace wise, also some go with first headgear to post, suggesting there might be change of tactics for some.

However if you only read through the racing comments for most horses in this field you’ll find only very few did ever race close the pace, let alone lead a field. The majority is held up in rear, dwelt, was slowly away and therefore naturally behind, or at most tracking the race from a midfield position.

I feel this might give a horse a chance that forces the matter. Obvious candidate is top weight Chickenfortea, who has decent form in the book too. However of a revised mark he looks vulnerable to an improver.

This one could be Kevin Ryan’s Backinanger. This las has been up with the pace in his last two starts on the All-Weather where he ran with credit. He was incredibly keen when last seen at Newcastle and couldn’t sustain his effort, though the third place looks good form taking all of that into consideration, even more so as the winner backed up the form subsequently.

Backinanger is still winless, but he makes his turf handicap debut here with fast conditions sure to suit. Interestingly connections opted for fitting cheek-pieces for the first time, something that could help him to focus, be sharp in the finish and be easier to handle in general.

He also hails from a decent family, he also was a late foal which explains why he looked still pretty raw in most of his races up to date. It is therefore fair to assume that he could still improve a bit. A low mark of 57 gives him a good chance here.

Selection:
10 pts win – Backinanger @ 7/1 Bet365

The flat is back – Naas Review

The flat is back! The curtain raiser at Naas on Sunday is done and dusted – is has set us up for what should be an exciting season ahead. While HQ at the Curragh is one big construction site at the moment, it was Naas that picked up the traditional Irish Lincoln meeting – it was a perfect race day, so let’s have a quick look back at the action.

People power spoke – a very healthy crowd flocked through the gates on a day of most beautiful sunshine. Spring was clearly in the air – finally one might say.

Naas racecourse itself is in redeveloping mode right now. The little stand overseeing the winning post is gone. Sadly. Possibly my favourite spot to watch racing from in Ireland. But an overhaul is needed if the county Kildare track wants to stage bigger and better race meetings in the future.

Kevin Prendergast’s filly Moonlight Bay kicked off proceedings with an exceptional turn of foot in the opening maiden of the season that only a couple years back produced Dawn Approach.

This Pivotal filly could be quite a smart horse to follow in her own right. Some performances in behind by Power colt Way Back Home and Park Army, finishing respective in 6th and 7th, caught the  eye over a trip possibly too short for them to shine on debut.

The promising three year old filly Alphabet switches stables from retiring David Wachmann to Aiden O’Brien during the winter and got the first winner for powerhouse Ballydoyle under the belt thanks to a commanding performance in the 6f maiden. The ground – but possibly more importantly the first time tongue tie – clearly helped her to put her best foot forward.

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Alphabet storms to victory

Ma Fee Heela, a €200k pick up at the breeze up sales, was gambled into 7/4 favouritism and travelled nicely but couldn’t cope with the acceleration of the winner. Better ground and a step up in trip will see him go much better in the future one would assume.

French recruit Gymkhana got the ball rolling for Ger Lyons and Collin Keane in the saddle as they landed the first handicap of the new flat season. The four year old colt clearly relishes the mud and may move into pattern races after a clear success of a mark of 89.

Fair play to Maarek for finishing third here of what was a tough task having 10st 2lb to carry. The veteran remains nearly as good as ever but will probably find it tough to get his head in front without the help of the handicapper I feel.

Lightly raced bottom weight Gino Severini took the Madrid Handicap. She got a superb ride by Chris Hayes. Hard luck for  Mr Adjudicator and Hansian Prince who both travelled well behind but got hampered multiple times. Both could go well the next time.

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Gino Severini lands the Madrid Handicap

The big disappointment was Jim Bolger’s Vociferous Marina. Sharing favouritism in betting market in the morning she drifted badly to 11/1 on course before the off and ran rotten as the moves in the betting suggested. Judged on last season she is clearly better than this and the run might be best to forget.

English raider Czabo proved hard to pass in the Group 3 Park Express Stakes. A listed winner over a mile as a juvenile, she took the scalp off favourite Somehow in a scrappy finish for the Mick Channon team.

One would expect Aiden O’Brien’s runner-up to come on for the run and be a force in pattern races this season. She looked nice in the parade ring before the race and has clearly wintered well.

Fourth placed Queen Anne’s Lace looked at one point last season potentially smart, she seems to have a habit of travelling powerfully through the race only to find remarkably little under pressure. It was the same story here and it might be interesting to see her fitted with headgear.

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Even the little ones didn’t want to miss the Park Express Stakes

The highlight of the day – the Irish Lincolsnhire – shaped as competitive as always. Previous winner Onenightidreamed and two times runner-up Aussie Valentine tried their luck again. Dermot Weld’s lightly raced Sikandarabad was punted off the boards. The English came over with 94 rated Spring Offensive.

In the end it was the rather unlikely victory of Brandan Brackan who produced a career best to win of the second highest weight in the field. In fact this was the first time the now eight year old has won a race in spring. If Ger Lyons would train the winner, then, according the betting, stable companion Sea Wolf was expected deliver the goods. The 5/1 chance finished a 3 lengths beaten third – a superb result for the Lyons team overall!

And Aussie Valentine? Brides maid yet again! Yes, would you believe it? Runner-up in 2015, in 2016 and now in 2017! Some achievement for Paul Deegan’s inmate. But will he ever get over the line?

The concluding 1m maiden was taken by Aiden O’Brien with two times raced Galileo son Orderofthegarter. The three year old colt couldn’t have been more impressive, romping home by 11 lengths! It’ll be interesting if he can produce that sort of form on better ground too. Given his dam won a really good conditions race on fast ground one would think he can.

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Photo Gallery – Naas 26th March 2017:

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G3 Park Express Stakes winner Czabo

Photos in this article all © FLorian Christoph

The Flat is Back!

Here it is, the first flat meeting of the 2017 Irish flat season! Sun is shining – what a surprise! Ground at Naas after a week of rain is still soft to heavy as the racecourse tweeted this morning. It should be a fantastic day and I’ll be driving down to the county Kildare venue later on.

My main bet of the day is in the Irish Lincoln: Aussie Valentine at 8/1 e/w, already played this a while ago and feeling confident he’s hard to keep out of the money at least. Runner-up the last two seasons when the eventual winners were seemingly very well handicapped, he gets in off a very handy mark this time, 5lb lower than last year and loves the ground.

The first two maidens are quite difficult to solve, I let them run without the burden of my money on their shoulders in the first, but think Invincible Ryker (4/1) is sets a fair standard in the second one through his form from last season behind a subsequent Group placed horse. He also handles soft ground and can improve this year.

The sprint handicap might go to one of those lightly raced sorts at the top of the market. With price in mind I fancy a nibble on Dalgleish’s raider Dark Defender who at least likes the ground and has a favourable draw off an okay mark. at 16’s it seems worth a try.

The Madrid Handicap is intriguing: smart 2yo form meets race fitness. I stick with potential class and do like despite top weight Bolger’s Vociferous Marina (4/1) allot. At second time asking she got off the mark in a competitive Curragh maiden in softish conditions last year and did that in brilliant style. There’s Oaks talks so she’s clearly thought to be a smart girl.

Ger Lyons’s Hansian Prince looks worth a small saver at 14’s.He won a Limerick maiden over 7f in desperate conditions last season and produced a stunning turn of foot. A mark off 82 seems reasonable to play with.

Somehow looks hard to beat in the G3 Park Express but Aiden’s rarely fit this time in year and his Dubai runners were a big disappointment I prefer the look of Weld’s 3yo Queen Anne’s Lace (7/1). Not easy against older horses to run this early in the year but she is better than hare bare form suggests, she travels strongly and will relish the ground.

Good luck everybody and enjoy the racing!

Concordin will love the Navan Mud

3.10 Navan: Handicap Hurdle

An open enough looking contest given the fact that none of the runners has ever won off their current rating or higher. Top weight Grand Partner must be taken serious o has to be fine flat performer Benkei on his handicap debut.

But I take a chance with Concordin who seems to be a bit overpriced. Already a nine year old but for his age with reasonable mileage on the clock. He didn’t really enjoy chasing but has looked as good as ever since reverted to hurdling.

A fine third on his seasonal reappearance in November followed up by a strong staying performance at Leopardstown in a very competitive Handicap at the Christmas Festival. Subsequently he finished a long beaten fourth off a career highest mark in a mud fest at Gowran Park, but the form is better than it reads on paper.

Concordin travelled strongly and was about to make a big move when the field turned for home when suddenly one of the leaders slipped and fell. A miracle it was Concordin didn’t came down too. But he certainly lost all momentum. Not knocked over in the closing stages he finished fourth but his chances were clearly ruined by the incident around the 3f marker.

The drop to 2m tomorrow seems odd, given he looks like a grinder, who needed every inch of the 2m 2f at Leopardstown. But it makes sense given the desperate ground to be expected at Navan, a track that has a very stiff and tough finish where emphasise is definitely more on stamina, particularly in testing conditions. That should really help Concordin’s cause.

Selection:
10pts win – Concordin @ 9/2 WH

PREVIEW: Irish Champion Hurdle Day

It’s Leopardstown’s big day – so it was supposed to be at least – but the absence of two of racing’s biggest stars in Min and Faugheen has diminished the excitement factor of Irish Champion Hurdle day.

Still, two Grade 1’s and another Grade 2 – today is a big deal for Irish racing! The losses of Min and Faugheen due to injury hurt, nonetheless there is some serious racing action o show at Leopardstown. The two big races are intriguing, possibly even slightly more now, given both Min and Faugheen would have been long odds-on to land them.

The ground remains officially good – that should suit certain horses, while others will struggle with the emphasise on speed. That say If I glimpse out of the window I can see some very dark clouds hanging over the “fair City” right now.

The magnificent Hurricane Fly will be honoured with the unavailing of a statue for his lifetime achievements. Emotionally I’m quite attached to him  – quite clearly he is my favourite National Hunt horse. So it’s fantastic that Irish racing and Leopardstown embraces his legacy. ‘The Fly’ will also be paraded today.

2.00 Leopardstown: Novice Hurdle (Grade 2)

One of the main contenders is out with Monalee and that makes it a much easier task for the exciting Willie Mullins mare Let’s Dance. She is a second season novice who was already promising in her first year over hurdles but she appears to have improved significantly over the summer.

She landed a listed price at Punchestown on her seasonal reappearance but looked even sharper when stepped up to 2m 4f at Leopardstown over Christmas when she bolted up in a Grade 3.

She is a slick jumper with gears who’s an incredibly exciting prospect and should have no problems to cope with the good ground here today. She takes the world of beating in my book.

Stable mate Kemboy can’t be discounted. He was a fine winner on debut and has more to offer with the experience under his belt. Noel Meade’s Joey Sasa was an impressive winner of a maiden hurdle here at Leopardstown over Christmas. He enjoys decent ground but has to prove he wants the trip.

Selection: Let’s Dance @ 5/4 Skybet

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2.30 Leopardstown: Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1)

I totally get why Identity Thief is the “hype horse” here and no doubt his record makes for impressive reading. I also wouldn’t read too much into his last run when pulled up. Nonetheless it is a slight concern, so is the good ground today. I feel he is best suited so rain softened underfoot conditions but then he might easily stuff my mouth if he bolts up today.

Anyway, the Arkle is quite an open and intriguing race and the slight concerns over the favourite do bring the other three rivals right into the game.

De Bromehead’s nine year old Some Plan is two from three over fences and has only 2lb to find on the ratings and the one race he didn’t win he fell and we never know how close he would have gone. Still early days in his chasing career but he already looks a better chaser than hurdler and no doubt there’s more improvement likely to come.

The grey Blue Et Rouge is the youngest challenger in the race and looks to have plenty of ability. A winner of a solid Beginners Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, he left a lasting impression on me. Truth told his jumping wasn’t the best that day, though he was badly hampered two out by a faller and it was impressive how quickly he made up lost ground to jump the final fence on par eventually. Once clearing the last he produced a fine turn of foot to win with plenty in hand.

Willie Mullins also saddles nine year old Royal Cavalier. A solid sort in his own right and a good jumper, but he has a bit to find with his three rivals.

At given prices I do fancy Blue Et Rouge to be thereabouts in the finish. The drop in trip doesn’t concern me personally, given he showed plenty of pace the other day. He acts on track anf ground quite clearly and should have learned plenty from his first outing over fences. He looks an incredibly exciting prospect.

Selection: Blue Et Rouge @ 7/2 PP

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3.30 Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

A disappointing renewal given Faugheen’s absence, Now this looks pretty much a two horse race, though the younger Petit Mouchoir is firmly fancied. Rightly so, after an impressive Ryanair Hurdle success where he beat today’s most dangerous rival Nicholas Canyon quite easily. But do we get carried away and letrecency bias influence our judgement a bit too much here? Let’s not forget Petit Mouchoir win record is not impressive at all and given he was a 3m point to point winner it might well be the case that he can get into trouble on this good ground against a pacier sort.

Connections couldn’t explain Nicholas Canyon’s rather lacklustre showing at Christmas. Seven lengths beaten in second by Petit Mouchoir seems not a true reflection of his ability. Now, if he is anywhere close to his best – and his seasonal comeback run suggested he is as good as ever – then he should make this a real race for the long odds-on favourite. Obviously he has to improve a good bit to get closer this time, and fact is he’s better with cut in the ground and probably on a right handed track….

Yet, let’s not forget he’s last years Cheltenham Champion Hurdle third, a seven times Grade 1 winner, including two of those here at Leopardstown. On ratings he’s only two pounds to find with Petit Mouchoir and it’s not unreasonable to believe NC can be closer to this rival today.

Hard to make a case for Footpad and Ivanovich Gorbatov, though the later one is the reigning Triumph Hurdle winner nonetheless so can’t be fully discounted.

Selection: Nicholas Canyon @ 11/4 Ladbrokes

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Arrogate romps home in Pegasus

What an anti-climax for the richest race of the world – the inaugural Pegasus World Cup promised a fascinating showdown of the two highest rated horses on the planet…. unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

Only Arrogate showed up and he did what we expected him to do: romp home. A shame that California Chrome never got going. He already looked edgy and not particularly willing in the warm-up. Something was clearly not right. Even before the field turned for home Chrome lost touch. The race was over.

Taking nothing away from Arrogate who still had to go on and win the race. But we know he is so superior to the rest of the field that it was no real surprise that he did what he did in the end. Much more exciting will be to see how he continues in 2017 now as a four year old, most likely with the defence of his Breeders Cup Classic crown as the main target.

For California Chrome it’s the end of a long road. A deserved retirement and daily meetings with some lovely mares await him now – he deserves it and also send a clear signal yesterday: I’ve enough of this game. Happy retirement!

AiR Force Blue Redemption Day

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Not often you see a horse cruising hard on the bridle entering the final furlong in a Grade 1 on the dirt, particularly if they flew around the track right from the start – yet Frosted did!

He posted one of the most impressive performances of the season, following on from an equally ultra impressive victory in Metropolitan Handicap back in June.

If you didn’t see the race, staged last night at beautiful Saratoga, here’s a chance to catch up:


Hayley Turner you beauty! The multiple Group 1 winning formerly leading female rider in the UK looked healthy and happy at yesterday’s Shergar Cup – which in itself was great to see; no doubt her ride in the Shergar Cup Mile was THE highlight of the day.

Super cool, with (virtual) balls of steel, did she rode Early Morning to victory – and given she hasn’t ridden much since her retirement, she looked still quite strong in the saddle. Well done!

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4.05 Phoenix Stakes: Air Force Blue @ 11/8 Skybet

Yes, you got to be a brave man to put any amount of faith in fallen Ballydoyle star Air Force Blue. BUT he wins this – hands down!

Why? Well, it’s obvious that everything he showed as a three year old is so far below anything he showed as a juvenile – therefore it might be fair to assume he simply didn’t train on. On the other hand to my eyes it seemed more like he had some issues bugging him him early on the year plus it becomes clear he doesn’t last the mile trip.

On the positive side of things: when dropped to 6 furlongs in the July Cup you could see a glimpse of last seasons class. “What???” Some will say now. Air Force Blue beaten by feckin’ seven lengths that day!

That’s right, though look closely, as he travelled like a dream for a very long time albeit didn’t get the breaks he needed when it really mattered….. I know I’m making excuses plenty will think… but….

…..Air Force Blue drops down to Group 3 level today right in to a field he simply HAS to dominate, particularly with good ground sure to suit. He’s by far the highest rated individual in this race. Combined with his weight for age allowance he is virtually unbeatable.

So, no excuses today. None! If he fades badly today then we get an answer the question whether there is an underlying problem… potentially breathing (*think loud*). Until then I give him the benefit of the doubt and say 11/8 is monster value!

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The Best from the Rest:

2.20 Chelmsford: Migan Lily @ 3/1 Skybet
2.30 Leicester: Zeinhom @ 10/3 Skybet
4.50 Chelmsford: Stamford Raffles @ 15/2 WH
5.20 Chelmsford: Not Your Call @ 2/1 VC

Fairyhouse Betting: Grade 1 Action

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Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)

Willie Mullins holds the keys in his hands to the outcome of this race. Exciting Long Dog might be hard to beat but stable mate Bachasson can’t be underestimated.

The French import is unbeaten in four starts in Ireland and landed a good Grade 3 Hurdle in excellent style when last seen. He’s also receiving some weight from Long Dog.

Bachasson @ 7/2 Paddy Power – 5pts Win

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Hatton’s Grace Hurdle (Grade 1)

If Arctic Fire runs to his best he’ll be probably running away with this. However he’s fallen short to prevail on the highest level up until now and is one I’m prepared to take on.

Receiving 4lb from all his rivals, French gelding Gwencily Berbas is an interesting alternative. He probably would like it a bit softer but has won on yielding ground here at Fairyhouse over 2m on Grade 3 level earlier this month.

Still lightly raced, he is unexposed over the 2 1/2m trip, which on pedigree should very much suit.

Gwencily Berbas @ 10/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win