Balmy weather and a solid card of seven races on offer – on a quiet Sunday I used the opportunity to drive down to Cork for their flat season opener.
It’s been a while since I’ve been at the Mallow track. So, I was certainly excited for racing on a day with perfect spring weather for flat racing on ground described as good. The card had a solid look as well: a few interesting maiden races, the Listed Cork Stakes and some intriguing Handicaps.
€20 get you in. Given the recent heated discussions about ticket prices in the UK on the back of Cheltenham, thankfully here in Ireland entrance fees are generally fair – particularly for the marquee days and Festivals.
For the card on offer on this Sunday €20 isn’t necessarily cheap, though, it includes a racecard. Coffee was €2.80, a bog standard 99 ice cream €3.00. Can’t complain – that’s fair enough. Let’s not forget Covid has hit racecourses hard over the last two years.
Cork Racecourse is a lovely track. There’s a friendly vibe, short ways from parade ring to betting to the stands. Solid facilities. Good viewing of the action. A cozy place.
My focus on the day wasn’t so much on betting. It rarely is when I go racing. It’s all about the atmosphere, the horses and this time in particular: photos. I was hoping to capture some solid action shots – and left satisfied!
The opening 7 furlong maiden was perhaps the most intriguing contest of the day. Princess Olly, a daughter of Invincible Spirit, was an expensive 220,000 gns yearling. Quite why she was an 18/1 shot I am not sure, though. She looked fine in the parade ring and won nicely for AMO racing, trainer Adrian Murray and jockey Rossa Ryan, who flew over for the ride. She should get further and looks an exciting prospect.
The runner up Osraige, trained by Joseph O’Brien, travelled best of all for most of the race but didn’t quite get there in the end. She’s an obvious one to keep an eye on.
The Listed Cork Stakes over 6 furlongs looks a cracking race on paper. Half the field, at least, had a realistic shot. In the end Power Under Me for Ger Lyons and jockey Colin Keane got up on the line in a thrilling finish that saw Mooneista only headed in the dying strides.
The 4-year-old gelding continued where he left off, after he finished 2021 with a Listed win at the Curragh. In saying that, I thought Elliptic,back in fourth place, was the eye-catcher of the day. She looks to have trained on well and finished strongly coming from off the pace with a brave move.
It was a double on the day for AMO Racing thanks to the Michael O’Callaghan trained Crispy Cat in the five furlong juvenile maiden. He looked ready pre-race and won a shade cozily in the end, having another interesting Ger Lyons expensive newcomer Beauty Crescent in second.
The subsequent 5 furlong Handicap for 3-year-olds was probably the one I was most interested in. Some good prospects lined up, with my money riding on Red Lacewing.
The physical difference between the horses in the parade ring was striking. Pearl Palinka, who was thought to be one of the leading contender beforehand, didn’t look particularly ready for her first outing of the year. Whereas Ernest Rutherford was a reall standout – shiny coat and fit – it was no surprise he won the best turned out award.
But it was Drombeg Banner who landed the spoils eventually. Well supported in the market, the Ken Condon trained gelding went off favourite, made all and wasn’t for catching.
Runner-up Red Lacewing ran an excellent race in defeat. A slow start didn’t help, and her momentum was stopped half a furlong from home by the left hanging winner. She had to switch and regather momentum but the damage was done.
I believe she is one to watch out for. She looked well physically, although, was quite unruly pre-race when walking from the parade ring to the track. Clearly temperamental, she has a big engine and was an eye-catcher on all occasions last year.
It was a rather quiet day for team O’Brien. Only Aiden – with Shark Bay in the lucky last – won a race. Although Osraige for Joseph and Elliptic for Donnacha ran promising races. There are bigger days to come for them.
A list of horses that caught my eye during the last seven days of racing. These individuals look ready to win a race sooner rather than later.
Surrey Territories 30/03/22 – 6.30 Kempton:
The pace slowed dramatically down soon after the start with the field bunching up and a bit of carnage behind the leading pack. Surrey Territories was at a major disadvantage in a position too far back. The winner and runner-up came from close- or up with the pace throughout the race.
Nothing got really involved from behind, the only one finishing strongly was Surrey Territories, thundering down on the outside of the field to claim a courageous 3rd place in the end.
If one is prepared to draw a line through an uncharacteristically poor penultimate run, then Surrey Territories has produced four strong performances this year. His 4th place finish at Wolverhampton in January over 7 furlongs may well be the strongest, with him finishing in impressive style and producing some fast sectionals. That piece of form looks rock solid having been franked subsequently.
A negative aspect to keep in mind is Surrey Territories’s habit to break slowly. But his recent performances suggest to me a win is near. He’s clearly capable of winning off his current mark and has no problems to stay a mile. He’s only raced three times over this trip, so there is potentially some upside.
I would love to see a strong apprentice booked over the 1 mile trip. This would make Surrey Territories a standout chance wherever he goes next.
Artician 30/03/2022 – 7.30 Kempton:
He was unusually fast out of the gates, although soon settled off the pace in a solid run race. He travelled notably well into the home straight but was looking for racing room from 2 furlongs out behind a wall of horses, having to delay his challenge, together with the equally well travelling eventual winner, a 100 rated Listed winner.
Entering the final furlong the eventual winner got an opening to move straight through, whereas Artician had to switch, losing his momentum and having to regain his full effort.
This was a strong performance given the circumstances and opposition. Artician has produced a number of rock solid runs since switching yards and moving over to the UK. After an easy victory over 7 furlongs at Wolverhampton on debut for trainer Simon Dow – albeit against inferior rivals – he was not good enough in a subsequent hot class 2 Handicap over the same CD. When dropped in class four weeks ago he finished a fine 3rd place at Kempton, though, which looks like a good piece of form.
Artician was a highly promising juvenile with placed efforts in the Marble Hill Stakes and Railway Stakes in Ireland. He didn’t quite fulfill that promise, however, now in Handicap company with a significantly lowered mark he seems ready to strike.
I am not fully sold on him over a mile, and envision ideal conditions to be a 7 furlongs handicap below class 2. He seems relatively ground independent on turf and clearly enjoys the All-Weather too.
Active Duty 29/03/22 – 4.35 Navan:
This son of the brilliant Almanzor saw plenty of support in the betting market, although, he was always likely to play second fiddle behind 109 rated and Group 1 placed odds-on favourite Stone Age.
The favourite won from the front giving the form a really solid look, while Active Duty settled well in rear for the majority of the race. Still trailing at the end of the field when turning for home, he soon started to make a big move on the outside once asked for serious effort. Despite showing signs of inexperience, he finished the race in impressive style under a hands and heels ride.
Active Duty was an expensive £260k yearling and at this early stage of his career promises to live up to this lofty price tag. He’s likely to be heavily odds-on wherever he goes next, but beyond that can be an exciting prospect for the season ahead. As an April foal it’s not unlikely to assume that he will improve significantly with time and experience this year.
I also would mention to keep an eye out for the 4th horse Fumata. He looked green and didn’t quite get a clear run in the home straight, but eventually stayed on well enough to suggest there is ability.
He’s related to winners and looks bound to improve once stepping up to 1m 4f – a distance he’s bred for.
Conversant 26/03/22 – 5.21 Curragh:
The seven-year old gelding was quickest out of the gate, using his 5 furlong speed. He joined an isolated small group of six horses on the stands’ side rail, travelling strongly on the bridle to the two furlong marker.
Perhaps he over raced in the early stages – his group was a couple of lengths ahead for the first half of the race as well. He didn’t find much once off the bridle approaching the uphill finish at the Curragh but still managed to finish 8th amongst the second group of finishers behind the first three home.
This was Conversant’s first run since last October after a productive 2021 season. He’s a pound lower rated than his last winning mark from last year when he managed to run twice to a 65 topspeed rating as well.
He can win off his current rating, perhaps a stiff 5 furlong finish like Navan, where he won twice already, with plenty of cut in the ground, will be an ideal scenario. He’s down to a fine mark, but any additional concession from the handicapper will be a huge bonus.
Cold Stare is the obvious eye-catcher as he was travelling sweetly throughout the race. However, trapped behind a wall of horses a gap wouldn’t open in time to get out. He finished easily on the bridle in 6th place in the end.
The 7-year old gelding ran much better on this seasonal reappearance than a 25/1 price tag suggested. Cold Stare has clearly retained all the ability he showed last season when he won twice and also finished 2nd on two occasions. He did so while achieving topspeed ratings of 88 and 91 and caught the eye multiple times.
It is fair to say he’s handicapped close enough to his best. But if he can drop a couple of pounds below a 90 mark again, ideally also moving down in class, he’ll be a big shout in a 6- or 7 furlongs handicap with cut in the ground. A good apprentice on board can only enhance his chances. It’s worth waiting for the right conditions to appear. The wait will be worth it. He’s one to keep any eye on over the next weeks in my book.
Mokaatil isn’t a desperately obvious one at first glance. But this was his first start since October and there was zero expectations for him to run well, judged by odds of 50/1. Even more so over a trip that is not quite his best.
He raced in midfield early on but drifted right to the back of field with three furlongs to go. Instead of flattening out and finishing down the field Mokaatil kept going right to the end for a solid 7th place finish.
In truth, Mokaatil never looked dangerous; yet I quite liked the fight and spirit he showed on a day that was never supposed to be his day anyway. This looked like an excellent pipe opener. This run confirms he’s clearly in good nick after a strong 2021 campaign where he won three times and ran to TS 85 and 80.
He’s already 2lb below his last winning mark but with some additional help from the handicapper, perhaps a return to a mark of 82 and dropped to the minimum trip, he’ll be a big chance, particularly on decent ground. Keep an eye on Mokaatil when these circumstances come together this season.
Desert Land 31/03/22 – 3.50 Lingfield:
First start since a course and distance success in December. He pulled like a train the first part of the race unable to settle in rear of the field. Most likely he ran his race there and then. Even though, jockey Pat Cosgrave never made any attempt to call for an effort while the race developed in front of him from three furlongs out and as a consequence Desert Land was left in no-man’s-land entering the home straight.
If one wants to see it in a positive light then Desert Land was rather tenderly handled in the closing stages and not needlessly knocked about in a finish he had little to gain. One could also have the viewpoint that insufficient attempt was made to obtain the best possible result with the early antics taken as an excuse.
In my view 1 mile is too far for Desert Land in any case. Despite the fact he won over course and distance. It wasn’t the first time he pulled really hard and he got rather lucky in the race he won as a slow early pace resulted in sprint finish playing to his speed – in fairness: as they tend to happen regularly at Lingfield. Regardless, the trip is far from his optimum. His best performances all come over shorter 6 furlongs. Perhaps a fast paced 7 furlongs is fine too these days, too.
Desert Land won of a 66 Handicap mark at Brighton last year over 6 furlongs, and achieved Tospeed ratings of 62 on turf and 68 on the All-Weather. With that in mind he’s down to an attractive mark already. But will be even more so if he drops another couple of pounds combined with moving down in distance. In that context I felt the run here was eye-catching. Because the gelding was clearly minded for a better day to come.
Ebtsama 31/03/22 – 4.10 Lingfield:
Handicap debut for this well bred filly. A £105k yearling and full sister to Group 2 placed Dark Rose, Ebtsama seemingly overcame the widest draw and sluggish start to the race. She travelled much the strongest entering the home straight, looking the likeliest winner. She was clear run denied until it was too late, though. Finally switched to the outside entering the final furlong she ran well to the line but the birds was flown at that point.
She shaped well on her seasonal reappearance over 7 furlongs at Southwell in February where she finished runner-up behind a good winner. I like to see her going up in trip again. Either 7f or a mile – both shouldn’t be a problem on pedigree.
Even though it’s unlikely she’ll hit the heights of her sister, a handicap mark of 75 probably underestimates her ability – that calculation is a simple one: given with a clear run Ebstama would have finished much closer in the Lingfield race, if not even won the race. With improvement likely to come with experience and moving up in the trip she should have a number of pounds in hand, at the very least.
Encouragement can also be taken from last year. As a juvenile Ebtsama showed some smart form in two starts: on debut only 4 lengths down behind the subsequent Lowther Stakes winner and runner-up behind a subsequent Group 3 winner.
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.
10pts win – Ridenza @ 18/1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is little to expect from the 3-year-old individuals in this field, hence we can focus on the older horses right away, that makes it much less competitive race overall. Clear top of the list is obviously Make A Challenge, after his impressive 5f romp here at the Curragh.
Ground and tip won’t be a worry, but as he is going up in class he has to progress again…. or not. This is a weak listed contest, hence he is the right favourite and will be hard to beat.
But if one can beat him I feel it will be the undervalued Urban Beat. He was 4th and well beaten behind Make A Challenge in the aforementioned Curragh race, however, given circumstances ran a massive race.
He clearly was disadvantaged by the draw and pace, most importantly, but a clear best from the low drawn horses, therefore one can upgrade his run.
The soft ground today won’t be an issue – he’s won twice on heavy ground; but the step up to 6 furlongs is one that can bring him much closer to the favourite today as I feel that is his optimum trip. Drawn close to the pace Urban Beat should get the perfect race, and as one of only very few in this field he has already ran to a 90+ topspeed rating in the past – 2 times, in fact – which means he’s a huge price in this poor field, in my book.
10pts win – Urban Beat@ 15/2 WH
3.50 Curragh: Handicap, 6 furlongs
Medicine Jack looks handicapped to go really close today, after proving his well being at Navan over the minimum trip only four days ago, when he was probably unlucky to bump into a well-handicapped winner who got first run.
Stepping up to 6f will suit, so does the soft ground and the pace he’ll find around himself to track. The gelding has fallen a long way in his handicap mark, from a 101 at the beginning of the season to 80!
Despite this deep fall, Medicine Jack has a number of decent runs in the book this year; such as two over course and distance in big fields this summer.
This is a much easier contest than those handicaps, and given he has ran to 80 plus topspeed ratings in the past, I am hopeful that with preferred conditions today he can get his head in front again.
I’m quite interested in the Ger Lyons trained filly Palabres. She ran incredibly well on debut last year in a red hot maiden that has thrown up a few good subsequent winners – Palabres herself running to a 61 TS rating under hands and heels that day.
She didn’t live up to the promise in three more starts, finishing down the field on each occasion. Ger Lyons suggesting the filly was mentally not ready, though:
“Maybe it was immaturity that was preventing her from showing on track what we thought we were seeing at home.”
He also expects her to be ready to go today. Off a lowly handicap mark, Palabres could easily be well handicapped now, also stepping up in trip – if she’s got a mind for racing. Her debut run certainly implies the existence of talent.
Slight worries about the trip and ground and also the wide draw. But if she’s well-in here, as I imagine she is, with also a bit of stamina on the sire side available, Palabres looks an overpriced individual in this open contest.