The Aiden O’Brien trained favourite Cougar is unlikely to be anywhere near pattern class, and that throws the race wide open. No doubt I am seriously interested in Active Duty, trained by Ger Lyons – a huge eye-catcher on his racecourse debut back in March.
This son of the brilliant Almanzor saw plenty of support in the betting market on that day, although, he was always likely to play second fiddle behind odds-on favourite Stone Age, who was a couple of months later a highly fancied contender in the Epsom Derby.
Stone Age 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 clear signs of inexperience, he finished the race in impressive style under a hands and heels ride, producing a thunder turn of foot.
Active Duty was an expensive £260k yearling. Right now it doesn’t look like he can live up to this lofty price tag. But he was an April foal, which means it’s a fair possibility he can improve significantly with time and experiencee.
Not to forget this will only be his third career start. For that he drops back to 10 furlongs after a rather disappointing 5th place finish at Navan over 1 mile 5 furlongs. He made a promising looking move from the back of the field swinging around the wide outside turning for home, but the effort petered out. He didn’t appear to stay the trip. That form has worked out rather well already.
The drop in distance should suit I reckon. On pedigree 10 furlongs seem to be the ideal trip. Nonetheless the question mark is why connections felt the need to run him over the longer trip already on his second career start. Perhaps he lacks natural speed.
Although, judged on his debut effort, he seems to possess a turn of foot. Back then he also ran to topspeed 73. Which is pretty solid for a debut performance.
In any case it’s too early to give up on him. This is a winnable race for him. and he looks overpriced.
10pts win – Active Duty @ 6.6
2.35 Greyville: KZN Breeders Mile, 1m
Nexus stands out as a major chance over in Greyville today in a race he should be touching odds-on in my book. He is the only one that combines class, course and distance form and should enjoy the solid pace that I expect to be set here. He also tops the speed ratings by a country mile in these conditions in this field.
He didn’t set the world alight on his return over shorter but the race developed up front anyways and he was always likely to come on. He’s weighted to win this as the second highest rated horse behind top-class sprinter Battle Force who I reckon won’t see out the trip.
Obviously all eyes will be on former champion jockey Piere Strydom who makes his return on Nexus before his ride in the Durban July next Saturday. His fitness is a slight question mark, but on the other hand I’m sure Nexus will be primed to give the champ a taste for victory today.
This wouldn’t be my race and price normally. But with so many question marks about pretty much everyone else in this field, and Nexus having fitness assured, going well on this track, over his ideal distance with the weights in his favours, can’t pass it.
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.
A few of my images from the Birdcatcher Day at Naas, featuring the similarly named Premier Handicap plus two Listed contests with the Garnet & Bluebell Stakes.
Been a wet day. Desperate conditions made it hard work for horses and jockeys. Still some good performances. Most notably the ones of team Lyons/Keane. Trainer and jockey teamed up for a hat-trick on the card.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the verge of the Irish 2000 Guineas Aiden O’Brien seemed to become overwhelmed by his emotions. He ennobled Gleneagles, hailing him as “the best miler we have ever had”. That is some achievement in its own right, especially given the amount of classy horses passing through his hands year in year out.
This statement came just minutes after Gleneagles completed the 2000 Guineas double. He had to fight hard for it and it was a much closer finish than at Newmarket, where absolutely everything went to plan. This time, Gleneagles, boxed in on the rails, had to show an awful lot of class to win. He did exactly that.
But does it make him the best ever? Well, who am I to object his handlers experienced opinion. He, who has seen it all! Though, one could get the feeling that Aiden uses the term “best ever” a bit too loosely these days. Anyway, Gleneagles is certainly a very good colt. A true miler. A world-class miler.
Pearl Secret Lands A Big One
Sprint races can sometimes be a bit like lotto: Draw a number or throw a pin and wherever it lands that’s the horse to win. Admittedly, now I’m cynical. Yet there is some truth in it! These big sprint races are so much down to day form, it doesn’t always honour the actual form book. Run the same race ten times and you’ll almost certainly get ten different results.
So happened in the Temple Stakes at Haydock on Saturday. Pearl Secret was a slightly surprising winner of the Group 2 sprint. Yes, he was runner-up in the very same race last year, but back then on bottomless ground and before Saturday he only managed to win at Listed- or Conditions Stakes level. Now he has “a big one” on his CV!
Pearl Secret was followed home by Jack Dexter, who hasn’t won since November 2013, and 40/1 shot Wind Fire. Favourite Hot Streak finished sixth, but in truth never landed a blow. So much about the Lotto theory…
Jim Bolger The Magician
The County Kilkenny handler had it spot on: he knew his main contender for the 1000 Guineas wasn’t a miler. So he employed two pace makers, to ensure there would be no dawdling around. The good, consistent pace helped Pleascach in a way to relax but also to offset her lack of tactical speed and instead have a race with emphasize on stamina. It worked to perfection.
Pleascach took up the lead from two furlongs out and stayed strongly to line, fending off all challengers, including the one of red hot favourite Found. The stiff uphill finish at the Curragh clearly suited her cause too.
The next Jim Bolger star is already lined up. His Round Two won the Listed Marble Hill Stakes in comprehensive style at the Curragh on Saturday, overcoming question marks about his speed over the minimum trip as well as a wider than ideal draw. The Teofilo son can only get better with time and distance. He seems the ideal favourite for the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot next month.
Found Is No World-Beater
Hot Irish 1000 Guineas Favourite Found wasn’t able to land the odds in Sunday’s big race and instead had to settle for second. She didn’t get the clearest of runs as she was in a pocket over 2f out. The eventual winner, Bolger’s Pleascach, got first run and fend off Found’s charge gamely in the closing stages.
In the aftermath not everyone thought the best horse won – and I tend to agree to an extend – yes, Found was slightly unlucky, but that says she got out into the clear at the two furlong marker and had all the time in the world to make up the ground. She didn’t quicken rapidly enough, though, needed almost a full furlong to hit top gear. She clearly is no world-beater. At least not over the mile trip.
Compare her run to the one of Gleneagles in the 2000 Guineas – he had even less time to finish off his race once in the clear. But he did it in the manner of a true mile champion. He found a way to win, quickened when it mattered.
Nonetheless, Found’s Guineas performance is encouraging. She’ll be better over further. It may turn out that 1m 2f is her optimum, but the Oaks distance is very much possible and she now goes to Epsom as one of the favourites.
Endless Drama A Chaser In The Making
Just kidding. But you’ll laugh, there was more than one person suggesting the idea of giving him a spin over the big fences. And you can see why. He is a very big boy, indeed! I was slightly overwhelmed when this huge thing passed me in the parade ring for the first time.
I mean, there you have all these good looking three year olds walking around, very much looking like three year olds should look like. And then suddenly you have this monster of a horse walking towards you – is this still the Curragh or already Aintree? Guineas or Grand National Day?
In my 2000 Guineas preview I voiced slight disappointment to see Endless Drama running over 1m yet again. He didn’t look like staying thus far in two previous attempts over 6f+. On pedigree he seems a rather dubious stayer too. Add all the early speed he usually shows and you could easily come to the conclusion that he is actually a sprinter.
On Saturday, though, different tactics and better ground seemed to work wonders. He finished the Guineas well enough to suggest he can be a good miler. A close second behind Gleneagles is surly a very strong piece of form. Yet, I’d love to see him over six furlongs. I think he could be a force over that sort of trip.
Al Kazeem’s Second Spring
It’s never been straightforward for him. Al Kazeem lost almost his entire Classic season, but came back stronger than ever the following season, when he beat Camelot in the 2013 Tattersalls Gold Cup. That’s now exactly two years ago. He went on to land the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and Coral Eclipse the same year and was subsequently retired to stud as potentially hot property for all the lovely fillies in the world.
Didn’t work out in the breeding shed. He was soon back in training and after a couple of respectable efforts he finally muscled his way to another heroic Group 1 victory – Sunday at the Curragh, beating some serious opposition in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.
He’s the kind of horse you won’t find enough of in flat racing. But these classy veterans are what the sport is craving for. Fans want to follow horses over more than one or two season. What is part and parcel in jump racing, is much more difficult at the top end of the game on the flat. So it’s great to see Al Kazeem, a seven year old now, as good and happy as ever!