Tag Archives: Harzand

2018 ITM Stallion Trail – Photos & Report

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

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

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

A Star Too Early

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

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

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

Trail of Greatness

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

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

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

Come To See A Star 

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

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

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

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A Wonderful Experience

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

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

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

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

 

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

A Step In The Right Direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Embrace The Fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preview: Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

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Arc Day! The most prestigious flat race in Europe, maybe the world, is finally upon us The search for a new champion begins right here.

The Arc, that is a special race for me personally. On one hand it clearly marks the end of the flat season – yes, there is still some racing to go, but let’s make no mistake: the calendar turned to October, the nights are chilly again and the jumpers are out at Gowran Park. Winter is coming….

Arc Day: it’s a special day also because it brings back wonderful memories. Now, I can’t claim to follow the sport of horse racing for decades. Though it’s closing in on ten years actually – time’s flying! But I witnessed Sea The Stars winning the race, bringing the house down on an unbelievable summer of racing that captivated my heart like no other ever did.

Only two years later the German filly Danedream sprinted to a sensational success in Europe’s premier flat race – I had a big ante-post wager on her at massive odds, to this date the biggest monetary win of my illustrious betting career.

Arc 2016: A Decent Renewal?

The general perception leading up to the big race seems one of muted excitement. Some suggest this year’s Arc is a rather sub-standard renewal. I don’t buy that. In fact the 2016 Arc boosts as big a field as ever, with runners from all over world, with more than a handful of those rated at 120+, not for forget a favourite who has won three big Group one races on the bounce this season. Oh the reigning dual English & Irish Derby winner is here too! Not too shabby in my book.

Conditions Today

Reportedly perfect conditions at Chantilly today, where the Arc is run during the re-building process at Longchamp. Chantilly is known as a course that throws up plenty of hard luck stories, so with a big field of 16 runners it seems inevitable that some connections might feel unlucky in the aftermath of the race.

Genuine good ground should provide a level playing field for all horses on that particular front at least, though.

High Draw = Race Lost?

A race over 1 mile 4 furlongs, yet the draw is always a big talking point on Arc day. Of course it is, because if your drawn in the car park it makes your task so much more difficult. On the other hand those horses who need to be dropped in anyway mightn’t be too dramatically inconvenienced. Nonetheless if you’re forced to travel four, five wide throughout a 2.400m contest, chances are you won’t find the extra gear needed for a strong finish.

That says, for those who like to attack a race from the start, the wide draw must not be an issue at all. At Chantilly you have an early left-hand turn, which in theory should mean you can make up ground more easily from a wide draw – if you chose to attempt it.

Two well fancied runners – the Japanese Makahiki and Found – have been drawn rather wide. It makes their bid for glory the bit more difficult.

Found won’t mind it as she is likely to race off the pace anyway, though she is likely to encounter plenty of traffic and given her history (“the most unlucky filly in the world”) I am concerned that she does not get out in time today.

Makahiki, the excellent winner of the Prix Niel, is a more diverse story. Drawn in 14, I would expect jockey Lemaire to try to make a move right from the start in order to get a handy position somewhere in midfield while finding valuable cover as well. Though this could be a difficult thing to achieve, given plenty of jockeys on lower drawn horses will have the same tactics in mind. Therefore I can see a scenario where Lemaire has to commit too much too early or alternatively will end up in a really poor position on the widest outside.

Favourite Postponed will have every chance to find the right spot from stall seven. He has no problem to be ridden positively and he could end up in fifth, sixth position behind the pace. Dual Derby winner Harzand is drawn right beside him. It’ll be interesting to see what Smullen does here. I would certainly hope he tracks Postponed’s every move, which should ensure he ends up in a good position too.

The pace setters might come from team Ballydoyle. Highland Reel often races quite prominent and he’s likely to move forward right from the start. I would expect Dettori on Order Of St George to do the same from his wide draw. Whether both race too hard too early on is a valid question mark. New Bay might follow them closely.

The Winner: 

No doubt Postponed has allot going in the right direction. Draw, pace, form, likely position he’ll find himself in. He’s the most likely winner. However on ratings, official or RPR, this is a closer encounter than one would initially think. 2/1 is the current price, so in and around a 33% chance – a bit too short in my book.

Found, as classy a filly as she is, is more likely to find one or two too good once again I fear. The Japanese Makahiki is more interesting. If he finds himself in a decent position where he didn’t have to over commit in the early stages then he should have an awful lot to give when it really matters.

However in my book the 8/1 for Harzand is a criminal price. On the back of one poor performance, where we know there are valid excuses, bookies are happy to lay him. I imagine the return to 12f will be very much to his liking, the ground isn’t a problem, he’s a good draw and is a three year old with a handy weight for age allowance – if Smullen doesn’t drop too far off the pace, which I see as a slight danger to happen – Harzand will be a tough challenger in the finish.

Not mentioned yet has been New Bay. Last years Arc third. A talented individual, run with credit in the Irish Champion Stakes last month too and has a good draw today. He seems a bit below what is required to win the race in my eyes, though.

From the bigger prices Order Of St George makes plenty of appeal. He’s as highly rated as Postponed, though his shock defeat in the Irish Ledger is a question mark. But then he may find perfect conditions here. Dettori in the saddle will ensue a smooth ride to the front of the pack from the widest, but not necessarily worst draw. If he can get there without doing too much, he might have enough left to kick on turning for home. Given he lasts the trip thoroughly, he could then be hard to peg back.

Selections: 
Harzand @ 8/1 Betfred
Order Of St George @ 20/1 

Epsom Review: Minding The Gap

A historic day for Irish trainer Dermot Weld, who celebrated a first Derby success thanks to his brilliant Sea The Stars colt Harzand, who followed in the footsteps of his prominent daddy, who himself now sired a first Epsom Derby winner!

It was not a trouble free preparation, though. In fact it was touch and go in the morning whether Harzand would take his chance in the most famous flat race and the ultimate call was actually with Pat Smullen cantering down to the start! He went into the starting gate, thankfully, as we know the outcome by now.

Under a masterful ride by jockey Pat Smullen – also for him a first Epsom Derby success – the inexperienced colt was patiently guided through the field; Smullen settled him in a good position somewhere in midfield and rode with a cool head when gaps didn’t open up immediately in the home straight.

Harzand ultimately fend off a late surge by favourite US Army Ranger. He dug deep and found another gear when it really mattered. Given all the foot problems beforehand, it was a brilliant performance!

And The Ranger, whom I’ve been so keen on? Finished runner-up with plenty of credit. He clearly proved to be a classy individual. However it didn’t go to plan for him. Ever so slightly, yet decisively, he missed the break and didn’t seem to travel particularly well early on, subsequently lost every chance to be in a decent position. In a race where small margins can be the deciding factor about victory and defeat this was surely a tough ask to overcome.

Good Ryan, Bad Ryan?

After the less than ideal start, Jockey Ryan Moore took it easy on US Army Ranger, settled in rear, relaxed the horse and let him find his rhythm. Commentator Richard Hoiles called it during the race: “Us Army Ranger is given time” – which was the only real option in my mind. He was still third last turning for home but Moore gradually edged to the outer of the field to get a run. Gaps didn’t open for him and only inside three furlongs Ranger finally got into the clear.

Winner Harzand was already flown towards home at this stage, still Ranger produced a stunning change of gear and loomed large with 200 yards to go. But the big effort to make up so much ground in such a short space of time showed its effect and he ran out of gas in the final furlong.

Ryan Moore has come under scrutiny for his ride on US Army Ranger. As often in this game, opinions are divided. In my view this was a class ride by the world’s best jockey. He proved, despite defeat, why he’s simply the best. In difficult circumstances he gave his mount the best possible chance to finish as close as possible. Not always is a winning ride a good one and a losing ride a bad one.

Sure, it wasn’t the game plan to travel as far back as second or third last for large parts of the race. But inexperienced Ranger didn’t help the cause when he bottled the start. What other option did Moore haven than let the horse find his stride, relax him and try to preserve as much energy as possible? Hustling him up to make up ground would have been detrimental to Ranger’s chance, in my mind.

The fact that gaps didn’t open up when Moore (and I as a punter) would have wanted it is not his fault. These things happen in racing. Imagine the gap would open up over 4f out though – Ranger cruises through it, and maybe wins the race. You know what happens then? Moore’s going to be the hero!

It wasn’t to be. The gap didn’t open, Moore had to delay and ask Ranger for an almighty effort when the road was finally clear. In the end it was all a bit too much for US Army Ranger who still finished second – what is in fact credit to his class and the one of his rider.

In the end inexperience cost him, and for that reason it’s fair to say the best horse on the day won. Harzand was more professional, mastered the difficult test Epsom provides and is without a doubt a really good winner of the world’s most famous flat race.

Minding and the Beauty of Racing

These last two days were yet again a wonderful reminder why I personally love flat racing so much. Yes, it was a disappointment not to back the winner  in the Derby with US Army Ranger, still I enjoyed the coverage, the races leading up to the big one, Postponed’s brilliant success in the Coronation Cup, the joy and emotions on Weld & Smullen’s faces after they won their first Derby….

However it was Friday’s performance by Minding in the Oaks that is the standout of the two days – she simply blew me away! When I saw her overcoming all the trouble in the Oaks, when I saw her blistering turn of foot, changing gears so smoothly like Formula 1 cars usually do, her wonderful attitude and enthusiasm – it was something else!

The speed, the beauty, the power, the elegance – it’s what flat racing is all about and it’s epitomized in this dramatically good looking and at the same time incredibly talented filly Minding. Her Oaks performance was one of those special racing moments you have to see to believe.

And no, I didn’t back her. It has nothing to do with money whatsoever. I’m just grateful for having witnessed her performance for the pure love of the sport. And on that front isn’t it  wonderful to know our sport is yet again blessed  with brilliant talents like Minding, Harzand and US Army Ranger? I love it!

Photo Credit to citizen.co.za