Tag Archives: Ireland

Preview: G2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase, Thurles

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A wide open contest in my view; the trip and ground in combination is something most of these have to prove their class. Tramore’s Savills Chase appears to be a key piece of form, which the market seems to evolve around.

Total Recall was a clear runner-up that day. Invitation Only a distant third. Progressive handicapper Tout Est Permis is the sexy new kid on the block. He’s quite clearly the most interesting of the lot, as he is unknown quality, not having met any of the others in this field yet and also handles good ground.

However, most, if not all in this field, prefer to go further than the 2m 4f 118y; particularly on fast ground this race becomes a bit of a lottery.

Hence the one I find most interesting is Sub Lieutenant. He’s got to bounce back from poor showings in his last two starts. On the excuse side one could argue: Tramore was on ground way too heavy for him and Down Royal a much tougher race, even though it looks more likely he simply didn’t fire that day.

Sub Lieutenant also prefers a longer trip. Nonetheless, he has quite decent form over this sort of distance. That form looks even better if only taken races on better ground into account. Sub Lieutenant is a horse that thrives on fast ground. And with that he is one of only a few in this line-up.

That the 10-year-old isn’t gone that proved his Punchestown victory in the Irish Daily Star Chase back in October and to lesser extend the Galway Handicap success in August.

No doubt Sub Lieutenant has to step up today. And whether he is still near his old best remains to be seen. In these conditions today, in such an open race, I back him to bounce back.

Selection:
10pts win – Sub Lieutenant @ 9/1 MB

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The Good, Bad & Ugly – Week #1:2019

It’s a new year – the time for a New Year’s Resolution: be more active on the blog again! Plain and simple.

The last year in particular I’ve focused on the betting side neglecting the other rather important side of why I initially started this blog a good eight years ago: to write about all the things I love about horse racing – the sport, the horses, the global aspect of the game!

So, with the new year still fresh, I gonna try to be a bit more (pro-) active: a few more insightful (hopefully!) columns, opinion pieces, educational stuff and so on – starting with the introduction of a new weekly column right here:

The Good, Bad & Ugly – a short review of all the good and not so good things in racing that caught my eye and lit up my emotions during the past week. Let’s get started with Week #1:2019!

good.pngThe Good:

Do It Again – he did it again, indeed! This imperious looking son of the great Twice Over and reigning Durban July champion, has followed up on his biggest triumph with another massive success.

On Saturday he was one of nine starters in South Africa’s premier 1 mile race, the Queen’s Plate, that took place at Kenilworth racecourse.

The powerful gelding overcame a slow pace and produced another stunning performance to get his head in front when it mattered most:


The Candy Man
– What a lovely name for a horse, isn’t it? The performance of this lad in a Handicap on Sunday at Australia’s Sunshine Coast was certainly as sweet as candy!

The grey missed the start completely, still standing in the gates while the others flew out to race. He was trailing the field by half a dozen lengths for half the race, until making a swift move to the rear of the field as the pace slowed. He then unleashed a devastating turn of foot in the home straight – WOW!

Watch a replay of this unreal performance here.

First winner of 2019 – It was the perfect start: first bet, first winner! Paparazzi strolled home on Wednesday in a Newcastle handicap to win as easy as he liked, despite a 12/1 price tag.

It’s those magic moments when the picture you painted in your mind beforehand comes to fruition in reality, as I concluded in the preview:

“This is the poorest opposition Paparazzi will encounter for quite some time. If a slow start doesn’t see him falling back too far too early he should run a huge race today.”

bad2The Bad:

Racing’s Staff Crisis – Becomes one of the biggest threats to the industry. It was reported over the weekend that there’s an estimated shortfall of around 1,000 staff in the UK. Brexit fears enhance the feeling of uncertainty in relation to employing foreign staff to offset the shortfall in yards.

Often long hours, not enough off-days and low pay – those are the main concerns brought forward. Understandably so: the stable staff is preparing the horses day in day out, hence they play a pivotal role in the industry.

If they can’t be retained in numbers enough to keep the show going, plus if the jobs aren’t attractive enough for new people to join, then the game is in incredible danger. Falling prize-money surely isn’t helping, particularly for smaller yards it adds even more pressure.

A viscous cycle: working long hours, physical work, often starting very early in the morning, ordinary pay at best – that isn’t attractive to a lot of young people these days.

Stable staff does it for the love of horses. Without this love and duty of care for the welfare of our equine athletes these wonderful people show any given day, horse racing would be long gone.

Add to this the rather low pay at times where everything else becomes more expensive and the possibility of Brexit which could make it harder for yards to employ foreign staff – there you have an existential crisis.

It was surprising to see it so blatantly called out by the biggest names in the sport over the weekend. Nicky Henderson commented that the threat is no longer only a threat but  it “has already become a reality”.

Now, not everything is black and white. Not all staff are impacted by issues the same way. Plenty love their job, enjoy their day to day doing, are paid well enough and feel treated fairly.

Not all, though, and there is, no doubt, a balanced and fair discussion needed right now – a solution oriented one that addresses issues. Because the issue of staff shortage is at the heart of the game.

badThe Ugly:

 A Bad Loss – “I’m excited as heck because I feel Blue Harmony could be supremely well handicapped in this race!”

I got that spectacularly wrong. Blue Harmony finished nearly last, never went a yard. There was zero confidence in the market either. The filly was obviously not as well in as I felt she is.

Well, that’s racing. Can happen. It was a 16/1 shot. But it hurts. Particularly if you go and shout it so loud as I did in my preview.

Irish racing video archive – Gone. Since Racing TV has taken over the rights to show Irish racing, the complete video archive of all races prior to 1st January 2019 are no longer accessible – neither on ATR, the Racing Post- and Sportinglife website and certainly not on the RTV site.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? They had months and months time to prepare for this transition. But they didn’t seem to think about this rather important piece – or shall we say didn’t care – which shows a complete disregard for the racing public.

Please also read my latest opinion piece on the matter: Racing’s Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

Got your own ideas of what was good or not so good in the the last week? Want to share feedback? Let me know in the comments! 

Opinion: Racing’s Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

The TV landscape has changed and we’re now well within the first week of these new times.

Racing UK has taken over the rights to show Irish racing (as well as Chelmsford), while At The Races, the long-standing television partner of Irish racing, is gone from the scene there – they’ve bagged themselves the prestigious courses of Ascot and Chester in turn.

There is a rich history of why the rights have moved in first place – you can dig into all the wonderful details here.

I’m more interested in how this first week went and what it means or doesn’t mean for the future of racing.

From all what I could gather up until this Saturday it was a pretty unspectacular change. The horses still ran at Fairyhouse, Tramore and Dundalk – in fact the evening coverage of the County Louth track on Friday was fairly good with the likes of Gary O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan providing insightful thoughts and analysis.

Today, the first Saturday of the new year, I had the chance to watch the now re-branded Racing TV throughout a complete day – a busy enough day, where they showed live racing from Kempton, Sandown, Wincanton and Cork.

Apparently there was a bit of moaning going on after Racing TV’s New Year’s Day coverage, which was equally a busy day, where it all was put to the test for the first time. And I can see why, as today was probably not a different experience to the one RTV viewers were treated to last Tuesday.

It was race after race after race. Bang, bang, bang. A little bit of analysis squeezed in before and after some of the races, mainly around Sandown, to a lesser extend Wincanton, where commendable Lydia Hislop did her magic with the little time she had – as she usually does!

In truth, this sort of experience isn’t anything new, compared to the busy days on the flat throughout the summer. What is different now: Irish racing. It has to be squeezed in as well.

And that is a bit of a problem. Simply because there was little to no time to squeeze any sort of meaningful analysis of the Cork races in. Certainly not before their respective off. At least afterwards we got to enjoy a few words from the guys in the studio.

But what can you really analyse if you’ve got the maximum lengths of four of five sentences to say before it’s off to somewhere else, because the next race is waiting in line?

It’s a tough spot for RTV on days like this, so I wouldn’t knock them for the coverage. They tried their absolute best. Ultimately we were able to watch all the races. At least that!

In saying that: you do not need a proper TV channel (an expensive pay-TV one that is) for a glorified live stream of all the races. The expectations on a TV channel, particularly a specialist channel like Racing TV, is one that does provide expert commentary, meaningful insights and proper analysis to all the races it shows.

I wouldn’t say that’s always what you got on At The Races in the past. But of course Irish racing was a premium product for ATR, so they gave it ample airtime – even during the busier days.

This is where Irish racing and Irish racing fans do miss out, if the setup remains as it is right now: i.e. all on one channel. I don’t think as negatively about the fact that RTV is behind a paywall, though – I did so in the past; not anymore.

Yes, ATR is much easier accessible as it comes with your standard TV bundle in most cases. But that doesn’t mean its audience figures are anything to shout about.

Anywhere between an average of 40-70.000 people turn in for ATR’s most viewed weekly shows with a paltry average viewing time of 1 minute (weekly, per person) according to BARB figures. Racing UK in contrast has about 50.000 subscribers.

So the notion that there’ll be much less eye-balls on the Irish product may not be totally wrong, but is probably exaggerated at the same time.

Least we forget that, at least in Ireland, the biggest race days and Festivals are shown on RTE. That’s not to say the “accessibility” issue is a non-issue. It’s real and in truth makes it more difficult for someone to discover racing zapping through the channels.

I would argue the problems of the sport of horse racing in general and Irish racing in particular are bigger than that, though. Because in earnest, those who already have an interested in the sport will find a way to watch the races regardless. Either subscribing to RTV, or by watching the ‘free streams” bookies offer if you have a bet in a race.

In fact, I have a few friends who live outside of the UK and Ireland and therefore have zero access to either channel on TV. Guess what? They still find ways to watch the races they care about as well as ATR and RUK. It’s not that difficult if you want it.

In my view the currently (still) ongoing discussion doesn’t tackle the real problems at all. The situation with the TV channels appears to be simply a ‘nice’ distraction. Something to talk about that anyone can have an opinion on even though in reality it isn’t really changing all that much that radically and certainly won’t impact the sport in such a negative way as some commentators want to make us belief.

There are issues, though, that do have a very real impact on the sport in the long run:
race day experience for race goers and owners or the changing public perception against racing horses – accompanied by a lack of public knowledge/education on things like the whip – which is directly in line with the most fundamental questions:

How to attract a younger audience?
How to create a steady flow of (new) racing fans moving forward?
How to create a better betting product?
Which in turn is also about this point: the availability of more data for punters and racing fans. Sectional times, as one example.

These are real issues. Or at least question marks. The problem of the future isn’t whether Barry in Newbridge can watch the 6.45 from Dundalk on his TV for ‘free’. Because he’s watching it on his mobile in the DART on his commute home anyway.

Now, coming back to Irish racing on Racing TV – I actually do trust RTV to figure out how to give Irish racing proper airtime, even on busier days. Maybe a second channel? Potentially a digital one?

Who knows. Times are changing. TV isn’t everything these days. Sport goes digital as well. In a few years, Terrestrial TV won’t have anywhere near the importance it still has at this moment in time.

One thing that Racing TV and all the relevant stakeholders involved have been rightly criticized for this week: the replay shambles!

Come on, you guys had months and months time to sort this out! It shows a general disregard for racing fans. The fact historic (prior to 1st January 2019) replays of Irish racing + Chelmsford are gone right now is not acceptable in this day and age. In any other industry heads would roll for this type of stuff.

At least, so it seems, light is at the end of the tunnel and a temporarily solution has been found.

With that, I am moving downstairs again to enjoy the rest of the Kempton card. A rather sedated experience with only one race every half an hour to prepare for, compared to the frantic pace of the early Saturday afternoon.

 

Preview: Irish Champion Stakes 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Selections: March, 25th 2018

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4.45 Doncaster: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 2f

Despite being an eight year old, judged on last seasons form, Indian Chief looks one who could still run a bit better than his current mark suggests. a handicap rating of 84, based on RPR’s and TS, as well as visuals from the back end of last year, seem a good indicator that he’s a really interesting runner in this race.

I wouldn’t read too much into his poor comeback run. It was a pipe opener. However, his last good handful of runs in 2017 are predominantly fine form. I felt he was minded when last seen as he had too much too from the back in a tough class 3 Handicap at Nottingham at the end of October.

A week earlier same place Indian Chief was tanking a long but incredibly unlucky, not getting a run whatsoever. He’s on the same mark today, and a return to that sort of form will see him go very close.

Trip and ground hold absolutely no fear to him – in fact it enhances his chances.

Selection:
10pts win – Indian Chief @ 12/1 Matchbook

……

4.50 Naas: Irish Lincoln Handicap, 1 mile

A massive field of twenty runners go to post in the traditional pipe opener of the Irish flat season. Heavy ground is awaiting them – it should be a slog.

Plenty of right boxes ticks Richard Fahey’s runner Third Time Lucky. He’s proved in the past that cut in the ground isn’t an issue, though, he hasn’t encountered this deep a ground since his maiden win.

However, Third Time Lucky is an experienced big-field handicapper and tends to run well in these type of races – as evidence his 2015 Cambridgeshire success which came off the same he’s racing of today.

He hasn’t won since February last year, which came on the All-Weather, off a 2lb higher mark, but subsequently raced in tough handicaps off big weights. He’s in good nick, however, as he shown most recently at Wolverhampton when finishing strongly in a hot class 2 contest.

I feel this trip with the slow ground and likely good pace could play right into his hands. He will need to get a bit of in-running luck given his hold-up style and a less than ideal draw. But with no obvious choices in this race, he looks one who has a better chance than his price tag suggests, in my mind.

Selection:
10pts win – Third Time Lucky @ 9/1 VC

2018 ITM Stallion Trail – Photos & Report

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

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

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

A Star Too Early

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

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

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

Trail of Greatness

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

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

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

Come To See A Star 

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

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

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

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A Wonderful Experience

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

A Step In The Right Direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Embrace The Fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of my photos from the two feature races:

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