Thursday, December 23, 2010

King Kauto

Camberley Heath Golf Club is located about 40 miles west of London, the hundred year old course is said to be as challenging as it is visually stunning. Clive Smith, better known as the owner of Kauto Star, was a captain of Camberley Heath and it was from there that he drew the inspiration for the purple, green and yellow colours that Kauto Star races in. The distinct colours represent the sprinkling of heather and pine on the golf course.

Smith, 59, is a racehorse owner for over twenty years. He set out to acquire a top class chaser in 2004 and his original target had been Garde Champetre. He bid some €560,000 for this horse but JP McManus topped Smith’s offer by €60,000 and in doing so, set a record for the most expensive national hunt ever purchased. Through his bloodstock agent, Anthony Bromley (who is also responsible for the procurement of Binocular, Albertas Run and Celestial Halo) Smith parted with €400,000 for Kauto Star, following a recommendation from Paul Nicholls who saw clips of the horse running in Auteuil where he was a Grade Three winner over hurdles.

In France, Kauto Star was a precocious, prodigious talent, known fondly as 'L'Extraterrestre' ('The Extraterrestrial') predominantly for his otherworldly ability; he has since become the outstanding staying chaser of his generation. Twice a winner of the Tingle Creek, Champion Chase, Gold Cup and a three-time winner of the Betfair Chase, he is seeking an unprecedented five-timer in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Over the past six seasons, he has run in 25 races, winning 17 of these (a 68% strike rate) and placed second in 5, he has fallen twice and unseated just once. In 2007 his owner collected a £1 million bonus following a promotion by the Betting Exchange Betfair, who offered the prize money to the connections of the winner of the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup. Kauto Star claimed all three at his ease and the Betfair Million scheme was dropped a year later.

Smith’s costly investment has paid considerable dividends. When Kauto Star topped the Order Of Merit in 2007, (an initiative designed to reward horseracing excellence and participation) his owner collected £200,000 from the British Horseracing Authority. Since then he has progressed further and become the first National Hunt horse in history to win over £2m in prize money.

Kauto Star is the highest rated national hunt horse throughout the past fifty years. Timeform have allocated the ten year old gelding with a rating of 191, alongside Mill House, this is the third highest rating of all time Only Flyingbolt (210) and the peerless Arkle (212) surpass him.

On St .Stephen’s Day, despite the arctic weather conditions, the organisers of Kempton Racecourse are expecting a crowd of 20,000 to witness Kauto Star write himself into the history books. In doing so he aims to beat Desert Orchid’s joint record of four wins in the race. In all likelihood it will be his penultimate start, only the Gold Cup remains as his solitary target after St. Stephen’s Day.

Reports from many quarters believe that Kauto Star is simply too old to win another Gold Cup. This was substantiated amid reports around Cheltenham this year that no 10 or 11 year old horse has ever won the Gold Cup. This is untrue, on no less than eighteen occasions have horses between the ages of 10 and 12 won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, notably Desert Orchid (10), Cool Dawn (10 & 11) and Silver Fame (12).

Notwithstanding, plenty around this age bracket have also won the King George. Desert Orchid won the race as both a 10 and 11 year old, Wayward Lad (10) and Edredon Bleu (11) further bolster the claims of Kauto Star.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has yet to report signs of decline in the gelding. His jockey for the King George, freshly-crowned and BBC Sports Personality of the year, Tony McCoy noted before his recent run at Down Royal that “Kauto Star is as good a horse as I have ever seen”. Coming from a 15-times Champion jockey who won a King George on Best Mate, who also won three Gold Cups, this is the highest endorsement that can be bestowed.

Kauto Star has a compelling style over fences, his jumping has improved year on year and it culminated in a staggering performance in the King George. Winning by 36 lengths, Kauto was imperious and set a new record in the race, breaking Arkle's 44 year old record of 30 lengths.

At a recent press day at Manor Farm stables, Kauto Star faced the reporters and cameras coolly, comfortably, like the professional he is. Adorned in a warm blue blanket blazoned with the words ““I Will Make History” he looked every inch a champion. Making history for Kauto Star is second nature, he is already the first horse in history to win a Gold Cup, lose the title and then reclaim it.

Will he become the first horse to win five King George’s?

Without a doubt, remember he is not of this world and so he makes his own path among the stars.

Kauto Star Facts:
Foaled: 19 March, 2000
Breeding: Village Star (FR) - Kauto Relka (FR) (Port Etienne (FR))
Breeder: Mme H Aubert
Owner: Mr Clive D Smith
Trainer: P F Nicholls
Career placings: 21/11F2353/112/21F/111111/211122/1U11-11F-1
Prize Money to date: 2.45 million Euros (excluding a £1 million Betfair bonus and £200,000 order of merit prize)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Joyeux Noël

Here’s a question, what happens in France every Christmas Eve that does not happen in either Ireland or England? No, it’s not Santa Claus exclusively visiting the land of Les Bleus. Would you believe; perish the thought, that there is horse racing in France on the 24th of December. Unless the likes of Willie Mullins, Noel Meade and Barry Geraghty have taken full advantage of the recent cold snap to carry out some early Christmas shopping, it is likely for those involved in National Hunt racing that Christmas Eve is the day when many last-minute gifts are hastily acquired for their loved ones.

Over the Christmas holidays, while many of us put our feet up and watch racing from the comfort of our living rooms, the trainers and jockeys of Ireland undergo one of their busiest times of the year. For instance, between Ireland and the UK, there were ten scheduled meetings on St. Stephen’s Day last year. In 2009 the racecourses were not even playing catch-up like is the case of late with race meetings being abandoned unceasingly due to the prevalent snow and ice.

In an effort to clear the backlog of postponed races, Fairyhouse racecourse staged a stellar midweek card recently. It was a superb all-Grade affair, the type normally reserved for showcase Saturdays. It featured no less than four Grade One races alongside a Grade Two and a Grade Three. With trainer Willie Mullins a major player on the day, it whetted the appetite for his Christmas assault on the Leopardstown festival and further afield.

Make no mistake; the standard of racing around Christmas is first rate. For years now, the big races run around this time of year have become trials for the major Cheltenham races in March. For instance, this year's Arkle winner, Sizing Europe, won the €90,000 Grade 1 Bord Na Mona Novice Chase on St. Stephen's Day at Leopardstown. RSA Winner Weapon's Amnesty was a short head second to Pandorama in the Knight Frank Novice Chase at the same meet. With Kauto Star aiming for his fifth King George in Kempton on St. Stephens’s day, beating the record of Desert Orchid, this is a peak in the racing season and a true showcase for the best of equine and human talent and what that partnership entails.

The organisers of the Leopardstown Christmas festival expect a crowd of 55,000 to attend over their four day meet. Given that just over 3,000 appeared at Fairyhouse for their all-Grade card, it gives the racing public an opportunity to make up for lost time and turn out en masse and view the superstars of Irish racing before many of them will be put away until Cheltenham.

Looking at the racing calendar for the week between St. Stephen’s Day and New Years is akin to picking up the Christmas RTE Guide and seeing that all your favourite films are on at different times. You are not left disappointed with the fare that is served up. There are so many highlights to choose from, The Long Walk Hurdle at Newbury, The Christmas Hurdle and Feltham Chase at Kempton, the reappearance of "horse of the year" Big Zeb taking on Golden Silver in Paddy Power Dial - A - Bet chase, the rematch of Hurricane and Solwhit. The racing is prestigious and the rewards are immense.

A quick snapshot of the prize money shows that The Paddy Power Chase is worth €190,000, the future Champions Novice Hurdle €80,000, The Lexus Chase €150,000, little wonder racing around this time of year attracts the very best of Irish and UK runners. For some trainers and jockeys, there this represents a nice Christmas bonus, for others it represents a learning curve.

Such was the case after a poor performance in last year’s King George, where trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies’ star jumper Imperial Commander was beaten 63 lengths by Kauto Star. A lesson was learned, ability is nothing without realisation and this was a turning point in the horses career. From that point on, Twiston-Davies conditioned the horse to the point where he was described as “a ball of muscle” when taking on Kauto Star in The Gold Cup and we all know the result. We will see examples of such progression this year, from unexpected quarters perhaps.

Often it is the improvements you see in horses from Christmas to March that makes watching racing at this time of year so special. Horses are like athletes, they peak at various points in their careers and if you can time these peaks, the results can be spectacular.

For the past few weeks, amidst the frozen ground and arctic climate, horses fitness has to be maintained, novices must undergo schooling sessions, work in the training yard carries on, uneasy, unending. When the silks are donned and the hats are tilted in victory in the winner’s enclosures over the next few weeks, it is such thoughts that make for a Happy Christmas for all.

In France they say “Snowy Christmas, wonderful summer”, there will be plenty of time for fresh green pastures for horses once the season is over, but for the horses now there is work to be done and races to be won, and maybe an extra carrot or two as a treat, left behind by Rudolph.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

E = mc2

E = mc2

2005 was not all that long ago, five short years, yet it seems like an age. At Cheltenham that year, Kicking King won the Gold Cup, Hardy Eustace the Champion Hurdle and in Aintree Hedgehunter claimed the Grand National. In all there were nine Irish winners at Cheltenham and eight at Aintree A good year for the Irish then but an even better one for Horse Racing Ireland (HRI).

It was amidst the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger that long-since-lost phenomenon, when CEO of HRI, Brian Kavanagh reported the attendance at Irish racecourses was 1.43 million; betting was up, the Tote grew and value of horse sales at public auction flared from €113 million to €146 million. In 2005, 16,500 people were employed in the racing industry and the breeding sector alone contributed €330 million to the economy.

Amidst all the back-slapping and cheap money, there were surprisingly striking changes in the taxation structures of the racing industry. The stallion taxation exemption was ended and betting tax was reduced from 2% to 1% and in turn, absorbed by the bookies. Now where are we five years later? Without a palpable need to be rhetoric, we are languishing in the chaos caused by a collapsed countrywide cocoon; as every radio and television station is affirming, the party is well and truly over.
A recent report by UCD based economist, Colm McCarthy stated that c.14,000 people are directly employed in the breeding and horse industries. The most recent figures for Britain are 18,500 employed directly with 52,000 employed in betting, the overall figures are 100,000 full time equivalent jobs being supported, directly or indirectly in racing.

In Ireland, the figure of 14,000 stated in the McCarthy report does not include those people employed in betting, nor should it. Paddy Power stated of late that the majority of their betting revenue does not stem from racing; this is not surprising given their marketing engine and website which has diversified heavily into soccer and sports betting.

The Tallaght-based firm have become Ireland’s eighth largest company, not just in the gambling or online betting market but in a list of every single Irish company. They are exempt from inclusion as they do not shoe horses; they offer 50/1 for Brian Lenihan to pose as Santa Claus when delivering his 2011 Budget.

Novelty aside, there are stark figures to contend with. There has been a cut in Government funding in the region of 22% over the past two years to the industry. As racing and gambling are yin and yang, the minister for finance does not believe he is getting a big enough slice of the betting pie, and he may be right.

In 2002, €68 million in tax was generated from €1 billion of betting turnover in the industry, in 2009 the tax take has more than halved to €31 million despite a 550% increase in betting turnover to €5.5 billion. This is not an anomaly; it is an errant failure in the financial management of betting tax, despite the 1% reduction in 2005.

Simply put, with betting tax generating just €31 million from €5.5 billion of turnover, (that’s a lot of zeroes, €5,500,000,000) that’s a tax return of 0.18% on your turnover. Unsustainable from the Governments perspective and as such, it was addressed in yesterday’s budget.

Before delivering the 2011 budget, the Minister for Finance had already announced that the Government would double the current 1% levy on bookies' turnover. This will net the exchequer €40 million. During the Budget speech, the Minister announced that bets placed on the internet by domestic customers will be subject to same level of betting duty as high street betting shops, meaning a resultant injection of betting tax which can be fed back to HRI.

The racing industry is on-course to face a €28 million gap in its finances and the measures taken by Brian Lenihan will take time to trickle down to actual capital in terms of those employed by the industry. The measures will also no doubt result in calls from within the industry that it will put bookmakers out of business and lead to job losses, but for the sake of the industry as a whole, they must be taken, there will come a time when the seed will sprout.

With the ultimate goal of Horse Racing Ireland to create an industry that is self-funding, any pain that must be felt is to ensure that we maintain our deserved reputation as one of the greatest breeding, training and horse racing countries in the world.

Amidst all this we could all do with some words of encouragement; those that come to mind are that “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. Spoken by an educated man who, when trying to make a career could not find a job as a teacher, he knew a thing or two about enduring hardship before success. He was Albert Einstein.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cue Call

Cue Call

When Cue Card won the Cheltenham Champion Bumper on St. Patrick’s Day, not alone was he the youngest winner of the race in over ten years, at 40/1 he was also the biggest-priced. He was also just one of two four-year olds entered in the race (the other being Hidden Universe). His only previous win had been in a 1m 6f Fontwell bumper but looking a little closer into the race which he won by an extended 6l.
The form of the Fontwell race held up well as both the second and fourth horses (Caught By Witness, Dusky Bob) won cosily by a combined 9l next time out. Trained at Milborne Port by Colin Tizzard, the manner in which Cue Card won the Cheltenham bumper at his ease was stunning. Tizzard always held the gelding in high regard and said after the horse had the race by 8l"If he was trained by Willie Mullins he'd have been third of fourth favourite."

Cue Card is by King’s Theatre (by Sadlers wells) who is a proven Group 1 sire under both rules and a leading sire in 2009/10 based on % wins to runs. His Dam’s sire is the successful National Hunt sire King’s Ride out of a mare by the hugely influential Deep Run. He was bought for £75,000 as a yearling and sold thereafter for £52,000 as 3yo.

His debut over hurdles, a 2m 4f class 3 novices race, was visually impressive, winning unextended by thirteen lengths he jumped well throughout, with the second and subsequently placed second next time out, the fourth, Nicene Creed won a decent novices hurdle also, franking the form. Still a young horse, the gelding is a sharp jumper even if somewhat diminutive in stature.

His last run, over 2m, was a step up in class to Grade 2 and Cue Card duly won impressively, beating Dunraven Storm by 8l. Throughout the race he jumped neatly and when the field started to sprint he jumped very fluently, showing he can hurdle well at speed also. Comparisons have been made to Dunguib, but without the questions marks over his jumping. Following his win at Cheltenham, he was cut to 5/2 favourite from 6/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and to 16/1 from 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle. He also received a lofty rating of 160 (last year’s Supreme Novices' winner Menorah is freshly rated 162).

His trainer Colin Tizzard began his career training point-to-point winners for his son to ride, dairy farmer Tizzard began with just 10 horses back in 1998 and now Cue Card, ridden on all four starts by Tizzard’s son Joe, is an exciting prospect and stable star.

Sky Sport’s correspondent Nic Doggett stated recently about Cue Card “On face value he might be the new Istabraq.” He is an exciting a novice since Rhinestone Cowboy and given time to develop, he could be exceptional. We are likely to see Cue Card take on Menorah and Silviniaco Conti at Cheltenham's International Hurdle in mid-December and the odds are very interesting. Blue Square go Menorah 13/8, Cue Card 9/4 and Silviniaco Conti 10/3.

This race should be a case of an early Christmas present for the Tizzard yard and a cue call onto greater things.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Denmania Returns

Denmania Returns

It’s that time of year again; rolling around like clockwork; Denman is set to take the Hennessy, Kauto Star The King George. It has seemed this way for some years now, comfortable, expected. Both of these superstars are supposed to be approaching the end of their careers but show little signs of decline. When asked about Denman approaching his eleventh birthday, Paul Nicholls stated “He's not getting any better at his age, but in our view he's not getting any worse at the moment either”.

Tomorrow may be the last time Denman runs around Newbury, he may go for the Aon Chase in February where last year he unshipped Tony McCoy when 1/6 favourite. That race was a mere blip however and his fine second in The Gold Cup has resulted in his rating of career-high 182.

Denman ran four times last year, his record was 1U24. His only win of the campaign came in a workmanlike performance in the 2009 Hennessy, but then again Denman is teak, he is a relentless 17.1 hands high galloper and will make the field suffer tomorrow as he attempts to become the first horse to ever win three Hennessey’s. Arkle and Mandarin never achieved this, they both had refinement and panache in abundance but Denman is all “blood n guts”.

Tomorrow morning he will leave Box No 2 at the Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, there will be a mini exodus as Neptune Collonges, Taranis, Niche Market and The Tother One lead a five-pronged Paul Nicholls attack on the race, while all should make a good account of themselves, it’s all about Denman.

Last year he beat What A Friend who was carrying 22lbs less, watching the race there was a time where Denman was niggled along 4 out and ridden again when 2 out but he ground it out and stayed on strongly under pressure on the run-in. He is running off the same weight as last year but rated higher (182 vs. 174). Sam Thomas takes the ride ahead of the injured Ruby Walsh, Noel Fehily and Tony McCoy (who never won riding Denman on three starts).

Denman is carrying a top weight of 11-12, Nicholls believes “He's going to need a career-best to win”. The horse reportedly schooled very well and is primed for a bold showing but this is still the Hennessey. There are seventeen runners in the race including Noel Meade’s Pandorama, the well-weighted Weird Al for Ian Williams and Diamond Harry, an exciting novice chaser last year. There are a crop of talented staying chasers snapping at the heels of Denman.

In July, Paul Barber took over Harry Findlay's share in Denman, mainly due to the BHA situation, he is now the sole owner of the horse and one wonders has he taken the a snip of the odds of 25/1 that bookmaker Blue Square are offering to complete a Hennessy/Cheltenham Gold Cup double.

In reality tomorrow may be the swansong for Denman and he is entitled to his own little piece of history. At the weights he appears to have it all do to, he shoulders a big burden but that’s what tanks do, they rumble on regardless and it’s better to be on a tank than facing one.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

6% unseated record? I’ll take that.

6% unseated record? I’ll take that.

by Stephen Dwyer

Here are a few points to note ahead of tomorrow’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.
1. It is the first Grade 1 chase of the British National Hunt Season and current Gold Cup Champion Imperial Commander begins a three-race season. He will run at Haydock, in the King George and The Gold Cup.
2. Imperial Commander runs well fresh, his seasonal reappearance record is 1-1-2
3. There is no Kauto Star in the race (Kauto has won 3 of the last 4 and would have won all 4 had he not unseated at the last in 2008 when in the lead)
4. In the 2009 renewal Imperial Commander was rated 21lbs inferior to Kauto Star but lost by just a nose.
5. Imperial Commander is currently trading at 8/11 and will win barring accidents, he has never fallen and unseated only once in his career, at Aintree when a tired horse, 1 “U” in 17 starts is just under 6%, I’ll take that.

Imperial Commander is top drawer, he has a current handicap rating of 185, second in the ratings only to Kauto Star and the race revolves around him being fit and fresh. Faith in the exploits of the 9 year old can only be affirmed by the comments of his Naunton-based trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who stated he has a “very, very good chance of success in this race”.

Last Season, Imperial Commander’s race record read P251U-, not the most impressive of records on paper you would think, but you would be wrong. His solitary win, a near-flawless performance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup catapulted the son of Flemensfirth into the ranks of the best staying chasers around, a reputation he will surely maintain tomorrow.

Owned by the 8-strong “Our friends in the North” syndicate, many believe that defeat in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last year was the catalyst for his success in The Gold Cup. In a desperately close finish, jockey Paddy Brennan, punched the air passing the finishing line in the belief he had beaten the-then Gold Cup Champion, Kauto Star. This was not so and Paul Nicholls superstar inflicted another defeat on Imperial Commander in The King George when he beat him by 63 lengths before he turned the tables in Cheltenham when he was so conditioned and ripe, his trainer called him “a ball of muscle”.

With a prize fund of £200,000, The Betfair Chase (registered as the Lancashire Chase.) was first run in 2005. It served as part of a marketing event, the Betfair Million. Sponsor of the series sponsor, betting exchange Betfair, offered a £1,000,000 bonus to the winner of the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup. After Kauto Star won the series in effortless fashion, Betfair changed the format to any first-three finisher achieving first or second at the Cheltenham Festival and then winning the Grand National. Last year it was The Betfair Million was dropped altogether.
Although just 7 go to post for the race, it is not a penalty kick for Imperial Commander; Paul Nicholls run’s the Sir. Alex Ferguson-owned What A Friend, who he describes as a “'lean, lean machine'”. Now recuperated from a breathing operation over the summer, What A Friend has already beaten Imperial Commander, he did so at Aintree in the Totesport Bowl Chase and prior to that he had a big win at Leopardstown over Christmas when he took the Lexus Chase. He is a tough sort and was beaten just once last season, by Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup and at 7, the best may be yet to come.

Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup winner, Planet Of Sound may run into place claims, 100/1 outsider Atouchbetweenacara is only one of two entries with the benefit of a run this season. Nacarat, winner of the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase three weeks ago is not as top-class as Imperial Commander but should be the improving sort.

It will be very hard to beat Imperial Commander tomorrow; he was no flash in the pan at Cheltenham his jockey noted after schooling the gelding that “he felt every bit as well if not better than last year. There’s no such thing as a good thing in racing but I couldn’t be happier with my horse”.

The Imperial Commander Camp will be hoping to build momentum after the race on Saturday and they have every right to be confident, he may indeed prove imperious.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wiley Waley-Cohen

Wiley Waley-Cohen

By Stephen Dwyer

I like dentists. I think they have a tough vocation but a necessary one. If I have a toothache I go to see Mr. McCarron in Kilkenny, if I have a horse that is a leading contender for The King George I don’t go to Mr. McCarron, I go to Ruby Walsh or Tony McCoy.

Long Run an exceptional five year old lines up for the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday, his jockey will be an amateur claiming five pounds. Mr. Sam Waley-Cohen, a London businessman runs a company which acquires private dental practices. He would not be the first choice for a horse of Long Run’s calibre and without being sardonic; it helps if the owner of the horse is your father. The jockey’s father is none other than Robert Waley-Cohen who appears in the Sunday Times Rich list with a private fortune of £30 million from founding a medical device company.

To be fair to Mr. Sam Waley-Cohen, he had a 23% strike rate last season. Granted he only won 3 races out of 13 starts and he is only a slip of a man, his lowest riding weight last year was 9-13. Not many amateurs achieved what he did in 2007 when finishing fifth in the Grand National on Liberthine.

Riding Long Run, Waley-Cohen won his first two starts in England by a combined total of 26 lengths, one over 3 miles, the other over 2. In the RSA he finished third on a day when his jumping was not spectacular. Still he was the youngest in the race and could not cope with the speed horse, Weapon's Amnesty.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is no RSA, it is a Grade 3 Handicap Chase. Faced with a stiff ask off 11-6, Long Run is joint-youngest in the race, the other 5 year old is 50-1 chance Rory Boy who carries 10-0. Long Run is already a Grade 1 winner having won the Feltham in Kempton on St. Stephen’s Day but I think is vulnerable tomorrow. Trained by Nicky Henderson, his stable mate 8yo Mad Max beat Somersby (second in the Arkle) at Aintree and he is a massive scopey sort who has trained well and will relish the trip.

Poquelin is tough 7yo, an acutely accurate jumper who won the Grade 2 Gold Cup over 2m 5f last December, Paul Nicholls has never won the race and he has strong place claims. He runs off a mark of 158 but 5 year olds have a desperate record in the race. The only 5yo to win this race in 50 years was Cyfor Malta in 1998. Good horses win The Paddy Power, Imperial Commander two years ago and look at what he has achieved.

I would like to see Long Run defying the records and his jockey stuffing his critics and he needs to win convincingly in order to justify his odds as second-favourite to Kauto Star for The King George.

Ultimately Long Run was bought by Robert Waley-Cohen for his son to ride so we are unlikely to see Barry Geraghty aboard any time soon. If however he puts in a poor performance tomorrow and in the King George, a private present from father to son will remain just that.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Star of County Down

Star of County Down

Five things you need to know about Down Royal Racecourse

1. The Ulster Derby is run there each year in June.
2. Technically the racecourse is in the United Kingdom, but it is under the governance of Horse Racing Ireland.
3. It is situated 30 miles away from the birthplace of Tony McCoy.
4. The biggest race of the year there is the James Nicholson Wine 3 mile chase, run each November.

This takes us to point number five;

Kauto Star will win point number four this Saturday.

There is no need to say much about Kauto Star; Tony McCoy summed it up during the week when he stated simply and unequivocally “Kauto Star is as good a horse as I have ever seen” Not bad praise for a man who won a King George on Best Mate.
Kauto Star visited the Northern track once before, in November 2008, that day he beat a poor field and won an unextended 11 lengths as the 2/5 favourite. He went on to win The Gold Cup that same season.

The Champion Chase is a Grade 1 over 3 miles, at £140,000 it’s valuable and not many people know it’s the very first Grade 1 event of the Irish National Hunt season. It is also likely to be the last time Kauto will be in Ireland racing but his current odds of 8/13 are far too skinny, given the opposition and conditions.
He is up against Arkle winner, Sizing Europe. In my opinion, Henry De Bromhead’s star has yet to prove he can stay, he was well beaten last time out over 2m 7f but may have needed the run. He did win once over 2m 4f but never beyond, he is still improving though and Saturday’s run will tell a lot.

By Pistolet Bleu, it is noteworthy that getting 3 miles is not a guarantee. Geos, who was also by Pistolet Bleu never won beyond 2 miles (he finished last in the long walk hurdle) I'msingingtheblues, by the same stallion fell over 2m 4f and was beaten 9 lengths when favourite for the Future Champion Novices' Chase (grade 2) in Ayr last year, also over 2 m 4f. Indeed Pistolet Bleu’s collective progeny produce very few winners over distances greater than 2 miles.

China Rock is a solid stayer and may give Kauto a race. He was a good fourth in a very hot Jewson in Cheltenham and second to Kempes in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. If the ground turns up soft to heavy he may not appreciate the going but is still an exciting prospect and is still just a seven year old.

Last year Kauto Star ran seven times, winning five and unseating and falling in the Betfair Chase (at the last) and The Gold Cup respectively. He is likely to run less this year, Saturday will be is 25th start for Paul Nicholls, a partnership that sees a 66% strike rate.

Kauto runs well fresh and will have recovered well from his fall four out at Cheltenham. For Ruby Walsh it will be a case of settling the horse early and letting him do what he does best, switched off.

In fifteen years of following horse racing I have never seen a horse better than Kauto Star, I fully believe he will win on Saturday and be the toast of Co. Down.

In doing so, he will join Beef or Salmon to become the most successful horse in the race and if the Gods are favourable, he will take his fifth King George in six weeks.

On Saturday we should just watch and enjoy a legend, not one in the making but one already made.

The name’s Bolger

The name’s Bolger

By Stephen Dwyer

1997 was the year Tony McCoy won the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Mr. Mulligan. It was also the year that Cockney Lad won the Irish Champion Hurdle and a season before Istabraq would start winning that same race an unheralded four straight times. As racing seasons go, it was a notable one, yet above all else the racing staff at The Independent lauded the performance of trainer and jockey Enda Bolger’s Risk Of Thunder in the La Touche Cup. Not mincing their words, journalists heralded it as “the finest display of athleticism any racecourse will see this year.”

The reason for the praise was simple; Risk Of Thunder had just completed a hat-trick in the La Touche and had made a mockery of Punchestown’s twisting cross-country course. This was no easy task given the challenge of the race. The La Touche Cup is Ireland’s most unique horse race; it is run over 33 furlongs, (4 miles 1 furlong in old money) and includes 30 fences. Among the collection of obstacles are giant Aintree fences, drop banks, log fences, an up-and-over double bank, native birch rolls and the etymologically-named Tommy’s Hedge and Ruby’s Double. Along with the Velka Pardubicka, it is one of the longest horse races in Europe, winning three in a row couldn’t have been easy. By the time he retired, Risk Of Thunder had won seven of them.

Former James Bond, Sean Connery bought the gelding on the spot when he saw him wining one of his La Touche races. From that point on, he would race in the colours of the Scottish Saint Andrew’s Cross, the famous Azure and White saltire.

Despite the fondness of a certain Mr. Bond, it is a misnomer to say that Risk Of Thunder was an absolute top-class horse, he regularly made mistakes in handicap chases and although he once finished fourth in the Irish Grand National and second in the Velka Pardubice Chase the same year, he reigned supreme in cross country races. By Strong Gale, the vast majority of his 18 career wins (12) would be at Punchestown partnered by regular riders Ken Whelan or trainer/jockey combination Enda Bolger.

Indeed Bolger is easily the most gifted cross-country trainer in Ireland and the UK, even managing to string together ten consecutive victories in The La Touche. He would also train winners in Garde Champetre, Spot Thedifference and Good Step and is unsurpassed in the Cheltenham banks races. Originally from Graiguenamanagh in Co. Kilkenny, he cut his teeth riding 413 point-to-point winners. It was with Risk Of Thunder that he made his name as a cross-country specialist trainer and the partnership’s record in the race will be matchless for some time to come.

On a side note, The La Touche Cup at the Punchestown has now become part of a new European Series of ten races called the Crystal Cup. This series is run in six different countries – France, Belgium, Italy, The Czech Republic, Britain and Ireland, it has a combined prize fund of over €700,000. The most successful stable at the end of the series will win the Crystal Cup and collect an additional €10,000.

I know who my money is on, with the Crystal Cup in hand; Enda Bolger will be smiling like a Kilkenny cat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Show stealer

Show stealer

By Stephen Dwyer

Voler La Vedette , the second-best racing mare in Ireland after Quevega, began her season in good style at Punchestown this week when winning the Grabel Mares Hurdle (listed) race over 2m 2f in very comfortable fashion.

Winning unextended, the 6/4 favourite beat second favourite Elyaadi into third. Elyaadi, winner of two moderate hurdle races did not provide stern opposition and finished eight lengths third.

Voler La Vedette runs well fresh, in her third season now, the six year old has won each of her three seasonal races easily including this same race last year. Notably, she does not run well after Christmas, winning only once in the period. Indeed her post-Christmas record from January to May reads 35139. By contrast her pre-Christmas record in the first half of the season reads 111-111-1

Clearly she likes the ground soft, the 13 length hammering of Go Native in the €50000 Grade 3 Wkd Core Hurdle at Down Royal last year showed this in no uncertain terms. This was her last win of the 2009 campaign, finishing third in the Mares race at Cheltenham and ninth of eleven in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Looking a proper mare this year, she has filled out and appears more poised and stronger. At Punchestown on Wednesday she simply had too many guns for the opposition. Wearing ear-plugs for the first time, she settled well early on. Barry Geraghty placed the mare in a good position in midfield in the early stages as Ocean Bright and Gudnis Gracious Me took the lead.

Geragthy barely had to shake up Voler La Vedette to take the lead just before the final flight where she pulled three lengths clear of Star Wood.

Following the race, trainer Colm Murphy also noted “She came here a little bit under-cooked and she should improve an awful lot from it.”

Whether or not she is as good as Quevega remains to be seen but early on in the season she is at her best. She reminds me a little of Solerina, maybe she might not stay the 2 m 4f of the Hattons Grace, having never won over the distance but it’s worth a try, as is the Lismullen Hurdle.

The Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown is likely the next stop for the mare; there she is likely to take on some top-class opposition, quite possibly including Hurricane Fly.

She looks a tough mare and gets a valuable weight allowance. This season she might put it up to the big boys.

Voler La Vedette, what does it mean?

What else could it mean but;

To steal the show

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Man Apart

A Man Apart

by Stephen Dwyer

By the time he was three years old, Barry Connell knew what he wanted from life. His father Patrick brought his little boy to race meeting every week, after which Barry desired nothing more than to be a jockey.

Fast forward forty years, Barry Connell is a successful fund manager, having established Merrion Capital, a stockbroking firm, he then established a 50-50 joint venture called Rockview Merrion Investments. Rockview manages a hedge fund for high net worth individuals. Success was quick to arrive and Barry’s brainchild was worth €35m in a few short years.

Racing fans will be familiar with the Rockview series of bumpers which Connell has sponsored since 2005. javascript:void(0)The Rockview series is run over ten tracks and allows qualified riders to accumulate points in designated bumpers. At the end of the year, the final takes place at the Curragh and it recognises the leading qualified rider, the winner is handed a €2,500 Holiday Voucher .Patrick Mullins is in the hunt for a hat trick of titles this year, Katie Walsh won it in 2006 and 2007 and Niall “Slippers” Madden claimed it in 2005. It’s a fine idea and one of the ways of demonstrating the interest that Barry Connell has for the sport.

As well as being a sponsor, Connell is a successful dual owner and jockey. Last year saw 13 winners, including his biggest ever Irish success Rock And Roll Kid in the valuable Tote Mile Handicap at Galway. Shinrock Paddy also won The Barry & Sandra Kelly Memorial Novice Hurdle at Navan. He also joined the elite few of Cheltenham winning owners when Pedrobob landed the 2007 County Hurdle under Philip Carberry.

Self admittedly, the main reason for getting involved in horses was to ride them and fulfil that childhood dream. Ever a man for self-actualisation, 1999 saw Connell taking out a jockey’s license to ride in a charity race over one mile six furlongs at Fairyhouse. On the day, he rode his own horse, Bushman's River, to victory by a short-head and was bitten by the riding bug.

No doubt he is a latecomer to the game but his enthusiasm and exuberance for riding are admirable. At 51, the same age as Mick Kinane, Connell has had many successful days riding his horses to success in bumpers. He even won a bumper at the November Cheltenham meet of 2003 when riding The Posh Paddy which was surely a career highlight. He does not ride over hurdles but his famous yellow and dark blue colours have won him many admirers.

His riding style is unique, sitting high in the saddle he is not a purist, he does not come from an area steeped in the equine world; he is a Southside Dubliner with no riding background. At times his riding approach was abecedarian but that was not the case in Stratford last year aboard his £60,000 purchase, Frascati Park. Going left-handed for the first time, the 6/5 favourite hung badly right. Connell appeared to lose everything, he dropped his whip, he lost the off-side rein, in fact he lost everything but his nerve. Appearing calm and in control, he sat motionless on the horse and won by a neck on the line, he was subsequently given the At The Races ride of the week. The Racing Post was suitably impressed at this feat when writing “this true Corinthian did not put the bump into Bumper”.

Retiring this week due to a prolonged riding injury in his left arm, Connell will still be heavily involved with racing. His last winner as a rider was aboard Bullock Harbour at last months’ Listowel Harvest Festival, it was the second win of 2010 following on from six wins in 2009.

Appearing as he did on race cards as Mr. B Connell, he has to be admired for fulfilling his lifelong dream, defying his age and being a man with the courage of his convictions.

In 2008 he was asked if the racing bug had left his system and if had had plans on retiring, he replied in the negative noting "look at the Flat jockeys and some of them can ride away well into their 50’s”.

Yet another job done for a man apart.

A stellar character

A stellar character

By Stephen Dwyer

If you follow the concept of star signs and the zodiac, you may know that those born on April 1st are born under the sign of Aries. This is the first sign of the zodiac, Aries individuals are typically strong characters, they display flashes of arrogance, are full of energy and cannot finish what they started quickly enough. Fittingly enough, these are exactly the qualities of many champion racehorses.

On April 1st 1764, a rare cosmic event occurred. It was an annular eclipse; this is where the Sun and Moon are exactly in line, the Sun appearing as a very bright ring, or annulus, surrounding the outline of the Moon. During this eclipse, a foal was born (most likely at the Cranborne Lodge Stud of his breeder, H.R.H. William, the Duke of Cumberland). The foal, suitably named Eclipse, was sired by Markse, winner of the Jockey Club Plate at Newmarket. Eclipse’s dam, Spiletta was sired in turn by the undefeated Regulus, out of the Godolphin Arabian.

Eclipse was sold as a yearling for the sum of 75 Guineas to a sheep dealer. Displaying an unruly and difficult temperament, Eclipse came very close to being gelded but instead he was disciplined through hard work-rides and was allowed to develop into a tough, resilient horse. Eclipse was a robust chestnut colt, he stood, unusually, an inch higher in the hind quarters than the withers. His hind leg was snow white from the knee down and at full stretch was just over 16 hands high. At the age of five, Eclipse won a £50 plate race at Epsom over four miles. His running style was unique; he ran with his head bowed low, his nose close to the ground.

Following his initial win, Eclipse quickly racked up more valuable races including a two King’s Plates as well as two walkovers in Winchester and Salisbury, having scared away the competitors. At the end of his first season, he had a string of nine victories in a row and was put away, unbeaten. Eclipse started his next year with a success in a match race against Bucephalus at Newmarket. He then claimed the Newmarket King’s Plate and a number of subsequent walkovers before winning two valuable races at Newmarket in successive days.

Through lack of competition and a healthy prize purse, Eclipse was retired a champion, he ran 18 times, winning with ease every single time. In the list of undefeated thoroughbred champions, he ranks third behind Peppers Pride (19 wins) and the unmatchable Kincsem (54 wins). Modern-day wonder mare, Zenyatta is creeping up on Eclipse; one more victory from her will see the wonder mare tie up third spot. During the reign of Eclipse, it is said he raced a total of 63 miles and walked an incredible 1,400 miles to race meetings all across England.

Standing at Clay Hill Stud near Epsom, a stud fee of 10 guineas quickly rose to 50. His proficiency as a quality stallion was astonishing. He became one of the leading sires in an era renowned for leading sires. Directly siring 344 winners including Derby winners Young Eclipse, Saltram, Volunteer, and Sergeant, he also sired Pot-8-os, King Fergus, Dungannon, Alexander, Don Quixote, and Pegasus. The lines of Pot-8-os and King Fergus survive to this day. Such was the shadow case by Eclipse that it is believed that among all living thoroughbreds, at least 95% can trace their direct tail-male line back to him.

In 1879, at the age of 24, Eclipse died following a bout of colic. His heart was found to be abnormally large and his skeleton now resides at Britain’s Royal Veterinary College. The ten furlong Coral-Eclipse Group 1 stakes at Sandown Park was named in his honour in 1886; it was the richest race in Britain at the time, surpassing even the Derby. A host of brilliant horses including Mill Reef, Sadler’s Wells, Daylami, Giant’s Causeway, Hawk Wing and Sea The Stars have all claimed the race at the Esher course. In France there is a 6 furlong Group 3 race, the Prix Eclipse and in the USA, the equivalent of the Cartier Racing Awards, the American thoroughbred horse racing awards are called the Eclipse Awards.

Eclipse was truly remarkable, steeped with a charismatic beginning; he remained a popular character throughout his life. In astrological terms, eclipses symbolise the end of old times and the start of new beginnings, the eclipse of 1764 brought equine perfection and a new age of the horse.

Sometimes, there are no winners

Sometimes, there are no winners

By Stephen Dwyer

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”. Meaningful words, taken from Kipling’s famous poem “If”. It is a phrase that springs to mind when the decision to reverse the six month ban handed down to Harry Findlay was returned on appeal by Sir Roger Buckley. Five weeks ago, the BHA handed the most famous gambler in British racing a six month ban along with being warned off visiting a racecourse for the same duration. These punitive measures were taken for a rule break which was in direct contravention of the rules of racing. This rule states that an owner cannot lay a horse he owns with a betting organisation to lose a race. You draw water to your own mill it is said, but in this case the punishment did not fit the crime.

Of all people, Harry Findlay knows triumph and disaster; he understands what it feels like to win £1 million (twice) on a horse of his winning an RSA and Gold Cup. His gambling style, like it or loath it, takes some beating. He describes it fittingly as “glory or the bullet”. Findlay now understands what it feels like to have the rug pulled from under him by an authority that encourages horse racing ownership. In the space of five weeks, he has become isolated and resigned.

This has culminated in one of the most high-profile owners in racing ending his association with champion trainer, Paul Nicholls. He has gifted his share in Denman to Paul Barber. Ferdy Murphy is now training Big Fella Thanks and all his other horses are entered in the Doncaster Sales. Findlay has lost a stone in weight and the horse that was involved in this issue has been sold to Bunty Millard. All changed, changed utterly.

Leading law firm, DC Employment Solicitors, represented Findlay (for free) throughout the appeals process. Both solicitor Daryl Cowan and Findlay believed that the ban was excessive, on appeal it was overturned and a £4,500 fine imposed in lieu. This initial ban referred to two bets that Findlay placed on Betfair. In October 2008, Findlay placed a bet of £80,000 on Gullible Gordon, a 1/3 chance winning a £5,000 Class 4 amateurs novice hurdle. He also placed £17,000 on it losing, the horse was beaten and Findlay had a net loss of £62,000.

A year later, the same horse was a 4/6 favourite in a novice chase, Gullible Gordon won this time. Findlay had £64,000 on him to win but he also laid the horse off at £32,000. He came out with a profit of £35,000. The race itself was worth £10,000. When questioned, Findlay told At The Races: “The first race at Exeter I made a technical error and pressed the wrong button.”The second one we had a big bet before the race and as a gambler I called my friend and had a big bet on Gullible Gordon and he had a bit more on and laid it in running. “He’s a front-runner and a bit of a character. We were certainly wrong to do so”.

Findlay did not break the rules so much as stress test them. In essence, Findlay was a net backer of Gullible Gordon. Both times when he backed him, he stood to lose if the horse lost, and stood to profit if the horse won. Also his back bets far outweighed his lay bets on Gullible Gordon and no other punter was defrauded. The BHA must now examine their rulebook long and hard to decide if their treatment of banning an owner placing lay bets on his own horse warrants the level of reputational, professional and largely irreparable damage suffered by Harry Findlay.

If he backed a string of his horses to lose, he would be defrauding the betting public and then there would be a cast-iron case. Findlay, who lost £2.5 million on New Zealand winning the 2007 rugby world cup is a law onto himself, he believed “de minimis non curat lex” – the law does not concern itself with trifles.

In this case there are no winners; the biggest loser is not the BHA, Paul Nicholls, Harry Findlay or Betfair. The biggest loser by far has to be simple, common sense.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

By Stephen Dwyer

Saturday September 4th 2010
Leopardstown 15:45
Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes (group 1)
€750000.00 added, 3yo plus, 1m 2f, Class 1, €434500.00 penalty

Those four simple lines should tell you all need to know about the Irish Champion Stakes. But they don’t. Tattersalls might need to consider their position on the naming convention; it is no longer the Tattersalls “Millions” but rather the Tattersalls “Three quarters of a million”. Down from a prize fund of €1,000,000 in 2009 to €750,000 this year, you might ask has the Irish Champion Stakes lost any of its gloss? Maybe, but then again this is not 2009 and paint is much scarcer now.

Looking back over past winners is like that moment in a University’s conferral ceremony when the Registrar awards honorary degrees to prestigious leaders in their field. Since 1976 we have seen Giant’s Causeway, Dylan Thomas, Sadler’s Wells, Inkerman, Daylami and of course, a contender for a new “himself” (Sea The Stars) claim the Irish Champion Stakes. The great sire, Sadler’s Wells, was quickest of all when Pat Eddery led the field on a merry dance in 1984. Aficionados will assert that particular race was in the Phoenix Park, and not Leopardstown, thus there may be some consternation over the time of the race. Still the fact cannot be disputed and that’s why it’s included.

The Champion Stakes, sitting as it does at the latter end of the flat season, is a very prestigious event. As of last year, the winner of the Champion Stakes earns an automatic invitation to compete in the three million Breeders’ Cup Turf race. This makes it the fourth race in Ireland to be included, along with the Moyglare Stud Stakes, the Phoenix Stakes and Pretty Polly Stakes. It’s a tempting carrot.

Saturday’s Leopardstown card revolves around the Champion Stakes and yet the six horses in the race have not had their seasons revolve around the Champion Stakes. Aidan O’Brien fields three of the six runners, Juddmonte and QE2 conqueror Rip Van Winkle heads the betting. Currently at odds of 4/6 it would appear in the bookmakers ring to be a penalty kick for the four-year-old. It is significant that the Ballydoyle team selected Rip Van Winkle ahead of Fame And Glory, who heads to France, and it sets up a rematch between Rip and Twice Over.

It is just over two weeks since Rip Van Winkle beat Henry Cecil’s Coral-Eclipse winner but remember it was only in the last 100 yards that Rip Van Winkle got to Twice Over with a storming late surge. The shorter straight at Leopardstown may lend an advantage to Twice Over, the gruelling final stretch at York played to Rip Van Winkle’s strengths last time out and it is unquestionably an interesting matchup.

Aidan O’Brien thinks very highly of Rip Van Winkle and indeed his stablemate, former Derby favourite Cape Blanco. Johnny Murtagh also believes that Rip Van Winkle is still improving and with Henry Cecil musing that a drop of rain would assist Twice Over, it will be an intriguing contest. The likely fast going might not be ideal for Twice Over but he is a tough, versatile sort and he won the Eclipse on ground that was good to firm. If he does win, it will be Henry Cecil’s first Group One victory in Ireland since Ramrura won the Oaks in 1999.

Cape Blanco, last seen when beaten 11 lengths by Harbinger will be ridden by Seamie Heffernan. The so called “second string” jockey at Ballydoyle demonstrated his natural craft and ability last weekend when winning the Moyglare in great style on board Misty For Me and another big run cannot be discounted. Another English challenger, the Mark Johnston Sea Lord, was supplemented for €75,000 on Monday. Fallon takes the ride, the going will suit but it is the colt’s first run over a mile and the first foray into Group One Company. It’s a big ask but why not take the chance?

Rip Van Winkle will probably win the Champion Stakes, he has the form, the ability, and he ticks all the right boxes, even in a field that lacks quantity but exudes quality. Additionally his connections in the race are unsurpassed.

Serious business The Champion Stakes, but then again, there’s €750,000 on offer here.

That’s a lot of paint.

(Un)lucky 13

(Un)lucky 13

By Stephen Dwyer

Traditionally every summer at “the” Galway races, the fixture list for the following year’s racing is announced by HRI. Usually it is good news, there may be details of an increase in permanent fixtures, measures may be taken to combat the usual shortage of racing during the spring and all festival dates are set in stone. Last year there were 355 fixtures, that’s an average of .97 race meetings per day, almost total saturation.

Of course there are many days without racing (close to 100) and for instance last season there were seven race meetings on a Saturday evening. At Galway this year though, no fixture list appeared. To be fair, it is not a coveted manuscript like the latest Harry Potter or Dan Brown bestseller but still its absence was noted.

At the launch of the fixture list, HRI CEO Brian Kavanagh was not despondent when he announced a 13 percent fall in the number of horses in training. Even though this is a sizeable figure, it is in line with the ongoing industry-wide cuts. 13 percent is still a manageable number and the knock on effects are as follows:

1. A reduction of 10 fixtures in the racing year.

2. The racecourses that are losing fixtures are: Cork, Curragh, Dundalk (lost two), Fairyhouse, Limerick, Listowel, Punchestown, Sligo and Tipperary.

3. An increase of three racing days per year (from 264 to 267) This will reduce the number of mixed meetings, subsequently he number of calendar days with no racing has been reduced from 101 to 98.

4. The number of Saturday evening fixtures has been reduced by two to five.

Thus, a reduction of 10 fixtures is not catastrophic. Even though the number of fixtures has fallen modestly for the second year in a row, it may enhance quality and copper fasten prize money and race conditions.

To Cork, Curragh and the other seven courses that have lost fixtures, spare a thought for New Jersey. Just last week Monmouth Park finished its first “slash and burn” season, so called because its racing days were cut from 82 to 50, a reduction of 40 percent. During these 50 days, Monmouth Park paid out $50 million in prize money betting turnover topped $390 million,—an 87% increase over last year. The racetrack also boasted an average attendance of 10,651. Monmouth now plans to host a momentous 21-day meeting this Autumn so apparently it was a case of no pain, no gain.

The “Monmouth Model” of having fewer but better races is working. Quality over quantity is a proven maxim but one has to be careful to sate the appetite of the race goer without compromising on calibre.

HRI have not yet implemented such radical measures against a backdrop of uncertainty of Government financial backing and a migration to tax off-shore internet and telephone betting. The bookmakers and exchanges may be coerced into nursing the hand that feeds them.

Still, for a country with 26 racecourses, a statistic that proudly boasts more racecourses per head of population than any other country in the world, the HRI team and Brian Kavanagh will the relish the words of David Livingstone, who once said “I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.”

On a footnote, the number 13 is considered lucky in China, mainly because when pronounced it means “’assured growth’”.

Who are we to argue with a population of 1.4 billion.

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

On the brink

On the brink

By Stephen Dwyer

All is not well in Scotland.

As Pope Benedict touched down yesterday in Edinburgh aboard his plane, “Shepherd 1″ one wonders how many Scottish prayers have been offered up to bring horse racing there back from the point of no return. Currently in Scotland, the entire horse racing industry is in the grip of a financial crisis.

There are five racetracks in Scotland; Ayr, Hamilton, Kelso, Perth and Musselburgh. The most prestigious of these, Ayr, features the Scottish Grand National and the Ayr Gold Cup meeting which commences tomorrow and was first run in 1804. Scotland has not lost a racecourse since 1977 when Lanark closed its gates but the possibility of one of the existing five closing is now a real possibility.

Worth £220 million to the economy, Scottish racing has, ironically, never been more popular. With an average growth of 4% attendance, 310,000 race goers attended meets last year. The primary reason that it is struggling to survive is due to the current levy system. In order to avoid paying tax, many betting firms are continuing the trend of moving offshore. It’s a simple system, by holding court offshore, the bookies avoid paying their mandatory 10 per cent share of their gross profits to the Government. This money is funnelled directly back into the sport, but less and less is now in the pot.

William Hill recently moved more of its operations to Gibraltar, a move which has contributed to a £40 million shortfall in levy tax over the past 24 months. Even the sport’s ruling body, The British Horseracing Association has stated on record that they project future losses of £15m unless reforms are brought in. If these reforms do not come into play, hundreds of jobs will be lost in Scotland and courses will close and that is a certainty.

This week, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, (who lists horseracing as his favourite pastime) led a delegation of racecourse owners, trainers and industry representatives from the Scottish racing industry to Westminster. This was in an effort to gather support from Ministers and modernise the Levy system and help curb the growing financial crises within the industry.

The argument that offshore bookmakers must continue to contribute is a very strong one. They continue to profit from the sport, thus they must not bite the hand that feeds it. The knock-on effect from this issue in Scotland is resounded in many countries worldwide. The time has come for a precedent to be set to ensure a sustainable arrangement between those who profit most from racing and those who rely on it for their livelihood.

Betting Exchanges also pay only a small percentage of tax, this may have to increase in the interests of the sport. In 2009, Betfair’s total revenue grew by 27% to £303m. This is a three-fold growth since 2005. Also last year, Betfair signed one of the biggest sponsorship deals in the history of horse racing by entering into a five-year partnership with Ascot Racecourse. They contributed just under £8m to the horse racing levy over the past year (of which nearly 20% was voluntary) but the sentiment is that this is not enough.

The solution is not a simple one, if the levy rises, bookmakers will probably pass the extra cost on to their customers and thus the cost of a bet will rise. The large bookmakers are quick to suggest alternative arrangements such as “proper commercial relationships” but the industry needs revenue, not suggestion, and it needs it now.

Alex Salmond and his Scottish delegation carry the hopes of an entire industry on their back as they travel back from Westminster to the border towns, HRI and the Irish horse racing industry will be watching this crisis closely in the hope it does not happen on these shores because if it does, it’s going to be a big storm.

All aboard…

All aboard…

By Stephen Dwyer

Hard to believe a full year has passed since Rip Van Winkle beat just three other runners in last year’s renewal of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. That day he beat newly-crowned Dubai Duty Free Cup winner Delegator soundly but faces a much more challenging task in attempting to retain his title tomorrow.

Since the 2009 race, Rip Van Winkle has run five times; yes he won the Juddmonte International Stakes and was then beaten without excuses by the best miler around, Canford Cliffs, in the Sussex Stakes in July. His last run, second to a cleverly-ridden Cape Blanco in the 10 furlong Irish Champion Stakes on ground that was not ideal for him can also be discounted.

Tomorrow he resumes the role as a Ballydoyle heavyweight, with Aidan O’Brien seeking his second victory in this race. Rip Van Winkle is peaking at the right time. History however, is against horses who achieve back to back wins, only twice has this happened when Brigadier Gerard and Rose Bowl won successive races in the seventies. Not that this may matter because trip, ground and tactics may play into the Ballydoyle team’s hands.

The main protagonist is shock 2000 Guineas winner, Makfi. Having already beaten St. Nicholas Abbey at Newmarket and Goldikova in the €600,000 Jacques Le Marois Stakes at Deauville five weeks ago, Makfi has become somewhat of a giant-slayer. The three-year-old, trained by Mikel Delzangles gets a weight allowance of four pounds from Rip Van Winkle.

From a value perspective, the 4/5 and even money prices currently posted against Makfi look very skinny. At a best price of 5/2 Rip Van Winkle looks tempting and stable mates, Dewhurst winner Beethoven ridden by Ryan Moore and pacemaker Air Chief Marshal will make this difficult task a little easier for the four-year-old.

The Queen Elizabeth II will go ahead without Canford Cliffs after he scoped dirty late this week. It is unfortunate that he is unable to run as he would have taken the world of beating. His eleventh-hour withdrawal means that plans for the colt are now uncertain. He was due to run in the Breeders’ Cup but trainer Richard Hannon has now admitted this will be a “long shot”.

Makfi will almost certainly run in the Breeders’ Cup and Mikel Delzangles is not concerned about returning to Ascot despite the fact that he was beaten there in the St James’s Palace Stakes. A dirty scope was cited as the main reason for the loss and he will be fully tuned tomorrow.

The strength of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as a Classic trial was validated in 2008 at Santa Anita when that year’s winners of the race, Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator finished first and second respectively in the Classic.

Makfi, it must be remembered, has already beaten Canford Cliffs and the best milers around and he has absolutely no fear of Rip Van Winkle or the Godolphin runner, Poet’s Voice. Tomorrow will tell a lot as to how good he really is but Rip Van Winkle is as tough as they come. His scope, turn of foot and the Ballydoyle tactics might be enough to make this yet another day to remember for Aidan O’Brien.

If Rip Van Winkle does make it back to back wins and joins Brigadier Gerard and Rose Bowl in that elusive club, I could scarcely think of a better candidate worthy of the honour.

Fethard’s Sea Warrior

Fethard’s Sea Warrior

By Stephen Dwyer

At last count, there were 60,000 families in Ireland with the surname Murphy. This easily makes it the most common surname in the country. In the USA, the latest census revealed five times this amount of Murphy’s in the 52 states; all in all it is the 58th most common surname in America. There are believed to over a million Murphy’s worldwide, the name means “Sea Warrior” in ancient Irish. Within Ireland as you would imagine, Joseph Murphy is vastly popular name. For the sake of clarity, Tipperary-based trainer Joseph Murphy is registered with Horse Racing Ireland as Joseph G. Murphy. But to those involved with the horse racing industry and around his home base in Fethard, County Tipperary he is simply known as Joe Murphy.

Joe Murphy’s training facilities are situated just outside the town of Fethard. The town itself is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Ireland. It was originally settled around 1200AD when a Norman Lord, William de Braose chose the then green field site for its rich pastures and fertile, arable lands. Today, with a population of 3,500, the area is home to key bloodstock and training operations including Coolmore, Ballydoyle and Joe Murphy’s Crampscastle estates.

Holder of both a national hunt and flat training license, Joe Murphy has established himself as a thorough professional and an expert in his field. Over the past four decades he has achieved an excellent reputation as a trainer and purveyor of top quality young horses. Joe’s interest in racing stemmed from his father, Joseph senior, a highly respected and proficient owner who had several high profile winners. Among these included Smooth Dealer who won ten times and claimed the much-coveted Thyestes Steeplechase in Gowran Park. Joe later emulated his father’s success in the Thyestes, this time when training Felicity’s Pet, a classy mare by No Argument who won six races including the Thyestes.

At the age of eighteen, Joe Murphy formally entered the training world at Maddoxstown, Co. Kilkenny. His first success, Vibrax, quickly followed and shortly after, a 75 acre farm was acquired just outside Fethard. The farm was carefully developed and now boasts immensely impressive training facilities. During the development of the training base, such was the priority of ensuring that the horses’ needs were met that Joe and his devoted wife Carmel, lived for three and a half years in a mobile home by the yard.

Today, the attention to detail and the amenities within Crampscastle are outstanding. There are two grass gallops including a one mile, a one hundred yard gallop and a five furlong woodchip gallop. The woodchip straight is remarkable. It has been specifically designed to improve the speed and balance of horses and the undulating camber mimics that of Epsom and the Curragh.

Upon the gallops, the horses are subjected to interval-training and Fartlek methods for conditioning and speed. There are twenty five horses currently in training at Crampscastle, there are thirty four boxes (including four isolation berths) situated around a carefully-planned three sided paddock. Non-slip rubber tiling is laid across the yard and within stabling boxes and all horses are allowed a number of hours of undisturbed rest and recuperation each day. Joe insists this is as much for their mental recovery as for the physical, a belief that works well as the horses are very well settled within the yard.

There are now eighty acres at Crampcastle, among these are fifteen one-acre grass paddocks assigned for fillies. There are also immediate plans to develop a five furlong grass gallop which will be installed by spring 2011. More often than not it is Joe, rather than the groundskeeper who will replace any divots that appear in the grass post-workout. He has concocted a secret recipe (grass seed, sand, clay and turf mould) to restore any damaged grass. The woodchip is also raked daily and topped up regularly, an example of the dozens of small measures in Crampscastle which, when added together, bring out the best in horses trained there.

For the past number of years, Joe’s son, Joseph ably assists his father in the day-to-day running of the yard. Having spent over two years at Versailles, Coolmore’s Kentucky base, he brings a complimentary approach to the horses. Joseph shares his father’s position of maintaining an operation with a sense of honesty, accomplishment and transparency, a position which is valued by Joe’s long-standing owners.

Among the yards many training successes include Ardbrae Lady, a distinguished high-class filly who finished second to Nightime in the 2006 Irish 1,000 Guineas, nine lengths ahead of Sir Mark Prescott’s Confidential Lady (by Singspiel).

Such was the class of this race that Prescott’s filly subsequently won the French Oaks, the £800,000 Group 1 Prix De Diane Hermes in Chantilly. Also finishing behind Ardbrae Lady in the 1,000 Guineas was Aidan O’Brien’s Queen Cleopatra (by Kingmambo) who had already claimed the Derrinstown Stud 1,000 Guineas Trial. By the time Ardbrae Lady was retired, she had won over €250,000 in prize money for her connections, an outstanding training result as the filly had initially been purchased for 20,000 guineas. Interestingly, her first foal, a colt by Galileo and subsequently named Jackaroo, was purchased for 230,000 Guineas by Coolmore chief, John Magnier. Jackaroo, a sound, precocious type has already won his maiden at the first time of asking.

Rose Hip, (Rossini – Rose Tint by Salse) is another mare that has also heralded much success, bred by Ballyhane Stud, Rose Hip previously won four valuable handicaps before gaining her first success in a Listed race in June 2010. Defying a large weight, Rose Hip won the nine furlong Class 1 Nijinsky Stakes at Leopardstown when beating the favourite, Jim Bolger’s Shintoh, a Giant’s Causeway half-brother to War Chant and Ivan Denisovich.

Joe Murphy is also the owner of Rose Hip; she is one of seven stakes winners by the Group 2 winner, Rossini. Rose Hip realised €10,000 as a yearling and although still in training, she should make an excellent broodmare with her progeny bound to be very popular at the sales and another success for the Crampscastle team.

Joe Murphy’s ascendancy into the top twenty flat trainers in Ireland has been built upon decades of experience and an ability to exceed expectations. His yard is renowned for dependability, value for money and results; it is a synergy of success and readiness. In an area of Ireland bejewelled with industry-leading training facilities, Joe Murphy’s is resplendent yet unobtrusive, without question, a testament to an honourable, gentleman trainer.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why so serious

Saturday September 4th 2010

Leopardstown 15:45

Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes (group 1)

€750000.00 added, 3yo plus, 1m 2f, Class 1, €434500.00 penalty

Those four simple lines should tell you all need to know about the Irish Champion Stakes. But they don’t. Tattersall’s might need to consider their position on the naming convention; it is no longer the Tattersall’s “Millions” but rather the Tattersall’s “Three Quarters of a million”. Down from a prize fund of €1,000,000 in 2009 to €750,000 this year, you might ask has the Irish Champion Stakes lost any of its gloss? Maybe, but then again this is not 2009 and paint is much scarcer now.

Looking back over past winners is like that moment in a University’s conferral
ceremony when the Registrar awards honorary degrees to prestigious leaders in their field. Since 1976 we have seen Giant's Causeway, Dylan Thomas, Sadler's Wells, Inkerman, Daylami and of course, a contender for a new “himself” (Sea the Stars) claim the Irish Champion Stakes. The great sire, Sadler's Wells, is quickest of all when Pat Eddery led the field on a merry dance in 1984. Aficionados will assert that particular race was in the Phoenix Park, and not Leopardstown, thus there may be some consternation over the time of the race. Still the fact cannot be disputed and that’s why it’s included.

The Champion Stakes, sit as it does at the latter end of the flat season, is a very
prestigious event. As of last year, the winner of the Champion Stakes earns an automatic invitation to compete in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf race. This makes it the fourth race in Ireland to be included, along with the Moyglare Stud Stakes, the Phoenix Stakes and Pretty Polly Stakes. It’s a tempting carrot.

Saturday’s Leopardstown Card revolves around the Champion Stakes and yet the six horses in the race have not had their seasons revolve around the Champion Stakes. Aidan O’ Brien fields three of the six runners, Juddmonte and QE2 conqueror Rip Van Winkle heads the betting. Currently at odds of 4/6 it would appear in the bookmakers ring to be a penalty kick for the four year old.

It is significant that the Ballydoyle team selected Rip Van Winkle ahead of Fame And Glory, who heads to France, and it sets up a rematch between Rip and Twice Over.
It is just over two weeks since Rip Van Winkle beat Henry Cecil’s Coral-Eclipse winner but remember it was only in the last 100 yards that Rip Van Winkle got to Twice Over with a storming late surge. The shorter straight at Leopardstown may lend an advantage to Twice Over, the gruelling final stretch at York played to Rip Van Winkle’s strengths last time out and it is unquestionably an interesting matchup.

Aidan O’ Brien thinks very highly of Rip Van Winkle and indeed his stalemate, former Derby favourite Cape Blanco. Johnny Murtagh also believes that Rip Van Winkle is still improving and with Henry Cecil musing that a drop of rain would assist Twice Over, it will be an intriguing contest. The likely fast going might not be ideal for Twice Over but he is a tough, versatile sort and he won the Eclipse on ground that was good to firm. If he does win, it will be Henry Cecil’s first Group One victory in Ireland since Ramrura won the Oaks in 1999

Cape Blanco, last seen when beaten 11 lengths by Harbinger will be ridden by Seamie Heffernan. The so called “second string” jockey at Ballydoyle demonstrated his natural craft and ability last weekend when winning the Moyglare in great style on board Misty For Me and another big run cannot be discounted. Another English challenger, the Mark Johnston Sea Lord, was supplemented for €75,000 on Monday. Fallon takes the ride, the going will suit but it is the colts first run over a mile and the first foray into Group One Company. It’s a big ask but why not take the chance.

Rip Van Winkle will probably win the Champion Stakes, he has the form, the ability, and he ticks all the right boxes, even in a field that lacks quantity but exudes quality. Additionally and the record is his connections in the race are unsurpassed.

Serious business The Champion Stakes, but then again, there’s €750,000 on offer here.

That’s a lot of paint.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Flying Column

(This is a short story I wrote that won first prize in a local radio competition, it was recorded by an actor and read out live on air)

Flying Column

Written by
Stephen Dwyer



Many people associate the term “flying column” with the hit-and-run IRA guerrilla units of the Irish War of Independence. These units, first instigated in 1919 consisted of up to 35 local men, usually serving for a week at a time. The columns travelled light, with the minimum of equipment and carried out ambushes on British forces to often devastating effect.

Such was the impact and casualty rate of the flying columns that the British Government introduced a mercenary or “Auxiliary” division to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the police force responsible for law and order in Ireland at that time. The purpose of this force was to participate in counter-insurgency campaigns; the popularity of the division was enormous that it led to a shortage of uniforms so new recruits were issued with khaki Army trousers and dark green or blue police surplus tunics .This mixture of colours was similar those of a famous pack of foxhounds in Limerick called the “Black and Tans” and the name stuck, even when the auxiliaries were issued full RIC uniforms.

The resultant battles between the Auxiliaries and flying columns caused many tragedies on both sides. At its peak, the Auxiliary division of the RIC contained 9,500 members; the true number of men who served in the flying columns is unknown. The disruption caused by the flying columns greatly hindered the sustainability of British rule in Ireland and galvanised support at local level, eventually resulting in a truce in 1921.

A Republic was born and Ireland would be forever changed by the War for Independence.


“You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it by a better deed”
- Padraig Pearse


Séan and Liam Byrne were the only sons of Kate Flanagan and Liam Byrne, Kate’s parents had been famine emigrants who returned to Ireland in 1860 to ensure their daughter was born on Irish soil. Séan and Liam were born a year apart, Liam, the eldest and stronger of the two cared for his younger brother after their father died while still a young man. Of the two, Séan was more cerebral; he was much slighter than his elder brother and devoured all the books he could find. His love was Irish poetry, literature and native Legends and had a particular fondness for the transcendent beauty of Yeats learning several of his poems by heart.

A flying column was no place for Séan Byrne. No doubt he had a love for his land, pride in defending it and bravery beyond bounds, but a fighting ability within Séan was absent. He had never held a gun, never fought with so much as his brother when they were growing up; he seemed gentle and not the archetypical tough soldier.

Against the wishes of Liam, he had persuaded the officer commanding the local IRA unit that he wished to join the war for freedom and would fight and die for Ireland. Buoyed by the young man’s enthusiasm, Séan was accepted into the column and swore a simple oath over a folded, fraying Tricolour, the orange side facing a dusty farmhouse floor.

Two months had passed since Séan had taken the oath and now the two brothers lay in the countryside, side by side on damp grass, shadowed by a thick ash tree. They were waiting for a Lancia Armoured Car to chug down the laneway and stop at a makeshift roadblock. As it narrowed into a bottleneck, railway sleepers blocked the laneway; these were earlier positioned by several of the other volunteers who now lay in wait on higher ground. It was an early evening in spring; the sun was setting lazily behind a nearby hill, Woodpigeons could be heard cooing overhead, they were accompanied by the beautiful chirping of little finches. There was simple stillness in the air, dew was settling and diffusing on the volunteers bolt-action Lee Enfield rifles. Abruptly, breaking the bird’s evening vespers, a heavy splutter of the oncoming armoured car could be clearly heard, its reinforced wheels trundled down the lane quicker than anyone expected.

A muffle of British voices, quieter at first became louder now as they noticed the sleepers blocking their path, there was no room to turn the vehicle, the driver braked hard and the car started to grind to a halt, sending dust billowing up behind it. As it passed the two brothers; Liam unpinned the detonator on a percussion grenade that dangled from his Sam Browne belt and threw it behind the car. Seconds later a deafening explosion ripped through the air, sending sodden earth and gravel in a blast wave. The car swayed and three Auxiliaries bounded from the back hatch, as they ran for cover the volunteers in the higher position primed and pointed their weapons and prepared to fire “Surrender” they cried at the British forces, “Surrender and lay down your arms” . Taking no need, the Black and Tans opened fire and the machine gunner aboard the Lancia sprayed the hedgerows with lethal covering fire. Liam and Séan fired at the troops, who were sprinting for cover, before they reached the ditch; they were hit from above and dropped to the ground. Liam flung another grenade at the car, it landed by the engine and exploded in a ball of flames, the fuel tank aboard exploding, killing the driver and gunner. The ambush was over in under a minute and five auxiliaries lay dead. The brothers collected any salvageable weapons from the British soldiers and started to march towards the nearest safe house.

At supper in the safe house, Séan explained to his fellow troops how “Guerrilla” means “little war” in Spanish; they understood it is the method by which small groups of soldiers raid and ambush larger forces. What they did now know was that it has been used for centuries, the Boers used flying columns to great effect against the British Empire in 1900, they disrupted supplies and command posts viciously and swiftly, then withdrew and vanished into the surrounding countryside. Liam was proud of Séans knowledge and it even drew a coy smile from the youngest daughter of the woman of the house, this did not go unnoticed and a healthy banter ensued. Guerrilla tactics were now employed on a widespread scale by the Irish Volunteers against the black and tans, many of who were World War 1 veterans. Far from the poppies of Flanders field, the tans were stationed now in RIC barracks, one such garrison was the next target of the flying column that included Séan and Liam Byrne.

The assault on the barracks was carefully planned, it was five weeks after the last raid and it was understood that a large consignment of weapons and ammunition lay in the strong room within. Twenty volunteers were apportioned to the task of storming the barracks and acquiring its contents. Dusk was falling; the walls of the barracks were throwing long dark shadows onto the ground. A former famine workhouse, it seemed ethereal. There were rumours heard from housekeepers who worked within the fortress of unexplained noises at night, whispers and noises from still corridors and locked rooms. An unpleasant place for an unwelcome force they called it, tonight it would be razed to the ground, purging whatever malcontent spirits lay within.
Liam Byrne had acquired a 75mm French field gun which had been raided from a stockade near the Curragh camp; the cannon and several high explosive shells was now hidden behind a deep gorse bush and aimed straight at the heavy oak double door of the barracks. Small groups of volunteers had positioned themselves in strategic positions around the building, spread out like the end points of a compass, awaiting the order. From the inside information that had been gleaned from the local housekeepers who worked within, up to thirty RIC soldiers were garrisoned within at any one time.

Liam blew hard on a whistle which signalled the start of the attack, he fired the field gun and a huge explosion of oak splinters, beams and bolts fragmented all around, another shell was directed at the door and with a great crash, the supporting wall collapsed. Covering fire from a Vickers machine gun was directed at the pillbox which housed a similar weapon at the top of the barracks wall. Several members of the flying column poured into the gaping hole and into the barrack. Led by Séan they carefully made their way into the heart of the barracks towards the strong room, they were met with little resistance, all auxiliary forces were rushing into defensive positions atop the barracks, the diversionary tactics were working and the strong room loomed ahead. Two sentries posted near the arsenal were immediately subdued by the larger force; they were knocked unconscious from blows of long IRA rifles. Inside, the weapons cache was substantial, easily a hundred rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, incendiary grenades and gun cleaning equipment, a vital resource for the flighty flying columns.

With the building secure and over a dozen black and tans fatally wounded, Séan ran back out the front of the barracks toward the gorse bush to Liam. Heavy canvas bags lay behind him which would be used to store the weapons. Picking up an armful each, the brothers started to move back into the barracks. Séan eagerly moved some yards ahead of his brother, as he turned back to check how far Liam was behind him, he noticed a movement in the furze bush near the cannon, he saw a familiar khaki colour near the field gun and cried out to Liam, he raised his pistol to fire. Panicking, and blindly letting lose a volley of shots Séan, still firing his handgun was thrown off his feet by the blast as the cannon fired, it was off target and missed by some twenty yards.

Some long seconds later and through ringing ears and a bloodied face, he peered up from the ground; he crawled towards Liam who he noticed was also lying prone on the earth. Behind him, several of the volunteers were walking out of the barracks, carrying freshly minted British rifles. When Séan crouched over Liam, he saw a single dark spot in his chest, unmistakably made by the pistol which was still clutched tight in Séans right hand. As Blood collected underneath his dirty uniform, kneading his knees into the ground he looked through tears into the lifeless eyes of his brother and understood what he had done.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Harbinger to take Ormonde Stakes

Harbinger to take Ormonde Stakes

The £75,000 Group 3 Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes is the highlight of today’s competitive Chester card. In the race, Sir Michael Stoutes Harbinger will be looking for his second win of this seasons campaign following an impressive display last time out at Newbury. He won the Group 3 John Porter Stakes that day. That race panned out perfectly, he made steady headway through the large field of runners and led from a furlong out when he ran on strongly for Ryan Moore. He went on to win by a margin of three lengths and the imposing son of Champion Sire Dansli will be very hard to beat today despite a three pound penalty for his last run.

Chester is the both the oldest and smallest racecourse in Britain, it is a natural amphitheatre and not every horse takes to its tight brandy bowl shape. Known also as “the Roodee” course form at Chester is important. Harbinger has won at Chester before, a year ago he won his maiden at the track over 1 mile 2 furlongs. He was 6/4 favourite that day and scored by three lengths from Aidan O’ Brien’s Changingoftheguard who subsequently went on to win the Ulster Derby.

Harbinger heads a field of six today in the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes, the two main dangers are Age Of Aquarius and Munsef. However both go into the race without the benefit of a run this season. Munsef, trained by Ian Williams is a previous course and distance winner and also won at the course over a shorter 1 mile 2 furlongs. Now a veteran at eight, he was last seen out in England 240 days ago but has since ran was in Australia where he finished down the pack at the Melbourne Cup. His owner, Kuwaiti-born Dr Marwan Koukash expects a good run from Munsef, a horse with a chequered background. He was a two-time cast-off and is currently trained by a stable still in its infancy, he is also owned by a man who who until two years ago had never had a racehorse and who fully expects a fairytale run today.

Harbinger, the chief protagonist was bought for 180,000 guineas, he is a half-brother to Penang Cinta, a multiple 7-12 furlong winner . His dam, Penang Pearl is a dual 1 mile-9 furlong winner so there is no question marks over today’s extended trip of 1 mile 5 furlongs.

He did disappoint connections last summer when sent off the well backed favourite for the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. He finished last of the seven runners that day, eased down and beaten 27 lengths. Trainer Sir Michael Stoute still admits to being mystified about that run but now that he has matured into an impressive four year old who is the improving type, he will take all the beating today.

Age Of Aquarius and Harbinger were meant to clash in last year’s St. Leger. This failed to materialise however and it will be interesting to see how O’ Briens colt has matured over the winter. At current rating, the Age Of Aquarius is rated at 117, one ahead of Harbinger.

Aidan O’ Briens runners first time out this season have a poor strike rate, fancied runners Mikhail Glinka (11/10 favourite in the Ballysax stakes) Devoted To You (2/1 favourite in The Lodge Park Stakes), Fame And Glory (2/5 favourite, in a listed race at the Curragh) and of course lest we forget the 2000 Guineas even money favourite, St Nicholas Abbey were all beaten first time out. Classier colts than Age Of Aquarius were, it has to be said, beaten convincingly.

Age Of Aquarius, a Galileo colt may, like Munsef will most likely improve for the run but is vulnerable today. There is no doubt Age Of Aquarius is a high class horse, second last time out in Longchamp in the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix De Paris, he may suffer from the long layoff but he may go close.

Harbinger is highly thought of, he may indeed be better than a Group 3 horse and should he win today do not rule out a tilt at the Coronation Cup. He has a bright, positive attitude and is a good galloper, on the ground, over the trip, against the opposition he faces, today should be a pedestal onto better things.

I fully expect him not to be beaten.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

St Nicholas Abbey

St Nicholas Abbey

In 1627, the British Navy colonised the Caribbean island of Barbados. At the time, most dwelling houses on the island consisted of locally-felled timber; this was not the case for the magnificent three-storey sugar plantation mansion belonging to George Nicholas. The house was made from bricks and limestone, a mahogany tree-lined avenue led up to its doors and its expansive gardens offered peace and a haven from busy island life. It was from this spiritual essence that the mansion was called “St Nicholas Abbey”.

At the Tattersalls October Yearling Book 1 Sale in 2008, a bay yearling colt was bought by Demi O’ Byrne on behalf of John Magnier. Sold on behalf of Oaks Farm Stables, the yearling was out of Montjeu and Leaping Water. Magnier named the colt St Nicholas Abbey, he is currently trained by Aidan O’ Brien and remains unbeaten after three starts. He holds the mantle of stable star at Ballydoyle and is a very short-priced favourite for both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. St Nicholas Abbey was also last season’s champion two year old. He won his maiden in impressive style over a mile at the Curragh by a widening four lengths. Quickly stepped up to Group 2 Company, he then took the Juddmonte Beresford Stakes over a mile again at the Curragh, staying on gamely in the finish at cramped odds of 2/5f.

O’Brien then upped the colt in class again, this time to Group 1 Company where he contested the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. As many punters know, this race is a proving ground for Derby winners with three of the last eight winners, Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral, all subsequently winning the Derby. In the Racing Post Trophy, the colt was given a very confident ride by Johnny Murtagh, he was stone last two furlongs from home but sluiced through gaps in the field and was already in front a furlong out. He went on to win in effortless style, the race simply settled in a matter of astonishingly quick strides. He did in fact run the two furlongs in around 22 seconds; this was an exceptional time on ground that was officially Good to Soft. He was a very popular winner on the day, backed into 13/8 favourite from an opening show of 2/1; indeed these may well be the largest odds he can be backed at in his career.

Following his electric display at Doncaster, the horse was then put away for the winter, three races in three months, August, September, October, a maiden, Group 2, Group 1. Job done.

At a recent stable tour of Ballydole, Aidan O’ Brien was quick to praise St Nicholas Abbey noting “he has an excellent temperament and has always been incredibly natural in everything he does”. O’ Brien may have 150 horses in training at his world-class Rosegreen facility but none have wintered as well as the 3 year old colt who he has noted “matured in all the right places”. Opinions about the colt were widely unanimous with the British Horseracing Authority handicapper Matthew Tester describing St Nicholas Abbey as "a really significant champion".

The colt is also the first Racing Post Trophy winner to top the handicap classifications since Celtic Swing in 1994; Tester awarded St Nicholas Abbey a rating of 124. It may also be worth noting that this rating is greater than that of previous winners of the race, Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral, all of whom went on to win the Derby, all who were in the 116-117 bracket.

St Nicholas Abbey is by Montjeu who has an exceptional strike rate with middle-distance runners. Leaping Water; the dam of St Nicholas Abbey was unraced, in 1993 she was sold for 3,200 guineas at the Tattersalls July Sale. Leaping Water was by Sure Blade who won a QEII over a mile. St Nicholas Abbey’s granddam Flamenco Wave was a top class two year old, winning the Moyglare Stakes for John Oxx. She has been a major success at stud, becoming dam of Group 1 winners Starborough (by Soviet Star), Aristotle (Sadler’s Wells) and Ballingarry (Sadler’s Wells).

If you are searching for a negative, there is one, concerning of all things, his foaling date. If St Nicholas Abbey (born on April 13, 2007) were to win at Newmarket on May 1st, he would become the latest-foaled winner of the 2000 guineas since Lester Piggott aboard Rodrigo de Triano in 1992. There are of course, exceptions to every rule and St Nicholas has the speed, stamina and ability to buck most trends.
As was much publicised, last year, Sea The Stars became the first horse since Nashwan in 1989 to complete the Guineas-Derby double. St Nicholas Abbey has already surpassed what Sea The Stars achieved at two, he has huge talent and potential and a blistering turn of foot. The positives are topped up by reports from Ballydoyle that he is working very well at home.

There is no question that Aidan O’Brien and his team will have him primed for May 1st at Newmarket when the first leg of that double should be achieved.

Then we will talk about a Triple Crown.


2 pts win for 2000 Guineas @ 7/4
2 pts win for Epson Derby @ 2/1
1 pt win double for 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby @ 15/2

Onefortheroadtom a solid each way option

Onefortheroadtom a solid each way option By Stephen Dwyer Onefortheroadtom, pictured above after being sold last year at ...