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.

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