Thursday, September 3, 2015

Queen of the crop

Queen of the crop

By Stephen Dwyer

The July cup is one of the top sprint races of the European flat season. Held on the July Course at Newmarket, the track almost always rides quick. In the Group 1 Darley Cup of 2011, it was no different. As the race developed, one jockey was in trouble. 28 year old Hayley Turner, riding the David Simcock-trained Dream Ahead, was two furlongs from the winning post and boxed in. She had never sat on the horse before as Will Buick, the regular rider had to ride at York that day.

With time running out, Turner had to switch left a furlong out, a difficult manoeuvre at best, not least in a furiously-ran sprint race. In an instant Hayley changed hands and steered the three year old colt out of trouble and into a clear path. Under a strong drive, she forged clear and won the race by a neck. In doing so Hayley Turner who became only the second female rider to win a Group 1 in Britain (the other was Alex Greaves, dead-heated on Ya Malak in 1997 Nunthorpe).

Dream Ahead of course was no slouch, he was is one of two Group 1 winners by Diktat, winner of the Prix Maurice de Gheest and Haydock Sprint Cup, alongside Rajeem, who landed the Falmouth Stakes on the Newmarket July course. But that day in Newmarket, Hayley Turner was outstanding. Dream Ahead ran three more times, winning two Group 1 races but Turner did not keep the ride. In a way, this was indicative of Hayley Turner's career. Opportunity would come knocking, she would answer, notch up a series of winners and earn the valid reputation as a gifted rider. But it was all transient and the wake of this type of treatment that this week leading flat lady rider of our generation is retiring at just 32.

It is common knowledge that women (but only aged over 30) were granted the vote in 1918, but it was another 48 years before the Jockey Club issued its first trainer's licence to a woman, and six more before the they were allowed to ride. In what was very much a male-dominated sport, even the progressive attitude in American was curtailed. Diane Crump, one of the USA's first female jockey, had to fight her way through an angry crowd to get to her first race at the age of 18. During the 1960's in her memoirs she recounts being heckled with tirades of "Go back to the kitchen and cook dinner". Of course if it were not for pioneers like Crump, later riders such as Nina Carberry, Katie Walsh in Ireland and Hayley Turner and Kirsty Milczarek in the UK to take up the mantle as lady riders.

Life was not all straight forward to Hayley Turner. She suffered a series of injuries throughout her career and showed toughness and resilience when returning after each one. At  the St. Leger meeting a few years ago she was thrown  from a horse (below) and fractured three vertebrae in her back as well as her pelvis. She was sidelined for months.

But she did what all good jockeys do, regardless of their gender - they kept going. Awarded joint Champion Apprentice with Saleem Golam with 44 winners in 2005, her early career flourished. In recent seasons she has many rides but the winners dipped. Turner said lately "“I get plenty of rides, I’m paying my mortgage. But being a jockey isn’t just a job, it’s your lifestyle and it’s difficult to have a work/life balance. I just feel that I’ve done so much, what a way to finish it and then let’s go and take on something else.”"

So the next challenge beckons. A pundit on the Sky-owned channel AtTheRaces where she will cast an expert eye on proceedings from the studio. Turner has become an inspiration for young female riders and she is solely responsible for the huge surge in women jockeys over the past few years. In Ireland, many racecourses did not even have separate changing rooms for men and women but thankfully this is now a thing of the past.

Lady riders received a welcome boost of late too when former Olympian Victoria Pendleton joined their ranks. It is an upward curve and a welcome addition to an area which is as resistant to change as gravity.

Hayley Turner will be missed but her legacy endures. She took up the reins and gave it billy-o. Fair play to you Hayley. Respect granted, given by us all who cheered you on from safety.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Shortlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland 2015

Delighted to say that I am shortlisted for the 2015 Ireland Blog Awards !

My blog has been shortlisted in Best Innovation Blog Category.

The shortlist is now up on

Thanks for the nomination and vote of approval!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Farewell Kauto Star

Farewell Kauto Star

Like so many others, the news of Kauto Star suffering an injury and having to be put to sleep hit me hard. It was most unexpected and unwelcome news. My immediate question was “how did this happen ?” All too aware that the great Kauto was now embarking on a late dressage career, I thought immediately that he might have incurred some sort of freak injury as he was still a relatively young horse and in rude health. And so it came to pass. Though not competing, a freak fall in a paddock, (no one knows quite how it happened) resulted in a devastating series of injuries. The second  thoracic vertebrae and sixth cervical vertebrae were irreparably damaged. Paralysis was the outcome and as he could not stand, the decision was made to euthanise the double Gold Cup winner. And though that was the most heart-breaking of decisions, it was the right call.

I felt a profound sense of loss when Kauto Star died. Not the same as losing a family member, that goes without saying, but rather like learning that your favourite childhood pet had passed away. He was my favourite racehorse, there is no doubt about that, and he deserved a long and happy retirement, not this. But as we are all well aware, we don’t always get what we deserve. There have been dozens of glowing obsequies about Kauto Star, all of them show the affection and high regard in which he was held. I believe that Alastair Down wrote a beautiful article but I must confess that I have not read any of them. I wanted my own few words not to be influenced (even by the great Mr. Down) because in a way it is cathartic.

Rather than list his achievements, of which there are many, or list the controversies around the relationship between his owner and trainer, I will remember Kauto Star fondly. I was at Cheltenham when he won his first Gold Cup. I was devastated when Denman beat him and remember walking around in a funk for hours afterwards. But it was when Kauto Star regained his Gold Cup, becoming the first horse to ever do so, that I was beyond the point of reason in happiness. It is probably a form of madness to get so attached to a horse that you have no connection with, but it is a happy form of madness and I have the best memories of this horse. I really believe that I will never feel the same way about another.

Farewell Kauto Star, you handsome, talented, aristocratic beauty. You held us all in captivation for so many years and you will be missed. Rest now that your race is run.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Betfair Ascot Chase Preview

Kauto Star was the last winner of the Betfair Ascot Chase back in 2008 for Paul Nicholls. It is a race that has not been kind to the Ditcheat trainer. Pride of Dulcote fell when in contention in 2011, the useful  Cerium broke a blood vessel in 2007 and there have been a string of unplaced but useful types in the interim renewals. Nicholls saddles Ptit Zig, the favourite for this year’s Betfair Chase.
So let’s have a look at the main contenders for this year’s renewal:

Ptit Zig (15/8f) P Nicholls / S Twiston-Davies

Since finishing third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham on only his second ever start, Ptit Zig has progressed nicely through the ranks. He won the 4yo Renaud Du Vivier Grade 1 hurdle in France shortly after his Cheltenham third and subsequently ran credibly in other Graded hurdle races including a respectable sixth in the Champion Hurdle. 

Since taking to fences, Ptit Zig is now unbeaten in four starts and is a worthy favourite for the Ascot Chase. He has a tendency however to make the odd mistake (hit the fourth last on his chase debut and was all wrong at the eight fence on his second start over fences) and this race will be his biggest ever test over fences. He easily accounted for Josses Hill in the Grade 2 Noel Novices' Chase at Ascot in December and followed up that win on New Year’s Day in the The Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham. Ptit Zig was raised two pounds for that performance and currently runs off a mark of 159. In his December column, Nicholls was of the opinion that Ptit Zig was marginally better on right handed tracks. Given that, Ascot suits, and his course record there reads 2 1 

He is a 6yo and still in his novice season, horses of that profile (the age) do not tend to win the Betfair Chase. I expect tomorrow to be no different as Ptit Zig, useful as he may be, (and he has an outstanding chance in the JLT) he may not have enough in the locker to beat a very competitive field. At the prices, on all known form and with a bounce anticipated, for me he is a lay, with Balder Success preferred.

Balder Success (5/2) A King / W Hutchinson

A tough, second-season chaser, Balder Success comes into his own around this time of year. He is ultra-consistent and was installed at the initial favourite for the Betfair Chase but all the money has come for Ptit Zig (15/8 from 11/4). Alan King is on record as saying "Fences have made a man of him" and praises the way the hose travels and well as his attitude. A dependable sort, Balder Success was fourth in a high-class renewal of the Tingle Creek last December before finishing second to Special Tiara (who received five pounds) in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase.

Last month Balder Success easily accounted for Hunt Ball and Fox Appeal (both rated in the 150+ bracket) in a listed Chase at Kempton. The trip in the Betfair Chase will suit, as will a strong pace.  Without conceding weight to the novice Ptit Zig, Balder Success has an outstanding chance of providing Alan King with another win in this race. He was successful in the 2009 renewal with the multiple Grade 1 winner Voy Por Ustedes and Balder Success will take all the beating tomorrow.

Ballycasey (4/1) W Mullins / R Walsh

It was around this time last year that Ballycasey won the Grade 1 Dr. P.J. Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown. It was only his second start over fences and he had the world at his feet. Things went rather south for the grey following this career best. Ballycasey finished fourth in the RSA Chase (where he failed to stay) before falling two out in the Powers Gold Cup when looking a likely winner. He again was out-stayed by Carlingford Lough in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown but won at Gowran on his seasonal reappearance last November. 

Willie Mullins is again granting Ballycasey a light campaign this year but the trip of his last run (2m 1f) was a little sharp and he finished well down the field. The fact remains though that Ballycasey has won just one of the five Graded races that he has ran in, despite being favourite on almost all of those occasions. It is not that he is a disappointing horse, he just might not be fulfilling his potential. He is prone to making a mistake or two which has cost him races in the past. The trip at Ascot is ideal however and Willie Mullins has never sent a runner over to England to target this race – something to take on board in itself. He is a dangerous proposition but not without his question marks. If he is at the top of his game he has every chance but that is a big “if”.

Ma Filleule (9/2) N Henderson / B Geraghty

An impressive winner of the Topham at Aintree last year, Ma Fileule disappointed at Down Royal recently but scoped dirty afterwards. Third to Sam Winner at Aintree in a closely-run race on the Mildmay course at Aintree, the mare receives a seven pound allowance from the field tomorrow. There is more improvement to come from Ma Fileule but she has won just two handicap chases in her career. Interestingly, Timeform pronounce Ptit Zig to improve but admit that he will need to progress to the tune of around 10lb should either Ma Filleule or Balder Succes run their race.

She looks value but the bridge to her first Grade 1 success may be a bridge too far.

Other Runners:
The two outsiders Rajdhani Express and Theatre Guide (16/1 and 33/1) have a patchy record at best and are the odds belie their chances.

Balder Success and Ballycasey to fight it out with the former to prevail.

Ptit Zig to win the JLT at Cheltenham

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