It will come as a surprise to many, but Mick Halford has been a trainer for over 30 years having taken out his licence at the age of 21 back in 1985. Success did not come quickly for him, but he gradually worked his way up the ranks and for the last decade he has been a regular fixture in the top 10 trainers in Ireland.
Indeed, having made a significant move to the purpose-built Copper Beech Stables in 2007, Halford has steadily increased the quality of his string and his performance has gone up a gear too.
High-profile owners such as the Aga Khan and Sheikh Mohammed have come on-board and he got off the mark in Group 1 company when saddling Casamento to win the Racing Post Trophy in 2010.
With a significant squad of promising horses at his disposal for 2017, Halford was good enough to sit down with Kevin Blake of attheraces.com to discuss their prospects.
3 b c Elusive Quality – Tactfully
Rated 106, he impressed in winning a maiden and Listed race at Dundalk last season and made a promising return to action in another Listed race at that track in April.
“He was a smart two-year-old, but we still have plenty to learn about him. He surprised us when he won first time out, as we didn’t think he had enough done to win, and then he went and won his Listed race in great style. He probably wasn’t as forward as I thought he was and seemed to need the run on his return at Dundalk. He has come forward nicely from that. We are hoping to run him in a Listed race at Naas on Sunday week and if all goes to plan there, he could be one for the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. He might get a mile, but he has plenty of pace and doesn’t work like a horse that needs a mile. I’d be surprised if there isn’t more to come from him.”
3 b c Exceed And Excel – Much Faster
Rated 99, he won a maiden for Patrick Prendergast last May prior to joining Halford and winning a nursery at Navan in September. He was withdrawn from his intended seasonal reappearance at Navan in April after bolting on the way to the start.
“We were late getting him last season and were only getting to know him as we went. I was really pleased with his run against the older horses in a Listed race at Dundalk, that was a good run for a two-year-old. I think he’s trained on well, he is very strong in himself now. He was meant to start back at Navan, but he spooked at something on the way to the start and bolted with Shane. He runs in a three-year-old only handicap at the Curragh this weekend. I think he’ll get six furlongs, but this weekend will tell us a lot about him.”
4 b f Oasis Dream – Pearl Banks
Rated 80, she made a promising winning debut in a six-furlong maiden at Fairyhouse in September 2015 and ran well without winning last season.
“She has low mileage on the clock and I think she’s capable of better than we’ve seen from her so far. She’s a filly I’m looking forward to and is one that could progress as the season goes on. Six furlongs will be far enough for her. We had talked about having her covered, but I think we are going to give that a miss now and concentrate on racing her for the season.”
7 b g Giant’s Causeway – Hasanka
Rated 92, he has won four times, but has been winless for almost two years.
“Things didn’t really happen for him in Dubai, but he ran a decent enough race over a mile-and-a-quarter at Naas last time. He’s slowly coming down the handicap, but he could probably do with dropping another bit before he gets competitive again. He’s a trier, he has just been too high in the weights. He’ll probably run in a mile handicap at the Curragh on Guineas weekend. He won’t mind a little ease in the ground, but good ground suits him best.”
3 b f High Chaparral – Last Laugh
Made a promising debut in a maiden at Kempton in October when trained by Marco Botti.
“She’s a filly that we are still learning about. She’s ready to start off now and while we might start her off at a mile-and-a-quarter, stepping up to a mile-and-a-half shouldn’t be a problem for her.”
3 b c Teofilo – Contrary
Made an impressive winning debut in a maiden at Leopardstown in April.
“He’s an exciting horse. He’s a big, laid-back horse at home and was impressive when winning his maiden at Leopardstown. He has woken up at home since then and has been sharper in his work. We are likely to run him in a winners’ race at the Curragh this weekend and we’ll learn more about him there. We put him into the Irish 2,000 Guineas a few days after he won his maiden, so if he was to be very impressive this weekend, there’s every chance he would run in that. At Leopardstown he looked like further might suit him, but there is speed in his pedigree. He’s so laid back at home, it is hard to judge him that way, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets sharper as he gains in experience.”
5 b g Shamardal – Katiyra
Rated 88, he won a maiden at last year’s Galway Festival and made a winning return in a handicap at Leopardstown in April.
“He’s a smashing horse with low mileage on him and he’ll run in all those good mile handicaps. Shane gave him an exceptionally good ride when he won at Leopardstown. They went too fast in front and Shane judged it well. A small ease in the ground is a help to him.”
3 ch f Dunkirk – Mycatcandance
Made an encouraging debut behind Winter in a maiden at Dundalk in August.
“She ran very well on her debut, but she got loose at home and hurt herself after that. She is back in full work now and isn’t that far off a run. She looks a maiden winner for sure and might be a bit better than that. We’ll start her off over a mile and she’ll love fast ground.”
3 b f Cape Cross – Minidress
Shaped well in both her starts in maidens, most notably when second to Aneen at the Curragh in October.
“She’s a lovely big filly that we loved last year. She is just after having a couple of niggly problems that have just slowed her up a bit this year. She’s not far off a run now and should be out in the next couple of weeks. She should have no problem winning her maiden and will hopefully make the step up to stakes level after that. We might start her over a mile, but a mile-and-a-quarter will be no problem for her.”
5 b c Teofilo – Galley
Rated 110, he continued his progress in a light campaign last season, winning a Listed race at the Curragh and the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot.
“He had a small bit of an issue after his last run and by the time it was sorted, we had run out of time to get him back to the track last season. He has done well over the winter and we are very happy with him now. We are hoping to send him back to Royal Ascot for the Wolferton Handicap. We haven’t decided if he’ll have a run before then or not, but we probably will. I think he’s probably more versatile with regard to ground than we initially thought he was.”
3 b f Dark Angel – Rayka
Rated 107, she beat Rhododendron when winning a maiden at the Curragh in June and went on to run well in Group races later that season. She returned to winning ways in the Athasi Stakes at Naas in May.
“She had a lovely first run back at Leopardstown and there was a lot to like about the way she won the Athasi. She’s a very straightforward filly and that was a big help to her that day, as it could have been a very messy race in tactical terms, but she was able to make her own running and quickened up like a good filly. She is certainly best suited by good ground. She doesn’t lack for pace, but we’re hopeful she’ll stay a mile based on how well she galloped to the line at Naas. She’ll take her chance in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and we’re just hoping that the ground is on the fast side for her.”
3 ch c Pivotal – Macleya
Rated 98, he won a maiden at Limerick in October prior to shaping well in the Eyrefield Stakes at Leopardstown. He disappointed on his seasonal reappearance in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown.
“He’s a horse I like a lot. He was disappointing at Leopardstown on his return and while William didn’t think he stayed the trip, he just wasn’t right when he came home after it. His homework had suggested he would get the mile-and-a-quarter and while we’ll probably drop him back to a mile for his next start, I wouldn’t rule him out getting a mile-and-a-quarter in time. He’s probably best with a little ease in the ground. He’s back in full work now and will be out soon. While we don’t have a definite plan for him, we like him a lot.”
5 b g Shamardal – Paimpolaise
Rated 89, he has won three of his four starts in handicaps this season.
“He’s been a brilliant servant already this season. I always thought he was a smart enough horse, but he just had niggly problems that probably led to him losing his form a bit. All of those issues are sorted now and he has come back to himself. The plan is to run him at the Curragh this Sunday and we’re going to step him up to a mile-and-a-quarter. He’s been tending to be slowly away and finish strongly, so maybe the longer trip will help him.”
4 b f Lilbourne Lad – Roundabout Girl
Rated 80, she finished second at Dundalk on debut prior to winning a maiden at Limerick in April.
“She’s from a slow maturing family and luckily she has patient owners. She won her maiden in good style at Limerick. I thought the handicapper didn’t miss her by giving her a mark of 80, but that said he is usually proved right in these cases. She got galloped into at Limerick and suffered a cut behind. While it wasn’t too serious, she hasn’t had a saddle on her back since and she’s been on a break. She’ll come back for those fillies only handicaps over a mile. She has plenty of size and scope, so she could do well.”
3 b c Elzaam – Instant Memories
Rated 88, he made a promising debut at Dundalk in February and made it second-time lucky in a maiden back at that track in March.
“He was a bit light after he won at Dundalk, so we gave him a break after that. He’s back in full work now and while we don’t have a specific plan for him, he’ll start back over a mile in a handicap. His form has worked out well while he’s been on his break, so hopefully he can progress.”
3 ch f Choisir – Bless You
Rated 102, she won a maiden at Dundalk and a Listed race at Tipperary last season, but proved disappointing on her seasonal reappearance at Navan in April.
“I started her back at Navan where she ran very free and just didn’t get home up the hill there. She’s a very, very fast filly and the biggest problem with fillies like her in Ireland is that there isn’t a great programme there for them. The faster the five furlongs she can get, the better. She’s better than she showed at Navan and when we get the right race for her, I hope she’ll show it on the track.”
3 ch c Raven’s Pass – Mowazana
Made a promising debut when second in a maiden at Limerick in April.
“He had a terrific first run at Limerick and the winner advertised the form nicely since then. He’s a lovely big scopey horse and I like him a lot. He should have no problem winning his maiden and could make up into a stakes horse. I think he’ll get a mile, but we might keep him to seven furlongs for the time being as he can be a little bit free.”
3 ch c Footstepsinthesand – Cloudy Bay
Rated 87, he made a winning debut at Dundalk in December and finishing second on his only other start in a handicap back at that track in April.
“He did well to win first time out, as he’s a backward type of horse. We brought him back this year and we didn’t have lots of options for him, but he was showing plenty of speed at home, so we decided to chance him back at five furlongs and he ran really well. Six furlongs might well prove to be his trip. With that run under his belt, he should be competitive next time and continue to progress.”
REHANA – Exciting filly that is a contender for the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
PORTAGE – Royal Ascot winner that has more to give.
IRISHCORRESPONDENT – Unbeaten three-year-old that is a Classic prospect.
AMBASSADORIAL – Exciting three-year-old that could run in the Jersey Stakes.
SALTONSTALL – Highly-regarded colt that could be stakes class.
PETTICOAT – Well regarded filly that is open to improvement.
YULONG XIONGHU – Unexposed maiden that could be smart.