Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Tony reflects on some Navan formlines as well as some Cheltenham flops from the Mullin's camp

  • Wednesday 03 April
  • Blog
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The Cork Stakes at Navan – don’t ask about the whys of the race title – might have been the most significant contest for future reference of the low-key Irish racing weekend just gone. Sergei Prokofiev was back to the Cornwallis Stakes version of himself in victory ridden with the same restraint that had worked so well at Newmarket, showing impressive change-of-gear down the outside, looking like he might be suited by being held onto for longer.

Consistency issues plagued him a bit at two when returning from a mid-season break but that may have been down to the bug in the yard and this was certainly a good launching pad for 2019 as he had a five-pound penalty. Racing on the outer suited as there was some significant trouble closer to the rail, another horse to mainly avoid that hassle the runner-up Chessman.

Only three of the 15-strong field were rated lower than his official mark of 95 so he seemed to run above himself but he had shaped well against a track bias at Naas on Lincoln day; another that ran well on those circumstances Sonaiyla is due to run at Leopardstown this evening.

The ones to note from the Navan race finished further down the field though. Downforce could be seen travelling particularly well before he met significant trouble as the front-running All The King’s Men (who could be used as a pacemaker for Sergei Prokofiev this season) came back through the field. That is Downforce’s way however and he has not always found in the finish while he has now won just once since April 2017.

More interesting are the seventh Son Of Rest and the ninth Primo Uomo. The former is trained by Fozzy Stack whose horses tend to be ready early but unusually he tends to need a run and this was encouraging in the circumstances as he didn’t get entirely plain sailing inside the final furlongs.

This good ground would have been quick enough for him too and while hardly the Group 1 horse his Flying Five second suggests, his Ayr Gold Cup win off 101 in a good time would say he can win a group race of some sort.

Primo Uomo hasn’t won at group level either but his listed success at Navan last April came in a fast time and this was a fine effort considering he has been off since a well-beaten second-last in the King’s Stand. The slowest away of all, he raced like a true five-furlong horse (even this extended distance stretches him a touch) but finished off well having gotten blocked in his run.


Star Max and Emily Moon became the fourth and fifth Irish-trained horse to win after running poorly at the most recent Cheltenham Festival, providing a timely reminder that bad runs at that meeting are among the most forgiveable in racing.

If you had backed every Irish-trained horse that finished outside the top 10 at the Festival (including fallers, pulled ups and so on) in the last five years returning to the track within 30 days, you would be 14 winners from 71 bets with 29 places, a strike-rate 19.7%, a small level-stakes profit of 3.12 points and an actual over expected of 1.20.

There are a number of reasons why a horse may underperform at Cheltenham and there are probably more with Irish horses than those trained in the UK as they have the travelling component along with often having less experience of the track. The occasion and the crowds is sometimes cited as an excuse for buzzy horses but poor runs can often be put down to obvious reasons: facing better competition at a somewhat unusual track.

I’m not suggesting backing them all as there is not a little recency bias and back-fitting going on in those figures but reviews of the most-analysed meeting of the year are always going to accentuate the positive while the negative can be overplayed and could offer some betting value.

With this in mind it might be worth considering some possible bounce-back candidates for coming weeks. A number of Willie Mullins-trained chasers jumped poorly at the meeting and might find things less taxing over Irish fences, Bellshill in the Gold Cup and all of his JLT team among them.

Castlebawn West was a Mullins hurdler that didn’t jump well in the Ballymore and was also having his first run since Christmas while Battleoverdoyen in the same race looked ill-at-ease on the track from an early stage.

Auvergnat had looked better than ever this season when winning the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, proving his effectiveness on good ground there, but Cheltenham just isn’t his thing, his pulled up effort in the Cross-Country bringing his course figures to:U4F4P and he will be much better suited by a return to an Irish track. He loves Punchestown though is also entered in the Irish Grand National.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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