Unsatisfactory seems to be the word most used to describe racing and everything that went with it at the Curragh over Derby weekend though in ‘racing-speak’ the term could mean anything from mediocre to bloody awful such is the frequency with which it is thrown about.
I was the ‘New Curragh’ for the first time on Saturday and while I won’t bore you with a lengthy review of the race-day experience, there are a few points worth making. Queues were widespread and the venue couldn’t cope with the crowd, running out of some popular drinks relatively early in the day (I went to buy a white wine between the fifth and sixth race and there were none left in one bar), though I suspect some of the congestion was due to people not knowing the layout of the facilities.
More than that though, I was underwhelmed by the look of the place. Having seen the images and followed the hype when the track was re-opened in May, I had expected a mini-Ascot but it doesn’t come close. The stand is smaller than it used to be and the layout seems haphazard, the parade ring on top of you as you go through the gates.
These criticisms are ultimately inconsequential as I’ll go racing there regardless but it may be different for the wider public whom the Curragh seem to have lost in the two years of racing through reconstruction. Those public tend not be easily gotten back.
The feature didn’t engender much enthusiasm for the occasion with another Ballydoyle-trained winner in an unsatisfactory race being met with apathy by most. It was a big effort on the day from Sovereign but it is questionable whether he can repeat it. This season he has looked quirky, bordering on temperamental, with a high head carriage at times and often the best way to ride such horses is from the front.
When they can set their own moderate fractions such horses can put up big figures, the cheap five or so lengths Padraig Beggy stole at start hard to get back, but the jockeys on the more fancied runners like Anthony Van Dyck and Madhmoon got the pace badly wrong. Moore and Hayes were watching each other rather than the front-runner and while superior horses would have been able to overcome not getting the run of things, this group of middle-distance three-year-olds do not seem to have that ability.
There were plenty of other unsatisfactory races over the three days for reasons of pace, trouble-in-running and draw bias, but these races are the most interesting to look back on as the best horse may not win and there are often eye-catchers down the field.
The ten-furlong handicap on Friday won by Agent Zigzag was just about the most falsely-run race on the round track all weekend and Hamley looked the one to take from it. Her trainer commented pre-race that he hoped they would be able to track the pace which looked like it would be slow but she found herself in rear and had to come wide on the bend which cost energy then forced to make her challenge from a long way back in the centre of the track.
That she finished fourth was a big effort, her closing sectional fast not only in the context of the race but the entire card, and she looks on a good mark at present with the premier handicap at Leopardstown on Thursday week a likely target.
Windracer and Love had the opening race of the meeting, a seven-furlong maiden for juvenile fillies, to themselves from a long way out on Thursday but Ennistymon (who was slightly lame post-race) shaped well in seventh. Held up last but travelling well at the intersection, her jockey wanted to make a forward move but she got no run in the penultimate furlong and finished with plenty to give.
Despite the stalls being placed in the middle of the track for the sprints, there was a pronounced bias to high numbers in such races with the draws of the placed horses each listed below along with the field size. These may appear slightly different to the stalls listed in your form guides as I have taken out the non-runners and reserves.
- 5f Handicap – 13, 12, 15, 10 (16 ran)
- 6f 2yo Maiden – 10, 12, 8 (12 ran)
- 6f 2yo Group 2 – 8, 10, 9 (10 ran)
- 6f Handicap – 12, 11, 1, 10 (16 ran)
- 6f Listed – 11, 12, 10 (12 ran)
The ‘1’ in the 6f handicap was Tide Of Time who has clearly run against the bias though his hanging in the finish was less encouraging and it is also worth mentioning On Tick who went well for a long time from box three in the 6f maiden.
Five furlongs should suit that one better and while there’s a concern that as a cheap buy (cost just €1,000 at the sales) there may not be much more to come, this was a big run.
THIN PICKINGS FOR AIDAN O'BRIEN
It was the not the greatest Derby meeting for Aidan O’Brien with just two winners over the three days, the first Armory in a two-year-old maiden, the second Sovereign. Armory is a colt and was continuing a theme for the yard thus far with their males well-ahead of their females. The following is a table of the Ballydoyle juveniles by gender thus far in 2019.
O’Brien’s win strike rate with juvenile fillies this decade (2010 – 2018) is 20.6% so there is almost certainly positive regression coming but the degree of it will be interesting to see. They have had down years in that period, in 2012 they only had 6 winners from 52 runners with 17 places and an actual over expected of 0.57, so it is at least worth introducing the possibility that this is a bad crop, relatively speaking of course.
The two winners were Etoile (currently side-lined) and Tango (won a maiden at 1/6) though Precious Moments went close to adding a Group 2 on Friday evening. That the filly who beat her (Albigna) is trained by Jessica Harrington is no surprise as she seems to have been the main beneficiary of this Ballydoyle lull and has some excellent early depth in the division with the likes of Windracer and Cayenne Pepper also.