Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan looks forward to the Irish Champions Weekend and has five runners it may pay to follow.

  • Wednesday 04 September
  • Blog
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Five to Follow

The turn of September means we are into the final quarter of the flat turf season and with the Irish scene having been relatively quiet over the last week or so now might be a good time to look ahead rather than back.

Irish Champions Weekend is basically upon us and here are five horses I’m looking forward to potentially seeing over those two days and into the autumn months.

Bopedro (3yo colt, Jim Bolger)

Jim Bolger does not run many horses that started out in other yards – I make him having just 10 such runners that were previously with other UK or Irish trainers this decade – but he has had a few from more exotic locations this year and ex-French-trained Bopedro looked one that has taken to the Coolcullen regime when a clear winner of a competitive Cork handicap on debut for the yard last month.

Sent off at 25/1 and having his first start in 130 days, he overcame a low draw which has been disadvantageous in big fields on the new straight track at Mallow thus far to win by two and a half lengths, well on top at the line.

That form was significantly boosted at the Curragh on Friday last when the runner-up Current Option (a relatively expensive buy for Adrian McGuinness out of the William Haggas yard) filled the same position in 25-runner Irish Cambridgeshire while the third Massa Lubrense won a big-field handicap later on the card.

Bopedro was a declared reserve for the listed Ruby Stakes at Killarney soon after his Cork win but failed to get in after everything stood its ground but connections clearly think he is up to winning a race like that so his mark of 93 could well prove lenient; he is entered in the Sovereign Path over Irish Champions Weekend.

Goddess (3yo filly, Aidan O’Brien)

A promising two-year-old who won a Leopardstown maiden by an easy 10 lengths last July, Goddess was not seen for nearly 11 months after a disappointing last place finish when sent off odds-on for the Silver Flash over the same course-and-distance later that month.

Her early runs this season didn’t offer much – the Navan return when beaten 13 lengths in a three-runner was dismal – but she was off a 317-day absence there and it looks as if Aidan O’Brien was training her to peak later in the year.

Each run since has been better and she shaped particularly well in landing the Snow Fairy Stakes at the Curragh last Friday, only winning by half a length but sectional upgrading suggesting she was much better than that margin, not helped by having wait for a run for much of the straight.

Her closing split there was notably quick, among the fastest on the round track at the Curragh this year with those ahead of her generally coming from much more slowly-run races whereas her overall time was decent.

She has a host of entries for the autumn but the perhaps the Blandford Stakes – a race Aidan O’Brien has not won since 2012 – is the most suitable target and while improvement is needed to compete there, she looks like one that will finish the year rated higher than the 104 figure she is currently on.

Kastasa (3yo filly, Dermot Weld)

Though a winner of three races in 2019, Kastasa remains with potential (barely raced at two with just one start in final week of the season) and seems to have returned from a mid-season break a better filly.

The early part of her campaign was not without promise as she posted decent sectionals in winning her maiden at Clonmel in April before shaping better than the result when third to King’s Vow (rated 15lbs higher now) at Leopardstown the following month.

Off for 87 days afterwards, she still looked green when winning at Sligo despite weakness in the betting before following that up with another success at the Curragh, impressing with how she cut down the front-running Effernock Fizz, since the winner of a decent hurdle race.

The Curragh race was a fillies-only handicap so the form might be a little underrated but both the time-figure and closing split were good and Kastasa again looked like the experience would bring her on.

Now rated 93, a premier handicap should be on the horizon with the Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown the obvious race for her. Dermot Weld won that contest with Silwana in 2015, another Aga Khan-owned three-year-old filly, before that one went on to win the Loughbrown Stakes, a race Kastasa is entered in.

Last Opportunity (2yo, Ger Lyons)

Ger Lyons has an exceptional record with first-time juvenile starters in 2019 – 11 winners from 25 runners at last count – and few were more impressive than Last Opportunity at Leopardstown, winning by five and a half lengths from a pair of rivals that brought good form into the race while also conceding weight as it was a median auction event.

That it was a confined maiden might lead to the form being undervalued next time but the overall time and closing sectional were excellent, only Madhmoon was faster than him over the final three furlongs on the rest of the card, and he looked like one that could make his mark in a higher grade.

Of Lyons 11 debut winners, seven have run since and they have been a mixed bag in terms of progress; Siskin, Justifier and Brunelle all improved plenty per Timeform ratings while the other four stuck around the same level.

I suspect Last Opportunity may fall into the former group as he was quite green when asked for his effort before being strong at the line, the trainer commenting afterwards that it was the first time he had galloped on grass.

The sales race worth €147,000 over Irish Champions Weekend is a possible target and his only entry currently.

Make A Challenge (4yo, Denis Hogan)

It is difficult to win twice at Galway with the quick return there often taking the edge off horses subsequently and it looked as if Make A Challenge won a lesser race second time at the meeting when a talented claimer basically negated his penalty for the earlier success.

I had him down as one that might be done for the season after going up 15 for those two wins but not a bit of it as he landed a third on the spin at Curragh next time racing on softer ground than he’d encountered for a while.

The most impressive part of the win was how he travelled despite cutting back from seven furlongs to six, going best from a long way out but looking to get there too soon, in the end forced to battle against Master Matt who himself was in good form at the time.

That win opened up options for him trip-wise – he is in both the Bold Lad (six furlongs) and the Sovereign Path (seven furlongs) at Irish Champions Weekend – and he is reminiscent of Tithonus for the same yard who won both the Rockingham and Scurry in 2017 before topping out at a mark of 96.

Make A Challenge is off 93 now but after only 11 starts there could be more to come, and he may break the three-figures before the end of the season.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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