There was a lot going on the week before last with Galway and all that, but secreted away at Dundalk on 29 July were a series of 10 barrier trials, with eight of the races for two-year-olds. In fairness, secreted is a bit harsh as the replays of these trials organised by Irish Thoroughbred Marketing are available on their website, along with YouTube for all to see.
This is the fourth time these events were run in Ireland, with Dundalk used in 2018 and Naas twice in 2019, and last year’s trials produced a number of talented types, among them Roman Turbo, One Voice, Valeria Messalina and Now The King. The first three all won at Group level in Ireland, while the last-named is a successful export to Hong Kong.
It is possible we have already seen the best horse from the aforementioned recent set of trials, with Thunder Moon running out an impressive winner at the Curragh on Sunday in what looked a strong maiden, but there are still plenty of pointers to take from those contests. As with anything, however, these horses need to be treated on an individual basis, as four others that ran at Dundalk were well-beaten in maidens last weekend.
Thunder Moon is trained by Joseph O’Brien, and this was the first time he had runners at these trials, and all three were well-drilled to race. Two finished first and another a narrow second, which was a little surprising given debutantes from the yard typically need their first outing, though they seem more forward this year.
Minsky was one that finished runner-up in a five-furlong trial - he subsequently disappointed at Cork on Saturday - but the trials over shorter trips were typically the weaker ones, though the other winner, the three-year-old BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE, is one to be more positive on.
He was in batch nine, one of six trials over seven furlongs, and was notably strong at the line in a trial that had the fastest three-furlong race sectional of them all. Out of the 2011 Rockfel Stakes winner Wading, he is from a talented, if quirky family, and seems to have moved to Owning Hill having been in training at Ballydoyle.
Dermot Weld was another new trainer to these trials, and unlike O’Brien, seemed to be taking the trial aspect to the letter - his jockey Oisin Orr seemingly under orders to ask for as little as possible aboard his four runners.
Against that backdrop, the Khalid Abdullah-owned filly DESERT LIME shaped with promise in her trial (batch seven), travelling notably well to come a narrow second to the well-bred Jessica Harrington runner Light Of My Eyes. That one disappointed at Cork on Saturday, but it seemed too bad to be true for one with her breeding and entries - by Frankel out of Divine Proportions and in the Moyglare.
Harrington was an early adopter of these trials back to when Indigo Balance won in 2018, and she again had the most runners here, 12 in all. There was nothing particularly eye-catching among that dozen, with two of them winning their respective trials, but it will be interesting to see how VALLE DE LA LUNA goes from here.
She was only fourth of six in batch eight, and seemed the second string of the yard with Tom Madden on board, but is also in the Moyglare and could hardly be better bred - by Galileo out of Matron Stakes winner Fiesolana.
Sheila Lavery was second only to Harrington in total runners with nine, and she is another whose horses are asked for minimal effort as a rule in these trials. With that in mind, BELLE IMAGE did well to win batch two, while also seeming to be the stable second string with Robbie Colgan aboard another from the yard.
That trial was over six furlongs and was by far the fastest of the three over that distance, allowing for the fact the majority of ‘races’ on the day saw them go slow early and quicken in the straight.
Another one to note from her cohort was MIRAMIS who came third in batch three. This was one of the trials where they went slow early with a finishing speed percentage of around 109% (par for six furlongs at Dundalk is 100-102%). She did well to come from the rear having broken badly when ducking her head leaving the stalls.
From there, she travelled powerfully and was asked to make a marked switch to the inner halfway up the straight, but was soon back on the bridle before finishing a close third, looking capable of winning had she been asked. She is in both the Moyglare and Debutante - her stable’s sole entry in each - but it is worrying she seemed to flick the tail early on.
Perhaps the big eye-catcher of all was RAZDAN, trained by Michael Halford. He is another that subscribes to the trial aspect of the day, with stable jockey Ronan Whelan often doing his best Paul Carberry impression on his mounts in terms of sitting motionless. Razdan broke okay, but got squeezed out early in batch six, travelling notably strongly into the straight and coming home under tender handling.
One final interesting aspect of the day were the three winners trained by smaller yards, typically not ones you associate with winning maidens. John McConnell had just one runner, but his A Case Of You beat Razdan in a seven-furlong trial that was joint-fastest overall at the trip (the other fast time was a trial for three-year-olds), and did it well from the front.
Charles O’Brien had just one two-year-old winner from 87 runners since 2015, so it was surprising to see his ISLE OF SARK win batch eight - he was asked to race more than the others but it was still a fair effort.
John Feane’s three-year-old IRISH ADMIRAL won batch 10, and while it was only a three-runner affair, the time was still okay and he was quite impressive in coming from the rear. Perhaps all three were running here with a view to be being sold abroad before having to compete in an Irish maiden against various O’Brien, Lyons and Harrington types, but the limited evidence here suggests they would not be out of place in such races.