Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish racing expert examines the two-year-old division and salutes Barry Geraghty.

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THE JUVENILE SCENE

The two-year-old season in Ireland thus far has been a slow burner, a case of maidens, maidens, everywhere, with some 44 of those contests run as of Sunday evening, and there haven’t been the clashes of the better winners of those races as yet, only Frenetic and Dickiedooda having won more than once.

That programme is by design with HRI’s race planning department pushing the early group races back and the many maidens giving ample opportunity to clear any backlog of juvenile runners. One does wonder however if the uptake for such races has been quite as strong as expected; the average field size in a maiden this season has been nine whereas throughout all of 2019 it was 12 though that number is inflated somewhat by backend races attracting fuller fields.

There might even be too much choice for trainers in where to run their horses. Unlike previous years where the race distances were gradually increased from the start of the season, the full gamut of juvenile trips is readily available now; in the last week, there have been races over five, six, seven and eight furlongs at multiple tracks. Where once a horse that was ready might have run over an insufficient trip and stepped up next time, there is no need to do that now.

In terms of winning juvenile trainers, it is the typical big three at the top of the table below:

Two-Year-Old Races in Ireland 2020

Ger Lyons and Jessica Harrington are pacing Aidan O’Brien in terms of strikerates at the moment though O’Brien’s returns are impacted by having multiple runners in more races; on 13 occasions he has had at least two runners in a juvenile race while for Harrington and Lyons those numbers are five and three respectively.

Joseph O’Brien will be happy to have four winners on the board given his horses typically improve for the run but the surprise package has been Ken Condon; his Curragh winner on Friday Teresa Mendoza might be the pick of his, posting a time that compared well with the handicap for older sprinters later on the card.

Of the other trainers not making the table, it is worth pointing out that neither Johnny Murtagh nor Paddy Twomey, both of whom are having good seasons overall, are doing well with their juveniles thus far. Murtagh is 1/21 with 5 places while Twomey, typically a high strikerate trainer, is 0/7 with 1 place.

Another possible reason why the Ballydoyle juveniles are not winning as often as in the past is that quite a few of the better ones have been racing in England, albeit not with much success, Battleground their sole winner in the Chesham. As a group, the Irish juveniles running in the UK this season are 1/12 with 2 places though that need not be a death kneel for their prospects, both Mother Earth and Dickiedooda returning from Royal Ascot disappointments to win good races here soon after.

The juvenile pattern in the UK is more advanced though, the need for good races at Royal Ascot playing a big role in that, the first Irish Group 2s only due this weekend with the rescheduled Railway and Airlie Stud Stakes at the Curragh likely be well-contested.

That might mean that UK trainers are more inclined to have a go in some of the big Irish races like the Phoenix Stakes in which there are currently eight potential raiders entered including Tactical, The Lir Jet and Nando Parrado.

GERAGHTY AND MACS WERE A JOY TO BEHOLD

A word on Barry Geraghty  and his recent retirement. I met Barry at a couple of At The Races Cheltenham Preview Nights in Dublin in the last few years where he came across as thoroughly likeable and decent fella albeit perhaps none too comfortable with questions about JP McManus handicappers from the ‘enthusiastic’ hosts!

He probably had me down as a spoofer having asked him about a horse he had apparently ridden at the previous year’s meeting despite being injured but took it with good grace. My main memories of him will not be of the recent years riding in England for Nicky Henderson and McManus but rather of his time at home in early 2000s when I was getting into the game and he was a rider so good that a first name sufficed.

The obvious memorable moments like the Moscow Flyer look-behind-you Tingle Creek and the Riverside Theatre never-on-the-bridle Ryanair Chase have been well covered but I was reminded of others in my formative years going racing in Ireland such as Essex in the 2005 Pierse Hurdle when he might have been the only horse in the history of the race to win when leading three out and his partnership with Kazal in early 2017 when it seemed nothing could get by them in a finish. I promise neither of these are after-timing!

But most of all I will remember his association with Macs Joy who was a local horse in Monaghan, a county where there aren’t many local horses. Jessica Harrington’s hurdler played foil to the likes of Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace for several seasons and while never a true Cheltenham horse, there were many good days, invariably with Geraghty on board including three Grade 1s before his untimely demise.

Happy retirement Barry, thanks for the memories and best of luck in the future. 

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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