Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan runs the rule over last weekend's Royal Ascot trials at Naas.

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We are less than a month out from Royal Ascot 2019 and Naas hosted its trials cards this past Sunday, five winners at the Royal meeting since 2010 having had their final run at that track. In terms of Irish courses, that is behind Leopardstown with 10 winners and well behind the Curragh with 30 winners, only Newmarket having produced more winners than the latter track.

That suggests the real Royal Ascot trials will be at flat racing HQ this weekend but it is not to say the races at Naas were without interest.

Pistoletto was the most obvious Royal Ascot horse going into the Sunday but his win in the Gustav Klimt Race provided more questions than answers. He got worked up beforehand, kicking off both his back shoes and suffering grazes, Aidan O’Brien describing it as ‘not a good experience.’

Pre-race events almost certainly impacted in-race performance, the horse holding his head awkwardly in the finish, falling in by half-a-length when his trainer said afterwards that he expected him to win easily. But assessing the degree of their impact is difficult and putting a value on the form is further complicated by the race being slowly-run. I don’t know where we are with Pistoletto.

Etoile’s win in the in the Group 3 for fillies is easier to rate but she may not be one to get carried away with just yet; yes, she did win a Group 3 on debut but only one runner in the race had won beforehand and I’m not sure Peace Charter improved all that much from first to second start, Timeform for one giving her basically the same form rating for both runs.

Celtic Beauty was the one that improved from the prior course-and-distance maiden while American Lady holds the form down; she had been beaten further by Ickworth on her previous start and no one is rating that one a Royal Ascot filly yet.

Perhaps the better Ascot clues from this meeting could be for the handicaps next month. King’s Field shaped well when third in the Owenstown Stud Stakes with a view to going back up in trip in the Hunt Cup; he was first of the bridle and looked to find this turning seven furlongs too sharp, his previous best having come over a well-run mile, but stayed on well with his jockey not going for everything in the final furlong when his winning chance was gone.That this run came off a break and setback in Dubai makes it more notable. 

Chessman was runner-up in the same race and while showing no signs of recalcitrance in the finish, he is hard to win with as a record of one win from 15 starts suggests. He travelled strongly here and impressed with how easily he got to the lead and might be best in a big field where he can get cover and arrive late; the Wokingham could be for him.

The other seven-furlong race on the card was a handicap won by Ferretti but the second Giga White might have won on another day. It was run at a strong gallop with Kafu going on and Colin Keane likely knew that was coming on the stablemate. He was travelling strongly at three pole, gave his mount one brief nudge afterwards before coming back on the bridle going best but in that brief space of time the winner got first run on him and he had to pull wide to challenge which looked to cost him the win.

There are other reasons to be positive on Giga White as this was only his fourth run and his first since the previous August while the rest of the field was race-fit. The Britannia Handicap could suit him though even off his new mark of 90 it could be a squeeze to get in, that rating needed to make the cut last year.


Aidan O’Brien hinted that Sir Dragonet could go for the French Derby rather than Epsom at Naas on Sunday but has since rowed back on that and while one can see the logic in trying to win both races in a year when he has lots of depth in his middle-distance three-year-olds, there would be concerns about the suitability of the Chantilly test.

Sir Dragonet won over a well-run, extended 12 furlongs at Chester and with Ballydoyle unlikely to have nearly as many runners in the Prix du Jockey-Club, they won’t be able to choreograph a suitable pace scenario for their strong-staying colt.

In the same interview, O’Brien made an interesting point about the value of the Prix Diane versus the Oaks, the former worth twice as much as the latter, which is something he rarely comments on. The prizemoney versus prestige argument is an interesting one, with the Epsom race surely ahead in the glory stakes, allowing I may be biased writing from an Irish/UK-centric view of racing.

In general, I’m of the view that the prizemoney for the top Group 1s is excessive, the payoff for those races often coming in the breeding sheds, but against that intelligent people like bloodstock economist John Lynam have argued that Ireland simply can’t fall behind the UK and France with the value of their major flat races.

In 2018 for instance, the 2,000 Guineas were worth to winner – please allow for rough currency conversion here – £303,000 in France, £283,000 in England and £233,000 in Ireland with the Derbies worth £758,000 in France, £850,000 in England and £750,000 in Ireland. Perhaps O’Brien was subtly lobbying for a prizemoney hike!


Flat racing returned to some of the country tracks this past week with Killarney and Roscommon hosting their first meetings of the season and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Eminent Authority looked one to take from the first-named venue.

He won an 11-furlong maiden on debut and while the race wasn’t deep, he beat four with experience despite lacking in that department himself, impressing with the turn-of-foot he showed in the straight after getting out from behind horses, not given a hard time to win going away.

His closing sectional compares favourably with the other races on the card, notably those run over a mile, and it is also significant that his trainer’s horses typically need their first run, him shaping like that was particularly so.

Since he started training, Joseph O’Brien is 15/183 with first-time-out maiden runners but the ones that did win were often reached a good level afterwards; of those 15, 10 have published marks at this stage and five of them peaked at 99 or higher: Intricately (peak OR 112), True Blue Moon (100), Ming (106), Dynabee (99) and Cava (100).

Eminent Authority has bit to go to reach that level and it might take time to show it as he will be learning on the job rather than at the training course from now on but this was a promising start.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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