RUNNING WELL AGAINST A TRACK BIAS
Jim Bolger had a disappointing 2018 flat turf season, total winners and prizemoney his lowest since 2012, but if opening day at Naas on Sunday is anything to go then 2019 will be better as he registered a treble with Western Dawn, Solar Wave and Normandel. All three did their racing against the far rail however and there seemed to be a bias at work which looks the most significant feature of the card.
That bias seemed particularly marked in the three races run on the straight track, the placed horses by their respective draws as follows:
- 5f 2yo Maiden – Stalls 4, 3, 1 (11 ran)
- 6f Maiden – Stalls 5, 18, 2 (20 ran)
- 6f Handicap – Stalls 1, 3, 2, 5 (16 ran)
The number that jumps out there is the 18 that finished runner-up in the second race, Sonaiyla trained by Michael Halford. She had actually been drawn 17 of 18 when debuting over the same course and distance last October when finishing fifth, form that is working out quite well with the third and fourth now rated 78 and 84 respectively.
Sonaiyla was the only one in that 18-strong field without a run beforehand and it looked like it as she ran green while is also bred for further so there is plenty to be positive about. The other one to take against that bias from that race might be Sarah Lynam’s Born In The U S A (drawn 16 and finished seventh) who was having his third run after a five-month break and took a decent step forward with a view to handicaps.
Returning to the first maiden, Capel At Dawn (drawn 9) went with some promise in fifth, finishing out his race well having dwelt from the stalls, and is another bred to want further. In the final race on the sprint track, both Richard O’Brien’s runners shaped well, T For Tango (fifth from stall 12) and Chessman (sixth from stall 15).
T For Tango didn’t get the clearest of runs on occasion, eventually switched towards mid-track, while Chessman did all of his racing near the stands side, the latter having started his Irish career on 95 after being rated 100 at his best in the UK. One would be understandably less positive about the winners and placed runners who were drawn low and might be flattered.
Those races on the round track seemed a little fairer though the Lincoln itself saw stalls 3, 4, 6 and 5 fill the places. While boxes 12 and 16 were next home each of the front six raced against the far rail to one degree or another and there were no real eye-catchers out in the middle of the track.
The time of the race was good at least – over two seconds quicker than the previous Park Express Stakes – and it was interesting to see both Ger Lyons and Colin Keane, trainer and jockey of the winner Karawaan, comment that the horse they really fancied for the race was Bobby Boy who was balloted out at declaration stage.
Amedeo Modigliani’s return in the later Devoy Stakes was eagerly-awaited but to my eye it was an unconvincing return. Given a nursing ride by Ryan Moore off a long absence, he held his head high and wasn’t really going forward at the finish. This is Aidan O’Brien we are talking about so an entirely different performance is possible next time but he is still a horse with significant injury history.
WORTHWHILE RACE SERIES
Race-planners are like referees as you only hear about them when they’ve done something wrong but it would be remiss to give some praise to the trio of the HRI, the Irish EBF and sponsors Red Mills for their national hunt auction hurdle series which had its last qualifier at Downpatrick on Sunday.
The 14-race programme for horses by an EBF registered stallion and bought as an unraced three or four-year-old at a recognised National Hunt Store sale for €45,000 or less has been, at worst, a qualified success and is well worth continuing next season.
Initial signs were not altogether positive as Felix Desjy won an early series race at odds of 2/7 at Galway in October but Gordon Elliott won only one other race with Henry De Bromhead and Tom Mullins also winning two, Willie winning none.
Many of the races were won by just the sort of trainers the planners had in mind when conceiving of the series. The likes of Brian Cawley, Peter Fahey, Emmet Mullins and Oliver McKiernan were among those successful though the most significant winner came at Naas in January as the Martin Brassil-trained City Island landed one en route to the Ballymore.
A feature of the series has been the level of prizemoney, each race worth €20,000 in total so they are worth winning, the race on Sunday for instance being the second most valuable on the card after the Ulster National.
Another notable aspect was where the races were placed, often as part of high-profile cards so owners and trainers not only got a decent prize-fund but also prestige. Two were run over Christmas while there were others on the Troytown and Thyestes undercards.
The series final follows on from this and will be run as part of the Gold Cup card at Punchestown on May 1st, open to horses that ran in one of the qualifiers and have not won a listed race or a Grade 1, 2 or 3 race; the planners were really thinking ahead with preventing something like City Island coming back for a soft touch!