KERRY NATIONAL PROMISES TO BE A FORMFUL GUIDE FOR THE AUTUMN
Fans of the winter game will have enjoyed Listowel last week with plenty of soft ground around along with a few familiar names, not least in the featured Guinness Kerry National. That race can mark the end of the summer jumps season while at the same time starting a long line of valuable Irish staying handicap chases from Limerick to Navan to Leopardstown to Gowran, culminating in the real National at Fairyhouse.
This year’s contest was run at a steady gallop at a track where it never seems easy to come from behind and the first four were all close to the pace heading out on the final circuit with any bias towards the front-runners exacerbated by the fall of Internal Transfer at the tenth which interfered with a few of the hold-up horses and caused the field to become even more spread out.
Cabaret Queen got a relatively unpestered lead but these are exactly the tactics that suit her, having done the same in the Munster National last October and when returning to form on her penultimate start in the Galway Plate. Up to 149 after this win, a repeat tilt for the Limerick feature is not planned, connections preferring to go the graded route and in any case they have three others entered in the race.
The runner-up Moyhenna failed to get up by the narrowest of margins and this represented her first meaningful sign of form since a win at Punchestown 2019; I do wonder if that race set her back as it came on ground much faster than she typically likes but this was more encouraging for one that is still only eight for all that the handicapper did not drop her much during a subpar 2019/20 season.
Doctor Duffy was a good third despite not looking at home at the track, a more galloping circuit and/or further should suit, his jockey again making a mid-race move to get him a clear sight of his fences.
There were a few to make ground from off the pace that might ordinarily be interesting for similar races but none appeal as particularly likeable. Ask Nile, who seemed not to stay having gotten into a challenging position turning in, is two from 31 lifetime while Blazer is a similar three from 26. Robin Des Foret has won plenty of races but the last one was in September 2018 and has often flattered to deceive in the interim with a slew of short-priced in-running defeats.
If there is a less obvious one to take from the race, perhaps is it Spyglass Hill. He was making a move into midfield heading out on the final circuit before being badly hampered by the fall of Internal Transfer and was better than his pulled up effort in the Galway Plate too, making a bad mistake at a crucial part of the race.
The strength of the Galway race was one of the takeaways from this contest; the winner had come third at Ballybrit while the fourth The West’s Awake filled the same position here with the Galway ninth Winter Escape providing another boost to the form at this fixture.
Plate winner Early Doors will be interesting as he still has novice status this season while the runner-up Royal Rendezvous is arguably even more so having improved for the step up in trip, something that didn’t seem obvious beforehand, but the worry with him is that he does not have an entry in the Munster National, a race that would have seemed obvious for him, especially with connections believing that he is best going right-handed. All may not be well there.
This Kerry National represented another big summer win for Willie Mullins to go with the Grimes Hurdle, the Galway Hurdle, and the Guinness Handicap Hurdle. He holds a lead of nearly €150,000 in the trainers’ championship currently despite having been relatively thin on runners this summer.
Since national hunt racing restarted, he is 32 winners from 102 runners whereas this time last year he was 47 winners from 156 runners which represents a slight downtick even allowing for there being fewer races run this season. Gordon Elliott has had over three times as many total runners and run nearly three times as many individual horses run.
One aside to this is how quiet Mullins has been on the flat compared to previous years. His Irish flat runners are just 5 winners from 54 runners this season (last year they were 15 from 65) with Zenon at Killarney his biggest winner and he has only had two flat runners in the UK which is well down on recent seasons.
FLAT JOCKEYS TITLE BATTLE SET TO GO TO THE WIRE
Irish-focussed flat racing fans may be less enthused about the coming months as the sad reality is that the best Irish races on the level have already been run; there is plenty of good racing to come on the flat, just not here!
There is, however, the small matter of the jockeys’ championship between Colin Keane and Shane Foley to keep us engaged over the next five weeks and it has already been a dramatic contest, not least in the market.
Per Paddy Power Betfair prices, Keane was put in the short-priced favourite at 2/5 back in March while Foley was 4/1 but the roles had reversed totally by mid-August, Keane trading at 5/1 having been quarantining after Goodwood while Foley was 1/4.
That is not even to mention the role of the Ballydoyle jockeys, Seamie Heffernan a 10/1 shot initially but propelled into 6/5 after a hot start in June, all before opting to ride at Epsom and picking up a hefty ban the following day in France after which Wayne Lordan was as short as 4/1.
It has settled down into Keane versus Foley since however with the current odds heavily favouring the 2017 champion, 1/4 as against 5/2 for Foley, despite Jessica Harrington’s stable jockey holding a narrow lead at the time of writing.
Those odds do seem to factor in Ger Lyons coming back to form after a quiet last two months in which he had eight winners in August and five in September. This is not altogether unusual for the trainer however as in both 2018 and 2019 he had a mid-season lull before finishing strongly, indeed it may even be planned that way this year with Keane having been on the side-lines for a period.
Keane has thus done well to close the gap on Foley in the last few weeks, only 36 of his 71 winners this year coming for his main employer while 52 of Foley’s winning rides have been on Harrington horses.
Keane has also ridden for a wider spread of different trainers this year, 67 to Foley’s 57, though it is interesting to note that both have somewhat unusual sources providing them with their second-most winners; for Keane, both Kieran Cotter and Noel Meade have given him six winners while Ger O’Leary has given Foley four.
Foley will probably need to get on a few more outside rides across the remaining 29 flat meetings if he is to land a breakthrough championship, the turf season culminating a week later this year at Naas on November 7th, but that may well come as trainers will want to support him for all that Keane seems the one to beat.