ALPHA CENTAURI LIGHTS UP THE SEASON
There is drama and joy to be found at every level of horse racing, but it is stars that really generate across-the-board excitement. The 2018 Flat season has had more than its share of false dawns on this front, with the likes of Cracksman, Saxon Warrior, Masar, Without Parole, Enable and Harry Angel to name a few having promised at various stages to light up the campaign only to fail to do so through racecourse underperformance or injury setbacks.
Mercifully, there have been exceptions, with the most notable amongst them being the Jessica Harrington-trained Alpha Centauri. The grey daughter of Mastercraftsman made an immediate impression as a two-year-old, winning her first two starts in May in great style and just being touched off by Different League in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot. All of this despite her being a big horse, weighing in excess of 500kg, that really shouldn’t have been doing so much so early. However, it has been this year that she has really flourished.
A below-par return to action on unsuitably testing ground proved to be just a blip and since then she has simply been brilliant. She made the Group 1 breakthrough with an authoritative if somewhat unspectacular win in the Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh, but she more than made up for that with the style points she accumulated when storming away with the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in a record-breaking time.
Further Group 1 wins have followed in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and in last Sunday’s Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and while she wasn’t quite as spectacular as she had been at Royal Ascot, she showed tactical versatility and a relentless efficiency that greatly impressed on both occasions.
Alpha Centauri seems to be getting better with racing, which is a testament to her mental and physical constitution given that her four Group 1 victories have come in a period spanning just 11 weeks. She is holding her form admirably well and looking more efficient every time we see her, so there must be great hope that she can continue to shine brightly for the remainder of the season and indeed next season too.
Her next outing is likely to be back in the fillies’ only company in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown where she is sure to be one of the stars of Irish Champions Weekend. From there, her connections will have multiple options all over Europe to choose from, but in the longer term they are likely to have the Breeders’ Cup Mile in their minds and that will be an exceptionally exciting prospect.
PARADE RING AT THE CURRAGH NEEDS ADJUSTMENT
There is no question that the Curragh is in much better shape this season than it was last. While it is still very much a work in progress, it is functional and it has been interesting to be able to watch the progress of the development from meeting to meeting this year.
It has also allowed both racing professionals and racegoers the opportunity to feel out some of the new features that are already open for use and one aspect of the development that has attracted significant comment is the parade ring.
With the parade being smaller than its predecessor, there was a fear that it would prove to be too small to safely accommodate 30 runners. Those fears seem to be justified as prior to a 30-runner handicap there last week only 22 horses were allowed to parade in the parade ring by the raceday stewards in the interests of safety, with the rest circling the pre-parade ring instead.
It wasn’t just the raceday stewards that were dissatisfied with the situation either, as the Irish Racehorse Trainer’s Association also called for the parade ring to be extended and levelled off once this year’s racing programme is completed at the Curragh.
If the Curragh do decide to go back to the drawing board with the parade ring, I would strongly suggest that they should also look at improving the viewing of the parade ring from the outside for racegoers. The majority of new-build parade rings in major racing nations are sunk or have steps built up around them to allow as many racegoers as possible to see what is going on in the parade ring.
Right now, the new parade ring at the Curragh offers next to no outside elevation which makes for poor viewing for all bar those at the very front. This is also the case by the winner’s enclosure where what are only minimal steps will do little to enhance the viewing experience on busier days.
It will be the racegoers that create the atmosphere at the new Curragh and right now, the parade ring viewing facilities don’t appeal as being likely to attract big crowds to watch the pre and post-race action unfold.
The new Curragh will be a racecourse that Irish racing can be proud of for decades to come, so one can only hope that the team there listen to constructive criticism and get everything spot on in time for next season.