Tony Keenan is look­ing for­ward to what’s be­come the high­light of the Ir­ish Flat sea­son

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Tony Keenan pre­views the big Ir­ish Cham­pi­ons Week­end

This Septem­ber brings up the fourth it­er­a­tion of Ir­ish Cham­pi­ons Week­end, a race meet­ing that has proved an un­qual­i­fied suc­cess. Cen­tral to that suc­cess has been the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the rac­ing with a strong chal­lenge from UK train­ers to face the in­evitable Bal­ly­doyle blue­bloods along with plenty of run­ners from the other home yards.There are con­cerns about how well that third group will do in 2017 how­ever.

Lost amid Ai­dan O’Brien’s quest to beat Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group 1 win­ners and his broad dom­i­nance of the Ir­ish sea­son is the fact that it is a zero sum game; for O’Brien to win, oth­ers have to lose. It’s been a down year for ba­si­cally all of the other big yards with the ex­cep­tion of Ger Lyons.Ir­ish horses did par­tic­u­larly poorly at Royal As­cot which can prove a use­ful barom­e­ter of the over­all qual­ity of the Ir­ish scene; out­side of O’Brien, only Wil­lie Mullins had a win­ner for Ire­land with Bol­ger andWeld barely try­ing,seem­ingly wise to the fact they had lit­tle to of­fer.

Over the last three run­nings of Ir­ish Cham­pi­onsWeek­end,there have been 23 win­ners trained by Ir­ish han­dlers other than O’Brien, an av­er­age of 7.6 per year. I would be sur­prised if that av­er­age sur­passed this time.

Der­mot Weld did best of the rest with six win­ners in all but he con­tin­ues to strug­gle, al­low­ing that there have been some rays of hope lately.DavidWach­man was next best with three win­ners but then his horses have sim­ply been trans­ferred to Bal­ly­doyle;Win­ter is the prime ex­am­ple of this but O’Brien’s strength in the ju­ve­nile filly di­vi­sion is another con­se­quence as many of those would have been trained byWach­man.

This year’s Ir­ish Cham­pion Stakes has a lot to live up to af­ter a 2016 re­newal that was likely the best flat race in the world in 2016;a one-two-three of Al­man­zor,Found and Mind­ing was backed up by down-the­field fin­ishes for New Bay, High­land Reel and Harzand amongst oth­ers. As ever, a lot will de­pend on what Bal­ly­doyle run and their plans likely to be heav­ily in­flu­enced by what hap­pens in the Jud­dmonte In­ter­na­tional at York run af­ter we go to print.

I am quite down on Churchill at the mo­ment and don’t re­ally see where the im­prove­ment comes with him af­ter nine ca­reer runs;the step up to 10 fur­longs will need to have a marked ef­fect. It would be no sur­prise ifWINTER was a late switcher into this race much like Mind­ing was last year;she is not quite as that one’s level yet but is a filly that does every­thing right in her races and seems im­per­vi­ous to ground. It is worth remembering that this is a ma­jor race for Bal­ly­doyle and Cool­more, right up there with the Derby and Breed­ers’Cup and prob­a­bly ahead of the Arc, and they are in­clined to throw plenty of run­ners at it with their per­ceived sec­ond string of­ten out­run­ning their odds. HIGH­LAND REEL was only sev­enth in the race last year when the ground was too soft and he’d be another player if there was some firm in the de­scrip­tion – his fig­ures un­der such con­di­tions read­ing:11511211 – and he missed York with a pos­si­ble view to this race.


The Ma­tron Stakes is ob­vi­ously Win­ter’s to lose but I sus­pect she will go else­where and in that case her able deputy ROLY POLY could step in and win; since Royal As­cot, she has played Alice Springs to Win­ter’s Mind­ing.Roly Poly is not a su­per­star but she is tough and tends to give her

run­ning ev­ery day and while Qemah was un­lucky be­hind her in the Prix Roth­schild at Deauville, that one was dis­ap­point­ing in this race last year and needs to be rid­den for luck with her jockey un­likely to have much ex­pe­ri­ence of this track. Last year’s run­ner-up Per­sua­sive is another that could take her chance and there was some prom­ise in her first run of the sea­son in that same Deauville race.

On Sun­day, the Moyglare Stud Stakes could be one of the races of the sea­son if only be­cause we could get to see all of the good O’Brien fil­lies against each other; Septem­ber, Hap­pily, Mag­i­cal, Clem­mie, Ac­tress and Bal­let Shoes are all pos­si­ble run­ners. My modus operandi in th­ese races tends to be a sim­ple one: just back the big­ger-priced Bal­ly­doyle run­ners. The longer-priced Hy­drangea man­aged to beat Rhodo­den­dron last year though she failed to win while past win­ners of this like Mind­ing and Misty For Me were the per­ceived sec­ond string.

Those cir­cum­stances pre­vailed in the key trial race, the Debu­tante Stakes over course-and-dis­tance in Au­gust, with Mag­i­cal beat­ing out both Hap­pily and Septem­ber though the trainer did opine that both the de­feated fil­lies would pre­fer bet­ter ground while Septem­ber may have needed the run. The one I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in from that race is the third MARY TU­DOR who was hav­ing just her sec­ond start.She was keen early in the man­ner of one that could have done with strong gal­lop and while not trained by O’Brien shaped like there is a lot more to come. Beaten Al­bany Stakes favourite Al­pha Cen­tauri is another to throw in the mix with the ex­tra fur­long and the prospect of slower ground pluses in her favour; it is worth remembering she beat Ac­tress point­less twice ear­lier in the sea­son.


The Na­tional Stakes is another po­ten­tial fire­cracker of a two-year-old race and 2,000 Guineas favourite Ex­pert Eye would be the one to beat if tak­ing his chance; there is a pos­si­bil­ity Michael Stoute will wait for the De­whurst to give him ex­pe­ri­ence of the New­mar­ket track. GUS­TAV KLIMT is likely to be the Bal­ly­doyle num­ber one and while he beat an or­di­nary field in the July Stakes,the man­ner of his suc­cess in over­com­ing se­ri­ous trou­ble-in-run­ning was strik­ing. Amedeo Modigliani was third to Gus­tav Klimt on de­but and has since won a Gal­way maiden com­fort­ably but might be kept for races over a mile but Phoenix Stakes sec­ond BECKFORD re­mains a big player in this. He was done for toe over six fur­longs on fast ground last time and this looks a much more suit­able race.

It may be the last clas­sic of the sea­son but the Ir­ish St.Leger is a damp squib rel­a­tive to the other races over the week­end with the stay­ers hav­ing been a poor crop all sea­son.It is Or­der Of St Ge­orge’s race to lose but as we said prior to Royal As­cot

he is not one to back at a short price and Wick­low Brave did get the bet­ter of him in this last year.


Gal­way is al­ways the most mag­nif­i­cent track for eye-catch­ers, al­most as if the venue was cre­ated to pro­duce trou­ble-in­run­ning, and with the qual­ity of the meet­ing al­ways on the rise, the horses to come out of it can be ex­pected to do well in bet­ter races.The best race of the week was the Con­nacht Ho­tel Hand­i­cap for qual­i­fied rid­ers on open­ing night which brought to­gether a host of well-handicapped horses; it pro­duced an ex­cel­lent time-fig­ure and the form is worth fol­low­ing. The win­ner Whiskey Sour fol­lowed up later in the week and might even make the grade into a group per­former but Swamp Fox in sec­ond was a stand­out given he raced four or five wide of the field from seven fur­longs out and looked much bet­ter than the re­sult. He backed that up with a heart-break­ing sec­ond off 148 in the Gal­way Hur­dle and looks on the up on the flat and over hur­dles. Lagos­tove­gas was one that trav­elled supremely well with a drop in trip (again on the flat and over hur­dles) likely to suit while Miles To Mem­phis was another to take out of it.

Der­mot Weld man­aged only two win­ners over the week but that was prob­a­bly an achieve­ment with how his year has gone. Tan­dem had been one of his few stan­dard-bear­ers in 2017 and things didn’t go his way in the Gal­way Mile where he trav­elled well be­fore meet­ing trou­ble; he is bet­ter than that and Gal­way may not be his track in any case. So You Thought is another that went well for the Weld yard, do­ing best of the pace in a strongly-run three-year-old hand­i­cap on Wed­nes­day,and he looks on a good mark.

Gal­way hosts plenty of low-grade Flat rac­ing over the seven days and Avalanche was un­for­tu­nate not to win a race hav­ing hit the frame twice over seven fur­longs;he is thriv­ing at the mo­ment and had the mis­for­tune of not be­ing able to get into a mile race at Gal­way which is his ideal trip. All The Mol­lies is rated just 55 but she ran a cracker be­hind the well-handicapped Em­press Lyla de­spite com­ing off a break; she can win again for a new yard that re­cently claimed her. High­land Fling is another with her cur­rent yard a rel­a­tively short time and he went close on his first start on the Flat for them over the week.

Over jumps,A Toi Phil was given plenty to do be­fore fin­ish­ing fourth in the Gal­way Plate.Though not up to Grade 1 class, his record be­low it reads:2R11111124 and Gor­don El­liott is adept at plac­ing horses like him into some of the lesser graded races in the early part of the jumps sea­son proper.Noel Meade’s Joey Sasa was a dis­ap­point­ment af­ter some ini­tial prom­ise over hur­dles but there was plenty to like about his Gal­way Hur­dle fourth be­hind Ti­gris River and he can land a de­cent prize this au­tumn.

Ai­dan O’Brien


Roly Poly (left)

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