12 TO FOLLOW FOR THE NEW FLAT SEASON
Karl Hedley with his dazzling dozen to make money
Cheltenham, Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown have all come and gone and so now is the moment to focus on contenders for the upcoming Flat season with many top class races on the agenda ahead of the first Classic meeting at the Curragh.
I have compiled a list of 12 Irish horses that it should pay to follow over the weeks and months ahead, a few of which may well have gone under the radar.
Battleground – AP O’Brien
Battleground didn’t exactly burst onto the scene in an emphatic fashion last year. Beaten two-and-a-half lengths on his debut at Naas, the son of War Front was always going to improve for lightning quick ground though. Considered good enough to contest the Chesham at Royal Ascot, he showed dramatic improvement to get the better of March Law and Seattle Rock to record a cosy victory over the pair. He built on that the following month when he was sent to Goodwood for the Vintage Stakes over seven furlongs and despite being badly drawn and having raced wide throughout, Ryan Moore was still able to coax him home in front of Devious Company and Youth Spirit. Following a three-month break, a trip to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland came next. Despite avoiding most of the scrimmaging early doors, he was always playing catch-up to the winner Fire At Will. Three lengths separated the pair in the end but Ryan Moore justifiably satisfied that there would be better to come. He holds entries in the English and Irish 2000 Guineas as well as the Irish
Derby and should make an impact in Group One races this season.
Shandra – Dermot Weld
The form of Shandra’s sole win is beginning to work out as the filly that finished third to her on debut at The Curragh (Talacre) has subsequently come out to win. This daughter of Sea The Stars looks sure to improve when upped in trip this year. She went with the leaders when the pace increased past halfway and made her move to challenge with just over a furlong to run. Oisin Orr didn’t ask her to do too much when she hit the front and she looks sure to benefit from that run. Owned by His Highness the Aga Khan, this impeccably bred filly hold entries in the Irish 1000 Guineas as well as the Irish Oaks.
Epona Plays – Willie McCreery
Epona Plays got this year off to the perfect start with a gutsy win in the Park Express Stakes at Naas just last month. She had to carry a Group Three penalty into the race following her success in the Lanwades Stud Fillies Stakes at Gowran Park last September but she readily shrugged asides the sole British raider in the Archie Watson trained Parent’s Prayer on this occasion. Owned by her breeder Renzo Forni, she looks to have the Ridgewood Pearl Stakes at the Curragh as an early season target. She is a tough and honest filly who will certainly let others know that they have had a race. She is bound to improve for this run and there is more to come.
Strong Johnson – Kieran Cotter
There is no denying that this son of Le Cadre Noir is an absolute speedball. He won twice over the minimum trip at The Curragh last year, most notably when just denying Jungle Jane and Urban Beat in the Rockingham Handicap. Colin Keane seems to get on particularly well with the five-year old who has now been dropped a couple of pounds by the handicapper following a rare bad effort last time out at