Things We Learned » Heffernan shines

Heffernan shines

Seamie Heffernan proved once again last weekend why he has been an integral member of Aidan O’Brien’s team at Ballydoyle for almost 20 years now.

He threaded a needed on the far rail on exciting prospect Alice Springs in the juvenile fillies’ maiden on Friday night.  Then on Sunday, he showed his strength in a finish on Bondi Beach in the Group 3 Curragh Cup, and he got the fractions spot on on Diamondsandrubies in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes.  A Group 3 win and a Group 1 win from three rides is a good afternoon’s work.

“I knew were the winning line was,” said the rider in typically under-stated fashion after he got Diamondsandrubies home.

First-season sires square up

Freshman sire Zoffany shone at Royal Ascot, with three winners – Washington DC, Waterloo Bridge and Illuminate – from just five runners.

Canford Cliffs hit back at The Curragh last weekend, however, with Painted Cliffs winning the Group 2 Railway Stakes and Most Beautiful landing the Group 3 Grangecon Stud Stakes.

Zoffany is about £90,000 ahead of his fellow Coolmore stallion in terms of total prize money won this season, but Canford Cliffs is about the same amount clear of the Rathbarry stallion Lilbourne Lad in third, and the battle for top first-season sire could be developing into a match already.

As well as his three Royal Ascot winners, Zoffany also has listed race winner and Railway Stakes fourth Argentero, and Stamp Hill, who ran better than his finishing position suggests in the Windsor Castle, while Canford Cliffs also has Hilary Needler fourth Holy Grail, as well as progressive-looking fillies Bournemouth Belle and Aneesah.  And there will be others who will emerge, you can be assured.  It will be interesting to watch this one as the season continues.

Tread warily with Golden Horn

Golden Horn may win the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown this afternoon, he may blitz his elders in the same way as he blitzed his contemporaries at Epsom four weeks ago, but he may not.  And he is a very short price to do so.

It is easy to get carried away on the Derby wave.  John Gosden’s horse was an impressive winner at Epsom, he came clear of his stable companion Jack Hobbs, and Jack Hobbs was in turn nicely clear of the rest of the field, and the winning time was good.  Also, the strength of the Derby form was enhanced at The Curragh last Saturday evening, with the second, third, fourth and sixth from Epsom finishing first, second, third and fourth in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

Even so, an Eclipse is a different matter, and there are plenty of question marks against Golden Horn.  There is history for starters, and history is not to be taken lightly.

Derby winners have a poor record in the Eclipse.  Sea The Stars and Nashwan are the only two Derby winners to follow up in the Eclipse since Mill Reef, and Mill Reef was the first since Tulyar in 1952.  It takes a special type of Derby winner to win the Eclipse, and Golden Horn is not a Sea The Stars or a Nashwan or a Mill Reef.  He isn’t yet anyway.

You can argue that not many Derby winners try to win the Eclipse in the same year, but many have.  In the last 20 years, only Sea The Stars has succeeded, while Erhaab, Benny The Dip, Motivator and Authorized have all failed.  Those Derby winners were sent off in the Eclipse at respective odds of 4/6, 6/1, 2/5 and 4/7, and they finished third of eight, second of five, second of seven and second of eight respectively.

There are reasons why Derby winners struggle in the Eclipse.  They are racing over 10 furlongs, not 12, they are going right-handed at Sandown, not left-handed at Epsom, and they are taking on their elders for the first time.  They are the fashionable ones, the improving youngsters, the horses of potential, and they are often over-rated by the market as a consequence against older horses about whom we generally know most things, even if we know that they are top class.

One other factor.  The Derby winner, by definition, has been primed to run for his life in the Derby.  John Gosden prepared Golden Horn meticulously for the Derby, even if he was a 10th-hour addition to the race.

If the Derby winner runs in the Eclipse, it is an after-thought for him.  It is a race that comes onto the Derby winner’s radar – if it does at all – only after he has won the Derby.  It can’t be any other way.  The plan is not that the Derby will bring him forward for the Eclipse.  The Derby is the plan.

In The Grey Gatsby, Golden Horn meets a top class older horse today who is competing over his optimum trip.  In Cougar Mountain, he meets an older progressive rival who could progress again for the step up to 10 furlongs, and in Western Hymn he meets a horse who is three for three over today’s course and distance.  Add to that the fact that this could be a slowly-run race, a tactically run affair with no obvious pace-setter.  Golden Horn may win impressively, but, given the evidence that we have at this juncture, it should be easy to find better 4/11 shots.

Simple solution

You know the way the British are dominating the Irish sprint handicaps these days?  You know the way they filled the first three places in the Rockingham on Sunday from five runners, and you know the way they finished first, third and fourth in the Scurry last year from six runners, and first, third, fourth and fifth in the Premier Sprint Handicap at The Curragh last September from seven runners, and first and second in the Rockingham last year from four runners?  You getting the picture?  And you know the way we’re looking at ways in which we can keep these prizes at home?  (We’re not?  Really?)

Well, in the Scurry last year, the three British-trained runners who finished first, third and fourth emerged from stalls 18, 21 and 25 respectively of 25 declarations, 23 runners.  Keep in mind now that, on the sprint track at The Curragh, barring something untoward, you probably want to be drawn high, you probably want to race as close as you can to the Kildare road.

In the Premier Handicap at The Curragh in September, the four British runners who finished first, third, fourth and fifth emerged, respectively, from stalls 19, 15, nine and 20 of 21 declarations, 20 runners.  And on Sunday, the three British raiders who filled the first three places raced, respectively, from stalls 24, 23 and 22 of 24 declarations, 21 runners.  (Incidentally, the Tricast paid €745.30.  How easy was that?)

Solution?  Easy-peasy.  Put the raiders in stalls one, two and three for starters.  Maybe put one in stall seven or eight and another in 10 or 11 for aesthetics.  Then look to the skies and say that you can’t believe how unlucky they have been with the allocation of stalls.

Whatever happened to the visitors’ draw?

New race at Cheltenham

So, it looks like the new race at the Cheltenham Festival – the worst-kept secret since Wally’s exact whereabouts – is going to be a mares’ novices’ hurdle.  Or a mares’ chase.  It looks like it’s going to be a mares’ something anyway.

Wait now for the status.  If it is given Grade 1 status for its inaugural running, you have to hope that the prize money will be commensurate with such a status.  That is imperative.

That will be 28 races then, with the sad demise of the charity race.  Seven on each of the four days.  Just two more races and you can have five days with six races each, but that wouldn’t be good.  There have been denials a-plenty, but you have to hope that they resist the temptation to grab a fifth day.

Stop stretching the elastic.  You cannot define the point at which it will snap.

© The Irish Field, 4th July 2015