Things We Learned » Weekend to savour

Weekend to savour

If last year’s inaugural staging of Irish Champions’ Weekend was a toe-dip into waters unknown, you can plunge head first into this year’s next weekend.

There is less resistance to everything this time.  It’s not change any more, it’s more development.  It’s a lot easier approaching the bride and showing her a video of a wedding you have planned before, than it is going to her and assuring her that you can plan a wedding.  You promise.  (Just don’t plan it for next weekend.)

Eight British winners out of 16 races last year makes it easier to go to British trainers and tell them how winnable the races are.  With the right horse.  Sunshine and bonhomie and a feelgood atmosphere and top class racing last year makes it easier to go to potential racegoers and tell them that they’d be mad to miss it this year.  Add the ancillaries this year, the merchandising and the trainers and jockeys getting more involved and the heightened media interest that springs from last year, and all the ingredients are there to make it even better.

The horses are on their way too, or they are if the skies comply.  Running plans still have to be finalised of course, but if the rains stay largely away, we could get it all: Gleneagles, Golden Horn and Free Eagle in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, together with The Grey Gatsby and Cirrus Des Aigles and possibly Pleascach and, you never know, maybe Time Test and Arabian Queen.

That would mean that Legatissimo and Found could possibly run in the Coolmore Matron Stakes, as well as Amazing Maria and Lucida and Ervedya and Raydara and Integral and Euro Charline and Brooch.  A strong Champion Stakes will make for a strong Matron Stakes.

The Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger is also shaping up to be a cracker.  Brown Panther is set to return, set to bid to become the first horse since Vinnie Roe to land back-to-back (to back-to-back) renewals of the race, while trainer Brian Meehan and owner William Harrison-Allen have eschewed a trip to Australia with Agent Murphy in order to go to The Curragh instead.  Add Forgotten Rules and Kingfisher and Sea Moon and Panama Hat and the rest, and there’s your cracker right there.

Then take your pick from the two-year-old races.  The extra entry stage has improved the quality of the entries for the Moyglare Stud Stakes and the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes, no question.  Pick from Moyglare entries Ballydoyle, Blue Bayou, Illuminate, Tanaza and Now Or Never, and National Stakes entries Air Force Blue, Buratino, Sanus Per Aquam, Final Frontier and Herald The Dawn, and hope that they all show up.

And they are just the five Group 1 races.  You wouldn’t want to be missing this one.

Hurricane Fly montage:

  1. Beating subsequent Champion Stakes winner Literato and subsequent Arlington Million winner Spirit One in a listed race at Saint-Cloud.  (Okay, it wasn’t really relevant then, but it sure is now.)
  2. Getting home by a neck in the Royal Bond Hurdle. (Not overly impressive but still picking up nicely off a sedate pace – a first Grade 1.)
  3. Coming 10 lengths clear of Go Native at Leopardstown.  (Ref. Go Native’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.)
  4. Getting beaten by Solwhit, then beating Solwhit, beating Solwhit, beating Solwhit and beating Solwhit. (Ref. Solwhit’s World Hurdle, Solwhit’s Liverpool Hurdle, Solwhit’s Irish Champion Hurdle, Solwhit’s December Festival Hurdle.)
  5. Coming clear of Peddler’s Cross in the Champion Hurdle. (Insert clip: “Sure he’s only ever beaten Solwhit.”)
  6. Finishing third behind Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle. (Add for contrast.)
  7. Beating Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle.  (Insert Comedy Of Errors reference.)
  8. Winning the Morgiana Hurdle, retirement plans in shreds.
  9. Eating the hedge at the end of Leopardstown’s winner’s enclosure, racegoers stroking his nose. (“Be careful, he’ll take a lump out of ye!”)
  10. Winning at Leopardstown.  (Pick any one of 10.  Look for defeats at Leopardstown for contrast, find none.)
  11. Winning a Grade 1 race.  (Pick any one of 22.)
  12. Frolicking in a paddock for years.

Retirement all the rage

Looks like Hurricane Fly started a trend.  No sooner had the HF-embroidered pipe and slippers been ordered than Hayley Turner (HT) announced that she would cease being a jockey at the end of this season.  She might ride out at Newmarket if circumstances and the mood allowed, but she wouldn’t be a jockey any more.

Olly Stevens had already announced late last week that he would not be renewing his trainer’s licence, and James Toller followed.  Then, on Thursday evening, the evergreen Clive Brittain announced that he would not be renewing his.

“It has been a long time coming,” said Brittain on Thursday.  “My wife hasn’t been that well, and it was never ever just Clive Brittain, it was always Maureen and Clive.  She’s not able to take part now, so I’m only getting half the pleasure that I used to get.  She was the brains, and I was just the one who could ride the odd horse.”

Julio Mariner was Brittain’s first Classic winner, when he beat Le Moss and M-Lolshan in the 1978 St Leger, and Pebbles was a path-finder, one of the first truly international horses.  Brittain sent Pebbles to Aqueduct to land the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1985, just the second year of the Breeders’ Cup’s existence.  Then he sent Jupiter Island to Tokyo the following year and, as first reserve, won the Japan Cup.

Start to list Brittain’s great horses, and you span five decades.  From Julio Mariner and Pebbles and Averof to Mystiko and Sikeston and User Friendly and Sayyedati and Warssan and Luso and Crimplene, all the way to his most recent Group 1 winner Rizeena, and the trainer’s little winner’s enclosure jig that accompanied her.  We’ll miss that.

Maarek back

Great to see Maarek back.  It is remarkable to think that, when he won the Beverley Bullet last Saturday, in an unlikely come-from-behind-and-through-traffic manoeuvre under a brave ride from Jamie Spencer, the 2013 Prix de l’Abbaye hero was recording his first victory since he won the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes 15 months ago.

Trainer Evanna McCutcheon is used to driving around Europe during the summer looking for soft ground, but Maarek proved that he didn’t need it bottomless on Saturday, when the ground was just on the easy side of good, no softer.  He also proved that, as an eight-year-old, he still has the pace for five furlongs, as long as the early pace is fast.  Put him back into your notebook now as we move into the autumn.

Incidentally, it was interesting that the three non-runners from the 16-runner Beverley feature were horses who were set to emerge from stalls 12, 14 and 15.  They must have felt ill when they saw that they were drawn out there.

Espinoza’s plight

You can understand Victor Espinoza’s plight.  Parents have been putting labels on their kids’ anoraks all week before sending them back to school.  So how else is Victor going to recognise his own breeches when he comes in from yard?

 © The Irish Field, 5th September 2015