Things We Learned » Racing on

Racing on

There is a rationale for racing on through the re-development, of course.  There are points in favour. 

There is the history of the place for starters, the fact that The Curragh is the home of the Irish Derby, the home of all the Irish Classics, that they have been running the Irish Derby over the plains there since Queen Victoria was a lass. 

And there is the track, fair and galloping, a true thoroughbred’s test, the best racecourse in the world some say.

Also, it was notable during the week that both Andre Fabre and John Gosden, trainers of Waldgeist and Cracksman respectively, cited The Curragh, the track, as a factor in their decision to come.  They may have come anyway if the race was set to be staged at another track, but they may not have.  And without those two, today’s Irish Derby would be a seven-horse race with one trainer fielding five of the seven.

There is the fact that we have known for a long time that they would race on through the re-development, pretty much since plans for this re-development were first announced.  And there are the logistics: where would you run the five-furlong and six-furlong handicaps?

There is also the fact that The Curragh were unlucky with the weather on Irish 2000 Guineas day, the first day on which the temporary facilities were truly tested.  It rained for Ireland that day.  It wasn’t a fair test.  It would have been miserable at a snooker tournament in that weather.

However, the underlying fact is that, today, Irish racing has to ask probably between 12,000 and 15,000 would-be racegoers to stay away on what is traditionally one of the biggest days on the Irish racing calendar, and that really should trump all. 

The Irish at Royal Ascot

 Seven Irish-trained winners at Royal Ascot was not a bad return.  It fell short of last year’s record-breaking 10, but it is still some way ahead of just four winners in 2010.

Aidan O’Brien provided six of the seven, which took his Royal Ascot tally to 61 and within hailing distance Sir Michael Stoute, who remains tied on 75 with the late Sir Henry Cecil after a blank week.  And three Group 1 wins – Winter, Highland Reel and Caravaggio – took Aidan O’Brien’s Group 1 haul for the calendar year to nine.

Willie Mullins provided the other Irish-trained winner with Thomas Hobson, who impressed under a masterful Ryan Moore ride in the Ascot Stakes on Tuesday, and looked all set to do a Simenon when he hit the front on the run to the furlong pole in the Queen Alexandra Stakes on Saturday.  So Willie Mullins had one runner, two runs, one win and one second, all of which took his overall Royal Ascot tally to five, which is just 49 short of his Cheltenham Festival tally.

Jessica Harrington did not have a winner, but Brother Bear ran a cracker in the Coventry Stakes and Alpha Centauri went so close in the Albany Stakes.

It is not easy to produce a winner at Royal Ascot.  It looked like Sir Michael Stoute had a really strong team going into the week, yet he didn’t have a winner.  Mori went close, Mirage Dancer ran well, Ulysses ran well, Crystal Ocean ran well, but no winner. 

William Haggas’ horses also ran well, Headway was beaten a head in the Coventry Stakes, Mutakayyef beat everything except Ribchester in the Queen Anne, Tasleet was beaten a neck in the Diamond Jubilee, but no winner. 

Richard Hannon had one winner for the week, Richard Fahey had one, John Gosden had two, Mark Johnston had two, Charlie Appleby had two, Wesley Ward had two.  No trainer other than Aidan O’Brien had more than two winners for the week, which puts a haul of six into some sort of context. 

Generation games

It is a pity that Harry Angel is not entered in the Nunthorpe Stakes, because he looked all speed in the Commonwealth Cup when he split Caravaggio and Blue Point in what will surely go down as one of the races of the year, if not the race of the year.

You would have thought that a drop down to five furlongs now would be a worthwhile project for the Clive Cox-trained colt, even though he was beaten on his only attempt at the trip, and you would have loved to have seen him take on Lady Aurelia.  He is entered in the July Cup, however, over Newmarket’s July Course’s easy six furlongs, so maybe that’s the way that he will go.  Caravaggio and The Tin Man also hold entries in the July Cup, as does last year’s winner Limato.  That could be some contest: a clash of the sprinting generations.

There are other potential generation-clashes upcoming.  Harry Angel may not represent the three-year-olds in the Nunthorpe, but Lady Aurelia could, and surely the Nunthorpe is also the obvious target for Marsha.  She under-performed in the King’s Stand, she deserves another crack at the American filly at a track at which she is one for one.

Ribchester against the three-year-olds in the Sussex Stakes.  It is beyond question that Ribchester is the best of the older milers, so it will be fascinating to see him take on the three-year-olds, now that they are coming of age.  Barney Roy could run in the Sussex Stakes, Churchill could run in the Sussex Stakes, and either or both would be a worthy adversary for Richard Fahey’s horse. 

Or Winter.  She could run in the Sussex, she would be a fascinating inclusion, a three-year-old filly against the boys, in a race that hasn’t been won by a three-year-old filly since Marling beat Selkirk in 1992. 

Or she could step up in trip for the Nassau Stakes, which could see her take on the four-year-old Queen’s Trust, who chased home Minding in the race last year.

Highland Reel against Enable perhaps in the King George, or Wings Of Eagles or Cracksman, depending on how today goes, or Waldgeist.  Almanzor perhaps against Cliffs Of Moher or Barney Roy or Churchill in the Juddmonte International.  We’re just getting going now. 

Commonwealth Cup

In just three years, the Commonwealth Cup has established itself as a key race on the racing calendar. 

The first two winners, Muhaarar and Quiet Reflection, went on to be crowned Cartier Champion Sprinter of 2015 and 2016 respectively, and it is probable that the 2017 renewal is the best yet.

Before 2015, Caravaggio and Blue Point may have been aimed at the Guineas.  Harry Angel also.  Perhaps one or two of them would have been kept to sprinting in the early part of the season, but there was no obvious target for potentially top class three-year-old sprinters before 2015.  They had to either step up in distance or down in class, or take on their elders or wait for the July Cup.

Mozart was beaten in the Irish Guineas before he dropped down to seven furlongs and won the Jersey Stakes, before dropping down again to six furlongs and winning the July Cup.  Stravinsky was beaten in the Jersey Stakes before he dropped down to six furlongs and won the July Cup.

Oasis Dream finished third behind Choisir in the King’s Stand Stakes against his elders on his debut at three, while Dream Ahead finished just fifth behind Frankel in the St James’s Palace Stakes on his seasonal debut before he dropped back down to six furlongs and won the July Cup in 2011.

Now those types of horses are aimed at the Commonwealth Cup.  They can be trained as sprinters, not asked to go further than they need to go, or take on their elders earlier in their careers than is ideal, and all is right in the world.

Northumberland Plate draw

Contrary to instinct, high-drawn horses in this afternoon’s Northumberland Plate may not be at a disadvantage. 

We saw at Royal Ascot how, over a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half, a high draw is no disadvantage at all.  On the contrary, it may even be an advantage to be drawn high over a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half at Ascot.

The evidence for the Northumberland Plate course and distance is scant, the new Tapeta surface is but a pup, and they don’t race over two miles every day of the week.  But in last year’s renewal of the Northumberland Plate, the first to be run on the new artificial surface, the first five home were drawn, respectively, three, 12, 20, 18 and 17 (of 20). 

In last year’s Northumberland Vase, the newly-established consolation race for the Northumberland Plate, the first five home were drawn, respectively, 16, 20, nine, six and 14.  So seven of the 10 horses that filled the first five places (70% of the top five places) were drawn higher than 10 (50% of the field), and five of the 10 (50% of the places) were drawn in one of the five outside boxes (25% of the field). 

So, at worst, a high draw is probably not a disadvantage.  And at best, it may even be an advantage. 

© The Irish Field, 1st July 2017