Things We Learned » Half the story

Half the story

Derby-wise, Irish horses are in pretty good shape.

Dawn Approach obviously won the 2000 Guineas, the race that has been re-instated as the preeminent Derby trial in recent years – insofar as a Classic can be a Classic trial – via Sir Percy, New Approach, Sea The Stars and Camelot, after the ‘Classic form will out’ cries had fallen on tumbleweed plains for about a decade and a half.

Ruler Of The World won the Chester Vase, Magician won the Dee Stakes, Nevis won the Lingfield Derby Trial and Battle Of Marengo followed up his Ballysax Stakes win by landing the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial last Sunday.

But the Derby chapter is barely half the story.

Following on from a truly remarkable Cheltenham Festival (14-13, remember?) that gets more remarkable with the circumspection that the passage of time allows, Irish flat trainers have picked up the overseas-raids baton that the National Hunt boys handed over as the seasons merged. And it isn’t just Jim Bolger and Aidan O’Brien who have been flying the flag.

Irish-trained horses filled the first three places in the Group 3 Classic Trial at Sandown last month, via Sugar Boy, Eye Of The Storm and Galileo Rock, trained by Patrick Prendergast, Aidan O’Brien and David Wachman respectively. Ger Lyons sent Lily’s Angel to Kempton to win a listed race last month, and he sent her back to Lingfield last Saturday to win the Group 3 Chartwell Stakes, on ground that really should have been too soft for her.

The Eddie Lynam-trained Sole Power ran out a really impressive winner of the Group 3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket on 2000 Guineas day, while last Saturday, as Lily’s Angel and Nevis were winning at Lingfield, Tommy and Fozzy Stack took Scream Blue Murder to Nottingham to win a listed race. And other Irish horses, like Maarek, Simenon and Gordon Lord Byron, have run well in defeat in good races on their overseas expeditions.

These are good times for Irish flat racing.

Classic draw

Master French trainer Andre Fabre made the point before last Sunday’s Poule D’Essai des Poulains at Longchamp that the draw was too significant a factor in the first French Classic, then proceeded to watch as the chance of his horse Intello was scuppered by it.

The figures back up Fabre’s assertion. The last 10 winners of the Poulains before this year were drawn 3, 4, 1, 5, 9, 9, 7, 15, 1 and 5 respectively. This year, the winner Style Vendome was drawn in stall three, and enjoyed the run of the race throughout, on the inside rail just behind the pace, as Intello was forced wide and struggled to find racing room early in the home straight.

Unsurprisingly, the figures portray a similar story in the Pouliches, the French 1000 Guineas, given that it is run over the same course and distance a half an hour after the Poulains. The last 10 winners of the Pouliches were drawn 2, 5, 8, 10, 5, 5, 5, 3, 6 and 7 respectively. This year’s winner and runner-up, Flotilla and Esoterique, were drawn in stalls five and six respectively, and the pair of them drew clear. They were probably the best two fillies in the race anyway, but their cause was not hindered by the draw.

Interestingly, the draw is also a significant factor in the races that are probably the two biggest races on the French calendar, the Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The eight winners of the Jockey Club since the distance of the race was reduced to 10 and a half furlongs were drawn 13 (of 17), 7 (of 15), 5 (of 20), 4 (of 20), 4 (of 17), 20 (of 22), 10 (of 16) and 16 (of 20). You can win the Jockey Club from a wide draw – the 2010 renewal won by Lope De Vega from stall 20 was run on soft ground, while last year’s race, won by Saonois from stall 16, was a messy one, run at a sedate pace, with the second, third and fourth horses, beaten three parts of a length, a head and a nose, drawn 3, 1 and 5 respectively – but it’s not easy.

The Arc is even trickier from a wide draw. The six winners since Rail Link won an eight-runner renewal in 2006 have been drawn 6 (of 12), 1 (of 16), 6 (of 19), 8 (of 18), 2 (of 16) and 6 (of 18).

If you go to France, draw low.

Under the radar

Intello was obviously the horse to take out of last the French 2000 Guineas. He had a terrible run through the race, he was wide throughout from his wide draw and he had to engineer racing room for himself early in the home straight, but there were three other horses – Dastarhon, Havana Gold and Flying The Flag – who might also be worthy of note from the race.

Runner-up Dastarhon may have been a 50/1 shot, but he ran a cracker to finish second. He travelled well just behind the front rank, a little too keenly if anything, and he was checked in his run about two furlongs out before finishing strongly.

Dropped in early from wide draws, Havana Gold and Flying The Flag kept each other company right out the back of the field in the early stages of the race. All of 12 lengths behind the leaders as they started to turn for home, they both made progress up the far side, the Hannon horse in front of the O’Brien horse, but they were both checked in their run at crucial stages. With better draws and/or with better runs through the race, they would both surely have finished closer than they did.

Potential sleeper

Reposer may not get due credit for winning the one-mile handicap at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Relatively weak in the market beforehand, Muredach Kelly’s horse was free enough in front in the early stages, which was a bit of a worry as he was stepping up to a mile for the first time. But he settled nicely after about two furlongs and travelled well to the crown of the home turn.

Rory Cleary kicked him on from there, and he immediately took two lengths out of his field. Fully five lengths clear a furlong and a half out, it never really looked like he would be caught from that point, and he kept on well all the way to the line to win nicely.

He is five and he is looking fairly exposed on the face of it after 23 runs, but this was a career-best on his first attempt at a mile, he was following up off a mark that was 14lb higher than the mark off which he won at Dundalk last month, and he is in the form of his life. Also, this was just his fourth run for Kelly, his second run back after a break since January, and he may be under-estimated after this. Popular opinion seems to be that he got the run of the race from the front.

He did get the run of the race to an extent, in that he wasn’t challenged in front. However, the turn of foot that he showed to put a distance of ground between himself and his pursuers at the top of the home straight was the turn of foot of a smart horse at this level. Interestingly, it may not have been an advantage at all to have been up in the van, given that the other horses who raced handily all faded, and that the three horses who chased him home came from mid-division or the rear.

Also, he clocked a time that was faster than Duntle’s and only marginally slower than Just Pretending’s in the two other races, both Group 3s contests, run over one mile on the day.

The handicapper has raised him 7lb to a mark of 84 for this, but that may not be enough to stop him going in again.

Field day

There were three handicaps at York on Thursday with, respectively, 18, 16 and 17 morning declarations. A veritable invitation to treat for hungry each-way punters.

Then the non-runners started to roll in, two in the first handicap and one in the second. Then two in the third. Then another in the first. By race time, the fields had been reduced to, respectively, 15, 15 and 15 runners. You can bet each-way if you like, but you’re only getting three places.

Dark day for the each-way punters, field day for the conspiracy theorists.

© The Irish Field, 18th May 2013