Things We Learned » Going soft

Going soft

The rains that fell at Haydock and Leopardstown last weekend left everyone in a soft-ground frame of mind. Aidan O’Brien scratched Declaration Of War from the Irish Champion Stakes, John Gosden deliberated painstakingly over The Fugue’s participation, and Lady Lloyd-Webber almost didn’t get on the plane.

At Haydock, fast ground horse Kingsgate Native was scratched from the Sprint Cup, and the money came for soft ground horses Garswood and Soul.

However, hindsight tells us that the ground was not as soft as many expected. The times on Saturday at Haydock suggest that the sprint track was riding just on the soft side of good, no slower than that. At Leopardstown, the times say that the ground was actually good. The Fugue has not suddenly morphed from fast-ground filly to soft-ground performer, La Collina still doesn’t want it bottomless. That is important to note as we move into the latter stages of the flat season and start to race on autumn ground.

Stars symmetry

There was a certain symmetry to racing at Leopardstown on Saturday, as the first two home in the opening maiden were two daughters of 2009 Irish Champion Stakes hero Sea The Stars. Also, the winner, My Titania, races in Sea The Stars’ owner’s colours and is trained by Sea The Stars’ trainer.

It doesn’t really seem like four years since just about every one of the 9,000 or so people who attended Leopardstown on 5th September 2009 clambered in or around the winner’s enclosure to acclaim a champion and send him on his way to Paris, and My Titania’s win was a welcome fillip for John Oxx. It hasn’t been an easy season so far for the master of Currabeg. There are not many people in the world who could have handled a half a ton of equine champion, and the media frenzy that accompanied him, with the dexterity and sublimity that Oxx displayed in 2009. His class and ability as a trainer has deep roots in the Irish racing annals, yet one moderate half a season, and suddenly he is forgotten bread. The fickleness of this game never ceases to amaze.

My Titania is an exciting filly. Christopher Tsui’s filly could be the first page in the next chapter.

Trainer form

Speaking of trainer form, it may have been the form of the yard rather than the ground on the day which caused Lethal Force to under-perform in the Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday.

We know that Lethal Force is at his best on fast ground, but he is no slouch on easy ground either. He won his maiden by nine lengths on easy ground, he was only beaten a head by Society Rock in the Duke of York Stakes on easy ground last May, and he got to within two lengths of the top class Moonlight Cloud on easy ground in the Prix Maurice de Gheest on his last run before Saturday. Gordon Lord Byron is top class, but Lethal Force is not 17 lengths inferior to him, even on easy ground.

In the two weeks before last Saturday, Lethal Force’s trainer Clive Cox had had just two winners and two placed horses from 19 runners. Since Saturday, he has had five runners, including a 9/4 favourite, an 11/4 favourite and a 9/2 second favourite, no winners. Cox has campaigned Lethal Force superbly this season, but it may simply be that the Dark Angel colt was just below par on Saturday. He obviously remains a top class sprinter, and may be under-rated the next time he races on easy ground.

No Turkey

It is difficult to understand the lack of Irish representation at Veliefendi in Turkey last weekend. The prize money for the Turkish international races is fantastic, and it is strange that they are not targeted by Irish trainers. There were two Group races on Saturday, a Group 3 fillies’ one-mile race, in which the winner came from France and the runner-up came from Britain, and a Group 2 10-furlong race, which was won by the Luca Cumani-trained Danadana. Both races were worth about €110,000 to the winner, and neither race had an Irish horse in it.

There were two Group 2 races on Sunday, worth approximately €170,000 and €260,000 respectively to the winner. The first two home in the Bosphorus Cup were trained in Britain and the third was trained in Germany, while the first two home in the hugely lucrative Topkapi Trophy were Producer (officially rated 111) and Chill The Kite (rated 108), trained by Richard Hannon and Hughie Morrison respectively. Again, there was no Irish runner in either race.

You can’t help feeling that Irish trainers are missing a trick.

Leger permutations

The Leger permutations all week were many and varied. On Sunday, Aidan O’Brien said that, if the ground came up too soft at The Curragh, then Ernest Hemingway would not run in the Irish Leger, and that Leading Light or Foundry could come out of the Doncaster race and run at The Curragh instead. Given that Leading Light held an entry and that Foundry would have had to have been supplemented, it looked likely that, if there was to be a re-route, it would be the Queen’s Vase winner and not the Great Voltigeur runner-up who would have been staying in Ireland

On Wednesday, Johnny Murtagh said that Royal Diamond could sidestep the defence of his Irish Leger title in order to be aimed at the Caulfield Cup in Australia. On Thursday morning, David Wachman said that Galileo Rock could be re-routed from Doncaster to The Curagh if the ground came up too soft at Doncaster. On Thursday afternoon, Michael Owen said (tweeting passes for saying these days) that Brown Panther was running a temperature, that he hadn’t eaten all day, and that last year’s third was unlikely to run at The Curragh.

Bottom line? The Ballydoyle double is still on.

© The Irish Field, 14th September 2013