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Irish on Champions Day

Irish horses didn’t quite match last year’s haul of four winners on British Champions’ day at Ascot last Saturday, but it was still a really good day for the raiders.

It was a good day for Johnny Murtagh, that’s for sure. One of the best of his career, he said afterwards, and that is saying something. Royal Diamond had been disappointing in the Irish St Leger on his previous run, but Murtagh (the trainer) had him right back at his best for Saturday.

In nailing Harris Tweed in the Long Distance Cup (Johnny Murtagh up), the King’s Best gelding probably put up the best performance of his 35-race career. Then Murtagh saddled and rode the supplemented Belle De Crecy to finish second in the Group 2 Fillies & Mares Stakes. It was just the latest high in a helium-filled season for the player/manager.

It was also a good day for Eddie Lynam, who sent out Slade Power and Viztoria to finish first and third in the Group 2 Sprint Cup.

After winning the first two races, it was, admittedly, mildly disappointing that there were no more Irish-trained winners on the day, but there were several more fine performances. The four Irish-trained horses in the Long Distance Cup – headed by Royal Diamond – filled four of the first five places, while the three Aidan O’Brien-trained representatives on the day, Eye Of The Storm, Kingsbarns and Ruler Of The World, all enhanced their reputations, all by finishing third in their respective races.

Eye Of The Storm looked a likely winner when he moved up to challenge Harris Tweed early in the home straight but, the only three-year-old in the race, he just couldn’t get past. A year older and a year stronger, he will be a legitimate Cup contender for next year.

Last year’s Racing Post Trophy winner Kingsbarns needed to bounce back after a disappointing reappearance in the Irish Champion Stakes, and he did, finishing third in the QEII, while Ruler Of The World proved that he had 10-furlong pace in also finishing third – just a neck and a half a length behind Farhh and Cirrus Des Aigles – in the Champion Stakes, the three of them clear. Both Ballydoyle horses will be exciting middle-distance four-year-olds for next season.

Moore talk

The fact that Ryan Moore rode Ruler Of The World for Aidan O’Brien – and not Hillstar for Sir Michael Stoute – in the Champion Stakes may not have been too significant. Stoute didn’t appear to think that it was. Ruler Of The World was Ryan’s Derby horse, he said. And Moore rode the trainer’s other two runners on the day, Estimate and Waila.

However, it may have been just a little more significant than that.

Ryan Moore’s relationship with Aidan O’Brien and Ballydoyle is an ever-strengthening one. It is a mutually beneficial association, a win-win for both rider and trainer. Last season, Moore had six rides for Ballydoyle in Ireland and 14 in Britain. This season to date, he has again had six rides for Ballydoyle in Ireland, but he has had 26 in Britain. At the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita next weekend, the weights dictate that Joseph will be able to ride only Declaration Of War. Ryan Moore will have the pick of the other Ballydoyle horses.

Of course, Sir Michael Stoute is still one of the pre-eminent trainers in Britain, but he is not the dominant force that he used to be. This year, he is lying in eighth place in the trainers’ championship. Richard Hannon, Saeed Bin Suroor, Mark Johnston, Richard Fahey, John Gosden and William Haggas have all won more prize money than him. So has Aidan O’Brien, just with his runners in Britain.

Last season, Stoute finished 14th in the trainers’ championship. The season before, he finished eighth. In each of the last three seasons, Aidan O’Brien has won more prize money than Stoute in Britain alone, without taking the perennial Irish champion trainer’s Irish prize money into account.

As well as that, two of the main owners in Stoute’s yard have their own retained riders. Sheikh Hamdan has Paul Hanagan, Prince Khalid Abdullah now has James Doyle. Of the 112 individual runners that Stoute has sent out this season to date, Prince Khalid owns 25 of them and Sheikh Hamdan owns 12 of them. That is 36 of 112 horses that are effectively off limits to Moore if the owner’s rider is available. That’s 32%, and that’s a lot.

McCoy magic

There appears to be no limit to what AP McCoy can achieve. We marvel at him now, but probably not enough. He is setting standards and benchmarks and milestones that we probably won’t truly appreciate until he stops. If, that is, he ever stops.

The champ’s five-timer at Carlisle on Thursday brought his total for this season to 104 and brought his total for his career to 3,984. The fact that he had clocked up a century by 24th October, and that he had clocked up his 19th century in a row, went a little under the radar, trumped, as they were, by the fact that he had got to within 16 wins of the 4,000 milestone. Remember that when Richard Dunwoody was stopped at 1,699, we thought that that was a lot. (And it was.)

It isn’t just McCoy’s figures that are impressive, mind you. Observe his ride on Pendra on Thursday, how he got the chasing debutant confidant and jumping. Have a look back on his ride on Twirling Magnet at Cheltenham last Saturday, softly and creepy from the rear, on a horse who had been tailed off on his previous run just three weeks beforehand.

Scarily, he is still riding as well as ever.

Oxx going strong

After an inauspicious time of it this season, John Oxx is finishing off with a flourish of optimism.

The Currabeg trainer has unearthed a rich seam of juvenile talent in recent weeks. My Titania, Sea The Stars’ first Group race winner, is obviously the shimmering light, but there are others who have shown significant potential of late.

Ebanoran, by Oasis Dream out of Irish Oaks winner Ebadiyla, and Ebasani, a half-brother to Ebadiyan, both battled on well to win their maidens on their respective racecourse debuts this month, while Ponfeigh (third in Ebanoran’s maiden), Hazaraba (also by Oasis Dream, out of Athasi Stakes winner Hazariya) and Marakoush (a half-brother to Mourayan and Mourilyan, and second behind today’s Racing Post Trophy contender Century) all made their racecourse debuts in October, and all ran well in defeat.

All things being equal, Oxx should have a team of three-year-olds who will be able to compete at a high level next season.

Sharp Eddie

If Eddie Lynam ever stops training racehorses (unlikely, I know), he could always take up a job as a one-liner-writer. He came up with the latest batch on Saturday:

“If he was an ice cream, he’d lick himself to death.” (Slade Power)

“He had his teddy bear and his jimjams ready to go.” (Sole Power)

Put those with previous gems like:

“He came out of the stalls like a cow jumping out of a ditch.” (Slade Power again)

“Somebody over at Ascot asked me if he was always this small. I said no, he has shrunk in the last few months.” (Sole Power again)

Live at the Apollo next.

© The Irish Field, 26th October 2013