Things We Learned » Irish sprinters

Irish sprinters

It is not so long ago that we were lamenting the dearth of high-class sprinters in Ireland.

This paucity is in evidence in the rolls of honour of the top class European sprints. For instance, at Royal Ascot, there was no Irish-trained winner of the Diamond Jubilee (or the Cork and Orrery as it was until 2002) between College Chapel in 1993 and Starspangledbanner in 2010, and there was no Irish winner of the King’s Stand Stakes between Bluebird in 1987 and Sole Power last year.

Mozart and Stravinsky were the only two Irish-trained winners of the July Cup between Royal Academy in 1990 and Starspangledbanner in 2010, and they were the only two winners of the Nunthorpe Stakes between Committed in 1984 and Sole Power in 2010. There was no Irish winner of the Haydock Sprint Cup between Abergwaun in 1972 and Gordon Lord Byron last year while, in France, Namid was the only Irish winner of the Prix de l’Abbaye between Polonia in 1987 and Maarek last year.

Contrast those fallow periods with what has been happening with Irish sprinters in the last four years. Starspangledbanner won both the Diamond Jubilee and the July Cup in 2010, Sole Power won the Nunthorpe Stakes in 2010 and the King’s Stand Stakes last year, and threw in a couple of Palace House Stakes and a Scarborough Stakes for good measure. Gordon Lord Byron won the Haydock Sprint Cup last year and the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill this year, while Maarek landed the Prix de l’Abbaye last October. Suddenly the Irish sprint division is looking decidedly strong.

The immediate future is looking bright too. Maarek looked as good as ever this year in winning the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes two weeks ago, as did fellow veteran Sole Power in winning another Palace House Stakes. Also, Slade Power shaped is if he is finally ready to burst onto the Group 1 scene with a really impressive victory in the Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh on Saturday.

Throw in the three-year-old Guerre, who showed good speed to beat Maarek in a listed race at Naas last month on just his third run ever, the progressive Great Minds (more on him anon) and Gordon Lord Byron, fresh from his Antipodean travels, and there could be another fruitful season ahead for Irish sprinters.

Now all we need is a proper domestic programme to serve them.

Great work

Speaking of Irish sprinters, Great Minds looked good in landing the six-furlong handicap at The Curragh on Sunday, but the performance that he put up could be even better than it looked.

High numbers are usually favoured over six furlongs at The Curragh these days, sometimes significantly so, especially when the track is stretched out all the way across to the stands side, as it was at the weekend, so Tommy Stack’s horse faced a tough task on the face of it from stall one, 20 horses off the stands rail.

Rider Wayne Lordan did really well to get his horse over towards the centre as quickly as he did, and he was helped by the fact that the field congregated more towards the centre of the track than towards the stands rail, but even so, he was out in the middle for most of the race, and that is often a disadvantage on the sprint track at HQ.

Great Minds travelled really well into the race, Lordan didn’t have to ask his horse to pick up until they reached the furlong pole and, when he did, the response was impressive. He picked up in the style of a good horse to catch Dashwood 100 yards out before going on to win by three parts of a length, with a clear break back to the third horse Wexford Opera.

Initial inclination was to think that his low draw was not as much of a disadvantage as it usually is, given how the race unfolded. However, the four horses who chased Great Minds home were drawn, respectively, 18, 27, 17 and 21. The next highest-placed horse drawn in single figures (admittedly there were only five horses drawn in single figures because of withdrawals) was Seal Rock, who finished 10th. Also, the first six home in last year’s renewal of this race were drawn, respectively, 24, 26, 23, 22, 25 and 21. It is safe to assume that a low drawn was a definite disadvantage.

The time that Great Minds clocked was the fastest comparative time on a day on which there were two Group 1 races and one Group 3 race. It was almost four and a half seconds faster than the time that Intense Style clocked in winning the two-year-old maiden, the only other race run over six furlongs on the day. Also, it was slightly faster (0.42secs) than the time that Slade Power clocked in winning the Group 3 Greenlands Stakes on Saturday, admittedly carrying 10lb more.

It can be dangerous comparing times on different days, but the ground at The Curragh on Sunday was not that much faster than the ground on Saturday, and it was only one day later, so comparisons between days are relevant. They can be a good guide at worst, and Slade Power is potentially top class.

This was just Great Minds’ fifth ever run. Winless in three runs last year as a three-year-old (although he was beaten just a nose and a neck respectively in the last two), he has now won both his races this term, both six-furlong handicaps at The Curragh, both on soft ground, both really impressively.

He is entered in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot, and he would be very interesting in that if he took his chance, especially if the ground happened to come up on the easy side. The handicapper has raised him 10lb for Sunday’s win, but because the Wokingham is an early-closing race, he would get to race under a penalty there off his old mark. He could be better than a handicapper though. He looks like a Group-class sprinter in-waiting.

Group 1 (s)Tatts

It was interesting to hear Aidan O’Brien say, before the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh on Sunday, that the race’s Group status was in jeopardy – it has apparently been given a yellow card – and that that was a key determinant in the decision to allow Magician take his chance in the race, even on unsuitably soft ground.

The Tattersalls Gold Cup is a key race in the Irish programme of middle-distance races for older horses, and it is important that it retains its Group 1 status. Obviously the inclusion of Magician, a 124-rated horse, in Sunday’s race was a significant help. With Magician in the race, the average rating of the first three horses home was 113.67. Without him, it would have been 105.33.

The 10-year roll of honour for the Tattersalls Gold Cup – Powerscourt, Grey Swallow, Hurricane Run, Notnowcato, Duke Of Marmalade, Casual Conquest, Fame And Glory, So You Think (twice) and Al Kazeem – tells you that it is a top class race, and that it would be a real shame if it were to lose its top billing.

Mission possible

If things continue to go the way they went last weekend, soon we will be able to call Noble Mission just Noble Mission, and we will be able to call Joyeuse just Joyeuse, without having to add the Frankel’s Brother or Frankel’s Sister suffix.

We Are contender

Meanwhile, while all of that was going on at The Curragh at the weekend, over at Longchamp, just before Cirrus Des Aigles beat Olympic Glory in the Prix d’Ispahan and at least a little under the radar, We Are was putting up a really nice performance to win the Prix Saint-Alary.

Held up on the outside through the early stages of the race by Thierry Jarnet, the Dansili filly showed a really nice turn of foot to hit the front a furlong and a half out, and she kept on strongly to beat the potentially high-class Vazira by three lengths.

Admittedly, Vazira (a Group 3 winner) was awkward out of the stalls, and that obviously did not help her chance, but they went slowly enough through the early stages of the race to allow her make up the ground quite easily, and it is difficult to argue that We Are was not the best filly in the race on the day by a fair way.

The Prix de Diane is the next obvious target for We Are – who represents the Moonlight Cloud team of George Strawbridge and Freddy Head – but she has suddenly become interesting as a contender for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Remember, the last three winners of the Arc, and four of the last six, were fillies, and three of them were three-year-old fillies.

© The Irish Field, 31st May 2014