Things We Learned » Plate musings

Plate musings

There were lots of things to take out of Wednesday’s Galway Plate. Firstly, it goes without saying that it was great for Gigginstown House, who fielded the third as well as the winner from just two representatives, great for Shane Shortall, dream stuff for Shane Shortall actually, one year after Blazing Tempo, great for Noel Meade. Ridiculous to think that it was Meade’s first Galway Plate.

Meade’s synonymy with Galway, all the way back to Steel Duke and Pinch Hitter in the 1980s, and no Galway Plate win until last Wednesday? (Young readers, there were Galway winners before Dermot Weld.) You could see in the winner’s enclosure how much it meant to the Meathman.

Secondly, it was an unusual Galway Plate in that it was dominated by those horses who raced handily. No horse really got into the race from the rear.

Jumping the two fences in the dip on the first circuit, the first eight horses were, respectively, Road To Riches, Lord Jim, Spring Heeled, Aupcharlie, Golden Kite, Caid Du Berlais, Balnaslow and Golden Wonder. Seven of those eight horses filled seven of the first eight places.

Thirdly, it was a cracking performance by Road To Riches to win it as he did. He travelled superbly well for Shane Shortall, his jumping was just about foot-perfect, his cruising speed allowed him relax in front while setting up a race-winning advantage, and he powered clear around the home turn and up the hill. In the end, he won by 11 lengths, eased down, and he posted a cracking time, four and a half seconds (0.2secs/furlong) faster than standard.

Handicaps are probably out for the Gamut gelding now, but that is okay. He deserves his place at the top table on this performance. He was winning here off a mark of 149. If the handicapper gives him 10lb or 12lb, that puts him right on the coat-tails of the top steeplechasers. To put his new prospective mark into context, Lord Windermere was rated 152 going into the Gold Cup last March, and is now rated 165.

After Road To Riches won a two-mile novices’ chase at Fairyhouse in April, it appeared as though two miles might be his distance. Two miles, good ground and an aggressive ride. Not on this evidence. He stayed this two-mile-six-furlong trip well, and he wasn’t stopping going up the hill, so why not three miles?

The John Durkan Chase at Punchestown in early November is a legitimate target now, followed possibly by a crack at the Lexus Chase. He could be that good. Remember that last year’s Galway Plate winner, the novice Carlingford Lough, went on to win two Grade 1 contests last season, beating the best staying novice chasers in Ireland in the Growise Chase at Punchestown on his last run.

Road To Riches bounced off the good ground on Wednesday, but he did win a Grade 3 three-mile novices’ hurdle at Cork last December on soft ground, so, while he may be better on good ground than he is on soft, he could be effective through the winter as well. He is only seven, Wednesday’s race was just his seventh chase ever, and there is no telling how good he could be.

Burn’s turn close

Still on the Galway Plate, the other horse to take out of the race, as well as the winner, is Burn And Turn. Jessica Harrington’s mare was the only horse who managed to get into the race from the rear, and she stayed on really well to take second place.

Settled out the back of the field by Robbie Power through the early stages of the race, she was hampered a little when Terminal fell at the first fence in the dip first time and brought down Alderwood, and she missed the second fence in the dip, possibly as a result.

Disputing fourth last position passing the winning post first time, she travelled really well down the back straight, gradually making her ground through the field on a tight rein. She travelled best of all down the hill to the second last fence, and good jumps both there and at the last took her into fourth place.

By that stage, however, Road To Riches had kicked from the front. Burn And Turn moved into second place on straightening up, and she stayed on well up the hill all the way to the line but, while she came nicely away from the rest of the field, the winner was simply not for catching.

The Flemensfirth mare is not especially lightly-raced, she has raced 27 times in total under all codes, but this was just her ninth chase, and it was probably a career-best off a career-high mark under a super ride from Robbie Power. The handicapper should not be too harsh on her now and, at her best on good ground, she will be of interest wherever she goes next. This is the longest trip over which she has ever raced, but she stayed it well and she might be worth a try over three miles now.

Hanagan hurt

Just shows you the vagaries of this game. Paul Hanagan is having his best season ever, riding better than ever. He has won his first Classic on Taghrooda, and he has followed up by partnering her to a famous King George win, the first three-year-old filly to win the race in almost 40 years. In the meantime, he has won the Eclipse on Mukhadram. Difficult to believe that he only won his first Group 1 race in Britain two years ago.

Then the first day of Glorious Goodwood, and wham. White Nile slips up on the bend in the Summer Stakes and the rider comes down, sustaining a hairline fracture to his left arm. All plans out the window, Muteela in the Oak Tree Stakes yesterday, Muthmir in the Stewards’ Cup today, and suddenly the race is on to get back for York. You can take nothing for granted.

Leger looming

If the year ends in an even number, the Gordon Stakes produces the Leger winner. That’s the rule.

In 2006, Sixties Icon won the Gordon Stakes and followed up by winning the St Leger, run that year at York. In 2008, Conduit also won the Gordon Stakes and the St Leger before going on to land the Breeders’ Cup Turf. In 2010, Arctic Cosmos was third in the Gordon Stakes before going to Doncaster six weeks later and winning the Leger. And in 2012, Encke was beaten a nose by Noble Mission in the Gordon Stakes, and he got beaten again in the Great Voltigeur before he went and won the St Leger.

So it isn’t just the winner of the even-number-year Gordon Stakes who wins the Leger.

It may be a little obvious, but the two horses to take out of the latest renewal of the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood on Wednesday were probably the winner Snow Sky and the runner-up Windshear. Snow Sky was coltish and warm and weak in the market before the race, but he travelled into the race well and he picked up nicely to go and pass Somewhat, effectively winning his race, before he appeared to idle close home. As such, he probably won with more in hand than the neck winning margin.

Racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said afterwards that the Nayef colt would probably go to the Great Voltigeur next, but you have to think that the St Leger is his ultimate aim this season. His dam won over a mile and five and a half furlongs, and he has every chance of staying the Leger distance. He is a player in the race, and best odds of 14/1 look big.

Windshear is also a player in the Leger. Richard Hannon’s horse got checked in his run at the two-furlong pole, he had to wait for Cloudscape to go past before pulling out and getting after the leaders, and he finished best of all to take second place. Given that Snow Sky probably won with a little in hand, it is not certain that he would have won even with a clear run, but it was still a fine performance and it also sets him up as a potential Leger horse.

Windshear’s performance also highlights the Leger claims of Elite Army, who beat him on merit in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot, and of Hartnell, who beat the Hannon horse in the Bahrain Trophy. And then you have the possibility of the Derby form being represented through Kingston Hill and/or Romsdal. It is all hotting up nicely.

Females first

We are well used to Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh flying the flag for the girls on both sides of the Irish Sea, and sometimes on the far side of the English Channel as well, but there have been several female firsts of late.

Caroline Murtagh got off the mark on Regal Power at Naas in May and Evanna McCutcheon won the Ladies’ Derby on Irish Derby weekend on Zalty, her first winner on the flat, while Ana O’Brien, the first female ever to ride in the Irish Oaks, gave Beyond Brilliance a superb ride to get the 80/1 shot up to finish fourth.

Then last Saturday, Kate Harrington, on her first ride ever at Ascot, her first ever ride in Britain, went and rode See The Storm for Ian Williams in the Longines Ladies’ Race on King George day at Ascot – the old diamond necklace race – and got him up to win by a short head. The future looks decidedly sparkly.

© The Irish Field, 2nd August 2014