Things We Learned » All about the fillies

All about the fillies

It’s all about the fillies tomorrow, as the Sea The Stars Pretty Polly Stakes takes centre stage at The Curragh, but it could also be about a filly today, as Qualify takes on the colts in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

It is 99 years since a filly won the Epsom Derby, but it is only 21 since a member of the fair sex won the Irish version. That was Balanchine in 1994. Before that it was Salsabil in 1990. Before that it was Gallinaria in 1900, but two fillies in the last 25 years sounds better than two fillies in the last century.

Qualify has a real chance too. She is the Epsom Oaks winner, like Balanchine was, like Salsabil was. She is the only Classic winner in today’s line-up.

Her official rating of 114 is the joint second-highest official rating in the race, 5lb lower than the highest-rated, Jack Hobbs, on 119. Take Qualify’s 3lb filly’s allowance into account, and she is clear second best on official ratings, with just net 2lb to find with the odds-on favourite.

Stranger things have happened (this century).

Sandown centre stage

It used to be the case that it was The Curragh that staged the Derby Decider, that the Epsom Derby winner and the French Derby winner would square up against each other in the Irish Derby in a duel that would determine the ultimate Derby hero. (At least that’s what the brochure said.)

This year, however, it appears as if that honour is going to go to Sandown racecourse.

The Coral-Eclipse was mooted as the target for Epsom Derby winner Golden Horn even before Frankie Dettori jumped off his back in the winner’s enclosure at Epsom and landed in John Gosden’s arms. It made sense. The worry about him going to Epsom concerned his ability to stay the 12 furlongs. He hadn’t even been entered in the Derby by his owner/breeder Anthony Oppenheimer, who had always seen him as a 10-furlong horse.

Prix du Jockey Club winner New Bay is also a 10-furlong horse. By Dubawi out of a mare who won over a mile but who is from the family of Irish Oaks winner Wemyss Bight, he was probably unlucky not to win the French Guineas from a wide draw (16 of 18), but he made no mistake in the French Derby, from a similarly wide draw (13 of 14). He is a high-class individual, and he is seriously progressive. This is a clash that will be well worth the admission fee, and that is even before you factor in the older possibles, like Free Eagle and The Grey Gatsby.

Geraghty fully deserving of JP role

It has taken a couple of months to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, and those punters who piled in at 1/6 in February probably would have got a better return on their money if they had opened a deposit account with Permanent TSB – you’ve heard the ads too, right? – but confirmation on Wednesday that Barry Geraghty would replace AP McCoy as JP McManus’ number one came as no surprise.

The appointment makes complete sense. Geraghty is one of the top National Hunt riders of this generation, up there with Ruby Walsh and AP McCoy, and this is the best generation of any generation of jump jockeys. Like Walsh and McCoy, and Ryan Moore and Pat Smullen on the flat, Geraghty rarely makes a mistake. And he is cool on the big days. He is used to big-race success.

When you are watching a horse during a race with Geraghty in the saddle, you can have complete confidence that he is doing the right thing. His position in a race, his position on the track, the horses he is tracking, his presentation at an obstacle. He almost always wins when he is on the best horse, and he wins sometimes when he is not. That is what you want in a jockey. That is what JP McManus is getting.

A relationship between owner and rider is already in place, just as a relationship between Geraghty and Nicky Henderson was already in place when Mick Fitzgerald was forced into retirement in 2008. It was Geraghty who rode Punjabi for Henderson to finish third in the 2008 Champion Hurdle when Fitzgerald rode Afsoun. Then six weeks later, with Fitzgerald on the sidelines after that horror fall from L’Ami in the Grand National, it was Geraghty who, on Fitzgerald’s instigation, rode Punjabi to victory in the ACC Bank Champion Hurdle.

Geraghty’s relationship with Jonjo O’Neill goes way back. He rode Iris’s Gift for O’Neill for the first time at Uttoxeter in February 2003, six weeks before he rode him to finish second to Baracouda in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. That was the year that Geraghty rode five winners at Cheltenham, equalling the best ever haul by any jockey ever at the Festival, and two of them – Inching Closer and Spectroscope – were for O’Neill.

Interestingly, one of the five was for JP McManus, Youlneverwalkalone in the William Hill Chase. Geraghty had ridden the Christy Roche-trained gelding to win the Pierse Leopardstown Chase two months earlier. By then, he had also ridden Le Coudray for Roche and McManus to win the Drinmore Chase and the Denny Gold Medal Chase, and he rode him to finish fourth in the Cathcart at that Cheltenham Festival in 2003.

Of course, the relationship between owner and rider has strengthened considerably in recent times. At last year’s Cheltenham Festival, when AP McCoy had to choose between My Tent Or Yours and Jezki in the Champion Hurdle, and between At Fishers Cross and More Of That in the World Hurdle, there was never any doubt about who was going to ride the one that AP didn’t. Geraghty won on both of them too. He is still unbeaten on Jezki (five for five). Actually, he is also still unbeaten on More Of That (one for one).

From the rider’s perspective, there was a decision to be made. His job at Nicky Henderson’s was obviously one of the top jobs in National Hunt racing. However, there are synergies between JP McManus and Nicky Henderson. It doesn’t mean that he is going to cut ties completely with the trainer.

The Geraghty role with McManus will be different to the McCoy role though, no question. The rider spoke during the week of spending more time with his very young family, about spending less time in England than he did when he was with Henderson. The role will be more Irishcentric than McCoy’s was. Geraghty will not be travelling to Cartmel for one ride on a Tuesday like McCoy did, even if that ride is almost certain to be a winning one.

He also said during the week that he was almost ready to return to the racecourse after fracturing his tibia in March, that he had been riding out for a little while now. He is set to return to race riding early next month, and that is the best news of all.

Horses to note

If you have a notebook (or an Excel spreadsheet) for horses to follow, you probably make more entries after Royal Ascot than you do after any other week on the flat racing calendar.

There was plenty to note. Time Test and Muhaarar and Solow were all impressive winners of high-profile races. The difficulty with impressive winners of high-profile races is that everybody sees them, everybody notes them, and there usually isn’t a very good betting angle to them in the future. There is a chance that Time Test will be under-rated when he steps into Group 1 company, given that the Tercentenary Stakes that he won was only a Group 3 race, but everybody has his figures and there is also a chance that he won’t be.

Everybody saw the unlucky horses as well, the horses who couldn’t get out when they needed a run and finished strongly, like Kingfisher and The Grey Gatsby and Touchline and Sir Isaac Newton. They are also interesting horses for the future, but the markets may have copped them.

By contrast, Scotland might be a little under the radar. Mrs Fitri Hay’s horse made nice progress from the rear in the Gold Cup off a relatively sedate early pace. The same owner’s The Corsican did something similar in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. Both will be of interest when they race next, both may be under-rated.

The Ger Lyons-trained Sacrificial ran a cracker on the near side in the Britannia Handicap in a race that was owned by the far side, as did the Brian Ellison-trained Balty Boys in the Royal Hunt Cup. Marma’s Boy made nice progress to finish third behind pillar-to-post victor Space Age in the King George V Handicap, Udododontu went for home too early in the Britannia, Provenance finished well having been checked early in the home straight in the Wolferton Handicap. And they are just some of them.

The Irish at Royal Ascot

Eight Irish-trained winners at Royal Ascot equalled the best-ever haul. There were eight as well last year, and in 2013 and, coincidentally, in 2012 as well. So there have been exactly eight Irish-trained winners at Royal Ascot now for the last four years, as well as in 2008, when Yeats won his third Gold Cup.

In one sense, the final tally was a little disappointing, given that there were three Irish winners on Day 1 and that there were seven by the end of Day 3 and eight with a full day to go. In another, however, it was a fine achievement by Irish trainers collectively, given that there were only two Irish winners at Royal Ascot as recently as 2009.

Aidan O’Brien was responsible for five of the eight, with David Wachman, Dermot Weld and Willie Mullins chipping in with one each. Also, Jim Bolger, Tony Martin, Michael Halford, Eddie Lynam and Ger Lyons all had horses who ran really well in defeat. Irish trainers proved once again that they are up there with the best in the world.

Remarkably, Ryan Moore rode seven of the eight Irish winners. Several people asked during the week if he was Irish. He isn’t, but if he ever wants the key to Ireland, or if he wants to graze his sheep on St Stephen’s Green, there shouldn’t be a problem organising that.

© The Irish Field, 27th June 2015