Donn's Articles » Five for the Flat

Five for the Flat


So the Flat season was rumbling away in the background while this year’s National Hunt fairytale took us to Fairyhouse and to Aintree and even to Sandown this year and back to Punchestown.  Then, on the final day of the Punchestown Festival last Saturday, Galileo Gold won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, and the 2016 Flat season came alive.

It stretches out before us now.  From the Dante meeting at York next week, through Irish Guineas weekend and the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot, all the way to Irish Champions’ Weekend in September beyond to the Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup.  Here are five horses who could have a major say.


1. Found (Trainer: Aidan O’Brien)

It is remarkable to think that Found had only won once (a Group 3 contest) in seven attempts last season as a three-year-old by the time she lined up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland at the end of October.  A top class juvenile, winner of the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac on her final run at two, she was second in the Irish 1000 Guineas last year, second in the Coronation Stakes, second in the Irish Champion Stakes, second in the Champion Stakes.  

It wouldn’t have been right if the Aidan O’Brien-trained filly had gone through her three-year-old season without a Group 1 victory.  She had to beat Derby and Arc de Triomphe hero Golden Horn in order to land that Breeders’ Cup Turf, but she did, she out-battled John Gosden’s colt and got home by a half a length in one of the races of the season.

Beaten on her debut this term on heavy ground at The Curragh – same as last season then – the Galileo filly was really impressive in winning the Group 3 Mooresbridge Stakes at The Curragh last Monday.  The Arc de Triomphe is her ultimate objective this season, but she could take in a few Group 1 contests en route, like the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Coronation Cup.  She is a top class middle-distance filly, and she could be one of the brightest lights of 2016.


2. Harzand (Dermot Weld)

Beaten at Gowran Park on his only run as a juvenile last year, Harzand won his maiden at Cork in March on his debut this season by 16 lengths.  He got through the heavy ground well that day, and the winning margin was probably exaggerated as a result, but he was still seriously impressive, and the runner-up Sword Fighter added ballast to the form when he won his own maiden at Sligo last Sunday by 14 lengths.

Harzand stepped forward from that to win the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown lasy month.  Again, the ground was heavy, but he got through it nicely, battling on well to get home by just over a length from Idaho, who is favourite for this afternoon’s Derrinstown Derby Trial.

Although his two wins have been achieved on heavy ground, trainer Dermot Weld maintains that Harzand does not need heavy ground to be seen at his best.  By fast-ground influence Sea The Stars, it may be just that he excels when stamina is at a premium and, while heavy ground plays to his strengths in that regard, so would a step up in trip. 

He should improve when he steps up to a mile and a half, but it may be that he will be even better over further.  He could be a St Leger horse, and he could be a horse for the Queen’s Vase over two miles at Royal Ascot, a race that Weld won with Gordi in 1996.


3. Pleascach (Jim Bolger) 

Pleascach was one of the top three-year-old fillies of 2015, winning the Irish 1000 Guineas, in which she beat Found by a half a length, and the Yorkshire Oaks, in which she beat Irish Oaks winner Covert Love by a neck. 

We have not seen her yet this term, but it is significant that she remains in training at four.  A scopey Teofilo filly, trainer Jim Bolger always maintained last year that she could improve again as a four-year-old. 

She could be a big player in all those top middle-distance races for fillies and mares, and she could be good enough to take on the boys again at the highest level.  She wasn’t beaten far in the Irish Champion Stakes on her final run last season on the only occasion to date on which she has taken on the colts.

4. Minding (Aidan O’Brien)

It is difficult to find flaws in Minding.  She was last season’s outstanding juvenile filly, winner of the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, winner of the Group 1 Dubai Fillies’ Mile, and she picked up this term where she left of last term when she danced in in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last Sunday. There was never a point in that race at which you thought that she would not win.

She is regally-bred, by perennial champion sire Galileo out of the Danehill Dancer mare Lillie Langtry, herself a dual Group 1 winner, and there is no telling how high she could go now.  The Irish 1000 Guineas is her obvious immediate target and, after that, she could step up in trip for the Oaks.  Her dam was a miler, but Galileo is all about stamina, and Minding races as if she would have little difficulty going beyond a mile.

The possibility of allowing her take her chance against the colts in the Derby has been mooted, and that is an indication of the regard in which she is held.


5. Awtaad (Kevin Prendergast)

Awtaad put up an impressive performance to land the Listed Tetrarch Stakes over seven furlongs at The Curragh last Monday. 

Always travelling well, Kevin Prendergast’s colt showed a nice turn of foot to come away from the talented Blue De Vega, with another good colt in Embiran back in third place. 

This was Awtaad’s third win in just four races.  Beaten on his racecourse debut at The Curragh last October, he showed the benefit of that experience by winning his maiden at Leopardstown two weeks later. 

He was impressive in winning the Madrid Handicap over seven furlongs at The Curragh on his debut this season, and he stepped forward from that to win the Tetrarch Stakes.  By Cape Cross out of a mare who stayed 10 furlongs, he should have no difficulty stepping up to a mile now, and he could be a leading player in the Irish 2000 Guineas before moving forward again.


© The Sunday Times, 8th May 2016