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The Curragh

They probably cheered when Northern Treasure won the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas in 1976, but they probably didn’t cheer as loudly as they did yesterday, 40 years later, when Awtaad and Chris Hayes arrived back into the Curragh’s winner’s enclosure after landing the 2016 renewal.

Half a lifetime may have flowed under the bridge between Northern Treasure and Awtaad, but Kevin Prendergast remains constant: trainer of Northern Treasure, trainer of Awtaad, still as sharp as a tack.

“A lot of the lads here weren’t even born then.”

The goodwill was packed deep around the winner’s enclosure, the applause and the cheers were heartfelt.

“That was all right wasn’t it?” said the trainer when it quietened down a little.  It was a question that didn’t need an answer. 

“What’s rare is good.”

It was typical self-deprecation from a trainer who has been among the top echelons of Irish trainers for decades.

And he never tried to hide the magnitude of the regard in which he held Awtaad.  Sheikh Hamdan’s colt did not make his racecourse debut until October last year, when he finished a promising third in a maiden at The Curragh, and he stepped forward from that to win his maiden at Leopardstown two weeks later.

The Cape Cross colt made his debut this season in the Madrid Handicap back at The Curragh in March, which he won by five lengths, before stepping up on that performance to land Listed Tetrarch Stakes back at The Curragh earlier this month.

After that, his trainer suggested that he would take his chance in the Irish 2000 Guineas. 

“There would have been no point in going for the Guineas if we hadn’t been good enough to win the Tetrarch Stakes.”

Even so, Awtaad had to improve again yesterday.  On official ratings, he had 17lb to find with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Air Force Blue and 14lb to find with the Newmarket Guineas winner Galileo Gold.  In his favour, however, was the fact that he was on a serious upward trajectory.  Even before yesterday, there was no telling how good he could be, and there was no disguising the regard in which his trainer and his rider Chris Hayes held him.

Hayes always had his horse in a good position through yesterday’s race: moving easily up on the outside, not far off the pace, but not galloping into the teeth of it.  He had cover, he was in behind horses, but there was no other horse on his immediate outside, so the rider was able to make his move whenever he wanted.

He made it at the two-furlong pole.  Hayes gave Awtaad a squeeze, and he moved easily up on the outside towards the leaders.  He joined them on the run to the furlong pole, and Hayes kicked, immediately putting daylight between himself and his pursuers. 

Blue De Vega chased him towards the outside, and favourite Galileo Gold got the split on the inside and mounted a challenge but, in truth, it never really looked like either colt was going to catch the winner.  Awtaad had never been beyond seven furlongs in his life, all four of his previous runs had been over seven, but he saw out the extra furlong well, he galloped all the way to the line.

“It’s magic,” said the winning rider.  “It’s my first Classic for the boss, and it means the world to me.  The boss gave me no instructions, he just said dont hit the front too early.  But I did!  I saw that Frankie was in a bit of bother, so I just wanted to make it as difficult as I could for him.  It didn’t make any difference though, he galloped all the way to the line.”

“We have always thought the world of this horse,” said Prendergast.  “He’s a beautiful horse, I have always liked him, Sheikh Hamdan has always liked him.  He was a backward two-year-old, he needed time, but he’s very good.  He’s up there with the best I’ve ever had.”

In terms of future plans for Awtaad, yesterday was the future plan, so it’s time for a re-think.  He obviously gets a mile well, but he also has seven-furlong pace and his dam stayed 10 furlongs.  The fact that bookmakers were offering odds for the St James’s Palace Stakes over a mile and for the Derby over a mile and a half is an indication, not only of his class, but also of his versatility. 

There is still no telling how good he could be.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Air Force Blue may have disappointed in the feature event, but the champion trainer still recorded a double on the day.  He won the opening juvenile fillies’ maiden with Brave Anna, who kept on well for Seamie Heffernan, and he teamed up with Ryan Moore to land the Listed Marble Hill Stakes with Caravaggio.

The Scat Daddy colt travelled well just behind the leaders towards the near side and, once Moore switched him to the far side on the run to the final furlong, he picked up nicely and kept on well under just a hands-and-heels ride to come nicely clear of Mister Trader, who was in turn clear of the rest.

It was also a good day for trainer Willie McCreery and rider Billy Lee, who teamed up to win the six-furlong handicap with Downforce, and the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes with Devonshire, who stayed on strongly through the final furlong to come home nicely clear of Irish Rookie and Hint Of A Tint.

The other Group race on a day of top class racing, the Group 2 Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes, was won by the Mick Channon-trained Mobsta, who got home in a driving three-way finish under Pat Smullen to thwart Flight Risk and Dick Whittington, while the finale, the 12-furlong handicap, was won by the Amanda Mooney-trained Repeater, who was driven to a short-head victory by Killian Leonard.


© The Sunday Times, 22nd May 2016