Things We Learned » Lion roars

Lion roars

In one sense, Roaring Lion emerged on Thursday as a serious challenger to Saxon Warrior’s Derby claims.  Any horse who can do what Roaring Lion did in the Dante is automatically a serious challenger to everybody else’s Derby claims.  In another sense, however, Roaring Lion’s performance only served to enhance the case for Saxon Warrior. 

Qatar Racing’s colt was impressive at York.  He travelled well through his race and into the home straight.  He was checked a little at the two-furlong pole, but Oisin Murphy didn’t panic, he allowed the gap to open again and, once it did, he allowed his horse ease his way through it.  Then John Gosden’s horse picked up impressively and he careered away to win by four and a half lengths.

It was interesting to hear Gosden say afterwards that Roaring Lion probably needed his first two runs of the season in order to bring him forward mentally, not necessarily physically.  The trainer also said that he wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s performance, that he would actually have been disappointed if he had not put up a performance like that one.  And that he was a better horse than Benny The Dip, with whom the trainer won the Dante in 1997 before sending him to Epsom to win the Derby. 

Gosden won the Dante three times before Thursday, and two of those Dante winners went on to win the Derby. 

Roaring Lion’s performance was also obviously a positive for Saxon Warrior.  It enhanced the form of his Racing Post Trophy win, and it enhanced the form of his 2000 Guineas win.  Roaring Lion finished a neck behind Aidan O’Brien’s horse in the Racing Post Trophy last year, and he finished two and a half lengths behind him in the Guineas.

The Kitten’s Joy colt is the first horse from the Guineas to come out and run again, and he has won the Dante.  That can only be a positive for the Guineas.  

And we have been onto the Racing Post Trophy before.  As well as Saxon Warrior’s Guineas win and now Roaring Lion’s Dante win, sixth-placed Chilean won the Prix La Force while ninth-placed Merlin Magic won the Esher Cup.  That is all positive for the Racing Post Trophy.

It makes sense that Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion now dominate the Derby market.  However, Saxon Warrior is two-nil up in their private duel, and it also makes sense that the Ballydoyle colt remains a clear favourite.

Derby field taking shape

All the major trials have been run, and the Derby field has a good shape to it now.  The Guineas winner heads the list, followed by the Dante winner.  (See above.)  They are followed by the Chester Vase winner and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial winner and the Lingfield Derby Trial winner.  Check.  

Then the Guineas third and the Ballysax and Derrinstown runner-up and the Ballysax and Derrinstown third.  Check.  Maybe the Sandown Classic Trial winner and the Chester Vase third and the Lingfield runner-up and maybe the Prix Greffulhe winner.  You never know.  It is shaping up to be a fascinating contest.  It always is.

Curragh taking shape too

The Curragh is also taking shape, and that is very good news.  You can see the track now morphing into being in front of your eyes.  The pre-parade ring and the parade ring, and the Queen’s Room stands out, re-laid brick by brick.  It’s amazing how a fairly innocuous-looking part of the building during the old days, during the Stand House days, can suddenly be transformed into a significant feature. 

And if you jump up high or, more realistically, if you climb a few steps up the temporary grandstand, you can see the new grandstand under construction, and you can imagine how it’s going to look.

Importantly, the racecourse itself is still top notch.  They raced there on Friday and they raced there on Saturday, and the racing surface was as good as ever.  There is no reason why it wouldn’t have been.

The crowds have had to be curtailed at The Curragh during the construction period, and that is not ideal, but everybody can be confident that the racing surface will still be as good as it has always been when the development is completed. We knew it already, but the importance of the racing surface at a flagship track has been brought into sharp focus in recent weeks.  It is crucial.  There is no point in having gold standard facilities in the enclosures if your racing surface is not also up to that standard. 

And just because The Curragh hasn’t been closed to racing in 2017 and 2018, it doesn’t mean that the completion of the project in time for the 2019 season cannot be celebrated, and that a re-launch cannot garner the attention that it deserves.

Murphy will be missed

We will miss seeing Timmy Murphy in the saddle.  We have missed seeing him ride over obstacles for a little while now.

Murphy was built for horses.  He was a part of the animal that is the horse-and-jockey.  He realised at an early stage of his career that you couldn’t jump the fence yourself, that you had to trust that the horse would do that part of it.  So he sat still.  He became the quietest of riders, the stillest of riders. 

Michael Hourigan was brilliant to him at a time at which he needed an arm around his shoulder.  He formed a formidable partnership with Beef Or Salmon.  The timing was perfect, they were brilliant for each other and together they conquered the world.  They teamed up to win two Hilly Way Chases, a James Nicholson Champion Chase, an Ericsson Chase, a Hennessy Gold Cup, a John Durkan Chase, a Punchestown Gold Cup, and others.

Other big winners? Comply Or Die, of course, in the 2008 Grand National. Merigo in the Scottish National in 2010 and again in 2012.  Jessies Dream in the Drinmore Chase in 2010, Gordon Elliott’s first Grade 1 winner. Al Eile for John Queally in the Aintree Hurdle in 2005 and again in 2007 and again in 2008. Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair Chase. 

Best one?  Probably Davids Lad in the Irish National in 2001.  That was quintessential Murphy.  Trainer Tony Martin said that it was the best ride that he has ever seen any rider give any horse.  Those horsemanship skills will remain a big asset for Murphy now in his next chapter.

Worrying ramifications

Nobody wants to see people losing jobs, and the hit that racing’s finances in Britain is going to take is worrying, and it will all undoubtedly have ramifications for Ireland, but they surely knew that having 4,000 or so betting shops dependent on slot machines was not sustainable in the long term.

 © The Irish Field, 19th May 2018