Things We Learned » Start of the flat

Start of the flat

The flat turf season can creep up on you and surprise you.  You are just trying to get your head around what happened at Cheltenham, and thinking about potential implications for Aintree and Fairyhouse and Punchestown, when suddenly entries are in for Naas on Sunday.

It was a good start to the season on Sunday.  There was some good racing and several good performances.  Karawaan, for starters, was very good in winning the Tote Irish Lincoln. 

Karawaan was a well-regarded horse when he was trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Sheikh Hamdan as a three-year-old, but he didn’t really realise his potential as a four-year-old.  Picked up for £32,000 by Gaelic Bloodstock at the Goffs UK horses-in-training sale last August, Ger Lyons has obviously found the key to him and the Sea The Stars gelding put up a really nice performance under Colin Keane to land the feature race on the day.

The handicapper raised him by 10lb to a mark of 93, but he will still be of interest off his new mark, and he could step beyond handicap company.

Still Standing was impressive in winning the Listed Devoy Stakes.  Jessica Harrington’s colt showed a really willing attitude under new stable jockey Shane Foley to come nicely clear of some talented rivals.  This was the Mastercraftsman colt’s fifth win in his last six races, and he should be able to continue to progress.

Never No More looked good in winning the Madrid Handicap, a race that Awtaad won in 2016 before going on to Guineas glory.  Aidan O’Brien’s colt made nice progress down the centre for Donnacha O’Brien, and he kept on well.  This was just his fourth run, and it was his seasonal debut, so his potential for progression is obvious.

The Michael O’Callaghan-trained Red Epaulette was impressive in winning the opening juveniles’ maiden, and Fozzy Stack’s horse Wargrave put up a nice performance to make all in the concluding three-year-olds’ maiden, while the pick of Jim Bolger’s three winners was probably Normandel, who was racing for just the second time for Bolger and who kept on well in the Group 3 Lodge Park Stud Park Express Stakes to just hold on from the fast-finishing Hand On Heart. 

There were plenty of other horses to take out of the day too.  Hand On Heart was one, Fozzy Stack’s filly made significant late headway and just failed to catch Normandel in the Park Express Stakes.

Crockford was another.  Joseph O’Brien’s horse did well to get as close as he did in the Madrid Handicap from the rear and from his wide draw.

Draw was probably a factor 

While it was not surprising that a wide draw appeared to be a disadvantage on the day on the round course at Naas on Sunday, it also appeared that a high draw was a disadvantage on the straight track.  The three winners on the straight track on the day were drawn, respectively, four of 11, five of 20 and one of 16.  Moreover, only one of the 10 placed horses in the three races run on the straight track was drawn higher than five.

Horses who can probably be marked up for running well from disadvantageous draws on the straight track include Sonaiyla and Empire State in the six-furlong maiden, and T For Tango in the six-furlong handicap.

Some season

You would have forgiven Paul Townend if he had taken the day off after he had ridden Al Boum Photo to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.  You would have understood it if he had wanted to take the day off to consider what he had just achieved, appreciate his accomplishment, wallow in the accolades.  The fulfillment of a lifetime ambition.  But that is not Paul Townend’s way. 

He was riding at Down Royal the following day.  It would be like Stephen Cluxton playing a game at Parnell Park on the day after he had lifted the Sam Maguire.

Townend rode a winner on that Sunday at Down Royal too: Roll Again in the maiden hurdle for his boss Willie Mullins.  And he probably would have ridden a double if Baie Des Iles hadn’t fallen at the third last fence when she was travelling like the most likely winner.

Unperturbed, Townend went to Limerick the following day and rode another winner.  Then he went to Navan the day after that and rode another.  And to Cork and to Thurles and to Downpatrick and to Clonmel.  There’s his work ethic.

There have been seven days of National Hunt racing in Ireland since the Cheltenham Festival ended, and Paul Townend has ridden on every one of those days, and he has ridden winners on all but one of them.

When he rode Annamix to win the maiden hurdle at Clonmel on Sunday, he brought up his 100th winner of the year.  His first century.  It is some achievement to ride 100 winners in a National Hunt season in Ireland.  Usually, only one person does it, and sometimes nobody does.  It is some season that Paul Townend is having.

Fehily bows out 

We will miss seeing Noel Fehily riding, we will miss seeing his familiar crouch on a horse and knowing that he is probably in the correct position on the track and in the race.  It was good, however, that he was able to bow out on his own terms and that he was able to go out on a winner at Newbury last Saturday.

It wasn’t quit a victory lap, he didn’t have the luxury of standing high and waving to the crowd through the final furlong.  Not that that would be Fehily’s way anyway.  Get In The Queue may have been a 1/3 shot in the Goffs UK Spring Sale Bumper, but Harry Fry’s horse needed to be ridden all the way to the line by Fehily, just to be sure to be sure.

The Corkman rode seven winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including Rock On Ruby and Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle and Special Tiara in the Champion Chase, and he won a Henry VIII Chase on Altior and he won two King Georges on Silviniaco Conti.  He was always a thoughtful jockey, a thinking jockey.

Quiz time

Q. What unusual feat have Martin Brassil’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner City Island and Oliver McKiernan’s recent Naas listed novices’ hurdle winner Gallant John Joe both achieved this season?

A. Both have won two maiden hurdles.  (Well, kindof.)


© The Irish Field, 30th March 2019