Things We Learned » Special day

Special day

We know by now that Sunday at The Curragh was a special day.  Everyone who was there felt it, and anyone who wasn’t there knows it by now.

All the elements conspired to make it so.  Pinatubo’s performance in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes was a be-there performance, and Tarnawa’s win in the Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes, trained by Dermot Weld, on Pat Smullen’s day, was a feelgood win. 

But Search For A Song’s win in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger, trained too by Dermot Weld, in the race in which Pat Smullen took his career to a new level on Vinnie Roe, with Chris Hayes wearing the Moyglare silks that were synonymous with Pat Smullen during his riding career: that took it to a new level.

It looked for a while as if the rain was going to be a dampener but, actually, it wasn’t a dampener at all.  Soft day.

We had known for a little while that Pat Smullen would not be riding in the race, his race, and that was a tough one, but he was there all right, signing things and selfie-posing and speaking into just about every microphone that was thrust his way.  And people dug deeply into pockets.  Racing people being asked questions and racing people answering again.

The nine champions were there all right, there because Pat Smullen asked them to be there, all smiling and chatting and a major element in the special atmosphere.  And AP McCoy won the race on John and Sheila Lavery’s horse Quizical, beating Ruby Walsh on Aussie Valentine into second place.  McCoy and Walsh, toe-to-toe again.  Special day all right.

Hayes on song

It didn’t look good for Search For A Song early on.  It didn’t look likely.  The Galileo filly was free and keen in Chris Hayes’ hands, expending more energy than she needed to expend through the early stages of the race.  After they had gone a couple of furlongs, Hayes decided to allow her stride on, that she might settle better in front than she did in behind horses.

It proved to be a race-winning move.  She got to the front and she relaxed, she travelled easily in her rider’s hands.  And when they got to the home straight, and Hayes gave her a squeeze, she picked up.  It was remarkable that she did, given how free she had been.

It was a brave move by Dermot Weld and by Moyglare Stud to allow Search For A Song take her chance in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger.  A three-year-old filly against hardened, wizened, older stayers.  No three-year-old filly had won the race since Ron Quinton rode the John Oxx-trained Petite Ile to victory in 1989.

And it was a brave move by Chris Hayes to allow her stride on as he did, and when he did.  Before they started to climb.  It was a thinking-man’s move.  He reduced the potential negative of her free-goingness as much as he could.

It still looked unlikely, the filly had still expended energy unnecessarily early on, and you would have forgiven her if she had been caught and passed by the peloton at the two-furlong marker.  It wasn’t surprising to see afterwards that she had traded at 29/1 in running.  You don’t race that keenly through the early stages of a Group 1 race and win like that.  It was a really impressive performance. 

That was just the Moyglare Stud filly’s fifth run ever.  She still has scope for progression, and she could move up another level when she learns to settle a little better.  All things being equal, she could be an immense middle-distance filly next season as a four-year-old. 

Champions theme

You won’t repeat the Pat Smullen race, you won’t replicate it.  You couldn’t.  You can’t do something for the first time again.  Nor would you want to.  It was a one-off, unique, and it was special because it was a one-off.

But you could put something else in place.  Keep the champions theme that Pat Smullen started, which is consistent with Irish Champions Weekend.  So you won’t have the box-office-ness of the nine former champions that we had on Sunday, or the originality of it, but you could invite the champions who are currently riding.  

Colin Keane and Donnacha O’Brien and Declan McDonogh for starters.  And British flat champion jockeys: Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore and Jamie Spencer and Paul Hanagan and Silvestre de Sousa and Jim Crowley.  And you’ll surely be able to add Oisin Murphy to the list for next year.  That’s a rich pool before you start to look further afield.  Some of them would be here anyway, and others could possibly be convinced.  The racing in Britain on the Sunday is usually below top notch.

Paul Townend or Davy Russell or Barry Geraghty or Richard Johnson would be novel additions. Champions all.

Christophe Soumillon and Pierre-Charles Boudot and Ioritz Mendizabal and Stephane Pasquier and Olivier Peslier, although it might be difficult to get the Frenchmen over, given that day two of Irish Champions Weekend usually clashes with the Arc trials.  Andrasch Starke and Filip Minarik and Alexander Pietsch and Adrie de Vries.   Maybe look further afield.  Jose Ortiz or Javier Castellano or Yutaka Take or Zac Purton or Joao Moreira.  Maybe they wouldn’t come, but maybe they would.  It might be worth investigating.  


As has been mentioned on more than one occasion this week, the attendance at the All-Ireland Ladies’ Football Championship final at Croke Park on Sunday was 56,114, over 46,000 more than went to The Curragh on Sunday, and 32,606 more than attended on Irish Champions Weekend over the course of the two days.

There is a context here.  In 2014, the inaugural year of Longines Irish Champions Weekend in its current guise, the total attendance at Leopardstown and The Curragh over the course of the weekend was 24,168: 13,190 at Leopardstown, 10,978 at The Curragh.  Two weeks later, the attendance at Croke Park for the final of the 2014 All-Ireland Ladies’ Football Championship was 27,374.  Just 3,206 more.  That’s just five years ago.  Attendance at the Ladies’ Football final has more than doubled in that time. 

There is a lesson here: it is possible to grow attendances dramatically in a short space of time.  So, The Curragh was under development for a couple of those intervening years, but the facilities are there at The Curragh now, and the building work that is currently ongoing at Leopardstown tells you that they will be there at Foxrock.  It is possible for lofty attendance goals to be set and met. 

If the cap fits

Tango should have worn the orange cap again in the Moyglare Stud Stakes on Sunday.

© The Irish Field, 21st September 2019