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Flat season review

If it seems like a while ago since Red Epaulette won the two-year-olds’ maiden at Naas that opened the 2019 Irish turf flat season, that’s because it is.  More than seven months between the first day of the season and the last day of the season, today, back at Naas.  Full circle.

We are wiser now that we were then.  We know for sure who Andrew Slattery is for starters.  Back in March, he was a promising young rider who had ridden less than 20 winners in his career.  Now, he is the leading apprentice, 43 winners on the board this season alone, and two clear of Oisin Orr in the apprentices’ championship with just one day and eight races left.

It is not a coincidence that he rode lots this season for trainers like Dermot Weld and Fozzy Stack and Johnny Murtagh and John Oxx.  Nor was it insignificant that Dermot Weld was happy to leave the young rider on Kastasa in the Group 3 Loughbrown Stakes at The Curragh in September, despite the fact that the apprentice wasn’t entitled to claim his 5lb allowance in the Group race. 

The battle for the apprentices’ championship between Slattery and the 2017 champion Orr has been one of the threads that has run through the final stages of the season. When Slattery kicked Yafordadoe home in a seven-furlong handicap at Galway last Monday he went two winners clear of his rivals, and that’s how it stands now.  They both have six rides at Naas today.  It may not be over yet.

The senior jockeys’ championship is just about over though.  That has been some battle too, between the 2017 champion Colin Keane and the 2018 champion Donnacha O’Brien. 

This one has ebbed and flowed.  Keane went four clear when he rode two winners to O’Brien’s one at Navan on 9th October, before O’Brien went on a roll that saw him ride 10 winners in five days.  That took him five clear, and he has since stretched his lead to seven.  Keane is down for eight rides today.  He is not giving it up easily. 

Both riders have been phenomenal this season.  Both have gone through the 100-winner mark.  That has never happened in Ireland before, that two riders have ridden more than 100 winners in a season. 

It has been a landmark season too for both.  Colin Keane had his first domestic Group 1 winner, and his first Group 1 winner for his boss Ger Lyons, when he landed the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes in August on Siskin.  That was Siskin’s fourth win from four attempts and, while he got upset in the stalls and had to be withdrawn from the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in September, he remains unbeaten and he will be an exciting three-year-old next season.

Donnacha O’Brien won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket for the second year running, on Magna Grecia, and he won the Champion Stakes at Ascot last month on Magical, both for his dad Aidan O’Brien.  Magical was the rider’s second winner ever on Champions Day at Ascot – the first was just two hours earlier, Kew Gardens in the Long Distance Cup, when he got the better of Frankie Dettori and the teak-tough Stradivarius in a thriller – and she was trainer Aidan O’Brien’s first Champion Stakes winner. 

Magical is another thread that has run through the season.  The Galileo filly has been on the go from early.  She started off by winning the Alleged Stakes at Naas in April, and she raced at least once every month thereafter.

She ran in nine races this season, winning five of them, including the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes and the Group 1 Champion Stakes, and finishing second in three of the other four.  Only once in those nine runs – in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in early October – did she finish out of the first two.  She was a remarkably tough and talented racehorse, and she will make some broodmare.

Jessica Harrington’s juvenile fillies have been ubiquitous.  Alpine Star won the Debutante Stakes and Millisle won the Cheveley Park Stakes and Cayenne Pepper won the Flame Of Tara Stakes and Albigna won the Airlie Stud Stakes.  Then the Niarchos Family’s filly went to Longchamp and won the Prix Marcel Boussac, providing her trainer with her second Group 1 win in eight days.

If there was one day that stood out among all the others in this year’s Irish flat season, it was that day at The Curragh in September, the second day of Irish Champions’ Weekend.  That was the day that AP McCoy drove Quizical home in the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland, beating Ruby Walsh on Aussie Valentine by a length and a half.

It was also the day that the Godolphin colt Pinatubo put up a better performance that any other juvenile put up this season, or for many a season, in winning the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes by nine lengths, and the day that Search For A Song, a three-year-old filly, beat her nine elders in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger, Chris Hayes wearing the Moyglare Stud silks on Dermot Weld’s filly.

Aidan O’Brien is champion trainer in Ireland again, and he is still in the running to claim the title too in Britain, a title that he has won in 2017 and 2018 and six times in total, while Joseph O’Brien has had another memorable season, with two more Group 1 prizes in the bag courtesy of Iridessa.  Wayne Lordan rode the Ruler Of The World filly to both of those victories, and he bagged another 1000 Guineas on Hermosa.

Ken Condon won the Group 2 Minstrel Stakes with Romanised, then took him to France, and Billy Lee drove him home in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois.  Ger Lyons took Mustajeer to York in August and Colin Keane steered him to victory in the first £1 million Ebor, while Seamie Heffernan won his first Epsom Derby on Anthony Van Dyck. 

The Epsom Derby was at the start of the summer.  That seems like a little while ago now too.


© The Sunday Times, 3rd November 2019