1. Juveniles star in big weekends for Lyons and Harrington
With the Aidan O’Brien team in unusually quiet form heading into Irish Champions Weekend, the opportunity was in the offing for other trainers to make their mark. Both Ger Lyons and Jessica Harrington did that in remarkable fashion, accounting for half of the winners over the weekend, sharing seven of the eight winners at Leopardstown.
There was a sense that Lyons especially, who went racing for the first time in a long time on Saturday, had prepared a lovely team. His highlight winner was Atomic Jones, who showed a brilliant attitude again to see off multiple challengers in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes, and is seen as next year’s horse by his in-form handler. The Meath-based trainer is operating at an excellent 21% strike rate this season with 65 wins inside the trainers’ championship.
Just ahead of him in third place is Harrington, who has a whole month to break and extend her record number of winners in a calendar year (70). Interestingly, Harrington hasn’t had a marquee year with her juveniles - currently on 15 wins compared 29 last year - and yet she was still able to secure a Group 1 with Discoveries, the latest from the Alpha Lupi line that has already produced stars Alpha Centauri and Alpine Star. By winning a Group 1 as a juvenile, Discoveries achieved something her two siblings didn’t, so the future could be even brighter for her.
2. Super St Mark’s but will we see him race again?
And yet, despite the overall form of Ballydoyle, they still came away with the marquee race of the weekend with very much their marquee horse. St Mark’s Basilica remained unbeaten in the Irish Champion Stakes and now has Group 1 wins in three different countries this season.
That he was the only winner for Aidan O’Brien over the weekend is symbolic of the season for Ballydoyle. Not for the first time this term they have been going through a quiet spell - just one win now for last 45 runs prior to racing today - and yet O’Brien has already sent out 16 Group/Grade 1 winners, already one more than he accrued for all 2021.
It is very unlikely we will see St Mark’s Basilica contribute to next year’s tally given there is a Galileo-sized void to fill in the breeding sheds of Coolmore, but will we even get to see the son of Siyouni race again at all?
“We’re so lucky to have him, and it’s to keep him safe now and have him go off to stud, which is going to be very exciting for us all,” was the line from O’Brien post race that wouldn’t inspire confidence that the five-time Group 1 winner will see the racecourse again, which would be a pity, not least because a rematch between him and both Mishriff and Addeybb in the British Champion Stakes would be another race to savour.
3. Appleby’s trusty Trail leads to another National success
We should be seeing plenty more of Native Trail who looked booked for third in the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at one late stage of the seven-furlong contest, but then went into overdrive to completely overpower Point Lonsdale and Group 1 Phoenix Stakes winner Ebro River.
That was a third win in the National Stakes for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin in just four years and each of those winners arrived at the Curragh after winning the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket. A 210,000 guineas breeze-up purchase, the son of Oasis Dream is three from three this term but very much shapes like he will be even better next season, especially given the style of his two Group wins. He is 6/4 for the Dewhurst Stakes and 5/1 for the 2000 Guineas and it’s hard to argue with both of those assessments.
4. Fast Eddie Flying again
From a relatively small yard and from buying horses at relatively small price tags, Eddie Lynam yet again showed his prowess in guiding a sprinter through the ranks right up to Group 1 glory when Romantic Proposal burst through to win the Flying Five Stakes.
Interestingly the daughter of Raven’s Pass, initially bought for €25,000 as a foal by Lynam’s daughter Amy, did her racing over a mile and her first win came over seven furlongs. Since then, she has been moulded by Lynam, gradually moving down in trip and up in class. She was beaten in the Bold Lad Handicap off a mark of 91 here 12 months ago but now holds a rating of 112.
This is Lynam’s eight Group 1 win and all of those previous wins have been attained over five or six furlongs, through stalwarts Sole Power and Slade Power. He also trained Soffia to finish fifth in the Flying Five in 2019, having won the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes over five furlongs on her previous run. Prior to this season, he hadn’t broke the 20-winner mark in six years but may well have proven himself again to potential owners. If you were looking for someone to train your potentially good sprinter, surely Lynam would have to be towards the top of your list.
5. Twomey efficiency
Paddy Twomey just had a Paddy Twomey type of weekend. Three runners, two seconds and one win. That’s the trainer in a nutshell - ultra selective, efficient and pin point. He has had just 51 runs this season but has trained 15 winners for a 29% strike rate. More impressively he has accrued over €500,000 in prize money. That has him in 11th in the overall table and if you look at the names around him - Fozzy Stack, Noel Meade, Willie McCreery and Ado McGuinness - they’ve all ran at least three times as many horses as him.
This has been a huge year for Twomey, gaining his first Group 3 with Sonaiyla in the Ballyogan Stakes in June, before adding three more wins at that level and going so close to a top level victory with Pearls Galore, runner-up in the Matron Stakes on Saturday.
That progressive filly has more to offer at the top level and should get at least one more chance this season, as will La Petite Coco, who broke new ground for Twomey with a Group 2 win in the Blandford Stakes, taking the scalp of Love. She likely heads for the Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot next and that will provide a real chance of a top level victory as well.
6. Murtagh uses ICW to punch another Group 1 win
Sonnyboyliston cost just €26,000. In the last month he won an Ebor and an Irish St Leger, and brought his owners, the Kildare Racing Club, in €637,000. Not bad at all is it?
He’s also brought his ever progressive trainer Johnny Murtagh another Group 1 success, 12 months after his first as a trainer when Champers Elysees swept to the front to claim the Matron Stakes. And he’s also brought the highly promising Ben Coen a first Group 1 victory, perhaps the first of many.
Needless to say, Murtagh is a trainer on the up and though still 12 winners short of his tally for 2020, he has already bettered his prize money earnings year on year this term. That attests to the extra quality in the yard these days - he attained the backing of His Highness the Aga Khan at the beginning of the year - and presumably he has a few more juveniles to run before the Irish season comes to a close.
Sadly, it seems Sonnyboyliston won’t be heading for the Melbourne Cup, with the extra protocols in place by both Racing Victoria in terms of racing and the Australian Government in terms of general travelling making it too difficult. He would have had a lovely profile for the race, as an Ebor and Irish St Leger winner, and while connections can hope to travel down in the coming years, there is always the sense there that you need to strike while the iron is hot.
7. Interference rules
Both the Irish Champion Stakes and Matron Stakes, the two Group 1s on the Leopardstown card, had a stewards enquiry called. Unsurprisingly, both enquiries resulted in no altering of the official result and that will be a source of frustration to some, particularly connections and backers of Tarnawa and Mother Earth.
The case of the latter was more clear cut after Shane Foley allowed No Speak Alexander to drift left late on, stopping the run of the favourite up the rail. Foley received a five-day ban but significantly kept the race and there lies the contentious point. If you offered him his five days back instead of a Group 1 win, he’d probably laugh at such a proposition. Every jockey would. Colin Keane was more than happy to give up two weeks of action to go and ride Siskin in the Sussex Stakes last season. The Group 1s are where it is at and excusing the pun, if the juice is worth the squeeze, every jockey will go as close to the line and drift over it if they feel it will win the day.
So the problem doesn’t lie with the jockeys. They’re just doing what every sports person operating at the highest level would do. The problem is in the rules and there is a fair case to make that they should be stricter, or at least strict enough to deter such close-off manoeuvres in the late stages of a race.
8. Arc clues - Tarnawa best case for glory in Paris
It was a big weekend for the Arc market, with contrasting performances among the top principles for the race next month. Most notably Snowfall was defeated in the Prix Vermeille, which was run at a slow pace (Frankie Dettori certainly thought so when cutting a frustrated figure after the race), and it was Teona who emerged a comprehensive winner on the day. That prompted a drift in Snowfall’s odds for the Arc (11/2 top price now) after both Tarnawa and Hurricane Lane had boosted their credentials further on Saturday.
Hurricane Lane was superb in the St Leger and though winners of that classic have a very bad record in Paris, he’s lightly enough raced and clearly will be a big contender if allowed to run. It’s no surprise to see Tarnawa favourite though. She ran an excellent trial for the race in the Irish Champion Stakes, held up off a steady pace before making more ground than her two main rivals in the straight. The inkling before Saturday was that she’s better at a mile and a half and it's a case of ‘so far so good’ in her ultimate plan this season, which has revolved around the Arc.
Deep Bond did it nicely from the front in the Prix Foy and will add an extra dimension to the race as a Japanese hope, while we shouldn’t discount the effort of Teona. She was all the rage at the start of the season and while not able to replicate the hype on the track, she has been given a break and come back brilliantly, with a comfortable win at Windsor and now she’s a Group 1-winning three-year-old filly over the Arc course and distance. She will be a player if given the chance.
An obvious one to start but Rohaan’s run in the Flying Five was arguably one of the best efforts of the weekend. David Evans’s three-year-old completely fluffed the start and must have been at least 10 lengths away from any horse a furlong into the race. He then proceeded to quickly make ground on the field and absolutely flew home to be fifth, just under three lengths away from Romantic Proposal. The son of Mayson has already had a remarkable year, improving 60lbs in the ratings and by the evidence of this run, his first over five furlongs, he could have even more improvement again.
There was drama in the first race of the weekend when Voice Of Angels took a bad step and unshipped Shane Crosse before running loose in the Ingabelle Stakes. Limiti Di Greccio was possibly the most inconvenienced by the free-running grey, who pushed her wide just as they began their turn out of the back straight. Paddy Twomey’s filly went on to finish a closing-in second to Panama Red and it’s not a bold call to suggest she would have won were it not for her earlier interference. She remains an exciting filly and could have a say in a Group 3 or Group 2 race before the season finishes up.
Finally, Fev Rover returned to some of her best form when flying home late on to finish second in the Group 2 Boomerang Mile. She ran a little freely on her first run coming off a break but still finished fastest in the straight and was only just denied by the course specialist winner Real Appeal. Despite some notable performances in soft ground her trainer Richard Fahey has maintained she is much better served by quick ground and she proved that here.
10. Set up at Leopardstown should provide platform for other courses
Leopardstown hosted around 4,000, or probably just below that number on Saturday, and had no problem at all dealing with a crowd despite not using the majority of indoor facilities. The day felt quite normal in many respects with bookmakers back and no masks required for people to wear outside.
There were lots of tents erected and places for people to sit down while the only qualm would have been the often long queues for the coffee/snack van outside the parade ring. Why they can’t have multiple options to facilitate demand at all times is a source of frustration for many.
There is a 2,000 cap on attendance for each day of Listowel next week, given the track cannot cope with use of its indoor facilities for any more people. The next big marquee meeting on the Irish racing calendar is Down Royal’s big jumps fixture at the end of October which will likely attract a big crowd, while after that the big jumps fixtures are likely to prove popular and arrive after October 22nd when the majority of restrictions are due to be lifted by the government.