The turf flat season in Ireland begins on Monday March 23rd at Naas against a backdrop of vigilance and concern over the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, writes Will Reilly.
So far, strict protocols have been steadfastly adhered to and racing will continue until such a time as the government and health officials determine otherwise.
It’s a case of so far, so good, but everything is being taken one meeting at a time.
We wish Naas well as they get the new campaign under way.
Their feature race is the €77,500 Group 3 Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes (4:30pm), but the card also contains the €47,000 Devoy Stakes (Listed Race, 4pm), three fascinating maiden races and two handicaps, one of them being the €50,000 Naas Racecourse Business Club Madrid Handicap (3:30pm, for three-year-olds).
2pm – Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden (2yo, 5f)
In the first of the maidens, the first two-year-old race of the season (so the runners are all making their racecourse debuts), Aidan O’Brien runs Lipizzaner, who is by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo out of an Australian Group 1 winner.
The great potential equaliser here is the going, which will have plenty of juice in it, not something that will necessarily suit all of these runners.
Jim Bolger runs Poetic Flare, who is by New Approach and a full-sister to Glamorous Approach, a Listed winner and Group 3-placed, has to be considered.
Michael Mulvany’s The Blue Panther is a half-brother to three winners and his dam won at Listed level. There are plenty of winners in the second line of the pedigree of Andy Slattery’s Boasting, while Brian Nolan’s Forever My Girl is a half-sister to two winners and Brendan Duke’s Marketta is a half-sister to four winners, although she is still a month shy of her third birthday. Brendan won this race two years ago.
Jim Bolger, who won this race in 2011, 2012 and 2013, also runs Allagar, but Poetic Flare looks the stable’s stronger option, while there are plenty of winners in the second line of Jazz Dreamers’ pedigree.
SELECTION: Aidan O’Brien’s Lipizzaner has, of course, to be respected but, in a race where it is largely a guessing game, I’ll side with POETIC FLARE
Prices for Naas can be found at www.baroneracing.com
2:30pm – Naas Nursery of Champions Maiden (3yo and upwards, 6f)
There has been only one winning favourite in this race in the last ten years although only one of the ten has been returned at bigger than 10/1.
Aidan O’Brien has won the race three times in the last nine years and Jim Bolger has won it three times in the last seven.
Aidan’s entry this year is Knight Of Malta, who finished fourth on his debut last season, which came at this track. He’s a three-year-old son of War Front out of Was, the 2012 Epsom Oaks winner.
Jim Bolger runs Sheer Bravado, who is by Fracas, who won the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and finished fourth in the Epsom Derby and whose grand-dam won on her debut and went on to win at Naas.
Jessica Harrington runs Grizzly, who finished a promising fourth on his Curragh debut in October (Woodford General finished eighth in the race) and has been gelded since that run and, also, will race in a first-time tongue-tie today.
That day, Grizzly looked as though he would appreciate further than six furlongs, although this is probably not a bad starting point for the season.
Dermot Weld runs the newcomer Eshtiya, whose dam won at Listed level and whose grand-dam has produced a Group 2 and 3 winner. It’s a nice pedigree so she is respected.
David Geary’s Getawiggleon has been placed twice from seven starts so has shown some ability and this will be just his third run over six furlongs, a trip that might suit for now.
Johnny Murtagh’s Misterio showed promise at Dundalk on her debut 45 days ago so at least has some racecourse experience.
Tom McCourt’s Ecclesiastical showed promise last year when with Martyn Meade but cost current only 14,000 guineas at the sales.
SELECTION: Sheer Bravado, Grizzly and Eshtiya could all go well but I will side with KNIGHT OF MALTA
3pm – Naas Racecourse Launches The 2020 Irish Flat Season Handicap (3yo+, 7f)
The eye is drawn here to Damian English’s Mokhalad, who is the only course-and-distance winner in the line-up. He won from today’s rating of 81 over one mile at Bellewstown in July and finished a head behind Arcanears here over five furlongs in November and is now 18 pounds better off at the weights. The latter enjoyed a good winter at Dundalk, winning from a rating of 79 in January, but will run here off 88.
Joseph O’Brien’s Dark Vader is progressive and has enjoyed a good winter at Dundalk, winning twice. It will be interesting to see how he copes with turf and his new rating of 92.
Fozzy Stack’s Starlite Dancer ran a blinder to finish third at the Galway Festival in August and, although still a maiden, is lightly raced for a four-year-old.
Tresorier has dropped to an interesting rating. Hathiq won twice last year, from ratings of 84 and 90 (now 94) but, like Arcanears and the lightly-raced Sendmylovetoyou, has never run over today’s trip.
Fastar’s rating makes him competitive if he’s near his best, Mary Salome has shown that she can run well from her current rating, and Dermot Weld’s Titanium Sky finished second in a Listed race at Galway last August and could go well in what will be her first handicap appearance.
SELECTION: It’s a guessing game at this stage of the season but MOKHALAD is likely to have been primed for this and can go well.
3:30pm – €50,000 Naas Racecourse Business Club Madrid Handicap (3yo, 7f)
This race has been won by just one favourite in the last ten years, Aidan O’Brien’s Francis Of Assissi (11/10) in 2013, although no winner in the last ten years has been returned at bigger than 12/1.
It was first run at Naas in 2017. Prior to that, it was run at The Curragh.
The weights are headed by Luke Comer’s 102-rated Fan Club Rules, who wasn’t disgraced in Group 2 and 3 company when trained in France last year.
Aidan O’Brien runs Hong Kong, a $1million American Pharoah colt who won his maiden here last year but then ran unplaced in Group company.
Jim Bolger runs Real Appeal, who won a Listed Race in France last May but has only had three runs for Jim since joining him in July. He has been gelded since his last run.
The King Of Kells will have a fitness advantage following a good run at Dundalk ten days ago and he is well drawn. Elusive King won a maiden here in November but finished 6.5 lengths behind Hong Kong on his debut.
The Peckhampouncer won a Tipperary handicap when rated 79 (now 85) in August and has been gelded since his last run. Lustown Baba showed a good attitude and a liking for soft/heavy going when winning the valuable Foran Equine final here over today’s trip in October. She then finished third in a nursery here when rated 84 (still rated 84) just three days later. She, too, is well drawn.
Justina was only beaten a length on her handicap bow, which came at the Galway Festival in August, and she is now rated two pounds lower. She hasn’t been seen since that run but her trainer will, no doubt, exploit what seems a fair rating at some pint.
Justina is also substantially better off at the weights for the half-length that In From The Cold beat her at Galway. The latter – like The King Of Kells, trained by Michael Mulvany – went on to win over today’s course and distance nine runs later from a rating of 72 and is now rated 79.
Cardinal Rule has shown promise in all three unplaced starts and will race for Francis Flood and in cheek-pieces for the first time, although he’s been drawn quite wide in stall eleven.
Using literal form lines involving a horse called Love Locket, Wild Cherry looks favourably weighted with In From The Cold, while Bella Brazil was narrowly beaten from today’s rating at Newcastle in January and Varna Gold has it to prove at the moment but has been gelded since his last run.
In From The Cold (by one pound), Cardinal Rule (by 3lbs), Wild Cherry (3lbs), Bella Brazil (6lbs) and Varna Gold (10lbs) will all be racing from out of the handicap today.
SELECTION: We are talking three-year-olds, so there will be a number of runners that step up on previous form this time around but, given his good draw, the nice prize on offer and the fact that he has had a recent run THE KING OF KELLS is selected to run well
4pm – €47,000 Devoy Stakes (Listed Race, (4yo+, 10f)
Aidan O’Brien’s Sir Dragonet (117) is rated some way clear of his rivals, his form including a Group 3 Chester Vase win, an Epsom Derby fifth (beaten just three-quarters of a length) and an English St Leger fourth.
Dermot Weld’s Brogue, a Cork maiden winner on his only start, is unexposed and could go well. He is by Frankel and his grand-dam, Nebraska Tornado, won the 2003 Group 1 French Oaks and Group 1 Prix du Moulin.
SELECTION: SIR DRAGONET
4:30pm – €77,500 Group 3 Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes (3yo+, one mile)
Ger Lyons generally has his horses fit and well for the start of the season and he runs two here, with his main hope seeming to be the 97-rated Even So. Owned by the Coolmore operation, she won a maiden at Gowran Park on her second start last season. She holds entries for the English 1,000 Guineas and Irish Oaks.
As you might expect, she is nicely-bred, being by Epsom Derby hero Camelot out of a daughter of the dam (Rose Of Jericho) of another Epsom Derby winner, Dr Devious.
Aidan O’Brien has the 102-rated Blissful in the race. She won a Listed contest at Leopardstown in September before finishing sixth in the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket later in the same month.
She holds entries for the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas and Irish Oaks,
The highest-rated filly in the race (rated 102) is Michael Halford’s Hamariyna, who won the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown last April, for which she has to carry a three-pound penalty here.
Jim Bolger runs Cerro Bayo. The daughter of Dansili won on her only start so far and she is a half-sister to winners that include a French Group 2 scorer and the UAE Oaks and Derby winner, Khawlaah.
Ger Lyons’ second runner is Gowran Park maiden winner Lemista, and she, like the 95-rated Annie Fior and 92-rated Kiss For A Jewel, will have to improve on what they achieved last year in order to win.
Finally, Raven’s Cry has 5.25 lengths to make up on Blissful from when they met at Leopardstown in September. She holds an Irish Oaks entry.
Miss Myers won a Limerick maiden and then finished sixth behind Lustown Baba (who runs earlier in the card) last time. Her Irish 1,000 Guineas and Irish Oaks entries seem a bit ambitious at the moment.
SELECTION: EVEN SO
5pm – Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden (Plus 10 Race, 3yo, 8f)
Let’s spin through the runners…
Chimeric – Sheila Lavery – A newcomer; there are five winners in the second line of his pedigree; his grand-dam won two Group 2 races and a Group 3
Comfort Line – Michael Mulvany – He improved to finish second in a Dundalk handicap when rated 73 last time; more will be needed but at least it was a step in the right direction
Cool As Ever – Barry Murphy – By No Nay Never out of a Fastnet Rock mare, he cost 40,000 guineas at the sales
Dheisheh – Johnny Murtagh – A May foal, he’s a half-brother to five flat winners; has been gelded
El Beatle – Edward Harty – He’s a half-brother to five flat winners, including a three-time Group 3 winner
Emiyn – Dermot Weld – A May foal, he finished a good fourth on his debut here over one mile, beaten 1.25 lengths; his dam won a Group 3 race and is from an HH Aga Khan-bred family that is packed full of winners
Fraterculus – Jim Bolger – He’s a brother to Theobald, a four-time Dundalk winner and twice placed at Group 3 level on turf
Gregory’s Gift – Seamus Fahey – There are three winners in the second line of his pedigree but, overall, he’ll probably be amongst the outsiders here
Irish Master – Jessica Harrington – By Mastercraftsman, his grand-dam finished third in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes and was beaten a short head in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes
Isaiah – John Oxx – A Camelot gelding making his debut, he’s a half-brother to a winner and there are a further three flat winners in the second line of his pedigree
Legal Reform – Jim Bolger – A half-brother to a winner and his grand-dam has produced a Group 1 2yo winner
Lobo Rojo – Jessica Harrington – He’s a half-brother to two winners, including a French Group 3 winner
Lough Cutra – Ger Lyons – He finished second, beaten half-a-length, in a Curragh maiden on his debut, which was a promising run; his grand-dam (Group 3 winner Eva Luna) has produced such horses as Group 2 winner, Sea Moon, and Group 1 winner (Racing Post Trophy and English St Leger), Brian Boru
Overload – Luke Comer – By Ivawood out of a New Approach mare, the market might provide your best guide to his chance
Russian Emperor – Aidan O’Brien – He’s by Galileo out of a Fastnet Rock mare and showed plenty of promise when third of 12 to Iberia on his Curragh debut; Iberia went on to be twice placed in Group company; he holds entries for the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby
Thekeyisnottopanic – CWJ Farrell – He’s a half-brother to two winners, one of them a Listed winner, and his dam won a Listed level, too
Timourid – Dermot Weld – He was beaten 4.5 lengths when fourth on his Gowran Park debut; by Gleneagles, he is a half-brother to one winner and there are four more winners in the second line of his pedigree
Karrakatta – Charles O’Brien – She’s a half-sister to two winners, both of them trained by Charles O’Brien
Rizannon – John McConnell – She is a half-sister to two winners and her dam won a Dundalk claimer
Requinto Decks – Thomas Coyle – There are no winners in the first two lines of his pedigree so he’s likely to be amongst the outsiders today
Princess Grace – Gavin Cromwell – She has finished unplaced on all three starts so far, so will need to build on those runs in order to get involved today; she’s by Australian Group 1-winning two-year-old Shooting To Win
Red Kelly – Third Reserve for race– Johnny Murtagh – He’s finished unplaced in two mile maiden races (he’s bred for middle-distances) and is a half-brother to four winners, including the 2015 Ebor winner Litigant
SELECTION: It is hard to get away from the claims of RUSSIAN EMPEROR
SUMMARY OF SELECTIONS:
2pm – POETIC FLARE – It’s a guessing game but trainer Jim Bolger is adept at getting 2yos ready
2:30pm – KNIGHT OF MALTA – Aidan O’Brien’s sole representative in the race
3pm – MOKHALAD – Looks to be on a fair mark
3:30pm – THE KING OF KELLS – Won’t lack for fitness and has scope for further improvement
4pm – SIR DRAGONET – Will probably be a short price to win
4:30pm – EVEN SO (NB) – Is likely to be primed for a good run in the card’s big race
5pm – RUSSIAN EMPEROR (NAP) – He appears to stand out