Racing Preview: Naas, an early look by Will Reilly

Naas is the venue for the first race meeting in Ireland since the Covid-19-induced lockdown

Will Reilly takes a look at the five-day entries for the opening meeting of the 2020 turf flat season in Ireland, which will take place at Naas on Monday March 23rd and is due to begin at 2pm.


New Season Starts In Worrying Times

The turf flat season in Ireland is due to begin on Monday March 23rd at Naas against a backdrop of vigilance and concern over the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak.

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.

The feature race at Naas is the €77,500 Group 3 Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes (4:30pm). The seven-race card is then made up of the €47,000 Devoy Stakes (Listed Race, 4pm), three maiden races and two handicaps, one of them being the €50,000 Naas Racecourse Business Club Madrid Handicap (3:30pm, for three-year-olds).


Park Express Stakes

Ger Lyons generally has his horses fit and well for the start of the season and he has the 97-rated Even So entered for the Park Express. Owned by the Coolmore operation, she won a maiden at Gowran Park on her second start last season.

By Epsom Derby hero Camelot, she is 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.

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.

Jim Bolger’s Cerro Bayo could also run. 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.


Devoy Stakes

In the Devoy Stakes, 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 could also make the line-up. He is by Frankel and his grand-dam, Nebraska Tornado, won the 2003 Group 1 French Oaks and Group 1 Prix du Moulin.


Opening Race

In the first of the maidens, at 2pm – the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden, the first two-year-old race of the season, run over a distance of five furlongs – champion trainer Aidan O’Brien has made five initial entries, including Duke Of Mantua, a No Nay Never half-brother to six winners, Giorgio Vasari, who is by Air Force Blue and is a half-brother to Group 1 Phoenix Stakes winner, Sioux Nation, and Lippizaner, who is by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo out of an Australian Group 1 winner.

Aidan’s son Donnacha could have his first runner on turf as a trainer with Falsaron, a son of Scat Daddy, having been entered for the contest.


Potential Champions?

Aidan’s entries in the Naas Nursery of Champions Maiden (2:30pm for 3yo and upwards) are Knight Of Malta (who finished fourth on his debut last season, which came at Naas), a three-year-old son of War Front out of Was, the 2012 Epsom Oaks winner, St James’s Square (unplaced on his debut at Naas) who is also a son of War Front (out of a US Grade-1 winner) and Eden Quay, a Scat Daddy filly that cost 600,000 guineas, who finished third when sent off as favourite on her debut, which also came at Naas. She’s a full-sister to the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes and Group 1 July Cup winner, Ten Sovereigns.

Joseph O’Brien’s Bright Idea could also take part in the six-furlong contest. The son of Zoffany has been placed in maidens at The Curragh and Gowran Park from three runs in his career so far.


Madrid Handicap

The Madrid Handicap (3:30pm), which is run over seven furlongs, 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 race has received 25 entries at the five-day stage, with the weights currently being 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.

Next in the list are Aidan O’Brien’s Cormorant and Jim Bolger’s Real Appeal (both rated 95), followed by Aidan O‘Brien’s Toronto (93) and Vatican City (93), who created such a good impression when winning a maiden at Dundalk on October 30th.

He is by Galileo out of You’resothrilling, which makes him a full-brother to dual 2,000 Guineas-winner, Gleneagles, Irish 1,000 Guineas-winner, Marvellous, dual Group 1-winner, Happily, dual-Australian Group 2 winner, Taj Mahal, and Irish Group 3 winner, Coolmore.

Aidan’s other entries are Hong Kong, San Pedro and recent wide-margin Dundalk winner, United Front, while Joseph O’Brien’s three possible runners are Bright Idea, Latin Five and Dark Vader, who has been performing so well at Dundalk this year.


Good Start, Tough Times

In racing terms, it all adds up to a good way start the turf flat season in Ireland, albeit against a sombre and sobering time of uncertainty and concern in the country at large.

Hopefully, the coming days and weeks will bring much better news.

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*Odds were correct at time of publishing the article