THE inevitable has happened.
After Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s impressive State of the Nation address on March 17, it came as little surprise that this past weekend’s point-to-point meetings were halted by the IHRB (Irish Horseracing Board) on Friday.
Since Friday, March 13, horseracing was operating behind closed doors in Ireland. This was a situation that posed plenty of difficulties and point-to-point racing has become the latest sporting activity to be suspended.
This effectively means it’s uncertain if point-to-points will resume this season. The point-to-point season was scheduled to end on June 1, so it may happen that we won’t have point-to-points again until the 2020/21 season commences in early October.
The British have already abandoned the remainder of their point-to-point campaign.
Obviously, public health has to come first. Of course. But, it’s a pity that the season has been curtailed as the hunt racing sphere received a major boost at the recent Cheltenham festival as Irish point-to-point graduates won no less than 11 out of the 28 races.
Of those 11, seven horses were successful at Grade 1 level in Cheltenham. There are just 14 Grade 1 races at the festival every year.
Irish point-to-point graduates winning 50% of the Grade 1 races at Cheltenham is terrific news for those at the grassroots of the domestic point-to-point industry.
Rebecca Curtis propelled herself back into the big-time league by sending out Lisnagar Oscar to win the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 12.
Lisnagar Oscar was bred by Dinny Fitzgerald from Fermoy. It was the hugely-popular Fitzgerald that sent out Lisnagar Oscar, a son of Oscar, to win a Liscarroll five-year-old geldings’ maiden on debut in March 2018 and the bay was bought for £105, 000 by Miss Curtis at the Goffs UK Aintree sale a few weeks later.
Honeysuckle maintained her unbeaten record for Henry de Bromhead by bravely beating Benie Des Dieux in the Grade 1 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day at Cheltenham. Honeysuckle started her career with Co Down handler Jerry Cosgrave by winning a four-year-old mares’ maiden at Dromahane with Mark O’Hare in April 2018.
The Willie Mullins-trained Ferny Hollow announced himself in no uncertain manner by capturing the Grade 1 Cheltenham festival bumper on Wednesday evening and the son of Westerner made a stunning debut in a two and a half mile four-year-old maiden with Jimmy O’Rourke at Knockanard in February of last year.
Ferny Hollow was trained at the time by Colin Bowe and the Milestone Stables handler most meritoriously also started off two other Cheltenham festival winners in points in the unbeaten Envoi Allen and Samcro.
Those aforementioned Cheltenham winners were some of the ‘stand-out’ horses running in point-to-points over the past few seasons. But, who exactly are the horses that ran in point-to-points this season that could develop into top-notch Grade 1 performers over the next couple of years?
Bob Olinger is one. A son of Sholokhov, Bob Olinger made a victorious debut for handler Pat Doyle in a Turtulla four-year-old maiden in mid-November when he beat Mount Oscar by 15 lengths.
Bob Olinger was purchased a few weeks later by Henry de Bromhead and the Ken Parkhill-bred bay had little more than exercise canter on his track debut in a two and a quarter mile point-to-point bumper at Gowran Park earlier this month when he dismissed Coqolino by an unchallenged 10 lengths. Bob Olinger, representing Robcour, seems to have abundant reserves of speed stamina and he’s likely to take high order over hurdles next term.
Amarillo Sky really set pulses racing by obliging on his career debut in a division of the Borris House four-year-old maiden on March 1.
By Westerner, the white-faced bay Amarillo Sky was under the care of reigning champion handler Colin Bowe and he gave an assured round of fencing from the front with Barry O’Neill to deny Tag Man by three parts of a length. Amarillo Sky, a €50,000 graduate of last year’s Goffs Land Rover sale, was then bought by agent Ross Doyle for £280,000 at the Cheltenham festival sale. The indications are that Amarillo Sky will be going into training with Colin Tizzard.
The Kirkistown course on the Ard Peninsula poses a proper test and the Cormac Farrell-trained Holymacapony created a very favourable impression by sluicing home on his initial outing in the four-year-old maiden at the North Down Hunt Club meeting at the galloping left-handed course on February 8.
Holymacapony, a first-crop son of Libertarian, led from the fourth fence and he overcame a couple of serious blunders to beat Grady Hollow in the style of a formidable staying type.
It’s probable that Holymacapony will continue his career in Ireland and this close relation to Wayward Lad should develop into a smart chasing prospect over the next couple of years.
Florida Pearl started his career by winning a four-year-old maiden point at Lismore whilst Best Mate was also in action at the famed West Waterford Foxhounds course. This year, the Lismore four-year-old maiden attracted eight runners and the Pat Doyle-trained grey Petibonome ultimately came home as he pleased by 12 lengths.
Disqualification, however, was inevitable as Petibonome went the wrong side of a doll after two out. Petibonome, who shares his sire Al Namix with Petit Mouchoir, seems a horse with abundant reserves of speed and stamina and he likewise is another to keep an eye out for next season.