THE Cheltenham Festival was fantastic from an Irish perspective with Irish trainers recording a record 19 winners and breeders securing 12 Irish-bred winners through the week.
That’s last week’s news though and we now have to look forward to the Fairyhouse, Mallow, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals.
The feature for many Irish racegoers over the coming weeks will be the Irish Grand National on April 17. The race is now worth a record €500,000, making it the most valuable national hunt race ever to be run in this country. However, there is inevitably going to be one common feature surrounding the three-mile, five-furlong showpiece – the 30 strong field is likely to be dominated by two owners, Gigginstown House Stud and JP McManus.
O’Leary and McManus are responsible for 49 of the 124 entries and Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins have 40 entries between them. Following a successful raid on Prestbury Park last week, both trainers will turn their attention to the Irish Trainer’s Championship, a race that Elliott leads by €400,000. The Irish National appears to be Mullins’ only chance of reeling in Elliott but considering the Meath trainer has dominated Irish Handicap Chases this year, it could be a furlong hope. Elliott has won the Galway Plate, Munster National, Kerry National, Paddy Power Chase, Leopardstown Chase and the Troytown Chase so far this season, all with huge purses. Of course, he has the numbers too.
Remember, he fielded no less than 11 of the 25 runners in the Troytown at Navan last November (won by Empire of Dirt who finished fourth behind Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair) so the question remains – how many will he run in the Irish National?
Tony Mullins came out in favour of rectifying such a problem this week by saying, “I thought it could be an idea to put a cap on the number of horses representing one owner in a major handicap, rather than the major owners having upwards of 20 runners in a race like the Irish Grand National or a Galway Plate.”
This comes on the back of a Grade 3 Novice Chase run at Naas on March 12th when 4 horses went to post – all wearing the maroon and white of Gigginstown.
Referring to Mulins’ statement, Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh replied, “my view would be that if a horse is qualified for a race you can’t turn around and tell an owner their horse cannot run. You set out the conditions for a race and if a horse is qualified it should be entitled to run no matter who owns it. A series of auction races have been set up on the Flat for horses who cost €70,000 or less at the sales and that should help the smaller trainers on the Flat. Something similar could potentially work over jumps.”
Perhaps, but something must be done soon to aid the middle to lower tier trainers as the logistics of training a small number of horses simply no longer add up.
While National Hunt fans catch their breath, the first turf meeting of the new flat season kicks off at Naas this Sunday. Traditionally, the Irish Lincolnshire meeting is held at the Curragh but as flat racing’s headquarters undergoes a much-needed facelift, another Kildare track is coming to the rescue.
Fozzy Stack saddles former winner and highly talented Onenightidreamed in the feature race and he’ll be hoping the horse could provide him with his first winner as a trainer since taking over the license from his legendary father Tommy. The lightly raced son of Footstepsinthesand is reliant on soft ground and despite bearing the burden of top weight, he will certainly get his preferred conditions this weekend.
The first two-year-old maiden of the season always attracts plenty of attention and one trainer that often farms these events early in the year is Jim Bolger. Bolger is often quick off the starting blocks with his maidens and one would expect the master of Coolcullen to hold his form in Sunday’s opening race.
Andrew Slattery’s Creggs Pipes should have every chance in the Group 3 Lodge Park Stud EBF Park Express Stakes On the same card. She began last season off a rating of just 77, but won four races on the trot and runs off a mark of 105 this weekend on ground that won't hinder her chances.
Closer to home, Liscarroll host their annual point to point meeting this Sunday with the first race going to post at 2pm. This particular race day is a little bit special this year, as the committee pay homage to the Churchtown native and legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien who would be celebrating his centenary birthday this year.
Dr O’Brien is widely regarded as the most influential individual in the world of horse racing - breaking all training records but is probably most renowned for helping to plant the seeds for what we now know as Coolmore.