Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Ballydoyle having it all their own way

Paucity of opposition to O'Brien's dominant string becoming a worry

Published 21/07/2014 | 02:30

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Bracelet, centre, with Colm O'Donoghue up, on their way to winning the Darley Irish Oaks from second place Volume, with Kevin Manning up, right, and third place Tapestry, with Joseph O'Brien up. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Bracelet, centre, with Colm O'Donoghue up, on their way to winning the Darley Irish Oaks from second place Volume, with Kevin Manning up, right, and third place Tapestry, with Joseph O'Brien up. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Colm O'Donoghue kept things brilliantly simple in driving Bracelet to a neck triumph over stablemate Tapestry in Saturday's Darley Irish Oaks as Aidan O'Brien strengthened his stranglehold on the Irish Classics.

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A native of Buttevant in Co Cork, O'Donoghue has long been one of Ballydoyle's most trusted deputies.

He won a French 2,000 Guineas on Astronomer Royal in 2007 and added an Irish Derby on Treasure Beach in 2011, before embarking on a six-month stint in Hong Kong last autumn.

The 33-year-old has slotted back into his old routine since returning in the New Year, so this was another deserved success for a stylish rider, who looked as though he might get the nod to replace Johnny Murtagh as the Aga Khan's retained rider in 2012.

In the end, he got passed over in favour of the former champion jockey Declan McDonogh.

In the absence of Taghrooda, Saturday's Group One held up well in terms of quality. Bracelet's sole defeat in her last five runs came when Ballydoyle's runners were mostly below par in the 1,000 Guineas, and she had shown how tough she was by fending off Lustrous in the Ribblesdale Stakes.

Lustrous didn't cut it in the Curragh's showpiece and Tarfasha failed to replicate her Epsom display with a tame fifth. Nonetheless, the Epsom third, Volume, upheld the Oaks form with a brave front-running turn to be third again, as Tapestry built on her positive Coronation Stakes effort in second.

By bagging his third win of the year in the four traditional Irish Classics and saddling three of the first four home, O'Brien again succeeded where so many of his local rivals continue to fail.

FOURTH

His fourth Oaks was his 30th victory in the premier three-year-olds' only contests, with just seven of O'Brien's indigenous peers succeeding in that sphere since Classic Park gave him his first in 1997.

Bracelet's win followed three successive Ballydoyle victories that came to an end with Moonstone in 2008. Since 2000, only Jim Bolger (Margarula, 2002) and Paddy Mullins (Vintage Tipple, 2003) have joined O'Brien in keeping the home fire burning, and Mullins is sadly no longer with us.

Bolger is also the only Irish-based handler other than O'Brien to land the Irish Derby (Trading Leather, 2013) in the last 10 years, while the last non-Ballydoyle-based horse to claim the Irish 2,000 Guineas was Dermot Weld's Flash Of Steel all of 28 years ago. It was also Weld who last struck a blow for the remainder in the Irish 1,000 Guineas with Bethrah in 2010.

Of course, Weld, Bolger and John Oxx have plundered some memorable Irish coups on the English Classic scene in recent times, and Classic horses are meant to be hard found.

Still, it is frustrating that there is such a paucity of meaningful domestic opposition to the Ballydoyle juggernaut, especially when the Tipperary firm has been slightly less than its usual indestructible self this term.

That O'Brien was able to plunder the lion's share of the €400,000 spoils with his perceived third string is further proof of why foreign handlers don't come in more forceful numbers.

Luca Cumani and Richard Hannon were represented this time, with the Oaks going off 21 minutes late after the stewards spotted that Cumani's Volume was sporting 'trailer' shoes, which have a slight extension on the outer flank to help counterbalance a horse that has a tendency to rub its heels together.

Irish racing's record at getting races off on time is shocking at the best of times, but this was an unnecessary circus that would have been avoided if the shoes had simply been checked earlier.

Pieces of tack obviously cannot be checked until the horse is tacked up and walking around the parade ring, but for the stewards to wait until then to inspect a foreign runner's shoes when there is a discrepancy in what sort of footwear is permitted in different countries is not good enough.

On the topic of tack, Tapestry's chance wasn't helped by the fact that hers slipped back badly.

That is something prone to happening with saddles that are tellingly referred to as postage stamps, and it duly transpired that the champion jockey Joseph O'Brien weighed in 1.6lb overweight.

Given that Tapestry was beaten by just a neck, those who backed her would be entitled to feel hard done by.

SALES FIGURES DISTORT INDUSTRY REALITY

As ever, an unashamedly positive slant accompanied the release of Horse Racing Ireland's six-month industry figures on Friday.

A whopping 42pc year-on-year rise in activity at public sales to €36.6m was the headline digit.

However, much of the sales turnover is generated by export trade. That is obviously a huge boon for vendors, but, allied with established practice that might readily be described as dubious, sales returns cannot be trusted as an accurate indicator of the sport at large, or even of sales activity itself.

Plenty of sale-topping figures are buybacks or orchestrated buy-ins, and you need only look at Doncaster Bloodstock Sale's twitter account to see how it passed off Slade Power as a sales success story, advertising how Eddie Lynam had "bought" the colt there for "just £5k" in 2010.

Lynam, in fact, had bred Slade Power along with David and Sabena Power. Thus, the Dutch Art yearling, although consigned independently by Grove Stud, was bought back after failing to generate an acceptable bid. The rest is history, but it certainly isn't the fairytale of a cheap colt.

Of the more meaningful barometers in the HRI stats, an 11pc upward turn in the performance of its in-house Tote facility was the star pupil, with a corresponding 5pc swell in attendances also splashed across the top.

However, there wasn't much else to cheer about, with total on-course betting, sponsorship, horses in training, active owners, entries and runners all down by between 1pc and 10pc.

The pace at which the indicators are dropping may be slowing, but this is still an industry in contraction.

CLASSY KOMPANY KEEPS ITS KOOL IN FRANCE

Richard Hannon and Richard Hughes completed a fine weekend's work at Maisons-Laffitte when Kool Kompany knuckled down gamely to claim the Group Two Prix Robert Papin.

Although the pacey Jeremy colt (13/5) didn't enjoy the unchallenged lead that he did en route to running out an impressive winner of the Curragh's Gain Railway Stakes last month, he certainly enhanced his reputation with this gutsy display. The previous afternoon at headquarters, Michael O'Callaghan's Railway fourth Rapid Applause ran Dick Whittington close in the Anglesey Stakes.

Dick Whittington was one of three winners on the Oaks card for Ballydoyle and Aidan O'Brien will doubtless have been pleased to see John Gosden's Western Hymn (8/5) run out an easy winner of the Group Two Grand Prix de Maisons-Lafitte over 10 furlongs under William Buick yesterday.

Unbeaten in three prior to Epsom, the High Chaparral colt had been slammed all of 10 lengths by Australia in the Derby, so this was further evidence of the year's exceptional Classic form.

HESKIN MAKES HAY ON DECISIVE WESTHAVEN

Adrian Heskin made a fair fist of the opportunity handed to him by Noel Meade at Tipperary yesterday when steering Westhaven to a decisive victory in the Tote-sponsored Galway Plate Trial.

With Paul Carberry injured and Davy Condon suspended, Meade, who initiated a 40/1 brace with the Barry Geraghty-ridden Rich Coast (11/4) in the opening maiden hurdle, secured Co Cork-born Heskin for two rides.

Thomond was no match for Willie Mullins' Paul Townend-ridden Indevan (15/8 fav) in the beginners' chase, but Westhaven was backed from a high of 20/1 into a 10/1 SP.

Heskin duly delivered with the minimum of fuss aboard Westhaven, which, incidentally, was not among the 60 entries unveiled recently for Wednesday week's Galway Plate.

"The boss will be very happy with that," admitted Nina Carberry, who this week revealed that she would continue to represent Meade on the racecourse after resigning her role as his assistant to ride work at Ballydoyle. "He was at the Meath match and he'll feel much better now!"

Carberry might even have doubled up in her saddling duties later on, as Aidan O'Brien's daughter Sarah completed a memorable weekend for the family by steering the long odds-on MacBride to a bloodless win in the bumper.

Ana O'Brien had driven Beyond Brilliance to an excellent fourth in the Oaks the previous afternoon, while Sarah was stretching her unbeaten succession of rides to four on MacBride, one Curragh defeat in June her only reversal in six outings over the past month.

Wexford-born conditional rider Jonathan Moore enjoyed his first win aboard Michael Cleary's Couleur De La Loi (14/1) in the Martinstown Handicap Hurdle, as Aine O'Connor made it two wins from two rides for Dessie Hughes at the Limerick Junction venue this year when guiding Icy Reply to a ready triumph in the Ballykisteen Hotel & Golf Resort Hurdle.

Numbers

4,192 AP McCoy's tally after a Saturday Market Rasen double that included the Summer Plate on Jonjo O'Neill's well-backed JP McManus-owned It's A Gimme (2/1 fav) taking him past his old boss Martin Pipe's total of 4,191 career winners across all codes.

The incredible 19-time champion, who is now on 76 for the season, has until September 17 to set a new record for the fastest 100 winners.

The record for a jockey in Ireland or Britain is Gordon Richards' 4,870. McCoy came up just short of the magical 300 in a campaign when surpassing Richards' previous seasonal best of 269 with his haul of 289 in 2002.

In the unlikely event that he amasses the elusive 300 en route to his 20th title this time, there surely would be no better way for him to go out.

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