Irish charges excel ahead of York trial
Derby picture still unclear but Thursday's Dante could change all that
There was no joy for the Irish raiders at Longchamp yesterday but three notable winners in England on Saturday suggest that the prolificacy of recent months is showing no sign of abating.
In March, 13 Cheltenham Festival winners constituted a joint second-best yield for Irish-trained horses. At Aintree, seven more cross-channel firsts brought the tally for the two marquee spring festivals to 20, with five of the Liverpool triumphs coming in Grade Ones.
At Ayr a week later, Goonyella was just denied in the Scottish Grand National, as was Vics Canvas in the old Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown another seven days later.
Nonetheless, Henry de Bromhead's Special Tiara triumphed there in the Grade One Celebration Chase, completing a six-day spree that saw nine winners return to these shores from Britain.
Back on home soil, thanks largely to Willie Mullins' relentless and increasing domination, the curtain came down on the jumps season with each of the 12 Grade Ones at the Punchestown Festival staying at home. The Flat took over on the last day of the festival with the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, and the transition was seamless, Gleneagles' stylish success for Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore followed by that of David Wachman's Moore-ridden Legatissimo in the fillies' edition.
Diamondsandrubies and Hans Holbein plundered Chester's two most significant Classic trials for O'Brien and Moore during the week, and there was little let-up at Lingfield on Saturday.
In the Oaks trial, Wedding Vow failed to justify odds-on status for Moore, finishing strongly to grab third behind Toujours L'Amour, which isn't entered at Epsom.
It was slightly a disappointing result, but Wedding Vow emerged with plenty credit. She tracked the eventual winner and runner-up Bellajeu early on, and followed Toujours L'Amour through to challenge. However, the winner had first run on her all the way.
Wedding Vow finished with a flourish, and you'd imagine that the step up to a full 12 furlongs will suit, though whether she will be quite good enough to win at Epsom is another thing altogether.
Kilimanjaro really filled the eye in the colts' equivalent. The son of High Chaparral is a towering, handsome individual that wouldn't look out of place over a fence.
He was clearly never going to be a two-year-old, but improved on his dismal Gowran Park debut last July to show up much better there when sixth in the autumn.
On stepping up to an extended 10 furlongs on his Dundalk return, he ground out a win, and again built on that over a furlong further on Saturday, gradually picking up from the rear to get on top late.
With the fastness gone out of the ground, the Tapit-bred favourite Christophermarlowe was always liable to be vulnerable.
Like the runner-up Magic Dancer, Kilimanjaro is sure to keep progressing and will stay further, but at this stage it's hard to picture such an unfurnished colt being suited by Epsom's exacting demands. He is 33/1 for the Derby and Wedding Vow is 66/1 for the Oaks, which probably tells a story.
Yesterday at Longchamp - where O'Brien and Moore were just denied with Cape Clear Island by Andre Fabre's unbeaten Ampere in a Group Three - Highland Reel failed to justify strong market support in the French 2,000 Guineas, as Make Believe (6/1) began to fulfil all of his promise with a superlative victory for Fabre and Olivier Peslier.
Highland Reel kept on for sixth, just in front of his O'Brien-trained stablemate War Envoy. Pushed out to 25/1 for the Derby, it might be unwise to write off Highland Reel.
Thursday's Dante Stakes is possibly going to be the most informative Derby trial. Ballydoyle's John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River are likely to try and redeem themselves in the York contest, with Elm Park and Jack Hobbs also pencilled in.
That means that three of the first four in the betting for the Classic are set for an early clash.
The other Irish winners in England on Saturday were Tracey Collins' Majestic Queen in Lingfield's seven-furlong Group Three and Ken Condon's Newsletter in a six-furlong Nottingham Listed race. Both were decisive and deserving winners for their shrewd handlers, with Group One targets on the agenda later in the summer. Condon and Newsletter's rider Shane Foley extended their fine run when Success Days yesterday sluiced up in what was a weak Derrinstown Stud Derby trial.
Given the way that he became unbalanced in the straight, the Jeremy colt might not be the ideal Epsom type, while a soft-ground Irish Derby could be made for him.
Condon appears to be thinking the same way, although he did suggest that he would consider supplementing Success Days for Epsom if the ground looked like coming up soft.
In fairness, in that situation he would be fully entitled to have a cut at what is shaping up to be a slightly less-than-vintage edition of the premier Classic.
Hennessy severs ties with Gold Cup
The Hennessy Gold Cup is no more after it was announced last week that the distiller is to discontinue its support of the prestigious Leopardstown Grade One.
Sponsorship remains a challenging area for tracks, and the loss of a such a flagship name is further proof of that. For 25 years, Hennessy backed the race that originated in 1987 as the Vincent O'Brien Gold Cup.
It was one of the few Irish races with its own instantly recognisable brand, and its roll of honour is graced by Gold Cup heroes Jodami and Imperial Call, as well as other iconic chasers like Florida Pearl, Beef Or Salmon, Danoli, Dorans Pride and Carvill's Hill, plus the Grand National winner Neptune Collonges.
This year, it was the source of AP McCoy's memorable triumph aboard Carlingford Lough a day after he had announced his retirement plans, prompting the most electrifying reception of his long goodbye.
Of course, the Gold Cup will continue in a new guise, but it has been synonymous with Hennessy for so long that it will essentially be taking on a new identity. Here's hoping a similarly committed and worthy backer can be found for such a prestigious event.
Russell collects Credit and Benefit
Davy Russell yesterday plundered his first winners since returning from injury with a 181/1 Killarney double spearheaded by Letter Of Credit's win in the featured chase.
Deteriorating ground denied racegoers the chance to see former champion chaser Finian's Rainbow in the Leane's Tool Hire & Lawnmowers Chase.
Just four went to post and the race fell apart a little, with Russell eschewing the wide path charted by his rivals to plough a lone furrow up the inside on Jimmy Mangan's charge. The 6/1 outsider of the field, Letter Of Credit eventually came home nearly eight lengths clear of last year's winner Baily Green.
Russell initiated his 181/1 brace with another upset, just thwarting the Ruby Walsh-ridden favourite Whiteout aboard Kates Benefit. Likewise trained in Russell's native Cork, Ken Budds' mare was also the outsider of five at 25/1.
Home triumph for Ervedya in France
Jean-Claude ROUGET'S Ervedya justified 13/10 favouritism easily in yesterday's French 1,000 Guineas.
Second to Ballydoyle's Found at Longchamp in the autumn, Ervedya powered home for Christophe Soumillon to mow down Irish Rookie. Trained in Newmarket by Martyn Meade, Irish Rookie was sixth to Legatissimo last week so it was a fine boost for that line as well.
Tweet of the weekend
Timmy Murphy (@TJM555)
Great to be back riding @Thirsk today thanks to @RebeccaEMenzies @MarkRimell
Fourth was the best that Timmy Murphy could muster on his Flat debut at Thirsk on Saturday, but he will try to make it third time lucky on Houdini for his former jumps colleague Jamie Osborne at Wolverhampton today.
3 Leigh Roche took full advantage of Pat Smullen's suspension to complete his first treble at Gowran Park on Saturday. The Tuam native is gradually building a reputation for himself in Smullen's image, a reliable, no-nonsense rider who makes few mistakes. He kept it simple on favourites Radanpour and Tuk Tuk, and showed good strength on the first-time blinkered 20/1 shot Magic Kitten to complete a 93.5/1 trio for himself and Dermot Weld.