Friday 22 September 2017

Johnny Ward: Feane makes his own rules in phoney world

Young Curragh trainer proving himself to be a gem on the Flat

A 104/1 treble at Dundalk lasr Friday underlined Johnny Feane’s qualities as an emerging trainer of real promise. Photo: Patrick McCann
A 104/1 treble at Dundalk lasr Friday underlined Johnny Feane’s qualities as an emerging trainer of real promise. Photo: Patrick McCann

Johnny Ward

Since Dundalk commenced in the off-season, there is a beautiful balance to an Irish winter weekend. Lots of those incorrigible jumps men, who relish nothing more than Siberia-like Navan on Troytown day, look down on poor Dundalk. A pro told me recently that he never bets there.

More of us relished yesterday's John Durkan, but can contextualise between virtuosity and a means to make money. And it is clear to us that you're better off with a 0-60 at Dundalk than a Grade One at Punchestown.

Find a tavern equipped with At The Races, a clientele not adverse to roaring one home at 9pm and a barman educable on gambling. You can't beat Friday nights.

Each to their own, but there is no getting away from the popularity of the polytrack from a punting perspective.

Horsemen rely on it. Despite the warm year rendering good or quick ground the norm for most of the Flat term, there is no letting up when it comes to the all-weather's appeal. Indeed, for the December 1 card, there were 211 entries.

Ahead of last Wednesday's offering, so confident was Horse Racing Ireland of races being oversubscribed, it put just six races on the card, near-certain it could divide two, which it did.

Terrific

Some trainers - think Dermot Weld - do not target the track. As such, it is a platform for those who find it tougher against the big dogs on grass.

In striking with a terrific treble last Friday, Johnny Feane illustrated just how dangerous he is when he nears the border.

His dad, Jimmy, trained in the late 1970s and is best known as head groom in Moyglare for over 30 years; his uncle is ex-trainer Declan Gillespie, who was first jockey for Jim Bolger.

Feane has an air of a Charles Byrnes; keeping out of the limelight, he is measured in his words with a hint of devilment.

There is the whiff of enigma and if the trainer's manual says you should always be on call, Feane didn't read it.

Owners and jockeys verify how hard Feane can be to reach on the phone. It hardly matters when you've a one-in-five win rate at Dundalk - incredible as he deals with low-grade horses almost exclusively and the handicap field sizes at the venue.

According to Gary Carroll: "His horses always look well, happy and fresh. And they generally finish where he thinks they will."

His 104/1 treble merits much praise. No trainer starting off will tell you it is straightforward. Feane makes it look easy.

If an ability to improve one from another yard is indicative of innate training ability, Feane is gifted. Two of his three winners on Friday had come from other barns and this has been a consistent theme.

One night at Dundalk I tasked him with sourcing one to buy. "Now," he said, running his fingers through the card. "I'd love him."

His index finger found Tom Dooley, which won a few hours later at 20/1. Feane later bought him and doubled his career tally. "I used to ride work for him and he'd have a race in mind that was six weeks away," Fran Berry says. "He's what I'd call a target trainer, with a great line on tactics and form. But try to get him on the phone."

Feane eschews convention - all the better! A generation of adults now have no attention span and are slaves to social media. Let us cherish he who does not conform.

Sam Twiston-Davies' win on Frodon in Saturday's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup gave him no end of pleasure as he settles back in from injury, with dad Nigel taking the International with The New One, while Aidan O'Brien Highland Reel came up just short, settling for second, in the Hong Kong Vase.

But this weekend was always going to be about Douvan. He was breathtaking at Cork, clever at the odd one at which he was tight.

You might even get Johnny Feane to talk about Douvan. I rang him, but there was no answer.

RIDE OF THE WEEK

Ruby Walsh gave Djakadam a near-perfect steer in the John Durkan.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I've been asked if he's for sale, but I suppose we'd rather be broke."

Little-known trainer Margaret Flynn on her Cork winner Dr Mikey.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Really sorry to see Channel4 finish up racing coverage. @SimonHolt3 is, without doubt, the best racing commentator in the business.

Game On presenter Hugh Cahill (@hughcahill7) on Channel 4's last racing broadcast on Saturday.

GAMBLE OF THE WEEK

Backed from 10/1 overnight in to 4/1, Power Grid won Dundalk's nightcap for Johnny Feane by six lengths.

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