Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 2 October 2014

Star sprinters like Black Caviar force pace of change

Race is on to secure Group One sprint for Irish calendar, writes Aisling Crowe

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

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Jockey Luke Nolen riding Black Caviar
Jockey Luke Nolen riding Black Caviar

Speed excites the human body and mind, casting a spell over humanity throughout the centuries. Men and women have died in the pursuit of that soaring, but fleeting, thrill of acceleration, chasing the freedom found in velocity. Donald Campbell's drive for records in the sleek Bluebird, the supersonic Concorde flying over the Atlantic as though it were the Irish Sea, Usain Bolt and the quest for the sub 9.5-second 100m are all icons of that desire to go faster.

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Horse racing's speedsters provide a unique thrill, whether it's the exhilarating sight of two-mile chasers flying up Cheltenham's hill or the barely contained energy of a five-furlong specialist in all their muscular magnificence.

Recent trends in breeding and bloodstock have brought the sprinter to a pre-eminent level globally, with superstars like Black Caviar receiving the kind of attention once reserved for Triple Crown winners. Ireland has proven adept at producing top-level speedsters, with the Eddie Lynam-trained duo of Sole Power and Slade Power, Evanna McCutcheon's Maarek and Gordon Lord Byron, trained by Tom Hogan, annexing Group One sprints in Europe and further afield.

These global jaunts aren't the result of wanderlust on the part of connections, they are enforced because Ireland lacks a sprint at Group One level. The announcement last week of changes to the European Pattern for 2015 which see four Irish sprints upgraded to Group Two level, and the introduction of a six-furlong Group Three confined to three-year-olds, is just the first step in a process to rectify that glaring omission from the Irish calendar, according to Horse Racing Ireland.

Jason Morris, HRI's director of racing, said: "Our aspiration is to get the Flying Five to Group One and hence the decision to increase its prize money to that of a Group One race next year. The other EPC member countries have indicated that they will support its promotion to Group One status once the race's ratings are sufficiently close to the Group One level."

Having doubled the prize money of the Flying Five to €200,000 and making it one of the features of the newly-created Irish Champions' Weekend, which racing's governors are hoping to turn into an annual event to rival, and complement, Arc day at Longchamp and Ascot's Champions' Day, HRI is doing everything in its power to create the necessary conditions.

The exploits of Lynam's stars have done much to drag the issue into the spotlight and the Dunshaughlin-based trainer welcomed the changes, expressing the hope it won't be long before Irish sprinters no longer have to clock up air miles in pursuit of glory.

"It is good news and great to look forward to for next year. The Greenlands Stakes (Curragh) will be a nice trial for the Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot and the Flying Five falls nicely between the Nunthorpe and the Prix de l'Abbaye, hopefully, both those races will become Ireland's five- and six-furlong Group Ones. I don't see any reason why they can't be."

He foresees a situation where a Group One Flying Five could form the first act in an autumn three-part sprinting drama with bonuses on offer for horses that win two or all three sprints.

Lynam will have both the Greenlands Stakes and the Flying Five under consideration for Sole Power's 2015 race schedule, and for any other shooting stars he may discover, but the trainer has concerns over the conditions of these races and whether his Nunthorpe and Royal Ascot winner will be forced to carry a penalty for those Group One successes, as is the case in other contests. The conditions of the upgraded sprints are yet to be set but HRI confirmed it is an issue which will be reviewed as part of the process.

The third member of Lynam's Royal Ascot-winning trinity of sprinters is Anthem Alexander. Due to run in last week's Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh until the rains arrived to soften the going, Lynam has no option but to travel abroad with her if he wants to win another group race over five furlongs, as Ireland currently has no two-year-old race at that distance or level.

It is an issue he hopes HRI will address soon. "HRI will be looking at the supporting schedule for sprinters next year, and the possibility of promoting a two-year-old Listed sprint into the Pattern will be considered within that context," said Morris.

In the meantime, racing fans hoping to score an adrenaline hit will have to content themselves with watching Lynam's sprinting sensations on the screen. Both Anthem Alexander and Sole Power could run at York later this week, and the flying filly has two scintillating targets, holding entries in the Group Two Lowther Stakes on Thursday or Friday's Nunthorpe Stakes.

York holds magical memories for Lynam as it was here that Sole Power burst through the ranks to give the trainer his first top-level triumph, but he won't let sentiment cloud his judgement.

"I am confirming Anthem Alexander for both races. We will have a choice of stepping up to six furlongs, but running against her own age and sex, or keeping her at five furlongs but taking on the older horses. That is not something that I am particularly fond of doing with a two-year-old but she hasn't had much racing and she gets a great weight allowance. She will never get two stone from her rivals again. I'm quietly confident that she would get the Lowther trip and it is a good trial for the Cheveley Park but it looks a strong race."

Sole Power needs a favourable weather forecast if he is to add a second Nunthorpe success to his 100/1 breakthrough victory in 2010.

"The ground at York is currently good to soft and that wouldn't help Sole Power. His main aim for the rest of the year is the Hong Kong Sprint but he could go for the Nunthorpe if everything fell into place for him. Slade Power will have his swansong before retiring to stud in Melbourne and he is in good shape."

Lynam's passion for speed has helped racing make an accelerated leap into a bold era, as tradition dictates these radical overhauls move at the speed of an arthritic tortoise, not a hare.

At last the sport where breeding the quickest usually is the fastest route to glory has been enchanted by speed's mercurial silver spell.

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