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Track talk: Expect continual McKinley upgrade

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Erlkonig, second left, with Danny Mullins up, jumps the last ahead of eventual winner McKinley, with Paul Townend up, and The Plan Man, with Barry Geraghty up, during the Radissonhotelgalway.com & Galwaybayhotel.com Novice Hurdle. Galway Racing Festival, Ballybrit, Co. Galway. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Erlkonig, second left, with Danny Mullins up, jumps the last ahead of eventual winner McKinley, with Paul Townend up, and The Plan Man, with Barry Geraghty up, during the Radissonhotelgalway.com & Galwaybayhotel.com Novice Hurdle. Galway Racing Festival, Ballybrit, Co. Galway. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Erlkonig, second left, with Danny Mullins up, jumps the last ahead of eventual winner McKinley, with Paul Townend up, and The Plan Man, with Barry Geraghty up, during the Radissonhotelgalway.com & Galwaybayhotel.com Novice Hurdle. Galway Racing Festival, Ballybrit, Co. Galway. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

It was fantastic to see a packed crowd contribute a fantastic atmosphere at Naas last Sunday for the first Grade One race to be staged at the track.

With the close proximity of the fixture to Christmas, there is always a fear that the Grade One horses would have all turned out at Leopardstown, but year on year the Naas race, now known as the Lawlors Hotel Novice Hurdle, has attracted a number of classy types and last Sunday was no different.

The outcome of the race was undoubtedly a big surprise with the top two in the betting both losing their unbeaten record to an apparent outsider but maybe in hindsight McKinley deserved a bit more credit than he was getting going into the race.

overlooked

Even when winning, horses can often get overlooked when the form of their races doesn’t work out or if they have one bad run and, while only time will tell, McKinley could be a horse that actually only beats what is put in front of him.

We all expected Tell Us More and Free Expression to draw away from the field last Sunday and battle it out with On Impulse most peoples idea of causing an upset if there was going to be one, but despite their defeat it would be unfair to knock any of that trio.

Free Expression and Tell Us More are both far more inexperienced than the eventual winner, with Free Expression still very green and Tell Us More was only having his third ever start on the racecourse and was forced to make all the running, which is not easy on testing ground and over 2m4f around Naas.

But McKinley was a maiden winner at the Curragh before joining Willie Mullins and is certainly battle-hardened.

It took a while for the penny to drop as he wasn’t very competitive in his first two starts over hurdles but since opening his account over jumps at Sligo in July the five-year-old has actually done little wrong.

A win at the Galway Festival followed and he wasn’t disgraced when finishing fourth with a lot of weight to shoulder in the competitive Lartigue Hurdle at Listowel.

He then returned to winning ways in a Navan Grade Three before pulling up early when something went amiss in the Grade One Future Champions at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He’ll be judged on what he does at the big spring festivals but while McKinley shocked us all by winning at Naas on Sunday, maybe hindsight will suggest he’s always been better than he had been considered.

sensational

McKinley’s win was a 100th at Grade One level in Ireland for Mullins and a 130th in total which is a sensational total but what his win also proved was how remarkable a horse Hurricane Fly is that he can be responsible for 21 of those.

Free Expression and Tell Us More both went to Naas with lofty reputations, Free Expression unbeaten in four and Tell Us More unbeaten in three if you include their point to points, and they’ll win plenty of races in the future but to get a horse to win 10 races is an achievement, let alone 21 at Grade One level.

All in all, it has been a good few weeks for Irish racing and we still have a lot more to look forward to in 2015.


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