Apprentice duel and Grogan's rise to glory light up Flat season
At Leopardstown tomorrow, the 2010 Irish turf Flat season will draw to a close. All-weather proceedings continue at Dundalk for another six weeks, so there will be no great fanfare to mark the occasion. Pity.
For all that the 2010 turf campaign might have been a bit, well, flat in terms of prestige, it didn't want for its share of good days. On an international level, last season was always going to be impossible to follow, given the dizzy heights reached by Sea The Stars, but it is woefully one-dimensional to judge the season on that alone.
Once St Nicholas Abbey dropped the baton in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on the first weekend in May, wider interest in Flat contingent undoubtedly dipped. Punters seemed to tune out, the poor display of Irish horses in the opening two Classics put forward as evidence of a general inability to compete with the best the British and French had to offer. And, in a World Cup year, sports fans had a ready alternative.
Had they given the Flat season a fair chance, though, they might have been pleasantly surprised with some of the drama that lay ahead. Sure, many of the central characters didn't live up to expectations, but there have been some fantastic offerings by the supposed lesser lights.
If we apply the same criteria that are traditionally used to stress the Flat's shortcomings alongside its National Hunt counterpart, 2010 could even be deemed a qualified success. There was certainly a more even spread of silverware at the highest level, with smaller handlers frequently to the fore.
Older, more familiar horses provided a number of highlights, while new faces lit up the scene on a human level. Be it the rise of Ben Curtis or the one-horse trainer John Grogan's recent coup at York, there was a proliferation of unlikely and uplifting feel-good stories that would normally be the preserve of the winter pursuit.
Here we take a look at some of the defining features of the turf campaign.