Doyle signs off distinguished career at Navan
Tom Doyle, one of the weigh-room's unsung heroes, announced his retirement at the age of 33, at Navan on Saturday.
Things had gone "a bit quiet", he reasoned, as his agent Niall Cronin, who doubles as the Evening Herald's racing correspondent, also quit that post due to the shrinking number of entries. A deeply unassuming and popular individual, Doyle, from Inistioge in Co Kilkenny, checked out with 422 wins, a haul that is a tribute to his professionalism and work ethic.
Nearly 20 years ago, he and I shared digs as 14-year-old wannabe jockeys in the employ of the then Piltown-based Aidan O'Brien. In a hard-knock environment, he stood out as a decent guy and we became good friends during our shared time in Lambourn.
He had his first ride aboard O'Brien's Saint Hilda, and often reminded me that he had "ridden for" the Ballydoyle legend. Having not earned the same privilege, all I could do was point out that it was a glorious liaison which didn't extend beyond that one foray at Wexford in June 1995.
After returning from an eight-year stint in England in 2007, Doyle carved himself a niche riding for many of the most potent small-scale stables around. The son of breeder and bloodstock agent George, he established himself as a reliable and respected jockey – averaging over 50 winners a season in his last three full campaigns – so it was a bold decision to reinvent himself here without the backing of a top stable.
His former colleague Jim Culloty was setting up as a trainer at the time, and an agreement to ride the fledgling Churchtown stable's runners was the only formal commitment that Doyle had from anyone. It was a leap into the unknown that paid off in spades.
Trainers recognised his dependability and honesty of effort, and he secured the first of four domestic Grade One triumphs when Trafford Lad scored at Navan in December 2007 for Eamonn 'Dusty' Sheehy, a potent ally during his days as an amateur in the late 1990s. He forged lucrative link-ups with Michael Hourigan, Kieran Purcell, Terence O'Brien, Michael Bowe, John Kiely, TJ Nagle and Oliver McKiernan, for whom he rode Follow The Plan to 20/1 and 50/1 coups in the 2011 Punchestown Gold Cup and Aintree's 2012 Betfred Bowl.
That stunning Liverpool win was further proof that, when the horse was good enough, so was Doyle. In between, he collaborated with Paul Flynn, for Moon Dice's famous 20/1 success in the Galway Hurdle.
His last win came aboard Culloty's Dr Ronan Lambe-owned Lord Windermere at Leopardstown on December 29, but he hasn't ridden for the stable since he steered the same horse to finish a staying-on half-length second there to Texas Jack on January 26. Robbie McNamara replaced him in the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase, as Lord Windermere ran an identical race to fall the same distance short of Texas Jack, with Boston Bob thwarting both.
Predictably, over what appears to be an inadequate trip, Lord Windermere ran no better or worse for a different jockey. The only real surprise was that anyone thought that he would.
All routine for Quevega on the gallops at Leopardstown
Quevega had a routine gallop under Katie Walsh after racing at Leopardstown as Willie Mullins began putting the finishing touches to her bid for a record-equalling fifth Cheltenham Festival triumph.
After watching the odds-on favourite for the OLBG Mares' Hurdle go through her paces, Mullins said: "As long as she comes out of that well, she will do a couple of bits of work, and that should see her right – I hope."
The champion trainer was pleased with the workout of the long-absent Fiveforthree, which hasn't run since finishing down the field in the World Hurdle two years ago. The 11-year-old has entries in the Ladbrokes-sponsored Grade One and the Coral Cup this time, and Mullins commented that he had a nice weight (11st 3lb) in the handicap.
Among others that had a spin were Triumph Hurdle and Champion Bumper favourites Our Conor and Golantilla and their handlers Dessie Hughes and Tony Martin were both happy with how they went.
Mullins pulls Clondaw Court out of his Festival team
Willie Mullins revealed that his Cheltenham Festival contingent will be minus Weatherbys Champion Bumper contender Clondaw Court.
A runaway November winner at Punchestown, the six-year-old had been as low as 7/1 for the Grade One prior to a recurrence of an injury, though Mullins will still be well represented with Sizing Tennessee, Briar Hill and Union Dues.
Winters confirms Rebel Fitz to skip Champion Hurdle
Mick Winters has confirmed that his Galway Hurdle hero Rebel Fitz is unlikely to tackle the Stan James Champion Hurdle next Tuesday.
The Kanturk handler had suggested that, barring significant withdrawals, he would wait for a Grade Two at Cork at the end of the month.
"Rebel Fitz won't be going to Cheltenham unless something changes," he reported. "He is a better horse going right-handed. He'll run in Mallow and then on to Punchestown."
Mad Brian's Navan victory
keeps Champagne on ice
Mad Brian consigned Willie Mullins' perpetual runner-up Champagne Agent to its habitual berth for an eighth time winning the maiden hurdle at Navan on Saturday.
The 9/10 favourite galloped 34 lengths clear to give his amateur rider Fergal Harford, who is a brother of the horse's trainer Gillian Callaghan and Noel Meade's former amateur Greg, a first track winner.
At the other end, a good deed by Andrew Lynch came back to haunt him. When the bridle on his Keith Donoghue-ridden rival Parlour Of Dreams came away after a blunder at the third, Lynch moved his mount Hero De Villeneuve across to help pull the awry equipment back over the horse's ear. Both then continued on their way, only for Hero De Villeneuve to fall a few flights later, bringing down Parlour Of Dreams, which kicked Lynch for good measure, leaving him with a wound on his chin that required five stitches.
Call Me Bubbles (Paul Townend) and Rockyaboya (Patrick Mullins) combined for a short-priced double to ensure Mullins didn't depart empty-handed, while Gordon Elliott also left his local venue with a brace.
In the beginners' chase, Realt Mor (11/4) made all for an emphatic 25-length win under Davy Condon, with Paul Carberry then steering the evens favourite Barneys Honour to a similarly authoritative victory in the handicap chase.
Fallon double, but no joy for Irish handlers in Meydan
Kieran Fallon rode a double for Godolphin at Meydan on Saturday, and Jamie Spencer won on Trade Storm for David Simcock, but unfortunately, there was no joy for Irish handlers.
Certerach fell just short under Spencer in the long-distance Group Three that Saddler's Rock, Royal Diamond and Chicago also contested.
This brought the number of seconds that Mick Halford has had there in recent weeks to five. Invincible Ash finished third for the same partnership in the sprint handicap.
11 Tamso Doyle will have completed 11 years as Horse Racing Ireland's PR manager by the time she signs off on Easter Monday.
The driving force behind initiatives such as the annual HRI awards and racing-themed television programmes, including the excellent Horses documentary that focused on Paul Nolan's Wexford stable, Doyle says she felt the time was right to "have a rethink about her career," and plans to set up a PR company of her own.
The Irish Road To Cheltenham, a five-part HRI/RTE collaboration that follows five jockeys, including Davy Russell and Nina Carberry, begins on RTE One at 8.30 on Thursday.
Jonjo's 66/1 leading-trainer
price has plenty of appeal
With Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins threatening to dominate next week's Cheltenham Festival, the outright market for the leading trainer award is a bit lop-sided.
Henderson is a 4/6 market leader and Mullins is a top-priced 2/1.
It's 10/1 bar, with the 66/1 that can be had about Jonjo O'Neill, who won the Irish Independent-sponsored prize 10 years ago, possibly one of the more appealing offerings, given that the locally-based trainer will have a numerically strong team.
You could, alternatively, back him at 6/1 without Henderson, Mullins and Paul Nicholls. For those who fancy none of the leading three to live up to expectations, the 14/1 about 'any other trainer' in the outright market is probably one of the more sensible options.
@garyfcarroll – Leaving for airport soon after successful Dubai, looking forward to seeing how fast @gerlyons 2yos are!!
– After wintering in the sun, Gary Carroll is getting excited ahead of the beginning of the domestic turf campaign in three weeks' time.