Saturday 21 April 2018

Foreign raids still a Decorated success

Knight victory continues overseas dominance of Irish Champion Stakes

Decorated Knight, with Andrea Atzeni up, on his way winning the Irish Champion Stakes. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Decorated Knight, with Andrea Atzeni up, on his way winning the Irish Champion Stakes. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

On a week when Irish racing's high standing in the world stage was sold to the media, it was quite staggering that the Irish Champion Stakes, without question our showcase Flat race, went to an overseas horse for the sixth year in a row.

Snow Fairy, The Fugue, The Grey Gatsby, Golden Horn and Almanzor took the race in consecutive years and on Saturday, Decorated Knight added his name to an illustrious list.

Moore was the darling of the media recently when he agreed to come over to Dublin to launch Irish Champions Weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Moore was the darling of the media recently when he agreed to come over to Dublin to launch Irish Champions Weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Conversely, when Snow Fairy took the 2012 renewal, she was helping to prevent the Irish from winning the race for a tenth year in a row. What are we to make of the raiders' recent domination of our best race on the level at a time when our jumpers seem to have an undoubted upper hand over their foes in Britain?

There may be little or nothing to worry about, though it was a shade disconcerting that Aidan O'Brien provided the odds-on favourite in the race yet the Irish could not manage one placed horse. Decorated Knight was, as his trainer Roger Charlton said, no lucky winner.

The beauty of the race is that it pits fillies against colts, milers against middle-distance horses and elders against three-year-olds.

The Irish famine in the race can probably be put down to one thing in particular: that our champion trainer has had a spell where his best milers have, generally, not been especially good.


Gleneagles' limitations were exposed in better company, Air Force Blue seemed not to train on and Churchill is now nought from three since he won a weak Irish Guineas. It was the performance of the favourite in the big race that was probably the biggest disappointment of the weekend.

Some noted that Ryan Moore found trouble on Churchill and O'Brien alluded to both his messy trip and that of stablemate Cliffs Of Moher afterwards but Churchill had no real excuses. Moore had him perfectly placed off the pace and, when he went for a gap up the inner, the horse had nowhere near enough of a change of gear.

Moore was the darling of the media recently when he agreed to come over to Dublin to launch Irish Champions Weekend.

When I asked him about running the Derby at Leopardstown, as so many believed should be the case, he said that the Curragh was a far better track for 12-furlong races.

Aidan O'Brien has spoken too of the Curragh being a much fairer track and Moore will not be in any rush back to Leopardstown after Saturday, when he had a superb book of rides but managed not to win a single race.

We all have our off-days but he certainly got it badly wrong on the well-backed Sir John Lavery, which produced a remarkable burst of pace at Cork last time but found traffic on Saturday that looked very much avoidable.

When Moore got after him, he hung under pressure, but if we are to laud the great man for his many moments of virtuosity, it is only fair to note the ones that went badly wrong. Such as this one.

Leopardstown is a stunning race track but a case could be made for the same false rail they have at Dundalk being introduced off the main bend as there is quite a lot of trouble in running there, especially in big fields but what seems bizarrely often in small ones too.

As for Churchill, his appeal at stud will not have been helped by his relatively tame performance, but there was a reassuring aspect to Caravaggio's victory at the Curragh yesterday in that regard.

He got the show back on the road and could be a vital influence in terms of speed when he is matched with Galileo mares henceforth.

In some respects, that the English and French are winning the Champion Stakes is something to be lauded.

There is no doubt though that Saturday's renewal was underwhelming and the first two home were certainly not household names but the staggering prize-money allied to favourable exchange rate will keep the English coming back.

However, that the attendance was down on last year, and the Curragh's markedly so, will sound a warning.

This is a superb weekend of racing but, if the big race is a let-down, it will have a negative influence on the attendance.

Frankel shows his abundant promise

Frankel sired the first two winners at Leopardstown on Saturday: Lightening Quick, out of the Group One winner Lightening Pearl, and Nelson, out of the superb broodmare and racemare Moonstone.

That the two horses were so strong in pedigree terms on the distaff side is indicative of the quality with which Frankel was matched early on in his stud career. Everyone wanted a piece of arguably the best horse I've ever seen and he was a near certainty to get some top quality.

One trainer described Frankel horses as being "a little about their mind", in that they are a little tricky mentally, as he was.

Later on Saturday, Eminent, which is also not entirely straightforward, finished third in the Champion Stakes.

And yesterday the Frankel-bred Cracksman made short work of his four rivals as he recorded an impressive success in the Prix Niel. He is not expected to go to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe but Cracksman played his part in a superb weekend for Frankel.

Leopardstown considers a Japanese runner in the Champion Stakes the holy grail.

However, Japan's Arc dream could be over for another year as Satono Diamond flopped in the Prix Foy, which was won by Germany's Dschingis Secret.

Racing's economic influence well noted

According to an economic impact study conducted by Deloitte on behalf of Horse Racing Ireland, the results of which were announced this week, Irish racing and breeding is among the most prominent in the world. Ireland was second to the US as the biggest seller of bloodstock at public auctions last year by value. More than 20pc of the top 100 Flat horses in the world were Irish-bred. With off-course betting and secondary employment included, the total number of jobs supported in racing comes to 28,900.

Some 1.3m people attended race meetings at the 26 tracks in Ireland last year - second only to the GAA championship in terms of attendance.

Ride of the week

Title leader Colin Keane gave Red All Star, a frustrating sort, a cracking ride for his dad Ger to win at Laytown by a neck, a head and a head on Tuesday.

Gamble of the week

Once-raced Madrid, trained by Aidan O'Brien, was backed from 5/1 early in the morning and from 6/4 on track in to 11/8 at the off at Gowran, in contrast to stablemate and debutante Family Tree, which returned a 5/1 chance and bolted up under Seamus Heffernan.

Quote of the week

"My turnover was bigger in Kilbeggan on Friday than it was at the Curragh today."

Bookmaker Brian Keenan last night, reflecting on the poor crowd that visited Flat HQ on what admittedly was a day of wild weather.

Tweet of the week

Jamie Spencer (@JPSPENCER1980)

Atzeni, probably the most naturally gifted rider born to ride a horse, lovely to watch.

Jamie Spencer is impressed by the ride given by the Italian aboard Decorated Knight.

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