Monday 19 February 2018

Halford aims to shine in Meydan's bright lights

In-form Kildare trainer eyes Dubai's lucrative World Cup prizes with his four-strong team

Trainer Michael Halford
Trainer Michael Halford
Michael Halford's Russian Soul exercises in a morning gallop at Meydan
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

MICK HALFORD may not be responsible for any of the equine stars on duty in Meydan on Saturday night, but few handlers will head into Dubai World Cup night boasting such prolific form.

Ballydoyle will see two of its 2013 Classic heroes tackle the climactic Group One races on a night of full-blown extravagance that is the crowning glory of Sheikh Mohammed's racing vision.

In the grand finale World Cup, the most valuable race on the planet with a $10m purse, Aidan O'Brien could make life simple for headline writers with his Epsom Derby victor Ruler Of The World.

In the Sheema Classic, his Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Magician will try to add to his Breeders' Cup Turf rout in November, when he raced for a first time on Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication that is banned in Europe but which can be used in Dubai with a three-day withdrawal period.

O'Brien has six contenders in total on a $27m card that witnessed his ill-fated champion St Nicholas Abbey spearhead a double for the elite Tipperary stable last year.

Halford has yet to record a win on World Cup night, but he has already plundered an impressive haul of four winners at this year's Racing Carnival, and he will have a quartet of runners on duty come Saturday. Eastern Rules, successful on Meydan's all-weather Tapeta and grass surfaces last month, is in the opening Godolphin Mile Group Two.

Certerach, his first winner at this year's festival back in January, will be joined by Dabadiyan in the Group Two Gold Cup over two miles, before Russian Soul endeavours to add to last month's Group Three coup in the six-furlong Group One.


All are available at double-figure odds but, having accumulated in excess of €1.6m in aggregate prize money, they are entitled to a stab at the bright lights.

"The horses need to raise their game, but they have been running well and it's all on the night now," Halford said of his delegation.

Halford's Copper Beach yard in Doneany is one of the most progressive in the country. He is one of a handful of similarly upwardly mobile trainers who frequent the winter carnival fixtures in Dubai.

"The prize money is so inviting, it is a little surprising that more Irish trainers don't take advantage of it," he suggested.

"There is nothing at home for horses at this level to run in at this time of the year, and the facilities are absolutely world-class.

"It is a magnificent place. Our owners love going out there and they are looked after really, really well, so it is a great experience."

Dundalk's more modest facility is another venue that Halford has embraced since its re-opening in 2007. The all-weather track's most successful trainer, he was last week crowned leading handler there with a total of 18 winners, which was 50pc more than his closest pursuer, while his apprentice Conor Hoban shared the riders' gong with champion jockey Joseph O'Brien.

"When you are concentrating on the Flat as much as I am, Dundalk is a live-saver," Halford asserted. "In my time, it is the best thing that has happened in Irish racing. It keeps a lot of businesses ticking over and it keeps a lot of people in business. We are glad to have it."

In recent years, Halford has been the Aga Khan's second trainer in Ireland after John Oxx. Changes to the influential owner-breeder's regime, which include reducing Oxx's delegation and adding Dermot Weld to the roster, mean that Halford will train up to 20 juveniles for him this term, twice as many as last year.

Sheikh Mohammed, whose colours Casamento famously carried to Group One glory for Halford at Doncaster in 2010, has also become a staunch supporter, with the addition of four new Darley colts constituting a 100pc increase in his representation at the Kildare yard.

"It is rewarding that you are deemed fit to train for people like that," Halford admitted frankly. "It gives you a bit of confidence that you are doing something right.

"We have a bigger team than last year (when he saddled 36 winners to finish fifth in the final standings) with 85 horses riding out, so we have plenty to look forward to and they are in a good place now."


Asked which of Saturday's contenders might be best placed to defy its odds, he boldly plumps for the horse charged with delivering him a second Group One.

"I have a soft spot for Russian Soul," he said. "He has been working well, he loves the turning six furlongs there and he will be wearing blinkers for a first time. If he gets a good draw – from one to five – he could be the most exciting."

Halford will find out where Russian Soul is to break from today. The draw for the Gold Cup was made yesterday, with Willie Mullins conceding that Simenon's task "won't be easy" after his Ascot Gold Cup runner-up, which will be ridden by Pat Smullen, was landed with stall 15 on the wide outside.

Dabadiyan will break on the opposite side under Shane Foley, with O'Brien's Ernest Hemingway (Joseph O'Brien) in trap three, John Oxx's Saddler's Rock (Declan McDonogh) in 11 and Certerach (Jamie Spencer) in 14. The draw for the Turf sprint that Eddie Lynam's Sole Power contests is also due to be made today.

Meanwhile, Oxx's Aga Khan-owned Ebanoran and O'Brien's Indian Maharajah and Adelaide could be among those to put their respective unbeaten records on the line in Leopardstown's 2,000 Guineas trial on Sunday, before the focus returns to the jumps division at Aintree the following week.

While prospects of an Irish triumph in the showpiece Grand National look slim, the Crabbie's Foxhunters Chase contingent has more muscle to it, and Enda Bolger has confirmed that On The Fringe and Mossey Joe are both intended starters.

On The Fringe tired up the hill to be third in the Cheltenham equivalent, while the prolific Mossey Joe recently hacked up in a point-to-point on his first start since being acquired by Barry Connell for £160,000.

Irish Independent

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