Sunday 25 February 2018

Hats off to Curragh's long-serving maestro

Prendergast gains just reward after Hayes partners Awtaad to 2,000 Guineas glory

Trainer Kevin Prendergast with Awtaad after his winning ride in The Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh. Photo : PA
Trainer Kevin Prendergast with Awtaad after his winning ride in The Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh. Photo : PA
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Awtaad wasn't short of advocates ahead of Saturday's Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas, but few would have predicted that he would win with so much panache.

He really was pretty awesome. Chris Hayes always looked to be cruising through the mile Classic, and Awtaad seized the opportunity two-out when Galileo Gold was caught in a pocket.

Kevin Prendergast's son of Cape Cross, which has already given us Sea The Stars, Golden Horn and Ouija Board, will now head straight for the St James's Palace Stakes, which is the sensible option at this stage, just two weeks out from the Derby.

Hayes admitted on Saturday that, having just beaten the Guineas winner, a tilt at the at the Royal Ascot Group One for Awtaad really appealed. The rematch will be fascinating.

Whilst not intending to take from Awtaad's superiority, the tactics deployed on Galileo Gold at the Curragh were slightly surprising. At Newmarket, Frankie Dettori had absolutely no cover and only vast expanses of open space in front of him. Galileo Gold raced happily in his hands and got into a lovely rhythm, winning going away after getting its second wind. It was a policy that worked a treat, so it was alarming to see Dettori restrain his mount as soon as the gates opened on Saturday.

Galileo Gold appeared to resent being covered up. It disrupted his rhythm, and, when Hayes spotted that Dettori was "in a bit of bother" on the rail, as Prendergast put it, Awtaad got first run.

That was an inspired piece of instinctive riding. Hayes had been told not to hit the front too soon, but he reacted to the situation he was in by using his initiative. His conviction reaped its reward.

Galileo Gold was getting tapped for toe at that stage as it was, but he eventually got motoring and was doing his best work at the finish.


While there is little doubt Awtaad would have taken plenty stopping, Galileo Gold might have been harder to beat if had been allowed to use his stride, as had been the case at Newmarket.

Blue De Vega ran well in third, but Air Force Blue bombed again, doing little to dispel the impression that he hasn't trained on. He will drop to six furlongs for the Commonwealth Cup.

Hayes excelled on the winner. The 28-year-old has long been a thoroughly reliable professional who takes what chances come his way, and he is one of the more intelligent and articulate purveyors of his profession.

A three-time champion apprentice up to 2007, he might now have found a horse that can take him to the next level. He celebrated his first win in a proper Classic with unrestrained jubilation, which was a pleasure to watch and reflected just how much a triumph of this magnitude means to those not accustomed it.

It might feel like a hint of the old guard about Prendergast and Hamdan Al Maktoum combining for a Group One winner, but, would you believe it, they never had done so before.

Prendergast is one of the most popular and enduring icons of the Irish Flat scene. At the recent season launch on the Curragh, he bounded to and fro across the expansive plains to organise and watch his horses work.

As the assembled press stood shivering in their boots, this sprightly 83-year-old never stopped moving. They say it's not long since he stopped walking all the way from his yard to the gallops, which is about three times the distance of the Guineas.

Prendergast is a walking, talking advert for living an active and ambitious life. He hardly gets the pick of Maktoum's Shadwell operation, yet he never gives up the search for a good horse.

Imagine, it's 40 years since he first won the Irish 2,000 Guineas with Northern Treasure, and its 39 years since Nebbiolo won the original version at Newmarket.

Incredibly, 30 years had passed since any Irish trainer other than one based in Ballydoyle won the Irish edition. Thankfully, that anomaly has now been brought to an end for the time being.

In 10 of the 11 years between Northern Treasure's win and that of Flash Of Steel for Dermot Weld in 1986, eight different Irish trainers conspired to keep the prize at home. The racing landscape has changed a lot, but May 1986 is a long time ago.

Back then, Dawn Run had only just immortalised herself in one of the truly great Gold Cups, and Ian Rush scored a brace for Liverpool at Wembley to beat Everton in the FA Cup final.

Liverpool were crowned first division champions at Everton's expense, and Maradona's Hand of God goal was still a month away in Mexico's World Cup. Teams were only allowed one named sub - that's how long it is since Flash Of Steel's win. How all indigenous trainers bar Vincent and Aidan O'Brien failed to conquer the race in the meantime is a mystery that is now happily consigned to history.

Un De Sceaux shows

stamina aplenty

Willie Mullins broadened his options by sending out Un De Sceaux to run out an emphatic winner of Saturday's Prix La Barka. Mullins and Ruby Walsh initiated a double on the Auteuil card when Footpad just got up in a Grade Three Hurdle for four-year-olds. Laudable and all as that was, the endeavour that saw them step Un De Sceaux up to two miles and five furlongs and revert to hurdles reaped a more significant reward.

The champion trainer's son Patrick subsequently indicated that a tilt at three miles for next month's French Champion might be a bridge too far for Un De Sceaux. Nonetheless, they now have food for thought.

On soft ground over two miles, Un De Sceaux would beat most Grade One chasers, but it he will probably always be vulnerable to horses of the calibre of Sprinter Sacre and Douvan.

He didn't entirely convince when twice successful over just shy of two-and-a-half miles at Auteuil in 2014.

This time, though, having taken a lead early on, he drew away in the straight in the manner of a thoroughly versatile horse.

Un De Sceaux's tenacity in defeat at Cheltenham and Sandown had already impressed, but he really is starting to look more mature in his disposition.

He could mix it up early on next term, but races like the Ascot or Ryanair Chases are now viable propositions for a horse that for so long looked like a pretty one-dimensional hell-raiser.

Such is Mullins's wealth of ammunition that he has to keep exploring all possibilities. Still, even he mightn't have foreseen such a reformation.

Nyquist runs himself into Pimlico ground

There will be no American Triple Crown this year after the Kentucky Derby hero Nyquist suffered a first reversal in nine starts in Saturday night's Preakness at Pimlico.

Exaggerator, trained and ridden by the Desormeaux brothers Keith and Kent, had been beaten on three occasions by Nyquist, getting closest to him when a one-and-a-quarter-length second at Churchill Downs.

On this occasion, Nyquist ultimately beat himself under his jockey Mario Gutierrez, the pair setting ferocious fractions in the sloppy surface before fading to third.

The splits for the first quarter-mile were the fastest ever recorded in the race, and each of the other four that finished in the first five all came through from the rear. In the circumstances, then, Nyquist still emerged with plenty credit.

Tweet of the Weekend

Ger Lyons (@gerlyonsracing)

Sitting here in Tallaght hospital watching 1000Gns & not 30 mins after winning it @adrian_keatley rings his mate John Shortt. #Cantbeatclass

- The Co Meath handler acknowledges his colleague's gesture to his childhood mentor.

Numbers Game

86 Age at which former rugby international and owner Archie O'Leary has died. O'Leary's best horse was the popular Willie Mullins-trained dual Gold Cup runner-up Florida Pearl, which won four Hennessy Gold Cups at Leopardstown and a King George.

Irish Independent

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