Sport Horse Racing

Friday 15 November 2019

It's all falling a bit flat for the finale

The National Hunt campaign that is actually half-way towards being completed had its first Grade 1 yesterday and Down Royal played host to some of the stars of the next few month. (stock photo)
The National Hunt campaign that is actually half-way towards being completed had its first Grade 1 yesterday and Down Royal played host to some of the stars of the next few month. (stock photo)

Daragh Ó Conchúir

The Irish flat season comes to a conclusion today and as ever, it is hard not to think that the last fixture should possess a bit more pizzazz. The competition events-wise is intense.

The National Hunt campaign that is actually half-way towards being completed had its first Grade 1 yesterday and Down Royal played host to some of the stars of the next few months throughout its two-day extravaganza.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

There was also the Breeders' Cup in America and the ongoing Melbourne Carnival in Australia, both of which had major Irish-based involvement.

Meanwhile, all-weather track Newcastle was playing host to a Group 1, even though the English season has officially concluded in terms of deciding the champion jockey.

In recent years, we have needed a championship battle to maintain any interest in the last fixture and this seemed particularly unfair on Naas, which has done such a brilliant job for the past three years while the Curragh has been undergoing its reconstruction.

Colin Keane and Pat Smullen brought it down to the wire in 2017 and there was a real sense of celebration around Tipper Road when Keane finished in style to garner his first title, denying Smullen a 10th in what would prove to be the great man's last time in the saddle.

He may no longer be riding but Smullen was one of the central figures of the current campaign. The Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland gave us the greatest gathering of former champion jockeys we have ever seen and raised more than €2.5m. The pity was that a recurrence of his pancreatic cancer meant he could not participate in the race itself. That he was undergoing treatment made his drive and energy all the more remarkable and humbling.

The feelgood vibe around the Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend, as the Offaly man posed for photos and signed autographs for all and sundry, was such that many are crediting him with effecting a turnaround in the negative vibe towards the home of the classics.

For a long time, it looked like we would have competition going into today too. Keane held the lead for most of the campaign but his successor as champion, Smullen's nephew Donnacha O'Brien, has finished very strongly with his father Aidan's late-blossoming juveniles to call on in particular.

It is the first season two riders have broken through the 100-winner barrier but O'Brien is seven clear from 230 fewer rides. That he will be a two-time champion given his battle with the scales is a tremendous feat for the 21-year-old, who also added a classic and a first British Champions Day triumph to his CV and is already planning for a career in training.

The apprentice battle is much tighter now, with Andrew Slattery two clear of former champion Oisín Orr and both having chances. Having both scored in excess of 40 times and registered their first group successes, they have already had outstanding seasons.

The feature today is the November Handicap and Willie Mullins is the man to beat with half the 16-runners including Irish and English Cesarewitch winners, Royal Illusion and Stratum.

You just think that it would serve the sport and flat racing in general better if you finished with a bang by including three €100,000 handicaps and a group race for juveniles.

Sunday Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport