Monday 18 December 2017

Moscow memories can only bring a smile

Ace chaser, who died last week aged 22, had an aura that remains hard to describe

Moscow Flyer and Barry Geraghty winning the 2002 Arkle at Cheltenham Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Moscow Flyer and Barry Geraghty winning the 2002 Arkle at Cheltenham Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Johnny Ward

A little ditty Kate Harrington imparted since his death seemed to confirm something I probably always knew about Moscow Flyer: he was a proper dude.

In his 'Racing Post' column last Saturday, Richard Hughes bemoaned the loss of a fun factor in Channel 4's coverage.

He concluded: "TV should showcase the beauty of the thoroughbred. More close-up shots of horses in slow motion are needed to convey just how gorgeous the thoroughbred is."

What has captivated me most in racing is not so much the undeniable beauty of a regally-bred racehorse but personality traits that somehow render them more susceptible to the vagaries of the human species.

Why did Harchibald almost never win a race in which he had to battle? Why did Giant's Causeway repeatedly find another gear when another horse eye-balled him? And why was there a haughty aura about Moscow Flyer that seemed to set him apart from any horse I've seen since I started following racing - which, far from coincidentally, was around the time 'Moscow' truly established himself on the scene?

Kate's story went something like this. She was soon to ride him for the first and only time in public, in the 2007 Punchestown charity race - over a year after he had run officially for the last time.

'Moscow' relished being back in exercise. A work rider was tasked with getting him to give the young horses a lead-up over the hurdles, as is normal for older steeds. He was utterly privileged to have the chance to ride a legend - even in such serene surroundings.

As 'Moscow' arrived at the first hurdle, he gave all the indications that he was ready to ping it, recalling his days when he used to face Istabraq. Instead, he promptly jammed on the breaks, much to the surprise of his work rider, who could do nothing but spring off the horse like a cannonball. He, not Moscow Flyer, ended up at the other side of the hurdle.

Kate recalls that Moscow Flyer "didn't even gallop off and just looked and snorted at the jockey on the ground. When his jockey got back on, he took off bucking."

I recall the charity race subsequently. A major gamble saw a teenage Moscow Flyer win at even money by three and a half lengths. What sticks out most is Daniel McDonnell, who had recently joined this newspaper, imploring me: "Come on down to the parade ring. There's no way I'm not cheering 'Moscow' in."

Strictly speaking, he was probably inferior to a peak-form Sprinter Sacre, though Barry Geraghty is the man to ask about that. Whether he will tell you or not is another thing!

'Moscow' was one of those horses who seemed to race in the manner of a chest-out-in-the-gym swagger. He jumped fences in his own way - often ultra-fluent, occasionally as if he were too hyped up for action to negotiate them. He inculcated confidence in Geraghty, who probably would not be the jockey he is today were it not for Moscow Flyer.

The horse, who was bought to be a staying chaser and who couldn't win a bumper, became one of the greats over two miles. I doubt I'll ever forget his 2004 Tingle Creek win over Azertyuiop and Well Chief.

Watching it this weekend, I got emotional as if the dozen intervening years and change had never been. I think I had a score on him that day at 6/4: it might as well have been two grand.

Rest In Peace 'Moscow'. You may not appreciate that you played a starring role in ensuring that I would go on to love racing, as well as thousands more besides. Yet, because it's you, likely you knew that all along.

Something which shows no sign of dying is the controversy about Horse Racing Ireland appointing Brian Kavanagh as CEO on a third term.

The board meets today for the first time since a minority of its members sat before the Agriculture Committee.

Item three on the agenda is that Dáil meeting, when board members learned that HRI's remuneration committee had received legal advice to the effect that the CEO may qualify for a contract of indefinite duration.

Chairman Joe Keeling said: "I never focused for one moment on any legal issues. I focused on Mr Brian Kavanagh, the most senior horse racing administrator in Europe, if not the world."

Ride of the week

Declan McDonogh got a fine run out of Caspian Prince in Dundalk's feature sprint on Friday, the horse setting a course record (57.1 seconds). Breaking sharply, McDonogh made virtually all and was characteristically strong in the closing stages on the 6/1 winner.

Quote of the week

"I was only just getting going when Moscow came along; I needed a flagship horse. I owe an awful lot to him He opened a lot of doors for me that would have been very difficult to open without him."

- Barry Geraghty on Moscow Flyer.

Tweet of the week

Jessica Harrington (@jessica_racing)

So sad to announce the passing of Moscow Flyer (22) he was a total legend & a horse of a lifetime thank you for all the memories

- The trainer pays her first of many tributes to 'Moscow'.

Gamble of the week

Available in the morning at 11/1, Veneer Of Charm was backed into 7/4 in the nursery yesterday at Leopardstown. The Michael O'Callaghan-trained gelding never featured.

Upping the ante

It is difficult to be sure what is to be learnt from the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Saturday, quite apart from the fact that Andrea Atzeni has now won four renewals in succession.

His mount, Rivet, justified deep market support. In beating Yucatan, he ran to a level similar to what Capri achieved in the Beresford.

Capri is second-favourite for the Investec Derby, behind only Churchill, which looks a Guineas horse. The picture is distinctly unclear and it pays to take a chance at big odds in such circumstances.

Sir John Lavery was only scratched late from the Racing Post Trophy. Third on his debut at the Curragh, he produced a sensational effort in winning at Gowran. He is by Galileo, which certainly helps too.

BET: Sir John Lavery to win the Derby, 1pt win 33/1

Irish Independent

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