Wednesday 13 December 2017

New names emerge in state of flux on the Flat

Gary Carroll celebrates after partnering Brendan Brackan to victory in the Tote Irish Lincolnshire at Naas. Photo credit: PA Wire
Gary Carroll celebrates after partnering Brendan Brackan to victory in the Tote Irish Lincolnshire at Naas. Photo credit: PA Wire

Johnny Ward

The period between the end of the spectacular that is Cheltenham and the start of the Flat season can amount to an eerie vacuum for the hardened gambler.

Four days of Cheltenham, all madcap and whirlwind, precede a lull that sees serotonin levels plummet, normal life rendered a challenge. "I've just been to the 'nam," a battered man once said on getting off a flight. "Cheltenham".

I almost found studying last weekend's Irish racing something of a chore: when you get used to Cheltenham, nothing else seems to matter very much.

Then the racegoer has to go full circle, abandoning a Festival that has been built up for many months and focusing on the start of the Flat, struggling in recollection of horses all but forgotten. This is a difficult reversion; it can do strange things to a man.

So distorted was my mind after Cheltenham, I craved a betting buzz that was now but a memory, to the extent I spent last Thursday night offering odds to my flatmate on First Dates in-running.

"That lad is 25/1 to get a second date," I'd say and he'd respond: "I know for a fact he's odds-on to split the bill too."

Thankfully on Friday, the declarations were out for Naas; I could focus on that iconic two-year-old maiden, the race that confirms the cycle continues.

Kevin Prendergast, who turns 85 this summer, snared the first race of the season and, by his standards, some of the veterans of the game still have years to look forward to.

What do Prendergast, Jim Bolger, John Oxx and Dermot Weld have in common? Firstly, they are legends of the game. Secondly, they are eligible for the free travel pass - not that it was much use to them this weekend. And thirdly, their yards lack a set-in-stone transition.

When these great men call time, as Tommy Stack did last year, a hole will be really hard to replace. We also had David Wachman retiring in 2016 and new forces are emerging, like a football team in transition.

Stack's son, Fozzy, took over from his father and it was significant that he struck with Gino Severini in the historic Madrid Handicap yesterday.

This horse had not run this year but was produced in excellent shape to score, advertising Stack's new alliance with Chris Hayes.

Stack has around 60 horses for the year ahead, half of them two-year-olds. At 37, he starts off in a tough career at what looks the right time.

When a Stack two-year-old was backed first-time out, one knew what to expect. Yesterday at Naas, the two most pronounced market moves were newcomers trained by a young man destined to have an exciting career.

In the opening maiden, the Adrian Keatley-trained Royal Diplomat was sent off just 6/4, while the Michael O'Callaghan-trained Ma Fee Heela was backed into 7/4 in the second maiden. Both finished an honourable second.

O'Callaghan has the guts of 50 horses for the campaign. Keatley has around 40. Ger Lyons, who had a double yesterday, has 90 boxes full. Along with Stack, they represent a bright future in Irish racing.

There was scant promotion of the break from the norm that was Naas hosting the first meet of the year, and a meeting as attractive as yesterday's needs to be sold to a public with any amount of counter-attractions.

The attraction of Dubai's carnival is pretty obvious - money - and, while Coolmore tended to send nothing to the meeting, John Magnier belatedly saw the lure of Arabia. However, its timing still renders what is something of a manufactured meeting anomalous.

One doubts Aidan O'Brien lost any sleep despite drawing a Meydan blank on Saturday.

O'Brien's ability to keep horses sound and fresh despite punishing campaigns at the top level is epitomised by Highland Reel but even he laboured in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, in which stablemate Seventh Heaven ran second.

Having horses peaking this time of year makes no sense to Ballydoyle with a view to the road ahead. Unlike some of his peers, Aidan has age as an ally. However, when he eventually retires, few will be bothered about his record at the Dubai World Cup, the great man included.

RIDE OF THE WEEK

Lookslikerainted was named after Fr Dougal Maguire, which seemed apt when the 33/1 shot was beaten at Newbury on Friday. James Ridley's mount was 15 lengths ahead at the last but, eased to a walk, was passed by two horses in the last 50 yards. Ridley will hope if he wins this gong again, it will be for the right reasons.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"When he missed the break, I gave him no chance at all. I was so mad at myself thinking I shouldn't have brought him - that's the greatest horse I've ever seen run, it's unbelievable, I can't believe he won. He's the greatest horse since Secretariat."

- Trainer Bob Baffert hails Arrogate after he won the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

"Last time the Flat opened at Naas, Kevin also won the opening 2-Y-O maiden. Ready, ridden by Willie Supple in 1993."

- The Racing Post's Justin O'Hanlon (@rpdarkhorse) shows that the winner of the first, the Prendergast-trained Moonlight Bay, could certainly have been found.

GAMBLE OF THE WEEK

The early-bird value was great on Ma Fee Heela at Naas. He was hammered into a starting price of 7/4, having been double figures, but the Michael O'Callaghan-trained horse found one too good.

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