Sunday 22 September 2019

O'Brien holds all the aces as Hales departs training ranks

Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

There's no shortage of Irish action today with Cork hosting an eight-race Flat card where champion trainer Aidan O'Brien looks to hold the trump cards while Downpatrick tends to the needs of all jumps followers.

The opening maiden (4.50) at the Mallow track had a smart winner 12 months ago in O'Brien's subsequent Phoenix Stakes winner Sioux Nation and the Ballydoyle maestro has a three-pronged attack this time.

Isle Of Innisfree looks to have obvious claims with Seamie Heffernan getting the leg up on his racecourse debut but it may pay to side with experience and EMPIRE STATE is preferred.

Third when half a length behind the re-opposing Invasion Day for Ger Lyons on his first start, both are likely to improve for the run but O'Brien's string usually find significantly more than others and he can take the opener.

It's also likely to be a Ballydoyle battle in the fillies maiden (6.30) where HENCE and Most Gifted collide but this looks like a glorious opportunity for the former to finally get off the mark after a close fourth in a Listed event at Naas.

The closing Median Auction Fillies Maiden (8.40) sees Dermot Weld unleash two unraced three-year-olds owned by the Aga Khan but Jessica Harrington's Written Word sets the standard.

Sixth in a Listed event at Navan where she experienced trouble in running, Colm O'Donoghue's mount looks the best bet if she can negotiate a smooth passage.

In Downpatrick, a rare bumper (8.55) without a representative from champion trainer Willie Mullins may allow Paul Nolan to pick up the pieces with BABOIN expected to make the 580km round-trip from his Wexford base pay off if building on his Cork second over hurdles.

Meanwhile, the growing list of those quitting the jump-training ranks has added another name with Tipperary handler Eddie Hales deciding to swap horses for the restaurant trade.

Renowned for nurturing young stars with potential having produced Gold Cup winner Don Cossack, Cross County great Spot Thedifference as well as the likes of Quito De La Roque and Pizarro, Hales has decided to walk away.


He departs the scene in the wake of others like Charlie Swan, Sandra Hughes and Adrian Maguire moving away from training as the number of fully-fledged Jumps licence holders dropped below 100 earlier this year for the first time in a decade.

Elsewhere, the game is in mourning following the passing of former Irish champion jumps jockey Joe Byrne at 64.

The Meath native was crowned leading rider in 1979 following a brilliant spell in the saddle throughout that decade, notably providing trainer Noel Meade with his first winner at Byrne's home track of Navan in 1972.

A Cheltenham Festival winner in 1983 aboard Churchfield Boy in the Grand Annual Chase, Byrne battled illness bravely and was an important part of Pat Martin's team, even riding out at his Navan yard as recently as last Saturday.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Irish Independent

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