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Richard Forristal: Listowel marathon has grounds for concern


Pat Smullen is congratulated by the sponsor's representatives after guiding
Kevin Ryan's Captain Ramius to victory in Saturday's William Hill Ayr Gold Cup

Pat Smullen is congratulated by the sponsor's representatives after guiding Kevin Ryan's Captain Ramius to victory in Saturday's William Hill Ayr Gold Cup

Pat Smullen is congratulated by the sponsor's representatives after guiding Kevin Ryan's Captain Ramius to victory in Saturday's William Hill Ayr Gold Cup

How best to accurately sum up the week that was Listowel?

A qualified triumph in the face of adverse weather and unfavourable economic realities, or further proof that the Harvest Festival can no longer justify its week-long status?

In one sense, there is a reluctance to speak negatively of this quintessentially local event, a grassroots fete that boasts a 154-year history founded on community spirit and hard work.

That intangible will to keep the show going was there for all to see again last week, with the tireless groundsmen, in particular, working round the clock. Day after day the course railings were uprooted to provide fresh ground, and divots were constantly being filled with sand.

Conditions were so bad on the track that it was on the verge of being classed alongside Laytown as the country's second beach venue, although, as one Turf Club official suggested somewhat plausibly, the ground would at least benefit from such an enormous intake of sand in the long-term. Still, as it is, the track's drainage system quite obviously struggles.

When the meeting got under way last week, there had been no massive rainfall reported in the region over the preceding days, yet, unlike fixtures at the Curragh and Down Royal in the previous 48 hours, when both had the word 'good' in the going descriptions, the Kerry venue was still heavy.

Overnight rain on Thursday put Ladies' Day in some doubt on Friday morning, but conditions at Gowran Park yesterday were 'good to firm' in places.

While one of Listowel's committee members pointed out under duress last week that watering had been necessary at eight of the previous 20 festivals, the fact of the matter is the track invariably cannot readily facilitate such an exhaustive programme.

Three of Saturday's Flat races had to be scrapped and, a year ago, the final day was postponed for a week.

Four years ago, the entire Flat programme was done away with, resulting in five solid days of jumping activity. Not too many complained about that because, lest we forget, this is a fixture synonymous with the winter discipline, long considered the start of the jumps season proper.

Last week, the real dross was on the level, with Wednesday throwing up the unsatisfactory situation of a Listed race not being started from stalls. That's not to say that plenty of the jump racing didn't also fall short in terms of competitiveness.

Neither Wednesday's featured Guinness Kerry National nor Thursday's showpiece hurdle were up to scratch, and then there was the inexplicable case of a two-runner bumper won by a huge distance.

Moreover, you know there is something wrong when a 13-runner beginners' chase has to be divided to form a six-race card, yet that is exactly what happened on Saturday.

On the other hand, the presence of proper jumping prospects like Teelin Star, Back In Focus, Drive Time, What's Happening, and the inimitable Whatever Jacksays, offered proof that trainers don't mind running decent horses at Listowel when the ground is borderline unraceable. That will be a matter of some comfort to those involved, likewise the attendance figures.

At 87,956, the week's gate held up well, although it is admittedly a far cry from the 106,822 that came through the turnstiles five years ago. Additionally, the comparable bookmakers' take for the first six days plummeted 19pc to €3,606,296.

As we all know, we live in a different world to the one that was emerging when Listowel graduated to a seven-day jaunt 10 years ago, and it's hard to deny that the festival will continue to lose much of its unique appeal if it is allowed to continue to disintegrate in terms of quality.

From a business point of view, the race committee cannot countenance losing any racing days, not least because it just spent in excess of €600,000 improving facilities.

With up to €48,000 available in TV rights money for each card, that is understandable, but it is also crucial for any business to retain something of real value.

Hard calls need to be made.

Domination continues for on-song McCullagh

Fresh from his first Group One success on Royal Diamond in last week's Irish St Leger, Niall McCullagh's Indian summer continued with a storming victory on the Charles Byrnes-trained Domination in Saturday's Cesarewitch trial at Newmarket.

Relishing a bit of rare fast ground, the 43-year-old's mount stretched nearly five lengths clear to easily justify good support into a 13/2 SP, and will now head for next month's Irish Cesarewitch if the ground is suitably dry.

Cougar Ridge and My Girl Anna were unable to make much impact for the raiders at Newbury, but David Nagle's brilliantly game Mark Enright-ridden Maarek, backed into 8/1 favourite, ran an absolute stormer to finish third under top-weight in the Ayr Gold Cup.

Pat Smullen, making his first visit to the Scottish venue, was aboard the Kevin Ryan-trained winner Captain Ramius (16/1), which is owned by Curragh pinhooker Clodagh McStay.

Camelot options kept open ahead of Arc

Aidan O'Brien reports that no decision has been made on Camelot's next move following his failed Triple Crown bid in the St Leger, although he hinted at Listowel on Saturday that, should he run again this term, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on October 7 might be the preferred option over a clash with Frankel in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 20.

"There is a lot to discuss," he said of the three-time Classic-winning colt. "If it is decided that he will have another race this season then we are really talking about either the Arc or the Qipco Champion Stakes, and it could be the Arc for him."

A general 6/1 third favourite for the Arc, Camelot has not been priced up by the bookies for a clash with Frankel.

Festival winners in line for Irish Cesarewitch

Willie Mullins' Drive Time and the Mick Winters-trained mare Missunited will both be considered for the Irish Cesarewitch on October 14 after winning Listowel on Saturday.

Mullins added that Drive Time, the horse that gave Ruby Walsh the fall in which he broke his wrist at Galway in August, might not go chasing this term as his early schooling "didn't go too well".

Trading Leather turns maiden into a stroll

Jim Bolger's Trading Leather justified odds-on favouritism with a stunning performance to win the one-mile maiden by seven lengths at Gowran Park yesterday.

Second to Battle Of Marengo in a Listed race at Leopardstown on his debut, Kevin Manning's mount made all before drawing clear at the Kilkenny venue, and was subsequently introduced at 20/1 for next year's Epsom Derby by bookmaker Stan James.

There was no joy for the Queen's Joseph O'Brien-ridden Momentary in the preceding Group Three, which went the way of the David Wachman-trained outsider Aloof (12/1) under Billy Lee, while Pat Smullen cut O'Brien's lead in the title race to just one when he bagged the concluding maiden on Fastidious (7/4 favourite) for Dermot Weld.

In the mares' hurdle, 2011 Galway Plate heroine Blazing Tempo was on the mark for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.

After watching his star mare make all to score in game fashion by a length and a half from Burn And Turn, Mullins said of the 9/4 shot: "She has a huge appetite for racing. She could come back here in October for the Grade Two Gowran Park Champion Chase, but it may come a bit soon so we'll look at our options."


2 Times that Jimmy Mangan's Fair Dilemma won at Listowel last week, scoring over hurdles on Saturday after going in over fences on the opening day of the festival.

150 Number of selected Centra and Super Valu outlets where tickets can now be purchased for Tipperary (for the meeting on October 7), Fairyhouse, Leopardstown and Navan as part of a new HRI association with tickets.ie.


@decbates -- I like my soccer but watching it straight after watching an All Ireland final is like switching from Rocky to telletubbies

-- 5lb claimer Declan Bates on the stark contrast between yesterday's major televised games.

Irish Independent