Monday 20 November 2017

Richard Forristal: Low-profile names beginning to fly high

Elliott and Kennedy starring over jumps but others are making big impression too

Rachael Blackmore is making great progress after a slow start. Picture: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
Rachael Blackmore is making great progress after a slow start. Picture: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

It might be the height of an enjoyable and pretty diverse Flat season, but we're going to fleetingly switch focus to the domestic jumps scene.

And not merely to extol the unrelenting exploits of Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy, both of whom have raced into a lead in their respective championships.

Elliott's brilliance shouldn't be taken for granted, and he is surely a champion trainer in waiting.

His industry, ambition and work ethic have helped him secure a lead over Willie Mullins in this season's title race, but only time will tell if he has the ammunition to sustain his advantage.

Kennedy's ascent has been stratospheric. The reigning champion conditional rode out his claim at the end of May, a year after taking his first rides as a professional and having only turned 17 in April.

A pony racing sensation, the Dingle native is making a seamless transition from claimer to fully-fledged pro, a rare enough distinction, especially in Ireland, where there tends to be so little turnover in the higher echelons.

He is a fabulous rider, whose efforts in galvanising the frustrating Cogryhill to victory at Wexford on Friday typified his finest attributes, namely tactical acumen, the ability to see a stride, composure and strength.

At the time, this correspondent was momentarily left wondering if it were Davy Russell up top.

Kennedy exhibits an intangible authority that wouldn't be synonymous with a teenager who has just lost his claim, and, while Bryan Cooper's month off opened up some extra opportunities for him, he has the skills and wherewithal to take his chances.

The compulsion to change tack to the jumps scene, though, wasn't instigated by what he and Elliott are doing, nor the impending seven-day carnival in Ballybrit.

It is prompted by the impression being made by four less prolific individuals that are, for want of a better expression, outperforming market expectations. Their stock is soaring beyond all forecasts.

Here we profile a quartet that conveniently ticks all the equality boxes, and not through any desire by this correspondent to do so. They are all there on merit and are names to follow.

Rachael Blackmore

Maybe the one who needs least introduction right now.

Blackmore (26) has attracted some intrigue as the first female jumps rider to turn professional in this country for quarter of a century, though Katie O'Farrell has now followed in her footsteps.

It was a slow burn for Blackmore initially, but she has really begun to carve a niche for herself this year. Now down to a five-pound claim, she has already ridden eight winners this term.

Her tally for all of last season was just six, which highlights her new-found momentum.

Poised just inside the top 10 on the riders' table, Blackmore has ridden three doubles.

Technically proficient, she gets horses jumping and is getting stronger and more tactically aware all the time. Trainers are increasingly keen to book her and there is good reason for that.

Denise O'Shea

Blackmore's progress has been aided by that of O'Shea, who is quietly making a name for herself as an efficient operator.

A native of Cloyne in east Cork and a renowned grafter, the permit holder rents a yard from Liam Burke. She trained a winner in each of her first two seasons, but this is proving something of a breakout campaign for her.

While O'Shea has saddled just two horses, Supreme Vinnie and Oisin James, she has won twice with each of them and recorded another two seconds from just eight runs. That is a fantastic ratio with modest resources that illustrates her capabilities. She could have a bright future.

Tom Gibney

Gibney plundered a fairytale Irish Grand National triumph in 2012 with Lion Na Bearnai.

Having struggled through the recession when setting up in Co Meath, that euphoric piece of local glory might reasonably have been expected to prompt an upsurge in fortunes.

It didn't, though, which reflects the reality of how trying it has become for even the most skilled and dedicated trainers to make a viable living at the middle and lower end of the scale. Nonetheless, Gibney kept chipping away. Last season, 10 years into his training career, he equalled his previous 2012 best of four wins.

Two months into the new campaign, he has already topped that with five wins for a 28pc strike-rate.

Again, the raw material is of the bargain-buy variety, but a corner might have finally been turned.

Jonathan Moore

A native of Wexford and a graduate of the Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE), Moore only rode his first winner less than two years ago.

He spent a short spell in Britain in 2014 and tried a few different yards at home, before making a pretty instant impression with Noel Meade last term.

As a then 21-year-old seven-pound claimer, his first winner for Meade came aboard Tulsa Jack in the Cork National in November, and he added further lucrative chase victories at Leopardstown on Colm Murphy's Empire Of Dirt and at Punchestown on Rebecca Curtis's Irish Cavalier.

From a base of seven wins in the 2014-'15 season, he amassed 17 last term, and Curtis has moved swiftly to secure him as her stable jockey. Moore claims five and is still raw and rough around the edges, but his potential is undeniable. He rode three winners in two days for Curtis on Thursday and Friday, before then doubling up in both divisions of the conditional jockeys' races at Bellewstown on Saturday.

With a dozen wins evenly divided either side of the Irish Sea over the past two months, Moore is in demand and should remain so in the months ahead.

Hawkbill preys on The Gurkha in Eclipse

The Gurkha could return to a mile for the Sussex Stakes after being denied by a game Hawkbill in Saturday's Eclipse Stakes.

After a protracted soft-ground duel with the William Buick-ridden winner that was reminiscent of the glory days of the Coolmore-Godolphin rivalry, he went down by half-a-length.

Aidan O'Brien indicated that Goodwood might still be next for The Gurkha, while the improving Hawkbill could now be aimed at the Irish Champion Stakes or the Juddmonte International.

Numbers Game

34pc Jessica Harrington's impressive strike-rate after the Robbie Power-ridden Duckweed (9/4) and Neverrushacon (13/2) doubled up over fences at odds of 23/1 at Limerick yesterday.

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