Wednesday 22 November 2017

Richard Forristal: Royal adventure highlights Flat prospects

Lyons leads Ascot assault for array of ambitious young Irish handlers

Creator (left), under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr, gets up close home to pip Destin (Javier Castellano) to claim the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes. Photo: USA Today Sports
Creator (left), under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr, gets up close home to pip Destin (Javier Castellano) to claim the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes. Photo: USA Today Sports
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

An unforeseen quirk of the way that Irish racing has evolved is the manner in which the roles of the Flat and jump scenes have been so startlingly reversed.

Whereas once the Flat was the exclusive domain of the rich and famous and the jumps offered a more affordable and ultimately romantic alternative, that has been turned on its head.

Sure, Aidan O'Brien, Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger continue to fly the flag on the grandest of stages with awe-inspiring regularity, but now others can compete, partly because the pool of Arab patrons has swelled.

The internationalisation of the Flat has opened up a world of new markets for Irish horses. Combined with the unmitigated success of our all-weather facility at Dundalk, and other positive advancements like the breeze-up sales, Flat trainers can now plan and implement efficient and profitable business models.

Ger Lyons is an advanced purveyor of this blueprint, an ambitious and astute operator who diverted his focus solely to the Flat after starting out with a finger in each pie.

Lyons reiterated in these pages this week that he is "still peddling into the wind" in the quest for genuine Group One material, at the same time conceding that he is "probably in a better position than a lot of lads". In fairness, Lyons has put himself there.

Evidence of his enhanced status will be seen at Royal Ascot this week, along with that of others fashioning a niche for themselves in something close to his image.

Tomorrow, Lyons will go toe-to-toe with the big guns via Endless Drama in the Queen Anne and Psychedelic Funk in the Coventry.

Psychedelic Funk is owned by one of his longest-serving patrons Sean Jones, while Endless Drama and Friday's King Edward VII contender Lustrous Light represent Arab patrons that Lyons's consistent level of success was destined to attract.

Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's Qatar and Pearl Bloodstock operations have emerged as serious forces, and Lyons is someone that they have backed heavily. He provided their first Group One win when Lightening Pearl plundered the 2011 Cheveley Park Stakes under Johnny Murtagh, and their faith in him will surely be rewarded at the highest level again soon.

You don't have to look far to identify those following in Lyons's footsteps. Apart from the esteemed Aidan and Joseph O'Brien duo of Caravaggio and Lundy, joining Psychedelic Funk in the Coventry will be Grand Coalition and Van Der Decken, representing the respective yards of Murtagh and Paddy Twomey.

Van Der Decken was sold to Godolphin on the back of its debut victory at the Curragh, and it would be some coup were it to triumph in the Group Two for the Tipperary-based handler, a breeze-up impresario.

Murtagh is another upwardly mobile trainer who has attracted Al Thani's patronage, as has Michael O'Callaghan, whose Irish 2,000 Guineas third Blue De Vega will be a leading player in Thursday's Tercentenary Stakes.

In tomorrow's Windsor Castle Stakes, O'Callaghan's Curragh neighbour Darren Bunyan will saddle Mister Trader, which will sport the silks of Abdullah Saeed Al Naboodah for a first time after chasing Caravaggio home at the Curragh. Bunyan, another greenhorn, bought the Hellvelyn colt for just €15,000.

Of course, Jet Setting is the new poster girl for bargain buys.

Adrian Keatley executed one of Flat racing's most seismic acts of giant slaying by sending out his £12,600 cast-off to deny Minding a Classic treble in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. The rains have arrived at Ascot, where tomorrow's card will take place on ground that is borderline soft, so Jet Setting's Coronation Stakes odds have tumbled from 8/1 into 5/2.

This evening, Jet Setting will likely command a six-figure price when she goes under the hammer at Goffs London sale, and it would be great if she were to remain in Keatley's care beyond this week.

Regardless, though, his exploits with her have already showcased his range of talents. Of course, none of this is to take away from the glamour of three Guineas winners going at it in tomorrow's St James's Palace thriller.

Awtaad reiterating its Curragh superiority over Galileo Gold for Kevin Prendergast and Chris Hayes or Ballydoyle's The Gurkha confirming the massive impression that he made in Deauville would be no less laudable Irish victories.

When colts of that calibre collide for such colossal showdowns, it adds real lustre to a game that is often denied such possibilities by the commercial demands of the stallion business.

It is something in which to revel, but so too are the exploits of those from more humble origins who have ground out the right to grace the Royal meeting.

In 2015, an O'Brien quintet helped the raiders to eight Ascot wins, with Weld, David Wachman and Willie Mullins also on the mark. Here's to a similar haul this time, with a healthy dose of diversity thrown in as well.

'Sceaux' fails to pass his French test for Ruby

Ruby Walsh got caught up in the Euros frenzy when he was serenaded by a plane full of Irish fans en route to France yesterday.

The 11-time champion took it all in good spirits, and his day's work at Auteuil began with a win in the four-year-olds' Grade One on Mullins' odds-on Footpad. That was as good as it got for him at the Parisien venue, as Un De Sceaux reverted to type by racing freely on stepping up to three miles in the Champion Hurdle.

Thousand Stars finished just behind Un De Sceaux in seventh and Whiteout was pulled up early, as Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies won the day with Ptit Zig.

Tweet of the weekend

Davy Russell (@_Davy_Russel_)

Big congrats 2 all the winners at p2p awards last night, best amateur sport bar none @irishp2p @CoddJJ

Russell pays tribute to the point-to-point scene following Saturday night's bash at the Knightsbrook Hotel in Co Meath, where Jamie Codd was crowned champion for a second time.

Numbers Game

440,000 Dollars is the figure that Saturday night's Belmont Stakes victor Creator cost as a yearling in 2014. Steve Asmussen's charge hadn't run since flopping in the Kentucky Derby, but this time, with the Churchill Downs hero Nyquist absent and the Preakness winner Exaggerator below par, it was his turn. Just.

Irish Independent

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