Summer stars ready to shine
Despite Arctic weather, the Flat season peeps its head above ground today. Aisling Crowe has some highlights to look forward to as the racing and hopefully the weather heats up.
Now that Frankel has departed the scene to enjoy life as a pampered stallion, there is a void in the spotlight crying out to be filled. Step into the light Dawn Approach.
Jim Bolger's chestnut colt began his unbeaten season with victory in the two-year-old maiden at the Curragh on this day last year. His six wins included the Coventry Stakes and the National Stakes and culminated with the Dewhurst Stakes in October.
Bought by Sheikh Mohammed, the son of Bolger's Derby winner New Approach now races in the blue of Godolphin, but the shrewd trainer continues to mastermind his career and reports suggest the colt has bloomed in the early spring as he prepares for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 4.
To be ready to win at the very start of the season and continue to perform at the highest level throughout the year marked him out as a special horse. His nonchalant racing style and exhilarating burst of speed are a lethal combination.
If he passes the Guineas test, the Derby question will arise. The speed he showed to win over five furlongs allied to his precocious talent and the speedy dam side of his pedigree raise doubts over his ability to stay the Derby trip. His strengths would place him in the highest echelons over a mile or 10 furlongs and if he returns to the track a matured version of last year's incarnation, then another scintillating season awaits.
He proved to be merely mortal and not the second coming of Pegasus, but his quest for the Triple Crown was one of the stories that lit up a gloomy Irish summer as Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore partners went in search of immortality.
His season may have fizzled out like a damp firecracker with a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Arc following on from his St Leger second, but he deserves another chance. Days after that Paris defeat he suffered a bout of colic that required surgery but fully rested and recuperated, the three-time Classic winner will be back on the trail of more summer jewels with a properly mapped out plan.
That may start with the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh on May 26. The 10-furlong trip seems ideal for him and it could be the perfect starting point on a new journey.
The biggest middle-distance prizes of the summer stretch out on the horizon before him with the King George, the Irish Champion Stakes and perhaps some unfinished business in Paris all possible targets for the four-year-old. Camelot may not be a mythical hero for the ages but he remains a talented horse and one with something to prove.
For the past 13 years, Declan McDonogh has faced into each Flat season from the familiar setting of Kevin Prendergast's yard, the majority of them as stable jockey. This year brings a different perspective. The Meath man has one of the most coveted jobs in racing after his appointment as retained rider to the Aga Khan in Ireland.
When Johnny Murtagh's services were dispensed with in the autumn, the Aga Khan turned increasingly to the 32-year-old to ride for him, with a victory on Zand cementing their relationship and when the announcement of McDonogh's new job was made in late November it was a timely acknowledgement of his talent.
Champion jockey in 2006, McDonogh will have the pick of the Aga Khan's blue bloods trained by John Oxx to bolster his bid to win the title for the second time. With several sons and daughters of Sea The Stars, along with Zand and some more exciting horses in the yard, 2013 promises to be a thrilling new departure for McDonogh who warmed up for his role by spending a month riding in Japan and will hope to get the season off to a flying start in Dubai next weekend.
Murtagh's relationship with Tommy Carmody and Andrew Tinkler will have more repercussions for Irish racing than a new face in the Aga Khan's green and red silks.
Since Carmody's return to the training ranks a year ago backed by Eddie Stobart CEO Tinkler, they have had a growing impact on the Irish scene. Carmody trains out of a yard owned by Murtagh and the trio gained notable success with the likes of Ursa Major and Royal Diamond heading their winning team.
Tinkler is more hands-on this year, dispensing with the services of his racing manager, and has increased the horses in Carmody's string. With Tinkler's financial backing, Murtagh and Carmody will continue to shake up the Flat scene.
Murtagh wasn't in the saddle when Royal Diamond won the final Irish Classic, as he was in Doncaster partnering Ursa Major in the English equivalent, but now that he is free to take the reins on all Tinkler's horses, expect to see the haulage magnate's red, blue and white silks in winners' enclosures across the country this summer.
That's if it ever stops raining.