Monday, December 19, 2011

Long Run - King George 2011



Long Run - King George 2011

By Stephen Dwyer

History they say has a habit of repeating itself. The King George, run this St. Stephen's Day in Kempton is a race that has a phenomenal record of repeat winners. Desert Orchid and Kauto Star have won The King George four times apiece, while Kicking King, See More Business, One Man and Wayward Lad have all won the race more than once in the past 20 years. This year, Long Run aims to emulate this and has a very strong chance of claiming his second King George in a row.

If we strip it back to basics, Long Run is a big old-fashioned French chaser. Still a
sprightly six year old he is by Cadoudal, who also sired Big Buck's and Fadalko. He is more than this though, Long Run is an exceptional horse. Including his early career in France he has recorded twelve wins from nineteen starts. He has never finished out of the first three in a race. A Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, he improves as the season goes on. If we examine his first run over the past two seasons it appears he takes time to warm to the task.

In the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last year he was slow in the air but still managed third. Against an ageless Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase last month, Long Run was prone to more jumping errors, particularly in the latter half of the race. It was as if he was unsettled by the pace and fluidity of the great Kauto.

Going into next Sunday's race, Long Run is unbeaten at Kempton. His win as a novice in the Grade 1 Feltham Novices' Chase was far from flawless. He jumped left and hit some fences but still cantered to a fourteen length victory. Last year at the same track he again made some early mistakes but his jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, settled him and he had the race won in a couple of strides three fences out. Even more impressive to note is that his two runs at Kempton have a combined winning distance of 26 lengths.

Trainer Nicky Henderson was interviewed recently and noted "Kauto Star was better and
fitter than us the last day but The King George is the primary target for the first half of the season. Long Run has run twice at Kempton and was outstanding in the Feltham and outstanding in the King George. There's no reason why he won't be outstanding again"."

Currently available at odds of 13/8, Long Run is a short price to follow up on
last year's victory. Given that half the field are rank outsiders at big prices, his task is made that little bit easier. There is a doubt as to whether Master Minded will stay the three miles at Kempton and his three runs over 2m 4f have resulted in a first, second and third. There is also the niggling doubt that Kauto Star might have peaked against Long Run but a victory by the great 11 year old would lift the grandstand as he would become the first horse in history to win five King Georges.

The race does revolve around Long Run however and he will be very hard to beat. Nicky
Henderson has stated that the gelding has grown over the summer and will be primed for the race, even more so than last year. Currently running off a rating of 182, connections are upbeat, none moreso than his jockey.

Sam Waley-Cohen, the pilot of Long Run is the son of Robert Waley-Cohen, owner of the horse. Sam is not a professional jockey but an Oxford-educated businessman who owns a string of dental practises. He also became the first amateur jockey in 30 years to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup earlier this year. Sam Waley-Cohen was the subject of heavy criticism on more than one occasion for his rides aboard Long Run with many punters of the opinion that Barry Geragthy should ride the gelding. Indeed his odds of winning the race shortened when it seemed that Waley-Cohen might be replaced by Barry Geraghty, after Waley-Cohen was banned for 12 days by the stewards at Fakenham for taking the wrong course.

In his garden, Waley-Cohen often takes time out to practice on his mechanical exercise horse, he is not a typical national hunt jockey but then again Long Run is not a typical national hunt horse.

Whatever people's opinion of Waley-Cohen may be, on St. Stephen's Day at Kempton he is in for one hell of a ride.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Four to follow

Four to follow

By Stephen Dwyer



Below are two chasers and two hurdlers who will be entered in races over the next couple of weeks and can be followed with confidence.

Bog Warrior
You don’t win the Drinmore by 31 lengths unless you are a serious horse. Bog Warrior, a highly progressive seven year old is just that. By leading stallion Strategic Choice, Bog Warrior is winner of four out of five starts to date. From a gritty bumper win on his debut, Tony Martin’s stable star easily landed a Beginner’s chase over two miles with a clear round of jumping. He is very fluid over fences and will comfortably stay three miles. His only fall came at the last flight of hurdles on bottomless ground at Navan and he has sharpened his jumping since. Taking a huge leap up in class since his chase debut, he beat last year’s star novice hurdler First Lieutenant in the 2 mile 4 furlong Drinmore last time out. Acting best on Soft ground, Bog Warrior is unlikely to travel to Cheltenham on good ground but he will be seen over Christmas at Leopardstown and should be fully supported over an extended trip.

Mikael D’Haguenet
Clearly not a chaser, Mikael D’Haguenet attempted to overcome a 593 day absence last year when looking a likely winner before falling at the last in the Grade One Drinmore. He was well fancied in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham but failed to make an impression. Mikael D’Haguenet has never won over fences, even when he was a younger horse in France but over hurdles he a different horse. A winner of three Grade One races including the Ballymore Novice’s Hurdle at Cheltenham, Willie Mullins seven year old remained unbeaten over smaller obstacles throughout the 2008/2009 season. He spent almost two years on the sidelines through injury but made a return to winning ways recently when carrying a low weight at Fairyhouse. Over two and a half miles on ground with some give in it, he can recapture his younger promise and the sky is the limit.



Quito De La Roque
A half-brother to smart 2m4f-3m hurdle winner Kazal, Quito De La Roque was cut from 3/1 into 7/4 favourite for the Lexus Chase following the retirement of Denman. Trained by Colm Murphy, the seven year old gelding is unbeaten in 2011. He was put away for Leopardstown and bypassed the Drinmore recently to give him every chance at Christmas. French bred in the style of some really decent chasers that Michael O’ Leary has procured over the past couple of seasons, he has only finished out of the first two placings once in his twelve starts. Effective on easy ground, he came from the clouds to beat Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase at Down Royal last month. He stays well and although beaten ¾ of a length by subsequent RSA winner Boston’s Angel at Leopardstown last year, Quito De La Roque went on to win the Mildmay chase at Aintree. He is one of Ireland’s leading staying chasers and it will take an exceptional horse to lower his colours if at his best in the Lexus.



Simonsig
Named after one of South Africa’s top wine producers, Simonsig is a dual Irish Point to Point winner. He is a speedy sort from the family of the French 2,000 guineas winner and won a top bumper by 13 lengths in Fairyhouse when trained by Antrim-based Ian Ferguson. He has since joined Nicky Henderson and his owners turned down a €100,000 offer from Gigginstown for the horse. Still only a five year old, he won a maiden hurdle easily at odds of 1/5. Last time out he was unlucky to meet a really useful sort in Fingal Bay. Philip Hobbs is on record as stating “Fingal Bay may the best horse I have ever trained”. Hobbs of course also trained Rooster Booster, the 167 rated grey who won a Champion Hurdle. Simonsig may act better on goodish ground over 2 miles 4 furlongs and may run next in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Nicky Henderson thinks very highly of this gelding and he can be confidently followed throughout the season.

Monday, November 7, 2011

So Many Crumbs

So Many Crumbs



By Stephen Dwyer

Celestial Halo likes it around Wincanton. He claimed his second win at the venue in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle on Saturday last when beating the Andy Turnell trained Aine’s Delight by 16l. Tongue-tied and blinkered, Celestial Halo was giving 10lbs and three years to triumph hurdle third, Grandouet.

Making all the running, Paul Nicholl’s seven year old was tracked by Grandouet throughout. Barry Geraghty looked very comfortable in the saddle before taking the second last a length off the leader. Full of running, the 8/11 favourite Grandouet jumped the flight a fraction early and clipped the front of the hurdle before crumpling on landing, leaving Celestial Halo in isolation to win by a wide margin.

It has to be noted that Enniscorthy native Daryl Jacob was pushing Celestial Halo along before Grandouet’s departure. Jacob, now number two rider to Paul Nicholls can be considered fortunate on the day.

Nonetheless it provided his trainer with the 1,999th winner of his career. Wincanton is Nicholl’s local track and it was fitting that later in the afternoon, Kauto Stone, a half brother to Kauto Star gave Nicholl’s his 2,000th career win. Nicholl’s reaction was joyful but grounded “so many crumbs to make a cake” was his response.

Celestial Halo is a frustrating character, brilliant on his day as seen when winning the 2008 Triumph Hurdle, he has an unreliable side in equal measure. A fall at odds of 1/4 in a beginners chase at Exeter was clearly disappointing. A lacklustre performance followed thereafter in the Grade 2 Berskshire Novice’s Chase which quickly saw Paul Nicholls switch the horse back to hurdles.

Celestial Halo was a 40,000 guineas purchase for the Stewart Family. By Galileo he was a moderate performer on the flat for Barry Hills before making a winning debut over hurdles. Previous to his success in the Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell last February, it was 477 days since Celestial Halo had won a race.

Indeed Celestial Halo has finished second no less than seven times in his career to date. His target this season is likely to be the Grade 2 Spirit Hurdle over 2m 4f once again. Judged on last year’s race if the ground turns up soft he will put up a bold show.

Grandouet appeared to be fine after the fall yesterday and better days lie ahead, he is still an exciting prospect. Many will remember the 9l trouncing he handed out at Punchestown in the Champion 4yo hurdle last May and he is favourite for the £100,000 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday November 13th.

The Greatwood hurdle is seen by many to be a stepping stone for future festival champions. Rooster Booster and Sizing Europe have all won this and Nicky Henderson will have Grandouet much sharper on the day.

He will have learned from Wincanton and could well be one of a serious prospects this season.

And Celestial Halo?

He knows where the crossbar is now so maybe he will stop hitting it.

“One Hell Of A Ride”

“One Hell Of A Ride”



Review – Stephen Dwyer

It comes as no surprise that Paul Carberry’s autobiography sits atop of the nonfiction charts. Carberry is one of Ireland’s best loved National Hunt jockeys and at age 37, one of the most successful.

A dual Irish champion jockey, he has won both the Irish and Grand National amongst a plethora of Group One races on both sides of the channel over a two-decade long career. From the very beginning, his autobiography pulls no punches. It is an honest, engaging read, one that is teeming with brilliantly funny stories and anecdotes.

Perhaps best of all, Carberry does not even attempt to gloss over his past. He throws himself at the scrapes and near-misses and the result is all the better for it. Having ridden in excess of 1,600 winners, the book covers his exploits in and out of the saddle in gritty detail.

This is a racing book like no other. It highlights the long (sometimes suffering) relationship with trainer Noel Meade, which was described at times as being held by an “elastic band”. Carberry reveals the truth behind the legend of the bet by JP McManus about giving up drinking and how he was fifteen minutes from death following a ruptured spleen. He touches on the big wins, his family life and the close fraternity and bonds found in the weigh room.

Behind the nonchalant front, Paul Carberry is a tough character, blessed with natural talent and the ability to utilise it. No doubt he has ridden many great horses but more often that most he has made the most aboard ordinary ones.

From the adventures of swinging from the Aintree rafters to suspended prison sentences, amide the great days and the many breaks and falls, this book really will take you on one hell of a ride.


Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brian Kavanagh


Brian Kavanagh

By Stephen Dwyer

Brian Kavanagh is sitting at his ease in a small suite overlooking the final furlong at Leopardstown racecourse. It is a midweek evening meeting at the Foxrock venue where two of the seven races are valuable Group 3 events. He is due to meet delegates from Morocco, Korea and Turkey who are over to purchase bloodstock. The minister for agriculture will be here too, promoting the Irish horse. Meeting ministers and foreign delegates is all in a day’s work for the CEO of Horse Racing Ireland.

I ask Kavanagh about his interest in horse racing and am surprised to learn that the Monkstown native had no family background in the area. As a teenager working in his Uncle’s butcher shop Kavanagh would place bets in the local betting office, and thus the interest in racing and particularly racing pedigrees was fuelled from there.
Qualifying in commerce from UCD and later as an accountant, he joined the Curragh racecourse, a venue he would manage for five years before he joined the turf club as their CEO. In 2001 when Horse Racing Ireland was founded, Kavanagh was announced as their CEO, a position he has held since. He is a man who describes his position as “a labour of love” and recognises greatly that the opportunity he has received to develop the industry.

Analysing horse racing at present he is quick to point out that the rate of growth during the height of the boom was unsustainable but feels that the industry has levelled off somewhat. Recognising still that discretionary spending is down, he shows clear admiration for trainers and owners for being so resilient; “they realise that the next horse coming into the yard could be the next Arkle or Nijinsky, that’s what keeps the dream alive”.

It does not take the CEO of Horse Racing Ireland to point out fact that the quality of the Irish horse is amongst the best in the world. Most people with a passing interest in the sport know this and it is reflected in the races run here. Kavanagh concedes; “HRI operate a fundamental policy whereby 10% of all races are black type, this is a figure much higher than other comparable countries and in Ireland it is very hard to win a race”.

Kavanagh is well-travelled; he has visited the finest racetracks in the world, across to the racing city of Meydan, to Sha Tin in Hong Kong and most of the tracks in England. Yet for all these tracks he would still prefer to be in Galway on a festival night or Leopardstown at Christmas. He is a man who values substance over flair, atmosphere over finery.

The serious subject of offshore betting tax is then discussed; it is a topic that Kavanagh believes should be addressed. “It is fundamentally unfair that a bookmaker who buys a shop on the high street pays his license and taxes when someone standing outside using a computer that connects to the Isle of Man does not”. As a realist, he knows he lobbying against powerful interests, corporate types in the betting exchanges do not let the bit slip easily (Betfair’s revenues last year were €575 million). More tax netted from the bookmakers and exchanges however would be directed into initiatives like RACE, the training programme for apprentice jockeys and supporting jobs within the industry.

Flicking quickly from the challenges faced in HRI, Kavanagh recounts recent success stories such as Sea the Stars who he points out “was conceived in kildangan near Monasterivin, born in the National Stud and trained at the Curragh and went to stud at Glintown near Kilcullen. Apart from the times he left the region is has never been outside Kildare, Sea The Stars is a true lilywhite!”. It is evident his love for the sport transcends professional career.

Around this time each year the board of Horse Racing Ireland put the finishing touches on their budget for the forthcoming season. Last December a raft of cost-cutting measures were implemented due to a €1.6 million reduction in funding from the Government. These measures included a 5% decrease in all prize money and cuts in administration and racecourse services. Brian Kavanagh is chaired with the responsibility of announcing these measures. Horse Racing Ireland has been hit with financial cuts during the last number of years with a drop in Government funding from €76 million in 2008 to €57.2 million for 2011.

Whatever the budget reveals this year there are few people in Ireland with the knowledge about horse racing that Brian Kavanagh possesses and fewer still with the conviction to apply it.

The Changing Place


The Changing Place

By Stephen Dwyer

As October dawns, the mists of autumn will soon pass to the white of winter. Schooling grounds get softer as the nights close in and the countdown to the new National Hunt season has certainly and assuredly started.

But behind every silver lining sits a cloud, and what a shadow was cast last week with the passing of two irreplaceable custodians of horse racing, Donald “Ginger” McCain and Michael Jarvis. The communities of National Hunt and Flat racing have lost two remarkable men and we are all the poorer for it.

Ginger McCain will be forever known for training four-time Grand National winner Red Rum, a horse bought for a song with a bone disease who defied all odds to epitomize the greatest race in the world.

What living tribute could be more fitting than when his son Donald repeated the Grand National win last April with Ballabriggs. As well as his fame in the winner’s enclosure, McCain Snr. was renowned for his anecdotes; one I retell often is when Ginger learned that Desert Orchid was better known than the Chancellor of the Exchequer- “Desert Orchid and I have a lot in common. We are both greys; vast sums of money are riding on our performance; the Opposition hopes we will fall at the first fence, and we are both carrying too much weight.”

Ginger will be often thought about as will Michael Jarvis who enjoyed success with winners in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe the Oaks, 1,000 Guineas and was a specialist in the Haydock Sprint Cup. He was an international trainer of note and one of the first English trainers to regularly send runners from his Newmarket yard to Italy and Germany, conquering both from the late 1980’s until his retirement earlier this year. What these two men have achieved reminds us all that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Changes afoot too for jockeys who will now be permitted to only use the whip very sparingly during racing. The whip can only be used a maximum of seven times in a Flat race, and eight times in a jumps race (and only five times in the last furlong/after the last obstacle). Indeed serious consultation was endeavored by all sides in the review of the whip and no less than nineteen recommendations in relation to the whip were agreed by the BHA. The first of which corroborates that the whip is deemed necessary for safety and encouragement, a sensible point given that racehorses can weigh over 500kg, ten times more than their jockey.

Tony McCoy and Frankie Dettori were quick to welcome the new changes to the whip, as have Paul Nicholls and Sir. Henry Cecil. The former noting "I am pleased that the BHA has made sensible and reasonable changes, and I am supportive of them." The changes that have been brought about will take effect from October 10th and their take-up is sure to be quick.

Even though a blow has yet to be struck in anger, I stole a quick look at the Cheltenham 2012 ante-post betting. 167 days away and they are all there, the big guns. Peddler’s Cross for the Arkle, Hurricane Fly to retain the Champion Hurdle, Quevega for the Mares Hurdle, Big Bucks for the World Hurdle, Long Run.

It was Lincoln who said The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. From October to March, those days are marked out by race names. The Old Roan Chase, The Rising Stars Novice Chase, The Long Walk, The Christmas Hurdle, The Tingle Creek, The King George.

It’s a thing of beauty following a horse on the flat or over jumps; you often form a bond with them. You relish their wins and think what can be gained next time out from their losses. The changing times are times to remember; times to live in, here’s to a great season ahead.

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
W- Churchill.

St Leger Preview


St Leger Preview

By Stephen Dwyer

First run in 1776, the same year that the United States declared their independence, the St. Leger is the last and longest of the classics. The race is open to entire colts and filles and takes place tomorrow at Doncaster over 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 132 yards. The 2011 renewal carries an attractive purse of £500,000 and the nine that go to post are as follows.

Brown Panther
(Trained by Tom Dascombe Jockey Kieran Fallon Current odds 10/1)
Owned by footballer Michael Owen, Brown Panther stayed on strongly to win The King George V Stakes winner at Royal Ascot. The St. Leger has been a target since that victory but his last two runs have been below par. He finished fifth in the German Derby was was beaten by Census last time out. Despite the best efforts of jockey Kieran Fallon, a Group 1 may be out of his reach at the present time.

Buthelezi
(Trained by John Gosden Jockey Robert Havlin Current odds 66/1)
John Gosden has trained the winner of two of the last four St. Legers but Buthelezi was well held behind Census and Brown Panther last time out in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes. He did win a Class 2 Nemarket Handicap in May over 1m 2 furlongs but his line of form gives little chance in such a competitive classic.

Census
(Trained by Richard Hannon Jockey Richard Hughes Current odds 5/1)
Richard Hannon is a trainer enjoying a very fine run of form lately, his strike rate over the past two weeks is hovering around the 20% mark and he has a live chance in the race with Census. Census finished second to Brown Panther in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot and was subsequently runner-up in the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket. He then improved to beat Brown Panther last time out in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes. Census is a serious improver (up twenty pounds since the start of the season). He has a lot on his plate as is giving away nine pounds on official racing to Blue Bunting. The horse is consistent though and will be thereabouts in the shake up.

Genius Beast
(Trained by M Al Zarooni Jockey S De Sousa Current odds 50/1)
Out of a Sinndar mare, Genius Beast is one of three Godolphin runners in the field. He was a surprise winner of a Classic Trial at Sandown in April but failed to justify favouritism in the €130,000 Group 2 Prix Hocquart at Longchamp. He is a likely pacemaker for Godolphin's better hopes.

Masked Marvel
(Trained by John Gosden Jockey William Buick Current odds 7/1)
An impressive winner of the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood, Masked Marvel beat Census by a head last time out at Newmarket despite hanging left inside the final furlong. He finished eighth in the Epsom Derby and the trip up in distance will suit. By Montjeu, he cuts an impressive figure and has an each way chance for the trainer and jockey combination who won this race last year.

Sea Moon
(Trained by Sir Michael Stoute Jockey O Peslier Current odds 11/8)
Sea Moon has run just four times in his career to date. Losing just once (by a short head first time out) he is a winner of a handicap over one mile and two furlongs on the Knavesmire and the Great Voltigeur Stakes by a widening 8 lengths over 1 mile 4 furlongs . Michael Stoute has noted "It's the most competitive Leger we've had for many years." but is bullish about the chances of Sea Moon. "He's got a proper Leger pedigree, his three-parts brother (Brian Boru) won the race so you'd be hopeful that stamina wouldn't be a problem." If Sean Moon relishes the step up in trip again then he might steal a march on the field. Jockey Olivier Peslier takes the ride for the first time and he is an intruiging runner, albeit at very short odds.

Seville
(Trained by Aidan O' Brien Jockey Joseph O' Brien Current odds 8/1)
Second four times from seven races, including second to Carlton House in the Dante Stakes, Seville has won just once when odds-on in a weak race in Ireland. He was fancied in the Derby but finished well down the field. The Galileo colt is still seeking his first major win and although 5 lbs better off than Blue Bunting on ratings, may well have to settle for minor honours again tomorrow.

Blue Bunting
(Trained by M Al Zarooni Jockey L Dettori Current odds 7/2)
The stable have won this race twice over the past seven years and Frankie Dettori loves the Leger. Blue Bunting goes into the race having taken the 1,000 Guineas and the Irish Oaks and is a filly with a very real chance of adding another Group 1 to that collection. Officially rated the highest in the field and receiving a weight allowance, Blue Bunting is a has class and stamina in abundance. Simon Crisford, racing manager to Godoplhin quips "She is very tough- she gives everything she has though she wins her races by a narrow margin."

Rumh
(Trained by Saeed bin Suroor Jockey Richard Hills Current odds 100/1)
Remember Maroof who won the QEII at 66/1 in 1994 ? How about Summoner in 2001 at odds of 33/1 ? Both pacemakers, just like Rumh who was supplemented at a late stage for the race. His main task is to provide pacemaking duties for Blue Bunting but Rumh is a filly without a hugely impressive closing kick and her odds of 100/1 are a reflection of her chances.

Verdict:
Sea Moon is very lightly raced but a high class sort. The Stoute stable finally won the St. Leger with Conduit in 2008 but he had followed a busier campaign. Sea Moon's win in the Great Voltigeur was impressive and if he holds this form he wins. The odds of Sea Moon are very cramped and BLUE BUNTING is selected to take the race with Frankie Dettori on board this outstanding, resolute filly.

Betting:
11/8 Sea Moon
7/2 Blue Bunting
5/1 Census
8/1 Masked Marvel
8/1 Seville
10/1 Brown Panther
33/1 Wonder Of Wonders
66/1 Genius beast
66/1 Buthelezi
100/1 Freedom
100/1 Rumh

Sundance


Sundance

By Stephen Dwyer

As you would expect, JP McManus is an exceptionally busy man. Most millionaires are. Yet, at his Martinstown estate, he takes all the time in the world to be the perfect host. JP fits our interview into a window he created between the wedding ceremony and evening reception of his wife Noreen’s nephew. Replete in a fine suit fit for the winning circle of any racecourse, JP is at ease and more than willing to talk about horse racing.

When initially requesting an audience with JP, I happened to mention that I would include this article in a writing competition, the grand prize for which is £1,000. The reply to my letter was swift. A call came from Martinstown; JP would agree to the interview on the condition I gave him £500 if I won the competition!

This was a joke of course but horse racing is close to JP’s heart and a finer proponent of the sport you will not meet. Fitting then that every March the Cheltenham Festival coincides with JP’s birthday. What would be a more fitting time to have it for one of racing’s biggest benefactors.

Born in Dublin in 1951, JP moved to Limerick when he was three years old. Since then he has become Limerick’s greatest son. In his late teens and early twenties JP drove a D4 Caterpillar for his father’s bulldozing business. At 21 he took out a bookies license and stood at point-to-points and the Greyhound track at Market’s Field. There he plied his trade with clerk and lifelong confidant, Declan Moylan.

Declan tells the story of the first time they stood at a racecourse, a point to point in Patrickswell;
“It was a cold January day and we were setting up the stand for the first race,where there was a hotpot favourite priced 4/5 and touching 4/6 in places. He seemed a good thing but JP didn’t like the look of him and chalked up a price of even money on the board. I was holding up the stand in one hand and taking bets with the other when the race went off. All was going well for the favourite ‘til he fell three out.” With a nod Declan adds “A good start wasn’t it”. Couldn’t have been any better.

Four years later, aged 25, a trip to Goffs would forever alter the course of JP’s life in horse racing. He freely admits that he went to the sales that day with no intention of buying a horse. Cill Dara, a Lord Gayle mare who had been trained to win the Cesarewitch by Con Collins caught his eye. JP remembers parting with around 30,000 for her and it wouldn’t be long until she repaid her new owners faith.

On her first start, carrying 10 stone 1lb and ridden by Raymond Carroll, Cill Dara beat a horse ridden by none other than Joanna Morgan. The colours the mare carried that day and on to a repeat win in the Cesarewitch have since become world famous. They are the green and gold hoops of South Liberties GAA club, one of the oldest in Ireland since it’s inception in 1884.

Betting of course is a discipline in which McManus has achieved both fame and notoriety. It was at Alf Hogan’s betting office in Limerick city that JP spent countless Saturdays learning and refining his strategies. The betting tax rates at the time were much higher than now but in Hogan’s shop no tax was collected on win double bets. No prizes as to what quickly became JP’s specialty.

When the minister for finance revised the taxation laws and increased the tax on betting to 20% JP stopped betting overnight.

It was a decision that would not be reversed until a more sensible taxation rate was applied and upon resuming betting, JP became known as The Sundance Kid. The nickname stems from Jimmy Hayes, a friend who was born on the exact same day as JP. Jimmy was known as Butch Cassidy so his partner’s name stuck to JP.

Despite his early successes as an owner, it was not until Mister Donovan won The Sun Alliance Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1982 that it put the-then 31 year old McManus on the road to the big stage. Mister Donovan, trained by Edward O’ Grady and ridden by Tommy Ryan was second favourite for The Sun Alliance and it was rumoured that McManus won in the region of £250,000 on the race but the exact amount is not remembered.

JP had been having a disastrous Cheltenham prior to the win and even now he recounts the memory fondly. “Winning that day was badly needed, I often think looking back that if we hadn’t have won that race, we might not have had any more”. Now, almost thirty years later and with 31 additional Cheltenham winners, the show is firmly on the road.

Self-admittedly, JP is unsure of exactly how many horses he has in training and he modestly discloses that no particular success stands out. ”I have had some great days as an owner but you always tend to remember your last winner the most”.

Drawing a blank at this year’s Cheltenham does not faze him. With a keen eye on the current competition he thinks Hurricane Fly “is a hell of a horse” but would still relish challenging him with a fully-fit Binocular. Long Run, JP is quick to add “seems a very, very good champion and kept sound I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he won the Gold Cup again”.

Out of all the horses that have passed through Martinstown, the peerless Istabraq takes pride of place. In 2002, JP held a retirement party for the three-time Champion hurdler who he hastily considers “a hard act to follow but to us here he is more than just a horse”. The thoughts of being denied a fourth Champion Hurdle due to the foot-and-mouth crisis do not entertain him as JP believes firmly that every cloud has a sliver lining.

Not every horse can be an Istabraq of course and he reminds us “you have to have the bad ones to appreciate the good ones” But there are plenty of good ones around Martinstown. As of now Risk Of Thunder and Istabraq happily share both a large paddock and an penchant for carrots. Beside them Don’t Push It and Binocular enjoy their seasonal break. Baracouda keeps a surly French eye cast upon them all.

In the spotless yard beside the stables sits an industrial-size horse walker where the new crop of winners begins their journey. Local lads from around the parish tend to the upkeep of the vast estate, painting and creosoting the fences. It is all important, all part of the bigger plan.

Briefly touching on the topic of business, JP speaks of a recently discovered bank ledger from the 1960’s. In it are records of him lodging £1 each week into a saving account. From this humble start his best advice is; “in any business it’s not the amount of good decisions that you make, it’s the amount of bad decisions that you don’t”.

JP McManus is a man whose time is spent carefully as a medley of multi-faceted ventures. His contributions to charities and special causes are both admirable and affecting.

The Pro-Am, staged every five years has raised over ninety million euros and its last running attracted 40,000 people each day.

Knowing a little about his game I asked why his favourite club is a putter. JP replied briskly “That’s simple, it’s because you know you are still in the game”.

And with that I left JP to rejoin his nephew’s wedding party.

Still in the game JP, still winning and lots of golf to play.

Great Expectations


Great Expectations

By Stephen Dwyer

At the turn of this century, a snapshot of British racecourses revealed that 59 racecourses were currently open for business. Coincidentally, 59 other courses had closed during the previous 100 years. Manchester, Birmingham, Northampton, Gatwick and Sheffield all had racecourses but all since closed. Following a spate of post-war closures, the rate of decline had slowed over the final quarter of the twentieth century. No racecourses had shut its doors during the 1990’s. Stockton was the sole closure in the 1980’s and only Wye, Lanark and Alexandra Park had folded in the 1970’s.

In addition to these closures, no completely new racecourse had opened in the UK since Taunton in 1927. This was soon to change with the addition of Ffos Las and Great Leighs but both would have different destinies. Whereas one would prosper, the other would close within a year.

Ffos Las racecourse, meaning “Blue Ditch” is the third racecourse in Wales. Situated in a natural rolling bowl about five miles from Llanelli, it had a colourful beginning. Ffos Las was constructed on the site of an open cast coal mine, a natural amphitheatre, after mining operations there had ceased.

The undertaking to build the track was significant. Over 110km of drainage was installed by specialist contractors along with stables for 120 horses and a Grandstand. Viewed from above, the racetrack appears as a 1m 4f oval jewel, hewed out of the cracked stone landscape. A dual-purpose course, it staged its inaugural meeting in June 2009 and has gone from strength to strength. Now hosting about 30 meetings a year it has received significant local support and is described as the lungs of the area and contributes significantly to the economy of west Wales.

By contrast, Great Leighs, the brainchild of entrepreneur John Holmes, did not prosper. Unquestionably the groundings of the project were solid and well intentioned. Situated in Essex; Great Leighs would be an all-weather track located in an area with a catchment population of over 4 million including that of East London and Hertfordshire.

The track and facilities cost in the region of £30 million to construct and this was reflected in the facilities of Great Leighs which were carefully thought out and implemented. Spread out over 430 acres, it had an eight and a half furlong floodlit Polytrack surface and 10,000 user capacity Grandstand which was used in the Ryder Cup.

In 2008, the year of its opening, the facilities at the track were so highly regarded that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games recommended it as one of the holding bases for equestrianism in the build-up to the 2012 Games. The course was also immediately popular with trainers based just 50 miles away in Newmarket who would have otherwise had to travel over twice as far to get to the next closest all-weather venues at Southwell and Kempton.

Despite this praise, attendances at Great Leighs did not match the targets set out and the track attracted constant criticism from patrons due to the unfinished state of certain visitor facilities. Almost nine months to the day it was opened, amidst a flurry of unpaid bills, the track was placed in Administration and its license revoked.

Essentially the costs of building and running Great Leighs spiralled to a point that the income generated from the business was unsustainable.

Great Leighs is currently owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the actual artificial track surface is owned by Martin Collins, the Polytrack specialist who laid the original surface but was never paid for it. Even if Great Leighs is sold it will be at least 18 months before racing could recommence as it has missed the deadline for the 2012 fixture allocation. There were talks earlier this year between Andrew Tinkler, chief executive of Eddie Stobart Ltd, was and RBS about reopening the racecourse but as it, it is very much a case of “watch this space”.

Contrasting the success and failure of these two racecourses is not simplistic. Both were located in areas with traditional horse racing ties and a willing population. The closeness to Newmarket was also a positive for Great Leighs as were the equestrian facilities but the financial and licensing issues appeared to hasten the death knell for the track. Attendance at any racetrack is the lifeblood of the business but it is a fact that all-weather racing never attracts the same numbers as flat or National Hunt.

Even though it is still in Administration, all is not lost for Great Leighs. There is a hotel in Korea that ran out of money for sixteen years. Funding was found last year and it is on course to become one of the tallest buildings in the world. If great expectations were assumed for Great Leighs, the answer to the burning question of will it ever open again? Dickens himself could not have put it better.

Never say Never.

Hayley's Comet


Hayley’s Comet

By Stephen Dwyer

Hayley Turner is not a jockey. Politically speaking of course. The word “jockey” is a 16th century Northern English or Scots colloquial of the name “John” which diminutively became “jock”. A jockey was always male, originally a boy or postilion who had dealings with horses. Though Hayley is a woman, you would never know from her strength in the saddle.

Through their achievements, certain jockeys have written themselves into the annals of history. In 1840, the first Champion Flat Jockey, Elnathan "Nat" Flatman held the title for thirteen years. Just four other jockeys, Fred Archer, Steve Donoghue, Gordon Richards and Lester Piggott held it for almost sixty years collectively. They were what the Americans call; Game Changers.

Standing a shade over 5ft 2in and weighing under 8 stone, Hayley Turner carries a Lilliputian frame and appears to be forever smiling. At a recent photo shoot in aid of Breast Cancer charities, Hayley appeared with nine other female jockeys. Beaming directly at the camera, she was a picture of youth, elegance and self-assuredness. Despite her gentle presence, make no mistake about it, Hayley Turner is a Game Changer.

Born in January 1983, Hayley started riding horses at the age of three. As the youngest of six girls in the Turner family (her mother was a riding instructor) her journey has come a long way since sitting atop her chestnut pony Eric as a toddler.

She is a former Champion Apprentice Jockey. In 2008, she captained the British team in the Shergar Cup as well as becoming the first female rider to pass 100 winners in the calendar year. Her first Group 1 ride was on Barshiba in the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, having won the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks on the same horse at Haydock a month earlier. She is also the first woman jockey to ride for Godolphin.

Fresh from a recent career high when she partnered Dream Ahead last month in the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket, Hayley is all smiles. On August 1st she scraped home by a neck in an evening sprint handicap on Efistorm. Jokingly describing the 10yo as an “OAP”, Efistorm provided Turner with her 500th career win. Putting this into context, Alex Greaves partnered around 300 winners in a 15-year career.

Out of the saddle Hayley Turner is a multiple winner of the Channel 4 Racing Personality of the Year, a media darling and “Face of the Derby”. She is a regular sight on television and in the media. But the road to the top has had its fair share of setbacks.

Watching her diet is a challenge exacerbated by the an intolerance to bread and pasta. As a sufferer of coeliac disease, a stomach condition which that prevents her eating gluten, her weight is constantly hovering around the 8 stone mark. Hayley’s entry into the world of race riding was also marred. On her first ever tide back in 2000 at her local track, Southwell, 17-year old Hayley was aboard a 25-1 chance, Markellis. The horse suffered a fatal injury mid-race and was humanely destroyed.

Rather than discourage her from the sport, made the impressionable jockey even more determined. Just seven rides later, Generate gave Turner her first win, she recalls
"It was a bit of a steering job, really. I watch the video now and I just cringe. I think to myself, 'Look at those arms. How did I win that?' "

In March 2009, she a sustained a very serious head injury following a stalls accident at Newmarket. Described by Hayley "I was exercising a horse, and it fired me into the ground. I remember coming out of the stalls and that's about it for a few weeks.

The accident caused immediate cranial bruising and bleeding from the ears. Hayley was stood down for a year, she could not ride in any races. Instead of resting for the twelve months, she appealed the ruling and was back race riding within four months.

She is affiliated with Michael Bell, a trainer with whom she was apprenticed and is insipring a generation of new female jockeys to join the ranks of their male counterparts.

Not alone is her success to date incredible, it is, more importantly, profoundly affecting. In an interview six years ago, Turner was asked about her biggest challenge as a female rider. Surprisingly, it was not competing in a finish against naturally-stronger males or worrying about injuries or failures. With her finger firmly on the pulse, she said “It's finding the owners and trainers with the courage to put a girl on a horse”

Since that interview in 2005, those owners and trainers who put their faith in Hayley Turner have been richly rewarded. Not alone in monetary terms, but in being associated with a young rider who is determined to succeed and who you know in your heart, will.

More luck to her.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

2011 King George


2011 King George

By Stephen Dwyer

This year’s King George is a triumvirate heavyweight free for all. Workforce Vs St Nicholas Abbey Vs. Rewilding. Two Derby winners and a smashing Ballydoyle colt will contest what promises to be a superb race. At Ascot this Saturday, the second richest race in Britain, the £1,000,000 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes takes centre stage. It has the makings of a classic.

At the head of the market, Workforce previously contested the King George last year as a 3yo. Going into the race, no 3yo had won it since 2003 and Workforce was attempting to emulate Nijinsky, Dancing Brave and Shergar who had all won at 3. It was not to be, a disappointing run saw Workforce finishing a remote fifth of six.

Going into Saturday’s race, the manner of his previous defeat warrants close inspection. On Good to Firm ground, he appeared at odds with the track and conditions. His knee action was very high and he expounded a lot of energy hitting the ground. Compounded with the free way he ran, the colt never settled and when he eventually threw down a challenge, faded badly. The Ascot turf was pocked with Good to Firm patches last year and he was no match on the day for his stable mate and horse of the year, Harbinger.

Still, defeat at odds of 8/11 in last year’s renewal was a minor blot on his copybook. Minor merely as the race came in between winning a Derby and an Arc. This year he is showing a rich vein of form, his last defeat was to Aidan O’ Briens So You Think over a 10f trip and he is surely suited to the 12f distance on Saturday. The question remains, can Workforce perform at Ascot, a place that many consider a specialist track?

The market is certainly speaking volumes. In recent weeks Sir Michael Stoute’s colt had been as big as 20/1 for the race. After pleasing connections with a scorching piece of work last weekend at Newmarket, Workforce has now been cut into 11/8 favourite. David Stevens, a spokesperson for Coral has noted "The support for Workforce, like the Ascot weather, shows no sign of drying up at present and last year's Derby winner is sure to start favourite on Saturday, although it's unlikely he will be sent off odds-on, as he was when disappointing in the race 12 months ago,"

The chance for redemption awaits, if he can handle the undulations of Epsom and win a Derby, he can handle Ascot. With the forecast of Good to Soft conditions underfoot suiting him, Workforce may take all the beating on what will only be his seventh start.

Timeform have also rated Workforce 5lb superior to his main market rival, St. Nicholas Abbey. Although he is a three-time Group One winner and a serious character when at his best, Aidan O’ Briens 4yo has yet to race at Ascot. On his seasonal bow last April, the colt flopped when 4/11f when running in a Listed Stakes at The Curragh. Since then he has since taken the Ormonde Stakes and Coronation Cup in tremendous style. As a 2yo , St. Nicholas Abbey was an emphatic winner of the Racing Post Trophy on Good to Soft and in the King George he is Ballydoyles sole representative. No other horse in the race will have has a longer break between races and is guaranteed to be fresh. Joseph O’ Brien will partner St. Nicholas Abbey as Ryan Moore is retained to ride Workforce.

Godolphin’s four-time Group One winner Rewilding will be ridden by Frankie Dettori . The 4yo lines up with a lofty reputation. He was an even-money favourite for last year’s St. Leger but the race came too soon after he battled to win the Great Voltigeur Stakes. He finished a tired horse in what was a very strongly run renewal. Since the St. Leger, Rewilding has won the 1m 4f Dubai Sheema Classic and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Ascot. Rewilding was also third in the Derby to Workforce. Godolphin's racing manager Simon Crisford has noted that they are keen to make the most of the presence of stablemate Debussy, who will act as a pacemaker;

"The key to Rewilding is that he needs to get into a rhythm. He has such a good turn of foot and that is why we'll probably be running a pacemaker," said Crisford. "He loves quickening up off a fast pace, it's no good to him if they crawl and then sprint. He hates a slow-run race.”

It may be all of fifteen years since Frankie Dettori completed his memorable “magnificent seven” at Ascot but when asked about the chances winning a fifth King , the reply was routinely straight; "Can I make it five on Rewilding? Well let's just say I've got a very good chance in a red-hot race."

The only 3yo in The King George, Nathaniel, was supplemented for the race three days ago at a cost of 75,000 pounds by his owner, Lady Rothschild. Nathaniel is a course-and-distance winner with the added bonus of receiving a 12-pound allowance from his main rivals. He enters the race on the back of an impressive victory in the The King Edward VII Stakes and should he win, he will be the first 3yo to do so since Alamshar in 2003.

The signs are positive that Workforce can claim his first King George but bringing it back to the heavyweight title fight, Dettori said of Rewilding "He's not the biggest - if it were a boxing match, he wouldn't even make the same division as Workforce, who is a monster by comparison - but he loves a battle”

That Derby third to Workforce may yet matter. Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.

Monday, June 20, 2011

All The Queen’s Horses


All The Queen’s Horses

By Stephen Dwyer

The Queen puts careful thought into the naming of her racehorses. As one would expect, almost all of them are highly personalised. “My Kingdom Of Fife”, “Earl Marshal” and of course Carlton House have raced in the renowned royal colours. Those silks, royal purple with scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap were the inherited colours of King George IV and King Edward VII. Gold trim and braid is interwoven throughout, sovereignty at its finest.

This week, amidst the regality of Ascot, the monosyllabic name of a chestnut filly by Galileo typifies best the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and her horses. The filly, a recent 290,000 Guineas acquisition from the family of Soldier Of Fortune (who won an Irish Derby and The Coronation Cup) is simply and befittingly called “Fascination”; more about her later.

The Queen is renowned for being an advocate of the countryside and a matriarch of animals. Admittedly, the fascination with the thoroughbred is not a novel one for a monarch; we are dealing with the “sport of kings” after all. Nonetheless, Queen Elizabeth II is a champion of the sport and one of its greatest ever ambassadors.

The Queen’s interest in horse racing stems from an early age. No doubt it was both fuelled and encouraged by The Queen Mother who was a keen supporter of National Hunt racing. So much so that in 1980, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, The Queen Mother was honoured with the christening of a Championship race at Cheltenham as recognition of her contributions to the sport.

Indeed The Queen Mother had a very successful fifty-year career as an owner with over 400 winners. Today, bronze busts entrusted to her memory adorn Sandown and Prestbury Park. To many, especially those directly affected, she will forever be remembered as a patron of the injured jockeys’ fund.

Up until the time of her death in 2002 at the age of 101, The Queen covered her mother’s racing expenses. It was a stately gesture, one which William Shawcross, official biographer of the late Queen Mother was meant “to enable her to continue the style of life to which she was both accustomed and suited”.

The Queen is one of the most noted owners and breeders of racing thoroughbreds in Great Britain. In 2010 she enjoyed success with ten racecourse wins. Despite keeping a small number of horses in training (running 20-30 each year) she frequently attends equestrian events and is a regular at Cheltenham and Ascot where her hat colour is the topic of much discussion. It is also rumoured that she reads the Racing Papers over breakfast.

Royal Ascot of course is a highpoint in her racing calendar. Over the course of five days, celebrating this year’s Ascot Tercentenary celebrations is an honour that The Queen will hold dear.

She may be considered somewhat of a Royal Ascot specialist. In 1957 she enjoyed success with four winners during Ascot week. To date she has had over 20 winners at the venue. It is said that the monarch knows the track innately. Travelling by carriage along the main straight, she has a very good idea of what the going is like according to the noise that the wheels on the carriage make and also the sounds of the carriage horses as they pull the royal party, according to her Racing Manager Highclere Stud-based John Warren.

Apart from Royal Ascot, The Queen has visited many training and breeding operations while attending State visits worldwide. In 1984, 1986 and 1991 visits were made to see stallion stations and stud farms in Kentucky.

Only last month, during a very successful State visit to Ireland, the first in 100 years, The Queen visited The National Stud in Kildare as well as attending a private viewing of Sea The Stars at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud.

In particular The National Stud and the Royal Family have been intertwined throughout the years. Horses raised at the stud have won all five classics, including Sun Chariot who won the Oaks for the Queen’s father. George VI. Even now, General Synod, one of The Queen’s strongest runners this season is by the National Stud’s premier stallion, Invincible Spirit. He stands for a fee of €60,000.

Despite the close affiliation with Ireland, it may strike you as unusual that The Queen has only ran two of her horses there since 1996. Barber’s Shop was pulled up in last year’s Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown while Four Winds finished runner up in the listed Vincent O’ Brien Stakes in Killarney back in 2009. In keeping with the Céad Mile Fáilte, royal runners are welcome anytime.

Happily, success has not evaded the Queen throughout her racing career. Wins of note include her coronation year of 1953 when Aureole was second in the Derby. Since then, she has won all five Classics with the exception of the Derby. Perhaps most famously, she won the Oaks in 1977, her Silver Jubilee year, with Dunfermline.

The quest continues.

To date by the way, the earlier-mentioned filly, Fascination has raced nine times, never winning. Never mind, she is still as loved as the rest of Her Majesty’s stable.

She is and always will be, one of The Queen’s horses.

Je ne sais quoi


Je ne sais quoi

By Stephen Dwyer

The 2011 Epsom Derby will live long in the memory for two reasons. Undoubtedly, the sight of nineteen year old jockey Mickael Barzalona standing mightily on Pour Moi yards before he crossed the line in front raised many seasoned eyebrows.

Celebrating victory in the Derby before you finish it is one thing. Celebrating it early by flapping your whip, saluting the crowd and pulling sharply on your mounts reins is another matter entirely. Barzalona’s premature flourish is unlikely to prove as popular as Frankie Dettori’s flying dismount in years to come.

Despite his bold celebration, Mickael Barzalona steered Pour Moi, a son of Montjeu, to a first Derby win for the French in thirty years. This could be the start of a meteoritic rise for the Lyon-born Frenchman who became the youngest rider to win the Derby since Walter Swinburn aboard the mighty Shergar. The only jockey to have ridden a Derby winner at a younger age was an eighteen-year old Lester Piggot.

Apart from Barzalonas exuberant display of Gallic Flair, the scene of The Queen’s Carlton House finishing a fast third was also memorable, albeit for the wrong reasons. For Michael Stoute, jockey Ryan Moore and of course The Queen it was a huge disappointment. For the bookmakers, it was a welcome spectacle. Reports that £20 million would have been lost by the layers had Carlton House managed to win, but it was not to be. For Her Majesty The Queen, the Derby drought continues.

No ruling Monarch has won a Derby since 1909. The last time The Queen ran a horse in the Derby, Prince William had not even been born. The last royal runner in the race, Church Parade, was a remote fifth to Shergar in the 1981 renewal. It was a remote mainly because Shergar had won by ten lengths.

Queen’s Highland Glen with a view to racing him in Dubai and made a big offer.
The Queen had no desire to sell the Sheikh the talented, but unreliable, customer who she feared might let him down like he had let her down on two occasions by playing up at the start and being withdrawn.

Through her racing adviser, John Warren, she refused the offer, but instead suggested she give the horse to Sheikh Mohammed

Carlton House was gift from the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum. This is a gratifying tale of reaping what you sow. Apparently the Queen had a horse that was far from compliant, but considered suitable to racing on the artificial surface in Dubai if it could be ‘straightened out.’ But rather than trying to flog ‘sands to the Arabs,’ the Queen made a gift of the horse to Sheikh Mohammed.

Carlton House and three other yearlings were the Sheikh’s reciprocal gesture.
There is an Chinese proverb, A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.

And then, just like Cinderella, Carlton House lost a shoe. Just after the Derby, a course steward collected a stricken front horseshoe which had separated from Carlton House a mere 200 yards from the finish. It was a crucial time in the race for such and

There is the enticing prospect that day could see the Queen getting her own back on French soil should Carlton House reoppose Pour Moi in Europe's final big championship race of the season, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October.

Any maybe then the Queen will experience a delight that the French call “Je ne sais quoi.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Paddy Power and betting tax


Paddy Power and the betting tax

By Stephen Dwyer

In a time when the eyes of millions are upon us with the visit of the Queen and Barack Obama, we are reminded of Ireland’s contribution to the world throughout the centuries. Aside from our rich cultural history which includes Joyce, Yeats, Wilde and Beckett, we are famous for punching above our weight. But over the past few decades, we have become just as famous for our brand names.

Guinness, Waterford Crystal, Riverdance, U2, and Ryanair are recognised in almost every country. Another brand name, the ubiquitous green betting shops of Paddy Power is fast becoming another symbol that signifies Ireland. They are seen as light hearted rogues, bucking the trend of the old-fashioned scrooge-faced bookmaker. But financially there is no doubt that Paddy Power plc. are trailblazing their way through the world of betting.

The first thing you need to know about Paddy Power is that they dance to their own tune. They were founded in 1988 at a time when opening a bookmakers shop in Ireland was much easier to do that in the UK. The business was not founded by a single Paddy Power but by the merging of three bookmakers. This consolidation grew rapidly through shrewd management and they hired their namesake, Paddy Power who was a graduate of business studies from DCU, to become their head of communications and public spokesperson. Clever stuff.

The second thing you need to know about them is that they are shameless self-promoters. Habitually offering odds for controversial events and tongue-in-cheek promotions is centric to their business model. However, when you dissect their marketing drives, many are borderline insensitive and inflammatory.

Shamelessly, Paddy Power has offered odds that the Pope would sign for Glasgow Rangers and that Barack Obama “would not finish” his first term on office (i.e. that he would be assassinated). They ran advertising campaigns following the death of Pope John Paul II featuring Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper with Jesus and his apostles surrounded by roulette wheels and betting chips. Most recently, a TV commercial by Paddy Power featuring a cat being kicked into a tree by a blind soccer player became the most complained about advert in the UK in 2010 and the third most complained about advert of all time. Patrick Kennedy, the CEO of Paddy Power defended the ad, shrugging off the criticism by simply saying that it got people talking.

All of this leads us on to point number three; Paddy Power are admittedly, very good at what they do. They have become Ireland’s largest bookmakers with over 200 shops nationwide. As of May 15th, their bank balance is €113 million. €47 million of this is comprised of customer accounts. It would seem Paddy Power have more money in their coffers than many of our banks.

To their credit they have pioneered the world of online betting and their latest financial report notes that online revenues have increased by over one-third. In this year alone they opened 14 shops in the UK. Despite this growth on the back of a record year, their CEO is up in arms about the Governments plans to double betting tax to 2 per cent.

Betting tax in Ireland is used primarily to fund prize money for horse and greyhound racing as well as supporting the racing industry. Understandably, the Government have reduced the funding available. The reduction to Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund is dramatic, from €76m in 2008 to €57m this year. This is a serious shortfall and simply has to be clawed back through the raising of betting taxes.

Irish punters do not pay the betting tax; it is absorbed by the bookmakers. This should continue to be the case as without the industry, their existence would be threatened. In the UK, this year’s budget brought in sweeping changes to the betting tax system.

Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that bookmakers would be taxed on their gross profits at a flat rate of 15%. As of January 2010, he is scrapping the system in which the Government collects betting tax of 6.75% from bookmakers; this is then passed on to punters in a 9% tax.

You cut your cloth to measure as they say, so Paddy Power should do exactly what their cleverly-spun adverts suggest, just grin and bear it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hurricane Fly

Hurricane Fly

By Stephen Dwyer





Now there can be no doubt, Hurricane Fly is horse of the year. His performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Punchestown will live long in the memory. He is five wins from five starts this season and finishes out the year as an unbeaten Champion. Willie Mullins, trainer of Hurricane Fly noted after his rout in the Irish Champion Hurdle “That was just awesome, the best I’ve seen from him”.

His five length victory and the manner in which he destroyed the small but select field was truly remarkable. He turned a race featuring last year’s Champion Hurdler and Supreme Novice’s winner into a cakewalk. Not often does that happen in a Grade 1 at the end of the season in a race worth €160,000 and the rarity of this occurrence typifies the class of Horse Hurricane Fly is, an indisputable superstar.

Just before the Irish Champion Hurdle was off, my phone received a text from a racing colleague, “there’s a hurricane warning at Punchestown” it read. How right my weatherman friend was. The race was settled in a few short strides between the second and last hurdle, Hurricane Fly jumps hurdles with such speed and prowess that very few can live with him.

This season, Hurricane Fly answered every question asked of him. He is not the biggest horse in the world and prone to injury. Suspensory ligament problems resulted in him missing the last two Cheltenham festivals before claiming the Champion crown last March, at the first time of asking.

Hurricane Fly is by Montjeu, himself a world Champion. One of the top sires in the world for flat horses, his progeny has produced two Irish and two English Derby winners as well as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and St. Leger. Montjeu’s speed has been passed on to Hurricane Fly and he is by far and away his most successful son on the national hunt circuit.

Hurricane Fly was bred in Ireland and sold as a yearling at Goffs for €65,000. He was sent to France and subsequently bought out of the Jean-Luc Pelletan yard for an undisclosed sum on the advice of bloodstock agent Richard Hobson. The acquisition by Hobson (who is also responsible for the purchase of Golden Silver and Pomme Tiepy) was on behalf of retired Belfast construction worker George Creighton and Rose Boyd who runs an equestrian centre in Co. Down. The horse previously won three times in France and was sent to trainer Wille Mullins. Hurricane Fly won at the first time of asking in May 2008 at Punchestown. Since then, he has been beaten only once in eleven starts and is still a seven year old and may improve again next season as he is filling out all the time.

In what could be seen as a passing of the hurdling mantle, Istabraq was honoured at Punchestown this year when a 13ft x 10ft painting was unveiled. The canvas, the largest horse painting in Europe was entitled 'Istabraq - Ireland's Favourite'. By the end of the week, Hurricane Fly was rapidly advancing on that title.

The imperious Istabraq was six when he won the first of his three Champion hurdles, Hurricane Fly is a best priced 7/4 chance for repeating his Cheltenham win next year and if he stays injury free, his ability and turn of foot will see him home. Ruby Walsh said yesterday "He'd win a Group One on the Flat, too, if you wanted"
Long before thoughts of returning to Cheltenham should be entertained, we should reflect a on the achievements of Hurricane Fly this season. When running at Cheltenham this year, he had already won seven Grade 1 races; this was more than all of his Champion Hurdle rivals put together. He became the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2004 to complete the Champion Hurdle double at Cheltenham and Punchestown.

His win at the Cheltenham Festival under Ruby Walsh was particularly special. This victory means that Ruby is now one of only four jockeys in the past four decades to have completed the treble of Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National.

With the season now wrapped up, he is Ireland’s highest rated National Hunt horse. He will have a deserved break.

On a final note, Hurricane Fly’s groom, Gail Carlisle, says his guilty pleasure is carrots.

I feel there will be no shortage of them around Closutton this summer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whip Rule


Whip Rule

By Stephen Dwyer

The weather in 1974 was truly woeful. 200 km/h winds were recorded in Co. Down and there was a sparse harvest later in the year. The agricultural industry was on its knees, the cattle market had collapsed and buyers for livestock could not be found. There were stories that farmers would have to lock their trailer at the mart or they might come out and find that someone had dumped a few calves in your trailer while you were inside.

This is an example of a real problem facing an industry. The much-maligned question over the use of the whip in horse racing is not. The issue of the whip in racing has surfaced following this year’s Aintree Grand National which won by Ballabriggs. The horse’s jockey, Jason Maguire was banned for five days after the race for “excessive use” of the whip. Acres of column inches and hundreds hours of interviews have been dedicated to this debate over the past month. At this stage, it must be said that there really is no room for argument, the whip stays.

Only last week a prominent animal rights campaigner wrote in a national newspaper that the whip used in horse racing is a “medieval-style flogging instrument”. At best, this statement is downright disinformation, at worst; it is shallow sensationalism. If you examine a modern day whip, it is not a cat o' nine tails; you will understand that is merely a “persuader” as Ted Walsh rightly describes it.
Visit any tack shop and you will find that a riding whip costs about €50. The “flogging instrument” weighs less than 160 grams, the same as a wheel pump attached to a mountain bike. It certainly does not resemble any type of torture implement. It has a leather handle and the rules of racing state the whip must not exceed 70cm in length. The whip is heavily padded and features throughout a shock-absorbing material which helps to protect horses from injury or discomfort. The notion that jockeys relentlessly beat a horse with an Indiana-Jones style bullwhip is nonsensical and untrue. The specification of modern-day whips has been set in place following on-going consultation with animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA.
These featherweight instruments are used for safety, correction and encouragement, nothing more. And they don’t work all of the time. When Denman ran in the Punchestown Gold Cup last year, he simply didn’t want to know about it. Punchestown is a right-handed track, Denman prefers left. The greatest jockey of all time tried to cajole him around Punchestown but not even Tony McCoy or his whip could encourage Denman. He just said no.

A horse’s skin is a quarter of an inch thick in places, over twice that of a human. Horses are hardy animals; yes they have delicate areas, weak points, like any animal. Even the mighty elephant has a weak neck joint, their Achilles heel. But horses cannot be reasoned with; the very rules of racing dictate that a jockey is required to carry a whip. Sometimes a young colt will need to be kept up to his work to run straight and there are very distinct rules in place about using the whip, designed to protect horse and rider.

Jockeys cannot hit horses with their whip above shoulder height, they cannot use excessive force and they cannot whip horses who are either clearly winning or out of contention. There are a plethora of terms and conditions in place when a jockey attaches a whip to their wrist with a thick rubber band.

In an era where media coverage is so prevalent, slow motion TV shots of jockeys using their whips on horses looks worse than it is. The reality is that jockeys have trouble using their whips in high winds and will gladly demonstrate to you how little discomfort the whip emits. This fact has not stopped some quarters from taking excessive measures and in England, Towcester racecourse had planned to ban jockeys from using the whip in races at the track. This decision was overruled by the British Horseracing Authority.

It is said in racing circles that proper use of the whip is an art form; Lester Piggott spent countless hours practicing on a wooden saddle horse with a pair of reins and a whip. As much as a golfer practises a shot over and over, so too does a jockey, refining the hold on the whip until it becomes subconscious.

There are bigger fish to fry in the world of horse racing than the whip rule.

It’s time to move on.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Townend


Townend

By Stephen Dwyer

It was Winston Churchill who famously said that continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential. Champion-jockey-elect, Paul Townend is a young man who knows the former and is gifted with the latter.

Townend, a Cork native, will celebrate his 21st birthday this September and despite his fresh faced appearance, he has been around horses more than most. When Townend was a boy, his father Timmy trained point-to-pointers. Keeping it in the family, his uncle Bob Townend was a prominent jockey in the 1970’s and 1980’s and his uncle Gerry Townend was another top amateur. Paul’s first cousin is Davy Condon, former stable jockey to Nicky Richards and now closely affiliated with Noel Meade. Little wonder then since Paul left school at 15, the die was cast for his life as a jockey.

A precocious talent on the Pony Racing circuit, where he gained invaluable riding experience, Townend quickly progressed through the pony ranks. He then began riding as an apprentice on the flat; his debut was in the summer of 2007 in Ballinrobe on a nondescript Wednesday evening. Claiming a full 10lb allowance, Townend finished third on the Willie Mullins-trained Temlett. From that humble starting point, Townend quickly showed his ability as a horseman and started to win races. The most notable of these was when steering the heavily gambled favourite and top-weighted Emily Blake to a valuable handicap at the Galway Festival in 2007. Following this win, he closed a successful first season by winning on the last day of the flat.
Townend, even for a jockey, is not small. Like many of his former colleagues on the flat who battled in vain against their weight, he switched codes to the National Hunt arena. In doing so he followed the example set by Tony McCoy and Paul Carberry who can now manage their weight more easily than on the flat.

Success over jumps did not elude him for long and at the 2008 Galway Festival; Townend won the Galway Hurdle on the John Kiely-trained Indian Pace. Aside from the Galway win, it was at Closutton and through the opportunities presented by Willie Mullins, a man who knows a thing or two about talent that Townend’s career began to reach unprecedented heights.

In 2008, Willie Mullins was giving a pre-season interview when a boyish-faced stable lad walked past. The lad, replete with body protector and riding hat was carrying a brush and bucket. "See him," said Mullins when he was out of earshot of the lad, "Mention that young fella in your article. Paul Townend is his name. I think he is going to be good. He's bred to be anyway”

Since that day, Mikael D'Haguenet, Hurricane Fly, Golden Silver, Quevega and Zaidpour have all enjoyed Grade 1 success for Mullins and Townend, if you are old enough, you are good enough.

For a 20 year old, Townend riding style is very seasoned. In races, he settles horses early and has a quietness, an assurance about his business. There is an inner confidence which is matched by his work rate. To date, Townend has ridden 487 times this season; Andrew McNamara on 550 is the only National Hunt jockey to have ridden more.

Three weeks ago, a fall in a Handicap Chase at Navan resulted in a broken collarbone for Townend. This fall was on his sixth ride of the day, less than 18 hours previously he had ridden a winner on the flat at Dundalk. Townend is expected to be back riding this weekend at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival, with 76 winners this season, Davy Russell with 67 is his closest rival for the jockey’s title. With a top class book of rides ahead of him and Fairyhouse and Punchestown, Townend is likely to take the champion jockey title.

Incidentally, do you remember Temlett, the horse that Paul had his first ride? Now trained by Arthur Moore’s son, JD, he was the subject of a massive gamble last month in a handicap hurdle at Cork. Backed from 25/1 into 11/2, he overcame a 1061 day absence to make all and win comfortably.

His jockey? Paul Townend of course.

Funny how the wheel turns full circle.