Saturday, January 15, 2011
By Stephen Dwyer
Whatever the weather, January is always good to Gowran Park. If it survives a 7.30am inspection, this Saturday, January 22nd will see the annual renewal of the Thyestes Chase, the busiest days racing of the year at the Kilkenny track. Forming the centrepiece of a seven race card, the valuable Grade A Handicap Thyestes Chase features a prize fund of €90,000 which is supplemented by local sponsors Connolly’s Red Mills.
First held in 1954, the Thyestes Chase is a race steeped in history. Amongst a host of exalted names, previous winners of the race include Arkle and Aintree Grand National champions Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde. It is the highlight of the season for Gowran Park and the most prestigious race of the year in the South East.
Each year, the inevitable question is asked about how the race was named. In Greek Mythology, Thyestes was the son of Pelops, King of Olympia (where the first Olympic games were held). But Thyestes was also a flat horse who was bred by Mount Juliet-based Major Victor McCalmont. Thyestes was a sprinter, rated the third best 2-y-o of 1930, winning both of his only starts. Retired to stud due to injury, he lent his name to The Thyestes trophy, which was presented to the Kilkenny Horse Show. The trophy was won by a horse owned by Mr. John McEnery of Rossenarra Stud in Kells, Co. Kilkenny. The McEnery Family presented it to Gowran Park for the first running of the Thyestes Chase in 1954 and it has been perpetual ever since.
In keeping with the valuable prize on offer, the Thyestes is a trappy event which is difficult to win. Entries from the bottom of the handicap have dominated in recent times. The 3m, 16 fence course is challenging and takes no prisoners. Margaret Fogarty, Gowran’s racecourse manager concurs “it takes a very good horse to win this fiercely competitive event”.
A closer look at the trends of the race reveals some useful pointers. Since 2000, no winner of the race has carried more than 10st 11lb and ever since official ratings were published, no horse has won off a mark higher than 133.
The current 5/1 favourite for the race is Pomme Tiepy. The mare is owned by USA-based banker Rich Ricci (who also owns Mikael D'Haguenet and Zaidpour) and trained by Willie Mullins. Pomme Tiepy is well weighted, and without a win in almost three years, she also finished 12th in the 2010 renewal. She was recently a gallant third in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown and a repeat of that performance should see her make the frame.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins is seeking his fourth success in ten years in the race. He also saddles The Midnight Club and Ballytrim, but both appear to have it all to do at the weights. Mullins ran no less than five of his horses in the race last year and given his current stable form his runners are sure to make a good account of themselves, so much so that some bookmakers are offering 7/4 about Willie Mullins to train the winner of the race.
The Thyestes is recognised as the trial for the Aintree and Irish Grand Nationals and repeat victories in the race are rare. Since 1954, only five horses to win the race more than once. The most recent of these was Priests Leap in 2008/2009. Last year’s winner, the Jimmy Mangan trained Winstone Boy is not without a chance. The subject of a massive on-course gamble in 2010 (backed from 14/1 into 5/1) the Mallow-based handler’s 10-y-o is proved on heavy ground and reported to be in good order.
Vying for second favouritism and trading at 10/1, Agus A Vic trained by Pat Martin is a former winning hunter chaser who has won over 3m 1f. Stamina is not an issue and his trainer notes “He goes on pretty much everything, although a bit of ease helps and he doesn’t like gluey ground, I would hope that he goes to the Thyestes with a good chance”
Gowran Park are expecting a crowd of about 8,000 on Saturday. Ever experts at implementing initiatives to racegoers, the management team are offering a free shuttle bus and reduced €10 entry to OAP’s and the unemployed for the second consecutive year. This is in keeping with innovation ever since 1952 when Gowran became first ever racecourse in Ireland to feature a live commentator.
Times and technology may have changed since then, but Thyestes day continues.
You can’t keep a good thing down.
Race Day Notes:
Thyestes Day 2011 takes place on Saturday, January 22nd. The racecourse will open at 11am. Tickets are available at Gowran Park on the day, priced at €17 for adults and €10 for OAP/ students/unemployed. Group discounts are available by contacting Gowran Park on www.gowranpark.ie or contact 056-7726225.
Pomme Tiepy 5/1, Agus A Vic 10/1, The Midnight Club 10/1, Alpha Ridge 10/1,Siegemaster 12/1, Ten Fires 12/1, Hangover 12/1, Sam Adams 12/1,Whinstone Boy 14/1, 16/1 BAR
Willie Mullins to train the winner of the Thyestes: 7-4
The Thyestes winner to win at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival: 16-1
The Thyestes winner to win the 2010 Irish Grand National: 14-1
The Thyestes winner to win the 2010 Aintree Grand National: 25-1