Thursday, May 24, 2012

The legend of Camelot


The legend of Camelot

By Stephen Dwyer




Camelot, long associated with the legendary King Arthur now resides in the Kingdom of Ballydoyle. Aidan O' Brien's stable star heads to Epsom on Saturday for the Derby, many believe he is a champion-in-waiting. As short as 4/5 for Britain’s richest horse race, Camelot is fully expected to provide Ballydoyle with their third Epsom Derby winner. Camelot is unbeaten in his three starts to date, all of them over a mile. He lost his maiden tag with the minimum of fuss in Leopardstown last July before following up with a very impressive victory in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October.

Aidan O’ Brien has no shortage of top class colts at Ballydoyle yet Camelot has always been held in the highest regard. It was said that rumours of Camelot’s colt's ability hadn't been so much whispered about on the grapevine as shouted from the rooftops. His win in the Racing Post Trophy in particular provided plenty of substance to the speed and ability of the son of Montjeu.

In this year’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Camelot did not demolish the field so much as scrape home by a neck but he was given a well-timed ride by his regular partner, Joseph O’ Brien. Winning the 2000 Guineas by a neck might not provide enough bare lines of form for many but Camelot weaved through a quickly-finishing group and there perhaps was more left in the reserve than was called upon.

Camelot is out of Group 3 winning mare Tarfah, she in turn is by Kingmambo and the extra half-mile in the Derby should pose no problem for Aidan O’ Brien’s 3yo.  Speaking this week about Camelot’s hopes in the Derby, the Ballydoyle handler noted “Everything is fine and went well so far," said O'Brien. "Camelot was always a special horse here from day one. When he went to his maiden he was a very short priced favourite. I was very happy with the Racing Post Trophy win and then the Guineas was his first big test. He was always a very exciting horse. He is very relaxed and very straightforward but very calm." Camelot could be joined by stablemates Astrology, Father Of Science, Imperial Monarch and Tower Rock but none of these are in the same league as Camelot.

It is a full ten years since Aidan O’ Brien last won the Epson Derby. He posted back to back victories in 2001 and 2002 with Galileo and High Chaparral respectively. This year’s renewal does not look the strongest and in a race where four of the last eleven favourites have been successful, Camelot should prove he can stay the extra distance, and in some style.

You get the impression that Aidan O’ Brien is very keen to win another Derby given his recent record in the race. Over the past three years he has finished runner up every time. Treasure Beach was beaten by a head to Pour Moi last year, At First Sight was second to Workforce in 2010 and not even the very useful Fame And Glory could get near the dazzling Sea The Stars in 2009. Camelot will not encounter such stiff opposition on Saturday. His main antagonist will be recent Dante winner, Bonfire, whose odds have tumbled from 12/1 to 11/2 for the race. Bonfire, like Camelot, has only raced three times, his sole defeat was in France when finishing a luckless third in the Group 1 Criterium International over 7f at Saint-Cloud. Bonfire does not have a lot to find on form with Camelot and holds very solid each-way claims for his trainer Andrew Balding. For Balding it will be a first ever Derby runner and he is quite entitled to cast his lot.

It must be mentioned that Bonfire will be trying to emulate the likes of Reference Point and Authorized who won the Dante and went on to win the Derby. He is related to a winner over 10 furlongs but his sire won over 12 and should impart ample stamina to believe that he has every chance of getting the longer trip. What adds a little twist of fate is that both Bonfire and Camelot were raised in the same paddock at Highclere Stud.

Camelot though should prevail. The legend lives on.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fantastic Frankel


Fantastic Frankel

By Stephen Dwyer

Is Frankel really the best racehorse in the world ? Many flat enthusiasts believe him to be. But is he really better than Big Buck’s ? Black Caviar ? The answer is; possibly, but he certainly deserves to be rated in the top three, no doubt. Hard as it is to compare the efforts of National Hunt against the speed and candour of the flat, Frankel is one of the best colts to race since the great Shergar. Ahead of last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes  at Ascot, Frankel was valued by a leading Bloodstock firm at £100 million. Even then, the figure was said to be on the conservative side.

The reason for the stellar valuation is simple. Unbeaten in all of his nine starts, five of them were Group One races, Frankel appears to have it all. Speed, strength and a gruelling turn of foot that saw him win one of the most visually memorable 2000 Guineas ever held at Newmarket least season. The biggest price he has ever started at was 7/4 on his racecourse debut and interestingly the horse to finish second to him that day was the John Gosden-trained Nathaniel who would go on to win the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

In October of last year, Frankel was allotted a rating of 143 by Timeform. This was the highest mark awarded by the organisation in over forty years and their fourth highest of all time behind Sea Bird, Brigadier Gerard and Tudor Minstrel.  Fittingly, Frankel is named in honour of the late American trainer Bobby Frankel who was inducted into the Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1995. Owned by Saudi Prince Khalid Abdulla, Frankel makes his seasonal bow at Newbury in the Lockinge Stakes on Saturday May 19th. Also entered in the Lockinge are the Aidan O’ Brien trio of Excelebration, So You Think and Windsor Palace but over his preferred distance of a mile, Frankel is likely to have little to worry about.

A best priced 4/9 for the Lockinge, Frankel's trainer has earmarked the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot and the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown as the races to target this season. A cause for slight concern was a minor training setback in April when the four year old colt suffered a superficial injury. This caused him to miss a week’s training but even this is unlikely to affect his performance at Newbury. Frankel’s jockey, Dungarvan native Tom Queally admitted he is excited to renew his partnership with the Colt on Saturday and believes he will be a tough nut to crack.

Queally won his first ever classic in the 2000 Guineas last year when he famously said “He’s made a show of them. The one thing this horse does is gallop”. Dubbed “Frankel-stein” by the world media, not many people might know that Frankel is inbred 3 x 4 to the stallion Northern Dancer, meaning that Northern Dancer appears once in the third generation and once in the fourth generation of his pedigree.

In what is his last season in training, Frankel ‘s connections will be able to command a six figure stud fee when he retires to stud. Given the colt’s ability and what he has achieved to date, he may well retire unbeaten. The Lockinge will provide a good indication as to how much he has trained on since last year but by all accounts, racing fans are in for a treat when Fantastic Frankel takes to the track at Newbury.

Timeform's 140+ rated horses:
145 Sea Bird II
144 Brigadier Gerard, Tudor Minstrel
143 Frankel
142 Abernant, Ribot, Windy City
141 Mill Reef
140 Dancing Brave, Dubai Millennium, Sea The Stars, Shergar, Vaguely Noble.

Copyright - The Nationalist.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Six of the best


Six of the best


By Stephen Dwyer

As the 2011/2012 National Hunt season ended last week in Punchestown we take a look back at some of the highlights;

Peter Casey and his big night

Flemenstar is very, very good. He is the joint second highest rated chaser in Ireland (sharing a mark of 163 with Quito De La Roque) following victory in the Irish Arkle by 19 lengths and a peerless display in the Powers Gold Cup. His trainer, Peter Casey from Stamullen, Co. Meath was so delighted following Flemenstar’s performance at Leopardstown that in a live RTE TV interview he said to Tracey Pigott: “I can’t believe it. I’ll sleep tonight. I’ll have f**kin’ sex tonight and everything! 500,000 hits on YouTube later, Peter Casey, who is in his mid-seventies, is an internet sensation where his wife Junie deserves an honourable mention.

Quevega does is again

Queen Quevega, from the team that bought you Thousand Stars and J'y Vole, is one of the best national hunt mares in decades. She is the fourth highest hurdler in Ireland, carrying a loft mark of 161 and won the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham for the fourth consecutive year. She followed this up at Punchestown with another victory in the 3 mile World Hurdle and in doing so taking her total prize money to over €660,000.  If there is a drawback it is that we do not see enough of her; Quevega has raced just six times in the last three years. Unbeaten in all of these starts she oozes quality. Surely she deserves a crack at Big Buck’s and with that mares allowance, anything could happen.

Voler La Vedette stays in training

Voler La Vedette , the second-best racing mare in Ireland was not meant to run this season. Last Spring she was sent to Presenting but failed to get in foal.  Connections opted to re-race her and she won three of her six races and finished second in the other three.  Emulating Solerina, another very useful mare, Voler La Vedette claimed her first Grade 1 race in the Hatton’s Grace hurdle at Fairyhouse. She was a memorable second to Big Buck’s at Cheltenham and there is more to come next season for this improving mare, whose name in English means “To steal the show”. How fitting.

Davy Russell, knocking on the door

Over the course of last season, Davy Russell was the busiest jockey in Ireland. He rode in 530 races where he racked up over €1.8 Million in prize money. Last week he was crowned champion jockey for the first time at the end of the Punchestown festival.  Russell ‘s most notable wins in Ireland included Last Instalment in the Dr. P.J. Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown and at Punchestown Sir Des Champs survived a last-fence gaff to take the Growise Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. Russell was also successful aboard Dedigout  in the Grade 1 Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown where he finished a memorable season. As retained jockey to Gigginstown House Stud, the Youghal native is under no illusion how fortunate he is to ride many of the top rated National Hunt horses. He is an affable, straight-talking professional to the point that he was named as Horse Racing Ireland’s National Hunt Ambassador at the start of last season. The title of champion jockey was well deserved, he finished second in the title race five times in his career to date. Tony McCoy was quick to praise Russell “He’s competing in Ireland with some of the best jockeys we’ve ever seen – you’ve only got to look down the list of the most recent winners of the jockeys’ championships in Ireland to see how good you have to be.” In the world or racing there is no better endorsement. 

Hurricane Fly, pure class

The greatest hurdler since Istabraq, Hurricane Fly won his eleventh Group 1 race recently at Punchestown when taking the Rabobank Champion Hurdle. The son of Montjeu made amends for his defeat a month earlier in Prestbury Park when beating the classy Zaidpour and Thousand Stars to land a Willie Mullins 1-2-3 in the race. He carried the hopes of a nation at Cheltenham but all was not well in the Champion Hurdle. Sweating up beforehand, Hurricane Fly was unsettled and ran below his best. Finishing third, he failed in his attempt to win back to back titles. That said, his rating of 173 is head and shoulders above any other hurdler in Ireland and the UK. The 8yo is still the 5-1 favourite  to become only the second horse, after Comedy Of Errors in 1975, to win back the Cheltenham hurdling championship after losing it. At his best, few would bet against him doing so.

Sir De Champs, lucky O’Leary

It is now six years since there was an Irish-trained winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. When War Of Attrition won the Blue Riband in 2006, Michael O’ Leary collected the trophy as winning owner. In 2013 he hopes to emulate this success with his  unbeaten Sir De Champs. The French-bred carries crucial course form, twice a winner at the festival he won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle in 2011 and the Jewson Novices' Chase this year, both in impressive style. Interestingly, Sir De Champs failed to find a buyer as a two-year-old in France and was again unsold as a three-year-old at the Arqana Summer Sale when bidding reached just €28,000. The horse ran in four flat races before winning a hurdle race and was then acquired privately by his current connections. He may be a short price at 5/1 for The Gold Cup but overall it is very hard to find a recurrent chink in his armour.