Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pat Smullen

Pat Smullen

By Stephen Dwyer
There is no busier jockey in Ireland at the moment than Patrick Joseph Smullen. Even at the start of the Galway Festival, a week in which he is partnered with practically every runner Dermot Weld turns out, Smullen has had 327 rides this season. This is a significant figure for although Smullen sits second in the Jockey’s title race behind Joseph O’ Brien, he has had 110 more rides than the young Ballydoyle pilot. With 44 wins to his name so far this term, Smullen is just 4 wins behind Joseph O’ Brien. Bound to be buoyed by the inevitable success that he encounters each Summer at Galway, it will be no surprise to see Smullen top the leading riders charts. Deservedly so.
Pat Smullen is a native of Rhode in County Offaly, he turned 35 last May and is married to Frances Crowley who in her own right is a fine horsewoman both as a former trainer and the first ever woman to be crowned Irish Champion Amateur Rider. Crowley is also the sister-in-law of Aidan O’Brien. Many years before becoming a leading rider, Smullen became interested in horses through his brother Sean. Sean Smullen worked with Joanna Morgan where he prepared horses for the breeze-up sales. As a slight teenager, Pat was noticed by Joanna Morgan and he began to exercise horses for her and ride them at breeze-up sales. It was shortly after this introduction that Smullen began cycling down to Tom Lacy, a small trainer with about 15 horses based about three miles away from the Smullen household.
Shortly after turning sixteen, Smullen would ride his first winner, Vicosa, trained by Tom Lacy in an apprentice handicap at Dundalk. From that starting point it took just two years before Smullen was crowned champion apprentice with 26 winners, a title he retained the following year with 29. In 1997, at the age of 20, he rode his first Group 1 winner. After wintering in Dubai for a couple of seasons, Smullen became stable jockey to Dermot Weld in 1999 when Mick Kinane moved to Aidan O’ Brien. Smullen claimed his first Irish jockeys' championship in 2000 with 80 wins from 514 rides, leaving him 14 clear of both Johnny Murtagh and Mick Kinane and retained that title in 2001 when finishing three in front of Kinane.

Aboard Vinnie Roe, Smullen would win four Irish St. Legers, he would also win the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket with Refuse to Bend and he Irish Derby with Grey Swallow. One of his most famous career wins came courtesy of Rite Of Passage in the Ascot Gold Cup at Royal Ascot Aside from this glittering cast there have been major career wins both in France and the USA.
Smullen is an accomplished rider, a multiple Champion Jockey he is tenacious in the saddle and one of the best judges of a race in living memory. His association with Dermot Weld, especially throughout the Galway Festival is a symbiotic one, both trainer and jockey gel so closely that rarely has a partnership lasted so long, hand in glove. Remember it was Pat Smullen who was the bookie’s even-money favourite to take the vacant post at Ballydoyle when Johnny Murtagh resigned in 2010. At the time Smullen elected to rule himself out of the post in record time, noting “I've got a very good job and I ride for some very good owners, so I'm happy where I am". To be Champion Jockey at the end of the season, Smullen is a best-priced 7/4, although Joseph O’ Brien is a short 4/7, the value could be with Smullen. His work rate, ride frequency and dogged belief are all admirable and he could be the percentage call.

Staggeringly, Smullen rode 592 times during the 2011 flat season, 645 times in 2010 and 671 times in 2009. He has historically ridden more times per season than any other jockey in Ireland. Although 35, he has no intention of retiring just yet, when questioned “I haven’t really thought about a point when I will give it up really. I have always said that I’d want to give it up before it gives me up, I want to be riding at the highest level when I do decide to give up. I don’t think I’ll be riding until I’m 50, like Mick Kinane”.
Dare we think that the best is yet to come.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dreams of Glory

Dreams of Glory

By Stephen Dwyer

Former Liverpool Football player Michael Owen became interested in horse racing over twenty years ago. When he was eleven, his father asked him to pick horses for a weekly 50 pence patent bet and a lifelong attraction to horseracing ensued. Owen would score over 350 goals for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle and Manchester United and during this time he would acquire several horses. Holoko Heights, trained by Tim Vaughan became Owen’s first National Hunt horse. 

No superstar, Holoko Heights did win six low grade races but it was the dam of that horse that would bring Owen his greatest success as an owner. Treble Heights, a 12-year-old former racehorse that is now treated as a pet by Owen’s four children is the dam of Holoko Heights. The mare is also the dam of Brown Panther, Owen’s best horse and is a Royal Ascot winner.

Brown Panther powered home in the George V stakes at Royal Ascot last year. The colt finished second to Masked Marvel in the St. Leger and followed up with a listed win last month at Pontefract. To date, Brown Panther has won over £210,000 in prize money for Owen.  He is now entered in one of the most prestigious open-age flat races, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes which takes place at Ascot this Saturday.

Brown Panther is trained at Manor House Stables by Tom Dascombe. Converted from a cattle barn at a cost of millions, Manor House Stables is privately owned and operated under the watchful eye of Michael Owen. Realistically, Brown Panther does not have much of a fighting chance in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Hovering around the 20/1 mark, the colt is well down in the betting. He proved to be a major disappointment when finishing last in a small field in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester at odds of 6/5. Stepping up to the Group 1  King George will pose a major challenge for the colt especially given the opposition. 

Saturday’s race, worth £1,000,000 has been won by some top class older horses in recent years. Montjeu, Galileo, Daylami and Hurricane Run  have all been successful.  Last year’s winner, Nathaniel, returns for a repeat bid and has attracted significant support in recent weeks. Backed from 5/1 down to 5/2, he is the second favourite for the race behind Aidan O’ Brien’s St Nicholas Abbey who leads the market at 9/4. 

Ballydoyle, with three wins in the race since 2001 train St Nicholas Abbey who is perhaps the best older horse in training. A former European champion two year old, St Nicholas Abbey has won multiple Group 1 races. Among them include the Coronation Cup, Racing Post Trophy  and most famously the Breeders' Cup Turf where Joseph O’ Brien became the youngest winning jockey in the Cup's history at the age of eighteen. St Nicholas Abbey finished third in the King George last year and returns as a five year old now but he is in fine form recently and will make a bold bid for connections.

Sir Michael Stoute’s Sea Moon also goes to post in the King George. An ultra-consistent type, Sea Moon, a 3/1 chance, has won five of his eight starts including the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot. Sea Moon was second to St Nicholas Abbey at the Breeders’ Cup and finished just half a length behind Brown Panther when third in last year’s St. Leger. Both Sea Moon and St Nicholas Abbey have a crushing turn of foot so it is set up to be a very exciting renewal of one of the top races of the flat season.

The inclusion of Brown Panther in the race was a surprise to many. Clearly Michael Owen believes that the colt will put in a big performance but in such a prestigious field he will have to put in a career-best performance.  Brown Panther’s best trip is probably over a mile and six furlongs and it was thought that Owen would would have entered the colt in France at Longchamp’s Prix Maurice de Nieuil, a Group Two over that distance.

Nothing ventured nothing gained of course and from his footballing career Michael Owen knows all too well that you miss all of the shots you never take.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ballydoyle bid for July Cup

Ballydoyle bid for July Cup

By Stephen Dwyer

The July Cup is one of the most valuable and important sprint races in Europe. 

Run at Newmarket over the July course this Saturday, the 6f sprint Group 1 is part of the Global Sprint Challenge which aims to find the world’s greatest sprinter. Aidan O’ Brien is bidding to turn out his fourth winner in the race since Stravinsky in 1999, the ill-fated Mozart in 2001 and the classy Starspangledbanner in 2010. This year Ballydoyle saddle their newly acquired colt, Excelebration. A winner of 6 of his 12 starts, Excelbration has finished either second or third to Frankel no less than five times. Trained at Newmarket by Marco Botti last season, Excelebration won the German 2000 Guineas and the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.  Coolmore bought Excelebration midway through the season and he is now the 6/1 second favourite for The July Cup on Saturday.

Excelebration was bred in Maynooth by the Owenstown Stud. He was put up for sale at Goffs in November 2008 and was subsequently sold to John Walsh Bloodstock for €15,000. The colt was then sold at the Doncaster St Leger Yearling Sale in August 2009 for £20,000 to Guiliano Manfredini. After winning the Group 2 Hungerford Stakes, Coolmore parted with a figure believed to be in the region of £1.5 million for a controlling interest in the colt. They believe that he is an improving, classy sort who will train on further.

O’ Brien also believes that Excelebration will drop back in distance without much difficulty. Although he has primarily won over 7f and a mile, Excelebration has won twice over 6f including an impressive performance at Newmarket’s July meeting. By top-class Australian sprinter; Exceed And Excel, Excelebration is destined for a stud career at Coolmore and connections will be very keen to ensure he takes the July Cup. 

In recent years The July Cup has thrown up sporadic results for Ballydoyle. Oracle was O’ Brien’s sole runner last year, finishing well down the field as his odds of 18/1 suggested. Starspangledbanner pipped Equiano by a neck in 2010 and the O’ Brien team were second to Marchand d'Or in 2008 with US Ranger. With the likes of dual-derby winning Camelot in the yard, a top class sprinter is perhaps the one class of horse missing in the Ballydoyle armoury. It is a small complaint of course; Ballydoyle has won a total of 18 Group races this season including nine Group 1’s. It is hoped Excelebration will add to that tally.

Excelebration is very well regarded by Aidan O’ Brien. Now a 4yo, he easily won his first start in Ireland when coasting home in a 7f Group 3 at the Curragh. Pitted, some would say out of his depth, against Frankel in the Lockinge and the Queen Anne Stakes, Excelebration finished second on both occasion, beaten by a total of 16 lengths. Excelebration will not have to face Frankel this time around and his greatest challenge will come from the Roger Charlton-trained Bated Breath and Society Rock, trained by James Fanshawe.

Bated Breath is a very resolute five year old. He beat Eddie Lynam’s teak tough Sole Power by a neck in the 5f Temple Stakes in May at Haydock and has also won five times over 6f. Society Rock was second to Black Caviar last time out and is also a previous course and distance winner at Newmarket. 

Aside from The July Cup, Ballydoyle appear to be mapping out a sprint future for Excelebration. He is entered in the 5f Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August. This is a race sponsored by Coolmore and would be an ideal way to finish his racing career. Going into The July Cup with an official mark of 126, Excelebration is the highest rated entry in the field and with the likely Ballydoyle pacemakers in place, he could be set up for what will be a famous victory for the all conquering Aidan O’ Brien camp.