Friday, November 22, 2013

The Coral Hurdle



The Coral Hurdle

By Stephen Dwyer



It has always been a serious race. Dawn Run won it, Morley Street, Baracouda, Hardy Eustace too and in recent years Overturn and Silviniaco Conti. Though a Grade 2, it is not treated as such and this year’s renewal is awash with class. Though both Zaynar and Silviniaco Conti won the Coral Hurdle as four year olds, it pays to side with experience. Nicky Henderson’s Rolling Star, the only four year old in the field, was last year’s Triumph Hurdle favourite, before finishing sixth to Our Conor. He was subsequent favourite in the Grade 1 4yo Juvenile Hurdle at the Aintree festival but could only manage one place better when fifth to L’Unique. The impression given on both starts is that Rolling Star is more of a 2m4f horse and his future lies over fences. The Ascot trip will play to his strengths but he may not have necessary class to beat the market principles. Having won the race three times since 2008, Nicky Henderson does have place prospects with Rolling Star and he did win on his seasonal debut last year in a Triumph Hurdle trial.

Currently rated 167, Zarkandar is the highest rated hurdler in the field. He is a half-brother to the unbeaten Zarkava and winner of eight of his eleven hurdle races. Already a Triumph Hurdle winner, Zarkandar won three Grade 2 races last season before finishing fourth in the Champion Hurdle to Hurricane Fly. Connections maintain that he is at his best with cut in the ground but it was blinkers swhich proved a real revelation when he beat the brilliant The New One in a showcase finish in the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f. It is worth noting that Zarkandar wore blinkers when racing in France and Paul Nicholls admitted after the Aintree race that he was a different animal with blinkers applied. Interestingly he also said “I definitely don´t see him as a Champion Hurdle horse next season. He´s going to be a three-miler.” At his brilliant best though, he is a tough nut to crack and whatever happens at Ascot Zarkandar remains a class act to follow all season long.

Despite the class of Zarkandar and the potential that Rolling Star clearly has, the race may go to the Irish for the first time since Hardy Eustace in 2007. There has only been one Irish runner in a Coral Hurdle since 2007, when Sabrina Harty ran the 100/1 chance Bull Flyer who was well beaten in the 2008 renewal. Given the amount of valuable prizes on offer in the Irish racing calendar, Ascot is not a target for many of Irish trainers, but Willie Mullins thinks differently. 

Annie Power is one of the most exciting hurdling prospects in the Mullin’s yard. Outside of Hurricane Fly and Quevega, Annie Power has the potential to join those exalted two and have an absolutely stellar career. Just a 5yo, she is unbeaten in all of her seven starts. I have heard good word that Annie Power bypassed the Morgiana Hurdle because she would have beaten Hurricane Fly. Given that Hurricane Fly was clearly not fully match fit on the day, there may have been some substance to these rumours.

A dual bumper winner for Jim Bolger before being acquired by Rich Ricci and the Mullins team, Annie Power has done nothing but improve since sent over hurdles. She put Don Cossack and Defy Logic (rated 142 and 148 over hurdles respectively) to the sword in a Grade 2 hurdle at Naas. The mare then ended last season with a facile twelve length victory in the Grade 1 Mares race at Fairyhouse. Willie Mullins is on record as saying that “She could be anything.” after that race, and he could be right.

Annie Power receives a hefty 11lbs from Zarkandar in the Coral Hurdle. This is a serious amount of weight to give to such a classy mare. On plain ratings, Annie Power is 155 and Zarkandar 167 and the betting shows are 11/10 for the Mullins mare and 11/8 for Zarkandar. That she is so short in the betting reflects her chances.

She should take some beating.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

QIPCO Champion’s Day

QIPCO Champion’s Day
By Stephen Dwyer



It has all been leading up to this. One day in the racing calendar when the stars collide on an unprecedented scale. Thirty five of the best flat races have been run over the past five months and now all roads lead to Ascot on October 19th. QIPCO British Champions Day is, in a word, unmissable.

Champions Day is the richest day in British racing. On offer is £3.4 million in prize money, an amount that has increased steadily since the inaugural Champions Day scarcely two years ago. Organisers of the showcase event have built upon the resounding successes of the two previous years and the 2013 renewal will conclude the flat season in some style.

Five end-of-season championship races will decide the winners of the respective Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance and Fillies & Mares categories. The Sprint Specialists include Lethal Force who won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June. He lines out against the veteran Society Rock and Irish raider Sole Power in the Group 2 Sprint Stakes over 6f. Fifth when 7/2 favourite in the race in 2012, the James Fanshawe-trained Society Rock has finished second to Lethal Force in his last two starts but is a dual course winner at Ascot. Now a 6yo, whether he can turn the tables on Lethal Force on Champions Day remains to be seen. Lethal Force readily accounted for the field in the Darley July Cup and it is interesting to note that  five of the previous ten winners of this race have gone on to become the seasons Champion Sprinter.

With £1 million in prize money, Europe’s richest race over a mile, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes has been won in the past by the likes of Frankel and Brigadier Gerard. The 2013 running is set for another great dual between Toronado and Dawn Approach as they lock horns once more. Last year’s Champion two-year-old and current 2000 Guineas winner, Dawn Approach is currently the 7/2 second favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II and sits just one point behind Toronado in the Mile category standings. Should he prevail against the brilliant Hannon colt and take the title of Champion Miler, it will end the season on a high for connections following a tame fifth in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville. Dawn Approach was not himself that day (scoped dirty) and Olympic Glory who finished a short head behind Moonlight Cloud in the Prix Jacques le Marois heads the betting for the Queen Elizabeth II.

The Middle distance series includes such seasonal highlights as the Coronation Cup, Epsom Derby and the Juddmonte. This culminates on Champions Day in the Qipco Champion Stakes where there is £1.3 million on offer. This ten furlong Middle distance race is likely to feature triple Group 1 winner Al Kazeem amongst a superb field of runners. Since winning the Eclipse at Sandown in July connections of Al Kazeem have strongly hinted that this will be the 5yo will be retired after Ascot and though the fast ground did not suit him when third to Declaration Of War in the Juddmonte, conditions are much more likely to be in his favour on Champions Day where he is currently the 3/1 favourite.

Considering the value of the race and the prestige involved, opposition to Al Kazeem is guaranteed to be very strong. Last year's QIPCO Champion Stakes winner, Cirrus Des Aigles is entered as is Farhh for Godolphin. Paying close attention to the Racing Post analysis of the Lockinge where Farhh “absolutely bolted up”, he is an intriguing entry and his pedigree suggests he has all the required stamina to prove a real threat to Al Kazeem. Irish Derby winner Trading Leather finished second to Novellist who set a new course record in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July. Although many form analysts would question the depth of that race, it still contained five Group 1 winners and Trading Leather handled the track like a very smart colt. Aidan O’ Brien has entered Camelot, Ruler Of The World and Declaration Of War and interestingly, the Champion Stakes is a race that the O’ Brien team have never won. This race promises to be absolutely top class.

The Ladies then take their turn in the Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes which this year is being run as a Group 1 for the first time. The prize money for this race has also doubled in value to £500,000 and attracted a wealth of European talent. The first three home in the British Oaks (Talent, Secret Gesture and The Lark) are pitted against the first three in the Irish Oaks (Chicquita, Venus De Milo and Just Pretending) and the German Oaks winner Penelopa. Last year's winner Sapphire and The Fugue represent the best of the older generation, while Germany's Nymphea and South Africa's Igugu head the overseas challengers. Make no mistake, the Champions Fillies & Mares race is a proper Group 1. The distance of the race, 1 Mile 4 Furlongs, ensures that there can be few excuses for a true-run contest and since Dancing Rain (who had won the Investec Oaks at Epsom and the German equivalent) won the inaugural running of this race in 2011, it has risen sharply as a target for trainers across the world.

The seven races of the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance category vary in trip from the extended 1¾ miles of Doncaster’s Ladbrokes St Leger to the 2½ miles of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Settling on an even 2 miles, the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup is one of the most demanding and stamina sapping events in the racing calendar. The Queen could be represented in this race as her Ascot Gold Cup winner Estimate was entered. With the Irish having won the 2011 and 2012 renewals, a royal victory would be all too fitting. Michael Owen's Brown Panther is also entered in this £200,000 race which is the final major long distance race of the British season.

With so much on offer for so many, organisers have done well to condense such talent and quality into one day. All that is left now for the rest of us is to enjoy it. An easy task.


Copyright - Betview Magazine

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Leopardstown Preview - 8th August




Leopardstown Preview -  8th August

By Stephen Dwyer



Leopardstown host a seven race card tonight with the feature event being the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes. Commencing proceedings is the Foxrock Fillies Maiden over 6f where Willie Mullins enters a rare sprint runner in Wizz Up. The filly finished well down the field on her only start for Robert Collet in Maisons-laffitte before being acquired by Ballylinch Stud. Out of Lidanna, the 6f trip will suit and Seamie Heffernan takes the ride. She is an interesting contender in what looks a very ordinary maiden. Likely favourite Il Palazzo tries the 6f trip for the first time but continues to disappoint. Winless in five starts she finished one-paced over 7f at the Curragh last time out when beaten into 4th. She started 6/4 favourite that day and looks opposable here. She may try to make all (employed similar tactics at Leopardstown before) but she lacks true sprinting speed in her pedigree and this may be exposed by one of the newcomers.

In the 7f Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden, Johhny Murtagh trains and rides Corona Borealis who looks progressive. His dam is a half-sister to the high-class Inchinor and he fetched 110,000 Guineas as a yearling. By Galileo he finished mid division over a similar trip at the Curragh in June and improvement is expected. The Ballydoyle-trained Friendship, second last week (7 ½ lengths back to the third horse) to Mustajeeb at Galway, has been highly tried and his last race at Galway was a very high class affair. He may well win today and there is every indication that he is progressing. Strictly on form lines he should be winning today, he finishes his races well and should appreciate the ground. On just his second start he ran in the Chesham Stakes at Ascot (but got very upset at the starting stalls) and is officially rated 95 which should be enough to take this race.

Not content with just being the King of Ballybrit, Dermot Weld has made the Ballyroan Stakes all his own. He has saddled the winner of the last four renewals of this race but has no runner today. In all truth, this year’s renewal looks very competitive on paper. Both Scintilla and Ernest Hemingway are officially rated 115 but Scintillula receives a stone in weight from the Ballydoyle runner due to being a 3yo filly. Unraced as a 2yo, Ernest Hemingway famously served as a pacemaker for Camelot in the 2012 Prix de l´Arc de Triomph and he beat Royal Diamond (last year’s Irish St. Leger winner) in the Group 3 Curragh Cup in June over 1m 6f. It was a comfortable victory that day despite his odds (12/1) but today will be a real test as to whether he can be considered a real stayer in the Yeats and Fame And Glory mould. On the negative side, Aidan O’ Brien has only won this race once, back in 1999 with Peach Out of Reach, and no horse carrying 9-12 has won the race in the last ten years.

Scintillula for Jim Bolger is a full sister to Claiomh Solais and Cuis Ghaire who is a muliptle Group 3 winner and finished second in the 1000 Guineas. She has won at Leopardstown twice this season  and comfortably accounted for Mars in the Group 3 Meld Stakes two weeks ago. She also finished fourth in the Irish Oaks and with the weight she receives today, Kevin Manning may well try to steal it from the front. It is Royal Diamond however who is of most interest. Owned by Andrew Tinkler, he is a half-brother to Mad About You and as a 7yo, has plenty of experience whish fits the profile for older horses having a high strike rate in this race. He improved no end last year which culminated in a narrow victory in the Irish St. Leger. Hard to believe that this horse was running over hurdles at Fakenham on New Years Day last year and there is now talk of the Melbourne Cup following his Listed win at the Curragh in July. Royal Diamond is a tough, genuine horse who keeps everything straightforward and it is well know that Johnny Murtagh is very fond of him and has this race as a target.

In the concluding race, the 2m Leopardstown Club Member’s Handicap, Giant’s Quest looks an each way proposition following some very decent spins over hurdles. His last three races over jumps read 213 and at the weights, Pat Smullen is sure to give a good account.

Two for today:
Friendship – 5.45 2 pts win (Tissue price 5/4)
Royal Diamond 6.45 2 pts win (Tissue price 2/1)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Killarney Review – July 17th

                                                         Killarney Review – July 17th

                                                                 By Stephen Dwyer


There are three Summer Festivals staged each year at Killarney’s racecourse. This is more than any racecourse in Ireland or the UK, but one visit to Killarney will make you understand why. The track itself is relatively straightforward, it loops around a ten furlong left-handed oval with a short finish. But the surrounds of the racecourse are phenomenal.  Sitting in a natural bowl the racecourse is set against a panoramic backdrop of Killarney’s National Park, Ross Castle and the McGillicuddy Reek mountains. Branding itself as “Ireland's most Scenic Racecourse”, this may be a little understated.

Yesterday’s meeting (Wednesday evening) featured an eight race card and one of the biggest gambles of the flat season was landed in the very first race with the Aidan O’ Brien runner Royal Irish Hussar. A significant overnight drifter, the 3yo son of Galileo (pictured) was backed from 9/1 into 5/4 favourite, he made all the running and won cosily by eleven lengths. Speaking to Joseph O’Brien afterwards, the jockey noted “He bowled away nicely in front and he won nicely enough but it was an ordinary race “. Such was the weight of money on this maiden race that Paul Binfield from Paddy Power, noted : "We paid out over 100k on him. We went in at 6-1 about him, which wasn't the top price and was on the low side, but we soon realised that we really screwed up on the price. We never got near the bottom of him and he was backed at all rates." From the off the result was never in doubt and it was Aidan O'Brien's fifth winner in the last six runnings of this race.

With the Galway Festival just over two weeks away, Dermot Weld’s stable is warming up nicely. Khothry rallied late to deny the Jim Bolger-trained Neophilia a hat-trick in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF (Fillies) H'cap of €17,500 over 1m 3f. Though Neophilia was in receipt of 16lbs from Khothry, she was just held at the line. Khothry hit a high of 11/1 in-running (with Neophilia trading at 1/3 entering the final furlong) and she showed a nice turn of foot to hold on from Jim Bolger’s filly although the time for the race was slow by 3.54s despite the fast underfoot conditions.

With the going officially Good To Firm, Good in places, there was watering on the track but little in the way of large withdrawals due to the ground. Steps To Freedom started as the 13/8f in the Irish Examiner Beginners Chase but was denied by Sizing Italy. The winner, formerly trained by Jim Dreaper, was making his debut for Henry De Bromhead who said afterward: "I’m delighted. Andrew gave him a super ride. I thought the favourite was a certainty but that’s obviously why I don’t bet! "It was a savage run and he jumped great and all is good. He has every right to go for the novice chase on the Thursday of Galway now." Steps To Freedom, a former Grade 2 winning hurdler, had to settle for second place in his second start over fences but he will be winning soon and may appreciate slightly softer ground conditions. 

The solitary hurdle race on the card was claimed in stylish fashion by Your Busy. Trained by James Nash, the Curragh handler announced afterward “I thought he had a great chance today and I told a few people to back him each-way. He got a freebie in front and he jumped great. He has always been better over fences and he will go for the Galway Blazers now”. Given an enterprising ride from David Casey, ,Your Busy kept on under pressure and if not too harshly treated by the handicapper, is one to keep on the right side of given similar ground conditions.

Monasterevin-based trainer, Peter Fahy completed a one-two in the concluding Ladies’ bumper when Sunday Serenade (6/4F) won by a neck from stablemate Alton Bay (20/1). Sunday Serenade was well supported throughout the day and was backed all the way in from 7/2. Ridden by Jane Mangan, the mare led from the last two furlongs and held the challenge of Alton Bay, winning in the end by a neck . Speaking of the plans for the winner, Fahy noted “She will have a break now and her main aim will be to go back to Navan for that Listed mares bumper.

With a good crowd in attendance, the racecourse management will be very satisfied in what was a very decent precursor to the highlight of the year, today’s meeting - The Dawn Milk Ladies Day.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013

Royal Ascot

By Stephen Dwyer



Situated just six miles from Windsor Castle, a royal residence for over nine centuries, Ascot racecourse had had regal connections since it was founded by Queen Anne in 1711. The five day Royal Ascot meeting staged each summer attracts over 300,000 visitors and has long been a highlight of the racing calendar. It is considered among the most important and prestigious flat meetings throughout the world. 

Beginning on Tuesday 18th June with a Royal Procession, the Queen’s horse-drawn carriage will rumble down the centre of the racetrack to commence proceedings. Ascot is now the United Kingdom’s only remaining racecourse that is still owned by the Crown. From an industry perspective, Royal Ascot turnover is on the increase and Spokesperson for William Hill Lucy Rhodes reveals "Royal Ascot is the biggest week in Flat racing, and with the British public revelling in royal raptures, we're looking forward to a busy five days.”. Interestingly, William Hill have been offering bets on the colour of the Queen's Hat at Ascot since 1973 and this is often the subject of national debate.

For the first time in its history, Royal Ascot will feature prize-money in excess of £5,000,000 in 2013. This represents a total increase in the total prize-money of £500,000 (an 11% increase from 2012). The racing on offer is highly impressive with sixteen Group races and at least one Group One event on each of the five days. Day One features The Queen Anne Stakes which was won in great style last year by Frankel. There was recent confirmation from connections that Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup will conclude his racing career in The Queen Anne. 

Winner of over $8.3 million in prize money, Animal Kingdom will race over the mile distance and the stiff test should play to his strengths. He is the current 3/1 favourite and sure to contract with the hype surrounding the horse although it will be his first time running in the UK. Aidan O’ Brien has a strong entry in the race with Declaration of War who was bred in Kentucky by Joseph Allen. Winner of five of his six races, Declaration of War comfortably won the Heritage Stakes at Leopardstown in May on his seasonal reappearance. Aidan O’ Brien has won The Queen Anne twice in the last seven seasons and boats a good record but Declaration of War might not be in the same class as Animal Kingdom.

The feature race of the day is The St James’s Palace Stakes which also features increased prize money this year. This race features the best male milers from the Classic generation and attracts horses that have run in the English, French and Irish 2,000 Guineas. Style Vendome, trained by Nicholas Clement is considering St James’s Palace as the most likely route after his recent win in the French 2000 Guineas. The other highlight of Day One is the King's Stand Stakes run over 5f which is part of the Global Sprint Challenge and has attracted more than its share of international winners.

The Prince of Wales's Stakes is among the feature races on Day two of Royal Ascot. Won by So You Think in 2012 it is the richest race at the Royal Ascot meeting and has a prize fund of £450,000. Among the list of entries include 1,000 Guineas and Irish and Epsom Derby winner Camelot. Described by Aidan O’ Brien as the best horse he has ever trained, Camelot underwent colic surgery over the winter and is has this race as his main seasonal target. Another horse who had surgery over the winter, this time for a chip on his ankle, Godolphin are all set to run Farhh who finished third in this race last year. Never out of the first three, Farhh is a very consistent sort and finished second in his last four runs in Group One races. It is sure to be an intriguing contest and supported on the day by The Windsor Forest Stakes, for older milers and The Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes, for the best up-and-coming two-year-old fillies.

The midpoint of Royal Ascot is on Thusday June 20th with the prestigious Gold Cup. This is run over the extended trip of 2 miles and 4 furlongs. The Gold Cup is the first leg of Britain's Stayers' Triple Crown, followed by the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup. It has been won many times by the same horse including Yeats, Royal Rebel, Ardross and Sagaro. Rite Of Passage trained by Dermot Weld heads the market at 6/1. He is a dual Ascot winner and handles any type of ground. Runaway winner of the Ormonde Stakes, Mount Athos also takes his chance in the Gold Cup for Luca Cumani as does Aiken for John Gosden. Although Rite Of Passage is a nine year old (the last 9 year old to win a Gold Cup was Beeswing in 1842) he did set a track record winning the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup and older horses can run well. Whether he can still stave off younger legs however, remains to be seen but it is a fascinating renewal.

Friday 21st June is midsummer and the feature race at Royal Ascot is the Coronation Stakes. This race traditionally brings together the leading three-year-old fillies in Europe. Also on the card is the King Edward VII Stakes, which was formerly known as the ‘Ascot Derby’, as its conditions mirror those of the Epsom Classic. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained Hot Snap was removed from the Oaks following a disappointing run in the 1,000 Guineas and is entered in the Coronation Stakes. She is a full sister to Midday and a former winner of the Nell Gwyn Stakes. Flotilla, a brilliant winner of the French 1,000 Guineas may also run in the race for trainer Mikel Delzangles. At Longchamp Flotilla defeated favourite Esoterique, getting up in the last few strides, with four lengths back to the third, she is an exciting prospect for her young trainer.
Concluding the 2013 Royal Ascot meeting is The Diamond Jubilee Stakes.   

As the second British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, it is also UK’s joint most valuable sprint race, alongside the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. This is the last of the seven Group One races run at the meeting and was won last year by Black Caviar. Yet another name in the peerless roll of honour of Royal Ascot which is set to continue this June as the flat season reaches its pinnacle.