The Jonathan Sheppard-trained top-weight Baltimore Bucko ran a very credible third on his Irish debut at Limerick on Tuesday, finishing three lengths behind the race winner despite unsuitable ground conditions.
The Irish-bred son of Sholokhov has been based at Baltimore Stables in County Wexford for the past five weeks, along with his companions Clondaw Camp, Fancy Pance, Francois, French Light and Winston C.
Under the watchful eye of Sheppard’s assistant trainer Keri Brion and NSA champion rider 2020 Gerard Galligan, the US-owned thoroughbreds have been dutifully prepared for their winter campaign in Ireland.
In the opening race of the day at Limerick today, the 2 mile BRD McMahon Reinforcements Rated Novice Hurdle, the Buttonwood Farm LLC-owned gelding tracked the leaders early in the contest.
Fitted with a hood and a first-time tongue tie, Baltimore Bucko (16/1) raced keenly, especially during the first mile. Though his jumping wasn’t fluent at the third hurdle, Gerard Galligan found his mount among the leaders at the halfway stage of the race.
Looking comfortable, he moved to second position at the sixth flight of hurdles and travelled well down the hill towards the home stretch, giving himself every chance of a surprise win on the unsuitable heavy ground.
At the final hurdle, Baltimore Bucko, carrying top weight of 11-6, lost some momentum when reaching for the flight. “It just didn’t come up right,” explained assistant trainer Keri Brion, “He has loads of scope but on that kind of ground it just took the wind out of his sails on landing. He didn’t meet it to jump it landing. Even after he jumped the last, he did pick back up.”
The four-year-old was headed after the last hurdle by the top two horses in the betting market, No Grey Area’s (7/4jf) and Blanketontheground (7/4jf), the eventual winner and runner-up. Baltimore Bucko and Gerard Galligan finished in third place, 3 lengths off the winner, and collected €1,000 in prize-money.
Speaking post-race Keri Brion gave her assessment of events:
“We were very happy with him as he was carrying top weight on ground that would not have been suitable. He can handle soft ground but that was very heavy ground. He had all the odds stacked against him. Jumping the last, he unfortunately had to stretch and landed a bit steep and didn’t land running and that cost him then to the wire.”
Ms. Brion felt Baltimore Bucko, who was bought unraced from James Doyle, was beaten by two decent horses, while conceding weight to both:
“I think the horse that won it (No Grey Area’s) is going to go on to be a nice enough horse. He was beaten by two good horses that he was giving weight to.”
Discussing the use of a hood and a first-time tongue tie, the former rider explained:
“Racing keenly was going to be a little bit of a worry because he has a tendency to be a bit wound up and keen in America. We did it with the soft ground to give him every bit of help. He doesn’t have a breathing problem or anything like that. It’s a lot different running through this deep heavy ground compared to America.”
She also believes the gelding was more comfortable when moved off the inside rail during the race, and this action helped Baltimore Bucko settle.
“He showed a little bit of greenness when the horses came around him on the outside; he was a little claustrophobic on the rail,” Keri Brion said, before adding, “When he got out, he seemed to settle better. He is a smart horse and is still young. I think he is going to come on a lot from this run and will also probably learn a lot from it. I hope he’ll settle even better next time he runs.”
According to Brion, Baltimore Bucko’s jockey Gerard Galligan was also happy with today’s first run.
“He was delighted with him,” stated the Pennsylvania-native. “I think he might have thought he had it going into the last. He was upset that he didn’t jump the last great. I mean all in all, we’ve come here and a lot of people have questioned it, wondering if the horses are good enough or if this is the right move. Today proved that they are good enough – we are on the right track here and I think Gerard and I felt a really good sense of accomplishment because we both stuck our necks out to bring the horses here. I think it was a good day all round.”
Brion accepts that Baltimore Bucko will likely encounter heavy ground again during his winter campaign in Ireland, admitting:
“Obviously we are going to keep having soft ground but we are hopefully going to find a track that is a little bit less heavy next time.”
Baltimore Bucko was given a provisional mark of 116 to ensure he could run in today’s race at Limerick. The Sheppard team now awaits the horse’s actual mark from the Irish handicapper.
“We’ll wait and see now what they give him for an actual rating; then we’ll see what’s available to him. I think he’ll be ready to run again in probably about three weeks’ time,” said Keri Brion.
“I think he definitely has a race in him to win for sure,” concluded Brion.
Based on today’s performance, I think she is correct.
Photos: Keri Brion