Monday sees the return of flat racing in Ireland during what continues to be a strange and tragic time. Racing has continued in other countries around the world including Australia, Singapore and of course within the United States. As we focus on what will be a “New Normal” with no crowds at racetracks for the foreseeable future and jockeys, trainers and stable-hands all masked at the track, I have put together a list of ten Irish horses to follow for the upcoming season.
FOREVER IN DREAMS (DREAM AHEAD – DORA DE GREEN)
This daughter of Dream Ahead has always given the impression that she was a classy sort. She won her first two races in her native France as a juvenile for Matthieu Palussiere. He considered her good enough to run in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot a couple of years ago. Unfortunately for them the ground turned completely against them. She still ran a fairly huge race when finishing fifth to Signora Cabello.
She was switched yards shortly thereafter and new connections paid out a princely £430,000 to secure her. Her new trainer Aidan Fogarty immediately reaped the rewards as she caused somewhat of an upset in the Cecil Freer Stakes at Haydock. She reversed the form with her Royal Ascot conqueror in Signora Cabello amongst others. She put in a dogged display and showed utmost determination as she paved a path right up the centre of the track. Challenged on all sides, she saw off the attentions of Solar Gold and Heavenly Holly. Martin Dwyer was able to hold her together to see her home.
A significant step up in grade came next. A return to Royal Ascot to contest the Commonwealth Cup. The ground was slower than last year, so that was bound to suit. The crowd in the betting ring largely ignored her and she was allowed to go off as big as 20/1. Always up with the pace, she was always travelling sweetly. Having not seen Advertise move up on her outside, she tried to rally but he had endured a charmed run and was not to be denied.
Given a couple of months off the track, Forever In Dreams returned to Haydock to line up for the Betfair Sprint Cup. Despite receiving weight from all of her rivals, her acute lack of fitness told as she trailed home second from last. The lofty target of the Prix De La Foret was her next port of call and she ran fairly and finishing in the mid division. In what was one final roll of the dice for her trainer for the year, she was set to compete in the Champion Sprint back at Ascot. It looked momentarily as though she was right back to her very best but she got mugged right on the line by Donjuan Triumphant.
Aidan Fogarty has her all set to go as the new season approaches and has a listed race on her agenda as early as Monday. She usually comes on for her first run, but if there was any rain around she would have an outstanding chance. All the top sprints are laid out before her this season and this likeable grey is worth following,
JAPAN (GALILEO – SHASTYE)
A couple of seasons ago, Japan showed he was a youngster with immense potential having managed to win twice in as many starts for Aidan O’Brien at Listowel and Naas. He wasn’t so quick to come to hand last year but that didn’t stop his trainer aiming him at all of the top middle distance races.
As he lined up in the Dante Stakes at York, he was absolutely friendless in the betting. Despite coming under serious pressure, he rallied in the closing stages to finish fourth to Telecaster. He was always going to improve substantially for that run and his next port of call was to Epsom for The Derby. Held up intentionally at the back of the field by Wayne Lordan, the pair made stealthy headway in the closing stages and only just narrowly lost out to stablemate Anthony Van Dyck and fellow Irish raider Madhmoon. That run brought him on further and a few weeks later he would be lining up for the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. It was a noticeable drop in grade, but a fantastic opportunity to regain his confidence. There was absolutely no messing about this time around under the guidance of Ryan Moore. Despite being switched a little wide off the bend on the turn for home, he picked up easily in the closing stages to run out a comfortable winner over Bangkok and Eagles By Day.
A return to Group One company swiftly followed as he was sent over to Longchamp to contest the Grand Prix De Paris. He was backed as if defeat was completely out of the question. Taken along by stable companion Western Australia, he was able to close in on the relentless gallop. Once again partnered by Ryan Moore, the pair took up the race inside the final furlong. They never looked in trouble and coasted home for a ready success over Slalom and Jalmoud.
The biggest test of his season came when he was pitted against the brilliant and admirable Crystal Ocean in the Juddmonte International. The pair had a fair old ding dong in the closing stages but it was the Ballydoyle inmate who overcame the Sir Michael Stoute trained favourite. He had just potted the biggest prize of his relatively short career.
A six-week layoff followed in order for him to take a stab at winning the Arc, patiently ridden from the beginning, he could never quite get to Waldgeist, despite doing all of his best work in the closing stages. This marked another significant step forward on a global stage and he is likely to be headed back there again this year for yet another crack.
KEW GARDENS (GALILEO – CHELSEA ROSE)
Kew Gardens only ran four times last year and for the first three races he had to play bridesmaid. He was beaten fair and square by Morando at Chester despite being sent off as an odds-on favourite. The sloppy conditions did not see him in a good light and he wasn’t given a hard time when his chance was all but gone.
It was a trip to Epson next for the son of Galileo and in the closing stages he swept to the front in the Coronation Cup. Unbeknownst to him, Defoe conjured up a dream run along the rail getting the perfect split between long time leaders Salouen and Communique. Andrea Atzeni would not be denied aboard the Roger Varian horse and Kew Gardens had to settle for second yet again.
Three months passed and Kew Gardens was then targeted at the Irish St Leger back on home soil. Ryan Moore delivered a far from perfect ride on his partner having settled them right at the back of the field. Search For A Song had made most of the running and was relentless from the off. She poured it on out in front and with all of the best will in the world, Kew Gardens was never ever going to catch her. Coming through to finish second was a major achievement given he had to pass a wall of horses.
The Long Distance Cup was the next race as he was targeted at the Champions Meeting at Ascot. Kept just off the pace by Donnacha O’Brien, the pair managed to strike the front and steal a march on the heavily backed favourite Stradivarius. With his opponent bearing down on him, the pair engaged in a protracted battle on the run to the line. Kew Gardens managed to poke his head in front just at the right time and was rewarded with a first career win of the season. The step up to two miles clearly brought about some further improvement and he will likely be aimed at all of the top staying events this year.
MADHMOON (DAWN APPROACH – AARAAS)
Kevin Prendergast looked to have a particularly smart juvenile on his hands a couple of seasons ago as this son of Dawn Approach was unbeaten in two starts over a mile. His three-year-old career was always going to be centred around a tilt at the Epsom Derby, so it was no surprise to see him line up for a first run at Leopardstown in listed company. This was to be the first time that he encountered soft ground and it is fair to say he failed to react to it. He was also trying to concede three pounds to the eventual winner Never No More.
The run certainly did him the world of good and he headed to the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket just a few weeks later. In a nineteen runner cavalry charge, the field eventually split into three distinct groupings. The winner and the runner up had the stands side rail, whilst third placed horse also had a rail to run against on the near side. Unfortunately for Madhmoon, he found himself in the middle of the track and did best of the rest in fourth.
The Derby came next and he was given an absolute peach of a ride by Chris Hayes. He was given every chance to go and win his race but ultimately had no match for the sharper turn of foot shown by Anthony Van Dyck. They went down on their swords and he readily improved for his first run over a mile and a half. He was given a near six week break to allow himself to recover for the Irish equivalent at the Curragh at the end of July. Whether Epsom took too much out of him or whether he needed the run back proved inconsequential as he laboured home in fourth place behind Sovereign.
With his tall reputation now appearing in tatters, Kevin Prendergast decided to lower his focus and concentrate on getting a win into his three-year-old. Dropped back to a mile at Leopardstown, the pair were rated some seven pounds higher than their closest rival. Despite being slowly away into stride, Hayes and Madhmoon made up the lost ground. They led approaching the final 150 yards and scored by a length and a half in the end.
In what was to be their final run of the campaign, Madhmoon and Hayes teamed up to go for the Irish Champion Stakes back at the Curragh. Despite being sent off as second favourites, they looked lost and all at seas half way through the race. The duo eventually came home in sixth place. It was fair to say that the pair had endured a long and hard season. They ought to come back sharper this year and if kept to his preferential ground, he will be a force to be reckoned with at trips of up to a mile and a half.
MAGICAL (GALILEO – HALFWAY TO HEAVEN)
This five-year-old daughter of Galileo needs no introduction. Magical showed that she is improving with age as she landed the Anglo-Irish Champion Stakes double in the space of a couple of months last season.
In her most recent outing she quickly settled into her stride behind Regal Reality. Always travelling smoothly, she swiftly passed that rival two from home. Having taken up the running so early on, she faced a stern late challenge from Addeybb. When asked to respond, she always dug that little bit deeper to repel the advances of the William Haggis trained rival. In what was an incredible boost to her form, Addeybb has gone on to win a further two Group Once races in Australia throughout the winter.
When winning the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last September, Magical had multiple Group One winners in behind her including Anthony Van Dyck and Deirdre. She also contested the finish of some notable other Group One races finishing second twice to Enable (Coral Eclipse and the Yorkshire Oaks) as well as Crystal Ocean (Prince Of Wales’s Stakes).
Aidan O’Brien has suggested that the Pretty Polly Stakes will be her opening race of the forthcoming campaign. She is undefeated in her last three trips to The Curragh so she is likely to take the world of beating if she turns up there. She will prove yet again that she is a force to be reckoned with this season.
MAKE A CHALLENGE (INVINCIBLE SPIRIT – CRINOLINE)
Make A Challenge has really shone a light on the talents of trainer Denis Hogan. He acquired the unraced gelding from Godolphin a couple of years ago. Whilst he showed some moderate ability in his first few runs after joining the yard at races up to a mile and a quarter, he has developed into somewhat of a revelation since dropping down to sprinting trips of anywhere between five and seven furlongs.
His fist win for Hogan came in the early part of last Summer. He was allowed to make all of his own running and rivals such as Above Us Only Sky could never land a blow. He then turned up at The Curragh a few weeks later to try and repeat the feat. Luck was not on his side that day as he was drawn on the wrong side of the track. Whilst he did win his race on his side, the horses that finished in front of him overall were all drawn in single figures.
His trainer was not put off and sent his four-year-old to contest a run of the mill handicap. Confirming that he was still in good heart, Make A Challenge attacked fast and late to deny the well regarded Beckwith Place a victory by the narrowest of margins. He reappeared again at the Galway festival just four days later. Denis Hogan obviously thought to strike whilst the iron was still hot. He settled just off the pace showing no ill effects from his prior run. War Hero took the lead but that was whittled away with a surge from Make A Challenge who clearly thrives on his racing. This was a much more comfortable success than the one he enjoyed earlier in the week.
A little over a fortnight later he was again engaged at The Curragh. He would now drop to six furlongs for the first time since his debut for the yard. Always travelling well throughout and drawn on the right side of the track this time, he coasted into a smooth lead as they entered the final furlong. He may well have hit the front all too soon because as the race drew to a close he was challenged by Master Matt. His previous experience and stamina saw him home.
A return to the County Kildare track followed just weeks later again over the same six furlongs. He again fared badly with the draw and had to literally make a challenge up the centre of the track. That was far from ideal. The bird had literally flown as Buffer Zone gained first run on his in form rival. Make A Challenge could do no more other than stay on in second in the valuable premier handicap.
Make A Challenge is a horse that really enjoys getting his toe in so will always be suited by a bit of give in the ground. He returned to the Curragh to try his luck at the minimum trip of five furlongs for the very first time. His trainer clearly had confidence in him and he was right to be so confident. Make A Challenge came home strongest of all to record a six length victory over his opponents. It was a case of déjà vu on his next start where the rain once again had really gotten into the ground. With the mud flying everywhere his opponents had no answer to him as he pulled away to beat Downforce and Urban Beat in what was his first attempt in listed class.
Trips to Ascot and Doha followed in the coming months but he had been on the go since April. Now that he has freshened up and likely strengthened he looks one to stay on the right side as the year progresses. He is likely to make his seasonal reappearance in the Greenland Stakes back at The Curragh and he will command respect.
MASTER OF REALITY (FRANKEL – L’ANCRESSE)
Master Of Reality showed he was no back number when last seen competing in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington back in November. Beaten only a head by the winner Vow And Declare, he was adjudged to have interfered with Il Paradiso and Prince Of Arran sufficiently enough to have been demoted to fourth place by the on course stewards. They had no choice as the horse hung markedly left under a familiar right hand drive by Frankie Dettori. That scuppered Joseph O’Brien’s chances of winning back to back Melbourne Cups.
Despite six runs last year, Master Of Reality only managed to pick up one win. His trainer will be keen to add to that tally this time around with another attempt at the Melbourne Cup being a distinct possibility. He is likely to make his seasonal reappearance in the Martin Moloney Stakes at Limerick or the Saval Beg in which he could well meet stablemate Twilight Payment, but the trainer is probably wanting to keep the pair apart.
The aim is to take it slowly with Master Of Reality this year. The further he goes, the better he stays and he can make up for lost time by regaining the winning thread of longer staying trips this year.
ROMANISED (HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR – ROMAN VENTURE)
Ken Condon’s heart could be heard shattering into a million pieces as Romanised was only just denied by fellow Irish raider Circus Maximus in the Prix Du Moulin at Longchamp last September. The winner did drift into the runner up but the stewards felt not enough damage was done despite the official winning margin being a nose at the line.
Romanised headed into the race on an all-time high. Fresh from successes in the Minstrel Stakes at The Curragh and then a win in the Prix Jacques Le Marois. Having endured a long spell in the wilderness, Romanised came right back to his very best last season. He is seen to best effect on genuine good ground.
Connections briefly flirted with the idea of taking him over for the Breeders’ Cup Mile last year, but opted to end his season early following that gut wrenching loss. He is unbeaten in his last two appearances at The Curragh so it will be of little surprise to see him begin this campaign back in County Kildare. He remains on the upgrade and can land more major prizes this season.
SEARCH FOR A SONG (GALILEO – POLISHED GEM)
Dermot Weld doesn’t have the same ammunition of the old days, but this daughter of Galileo firmly put his yard back on the centre stage when making all to win the Irish St Leger at The Curragh last September.
Despite pulling her way to the front of the pack, she was far from keen. Chris Hayes was able to dictate the fractions as he liked as her rivals let her do her thing. Having not used up too much energy, she was able to accelerate again in the closing stages repelling Kew Gardens by a little over two lengths.
It was certainly a step up from the previous form that she had shown. A few weeks earlier she contested a listed race at York. It took awhile for the penny to drop, but when she hit the front, the writing was on the wall for her opponents. Dermot Weld is not a man who rests on his laurels so it is of no surprise to see her well entered up at this stage of the campaign.
She has the Magna Grecia Stakes on her agenda as well as possible tilts at the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Tattersalls Gold Cup later in the summer. She will have learned plenty from those two wins at the tail end of last season and is a filly very much capable of making her presence felt this year.
TWILIGHT PAYMENT (TEOFILO – DREAM ON BUDDY)
Now a seven-year-old, Twilight Payment will be aiming to add to the Group Two prize that he won on his final appearance for Jim Bolger last summer. He has always been held in high regard so it was of no surprise to see him finally land some black type before going through the sales ring.
Now in the care of Joseph O’Brien, the son of Teofilo has run a couple of times for the yard. After a three month break he made his debut for new connections in the Irish St Leger. It was always going to be a tough race as he had never won or been placed at that level before. He was beaten a little over six lengths by Search For A Song who blazed her way to an emphatic success. He was then sent over to act as a pacemaker for either Master Of Reality and Latrobe in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington and for the most part he did his job well. He was headed around two and a half furlongs out, but was able to keep on at the one pace to only get beat a little over three lengths in the end.
He is likely to start off in the Saval Beg at Leopardstown within the next couple of weeks but it clear that Joseph has left plenty to work on with him. Another international campaign could well be on the cards and he will be seen to best effect in the lesser group races. His ideal trip seems to be around a mile and six furlongs. He is a versatile character who has won on ground varying from Good to Firm to Heavy and he will pay his way.