THREE YEAR OLDS TO FOLLOW FOR THE UPCOMING IRISH 2020 SEASON

May 22, 2020

The world of Irish horse racing is scheduled to return on June 8, following its hiatus owing to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Racing has been stood down here since March 24 and now there is a glimpse of hope that the Flat season can begin in earnest. Horse Racing Ireland have been given the green light by the Irish government to allow racing to be restaged in what is more than welcome news to the entire Irish horse racing industry.

In my first ever column for Pastthewire.com, I have listed ten top three year olds that are certainly worthy of focus as the action is set to unfold over the weeks and months ahead. At least one of them have already had a venture over to the Breeders Cup last year, but with any luck you may see a few more make the trip across the Atlantic in due course. 

ALBIGNA (ZOFFANY – FREEDONIA)

Every once in a while, the Niarchos family breed exceptionally talented horses and this filly is no exception. She is bidding to emulate the Group One winning successes of the likes of Alpha Centauri and Six Perfections.

ALbigna created a favourable impression when making her debut at The Curragh in May 2019 and sprung a 10/1 surprise over two much better fancied Aidan O’Brien runners in Tango and Precious Moments. She confirmed the form with both of those rivals the following month over the same course and distance when upped in grade to win the Group Two Airlie Stud Stakes.

Following a two-month break, she ran in the Moyglare Stud Stakes which saw her stepped up to seven furlongs for the first time. She drifted alarmingly in the betting taking a walk in the market from 7/4 out to 9/4 and ran as though she knew it. She was obviously carrying a bit of condition and anyone who watched her that day knew she would come on for the run back.

Trainer Jessie Harrington was far from despondent and opted to run her in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp in the closing stages of last season. Again she was upped in trip to a mile and again the betting public were not on her side. She was allowed to drift from 9/4 right out to 4/1. According to several of the jockeys the ground had turned particularly soft and that may have been a contributing factor. 

One of her main market rivals, Marieta had been steadily supported all day and set a strong early pace in the glue like ground. However, most were treading water on the turn for home, but Albigna seemed to thrive the longer the race went on. She stayed on well on the outside under Shane Foley and readily swept the daughter of Siyouni aside. She walked away with almost a quarter of a million euros in first place prize money and her reputation of being a top contender for the following seasons’ classics were already being touted. 

Her final run of the campaign came Stateside in the Juvenile Fillies Turf during the Breeders Cup Meeting at Santa Anita. She could never get into her stride early doors and was shuffled to the back of the field in a matter of strides. Finally, the gaps began to appear, but it was too little too late for kthe improving daughter of Zoffany. She was doing all of her best work in the closing stages and grabbed fourth place to pick up some decent prize money. 

Harrington has already indicated that Albigna will be out to contest the Irish 1000 Guineas when the action is due to get underway in just a few weeks’ time and if things go according to plan, she may well take up an engagement in the Irish Oaks in July.

CAYENNE PEPPER (AUSTRALIA – MUWAKABA)

This daughter of leading sire Australia was punted off the boards on her debut at Leopardstown last June. She faced a field of six rivals including some useful looking sorts from the yards of both Aidan and Joseph O’ Brien. 

Cayenne Pepper let her rivals do all of the donkey work and chased them quite comfortably throughout. Shane Foley asked her a couple of questions entering the final furlong and she pulled readily clear of A New Dawn and Too Soon To Panic.

The following month saw her venture to Tipperary and having proved popular to back last time, she was equally well supported this time too. Sent off at prohibitive odds, she justified her short price and despite edging slightly right she maintained her unbeaten run with the minimum of fuss.

Her stiffest test to date came in the Group Three Flame Of Tara Stakes. Trainer Jessica Harrington landed this race previously in 2014 with Jack Naylor so she knew exactly what type of credentials it would take to win this.

Cayenne Pepper soon established a healthy lead over her rivals in the race and as it developed she looked increasingly in control. Shane Foley asked her to go and win her race at the furlong pole and she obliged in convincing fashion. She managed to see off the challenge of So Wonderful and also confirmed the form from her debut as A New Dawn finished third.

Now undefeated in three starts, her handler opted to give her a short break before targeting bigger prizes later in the fall. She took up her next engagement in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in October and despite the six week break, she shaped encouragingly in what was her first attempt in Group One company. She tracked the leader throughout but ultimately ran out of steam as she was passed by the well regarded Quadrilateral. 

She will have strengthened up throughout the winter and her trainer has recently stated that she is likely to head straight to the Irish Oaks in July. Her breeding suggests that she will see out the extra distance and she remains a filly to look out for over the weeks and months ahead.

FANCY BLUE (DEEP IMPACT – CHENCHIKOVA)

Fancy Blue was held up off the pace when making her debut for Aidan O’Brien at Naas last September. It took a while for the penny to drop but when it finally did, she showed good acceleration to go past a more experienced rival and record a win at the first time of asking.

That experience ought to have proven beneficial to her as she dipped her hooves into listed company at The Curragh next time out. Settled out the back for the majority of the race, her jockey did not panic when she appeared to get temporarily outpaced. Kept wide the whole way, she made ground hand over fist to record a second success in as many starts.

Donnacha O’Brien rode her to victory in that first race and the former jockey is now her trainer. Owners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Jane Magnier have decided to switch the filly to the yard of the fledgling trainer and she could well prove to be a key addition to his yard as he bids to follow in the footsteps of his father Aidan and brother Joseph.

Any step up in distance is likely to prove the making of her and she has proved more than capable of winning first time out in the past. She remains undefeated and will continue to pay her way as the season progresses.

INNISFREE (GALILEO – PALACE)

Innisfree has done very little wrong in four career starts to date. Having caught the eye when second on his debut behind stablemate Year Of The Tiger at Naas, he wasted no time shedding his maiden tag on his subsequent outing at the Galway Festival. Donnacha O’Brien took the reins for the first time on the son of Galileo and the pair set about making most of the running. Their main market rival Shekhem laid down a strong and determined challenge in the closing stages, but Innisfree had enough in reserve to hold on rather snuggly in the end.

Donnacha was on board once again as the pair renewed rivalry with Shekhem on desperate ground in the Group Two Beresford Stakes at The Curragh. This time Shekhem set the pace, however unfortunately for his connections, the son of Zoffany came under pressure at the furlong marker and had no response when Innisfree loomed up with his challenge. The odds on favourite won with a bit more in hand than the winning margin suggested so the team at Ballydoyle were quick to enter him for his first try in Group One company.

Innisfree was then sent to Newcastle to contest the rescheduled Vertem Furtuity Trophy Stakes at the beginning of November. Ridden close to the pace by Seamie Heffernan, this will bred colt just failed to match the speed of the faster finishing Kameko.

He will likely be seen to better effect over a longer trips this year. He currently holds entries in both the English Derby and the Irish Derby, although he is likely to start off in the Irish 2000 Guineas next month. He always gives you the impression that he is trying his best and that will stand him in good stead for the coming season.

MILLISLE (STARSPANGLEDBANNER – GREEN CASTLE)

MIllisle made a sparkling debut at Bellewstown last July when opening her account. Always prominent under Tom Madden, she responded well when asked for a little bit more in the closing stages. She drew clear of her rivals to record a near five length success.

Down Royal was her next port of call and she was backed as though defeat was out of the question. That track can catch a few inexperienced horses out and she found herself trapped along the rail at a critical stage. Main market rival Think Big had a little more street smarts and was quick to utilise that advantage. Shane Foley argued in the stewards’ room that Millisle had been intimidated by their rival, but the stewards rejected that and the result remained as it stood.

Millisle was upped in grade to listed company on her next start at The Curragh the following month. Given her defeat at Down Royal the previous month, when heavily backed to win, punters ignored her early in the day. As the race drew ever closer she was the subject of a torrent of support in the betting ring and was backed from 12/1 into 11/2. She was prominent from the flag fall, but as the race progressed she looked a spent force when headed. Her stamina slowly but surely kicked in at the furlong marker and she readily asserted herself in the closing stages. She held off the challenge of Isabeau and the front pair pulled two and a half lengths clear of Lil Grey in third.

In September, connections opted to run her in the Group Three Shadwell Dick Poole Fillies’ Stakes at Salisbury. She was pestered throughout the race by the Cheveley Park owned Dark Lady and although the duo fought out the finish, Millisle was only just collared in the closing stages by the Richard Hannon trained runner. The margin of defeat was agonising but Dark Lady had her neck out in the right place at the right time. It was still a good effort in what was her first crack at six furlongs and ultimately connections would try again in a matter of weeks at an ever higher level. 

Following the run, it was discovered that following a blood sample taken from Millisle, she reacted badly pre-race and that gave her a more than valid excuse for her slight underperformance. 

The Cheveley Park Stakes was next on the agenda for Millisle where she faced ten rivals including the re-opposing Dark Lady. Uncharacteristically she soon lost her place despite breaking well from the stalls. She soon recovered though and the more the race developed, the easier she seemed to be travelling. The stamina once again kicked in to overdrive as she found a fast bit of track that had been utilised to good advantage by other winners earlier on the card. With a tailwind to assist she was able to momentarily break the track record at Newmarket. The record would fall in the very next race as Earthlight scooted home in the Middle Park Stakes.

Millisle is all guts and determination and has never finished outside of the first two places in her previous five starts. Although she has been beaten, she has had genuine excuses in both circumstances. The English 1000 Guineas is her early target and that was confirmed by Jessica Harrington just yesterday. She is a potential star in the making and ought to provide her owners with a lot of fun this year.

NEW YORK GIRL (NEW APPROACH – ANNEE LUMIERE)

Joseph O’Brien says New York Girl is a lovely filly at home and he was encouraged with her fine fourth place on her debut at Cork last September. She was hampered at a crucial part of the race and that ultimately cost her a place in the top three. 

She clearly learned a lot from the experience as less than a month later, her trainer elevated her into Group Three company to contest the Weld Park Stakes at The Curragh. Dropped down to seven furlongs for the first time it seemed momentarily that she would have a bout of déjà vu as again she looked to find trouble in running. This time she made the most of her previous experience and stayed on best of all in the dying strides. 

She is bred to be better over further. Her sire was more than effective at middle distance trips winning multiple Group Ones in the process. Joseph O’Brien is still in the early stages of his training career, but he has already won some top races under both flat and jumps codes as a trainer. Having won a Melbourne Cup so soon in his career, he is certainly a trainer to keep an eye on as he will undoubtedly be sending others in search of international glory. 

New York Girl has the potential to fly the flag for her yard and looks an exciting prospect for the year ahead.

SINAWANN (KINGMAN – SIMAWA)

Despite only finishing fifth on his debut at The Curragh last August, Sinawann made a more than likeable debut finishing four lengths behind Lady Jane Wilde. He certainly garnered enough knowledge to win at the same track next time out. He was upped in trip to a mile for the first time and he overcame some fair sorts in behind including the likes of Agitare and Degraves.

Having dazzled Mick Halford with his homework he was stepped up again in grade to contest the Group Two Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown again over a mile. The ground was the fastest he had ever raced on competitively as he lined up against his strongest opposition to date. His chief rival looked to be the up and coming Mogul from the yard of Aidan O’Brien. Mogul had won his maiden at The Curragh in convincing style, so it was of little surprise to see him so short in the market here.

Sinawann travelled quite sweetly as the raced progressed but got hemmed in against the rail as Mogul enjoyed a trouble free run on the outside of the field. The Ballydoyle representative took full advantage of the opportunity that was afforded to him and swept to a convincing success. Connections of Sinawann would rightly feel aggrieved as he fought back valiantly to grab second place in the end. 

Sinawann is owned and bred by His Highness The Aga Khan and further opportunities are likely to present themselves to him as the season gets into full swing. An international campaign could well be on the cards when the time is right and he will be capable of making his presence known wherever he turns up.

SISKIN (FIRST DEFENCE – BIRD FLOWN)

Good horses generally have some temperamental problems and Siskin showed that he had this in abundance on what was meant to be his final run of the campaign last season in the Group One Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. He went down in the stalls prior to the beginning of the race which left the starter no option but to exclude him from the race. It seemed to be out of all character and hopefully he has forgotten all about it over the last few months.

Prior to that he had threatened to be a colt of immense promise. He remains undefeated in four career starts, three of which have come at The Curragh. On his debut at Naas a year ago, he travelled like the proverbial dream. When he was asked to go on and win his race by jockey Colin Keane, the response was immediate and impressive.

A fortnight later he was raised in class to contest the listed Marble Hill Stakes. Again his natural movement throughout the race was eye-catching and he quickened up in the style of a smart performer and recorded a three length win over King Neptune.

Another rise in class swiftly followed and he was sent off at prohibitive odds for the Group Two Railway Stakes despite facing his toughest opposition up to that point. Given a confident and uncomplicated ride by Colin Keane, he pulled away by two and a half lengths to record a win over Monarch Of Egypt.

His trainer Ger Lyons could now actively consider his charge for tilts at all of the leading Group One races over a mile and the Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh in August was the race sprung to the top of the agenda. He would go onto renew rivalry with Monarch Of Egypt and the betting public thought the latter had a great opportunity to upset Siskin as he was backed relentlessly in the betting ring. For a brief moment it looked as though they were correct as Monarch Of Egypt briefly took a narrow advantage. Siskin would not be denied and he surged at his rival to record a three quarter length win.

The incident at Newmarket has clearly played on the mind of punters but I am sure that the incident was a one off. He may have been edgy because of the traveling and worked himself into a state as a consequence. He will feel like his old self on home turf and he looks a live danger to all this season.

WHEELS ON FIRE (SIDESTEP – STREET SENSE)

Aidan Fogarty has only recently acquired this fiery speed ball to his yard but he is bound to have been delighted to have inherited such a promising youngster. Wheels On Fire improved on each start last season and despite finishing in the midfield on his first ever start, it is worth noting that it was the listed Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot that he was contesting. 

He raced all alone and led for a while but ultimately his inexperience told in the closing stages as he was headed and passed by half of the twenty strong field. His then trainer Matthieu Palussiere was far from disheartened by what he saw and gave him an entry in the Group Three Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood the following month. Again he showed plenty of enthusiasm and shaped well under a decent ride from Danny Tudhope. They were genuinely unfortunate not to grab some place money at least. It is worth noting that he beat several previous winners here though including the likes of Raahy, Air Force Jet and Hand On My Heart.

The change of stables occurred in the following few weeks and on his first run for Aidan Fogarty he was sent back over to the UK to contest the Flying Childers Stakes at Doncaster again at the minimum trip of five furlongs.

He broke well and tried to make all of the running once again under Danny Tudhope. However, he edged left in the closing stages forfeiting precious ground and the Royal Ascot winner A’ali took full advantage. In the end Wheels On Fire was beaten just over a length into third place but it was a valuable race and he will have learned plenty from it.

There is more to come from the three-year-old and Fogarty clearly has a lot to look forward to for the upcoming season. He will likely be aimed at all of the top sprints for his age group and he remains one to stay on the right side of. The faster the ground, the better he is likely to be.

WICHITA (NO NAY NEVER – LUMIERE NOIRE)

This son of No Nay Never made a belated debut for Aidan O’ Brien last August in a maiden at The Curragh. Despite running particularly green throughout, the penny seemingly dropped the more the race progressed. He drew up alongside the Jim Bolger trained Fiscal Rules under a well-timed ride from Seamie Heffernan and just about put his head in the right place at the right time.

Connections were clearly impressed so they sent him over to England to race in the listed Flying Scotsman Stakes at Doncaster over seven furlongs. He was always prominent throughout the race but ultimately had no response when flanked by Molatham in the closing stages.

Having shown no obvious ill effects afterwards, Aidan O’ Brien found the perfect opportunity for Wichita in a weakfish looking renewal of the Group Three Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket. Having stalked the Mark Johnston trained Monoski, Wichita joined and passed that rival with the minimum of fuss. Ryan Moore did not have to ask for too much at the pair pulled some seven lengths clear from their rivals. 

With the ground turning soft, Ballydoyle clearly fancied their chances at taking on Godolphin’s leading two-year-old Pinatubo in the Group One Dewhurst Stakes. Despite his seven length win over the course and distance the previous month, Wichita was a little on his toes and didn’t seem to function particularly well on the ground. He had to settle for third place behind Godolphin’s rising star as well as his stablemate Arizona.

He looks sure to feature in some mouth-watering clashes this season and it will be interesting to see if he continues at a mile or steps up in distance in due course.

Contributing Authors

Karl Hedley

"Karl is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland and has been a massive fan of Horse Racing since his mid teens, when he and his grandfather...

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@jonathanstettin Another great look back by Jonathan at the king of the claimers Oscar Barrera.

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