US-owned and trained French Light runs in Ireland on Thursday

January 6, 2021

French Light will become the second of the Jonathan Sheppard horses based in Ireland to race when he contests the Munster Rated Novice Hurdle at Clonmel on Thursday.

The six-year-old gelded son of Muhtathir, a two-time race winner last August (at Colonial Downs and Saratoga), is among a field of 10 horses for the 2 miles 3 furlong 50 yards contest for 5-year-olds and upwards at the County Tipperary racecourse.

The US-trained entry will wear a first-time tongue strap in the €14,500 contest, which has horses rated from 113 to 124. As French Light is currently without an Irish handicap mark, he has been allotted 11-9, two pounds less than the top-weighted Balinaboola Steel (11-11), a useful hurdler with 4 wins from 11 starts this season, though he disappointed in his most recent race when 7 of 10 in a novice hurdle at Thurles.

French Light races for prominent American owner Irv Naylor and was bought from Baltimore Stables in County Wexford following his Point-to-Point success at Boulta in County Cork, where he clocked an impressive time for his division of the race. In his initial Point-to-Point outing, the then Mary Doyle-trained runner was four-and-a-half lengths fourth to subsequent Grade 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Ferny Hollow.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Gevrey is the likely race favourite on Thursday, having won a maiden hurdle race at Limerick in November, before running a credible third in a Punchestown novice hurdle last month. The gelded son of Saddler Maker hasn’t finished outside the top three in his last four races.

Tucanae, a six-year-old daughter of the Coolmore National Hunt stallion, Yeats, has one win from three this season, though she unfortunately slipped up on the first bend in her most recent run in a handicap hurdle at Limerick just less than a fortnight ago. This season she won a mares’ bumper (National Hunt flat race), was runner-up twice in maiden hurdles before losing her maiden tag at Fairyhouse.

Stand Off, a son of Milan, is one win from 2 starts this season, and produced a career best performance in winning a 14-runner novice hurdle on heavy ground at Clonmel in December. 

Majestic Maid’s most recent victory came in a November hurdle race at Cork, and ran fourth of six in a novice hurdle at the same venue less than a week ago. The six-year-old mare is back up in trip in Thursday’s event at Clonmel.

It Could Be You, carrying 11-10 is a course winner and was fourth of nine in a competitive handicap hurdle on soft ground at Leopardstown over the Christmas holidays.

Samurai Cracker was fourth in a novice hurdle on heavy ground at Ayr, Scotland, last month, though the eight-year-old should find this race more competitive.

Coolbane Boy was fourth of seven runners in an extended three miles minor hurdle race at Cork on 18 October 2020 and is down in trip as he returns from an 81 day break.

The Dabbler was fourth of nine runners in a novice chase at Tramore last October but switches from fences to hurdles for this race and is unlikely to be in the mix.

NSA champion rider Gerard Galligan, who is assisting Keri Brion with the training of the Jonathan Sheppard horses while in Ireland, will maintain his partnership with French Light.

French Light’s latest win came in a hurdles race at Saratoga on 26 August 2020 where he defeated his stable companion and the race favourite, the Irish-bred A Silent Prayer, also in the Irv Naylor colours, over two miles three furlongs on firm ground. His most recent run saw his finish fifth of seven in a handicap hurdle at Great Meadow, with Ker Brion explaining: 

“He struck into his knee in his last race in America which gave him a clear excuse. We left him out of training for three weeks after that. We were lucky it wasn’t worse.”

French Light is one of six Jonathan Sheppard-trained horses now housed at Baltimore Stables in Co. Wexford, Ireland. The other horses being trained and prepared for their European racing campaign by assistant trainer Keri Brion are Baltimore Bucko, Clondaw Camp, Fancy Pance, Francois and Winston C.  

Ms. Brion is satisfied with French Light’s preparation for the Clonmel contest, stating: 

“I am very happy with how he is going – he is on point. He was training with Baltimore Bucko (who was third at Limerick on 29 December 2020) up to his run and I would say French Light does everything a little easier than Baltimore Bucko. He has the year of age on him and a bit more maturity.”

The Pennsylvania-native added:

“He doesn’t care what ground he runs on; he’s really exciting and we have pretty high hopes for him. I would like to think that maybe French Light will be Cheltenham quality. I’ve had the opinions of other riders who have been in here and sat on him and everybody thinks he’s pretty special so we’ll see.” 

The expected heavy ground description at Clonmel should not inconvenience him, having won his Irish Point-to-Point on yielding to soft going. With Baltimore Bucko providing an excellent start for the stable when third in the 2 mile BRD McMahon Reinforcements Rated Novice Hurdle at Limerick recently, despite the unfavourable ground conditions, the Sheppard team should come into this race feeling confident that their judgement in bringing horses to race in Ireland has been fully vindicated. Though French Light’s race at Clonmel looks a better contest on paper, if the gelding is to fulfil the high hopes his connections have for him, he is likely to run a big race and finish in the placings.

Photo: Keri Brion

Contributing Authors

Breandán Ó hUallacháin

Breandán Ó hUallacháin writes about Irish, British, French and Australian horseracing, both National Hunt and Flat. He has an interest in the history of racing...

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