As we all probably know by now all the main sports events in Ireland were postponed or cancelled in March due to government restrictions because this was when Coronavirus was rising in our country. Horse racing was included among the sports that were put to a halt, but while horse racing in England was stopped and all the main sports around Ireland had been stopped in late March just after Cheltenham the Irish flat season was given the go-ahead to start but that only lasted for one race meeting in Naas and like every other sport Irish horse racing was eventually put to a halt.
Since the start of June, a lot of sports have either announced or made their comeback and horse racing was one of the first just after golf to come back. On the 8th of June, just nearly 3 months since the flat season was meant to start, it finally started once again in Naas after a long wait and oh did it feel good to be back watching live sports. Obviously, fans aren’t allowed in and only key personnel including the jockeys, horses, grooms, some staff workers, trainers (none allowed attend aged 70 years or older), only key media and other people with key roles to play are allowed into the races and they obviously have to follow strict guidelines ordered from the government.
So at the time of writing this Irish horse racing has been back for exactly a week now so I am going to go through and recap the first week back in Irish Horse Racing. Also, it has been fantastic and so far it has been a success so a big thank you to everyone who has made everything possible.
Obviously everyone involved was very keen and excited on the return, although it would be quite unusual and different with all the new changes put in place to suit and adhere to Government guidelines so everyone had to try and adjust to the new normal. Finally, racing had returned and Naas who hosted the first meeting of the season in March would also host the first meeting back since the halt due to Coronavirus.
The first race back went to Aidan O’Brien’s 2-year-old filly More Beautiful for jockey Seamie Hefernan as she comfortably dashed down past the post and she looks like a nice exciting young prospect with plenty of potential.
After finishing 2nd in the first race, Shane Foley was back as he partnered with Jessica Harrington on Lucky Vega for their first of the day. The 3rd race went to Donagh O’Connor on Nordic Passage for Johnny Levins but the day belonged to Shane Foley as he won on Parkers Hill for Leanne Breen before securing his treble on Punita Arora an outsider for Jessica Harrington in one of the listed races.
Impressive sprinter Sceptical ran home well clear in the final listed race of the day for trainer Denis Hogan and jockey Joey Sheridan, Sceptical is all set for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in Royal Ascot on Saturday. Seamie Heffernan secured a second win of the day for himself and Aidan O’Brien on 3-year-old filly Elfin Queen and usually with a double the day would belong to him, but the day belonged to only one man and that was Shane Foley who started what was to be a brilliant week to come by winning the final race of the day to secure trainer Jessica Harrington a treble on ex Aidan O’Brien trained horse Masteroffoxhounds. That incredible 4th Shane Foley winner concluded an amazing first day back for the return of Irish Horse Racing.
After a great first day back of Irish racing in Naas on Monday, it was straight to Dublin for racing in Leopardstown on Tuesday which would feature the Group 3 Derby trial, the Group 3 Fillies trial and the Listed Colts trial.
The first 2 races of the day which were 3-year-old fillies and colts maidens went to Aidan O’Brien trained horses as Ennistymon who would come 2nd in a Group 2 in Royal Ascot the next week won the fillies maiden under Seamie Heffernan, and Tiger Moth won the colts maiden after a great ride from jockey Wayne Lordan.
The third race was the feature race of the day in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and it went yet again to an Aidan O’Brien trained horse in Cormorant after leading the whole race, and it was another different jockey in English and Irish Derby-winning jockey Padraig Beggy who kept Cormorant in front the whole race. Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan teamed up for the second time that day as Love Locket beat Know It All to win the fillies trial.
In the Group 3 colts trial finally, a non-Aidan O’Brien trained horse was victorious as Jim Bolger’s Ten Year Ticket who won his maiden at 33/1 rode a big race for Kevin Manning and remains unbeaten at 2 from 2 and he looks like a good 3-year-old prospect. Unfortunately, the favourite and a good prospect in Year Of The Tiger for Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan injured himself badly and he was pulled up at the 2 or 3 furlong point and he was very sadly fatally injured and had to be put down after the vets tried all they could to save him.
Billy Lee and Andy Oliver teamed up to get a nice win as Confidence High defied his big 28/1 odds to win the Leopardstown Handicap. Young talented apprentice and joint champion apprentice Andy Slattery guided a bit of another shock as 22/1 Lady Savanah gave both him and Tom McCourt their first winners of the season.
After 2 wins on the first day back in March before lockdown Chris Hayes got himself his 3rd winner of the season, his first since lockdown when he won the final race of the day for Peter Fahey on Palabres.
On Wednesday horses were loaded into their horseboxes for a drive to county Meath where Navan were looking forward to hosting their first race meeting of the season.
We were introduced to some nice new 2-year-olds who took centre stage in the maidens. In the first race of the day a 2-year-old fillies maiden local Meath based trainer and runner up in the jockey’s championship in 2019, Ger Lyons and Colin Keane got their first winner of the season as impressive looking filly Frenetic reached the winning post first as she beat Aidan O’Brien’s Mother Earth and Snowfall. Team Ballydoyle got their first winner of the day in the colts and Geldings 2-year-old maiden as Seamie Heffernan and juvenile Chief Little Hawk beat the others quite well and he looks like a horse to look out for despite not performing in Royal Ascot last week.
In the two feature races of the day which were both Listed races, Jessie Harrington was on form once again after winning 3 on the first day her apprentice Tom Madden teamed up with filly Silence Please to win his first-ever race at Listed level as Shane Foley and One Voice secured a 1-2 for their trainer. Jessie Harrington just had all the luck as Shane Foley and Ancient Spirit gave her 2 Listed wins in the one day as the jockey secured his 2nd win of the day after winning earlier on Blastofmagic for Ger O’Leary.
Thursday: Gowran Park
It was time for day 4 of the return of racing and on the eve of Guineas weekend and the first Group 1 of the season first racing had to come to Kilkenny to the wonderful track of Gowran Park.
The day started off with a win for Chris Hayes and Fossy Stack on Lynn Britt Cabin in the 3-year-old’s fillies maiden, the duo was given their 2nd win together in just 24 hours as You’resobeautiful gave them their first win of the season together. Denis Hogan and Joe Doyle partnered as they won together for the second time in 24 hours also as Mulzamm won the first of 5 handicaps to be on in Gowran that day.
Maker Of Kings and Bucky Larson gave Ger Lyons and Colin Keane a double as they won a maiden with Maker Of Kings and Bucky Larson won a handicap for the team.
Ger Lyons and Colin Keane weren’t the only trainers and jockeys to get a double on the day as trainer Jessie Harrington and jockey Shane Foley who were in red hot winning form got themselves a nice double as they won the last races of the day with Bella Brazil and Shona Mea to top the first meeting of the season in Kilkenny at Gowran Park.
Friday – Guineas weekend day 1: The Curragh
Finally, it was time for the Guineas Weekend festival and the first Group 1 races of the season as the 2000 Guineas took place on the Friday and the 1000 Guineas took place on the Saturday in the home of Irish Horse Racing, the Curragh racecourse. It was going to be a lot different to the usual Guineas festival as usually, it would take place on a Saturday and a Sunday and this time it was on a Friday and a Saturday, but the most unusual change of all was that there would be no spectators/ Fans allowed attend due to CoronaVirus restrictions. Usually, the Guineas Weekend festival is a huge attraction and attracts thousands of people who attend every year.
An Aidan O’Brien trained 2-year-old, Admiral Nelson took home the opening race of the evening, the first of the season in the Curragh as Wayne Lordan guided the smart colt home just ahead of his stablemate Merchants Quay. Admiral Nelson was unlucky as he disappointed in Royal Ascot the week after but I still think he will be a good horse as it is a lot to ask of a 2-year-old to do well on the big stage in Royal Ascot when he is only grasping and taking in the new experiences of racing.
Shane Crosse won himself and trainer Joseph O’Brien their first race since the return after lockdown as impressive looking 3 year old colt with plenty of potential Galileo Chrome who also held an Irish Derby entry won against a big and impressive field. Just a couple of races after winning their first of the season Shane Crosse and Joseph O’Brien partnered once again as very impressive looking 3-year-old colt Crossfirehurricane won the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes. In my opinion, this horse looks very good and I think he has a bright future as he is now unbeaten as he has won 4 races from 4, he holds an Irish Derby entry and I think he would be a contender and do well but trainer Joseph O’Brien obviously thinks that the 1 mile and 2 furlongs distance suits him better to the Derby distance of 1 mile and 4 furlongs as he said they might go to The Gold Cup in the Curragh in July with him.
In the feature race of the day and the first Group 1 race of the season the 2000 Guineas for the boys after already winning 3 races together that week, trainer Ger Lyons and Colin Keane had the favourite of the race in Siskin but it was always going to be a very tough task for the horse and jockey as they were trapped in by what Ger Lyons described Aidan O’Brien’s 6 team of horses “a football team.” That was never going to trouble Siskin and Colin Keane though as Colin gave him a great ride and Siskin ran very well for Colin and he was never going to beaten as they ran on to beat their closest rival in second Vatican City and Padraig Beggy for Aidan O’Brien by a length and 3 quarters and now Siskin is a not only a 2-year-old Group 1 winner but he is now a 3-year-old classic Group 1 winner as well and Ger Lyons and Colin Keane can now call themselves a classic winning trainer and jockey.
No one was going to have a better moment on the day than Ger Lyons and Colin Keane but Ado McGuinness and Ronan Whelan were given and fantastic ride by a listed runner up in France, Bowerman who can now call himself an Irish Lincolnshire winner after he looked like he was never going to get out but then he stormed by his rivals beating all 17 other contenders. The final race was the Group 2 MooresBridge Stakes and it looked like the favourite Fleeting was surely going to give Aidan O’Brien back to back winners in that race but it wasn’t to be as 6/1 outsider Leo De Fury won by a good 3 lengths for, you couldn’t have guessed it and probably wasn’t a surprise given their form, for Jessie Harrington and Shane Foley. They won the final race of the day two days in a row, what a week they were having as they and their horses were in the forms of their lives.
Saturday – Guineas Weekend Day 2: The Curragh
After a fantastic and successful 2000 Guineas, now it was time for the fillies 3-year-old race, The Group 1 1000 Guineas which would on later in the day. Mutadaffeq kicked the day off with a bang as he gave Gavin Cromwell and Wayne Lordan the first race of the day. Dickiedooda won the 2-year-old fillies maiden quite impressively for Jessie Harrington and Shane Foley and that horse has since been at Royal Ascot but unfortunately failed to perform. Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan were given the third race of the day in the 3-year-old fillies maiden after Snow who looks like a good horse just beat stable companion Salsa. In form jockey from the day previous, Colin Keane partnered up with trainer Kieran Cotter as Strong Johnson stormed home in the 4th, and that race was quickly followed up by the Ragusa Premier Handicap which was won by a great performance from Mark Fahey trained Edification which gave the trainer and young jockey with plenty of potential, Gavin Ryan their first winners of the season.
Lancaster House took home the first Group race of the day to give Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan a double in the Group 3 Coolmore Calyx Stakes. It was finally time for the feature race of the day, The Group 1 1000 Guineas. It looked like Albigna was definitely going to win it for Jessie Harrington and Shane Foley but with about a furlong left she was nowhere near the top of the field and it had unfortunately been too much for her as she finished beyond the top 5. Other than Albigna it looked like a very open race and you couldn’t really pick one out, but Aidan O’Brien’s Peaceful put on a performance like Love did in the English equivalent as she was always sitting up at the top half of the field and she was always prominent as she went onto win the 2020 1000 Guineas giving Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan a treble and giving Aidan his ninth trained winner in this race and giving the jockey, Seamie a fourth winner in the race.
Aidan’s youngest of his son’s Donnacha’s horse Fancy Blue ran on very well for 2nd place and she looks like she will be a fantastic horse she was followed by Aidan O’Brien and Wayne Lordan’s maiden So Wonderful.
Before the race, Peaceful had only won a maiden and was close to winning a listed race in Newmarket but in my opinion, I couldn’t see her winning so that just tells you to never underestimate Aidan O’Brien and his team. The two men in form Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan won their 4th race of the day in the last as one of the worlds best, globetrotter filly Magic Wand won the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes.
After a wonderful first week of racing, the week was ended in Leopardstown as 2000 Guineas winning team Ger Lyons and Colin Keane ended topped off a great first week back with a treble. Nickajack Cave and Heliac gave the duo 2 handy listed races and Athlumney Hall gave them a handicap win in the second last race of the day before winner earlier in the week, Confidence High won yet again in Leopardstown in the last race of the day for Andy Oliver and Billy Lee.
What a first week back it was from Jessie Harrington and Shane Foley trebles to Guineas wins and a great week for Aidan O’Brien, Seamie Heffernan, Ger Lyons and Colin Keane it was truly great to be back and what a week to kick flat racing off for the season.