Preview of racing at the Curragh

By Luke Keena (@lukekeena1)

After a fantastic day of racing at the Curragh yesterday, we move onto the final day of the Irish Derby meeting featuring the Group 1 Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes over ten furlongs for Fillies and Mares.


Santa Barbara has been sent off short price favourite for two Classics this year after a lot of positive comments from the stable. She ran a fantastic race to be fourth in the 1,000 Guineas considering it was only her second run on a racecourse. She then travelled well in the Oaks before not seeing out the trip to finish a well held fifth behind Snowfall. I think the ten furlong trip will be her optimum trip and could take some stopping getting the three year old allowance.


With eight runners in the field, I think Shale is a nice each-way price. Her best form is on quick ground and she will have that today. As a two year old she gained Group 1 glory in the Moyglare stakes at the Curragh on good ground. She hasn’t hit form this season but I think you can put a line through her two runs thus far. She was in need of the run at Leopardstown and the ground went against her at Ascot. If she can recapture her two year old form she will outrun her odds of 12/1.


The third race on the card is the Sherry Fitzgerald Country Homes Handicap over six furlongs. 19 runners head to post in what looks to be a very open handicap.


The Michael O’Callaghan trained Fastnet Crown makes most appeal to me. He looked like the winner at Cork one furlong out before failing to see out the seven furlongs. He then dropped to six furlongs at Fairyhouse where I think he was a bit shell shocked at the early pace, it being his first time over the sprinting trip. Once he got balanced he ran on very well. I think with the experience of that run, he can go very close at around 16/1.


Seventeen runners head to post for the ultra competitive Paddy Power Rockingham Handicap over the minimum trip.


Last years runner-up Jungle Jane make the most appeal to me at a big price. She was denied by a short head in last years renewal by Strong Johnson. She ran a nice seasonal reappearance at Tipperary when running very well until getting tired in the last furlong and a half. She then made a quick reappearance six days later when not disgraced in a Listed race. She runs off a pound higher this year and I think she will outrun her odds of 16/1.


Eight runners head to post for the Group 2 Comer Group International Curragh Cup over one mile and six furlongs.


Passion heads the market but I am going to take her on first time out over this trip. I like the Joseph O’Brien trained runner, Pondus. It looked like a winning move last time out when he hit the front two furlongs out, but was bet to the line by Shanroe who was receiving 12 pound. He went close twice in Australia in Graded races and I think he is the one to side with.


The penultimate race on the card is the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Ragusa Handicap over one mile and a half.


After a fantastic national hunt season, I think Henry De Bromhead could have a Derby weekend winner with Mosala. He ran a great race last time out to finish a very close second to Taurem Shaman at Leopardstown in a race that’s form is working out well. That was only his first start since his maiden victory at Dundalk in January. He is unexposed at the trip and I think he will relish it and improve for it. I think he will prove to be a better horse than his rating of 85 and can go very well here with Billy Lee in the saddle.

Chatting With… Christian Leech

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

The prize money situation in Britain is one that everyone has their own opinion on and the Sophie Leech team decided to do something about it, acknowledging the much higher levels in France compared to England. Over the past twelve months, National Hunt trainer Sophie has been having massive amounts of success with sending horses from her Gloucestershire base over the channel to France.

I spoke over the phone to Christian Leech, Sophie’s husband, about their French success. He was in France on the eve of Zurekin’s race at Auteuil in the grade two Prix la Barka.

Christian explained that the decision to race their horses in France was “primarily prize money based. James Finch, who is a big owner of ours now, bought a horse a few years ago and he was quite keen to come over here [France] and it has sort of snowballed from there, really. It was an immediate success. Even though, his name was Ghost Serge and he was only a 110 maybe 115 rated juvenile hurdler in England, but he won over €20,000 in prize money having finished second twice so it became apparent to us quite quickly that you didn’t need very high rated horses to win good prize money because of the way the conditions are set out in races over here.”

For three months in 2020, they had a satellite yard but, other than that, they travelled each horse to and from Gloucestershire. They had to negotiate both Covid-19 and Brexit restrictions, “Covid and Brexit have made it a lot more difficult. Probably more so Brexit than anything because, with Covid, you know what you have to do whereas with Brexit the veterinary checks at Calais take quite a long time. It takes a lot of time and expense taking horses too and from France but, with the prize money being so good it is still worth doing.”

The team have won about €550,000 in the last twelve months from roughly seventy-seven runners. “We look at averages and how much per runner they win and ours are on about, in the past year, something like seven or eight thousand, I think, maybe a bit more and, like Nicholls and Henderson at the very top were averaging at about three or four thousand per runners. It has given us an opportunity to be able to earn the same sort of levels of prizemoney like the top trainers in England but with much less horses.”

There has been a mixed response from the French racing community, “Paris-Turf and Jour de Galop have done features on us and they’re really interested. France Galop have been really helpful and I’m not sure French trainers have much liked us to have as much success as we’ve had. I don’t think they liked that very much!”

Two horses have really been stable stars for Sophie and Christian – Zurekin and Enfant Roi. Zurekin was bought for about £14,000 from a claiming race at Clairefontaine in August 2020. Since then, he has won €140,000 in prize money and he’s never been worse than fifth in eight starts. When I spoke to Christian, Zurekin was about to run the next day in a grade two at Auteuil. The horse went on to be third, beaten six and a half lengths under James Reveley for James Finch, earning €19,151. “If he does [run well], it’ll give us autumn campaigns for grade one hurdles as well.”

Enfant Roi was bought from another claiming chase in October 2020 when he beat the yard’s own Henryville at Auteuil by eighteen lengths. He was entered in both the Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot and the Challow Hurdle at Newbury but the ground turned against them both times. He has raced four times for them and has been second, fourth, first and second in a €90,000 handicap chase where he won €44,196. To put this into perspective, the prize money for the aforementioned English races were £34,170 for the listed chase and £24,848 for the grade one hurdle. They have big aspirations for this horse, “He’s got a series of races back here hopefully culminating in a crack at the Grand National in 2022.”

The decision to race their horses in France has helped the horses themselves, “We’ve always liked buying older horses with proven form who have probably lost their way a bit and we try to rejuvenate them and try and do things for them individually. The big difference for them has been the pace in the races in France is so much slower so they’ve actually gone from racing at 100mph all the time in England. They’ve really enjoyed the slower races in France. It has rekindled a lot of their enthusiasm. An older horse like Clondaw Cian, Vaniteux, Applesandpierres – there are quite a few older ones who looked like they were coming to the end of their tether in England. It has rekindled their enthusiasm for racing.”

Ten-year-old ex-Nigel Twiston-Davies runner Two Taffs and six-year-old ex-Willie Mullins runner Tiger Tap Tap are both set to make their debuts for Leech Racing at Compeigne on 21st June. If Tiger Tap Tap wins and Two Taffs comes second, they have already paid back what the yard paid for them.

The majority of Sophie and Christian’s runners are in France these days, “There is an appetite for English trainers to go and have runners on certain occasions but I think we are just a bit more willing to go. For example, we’ve got a runner tomorrow at Auteuil, which is obviously a big track, but, on Sunday [13th June], we’ve got one at Limoges, which is quite far away. We’ll go anywhere really.” Their runner at Limoges, which is over six hours from Calais, Mcgroarty, was a non-runner and instead made his third start in France at Dieppe on 18th June, finishing third.

With prize money levels as they are in France, it is surprising that more trainers don’t send runners, “We wouldn’t want too many of them coming over to make it more competitive but I don’t really understand why an awful lot more don’t. Most of races over here are worth maybe four times as much as racing in England. It’s not like it’s even close – there’s a massive gulf between the two.”

I was keen to know what Christian thought could be done to sort the prize money in Britain, “Personally I think the racecourses should be a lot more accountable in terms of just specifically their media rights and how much they make from that. It needs to be clear how much they make to show the product and whether the prize money that they put on is a fair reflection of that because if racecourses say, look we’re not making any money at all then that’s absolutely fine and everyone has to be understanding of that and levels have to be as they are. If it transpires that they are making an awful lot of money and just choosing not to put it into prize money then that becomes an issue. The racecourses have to be accountable.”

He continued, “When it’s directly related to the horsemen, if you like, in terms of races themselves, then, with regards to media rights income, I think there has to be transparency because it’s not necessarily just their money.”

Garo De Juilley, who has been a grand horse for Sophie Leech and won a listed hurdle in early 2021, taken by JTW Equine Images

However, Christian believes that “the structure of racing in England is fantastic” but there’s “definitely scope for a more interesting programme in England.” He explained, “I suppose I would like to see, having it experienced it in France, a bit more of a variation in the race programme. In England, we are obsessed, which is bookmaker driven, with having as many handicaps as we possibly can. Whereas, in France, handicaps are few and far between. They’re geared towards horses’ levels of prize money they’ve won.”

Christian went on to relate this concept to Mcgroarty, “Because he’s not won much prize money, he was eligible for quite a weak race. Whereas, in England, that sort of race doesn’t exist and he’d have been banging his head off a really high mark and weight in a handicap.”

Conditions races are something Christian would like to see more of, “They had a series of confined races they had in England, I don’t think they did it on the flat but I think they did it for jumpers and to run in a confined race you couldn’t have won in the last year or something. Unfortunately, a lot of trainers didn’t read the race conditions and entered the wrong horses but that sort of thing just to make trainers’ jobs a bit more secure opposed to handicaps, which are great for bookmakers but it’s very hard to win them.”

Something I found fascinating when talking to Christian was about the situation with crowds in France, as it has been a huge talking point lately with the restrictions reducing, “France has nothing like the crowds that English racing would have. They’d get a lot of people for Arc weekend but other than that it’s dead. Even the French Gold Cup meeting is very very quiet so everything over here [England] is completely and utterly betting driven. It’s sad really because you go to fantastic meetings and there’s nobody there so that’s a big advantage that English racing has over France.” France currently has restrictions of 5000 people on track but Christian described that as “plenty”.

It has been fascinating to speak to Christian about Leech Racing’s French runners and their reasoning behind targeting races across the channel. They have some brilliant horses and it is excellent to see the older runners, who have been finding life in handicaps tough, loving the game again over in France. I wish them the best of luck with their stable stars Zurekin, Enfant Roi and Clondaw Cian in the future and hopefully Enfant Roi can take part in the Grand National in 2022!

Massive thank you to Christian for speaking to me!

Sophie Leech’s France Galop page – France Galop (france-galop.com)

Jockey Cam footage on board Zurekin from the Prix La Barka

Ascot Gold Cup Preview 2021

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

By name, the Ascot Gold Cup is the feature of the meeting, yet, in recent years, other races have stolen the limelight. This time, the race very much looks like the race of the meeting – a fascinating clash between Stradivarius, who looks to equal Yeats’ incredible four wins in the race, and six four-year-olds threatening his crown.

If anything, many racing fans were resistant to give Stradivarius the credit he deserved at the beginning as his career came so soon after Yeats. Now, one day short of twelve years since Yeats’ fourth win, Stradivarius looks to equal his record. There has been significantly more funding put into the division since the time of Yeats with the £1 million bonus and £213,017 to the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup in 2021. It would be excellent to see Stradivarius equal the great horse’s record but I’m sure plenty of devoted Yeats fans will wish that one of his twelve rivals manage to pass the post before him.

Stradivarius sets the standard amongst the runners and it will take a lot to beat him. He has won seven group ones but things didn’t necessarily go to plan in 2020. He started the season finishing third to Ghaiyyath and Anthony Van Dyck, before winning this and the Goodwood Cup over two miles. Once again, he was beaten by Anthony Van Dyck over one mile four before a tilt at the Arc, when he finished seventh. He flopped dramatically on Champions Day when finishing twelfth of thirteen runners. The race report said that the ground went against him but he had plenty of experience on Ascot soft ground by this point. Trueshan and Spanish Mission were ahead that day. First time out this season, he won snugly in a group three over two miles at Ascot. Nayef Road was third that day and he was beaten one and a half lengths. In this last year, he was beaten ten lengths. Stradivarius is going to have to put up a stronger performance than that day in order to assure victory in this.

Nayef Road has made a bit of a habit of following in John Gosden runners. At three, Logician was too good and, from four starts at four, he followed in Stradivarius and Enbihaar on three of them. This season, he finished third to Stradivarius but has finished last of five on two occasions beaten twenty-one and thirty-seven lengths respectively. He has a lot to find on that form.

Trueshan improved immensely throughout last season and has made a great partnership with Hollie Doyle. On his second start of that campaign, he won a listed race over one mile four before finishing eighth in the Ebor with a massive weight. Next time, over one mile six, he put in a good performance to win a conditions race at Salisbury. It all came together for him to absolutely bolt up on Champions Day in the Long Distance Cup. He travelled really strongly and kicked clear in a way that suggests he’ll enjoy this trip. Dropped back to one mile five and a half furlongs for his seasonal reappearance, he didn’t go down without a fight to Japan but that horse hasn’t boosted the form. It looks as though it will rain at some point in the early hours of Thursday morning but the ground has been good to firm for the first two days. It will take a lot to change the going description but this horse does seem to need a bit of cut in the ground but at least it won’t be such a stamina test.

Connections won’t want the rain to come for Spanish Mission. He was sixteen lengths behind Trueshan and even further ahead of Stradivarius. Before that, he’d won a listed race and a group two, which was over two miles two. He went abroad in the early part of 2021 to run at Riyadh on good to firm ground to be second, beaten one and a quarter lengths and taking home a cool £364,963. Next time, he went to Meydan and finished fifth behind Subjectivist beaten nine and three quarter lengths and £16,432 in his pocket, in a group two. Returning to England and York, he ran really impressively over one mile six by two and three quarter lengths to Santiago with Nayef Road back in fifth. He hasn’t tackled a trip like this before but, on all evidence, it would look as though he’ll stay. The Andrew Balding horses are flying.

Santiago is part of a trio of Aidan O’Brien runners. He won over a mile at two and then upped in trip all the way to one mile six furlongs for the Queen’s Vase on his first start as a three-year-old. He won by two and three quarter lengths that day and followed it up in the Irish Derby. He then raced against Stradivarius, carrying one stone one pound less than him, in the Goodwood Gold Cup. Nayef Road was second that day, one and a quarter lengths in front of Santiago. In the St Leger, he was fourth and probably should’ve won. On his return this season, he was very keen and wasn’t given a hard time behind Baron Samedi, who has won a Belmont group two, Master Of Reality and Emperor Of The Sun. Last time, he was two and three quarter lengths behind Spanish Mission after not getting the clearest of passages. The extra trip is a slight concern and Seamie Heffernan gets back on for the first time since the Irish Derby.

The first and third in last season’s Epsom Derby both take their chances here and add a fascinating spin to the race. Serpentine won the race easily after one win in a maiden at the Curragh from three starts. After the Derby, he was fourth in the Grand Prix du Paris behind his stablemate Mogul and he was then fourth over one mile two furlongs in the Champion Stakes. In 2021, he started out over half a furlong further than the last day in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. He really didn’t go to the races that day. The soft to heavy ground won’t have helped. However, he goes dramatically up in trip to two mile four from one mile four. The way he won the Derby suggests he’ll get further and Aidan O’Brien wouldn’t be running him if he didn’t have a chance. It’s going to be fascinating to see where they position him in the race to get the trip.

Amhran Na Bhfiann has only had six starts. He didn’t win at two and was fourth in a maiden before his third-place finish in the Derby. He looks like he thoroughly enjoyed the trip and, when dropped back to one mile two furlongs, he was second at 8/15 in a maiden at Naas. He returned to racing after a health scare at Dundalk in April and won by thirteen lengths over one mile four. He had a turbulent passage and was never comfortable in the Levmoss Stakes over one mile six. He did plug on when he got daylight, suggesting he’ll stay a bit further than that trip. His full sister, Was’s, foal, Knight Of Malta, has been running in two mile hurdle races. Amhran Na Bhfiann gets blinkers for this.

Aidan O’Brien is taken on by his two sons, who each have one representative. Donnacha’s runner Emperor Of The Sun is the shortest price of the two. He is a half brother to the speedster Zoustar yet tackles two and a half miles in this. His full brother Kondo Isami runs in the King George V Stakes. Emperor Of The Sun started his career with Aidan and won a Galway maiden for Ballydoyle. He raced in handicap company over one mile four last season, including finishing a half length behind Princess Zoe despite carrying less weight. He also didn’t disgrace himself in listed company and was beaten five lengths by St Leger winner Galileo Chrome. This season, he contested group three company and he was one and a quarter lengths behind Baron Samedi, the Belmont group two winner for Joseph O’Brien, and Master Of Reality with Santiago in fourth. Emperor Of The Sun manged to reverse the form with Master Of Reality at Leopardstown when he won a listed event over one mile six with Twilight Payment and Amhran Na Bhifann in behind. He won by three and a quarter lengths that day and he goes up massively in trip. This is a huge opportunity for Gavin Ryan.

Joseph O’Brien runs the eight-year-old Twilight Payment. He’s been an amazing horse for connections, winning eight of his thirty-three starts and over £2.5 million in prizemoney. He won the Melbourne Cup in November and had won a group two and a group three earlier in the season. On his seasonal reappearance, he ran well to be third over one mile two, which is far too short, and didn’t disgrace himself at Leopardstown behind Emperor Of The Sun. It’s safe to assume this horse, who was bred by man of the moment Jim Bolger, will stay the extra four furlongs.

Subjectivist is one of the four-year-olds and, in the lead up to the race, has been talked about like the horse who will give Stradivarius the most to think about. He was third on his first outing last year, which came at Royal Ascot, only beaten one and a quarter lengths by Hukum and Kipps. He was beaten next time before running at Hamilton in a strong listed race. He followed in Mogul and Pyledriver before romping in by fifteen lengths at Goodwood. In the St Leger, he was too keen and was out of his depth, finishing behind Santiago. He went to France and won a group one over two miles with Princess Zoe in fourth. That was on heavy ground so it suggests he has enough stamina for this extended trip. He has had one run so far in 2021 where he won a group two by five and three quarter lengths. He is occasionally inconsistent but he has the ability to feature here.

Princess Zoe’s connections will be doing a rain dance and praying that the possible 28ml of rain will fall. She won two races from fifteen starts when trained in Germany before she joined Tony Mullins. Somehow, she got beat on her first start for Mullins but she won at the Curragh next time and then achieved a hattrick at Galway over one mile four and two miles one. It was fairy-tale stuff for connections next time out when she won a French group one under Joey Sheridan over two and a half miles. Unfortunately, she couldn’t back it up later in October when fourth to Subjectivist over two miles. She really does stay all day so races over one mile four and one mile six this season were hardly ideal. She’ll run much better over this trip with the mares’ allowance but does seem reliant on the rain.

The last two horses to mention are Ben Lilly and Rip Van Lips. Ben Lilly has won seven of his seventeen outings and, in 2020, won five races in a row between 8th September and 16th October. It was a remarkable training performance and he went from a mark of 52 to 77. He won again off 85 and 87 and he races off 92. He’s ridden by Graham Lee after Kevin Stott was unfortunately injured on Tuesday. Without a doubt, Ben Lilly has a bit to find.

The market doesn’t give Rip Van Lips much of a chance either. From the small bit of video footage I’ve seen of him, he looks a gorgeous big horse. He was a convincing winner at Hoppegarten in a group two on good ground and went really strongly through the line. He’s by Rip Van Winkle and out of a one mile three winning mare called Red Lips, which explains his name. She is a half sister to three winners between two miles three and two miles five over obstacles. His trainer Andreas Suborics had a very nice group two winner at the weekend and the horses are going well. It’s difficult to know how his German and French form will stack up to that of the English and Irish horses but it’s so good to have European raiders and I think he will out-run his odds.

It may seem like I’ve given a chance to a lot of the horses and I have because this is just the nature of this race. It’s great to have such an open race in this division because over the last four years Stradivarius has just looked a certainty for so many races. He’s vulnerable today though. I’m fascinated by the Aidan O’Brien trio, more so Serpentine and Amhran Na Bhfiann as you kind of know what you’re getting with Santiago at this point. Talking from my heart, I would love to see Serpentine bolt in, like he did in that sensational Derby. I love the horse but I have lost my enthusiasm I had for his chances since the initial entries stage. I’m much keener on Amhran Na Bhfiann as I think he is still quite unexposed and looks like a stamina test will suit him. The German raider Rip Van Lips is very interesting as well. There are more horses that could hit the frame and I’ve explained their individual chances but my predicted first four home are as follows…

1st Stradivarius (6/5)

2nd Amhran Na Bhfiann (50/1)

3rd Rip Van Lips (100/1)

4th Serpentine (16/1)

Cazoo Derby 2021 Preview

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Epsom. Where champions are crowned. Where dreams are achieved.

Twelve colts will contest the prestigious Cazoo Derby at 4:30 on Saturday 5th June 2021. One will win. One will join some of the greatest thoroughbreds in the Derby’s illustrious role of honour.

We need to see a superstar.

Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore only have one representative – Bolshoi Ballet. Last year, they had six and, in 2019, they had seven. Coolmore has been one of the Derby’s biggest supporters. The tide in the bloodstock world seems to be turning towards speedier pedigrees and horses that will be out contesting the best races at two. The coronavirus pandemic will have contributed to this attitude shift as many people have taken a huge financial hit and very few establishments can afford to be as patient as Coolmore with their stock.

It appears that they aren’t firing unnecessary darts at the board. However, many people would probably have considered recent winners Wings Of Eagles and Serpentine as ‘unnecessary darts’ before the race. Instead, they are seeking out alternative races. High Definition was extremely well-fancied for the Derby but goes to the Irish equivalent.

Prize money could be a factor. The winner’s prize for the Derby is £637,988, which is excellent, much more than 2020. St Mark’s Basilica and Van Gogh are heading to the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly, which offers a whopping £736,536 (converted from euros) to the winning connections. If anything, a winner of the one mile, two and a half furlong Prix Du Jockey Club might be a more attractive stallion prospect than a Derby winner. Wings Of Eagles has already been pigeon-holed as a national hunt sire.

Maybe, simply, Bolshoi Ballet is just too good to need any other representatives. He’s a brilliant looking colt, by Galileo and out of Alta Anna. She’s unraced but the dam of two-mile hurdle winner Palm Beach and one mile six group winner, Southern France. Bolshoi Ballet started his career in October finishing third when very green. At Leopardstown next time, he won by four lengths with four subsequent winners in the race. He finished fifth in a Saint-Cloud group one, following in Gear Up, on heavy ground. This season, he returned to Leopardstown with an excellent reappearance, winning by two and a quarter lengths. Unfortunately, the form of that race hasn’t worked out especially well but, contrastingly, his Derrinstown Derby Trial success has thrown up Mac Swiney, who won the Irish 2000 Guineas, and Fernando Vichi, who won the listed Nijinsky Stakes on Thursday. It takes a tough horse with stamina to win this and Bolshoi Ballet has a brilliant chance for Aidan O’Brien.

Samantha Martin’s Flat 10 To Follow

Just one runner from Ballydoyle has led to a shake up in jockey bookings. It’s believed that Frankie Dettori turned down the ride on John Leeper in favour of the Aidan O’Brien second string (High Definition). As a result, Adam Kirby was called up to partner John Leeper. He did multiple interviews outlining his chances on the colt and his excitement at having live chances in both the Oaks and the Derby. When Aidan O’Brien announced that he was just going to run Bolshoi Ballet, connections of John Leeper replaced Kirby with Dettori.

It’s a bit like déjá vu – Tom Marquand was taken off English King in favour of Frankie Dettori with Marquand going on to finish second and English King fifth. I’m not going to pretend I know how this was handled by connections personally but on face value it seems unfair. Connections want to give their horse the best chance so they booked Dettori. However, I strongly believe that Adam Kirby is one of the best jockeys riding but doesn’t get the opportunities.

The saga doesn’t finish there. At declarations on Thursday, Kirby was called up to ride Adayar, who was meant to be ridden by Oisin Murphy. Kirby has a roughly 30% strike rate for Charlie Appleby and does a bit of pre-training for the team. Now, Murphy, the Champion Jockey, has to sit out.

Horse racing is a competitive, elite sport. However, this changing around of jockeys does create the impression that there is very little loyalty within this industry. It doesn’t present flat racing in a particularly good light to a youngster wanting to get involved with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities being snatched away like that – all jockeys dream of riding a single-figure priced horse in the Derby.

So, is John Leeper’s chance worth all of the fuss? Being out of the English and Irish Oaks winner Snow Fairy and by Frankel, he’s the exciting unknown quantity in the race and his name relates to the trainer’s father John Dunlop. After one start at two, finishing fourth, he went to Newcastle and won by four lengths. The run that launched him into the Derby picture was at Newmarket in the Fairway Stakes. He was enthusiastic and verging on keen but managed to dictate a small, inferior field. Ideally, he wouldn’t be as keen in the Derby and he has had an experience of the track under Kirby at the gallops morning last week. He’s yet to tackle a group race environment and he will have to make a step forward from last time.

Kirby now rides Godolphin third-string Adayar. By Frankel and out of a group three winning Dubawi mare, he was beaten six and three quarter lengths to be fourth on debut when a lot of things went wrong. Two weeks later, he absolutely romped in by nine lengths at Nottingham on soft ground. On his three-year-old debut, he was second, staying on, in the Sandown Classic Trial over one mile two and he finished second yet again in the Lingfield Derby Trial to Third Realm. He stayed well that day but he has been slowly away on three of his four starts and he definitely doesn’t want to get caught too far back. The cut in the ground will benefit him.

One Ruler is another of the Godolphin challengers. He was well-fancied in the lead up to the 2000 Guineas but William Buick chose Master Of The Seas and then One Ruler was beaten five lengths with everything happening too quickly. He was a good two-year-old, winning the Autumn Stakes and finishing three quarters of a length behind Mac Swiney in the group one Vertem Futurity. He’s stepping up half a mile in trip and, as his dam was a talented miler, the trip is a slight concern, even though he will love the ground.

William Buick picked Hurricane Lane out of the Godolphin trio. This colt is unbeaten after winning by two lengths on his debut in a ‘future stayers’ novice stakes. Then, in mid-April, he won by a hard-fought length in a conditions race over one mile two at Newbury. He kept on really strongly to win the Dante and showed an excellent attitude. On pedigree, there are no doubts that he will stay – his full brother has won over one mile four and their dam is a three times winner over two miles.

Gear Up was fifth, beaten five and a half lengths, in the Dante, which is his only three-year old outing so far. He won his first two starts: one in novice company and the next in the Acomb. He was fourth on good ground over a mile after that. In October, he went to Saint-Cloud for a group one. He made the running on the heavy surface with Bolshoi Ballet racing in second. Bolshoi Ballet ended up fifth but Gear Up won in game style. He will love it if it keeps raining but last time out is a slight concern on the stamina front.

Jim Bolger bred Gear Up out of a mare who never won with Teofilo. His half-brother Guaranteed was fifth in the 2019 Irish Derby. Bolger’s actual representative is Mac Swiney, who he bred, trains and owns. Mac Swiney has an illustrious CV and has his ninth career start. This horse intrigues me – his form figures are 51918141. He never backs up a win. His best performances at two were in the group two Futurity Stakes on soft ground at the Curragh, and he was something of a surprise winner at Doncaster in the Vertem Futurity where he won strongly beating One Ruler. On his first start this season, he was suffering from a respiratory issue when finishing fourth to Bolshoi Ballet in the Derrinstown. He’d obviously got over it next time when he was an incredibly brave winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas on heavy ground. The rain will make conditions perfect for him. He should stay as his half brother by a Dewhurst winner stays just further than one mile four. It would be great if Jim Bolger could get another classic winner with this son of New Approach, who Bolger and Kevin Manning teamed up with to win the Derby in 2008.

The last of the three Irish runners to mention is Sea The Stars colt Southern Lights for Joseph O’Brien, who won the race twice as a jockey. He was only beaten a head on debut and managed to win stepped up in trip in April by two and a bit lengths, beating two subsequent winners. Last time out, he was sixth in the Derrinstown and he got checked in the straight so the jockey eased him down. He’s out of a once-raced Kingmambo mare. There isn’t a large representation of stamina on the dam’s side but Sea The Stars won the Derby himself.

Southern Lights is one of three Sea The Stars colts with Third Realm the pick of them. He started his career by finishing fifth but, this season, won by one and a quarter lengths in a class five maiden at Nottingham. He handled the step up to listed company in the Lingfield Derby Trial, beating Adayar. He was a great winner. It has been reported that he isn’t the flashiest worker at home but the run at Lingfield suggests he will stay. He’s related to multiple black-type performers at a range of distances.

David Egan rode Third Realm to win the Lingfield Derby Trial but Andrea Atzeni gets back on board. As a result, he partners rank-outsider Mojo Star. This horse has had just two starts for Amo Racing and Richard Hannon. In October, he had his first start when beaten a nose at Newbury. He was beaten half a length at the same track next time, keeping on over the one mile two trip. He’s related to two listed winners at one mile two so the stamina for that extra two furlongs is an unknown. He has the best draw of them all in 10 and you have to feel for Rossa Ryan, who is the retained rider for the owners but recovering from a broken collar bone.

Youth Spirit is a massive price and he probably shouldn’t be. He made his debut over seven furlongs at Haydock before winning over the same trip on soft ground at the Newmarket July course. The form of that race is as strong as it possibly could be with the eight runners in behind winning nine races between them. Next time, he was three and a quarter lengths behind Battleground and, for his seasonal reappearance, he was fourth in the Fielden Stakes. Connections pushed him up three furlongs in trip to run in the group three Chester Vase and he absolutely relished the test. There are no doubts about his stamina and this son of Camelot has an excellent each-way chance.

Last to mention is Mohaafeth, whose participation is in jeopardy as the rain fell in bucket-loads at Epsom on Oaks Day. He wants rattling quick ground. He was beaten by Belloccio on debut. This horse was subsequently eight lengths behind Adayar and eleven lengths behind Hurricane Lane in the Dante. The form gives him a bit to find but he won a novice and a handicap at the start of the season. Last time, he won a listed race over one mile two furlongs on good to firm. His ability to stay one mile four has to be questioned if the ground is testing.

In conclusion, Youth Spirit is my each way fancy as he will definitely stay and Hurricane Lane and Adayar will hopefully run well too. However, my main selection is BOLSHOI BALLET. I know he’s the favourite and, if anything, he’s probably too short but I really like this horse. He’s very versatile and will stay well. We need a superstar and he has the potential. One horse that can mix it with the top middle-distance performers. As much as I adore Serpentine, he hasn’t backed up the brilliant Epsom success. The division is for the taking.

Back To The Races!

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Horse racing has been a life-line for many throughout the pandemic – a distraction from the horror of Coronavirus, entertainment for those long lockdown days and, crucially, interaction with others through social media.

The pandemic took away the opportunity to go to the racecourses to see friends and racehorses in person. The TV just had to do. But now, crowds are allowed back on course.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I was over the moon to be back on the racecourse this Tuesday at my beloved Leicester. It is a track that holds so many brilliant memories of times picnicking with my grandparents and when I did my first ever interview in February of 2018.

The weather did not disappoint. It was probably the warmest I’ve ever been on a racecourse with the sun never going behind a cloud. There were people in shorts and t-shirts, which was bizarre to see – but we are in June after all. Leicester struggled before the pandemic with abandoning meetings due to the adverse weather conditions so it was great to see a good crowd this raceday.

Overnight between Monday and Tuesday, the ground-staff put on 2mm – 3mm of water onto the track to help it after racing on Monday. The ground was good to firm but seemed to be beautiful flat racing ground. The staff at Leicester Racecourse did a great job to make us feel safe. We had to wear masks when going indoors, which was completely fair. My only issue was that there weren’t racecards in book format, just an A3 page with the cards on – it wasn’t a big deal though!

Ernie’s Valentine winning under Hollie Doyle.

The first race was a competitive six runner novice stakes and all of these two-year-olds were having their first raceday experience. Over five furlongs, it was fast and furious with Mr Mccann making the running in the red colours owned by some Liverpool football players. He couldn’t quite hold on as Ernie’s Valentine and Wings Of War passed him in the closing stages. Hollie Doyle gave Ernie’s Valentine a great ride to win as he was very edgy and it took a while to coax him into the stalls. This half-brother to Montatham looks to have a big future and you could say the same for Wings Of War and Mr Mccann.

Dhabab

More experienced two year olds were on show for the next race on the card but it was a horse having his first day out at the races who won – Dhabab for Rab Havlin and John Gosden. He was green but managed to stay on really well. The winning margin was two lengths and the second placed horse was Sweeping, who shaped really nicely on his debut. Triple Times, a relation of Cape Byron and Ostilio, ran well to finish third.

Muhalhel

A William Haggas runner in a claiming race is a rare occurrence so there was no shock that Muhalhel, under Tom Marquand, was a strong winner at odds of 4/7. He was claimed out of the race for £10,000 by Alice Haynes but there was plenty of interest in him. It looks like his new team will have a lot of fun. Accrington Stanley came second and they both pulled eight lengths clear of the third. He should be in the winner’s enclosure too if the handicapper is kind.

My hypothetical “Ride Of The Day” Award goes to Dougie Costello for his ride on Croeso Cymraeg. This son of Dick Turpin went very close to winning over track and trip fifteen days ago and, when they jumped out of the stalls, it looked like another defeat was on the cards. He was a good few lengths detached but Costello sneaked through the other horses in the closing stages and, when a gap opened for him, he went straight through it and won by a head. Croeso Cymraeg is definitely not the easiest as he was walked to post by his groom.

Classy Dame

Tom Marquand picked up another winner on the day with Classy Dame for the Eddery team. Even though she was 18/1, she skipped clear in the last one hundred yards and managed to put one and a half lengths between her and her rivals. These fillies sired by Belardo can do no wrong at the minute! In second place was The Thunderer, who was a bit of a monkey for his handler before the race but put up a good performance.

Spirit Of Bermuda
Strung Out Like The Washing.

It was the Tom Marquand show yet again when Spirit Of Bermuda won for the William Haggas team, giving them a double on the day, in the 4:15 contest. She managed to be one length ahead by the furlong pole and, when she flashed by the winning post, she was nearly two lengths in front. There were large gaps between the fillies in the race was they crossed the line. She seems a quirky filly after almost refusing to race last time but everything came together today.

Night Of Romance (red) and Persaria before finishing first and third respectively.

My mum was especially pleased with the result of the final race as her pick Night Of Romance won. It was the filly’s first ever win and she did it in comfortable and convincing fashion. Pierre-Louis Jamin now has a 22% strike rate (two wins from nine rides) at Leicester. He is a very talented jockey and one to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.

It was amazing to be back at the racecourse and I think it is hugely important that we support our local racecourses as the world starts opening up again. Going racing is the best day out!