Curragh 25-9-22 Waterville & Wayne Lordan (dark blue) win the Irish Cesarewitch from Echoes In Rain & Lot Of Joy Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: If you build it…

Autumn was already setting in on the second Sunday of October last year when the Curragh staged the Paddy Power Irish Cesarewitch, a long-established two-mile handicap, writes Tony Stafford. The race was billed as a Premier Handicap, and it attracted the customary full field of 30, with reserves on the day not getting a run.

The race was won by Line Out, a 79-rated home-bred nine-year-old of the Lillingston Family’s. The victory would have been greeted with many a fond memory of the late Alan, the family fountainhead, whose son Luke and daughter Georgina (formerly Bell) are still very much to be seen around the racecourses and major sales in Ireland and the UK.

Worth £47,200, or its Euro equivalent to the winner last year, it was staged as usual the day after its big Newmarket brother. That race has had multiple name changes over the years, a process that has accelerated more in recent times, just as the prize money on offer has also fluctuated. On that point UK trainers might be entitled to say “alarmingly”, but none of them in any case has found it easy to deprive the Willie Mullins jumpers of their annual winner’s prize when he lines up his squadron of class jumpers every October.

Nicky Henderson managed it last year when the one-time Hughie Morrison grey eight-year-old gelding Buzz with Oisin Murphy (remember him?) galloped past Mullins’ mare Burning Victory, the rest toiling. Mullins had won the three previous editions while Roger Charlton and Morrison had scooped the prize in the two years before that.

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I digress. With 30 in last year’s Curragh field, in a race oft considered an afterthought for unsuccessful cross-Irish Sea challengers, or a second division for those that didn’t get in the HQ contest, the truth was probably somewhere in between. True, the relative prize was a clue, but so were the ratings.

Only two of 30 to take part in the Irish Cesarewitch last year were rated 100 or higher. In the Newmarket line-up of 32 the previous day, nine were rated 100 or above.

I promised a look at the recent administrative history of the race, so here goes. In 2017, the last year of a long period of various bookmaking alliances with the race, Betfred carried the banner, and the race was worth £155k to the winning horse. He was Withhold, trained by Roger Charlton for Tony Bloom, chairman of Brighton FC.

The following year, amid the heady atmosphere of the BHA promise of vastly increased support for top staying handicaps, a £1 million Ebor was mooted, though never actually realised. In that context we still had the Dubai £500,000 Cesarewitch in 2018 and the almost unimaginable £307,250 to the Mullins winner Low Sun, was gratefully received by all concerned.

In 2019, though not quite in the half-million bracket, the Emirates Cesarewitch still carried a £217,000 prize for another Willie Mullins hurdler of repute, the classy Stratum landing another nice touch in the race for Bloom, this time at 25-1.

Then came Covid and two major drops in funding as Together For Racing International lent their apparently worthy, if a shade unwieldy, title to the name of the second half of the Autumn Double, as those old-timers still regard it. I’ll tell you in a minute why I should still have been in there with a chance bar Saturday’s bad luck!

But back to money. In the circumstances, to pull up a first prize of £124k to reward the 2020 heroine, Mullins’ Great White Shark, was to be applauded following Covid’s savage interference with the first half of that racing season. To manage only four grand more for last year was less meritorious.

When what remains of only 53 entries in the race on Saturday week turns up on Newmarket Heath, there could be a rare instance of the great race not filling. Newmarket takes a maximum field of 32 – but if they did away with stalls for that one race the track could accommodate the entire 53 comfortably. It was a shock, though, that the Club Godolphin Cesarewitch, by which name it now exists, is worth only £103,000 to this year’s winner, barely a third of what was available just four years ago. It does not seem anywhere near good enough.

Hopefully the much publicised, and subsequently de-anonymised in terms of participants, two days of urgent talks between key industry people in London last week trying to solve racing’s ills will eventually bring some optimism to the sport. I can’t wait for developments. Maybe Matt Chapman can organise a Masked Delegate competition for next weekend’s televising.

Now though I return to the Irish Cesarewitch, because a seismic shift has occurred where that two-mile Premier handicap of 30 runners on the Curragh is concerned. In 2022 it is all of those things, but rather than wait until after its Newmarket senior member has been contested, the now Friends Of The Curragh Irish Cesarewitch took place yesterday with a new €500,000 total fund and with €324,000 to the winner – making it seven times more valuable than in 2021.

Last year, Mullins and Joseph O’Brien each managed to dredge up five candidates from their middle-ranking handicappers for the race and Aidan also sent a couple of his own. Yesterday’s race, however, was a beast of a totally different colour. To understand the transformation in quality, where there were two last year rated 100 or more, yesterday there were 16.

Having experienced the uncertainty many times that goes with waiting to find out if your horse gets in a race, I can imagine the conflicting emotions in the Racing Office at Ballydoyle as the declarations cut-off time approached. In the event, Aidan’s gamble to wait for the race with his three-year-old colt Waterville paid the ultimate dividend.

Waterville had won only once in five starts but, significantly, that was on the one occasion he tried two miles, in a handicap off 84 at Limerick in June. He had only one more run, finishing second in a 1m5f conditions race the following month. Since then, the gamble – of Truss/Kwarteng proportions – was whether the new mark of 99 was enough. When those declarations landed, he was last of 30 to get in the race. You guessed, yesterday he overcame his inexperience, as the 5-1 favourite under Wayne Lordan, to pick up the first prize in a tight finish.

Interestingly, for once the two Cesarewitch races are spaced conveniently. Aidan also entered Waterville, a son of Camelot out of a mare by stamina influence Hernando, in the newly-styled Club Godolphin Cesarewitch. I expect he will now send the now market leader to try to defy his penalty.

The identity of the trainers of the first 15 horses home yesterday was a lexicon of that country’s star handlers, apart from Jim Bolger, who has hardly bothered training stayers for many years.

In finishing order, it was Aidan O’Brien, Willie Mullins x 2, Joseph O’Brien, Dermot Weld, Joseph O’B again, Jessica Harrington, Joseph with the next four, then the sole interloper although a man from a great Irish racing family in the person of Richard Hughes, before a final one more each for Aidan and Joseph and then Ger Lyons. That merely covers the first half. The profile of many of the beaten horses fits them for either Newmarket or the Champion Stayers race at Ascot the following weekend.

I hinted at a frustrating Cambridgeshire. In all the years I tipped for the paper it was one of my most successful races and I loved to stand at the top of the old grandstand and peer down with the binoculars as they approached the last six furlongs while swelling from blobs to finite form.

Watching Dual Identity there yesterday, for much of that now screen-aided nine furlongs, was simply a blueprint for an imminent Cambridgeshire win, so easily was he going. In the Kennett Valley Thoroughbreds colours carried with distinction by Dual Identity’s older teammate Sir Busker in the William Knight stable, it seemed just a case of queueing up to collect as he bossed the much smaller far-side group.

Andrea Atzeni pulled him out quite a long way from home, and with no feasible competition nearby, had no option but to kick him on inside the last two furlongs as he sensed the stands group had the advantage.

While Dual Identity, after striking the front moved inexorably further and further clear of his toiling main rival, the solid block of stands runners was gradually generating the power of the pack. Just as victory looked assured, in the last 50 yards the last few strides brought first one, 25-1 shot Majestic, then on the line a second, Bell Rock, both with 5lb claimers, to head Dual Identity, even though he gave no sign of faltering.

The fascinating point, as ever, will be in the handicapping of the race. Will the BHA handicappers treat it as a single entity, raising the winner a little more than the second and third (by a nose)? Or, rather, will he regard this as two races and have sliding-scale assessments of merit according to relative position on the course?

If the normal standards are to be followed, Dual Identity could represent a handicap certainty next time out. Then again, I thought he was before Saturday having watched the film of Sandown. I told Ed Chamberlin after the race I thought Dual Identity was one of the unluckiest losers of a big handicap I can remember. Of course, that was to forget all those races when half the field on certain days at Ascot, Goodwood, Newmarket, Newbury or indeed Ayr and Doncaster need not have bothered turning up so unequal were ground conditions on either side of those courses!

I’ll be off on Saturday to Ascot to test whether Dusky Lord should have been better rewarded in terms of numbers by the various bodies assessing his brilliant win at Ayr two weeks prior. Roger Varian has him lined up for the Group 3 John Guest Racing Bengough Stakes over six furlongs. If he wins that, Jonathan and the rest of the Dusky Lord partnership will be in clover!

- TS

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1 reply
  1. Kaz
    Kaz says:

    Tony always delivers a quality read, I will be keeping an eye out for Dual Identity where ever connections declare to run him next, most unfortunate. As for the Goldophin backed Cesarewitch….sad times indeed, one of the most underrated handicaps of the season becomes the most undervalued.

    I been backing John Quinn to win this since early May…let’s hope she can.

    Kaz

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