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Mitchouka grabs Leopardstown glory

Mitchouka swooped late to grab the glory in the feature TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.

Sent off the 100-30 joint-favourite for trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin and jockey Ricky Doyle, Mitchouka looked booked for second as long-time leader Livelovelaugh jumped the last fence in the extended two-mile-five-furlong heat with a cosy advantage.

However, Mitchouka would not go down without a fight, battling all the way up the run-in and eventually poking his neck in front on the line to foil his fellow market leader. Valdieu finished a further three and three-quarter lengths back in third.

Mitchouka launched a late run to snatch the prize
Mitchouka launched a late run to snatch the prize (Niall Carson/PA)

O’Loughlin said: “He’s a quirky little horse, but I knew he was well – and we seem to have found the key to him. The secret is not to do too much with him. That was the target.

“We dipped our toe in the Paddy Power over three miles just to see if we could have another option. On soft ground it stretched him, but I wouldn’t say he doesn’t stay either on better ground.

“Ricky has been massive and rides him in work. My girlfriend Rebecca rides him every day, and she said he was right.

“He could go to Punchestown, and the Galway Plate could be a target as well.”

Royal Illusion could tackle the spring Festivals now
Royal Illusion could tackle the spring Festivals now (Niall Carson/PA)

Willie Mullins has bigger targets in mind for Royal Illusion (8-13 favourite), after she landed the TRM Equine Nutrition Mares Maiden Hurdle.

The nine-year-old, who won the Irish Cesarewitch in 2019, had to settle for third on her hurdles bow at Naas in December, but she made short work of 12 rivals in this two-and-a-half-mile event.

Paul Townend appeared to have any amount in hand as Royal Illusion beat Sweet Street by five and a half lengths, with Erins Benefit in third.

“It’s not too often we have a nine-year-old winning a maiden hurdle,” said Mullins.

“She’ll race over hurdles for the spring and then back on the Flat later in the summer.

“Paul said the ground was a huge help to her, and I’m looking forward to the spring Festivals with her.”

Dark Raven won a dramatic TRI Equestrian Superstore & Cafe, the final event on the card, to complete a double for Mullins.

Lake Winnipesaukee built up a huge lead and was still tanking along in front turning for home when his rider, Aaron Fahey, took the wrong course – hanging right on to the chase track rather than moving to the hurdles course at the bypassed penultimate obstacle.

That left the race at the mercy of Dark Raven, with Patrick Mullins guiding home the 5-2 chance by seven and a half lengths from Silas Marner.

The stewards inquired into Lake Winnipesaukee’s run, with Fahey stating “his saddle had slipped forward, that his mount had been too strong to ride and through a lack of energy he was unable to steer his mount around the final bend on the correct course”.

However, the stewards decided he had “been negligent by his misjudgement of the correct course for this race and therefore had failed to attain his best possible placing” and banned Fahey for 14 days.

French Dynamite on his way to glory
French Dynamite on his way to glory (Niall Carson/PA)

French Dynamite justified odds of 1-7 in the three-runner Seamus Meade Hurdle, putting spring festivals into the mind of trainer Mouse Morris.

Partnered by Robbie Power, French Dynamite cantered out a nine-length winner, despite making a mistake at the penultimate flight.

Morris said: “Fairyhouse and Punchestown would be the obvious places to look at – and the further the better.”

Max Flamingo jumps the last at Leopardstown
Max Flamingo jumps the last at Leopardstown (Niall Carson/PA)

Fairyhouse could also be on the agenda for Max Flamingo after his win for Francis Casey and Denis O’Regan in the Donohoe Marquees Maiden Hurdle.

Casey said: “He’ll stay further and he’ll probably go for the three-mile novice handicap final in Fairyhouse.”

Steer Clear (100-30) impressed with a seven-length verdict in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Rated Novice Chase.

The eight-year-old was last seen when unseating his rider at Thurles in November – but after making virtually all the running for Mark Walsh, the Padraig Roche-trained runner found plenty after the last to win in comfortable style.

She’s Commanche (9-1) won the Anton O’Toole Mares Handicap Hurdle for Sean Flanagan and Adrian Murray.

Coeur Sublime primed for Leopardstown challenge

Trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin is looking forward to seeing Coeur Sublime compete for top-level honours over the festive period following his promising stable debut in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

The five-year-old was runner-up in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham when trained by Gordon Elliott, before finishing down the field in the Champion Hurdle on his return to the Cotswolds in March.

With owner Chris Jones having decided to move his charge to O’Loughlin’s yard during the summer, Coeur Sublime made his first start for his new trainer last month – and after travelling strongly to challenge for the lead, he weakened to finish a creditable fourth.

O’Loughlin said: “He’s come out of the race really well – as good as you could expect.

“Keith (Donoghue) said he gave a big blow coming to the last (hurdle). He would have been entitled to that, with it being a Grade One and coming from a small trainer.”

Coeur Sublime is likely to renew rivalries with Morgiana Hurdle one-two Abacadabras and Saint Roi in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.

“That was kind of the aim – to get the Morgiana run in and then go to Leopardstown at Christmas,” O’Loughlin added.

“He’s probably entitled to be there. He seems in good old form, and his mind is good, so fingers crossed – it’s exciting for a small yard like ours to have a horse like him.

“I think he handles soft ground. But there has always been a question about his wind, so a bit of nicer ground might help him.”

Cedarwood Road preparing to embark on chasing campaign

Trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin is looking forward to seeing Cedarwood Road make his debut over fences in the coming weeks.

A runaway winner of a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown last Christmas, the five-year-old went on to land a Listed event at Naas in early March when claiming the notable scalp of the Noel Meade-trained Beacon Edge, who won a Grade Three at Galway over the weekend.

Cedarwood Road is set to embark on a career over the larger obstacles this season, with a return to Naas currently on the agenda.

O’Loughlin said: “He’s coming along fine and I’m hoping to start him off in a two-mile-three beginners (chase) in Naas on November 21.

“He’s a soft ground horse. Up to a few weeks ago we would have been thinking about starting him off over two miles, but the more we go on with him, we feel he’ll get a trip no problem.

“He’s doing everything right and is schooling over fences very well. The only thing is I’ve a small yard and he might come on for the run as we’ve no schooling races here at the moment and we can’t get into any of the racecourses after racing.

“We’re all a bit stuck for a racecourse gallop at the moment, but we’re trying our best.”

Another high-class performer O’Loughlin has in his care this season is Coeur Sublime, who like Cedarwood Road carries the colours of prominent owner Chris Jones.

The Elusive Pimpernel gelding was runner-up to Pentland Hills in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and was last seen finishing down the field in the Champion Hurdle.

O’Loughlin added: “He’s in great order at the moment and he’s going to start off in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown next month.

“We’re jumping into the deep end, but there’s not that many two-mile races for him to start off in – the WKD Hurdle in Down Royal, which he won last year, is for second season novices, so he didn’t qualify for that this year.

“He’s 152-rated, so you couldn’t really run him in a handicap, so he’ll tip away around in the Morgiana, he’ll come on from the run and Christmas will be the target after that.

“He’s had a few issues and you don’t improve a horse from Gordon Elliott’s, but if I can get him in the same frame of mind as he was in the Triumph or when he won for Gordon, he should run well enough.”

Class of 2020: Five New Trainers To Note

We're coming up to the half way point in the 2020 flat turf season after its delayed June 1st resumption; and it feels like a good time to introduce a few fledgling trainers who have enjoyed flying starts and with whom you may not (yet) be familiar.

Before we meet them, however, a few words on the approach. Racing, like all sports and indeed pretty much all things, is transient: its actors come and go, wax and wane. From a betting perspective, the earlier we can latch on to potentially promising players - trainers, jockeys, sires, even horses - the better our chance of beating the market. The flip side is that, in the rush to become an early adopter, we are likely to encounter a share of false positives. In lay person's terms, one swallow doesn't make a summer: there is a danger that we (in this case, I) place too much store on an eye-catching beginning when little subsequent substance manifests beyond that early flourish.

Moreover, with new trainers in particular, their generally very small strings can quickly meet their match in the handicapper: win one, shame on me; win two, shame on you, as it were.

That's a verbose way of saying we need to tread carefully with what look like promising angles, and consider the early detection of new players in the wider wagering context of the race (conditions, other runners, draw, pace, etc).

So, with caution aforethought, here are my five to follow in the second half of 2020 and beyond:

George Boughey

Career record to date:

Boughey, like myself a good Dorset man, saddled the first runner from his Hamilton Road, Newmarket, stables on 24th July last year. Three weeks later, on 13th August 2019, in a lowly Class 7 event at Lingfield, he was off the mark, at the eighth time of asking. His debut runner, and winner, was the same horse, Three C's.

By the end of 2019, Boughey was 2/39 and on the tail of a 27-runner losing streak. By mid-February he'd added another five winners and, lockdown aside, has not looked back.

Before taking out his own license, Boughey had worked in bloodstock sales, and subsequently for the likes of Gai Waterhouse in Australia then, most recently, spent six years as assistant trainer to Hugo Palmer. Now out on his own, and up to speed, he's one to note and still a touch under the radar.

James Ferguson

Career record to date:

Former amateur jump jockey, and son of Bloomfields trainer and bloodstock adviser to Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation, John Ferguson, James has not so much hit the ground running as scorched the earth beneath his sneakers.

Clearly not one to set the bar too low, his website quotes him as saying, “My primary goal is to create one of the world’s leading training establishments, to train winners at the highest level at the biggest meetings, and to provide owners with an experience for their overall enjoyment”. Crikey, fair play.

After a short and somewhat low key overture between late November last year and late January this, the first movement of Ferguson's career arrived when Arabian King notched a hat-trick in little more than two weeks from 30th January. Interspersed with that one-horse treble was a score for Johnny Reb to round out a four-in-a-row sequence for the newbie trainer.

Based, like Boughey, in Newmarket, Ferguson's record gained Black Type lustre as Zoetic prevailed in the Listed St Hugh's Fillies' Stakes at Newbury on Sunday, the highlight of his career to date.

Ferguson had started out with a spell learning from Sir Mark Prescott before stints with Charlie Appleby, Brian Meehan and Jessica Harrington, all in assistant trainer roles. With a(n unsustainable) 25% strike rate so far, his entries should not be readily overlooked.

Terry Kent

Career record to date:

If training, like most vocations, is "a young man's game", nobody told Terry Kent, and good luck to him for that. Kent doesn't yet have the patronage of the other names in this list, and he's arguably the biggest 'flyer' in this five to follow, but his CV is impressive.

Now 53, Kent was originally an apprentice jockey with the late Michael Jarvis before spending most of two decades as part of the Godolphin operation, principally with David Loder. After that, he returned to Kremlin House Stables where Roger Varian, formerly assistant to Jarvis, took over after his passing and installed Kent as his assistant.

Having saddled his first runner from the boxes he rents at Frankland Lodge Stables in Newmarket just two months ago - and achieved a winner with his fourth - he is ahead of Ferguson and Boughey at this nascent stage in his new career. Whether he can spring forward as that pair have seems less likely, but it ought to pay to follow his small string of about a dozen in the coming months.

Joseph Parr

Career record to date:

Apparently, Joseph Parr's granddad, Alan Bailey, told him to steer well clear of applying for a trainer's license. Kids, eh? They rarely listen to their elders, and that's not always a bad thing. Not so far, in this case, at least.

Parr, who remarkably is not just the fourth Newmarket trainer on this list but also shares the Frankland Lodge yard with Terry Kent, had only sent out three runners when the pandemic paused proceedings. But that hadn't prevented him from breaking his duck with Clem A, formerly trained by gramps, on the trainer's second day at the track with a license.

Since the resumption, Parr has added another four wins from 15 starts, including three-in-a-row earlier this month. He and Kent will doubtless feed off each other in the coming months as they press their respective careers forward.

Gearoid O'Loughlin

National Hunt career record to date:

And now, as they say, for something completely different. We head out of Newmarket, out of Britain, and away from the flat to an Irish National Hunt trainer who could make waves this coming campaign... and he may even have a live outsider for a shallow-looking Champion Hurdle next March.

O'Loughlin has been training for two years, sending out his inaugural winner at the 16th attempt on the 10th January 2019, when Sidetracked took the honours in a maiden hunter chase at Clonmel. His second win as a trainer came in a maiden hurdle at the same venue but, a year later with three more winners on the board, O'Loughlin was celebrating a higher profile and big-priced success in the Ulster National at Downpatrick with the Chris Jones-owned Space Cadet.

Jones, who enjoyed dual Cheltenham Festival success with Klairon Davis and more recently landed a touch in the Fred Winter with the high-class flat filly, What A Charm, entrusts his string to O'Loughlin now; since so doing he's not only been rewarded with the Ulster National score but has also seen his Mitchouka, formerly with Gordon Elliott, revitalised to win a beginners' chase.

However, the horse about which Jones must be most excited is surely Cedarwood Road, a big lumbering brute of a teenager about to become a man in 2020/21. I hope. I've backed him to win the Champion Hurdle at 100/1 you see. There's a better than fair chance he either proves not good enough or takes a different path to top honours this term; but his trainer's patience has been rewarded first with a facile eleven-length score in a 25-runner maiden hurdle on Boxing/St Stephen's Day, and most recently with a snug triumph in Listed company. He has a stone and more to find to be a genuine Blue Riband contender but, with just four runs to his belt, this five-rising-six-year-old son of Stowaway has all the attributes to progress through the ranks.

O'Loughlin meanwhile is the fifth man in my quintet of handlers to follow, and offers some variety to the spice of Newmarket life.