Tag Archive for: Irish Cesarewitch

Monday Musings: Still Not Sleepy

They raced for a lot of money in Ireland yesterday, the Friends of Curragh Irish Cesarewitch carrying a £292k first prize, for which 30 horses turned up, writes Tony Stafford. You would have won a lot of money, too, if you had found the Joseph O’Brien-trained winner, the potential heir to the Ballydoyle job one might suggest, sending out 150/1 shot Magellan Strait for a victory which prompted a quiz from the stewards.

The magical Joseph might well have been a little more confident of his shortest-priced horse of four, third home Dawn Rising, who had won Ascot’s Queen Alexandra Stakes as the 2/1 favourite under Ryan Moore at Royal Ascot back in June.

The two O’Brien stayers were split by another veteran of big-race success in the UK, Dermot Weld’s Falcon Eight, successful in the 2021 Chester Cup under Frankie Dettori.

The winner and second do not have the much less well-endowed but still probably more prestigious Newmarket version in three weekends time on their agenda, but 13 from yesterday’s race do, and I’ve managed to find another 11 from various races over the past couple of days even including an unplaced runner in the Preis von Europa in Cologne, Germany, yesterday.

That was the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Live Your Dream, who is very high up in the weights. This 14 was bolstered by Saturday’s Turners Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket, won nicely by Andrew Balding’s Grand Providence, clearly enjoying the extended trip. Eight of the nine that followed him over the line have the big-race entry.

Ryan Moore, amazingly, was back after riding in Sydney the day before, but his mount, Aidan’s Tower Of London, understandably favourite after his creditable fourth behind stablemate Continuous in the St Leger only eight days earlier at Doncaster, could not make his lenient mark tell.

In all, Willie Mullins had six runners in the big race. The ease with which Ireland’s champion jumps trainer knocks off our big flat long-distance races, matched only really by his main Cheltenham protagonist Nicky Henderson, is well chronicled, but here he was well and truly on the back foot.

Of course, all his sextet, plus one in a consolation race for those missing out on the big one, have Newmarket entries, where he will be aiming to add to his hat-trick from 2018-20. One of those, Stratum, was in the field but Brighton and Hove Albion FC’s chairman Tony Bloom was probably far too engaged watching his team beat Bournemouth (boo! – Ed.) than to take more than a passing notice of his veteran’s 25th place.

Expect an upgrade if he turns up at HQ, and the same probably goes for Jackfinbar (8th), Lot Of Joy (11th), Echoes In Rain (13th), Mt Leinster (22nd) and M C Muldoon (27th after making the running for David Manasseh and partners).

Echoes in Rain had finished second in the inaugural big-money Irish Ces last year, behind the then Aidan -trained Mr Waterville, who is now with Chris Waller in Australia. Ryan rode him into fourth place at Rosehill on Saturday and no doubt he has the Melbourne Cup as his main objective as had Tower Of London. Maybe the latter raid may be under review.

But the one trial that caught most of us out – yet it shouldn’t have if we had examined the very extensive history of his career – was the all-the-way gutsy win of 11-year-old Not So Sleepy in a quite valuable (by UK standards) 1m5½f handicap at Newbury.

Since making a winning debut over a mile as a juvenile at Nottingham almost nine years ago, the home-bred Not So Sleepy has now won ten races for Hughie Morrison, five each on the flat and over jumps. Not So Sleepy has raced 63 times (46 on the flat) with six second and five third places along with ten fourth’s, including in the Cesarewitch’s of 2019 and 2020. Under both codes he has won around a quarter of a million and nudged over a combined £500k on Saturday.

When he won his third-ever race in the Group 3 Dee Stakes his rating jumped up to 107 after that Derby trial. It has never dropped below 94 despite two long losing sequences – 13 in succession after Chester over the next 18 months, then another 15 following his Epsom Derby Day handicap win as a five-year-old.

Running well enough with places in tough races not to get much respite from the BHA officials, Not So Sleepy got a late and in many circles highly questionable switch to hurdling as a seven-year-old. The cynics were preening themselves after he was far too free on debut at Kempton, but he then bolted up at Wincanton which earned a 125 rating. One more pulled up run ended that mixed campaign.

So now it was back to the flat, for another six winless runs, but a portent of what might be in the future was a fourth in his first try at the Cesarewitch behind Stratum. Now it was back to hurdling, winning two Ascot handicaps by making all in devastating fashion, his mark already up to 144 by the time he turned out for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury the following February.

That year, the big field produced two false starts and after being in a great position to jump first time round, Not So Sleepy found himself hampered at the eventual departure and the then eight-year-old was never in contention. Hughie and his owners Lord and Lady Blyth still had the ambition to run in the Champion Hurdle, but he was pulled up.

A break followed until the autumn, when under Graham Lee he won a Pontefract handicap off that career lowest 94 before his fourth place to Mullins’ Great White Shark at Newmarket in Cesarewitch number two. He then resumed over hurdles, jinking and unseating at the first flight in the 2020 Fighting Fifth won by Epatante, before gaining a second win in the Betfair Exchange Hurdle at Ascot.

This gave Morrison great satisfaction as he beat a former stable-companion, Buzz, whom the owners had moved to Henderson after Morrison had successfully managed physical issues in his early days on the flat.

He then ran a much improved race, fifth in Honeysuckle’s first Champion Hurdle, before taking in the Chester Cup, finishing a close seventh. He still got his lengthy summer break, but instead of a third run at Newmarket, a close second in a Doncaster handicap was the prelude to a dead-heat with Epatante in the 20201 Fighting Fifth before a fifth place behind the same J P McManus mare in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the same position, a little closer than the previous year, behind Honeysuckle in her repeat championship.

He continued with two relatively disappointing runs in summer 2022 but was back in top form with a third after taking up the running a mile out in last year’s Cesarewitch.

Three hurdles runs, two behind the new star Constitution Hill, including once more in his fourth Champion Hurdle, preceded the usual summer break. And you can guess the rest.

He returned at Newbury on Saturday, his trainer joking before the race, having heard the news that Constitution Hill was to continue hurdling, with a wry: “Whatever happens today, I can categorically state that Not So Sleepy will NOT be going chasing this winter.”

So next month, he will be trying to match another of his rival Henderson’s achievements. Nicky won the 2008 Cesarewitch with the 11-year-old Caracciola who proceeded to win the Queen Alexandra at age 12. Morrison has a Group 1 win on his record with 10-year-old Alcazar, but if Not So Sleepy does the deed at the fourth time of asking, that would be a bigger achievement to my mind.

Both the Cesarewitch and Cambridgeshire began life in 1839 and they are two of my favourite races. I was hoping to write a piece today outlining why I thought Dylan Cunha’s Silver Sword was a good thing to win the race next Saturday, but the trainer is unwilling to run him back so soon after his eye-catching run last week in Listed company at Sandown. He prefers to wait for a race he has in mind at Santa Anita in November. If only!

In his absence, I would love to see William Knight make up for last year’s unlucky defeat of Dual Identity, who won most impressively recently at Sandown. All we can hope is that Knight, who has had no luck this year, might have it turn his way this weekend for a change.

- TS

Magellan Strait shocks Irish Cesarewitch rivals

Magellan Strait caused a huge surprise with a 150-1 victory in the Friends Of The Curragh Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh.

Although a dual winner as a three-year-old last season, Joseph O’Brien’s inmate had shown precious little in four previous starts this term, most recently finishing tailed off at the Galway Festival.

With 7lb claimer Hugh Horgan in the saddle, Magellan Strait was among the rank outsiders for a 30-runner contest staged in atrocious conditions, but came out on top at the end of a pulsating contest.

The son of Australia raced in third position for much of the two-mile-one-furlong journey before committing for home three furlongs from the finish.

He was soon joined by the strong-travelling My Mate Mozzie and Galway Hurdle runner-up Jesse Evans, while the winner’s stablemate Dawn Rising and Falcon Eight also joined the party late to set up a grandstand five-way finish.

Falcon Eight was arguably coming home strongest of all, but Magellan Strait clung on grimly to claim the lion’s share of the huge prize fund of €600,000 by half a length, with Dawn Rising, Jesse Evans and My Mate Mozzie all close up behind in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Connections of Magellan Strait after his shock win
Connections of Magellan Strait after his shock win (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It’s a fantastic win. A great run and a great ride from Hugh,” said O’Brien.

“He’s not been the most consistent horse in the world, but when he runs his race he generally runs a good race. Hugh got a great tune out of him today.

“He stays very well and stamina has always been his thing. That’s what he did today, he outstayed them.

“Hugh’s instructions were to go forward, get a nice position, and make sure that stamina counted and to go out on his sword. He committed at the bottom of the straight and he kept galloping.”

Magellan Strait beat stablemate Dawn Rising (white cap)
Magellan Strait beat stablemate Dawn Rising (white cap) (Brian Lawless/PA)

Of Dawn Rising, he added: “He ran a great race, carrying a lot of weight, two weeks after finishing third in the Irish St Leger.

“It was a great run, he got a lovely run around, and I’m very proud of his run again.

“I don’t know if he’ll go back over hurdles as he’s had a busy enough summer. We’ll speak to JP (McManus) and Frank (Berry) and see. He might have a little break and come back next year.”

Tower Of London makes swift Cesarewitch return

Tower Of London is back out again quickly in the Friends Of The Curragh Irish Cesarewitch having finished fourth in the St Leger at Doncaster last week.

The three-year-old features in a maximum field of 30 and he will be ridden by Ryan Moore, who jets back from Australia overnight to take the ride.

Tower Of London, a brother to Irish Derby and St Leger winner Capri, already has one big handicap win on his record in the Ulster Derby before he stepped up in class to be second in the Bahrain Trophy.

While no match for stablemate Continuous on Town Moor, he finished only a length behind the runner-up Arrest.

O’Brien won the race with a three-year-old last season when Waterville came from last to first to win in devastating style.

O’Brien said: “It’s a little bit quick for him to be coming back, but it is an important race and we thought it was worth taking the chance with him.

“This horse is rated much higher than Waterville when he won (last year), so that means he’s obviously got a lot more weight than Waterville had.

“He ran a good race in the St Leger, he ran well in it and he wasn’t beaten too far.”

Numerically the race is dominated by National Hunt trainers – principally the champion Willie Mullins who runs six.

Top weight Jackfinbar, the mare Echoes In Rain, Stratum, Mt Leinster – who is the mount of Rachael Blackmore – Lot Of Joy and M C Muldoon.

James Fanshawe sends over recent Goodwood winner Novel Legend, while Adrian Keatley runs Legendary Day, who won the Mallard at Doncaster last week.

Emmet Mullins holds a strong hand with Teed Up and Cheltenham Festival winner The Shunter, with Galway Hurdle third My Mate Mozzie representing Gavin Cromwell.

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.

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