Bolger to be invited before committee to discuss doping claims

Jim Bolger is to be invited before an Irish parliamentary committee investigating claims of doping in the Irish horse racing industry, it has been confirmed.

Agriculture Committee chairman Jackie Cahill said Bolger’s claims were doing “serious reputational damage” to the industry and that it was important they are either “substantiated or put to bed”.

The Fianna Fail TD for Tipperary confirmed that committee members had decided to ask Bolger and representatives of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, Horse Racing Ireland, the Department of Agriculture and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association to discuss the matter on July 6.

Earlier this month, Bolger – who this season has won the 2000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent with Poetic Flare and Mac Swiney respectively – outlined his concerns about the possibility of doping within Irish racing in both a newspaper interview and in a racing podcast.

It prompted the IHRB to underline its commitment to “the highest standards of integrity within Irish racing” and a “zero-tolerance approach to doping”.

Cahill told the PA news agency it is “hugely important” that the accusations are investigated given Ireland’s horse racing reputation.

“We’re seen as the world leaders in horse racing. For a small country our success is phenomenal,” he said.

“We really punch above our weight and for a lead trainer – Jim Bolger – to say that there would be a Lance Armstrong incident in Irish racing is extremely serious.

“It just can’t be ignored it must be dealt with.”

He added: “In my view he has to either confirm it or withdraw it. It’s doing serious reputational damage.

Cahill said there is an “obligation” on the committee to investigate the claims.

“The way we look at this is this issue either has to be substantiated or put to bed,” he said.

“You can’t having a doping insinuation like that hanging over the industry.”

“We’ll see what Mr Bolger has to say and we’ll listen to the various authorities and see where we go from there.”

A spokesperson for the IHRB said on Tuesday: “We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the deputies on the Oireachtas Committee and explain details of what we do in terms of equine anti-doping and our strategies as well as the advances that have been made in this area over the last number of years and more recently.”

Monday Musings: Of Long Days and the Classic Generation

June 21st is upon us. The longest day was to be the freest day until the timid medical advisors to the UK government put the wind up them with fears that the D variant – the virus formerly known as Indian – would cause another surge in infections, writes Tony Stafford.

Well it has, averaging around 10,000 a day for the last week or so, but they are testing many, many more nowadays. Anyone prepared to go anywhere near a racecourse will have enjoyed the experience of things up their nose or aimed at their tonsils.

Since mine were removed in 1952, the year of the Queen’s ascent to the throne – rewarded with a nice ice cream <me, not the Queen> as I recall – I would only be eligible for the nose job, but apparently it’s very much an officialdom-rich environment.

While the infections have risen, the numbers dying most emphatically have not, an average of ten a day for the last week when the “roadmap” was hastily and negatively redrawn. With massive numbers of older people fully vaccinated you wouldn’t expect many deaths, but the silly old advisors want it both ways.

As I’ve said numerous times, I won’t go until everyone is free to go everywhere. I contented myself with a Saturday night day-early Father’s Day celebration with my three 40-plus children and a selection of their issue. Lovely it was too.

So on to the summer and of course from tonight the days will shorten inexorably by three minutes for each of the next 182 and then the semi-cycle will start again the other way round. We’ve already had Royal Ascot and ten of the 12 spring/summer European Classic races – only Ireland’s Derby and Oaks remain in that part of the calendar, and then the St Legers in their various forms and degrees of credibility.

The Irish have won eight of the ten, Jim Bolger picking up the 2,000 Guineas with Poetic Flare and his domestic version with Mac Swiney. Poetic Flare’s demolition job in the St James’s Palace Stakes certainly puts him well ahead among the mile colts this year.

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The two Classics decided so far and not to have been won by the Irish have been the Poule D’Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000) won by Coeursamba, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, and  the Derby (Adayar, Charlie Appleby).

The remaining six have all been hoovered up by Aidan O’Brien and the Ballydoyle team and each of them boasts combinations of the increasingly complex Coolmore pedigrees.

Five individual horses have been involved in those all-important Classic victories, and four of them are fillies. I contend that St Mark’s Basilica, despite his workmanlike victory in the French 2,000 (Poulains) and a more comfortable Prix Du Jockey Club success, both under Ioritz Mendizabal, is vastly under-valued in official terms. He beat a big field in Chantilly and his female stable-companion Joan Of Arc (by Galileo, <really?!, Ed?>) was similarly too good for another large field of home fillies in yesterday’s French Oaks, the Prix de Diane. This time Coeursamba finished only 11th.

On Sunday Aidan relied on a single runner in a field of 17 and the 16 home defenders were no match for another Mendizabal mount who won by just over a length from the fast-finishing Fabre-trained and Godolphin-owned Philomene, a daughter of Dubawi.

That made it single-runner O’Brien challenges in three of the four French Classic races to be run so far – unplaced Van Gogh joined St Mark’s Basilica in the Jockey Club.  Therefore three wins and a close second (Mother Earth, ridden by Christophe Soumillon) in the French 1,000. That new-found minimalist approach also extended to Epsom and the Derby where Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite, was left as their only runner having been initially one of six expected to turn out.

Three of the four fillies in question improved markedly on juvenile form, the exception being 1,000 Guineas winner and then Pouliches runner-up Mother Earth, who had already earned her 111 rating for her second place in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf race at Keeneland last November and remains on that figure despite her Classic exploits. She ran another game race in third in much the most testing ground she has faced in Friday’s Coronation Stakes at Ascot behind Andrew Balding’s Alcohol Free.

Joan Of Arc took a rating of 105 into the Irish 1,000 and was Ryan Moore’s choice for the race but Seamie Heffernan got up on the line that day aboard Empress Josephine (101) in a private duel between two Galileo fillies. She clearly improved on that yesterday while Emperor Josephine was assessed at 109 after her win.

But the biggest eye-opener was Snowfall, the 16-length Oaks winner at Epsom who went into her prep in the Musidora at York on an official mark of 90. That was upped to 108 after her Knavesmire romp but even so she was still believed by insiders to be second-best among a more normal Oaks quintet behind lightly-raced Santa Barbara, now beaten favourite in both this year’s fillies’ classics in the UK.

It seems to me a master-stroke of fudging by the BHA to restrict Snowfall’s latest mark to 120, not merely because that is 2lb lower than Enable after her Oaks defeat of Rhododendron – what that champion did after Epsom has nothing to do with the assessment - and also 1lb less than Adayar.

The give-away for me is to suggest that Mystery Angel, rated 100 after her fourth (four lengths back) in the Musidora had only equalled her York mark. That ignored she made the running at Epsom in a much bigger field and still had the resources left to stay on and retain second 16 lengths behind the Frankie Dettori-ridden winner, finishing well ahead of a trio of considerably more highly-rated fillies.

If the medical advisors who keep us wearing masks and touching fists rather than shaking hands are timid, they have nothing on the BHA men who fear giving too high a rating to a Classic winner, even one who has set a record winning distance for any UK Classic in living memory and beyond.

Snowfall has made the first big statement that she might be a challenger to Love, her predecessor as an outstanding Oaks winner and star of the stable’s slightly disappointing Royal Ascot, as the season progresses. Love, dropping back two furlongs after a ten-month absence since the 2020 Yorkshire Oaks, made all to win the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

A third female deserving of mention in that elite grouping must be the David Menuisier-trained four-year-old filly, Wonderful Tonight. She got first run on Broome to win Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes in style despite its being her first appearance of the year. Her French-born Sussex-based trainer has the Arc, where she has a good chance of getting the soft ground she favours, as her main target.

Broome may not have won but earlier that afternoon his close relative by Australia, the two-year-old Point Lonsdale, won the Chesham Stakes, a race often reserved for the best of the earlier O’Brien juveniles. Ryan had a battle keeping him straight, first going right and as they got close home, more markedly left, but they had enough in hand to beat the Queen’s promising colt Reach For The Moon – Sea The Stars/ Gosdens / Dettori – by half a length.

We had wondered why she chose Saturday to make an appearance. That highly-encouraging performance and the good run later of her King’s Lynn in the Wokingham made it a bit more like Royal Ascot, even when viewed from Hackney Wick. Hopefully, Your Majesty, you and me (and many others besides) can be there for the whole five days in 2022.

The astonishing thing about all four female Coolmore Classic winners is that at no time did anyone at Ballydoyle, and certainly not the trainer nor the owners, believe any of them was within hailing distance of Santa Barbara. My guess from Epsom was that the favourite probably did not stay the mile and a half under the conditions and in the quirky way the race was run, up the stands side with all the direction changing that inevitably happens.

I’m looking forward to seeing her, in what still will be only her fourth race and with a highly-creditable close fourth to Mother Earth at Newmarket on her record, in a suitable race over ten furlongs. The Nassau would be nice, but maybe she won’t be the only one from her stable appearing in that Goodwood Group 1.


Poetic Flare rules supreme in St James’s Palace demolition

Poetic Flare produced a performance of supreme brilliance to leave his rivals toiling in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Jim Bolger’s charge had won the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier in the season, run respectably in the French equivalent on soft ground and then been touched off by stablemate Mac Swiney in the Irish version.

As he had already won a Guineas trial before Newmarket he was having his fifth run of the season – and had obviously thrived for it.

Kevin Manning had the son of Dawn Approach in the box seat throughout and in truth the result never looked in any doubt as soon as he moved his partner into a challenging position.

The veteran rider waited until a furlong and a half out before pushing the button and the response was immediate. The 7-2 favourite shot clear and crossed the line four and a quarter lengths clear of Lucky Vega. Battleground ran on for third, with Maximal fourth.

Quotes for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood were quick to arrive and Betfair went 7-2 from 10-1.

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Bolger told Sky Sports Racing from his County Carlow base: “I’m very relaxed about it. I have tremendous confidence in this horse and I was expecting him to go and do that. Thanks to all my staff and everybody who has helped.

“We always knew he was hardy from the word go, even when he was being broken in you couldn’t keep him quiet.

“We’ve bred from the family since the very early 1980s, so a long time.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall speak to jockey Kevin Manning
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall speak to jockey Kevin Manning (Steven Paston/PA)

“When you have a horse winning the St James’s Palace like that you don’t really think about all the relatives and the breeding, you wouldn’t care if he came to you off the back of a truck as long as you had him.

“This horse is so hardy he’s unbelievable, you have to give it to him to keep his back down.”

On plans, he added: “Kevin will be itching to have a crack at the older horses.”

Manning said: “He was probably better today than he has been all year.

“He travelled very well – I arrived there at the two-pole and couldn’t believe how well I was travelling and when I asked him he put it to bed very quickly.

“I wasn’t worried that he’d been busy, Jim was very happy with him and said he’d never had a horse leave the yard in the shape he was in and I thought that as well. With that sort of confidence behind me, I had no worries.

“I had a lovely position, everything went very smooth and when I switched him out he put the race to bed in a few strides.

“He’s very good, very smart. He handles every ground, but he’s obviously much pacier on this ground.

“It means everything to the guys at home in the yard to have a horse like this. I just turn up on the day and ride them.”

Kevin Manning celebrates
Kevin Manning celebrates (Steven Paston/PA)

“To get this horse here after the runs he’s had is unbelievable.

“I owe Jim everything, and I’d also like to say ‘well done’ to all the lads in the yard who have kept this lad on the go.”

Lucky Vega once again found Poetic Flare too strong, just like at Newmarket and the Curragh, and he will now head to stud in Australia.

His trainer Jessica Harrington said: “He certainly proved he stayed every yard of the mile against a horse that has beaten him three times now.

“I think there will be an announcement in Australia and I will be very sad to lose him because in my opinion he would certainly have won a Group One if he’d remained here.”

Poetic Flare seeks to uphold family tradition in St James’s Palace

Poetic Flare bids to emulate his sire Dawn Approach by adding the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot to his 2000 Guineas success.

Dawn Approach took both races for trainer Jim Bolger in 2013, and now his son seeks to maintain family honour and complete the same Group One double in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series on Tuesday.

Poetic Flare has already had four races this season – finishing sixth in the French Guineas and runner-up to stablemate Mac Swiney in the Irish Guineas since his Classic triumph at Newmarket.

Dawn Approach was having only his third start of the campaign when he edged out Toronado in a thrilling battle on Ascot’s round mile in 2013.

“It’s been an extraordinary season, with just one real hiccup (in the French 2000 Guineas) and another that was self-inflicted at the Curragh,” said Bolger.

“Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp, and we’ve drawn a line through it. He came back very quickly to finish second at the Curragh, so he’s very, very hardy – you couldn’t do that with every horse.

“The biggest trouble I have is keeping the weight off him. He’s a great doer, and he still has to do plenty at home, despite the schedule.”

Comparing Poetic Flare to his sire, the trainer added: “Dawn Approach was pretty hardy too and took it well, but he wouldn’t have been the same as Poetic Flare – but I’ve never had a colt of his quality who needed as much work as he does.

Jim Bolger saddles Poetic Flare
Jim Bolger saddles Poetic Flare (Mike Egerton/PA)
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“He’s very well, and I think he has a big chance – the bookmakers seem to think so too.

“He goes on any ground too, which is a big advantage. It was good to firm when he won at Newmarket, but personally I’d prefer it if there was no firm in the description as horses last longer that way.”

John and Thady Gosden’s Mostahdaf puts his 100 per cent record on the line, but takes a big step up in class and is the least experienced horse in the field with just three runs.

However, Gosden senior is happy to pitch him in at the deep end following his victory in the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown.

“Our fellow has come the slow route – it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t run last year because he had a hiccup,” said the Clarehaven handler.

“This year he won twice on the all-weather and then the Heron. You could argue, and William Buick felt, that Highland Avenue was on the slower part of the track at Sandown near the rail, while we were more middle to left on the better ground.

“Having said that, our horse ran a great race, and I think the St James’s Palace is quite an open affair.

“I think our fellow will be fine on the ground – he’s a lovely horse, and we’ve taken this route before with Without Parole, and King Of Comedy just missed. Palace Pier came from an unobvious direction, too.”

Chindit has two Group-race successes among his four wins, with his only two defeats from six starts coming at Newmarket in the Dewhurst Stakes and 2000 Guineas.

His trainer Richard Hannon told Unibet: “I thought he ran well (when fifth in the 2000 Guineas) – he might even think he won the race, because the race was over the other side of the track away from him.

“We are going to take the noseband off. Dobbsy (Pat Dobbs) reported that he doesn’t really face it. It’s a round mile at Ascot, and we will ride him a little handier.”

Hannon knows what it takes to land this coveted prize, having saddled Barney Roy to score in 2017.

“Barney Roy wasn’t the fastest horse – he was the first one off the bridle in the St James’s Palace Stakes when he won it, but he kept going and ground them down going to the line. If this fella wins, it will probably happen in a similar way,” he added.

“We are very happy with him at home – he deserves a big one. He is a very good horse, and this is hopefully a chance to show it.”

Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O'Brien
Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O’Brien (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aidan O’Brien attempts to improve his record tally of eight victories – with a three-pronged assault of Battleground, Ontario and Wembley.

He said: “We’re hoping the better ground will suit Battleground and Wembley.

“We couldn’t run Battleground at the Curragh (in the Irish 2,000 Guineas) because the ground just got too bad. Wembley ran there, but it had gone too bad for him also.

“Both of them have been in good form since their last runs. If we can get them back to the form they showed at two, they would have a chance.”

Guineas hero Poetic Flare heads 13 for St James’s Palace date

Classic hero Poetic Flare and the unbeaten Mostahdaf are among 13 colts declared for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in early May, since when he has finished sixth in the French Guineas and runner-up in the Irish Guineas behind stablemate Mac Swiney.

Mostahdaf has won each of his three starts to date for John and Thady Gosden – completing his hat-trick in the Heron Stakes at Sandown almost four weeks ago.

The Frankel colt beat Charlie Appleby’s Highland Avenue by half a length in that Listed contest and the pair will renew rivalry at Group One level on Tuesday.

Appleby also saddles Irish Guineas sixth La Barrosa, while Jessica Harrington’s Lucky Vega also brings strong Classic form to the table, having finished third at Newmarket and fourth at the Curragh.

With William Buick siding with Highland Avenue, James Doyle is looking forward to partnering La Barrosa in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.

He said: “He ran very well in the Craven when second to Master Of The Seas and then went for the Irish Guineas on what was obviously quite testing ground. He travelled into the race really well there, but didn’t quite see it out.

“I think he’ll be seen to much better effect on quicker ground at Ascot, and on his Craven run he’s entitled to go well in what’s obviously a tough race.”

Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O'Brien
Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O’Brien (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aidan O’Brien runs Battleground, Ontario and Wembley, with son Joseph represented by Thunder Moon.

Battleground and Wembley, who both sport first-time tongue ties, plus Thunder Moon all disappointed in the Guineas at Newmarket and Wembley has also since failed to fire in the Irish equivalent.

Bullace (Ralph Beckett), Chindit (Richard Hannon), Maximal (Sir Michael Stoute) and Naamoos (Mark Johnston) complete the line-up.

Hurricane Lane leads Appleby hopes of second Derby triumph

Charlie Appleby is spearheading the challenge to outdo big-race favourite Bolshoi Ballet as he sends three contenders in pursuit of Cazoo Derby glory.

While Aidan O’Brien relies on his sole heavyweight representative from six possibles for the Classic at the start of the week, Appleby’s Godolphin team numbers Hurricane Lane, One Ruler and Adayar at Epsom on Saturday.

They are among a clutch of worthy opponents to Ballydoyle’s Bolshoi Ballet – including Jim Bolger’s Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Mac Swiney, as well as the remainder of the Newmarket challenge, William Haggas’ Mohaafeth, Ed Dunlop’s John Leeper and Third Realm from Roger Varian’s yard.

Appleby’s unbeaten Dante Stakes winner Hurricane Lane is the choice of number one jockey William Buick, as the partnership bid for a second win in the blue riband after Masar in 2018. One Ruler, who was sixth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month, will be ridden by James Doyle, with Adam Kirby on Adayar.

Appleby said: “One Ruler has solid Group One two-year-old form and is a Group Three winner at two as well in winning the Autumn Stakes, which is a great race to have coming into a three-year-old career.

“Hurricane Lane, on the other hand, had one run on bottomless ground at the back end of last year at Newmarket. He then came out and did what he did at Newbury before going to York. He comes here as an unexposed horse. He wouldn’t have the natural pace of One Ruler.

“As we saw in the Dante, his best work was in the last couple of hundred yards. Everything bodes well to step him up to a mile and a half – it might bring about further improvement.”

One Ruler is, of course, also trying the Derby trip for the first time.

Appleby added: “One Ruler is a different horse when he comes to the track – he just lights up more.

“James said, although it was quick in the Guineas, he rode like a horse that would appreciate stepping up in trip.

One Ruler is among Charlie Appleby's three Derby contenders
One Ruler is among Charlie Appleby’s three Derby contenders (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“The trip is a big question mark, (but) if he is going to get a mile and a half, he has got a good chance of getting it around Epsom.”

Bolger has always been confident Mac Swiney can run right up to his best form on good ground – but Friday’s unexpected rain has eased conditions considerably in any case.

A literal reading of Mac Swiney’s career record could indicate an aptitude for very testing conditions.

He got the better of stablemate and Newmarket Guineas winner Poetic Flare in a driving finish on soft to heavy ground at the Curragh last month, but must overturn Derrinstown Derby Trial form with Bolshoi Ballet.

He will be outdoing even his brilliant sire New Approach’s Classic achievements if he adds Epsom success to his Curragh victory – because he had to settle for second in both the English and Irish Guineas before winning the 2008 Derby for Bolger.

The Coolcullen trainer reports his colt ready to run up to his best, following his hard-fought victory two weeks ago, irrespective of the ground.

“You know how well he was a couple of weeks ago, and he came out of that race very well – and he’s been fine since,” he said.

“All his best form has not been on heavy ground.

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“I wouldn’t like any firm in it (this weekend) – but then I don’t like firm for any of my horses.”

Bolger is unconcerned too by either the move up in trip or the unusual situation of a one-horse Ballydoyle team.

Mac Swiney was below his best on his last meeting with Bolshoi Ballet when beaten almost seven lengths on good ground.

“Not being right when he was beaten (behind Bolshoi Ballet) at Leopardstown, that’s all been very well-documented,” said Bolger.

“(The extra distance) is not a concern.

“I’m training my own horse, and I’m not concerned with how many any (other) trainer runs in the race.”

Victory for John Leeper would be a fairytale outcome for a horse regally-bred out of Dunlop and owner Cristina Patino’s 2010 Oaks heroine Snow Fairy, named after the trainer’s father and to be ridden by Frankie Dettori.

Dunlop said: “It is probably one of the more interesting stories of the race.

“Having a horse named after my father is very exciting, and it creates a little bit of pressure for everyone – but at the moment the horse has no idea there is any pressure on him, so hopefully we can enjoy it.

“Of course it is quite emotional as well, and it would be a great day if he could go on and win the Derby.”

He is hoping that inexperience will not catch out John Leeper after just three career starts, and two wins this term – including most recently in a slowly-run Listed race at Newmarket.

“There was a bit of a concern with Newmarket, because it was such a farcical race that he just latched a bit earlier than we would have liked to – and it was something we had never really seen,” Dunlop said.

“I think he did well to win at Newmarket. William (Buick) was very good. He kicked on and got on with it.

“That was all part of his learning curve. He hasn’t done much wrong so far – but there is still a long way to go, as they say.

“We always liked him last year. He had a tiny hiccup after Doncaster last year, which meant we weren’t able to run him again. He was a very big, immature horse – so he was never going to do much as a two-year-old.

“We like him, and he was bred to be liked. Many of the well-bred horses don’t turn out to be much cop, but hopefully this horse will. You hoped he could get to this stage.

“We would have been disappointed if he hadn’t won his maiden, and he has now won his Listed race, but he has now got to step up markedly to be competitive in the Derby.

“The trip should be up his street, because his mum won the Oaks – I’d be surprised if there was any problem with the trip.

Mohaafeth has been a revelation this spring, with three increasingly emphatic victories.

The rain will not have helped his cause, and it is possible his participation may depend on no further deterioration. But Haggas is not fazed at least that the Shadwell Estate-owned colt has a draw towards the inside.

“There’s not a lot I can do about the draw (stall four) – it is what it is,” he said.

“That’s for the jockey to work out.

“When we bought him as a yearling, he was our ‘Derby’ horse in big inverted commas. When he went to Lingfield in March (for a novice, first time out, after two defeats last year) I didn’t think he was our Derby horse.

Mohaafeth was a easy winner at Newmarket
Mohaafeth was an easy winner at Newmarket (John Walton/PA)

“But I thought he could be an Ascot horse, and it was really that effort in the Newmarket Stakes that appealed to everyone and brought him into focus.

“He’s got a chance of staying the trip. I’ve always felt it’s not a question of seeing it out, but more if they are going to improve.

“Whether he’s going to end up being better at a mile and a half than 10 furlongs, I’m not so sure, but there’s no better race to find out. We’re very keen to give it a go.

“He could be flattered or he could be improving quite quickly. There’s no greater race than the Derby – whether he’s up to it we’ll find out, but he was visually very impressive at Newmarket.

“The handicapper’s view was that it was impressive, and he stuffed him up 19lb. So we’ll see, but he needs to be 120 to win the Derby.”

Third Realm put in a notably professional performance to beat Adayar on only his third start in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

Varian said: “He’s not a big horse – he’s a small-to-medium colt. He’s very well balanced, he’s got gate speed and I’m quite confident he’s going to get the trip.

“We always liked him. He had a setback in May or June last year – otherwise he could have easily run at the back-end of the summer.

“We had to wait, and he only had the one start in November, but he did very well through the winter – he thrived in January, February and March.

“We had him earmarked for a Derby trial, and we’re obviously delighted with how he’s progressed over the last two months.”

Third Realm has the evident disadvantage of being drawn in stall two – but so too was Varian’s sole previous Derby runner, 2012 runner-up Kingston Hill.

“He’s versatile (tactically),” the trainer added, of Third Realm.

“He’s got gate speed, he can relax in behind horses and has shown a turn of foot. He’s pretty straightforward, and I think he’s the type of horse Andrea (Atzeni) could put anywhere – which is comforting, going into a race like this.

“The Derby is always a test of horses, because it comes early in the season, but I think he’s shown his worth – he deserves to be in the line-up.”

Gear Up must improve from his performance in the Dante Stakes
Gear Up must improve from his performance in the Dante Stakes (David Davies/PA)

Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer of Gear Up, retains faith too – despite an underwhelming return when only fifth in the Dante.

“It was not a bad run, but it was not a particularly good run – it was just OK,” he said.

“I thought he was in a reasonably good pitch, and I would have not swapped him three furlongs out. I thought of those chasing the leaders he looked the most likely at that point.

“The eventual first and second had another gear than him from two out, and he plugged on at one pace at the finish. He is sure to be better over an extra two furlongs.”

Andrew Balding’s Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit is bidding to go one better than the yard’s Khalifa Sat did when a 50-1 runner-up, in the same colours, 12 months ago.

The Kingsclere trainer said: “We always liked the horse, and it was a relief that he stayed the mile and a half at Chester well – because that was the one big question mark.

“He is one of the few in the field we know will get the trip, and that has got to be to his advantage in a very deep race that will take some winning.

“It would be lovely if we could go one better than last year – but the owner, trainer and jockey would be very satisfied with a podium finish.”

Monday Musings: The Genius of Jim

It’s Sunday morning in the breakfast room of Glebe House, Coolcullen, Co Carlow, writes Tony Stafford. Ranged around the kitchen table are trainer Jim Bolger, wife Jackie, daughter Una Manning, grand-daughter Clare Manning, who runs the family’s Boherguy stud, and two jockeys. Stable jockey and the Bolgers’ son-in-law Kevin Manning has been a fixture here for decades but a young interloper is an honoured guest.

It’s the morning after Jim Bolger’s historic first victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas with Mac Swiney, but not just that, he also provided the short-head second, Poetic Flare, more than three lengths clear of the third, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh.

The interloper is young winning rider Rory Cleary, who edged out the main man in a thrilling private duel between two colts whose breeding had all been an act of JSB.

The atmosphere around the table is rather tenser, though, than you might have imagined after a long-awaited Classic success. Then Jim began.

“Now do you remember when we talked about the race yesterday morning I told you what I wanted you to do?” said Jim.  “Rory, I told you to make the running as Mac Swiney is our Derby horse so the better stayer and Kevin, you were to join him on the line. Obviously Poetic Flare, as the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner is more the miler of them and after failing to follow up in France last Sunday, we needed you to make amends here!”, said Jim.

“How could you get it so wrong? Rory, either you were just a little too forceful on the run to the line – you hit him eight times rather than the permitted seven after all and got that ban - or Kevin, you couldn’t keep Poetic Flare straight in the finish. That result cost us a second Classic winner in one day!” added the trainer.

Then I woke up!

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The alchemist of Irish racing had just pulled two rabbits out of the same hat. Has ever a Classic been decided by a dead-heat where every being, human or equine – save Rory Cleary, and even he’d been fashioned in the manner of Aidan O’Brien, Tony McCoy, Willie Mullins and so many more, in the Bolger hothouse – had been so minutely sculpted by one man?

The fact it was not a dead-heat, and make no mistake neither horse deserved to lose, was the only issue that stopped this result from transcending reality into fiction.

To describe Bolger’s unique status during a lifetime as trainer, owner and breeder as the supremo of an Academy doesn’t go anywhere near to covering it. It’s been more like a multi-generational pattern of life based on hard work, honesty and intuitive talent. Forty years ago he talked of an ambition to own all the horses in his stable. Even that apparently over-blown dream has proved to be much less than the surreal actuality.

He not only does – in the name of his wife Jackie - own almost all the horses in the yard, but breeds the majority too. He is the breeder of both the Guineas winners and, much more improbably, their respective sires, Derby winner New Approach (Mac Swiney) and that horse’s son Dawn Approach, sire of Poetic Flame, not to mention Teofilo, Mac Swiney’s broodmare sire.

To breed one unbeaten champion two-year-old in a lifetime would be beyond the dreams of most stud owners. To breed three, all of which won the Dewhurst Stakes to clinch their European juvenile championships and ensure their reputation, is something beyond comprehension.

Much was said of his genius in identifying Galileo as a sire to bank on when he first went to Coolmore following that horse’s epic career under Aidan O’Brien including his impressive Derby win. At the time Derby winners weren’t the most fashionable for stud careers – often being packed off to Japan or indeed ending up as jumps stallions, but Galileo was the exception.

Teofilo emerged from that first crop, running five times – all at seven furlongs – and only twice winning by more than a neck, and even then never by as much as two lengths. In two of the three narrow victories he rallied at the finish to regain the lead, a characteristic of both Saturday’s main protagonists.

He could not have proved more justified in his patronage of Galileo, but even for Jim Bolger, it is impossible to be right all the time.

I remember one day at Arqana’s Saint-Cloud sales seeking a stallion to cover one of Raymond Tooth’s mares asking David O’Loughlin which of Coolmore’s new sires might fit. He kindly pointed me in the direction of another of their Derby winners, the Andre Fabre-trained Pour Moi. He said: “Jim Bolger’s sending a load of mares to him.”

So we sent Laughing Water to Pour Moi and her son, Waterproof, did win a hurdle race on New Year’s Day last year but nothing else. Coolmore meanwhile did not waste much time diverting Pour Moi to their successful NH division despite his producing a Derby winner from his first crop in the shape of Wings Of Eagles.

From a €20k starting point, Pour Moi is now serving his mares having been banished for the last two covering seasons to the Haras de Cercy in France at €3,000 a pop. That’s less than 1% of what Galileo still commands as he approaches the twilight of the greatest stallion career of all time. From his starting point of €30k he will stand in historical terms at least on a par with his own sire Sadler’s Wells and that great horse’s father, the inimitable Northern Dancer.

Just as Bolger identified Galileo’s potential so did John Magnier all those years ago when with the assistance of Robert Sangster’s financial clout and Magnier’s father-in-law Vincent O’Brien’s training skills, they descended on Keeneland in Kentucky to cherry-pick the best of the Northern Dancers.

Again here was a champion and a Derby winner, despite in his case being very small. He missed out on the Triple Crown, finishing only third in the Belmont Stakes following victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but once sent to stud, he produced the English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky, trained by Vincent O’Brien from only his second crop.

That event guaranteed the future success of Northern Dancer, standing at Windfields Farm in Maryland, near Washington DC, initially for $10,000. It also galvanised the O’Brien/Sangster/ Magnier certainty that Northern Dancer should be the sire to concentrate on.  As well as Sadler’s Wells, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner who did not contest the Derby, but became such a prepotent stallion winning 14 Champion Sire titles, 13 in succession, their shopping trips also brought back The Minstrel, one of the bravest winners of the Epsom Classic in memory.

If Jim Bolger was the biggest star on Irish 2,000 Guineas Day 2021, David O’Loughlin, or rather his wife Treasa, and also the wives of fellow Coolmore senior executives Tom Gaffney and Clem Murphy, won the Group 3 Marble Hill Stakes for two-year-olds with Castle Star, trained by Fozzy Stack.

Magnier has always encouraged his most valued employees to own, breed and above all cash in on the potential of horses and no doubt the trio (and their wives of course) will be hearing plenty of offers for this very stylish winner by Starspangledbanner, who has returned from the ignominy of infertility to a full part in the Coolmore story.

Last week I mentioned Sam Sangster, son of Sadler’s Wells and The Minstrel’s owner among many other Vincent O’Brien stars, for his own exploits with a filly called Beauty Stone. The daughter of Australia, originally a 475,000gns Godolphin buy, but a Sangster acquisition for barely 1% of that when culled from the Charlie Appleby team, made it four wins in a row at Goodwood on Saturday.

Running off 77, 15lb higher than when she started her winning run as recently as February at Kempton, the Tom Ward-trained filly battled on well to defeat 0-90 opposition. Black type could be next for Beauty Stone and no doubt young Mr Sangster will know how to handle the experience and also her future marketing which will involve rather more figures than those he paid for her. It’s all a matter of breeding as Jim Bolger will tell you. Nice kitchen by the way!

She’s Trouble too hot to handle at the Curragh

She’s Trouble provided Irish 2,000 Guineas-winning trainer Jim Bolger with further success after getting off the mark in the Tally Ho Stud Irish EBF Fillies Maiden at the Curragh.

The Coolcullen handler enjoyed a memorable afternoon at the Kildare circuit on Saturday, with Mac Swiney edging out stablemate Poetic Flare to give the veteran trainer a one-two in the first Classic of the season in Ireland.

Third on her racecourse debut at Navan last week, She’s Trouble was a 4-1 shot to go a couple of places better in the opening race on day two of the Guineas meeting.

Ridden by Kevin Manning, the Fracas filly battled her way to the lead and had enough in reserve in the closing stages to repel the challenge of promising newcomer Dissociate by half a length.

Una Manning, Bolger’s daughter and wife of the winning rider, said: “Delighted with that. She’s very well related – she’s from the family of Saoire (Irish 1,000 Guineas winner) and is a half-sister to Smash Williams.

“Kevin said she handled the ground well today and the plan now would be to try to get some black type.”

She added: “Mac Swiney and Poetic Flare both pulled out very well this morning, nice and fresh and all seems to be good with them.

“Hopefully it will be all roads leading to Epsom for Mac Swiney.”

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Baby Zeus made a successful debut for Willie Mullins in the Betway Handicap.

Baby Zeus gets up to score at the Curragh
Baby Zeus gets up to score at the Curragh (Brian Lawless/PA)

Formerly trained by Ger Lyons, the four-year-old was making his first appearance since August and wearing a tongue-tie for the first time.

After settling his mount towards the rear of the field for much of the way, Colin Keane launched his challenge on the outside of runners in the straight and Baby Zeus responded generously to get up and score by half a length from Mirann.

Mullins’ assistant, David Casey, said of the 6-1 scorer: “He’s been with us a few months and he came in good shape and with good form from Ger’s. They always thought he was a decent enough horse and he’d shown us that at home.

“We weren’t overly sure about the ground, but he seemed to handle it well and it’s great that he won.

“We’ll see what options are there for him and see what the handicapper does. Hopefully he can progress up the ladder.”

Visualisation (orange colours) was a winner for Joseph O'Brien and Declan McDonogh
Visualisation (orange colours) was a winner for Joseph O’Brien and Declan McDonogh (Brian Lawless/PA)

Visualisation led home a one-two for Joseph O’Brien in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund ‘Habitat’ Handicap.

Ridden by Declan McDonogh, the 9-2 favourite saw off stable companion Fame And Acclaim by half a length.

O’Brien said: “He’s a good, tough horse and Declan gave him a good ride.

“I’m nearly feeling a bit sorry for Fame And Acclaim. He’s a good solid horse and deserves to win again.

“I’m delighted. They both ran very well.”

Wild Dollar (20-1) was awarded the Betway Irish EBF Maiden in the stewards’ room after going down by a short head to Citronnade.

Edward Harty’s gelding finished strongly for Mark Gallagher, but suffered a bump from the first past the post a few strides from the line.

Foveros made it a double for Willie Mullins
Foveros made it a double for Willie Mullins (Brian Lawless/PA)

Foveros (11-4 favourite) completed a double for Mullins when comfortably taking the Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap.

Wayne Lordan held the six-year-old up in the early stages before bringing him with a steady run to lead over a furlong out and score by five and a half lengths from Weather Alert.

Casey said: “He’s been working good and the conditions were the main thing.

“We’ll find another one for him. There is probably one here on Derby weekend and then maybe at Galway.”

Mac Swiney all systems go for the Derby – and Ascot beckons for Poetic Flare

Jim Bolger is looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season has in store for Mac Swiney and Poetic Flare after the stablemates provided him him with a one-two in Saturday’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Having rounded off his juvenile campaign with a Group One success in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster, Mac Swiney finished a slightly disappointing fourth on his reappearance in the in Leopardstown’s Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

However, he raised his game to land Classic glory at the Curragh – coming out on top after a thrilling duel with Poetic Flare, who was running in his third Guineas in the space of four weeks after triumphing at Newmarket and finishing sixth in France last weekend.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme, Bolger said of Mac Swiney: “As they say in the west of Ireland, I was mighty impressed with him.

“I thought that he stuck to the task really well – any horse wishing to take him on and beat him in the future will have to be up for it because he isn’t going to give in easily.

“I’m very fortunate that the two talented three-year-olds colts I have at the moment both have great temperaments and they can take anything that I throw at them.

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“They’re only different in the amount of work that they take. Mac Swiney takes very little work, whereas the other fella takes an awful lot of work, which is why I felt he would stand up to the three Guineas.”

Rory Cleary celebrates on board Mac Swiney
Rory Cleary celebrates on board Mac Swiney (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mac Swiney will now bid to emulate his sire New Approach by winning the Cazoo Derby at Epsom on June 5, for which he is a general 7-1 shot.

“I’m the world’s worst punter, so asking me what price he should be wouldn’t get a very knowledgeable answer,” Bolger added.

“In my mind there isn’t anything ahead of him – the form is there now.”

The Coolcullen handler feels Poetic Flare could have been a triple Guineas winner in different circumstances.

He came close to completing a similar treble in 2007 with Finsceal Beo, who won at Newmarket, was beaten a head in the French 1000 Guineas and won the Irish equivalent.

Bolger said: “The three Guineas came about the year I had Finsceal Beo. In the end it was a few showers of rain in France that cost us the French Guineas, otherwise we would have had all three.

“We realised this (Poetic Flare) was a very talented horse with a lot of durability about him. He’s tough and he could take it.

“Apart from a few things we got wrong in France and then beating him ourselves with a different horse, we could have had the three, so it is possible.

“With a little different circumstance he could be the winner of three Guineas today and that would be fairly unique.

Poetic Flare after winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket
Poetic Flare after winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket (John Walton/PA)

“I said earlier in the week that whatever beat Poetic Flare would win the race. It’s not often I’m right, but I was right on that occasion!”

Asked whether Poetic Flare will run in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot next, he added: “I’d say there’s a good chance that he will. It depends how he gets on in the meantime, but I’d say he’s more likely to turn up there than not.

“I’d say he’ll stay at a mile. The only thing that might cause us to divert from that would be the Eclipse at Sandown, but then I have to keep that in mind for Mac Swiney as well.”

Mac Swiney leads home Irish Guineas one-two for Jim Bolger

Jim Bolger dominated the finish of the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh with Mac Swiney just edging out stable companion Poetic Flare.

Mac Swiney, a Group One winner at two, had disappointed on his return to action in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, but was subsequently found to be suffering from a nasal discharge.

Poetic Flare was already running in his third Classic of the season, having won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket before finishing only sixth in the French version just six days ago.

The race was run in a heavy rain shower as Rory Cleary, riding by far the biggest winner of his career, set out to make all on Mac Swiney and his rivals dropped away one by one.

Only stablemate Poetic Flare put up a challenge and Kevin Manning looked to be travelling marginally the better.

However, just when Manning began to ask his mount for everything, Poetic Flare hung across the track slightly, eventually being beaten a short head in the 100th running of the Classic. Van Gogh stayed on to be third.

Coral cut Mac Swiney to 7-1 from 20s for the Cazoo Derby next month.

Bolger was not at the track, but his daughter Una Manning confirmed Epsom is the target for the winner.

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She said: “I just spoke to the boss and obviously he’s absolutely delighted with the horse and very pleased with Poetic Flare as well.

“I’d say it was probably a race for horses that stay the mile well with the conditions.

“The plan is to go to Epsom with Mac Swiney and we’ll see how Poetic Flare comes out of the race before deciding whether he’ll go to Ascot for the St James Palace.”

Manning, who is married to the rider of the runner-up, hailed her father’s decision to run both colts at the Curragh.

She added: “He’s not afraid to take on a challenge. He was talking about running the two horses and I said ‘wouldn’t it be great if Poetic Flare won and Mac Swiney was second and then went to Epsom and did a New Approach’.

“It ended up the other way around. I myself am a little disappointed for Kevin that he wasn’t on the winner, but on the other hand Rory has been such a loyal second jockey in the yard for so many years that he very much deserves this win.

“I think Kevin was happy enough to ride Poetic Flare. He said to me last week, after Longchamp, maybe we should just run the two of them in the Guineas and it would leave Mac Swiney right for Epsom.

“We’ve always had faith in Mac Swiney. He wasn’t quite himself at Leopardstown, but that does happen with horses and nowadays we all know about the mucus because we can scope them, so it’s different to years ago when you wouldn’t know.”

The winner is named after the Irish playwright, author and politician Terence MacSwiney and Manning added: “This is Rory’s day and Mac Swiney’s day and Terence MacSwiney’s memory will live on for another while.”

Rory Cleary celebrates aboard Mac Swiney
Rory Cleary celebrates aboard Mac Swiney (Brian Lawless/PA)

Cleary was thrilled to have landed an Irish Classic, but admitted he was struggling to register his achievement.

He said: “I still can’t believe it. I was quietly nervous about having to ride him. I’ve never ridden a fancied horse in it – in a big race – never mind a Classic.

“He’s such a special horse to get a ride on. The boss this morning just told me to jump out good and smart and ride a race on him and see how it unfolds.

“The further we went, the better he was going under me, and he stayed at it so well. I think the ground, with it being a bit on the wet side, his stamina really came into play.

“He’s so honest – I just can’t believe I’m after winning the Guineas.

“Kevin (Manning on Poetic Flare) came to me and we quickened away together again. I think they’re two very smart horses.

“My lad really just stuck his head out for me. I think somebody was looking down on me because they made it easy for me.”

There was a sting in the tail for the winning rider though, with Cleary getting a six-day suspension for excessive use of the whip.

Poetic Flare in the mix for Irish Guineas despite French disappointment

Newmarket hero Poetic Flare could bid to bounce back from defeat in France last weekend by doubling his Classic tally in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh on Saturday.

Jim Bolger’s colt followed in the hoofprints of his sire Dawn Approach to win a pulsating renewal of the 2000 Guineas over the Rowley Mile at the start of the month.

He was well fancied to follow up in Sunday’s French equivalent at ParisLongchamp – the Poule d’Essai des Poulains – but could only finish sixth behind Aidan O’Brien’s St Mark’s Basilica.

Poetic Flare could yet win another Guineas on home soil, however, while Bolger has also confirmed Mac Swiney for the Group One contest.

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Should Poetic Flare take his chance, he is likely to be reopposed by several who finished behind him at Newmarket.

Jessica Harrington could saddle Lucky Vega, who was beaten just half a length into third, while O’Brien has left in Van Gogh, Wembley and Battleground, who all finished down the field at Headquarters.

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Thunder Moon is another who could bid to bounce back from Newmarket disappointment.

Monaasib is an interesting contender for veteran trainer Kevin Prendergast, having finished third behind Poetic Flare in last month’s 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown and arrives here fresh.

The two potential British challengers in a field of 14 are Charlie Appleby’s La Barrosa and Hugo Palmer’s The Rosstafarian, who were last seen finishing second and fifth respectively in the Craven Stakes.

Glen Shiel (centre) winning on Qipco British Champions Day
Glen Shiel (centre) winning on Qipco British Champions Day (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Glen Shiel heads 15 sprinters in the mix for the Group Two Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes.

The Archie Watson-trained seven-year-old looks set to make his first competitive appearance since winning the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot in October.

He is part of a strong British contingent that also includes Royal Commando (Charlie Hills), Summerghand (David O’Meara) and Last Empire (Kevin Ryan), while last year’s winner Speak In Colours (Joseph O’Brien) looks the pick of the home team.

Group Two honours are also up for grabs in the Lanwades Stud Stakes, with Johnny Murtagh’s Champers Elysees the highest-rated of eight four-year-old fillies confirmed.

The Group Three GAIN Marble Hill Stakes has attracted 14 speedy juveniles, including Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Cadamosto and The Entertainer and Masseto from Donnacha O’Brien’s yard.

Poetic Flare poised for second leg of Guineas treble mission

Poetic Flare goes for the second leg of what could be a remarkable Guineas treble at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.

The three-year-old emulated his sire Dawn Approach in winning the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket for trainer Jim Bolger and he turns out just a fortnight later for the French equivalent – the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains.

Bolger is hoping his exciting colt can double his Classic tally before potentially bidding for a hat-trick in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas next weekend.

“He’s come of Newmarket well,” said the Coolcullen handler.

“I’m hoping to do them all (all three Guineas), all going well.

“The draw (stall four) is what it is and I’ve no worries about the ground.”

Bolger almost completed a similar treble with Finsceal Beo in 2006. The top-class filly won at Newmarket before being beaten a head in Paris, but bounced back to winning ways at the Curragh.

Her narrow defeat in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches is as close as the veteran trainer has come to winning a French Classic – a record he is keen to set straight this weekend.

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He added: “She (Finsceal Beo) was second in the Pouliches and I haven’t had many runners (in the French Classics) – she’s the only one, I think.”

St Mark's Basilica winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket under Frankie Dettori
St Mark’s Basilica winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket under Frankie Dettori (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Irish hopes are also carried by St Mark’s Basilica, who bids to provide Aidan O’Brien with a fifth victory in the race.

The son of Siyouni is making his first appearance since winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.

O’Brien said: “It was always the plan for him to run in the two-year-old race on Arc day (Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere), but he didn’t (because of a feed issue) and that is why he ended up going to Newmarket.

“After that it was always the plan then that he would go to France for this race.

“I think he’s a miler, but when Frankie (Dettori) rode him in the Dewhurst he said then he’d get further than the Dewhurst trip, so you’d think he might get a bit further at three.”

The sole British challenger is Archie Watson’s Mehmento.

Following two wide-margin wins on the all-weather Southwell, the Hambleton Racing-owned colt ran an excellent race in defeat on his turf debut when touched off by subsequent 2000 Guineas fifth Chindit in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury.

Cosmo Charlton, Hambleton Racing’s head racing manager, said: “He’s in really good form and Archie is very happy with him, so fingers crossed he runs well.

“It was only his third start at Newbury so hopefully there’s more improvement to come. It’s a big step up again. You’ve got the 2000 Guineas winner in there and Aidan O’Brien’s Dewhurst winner, so those two are going to be hard to beat.

“If we can be in the mix to make the frame we’ll be absolutely delighted.”

The home team is led by Frederic Rossi’s Sealiway, who was a runaway winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and is expected to improve from his comeback second in the Prix de Fontainebleau four weeks ago.

“Sealiway is getting stronger. His last work was very satisfactory. The rain won’t bother him. I hope the ground will be on the soft side,” said Rossi.

“I don’t think that there is one particular standout horse. He is here to run well, and this with the help of Christophe Soumillon.”

Andre Fabre is seeking a third consecutive Poulains, after Persian King and Victor Ludorum.

He relies on Parchemin, who was unbeaten in two juvenile starts but only fifth on his reappearance in the Fontainebleau.

Lisa-Jane Graffard of Godolphin told “We hoped that Parchemin would have run slightly better in the Prix de Fontainebleau but he ran well enough, all things considered. The ground was possibly a bit quick that day but the first two home look very strong contenders here again.

“He is a really lovely horse with a great temperament and a real standout physically. We have seen horses turn around the form between the trial and the Classic itself, and we are optimistic that Parchemin can improve on his seasonal return.”

Mac Swiney aiming to underline Classic claims in Derrinstown

A week on from teaming up to land the Qipco 2000 Guineas, Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning unleash another potential Classic contender at Leopardstown on Sunday when Mac Swiney returns to action for the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

The veteran trainer and jockey combination struck gold in a thrilling renewal of the Newmarket showpiece, with Poetic Flare following in the hoofprints of his sire Dawn Approach as he came out in top in a pulsating three-way finish.

Mac Swiney, winner of the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster on his final appearance as a juvenile, was also under consideration for the Guineas, but Bolger ultimately decided to split his aces.

“I’m very happy with Mac Swiney,” he said.

“I’m staying at a mile with Poetic Flare. He’s come out of Newmarket well and hopefully he’ll be ready to run for Paris (French 2000 Guineas) on Sunday week.

“Mac Swiney will be running over a mile and a quarter at Leopardstown and we’ll take it from there.”

The Coolcullen handler is hoping Mac Swiney can earn himself a shot at the Cazoo Derby at Epsom, which Bolger and Manning famously won with his sire New Approach in 2008.

Mac Swiney and jockey Kevin Manning after winning at the Curragh
Mac Swiney and jockey Kevin Manning after winning at the Curragh (PA)

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Although the chestnut colt’s high-profile juvenile wins in the Futurity Stakes at the Curragh and at Doncaster came in soft and heavy ground, Bolger would not be concerned by quicker conditions.

“He’ll go on any ground,” the trainer added.

Mac Swiney’s biggest threat appears to be Bolshoi Ballet, who will bid to provide Aidan O’Brien with his 14th Derrinstown victory.

Subsequent Epsom heroes Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002) are among the former Ballydoyle superstars to win this key trial, as well as the brilliant stayer Yeats (2004).

Just like Galileo, High Chaparral and Yeats, Bolshoi Ballet lines up off the back of winning the Ballysax Stakes over the same course and distance four weeks ago.

Bolshoi Ballet (centre) winning the Ballysax Stakes
Bolshoi Ballet (centre) winning the Ballysax Stakes (PA)

O’Brien said: “It was always the plan to go for the Derrinstown after he won the Ballysax.

“Everything has gone well with him since and he seems to be in good form.

“We’re happy with him and looking forward to his run.”

O’Brien has a second string to his bow in Lough Derg, who won on his Dundalk debut before finishing fourth in the Ballysax, while son Donnacha saddles the sixth from the same race in Fernando Vichi and his brother Joseph runs course-and-distance winner Southern Lights.

Joseph O’Brien told Betfair: “Southern Lights is a gorgeous horse that we’ve always had high hopes for.

“We really liked his performance when he won a maiden over this course and distance last month. He is a very laid-back character and he seemed to wake up as the race progressed. It was a really pleasing performance.

“This is obviously a huge step up in class for him, but he has earned the chance to be tested in a race like this and we can’t wait to see how he measures up.”

Jessica Harrington’s Ballysax third Taipan, the Ger Lyons-trained Team Of Firsts and Bolger’s possible pacemaker Wexford Soil complete the line-up.

The Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial is preceded by two other Group Three contests in the Amethyst Stakes and the Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial.

Joseph O'Brien has a strong hand in the Amethyst Stakes
Joseph O’Brien has a strong hand in the Amethyst Stakes (PA)

The Amethyst field is headed by the Ado McGuinness-trained Bowerman and also features three runners from Joseph O’Brien’s yard in Numerian, Raise You and Snapraeterea.

“Raise You seems to have benefited from being gelded and made a winning return to action in a handicap at the Curragh last time. This is obviously a much stronger race, but he has the class to be competitive in this sort of company,” O’Brien added.

“Numerian has been a shade disappointing in his two runs this season, but he seems to be on his way back and has the form in the book to be competitive at this level.

“Snapraeterea hit the frame in a couple of Stakes races last season, but was a bit disappointing on his return to action at Leopardstown. He takes on his elders here and it is a stiff task on paper.”

The Lyons-trained Acanella bids to follow up an impressive debut success over the course and distance in the Guineas Trial, with Paddy Twomey’s Fantasy Lady and Dermot Weld’s Curragh scorer Shandra among her rivals.

Mac Swiney on course for Derrinstown return

Jim Bolger’s firm belief that he has two star colts on his hands this season could be further advertised at Leopardstown on Sunday, with Mac Swiney set to carry his hopes in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

Stablemate Poetic Flare has already won the Qipco 2000 Guineas, and the County Carlow trainer has been keen to stress he finds it hard to split the pair – a statement with which jockey Kevin Manning concurred at Newmarket on Saturday.

Speaking after the Guineas, Manning – asked to compare Mac Swiney and Poetic Flare – said: “The two of them have been working well, and I rode the two of them on the grass in two separate bits of work three weeks ago and Jim asked the question and said if both turn up (at Newmarket) which would you ride – and I said ‘I don’t know’.”

A son of Bolger’s Derby winner New Approach, Mac Swiney took Group One honours when beating One Ruler in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster in October.

Chief among his potential opposition this weekend is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Bolshoi Ballet, winner of the Ballysax Stakes on his reappearance.

The Ballysax-Derrinstown route is one familiar to O’Brien with his Derby runners – Galileo winning both races on the way to glory in the premier Classic 20 years ago, while High Chaparral did likewise 12 months later.

Bolshoi Ballet winning the Ballysax Stakes under Ryan Moore
Bolshoi Ballet winning the Ballysax Stakes under Ryan Moore (PA)

O’Brien has also entered Derby favourite High Definition, although he is thought more likely to run at Lingfield on Saturday. Chester defector Sir Lamorak is another among the possibles, which total 15 at the entry stage.

There are also 15 in the Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial, including the Ger Lyons-trained Acanella.

The Juddmonte-owned Dansili filly looked potentially smart in beating Jessica Harrington’s Climate – who could reoppose – over this course and distance last month.

The other highlight on a top-class card is the Amethyst Stakes – which features the O’Brien-trained Lancaster House, among 11 entries.

Monday Musings: Irish Domination

Where once there was meaningful rivalry, now there is renewed omnipotence. A picture spread through social media early this year of a grinning trainer talking on a mobile phone atop a dead horse has had even more effect than its horrified recipients throughout the horse world could have imagined, writes Tony Stafford.

Up until Cheltenham, the remnants of the Gordon Elliott stables, which had run 321 horses from the time jump racing resumed after the initial stopping through Covid19, was still punching most of its weight under the name if not the supreme control of Mrs Denise Foster.

Traditionally though, every late April/early May the Punchestown Festival has ended any wistful hope that the brash Elliott with his legion of major owners, most notably the O’Leary family’s Gigginstown House Stud, might finally gain a first Irish NH trainers’ championship.

Last week, respectable second place seemed a long way off, that eminence supplanted by the exploits of Henry De Bromhead, he of the surreal Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National hat-trick over the previous six weeks.

But now we were in Willie Mullins territory and the week was just perfectly situated to welcome back the trainer’s previously stricken stable jockey. Paul Townend had seen his advantage over the challenging and seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore slip to less than a handful of winners with seven days to go.

Mullins doesn’t do Cross-Country races, of which there are four over the five days of Punchestown, but he does do everything else. And how!

Eight races are staged each day, leaving 36 to go for. Mullins, with five on the opening day and never fewer than three on the four succeeding instalments, put together the unbelievable tally of 19 wins from the available 36 – so more than 50%. He did have 87 runners, very often multiple chances, then, and another 21 of his horses made the first four, that’s 40 win or placed. Place money at the meeting goes down to sixth and he had another ten of those, so altogether 50 in the money.

In all, Mullins’ runners brought back a total haul over the week of €1,470,950. For the season his 182 winners brought almost €5.5 million.

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Elliott’s monetary reward for his 155 wins was €2,863,875 at the time of his suspension. Add to that Mrs Foster’s 16 victories in 205 runs from 135 of the Elliott horses was another €412,860.

But the magic which initially lingered after the paper – if not actual – change of control all but died last week. Mrs Foster’s 36 runners at Punchestown brought no wins, three second places, two thirds and a single fourth and a mere total of €52k. Nineteen of her runners either finished outside the first ten or failed to finish.

You would think that everyone associated with the Closutton steamroller would have been delighted, but what was probably the most spectacular of his victories, in terms of style of performance and the circumstances behind it, was a cause of regret for that horse’s connections.

When Mark Smith first moved to his present house in Essex 40 years ago the one-time Foreign Exchange trader met a neighbour who was soon to become his best friend. Mark owned Balasani, a horse that won the Stayers’ Hurdle for Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, and soon he and his friend, John Coleman, regularly went racing together.

Then a few years back John became gravely ill with cancer by which time he had bought Klassical Dream. Sadly he was never able to see the horse on the track – it raced in the name of his widow Joanne but was a family horse with his two sons and a nephew taking shares. They insisted that Mark should also accept a share.

It was bitter-sweet for the team when Klassical Dream won his maiden hurdle first time up at Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day fixture in 2018 and he duly went on to take three Grade 1 prizes, at Leopardstown in February, Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice, and Punchestown’s Champion Novice Hurdle.

The 2019/20 season proved a massive anti-climax, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite racing only twice and beaten at odds-on behind less talented stable companions. Cheltenham 2021 was originally on the agenda but that came and went without him, after which the plan was laid for Thursday’s big stayers’ hurdle over three miles. Klassical Dream had never raced over much further than two miles and would have a 487-day absence to overcome.

Mark spoke to Willie a few days before the race and on Thursday morning before leaving home for a funeral of another good friend he tried unsuccessfully to reach the trainer. Mullins left a recorded message when he could and Mark says it was very similar to the previous one.

I’ve heard it and in it Willie says he would be happy if the horse finished in the first six but above all the priority is that he comes home sound. Mark interpreted this to mean the trainer wasn’t sure he would make the first six.

Mark relayed the news to the other owners, and before leaving had what he calls a “suicide throwaway 50 quid” at around 17-1 when he first noticed the price was dropping. He had expected to be home in time to watch the race, but was still at the reception at the off, so watched it on his phone.

In what was described as the biggest gamble of the week, 20-1 down to 5-1, Klassical Dream under Patrick Mullins, and one of four stable-mates in the race, cantered into the lead going to the last hurdle and drew easily clear of Mullins’ James Du Berlais for a nine-length victory.

There was more than a degree of consolation that the horse had come back with such a bang, and not least for winning the €147,500 winner’s prize, but also some irritation that the message might have been a little more accurate.

These words will be written before Mark and the trainer have their next conversation. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to Willie, who has always been so helpful in all our dealings, as I would probably have lost my temper. None of the other owners are racing people in the way John was and of course I am, and their delight at their horse coming back in such a dramatic manner easily outweighs for them any irritation that they might have had a bigger bet if they knew a bit more beforehand”.

The Irish dominated Cheltenham and Aintree and it was the Flat trainers from that side of the wet divide who collected the first two Classics of the season at Newmarket.

First Jim Bolger, 79, and jockey and son-in-law Kevin Manning, 54, took the 2,000 Guineas with brave home-bred Poetic Flare, 16-1 and a son of Dawn Approach, also a Bolger home-bred and winner of the same Classic.

Then yesterday, Aidan O’Brien, a pupil and amateur rider for Bolger before embarking on his own stellar training career, made it seven wins in the 1,000 Guineas. His second string 10-1 shot Mother Earth, ridden by 50-year-old Frankie Dettori, made use of her greater experience to run past long-time race favourite and stable-companion Santa Barbara.

Like Love last year, who came to the “1,000” with three wins from seven juvenile appearances, Mother Earth put in plenty of creditable runs at two but in her case for just one win, although second at the Breeders’ Cup was hardly a negligible effort.

Unlike Love, though, who went on to Epsom and then York for two more emphatic wide-margin Group 1 victories, Mother Earth is being pencilled in for the Irish 1,000. Santa Barbara, who understandably showed signs of greenness - she raced only in one maiden as a two-year-old – goes straight to Epsom.

It was quite a weekend for big numbers and veterans. Bob Baffert, now 68 years old, made it a seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit, at just over 12-1, made all under John Velazquez, who is in his 50th year. The colt had won only once previously too, so it was stretching credibility after three defeats that he could win the most important three-year-old race of the year in the USA.

But it was even more amazing given that two runs back, in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit had been crushed by eight lengths by another Baffert colt, Life Is Good, who was unable through injury to get to Churchill Downs.

The old prototype for winning the “Run For The Roses” was plenty of race-conditioning as a two-year-old, but Medina Spirit didn’t appear until January this year. That was also the starting-point for Life Is Good. That day, Medina Spirit came up short by only three-quarters of a length and he must have been energised when he noticed that his nemesis was not in the field.

Still pictures of the race finish show the Churchill Downs grandstands were packed. I just can’t wait for that to happen here - sooner rather than later I trust!