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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.

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!

Classic success still a sweet feeling for veteran Manning

Veteran jockey Kevin Manning was thrilled to secure his fourth British Classic success as Poetic Flare came out on top in a pulsating renewal of the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

At the age of 54, Manning is the oldest jockey to win the Rowley Mile showpiece since Lester Piggott steered Rodrigo De Triano to success in 1992, aged 56.

It is 13 years since Manning broke his British Classic duck aboard Finsceal Beo in the 1000 Guineas, since when he had added to his tally with New Approach in the 2008 Derby and Dawn Approach in the 2000 Guineas in 2013.

Even at this late stage of his career, Manning insists big-race success tastes as sweet as ever.

“Any time you can win any of these Classics, it’s an amazing moment,” he said.

Kevin Manning with Jim Bolger
Kevin Manning with Jim Bolger (Barry Cronin/PA)

“They’re so hard to win and don’t come along every day of the week.

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“It feels the same as it did at the start (of my career). Classics are Classics and you’re just very hungry for those type of races – that’s what everybody works for and strives for.”

Like Finsceal Beo, New Approach and Dawn Approach, Poetic Flare is trained by Manning’s father-in-law and long-time employer Jim Bolger, 79.

This particular colt – a son of Dawn Approach – made a winning debut in the March of his juvenile year, but did not run again until finishing down the field in the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.

However, having rounded off his campaign with victory in the Killavullan Stakes – and made a successful reappearance in the 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown three weeks ago – Manning insists confidence was high in the camp ahead of his bid for Guineas glory.

He added: “When Jim has a horse with the ability to win one (a Classic), he doesn’t leave it behind.

“This horse won his maiden in March, and then we had Covid and the lockdown and everything that went with it.

“When racing did start back up he was turning into a big horse and was growing and one thing and another, so Jim left him be, and then there wasn’t anything for him.

Finsceal Beo was Kevin Manning's first British Classic winner
Finsceal Beo was Kevin Manning’s first British Classic winner (Chris Radburn/PA)

“He ended up going to the Dewhurst and even that was a very good run – beaten less than nine lengths – on his first run since March. He then won the Killavullan and came out this spring and won his Guineas trial very well.

“I always felt he was a very smart horse and I’d have been disappointed if he wasn’t in the shake-up today.”

Poetic Flare was one of two Guineas candidates from Bolger’s yard along with Vertem Futurity Trophy winner Mac Swiney.

Manning – who insists he has not given any thought to retirement – feels there is little to choose between the pair in terms of talent, but hinted Mac Swiney’s long-term future could lie over further than a mile.

He said: “He (Poetic Flare) is a horse that would catch your eye and is a great stamp of a horse. He’s got everything, to be quite honest – he’s a great walker and a great temperament and he’s a looker.

Mac Swiney could be a Derby contender for Kevin Manning and Jim Bolger
Mac Swiney could be a Derby contender for Kevin Manning and Jim Bolger (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Mac Swiney is at home. Whether he goes for the Irish Guineas or the two of them go, I’m not sure – that’s all down to the boss.

“I actually rode the two of them on the grass in separate bits of work maybe three weeks ago.

“Jim actually asked me the question ‘if the two of them turn up (at Newmarket), which one would you ride?’ And I said ‘I don’t know’.

“The two of them have been working very well. Mac Swiney is very relaxed. He isn’t slow, but he could be more of a Derby horse.”

Poetic Flare is Guineas-bound after impressive Leopardstown display

Poetic Flare underlined his Classic credentials with an impressive display in the Ballylinch Stud “Red Rocks” 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown.

A son of trainer Jim Bolger’s multiple Group One winner Dawn Approach, Poetic Flare won twice from three juvenile starts last season, including a course and distance success in October’s Killavullan Stakes.

Making his first appearance since, the three-year-old was a 3-1 shot for this Listed assignment and was always travelling strongly towards the head of affairs.

Ace Aussie came from a long way back to grab the runner-up spot late on, but never threatened to lay a glove on Poet Flare, who had already quickened up smartly to seal a one-and-a-half-length victory in the hands of Kevin Manning.

Bolger was represented by his daughter, Una Manning, who said: “I’m told he could go anywhere. He (Bolger) hasn’t decided which of the Guineas, but the two of them (Poetic Flare and Mac Swiney) won’t run in the same race. The boss is very happy with them.

“He hasn’t been away anywhere this year for a gallop so he’s absolutely delighted.

“We were confident he wouldn’t have any problems handling the ground. Last year we just had to play the cards we were dealt and he had to run on soft ground, but he’s not ground dependent.

“He’s in both Guineas along with Mac Swiney. We haven’t decided yet whether he’ll go to Newmarket or the Curragh, but the two of them won’t run in the same race.”

Coral cut Poetic Flare to 20-1 from 33-1 for Newmarket on May 1, with Betfair 16-1 from 25-1.

Mac Swiney swoops for Vertem Futurity Trophy glory

Mac Swiney was a tenacious winner of the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

Jim Bolger’s challenger, a Group Two winner on soft ground at the Curragh in August, had since managed only eighth of 10 on a quicker surface over the same course and distance in the National Stakes.

But he again revelled in testing conditions as the rain set in on Town Moor, with the 12-1 shot challenging last under Kevin Manning to overhaul eventual third Baradar and hold off 6-4 favourite One Ruler in the final furlong, scoring by three-quarters of a length.

Following a race in which Dewhurst runner-up Wembley was a significant late withdrawal on account of the ground, Paddy Power and Betfair responded by halving Mac Swiney’s odds for next year’s Derby to 20-1 from 40-1.

Manning, who was riding his first Group One winner in Britain since Pleascach won the Yorkshire Oaks in 2015, said: “He’s done all his running over seven furlongs, but I always thought the further he went the better he’d be.

“He was a little slowly away, but that enabled me to get a position. There was a bit of scrimmagin,g but he was able to hold his corner. He was very switched off and very relaxed.

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“He’s got a great attitude and didn’t fight me through the race, but at the business end he’s there when you want him.

“I imagine he’ll start off in one of the Guineas, but I think he’s a type that the better the race the better he’ll go, as he can cruise at good gear and he’s probably got more pace than I give him credit for.

“I think he’s a horse that when he steps up in trip you can only see the best of him as a three-year-old.”

Bolger turns 79 on Christmas Day, but once again has proved he can still come up with the goods on the big days.

Manning said: “It’s great to be back winning Group Ones, we’ve had some wonderful years together and we’ve been placed in this race before, so this is another box ticked.”

The colt is named after the Irish playwright and politician Terence Macswiney, who died 100 years ago on October 25, 1920 in Brixton prison on hunger strike having been placed there charged with sedition.

Manning said: “Jim is very good at naming his horses and this one is very well named, it’s 100 years tomorrow that he died.

“Jim didn’t come because of all the rigmarole that goes with it. I know I can’t mix with the other jockeys for 14 days when I get back, but that’s the way it is, it has to be done.

Mac Swiney relished the stamina test and will be aimed at the Derby
Mac Swiney relished the stamina test and will be aimed at the Derby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I thought this lad was worth doing it for. He’d beaten the horse that was the favourite (Wembley) in his maiden and the horse who won the Group One in France (Van Gogh) was behind him at the Curragh, so the form stacked up.”

Bolger told Sky Sports Racing: “I was hoping he could win, he’s been improving steadily.

“He’d have preferred better ground, but he got through that today and he did it really well.

“I’ve been regarding him as my Derby horse since he first went to the races and after today that is not about to change.

“I must have known he was good back in January when I named him Mac Swiney, it wouldn’t have been good for me or anyone around here to name a horse after a Cork man if he wasn’t very good.

“He’s one of our outstanding patriots and I’m thrilled for his memory that this fellow was able to go back to England 100 years after his death and win like he did.”

All in all it was a profitable day for Bolger: “It’s nice to have bred him, I also bred the Group One winner in France trained by Mark Johnston (Gear Up). I couldn’t do things like this without brilliant staff, both on the farm and in the training centre.”

Class tells for Lady Wannabe at Listowel

Lady Wannabe made the most of having her sights lowered with victory in the Edmund & Josie Whelan Memorial Listowel Stakes.

Fozzy Stack’s filly had raced exclusively in Pattern company so far this year, most recently finishing down the field when a 150-1 shot for the Group One Matron Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown.

Returning to Listed level for the first time since winning at Killarney in August of last year, the daughter of Camelot was a 14-1 shot under Chris Hayes – and proved her class with a near two-length verdict over Aidan O’Brien’s Keats.

Hayes said: “She had a good run the last day in superior company.

“We followed them around – they went good and hard, and the ground was as quick as she wanted – but the drop back in trip suited, and the rain came, which worked out a treat.

“That is probably her ideal trip (nine furlongs). She probably didn’t get home over a mile and a quarter, and they were going a gear too quick for her over a mile.

“She was able to get into a rhythm today and hopefully she can do something again later on.”

Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning combined for a double on the card, with 100-30 chance Sheer Bravado landing division two of the Feale Handicap and Agitare justifying 2-5 favouritism in the Jet & Peggy O’Carroll Memorial (C & G) Maiden.

The latter was not winning out of turn, having previously been placed at Listed and Group-race level this season.

Una Manning, daughter of the winning trainer and wife of the winning rider, said: “He was due his win – it took him a little while, but it was a good performance.

“The boss (Bolger) is delighted with him. He will get further and will go to the horses in training sale later on.”