MONDAY is the D-day for racing here but, unlike last Monday in the UK, at least the racing at Naas kicks off with some bit of quality.
Four maidens, one handicap and two listed sprints make up the card and, with a few entries in the Listed contest possessing group-class ability, hopefully there can be some entertainment provided.
Who knows, maybe there will be a future champion in one of the maidens? Good names can be wasted on poor horses but the intention would be the opposite, so Finest, Friendly, More Beautiful, Mother Earth, Admiral Nelson, Baton Rouge, Battleground (surely a tough sort), Hyde Park Barracks, Hype, Merchants Quay, Ontario and Sandhurst are worth watching in their respective two-year-old fillies’ and colts’ maidens.
Of course, racing is like every other sport played in that it has a top and a bottom in terms of ability. Like humans, not all horses are as talented as each other. Division 4 soccer, Junior B rugby, or the first round of the West Tipp intermediate hurling championship is of little interest to anyone who is not directly involved. And nor are 0-50 Flat handicaps — racing’s version of the aforementioned.
But every participant in sport is entitled to their chance of winning, or at least being competitive, and the best thing any sport can do is provide those opportunities without trying to over-hype them and sell them as anything other than what they actually are.
Promoting the lower end of any sport is a quick way to turn off people who don’t love it, but thankfully as racing re-emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown there is plenty of the top stuff to promote.
At a little after 3:35 this afternoon, the gates will fly back and 15 colts, bred in the purple to race at the highest level, will break from the starting stalls away from the right-hand side of the grandstand on the Rowley Mile track at Newmarket.
What happens in the opening 100 metres — seven seconds from a standing start — could play a key part in what happens 1500 metres later, after roughly 1 minute and 37 seconds, at the finish of England’s first Classic of the season, the 2000 Guineas.
No race can be won in the first half-furlong, but many are lost, and not just because of slow starts but also from the choices or decisions made by the jockeys on the horses’ backs.
You are probably already assuming I am inferring mistakes made by jockeys, but in fact I mean the decisions of each and every rider because the luck of the draw literally does mean that in horse racing.
When I hear other sports people saying “you have to control the uncontrollable” I scratch my head and wonder how.
How, from a level standing start, can any rider control the decision of which direction the ones drawn three horses away to their left or right will go? You can hope, suggest, hint, or ask but you can’t control what decisions each other rider is going to make before the race takes shape.
When the stalls burst open today William Buick, on hot favourite Pinatubo, will be hoping his two biggest rivals, Arizona and Kameko, who are drawn in the outside stalls of 13 and 15, won’t drift left, while those from 11 to where he is drawn, in seven, drift right.
That would result in a splitting of the field and could leave the favourite in the weaker division.
Pinatubo’s fellow Godolphin-owned colts, Al Suhail and Military March, are in stalls three and five respectively, so they can’t really help William keep the race together. And then you throw in Arizona’s stable companions, New World Tapestry and Wichita, drawn in stalls eight and nine, and the chances of a split contest become very real.
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Last year, Magna Grecia and two others got loose on the stands’ side, like a breakaway group in cycling, and the main body of the field, racing down the middle of the track, could never peg them back.
Aidan O’Brien won’t need to be reminded of how those tactics worked for him last year and neither will Pinatubo’s connections: Godolphin, Charlie Appleby and William Buick.
Perhaps the Godolphin three might set their own gallop down the middle, but that runs the risk of leaving Pinatubo isolated and in front a long way from home on his first try at a mile.
He was the best of these last year and his pedigree suggests he will stay, but Kameko is a mile winner already so he, undoubtedly, has the stamina. And the Ballydoyle team will be hoping the extra furlong improves Arizona enough to make him a genuine challenger.
I love watching good horses win big races and will be hoping it bounces right for the potential superstar that Pinatubo is.
The French have Victor Ludorum, who took the eye at Deauville last Monday. He backed it up with a very good time of 1m 34s, which meant he averaged around 42mph for the straight mile.
Pinatubo goes to battle today, and next Friday Siskin, who, in my opinion, was our best two-year-old last season, will line up at the Curragh. Ger Lyons’s stable star will bid to give the former jump jockey turned jump trainer, who has now become a leading flat trainer, a first classic winner.
It would also be a first Classic success for his quietly spoken but gifted jockey Colin Keane. The O’Briens from Ballydoyle and Piltown will throw all sorts of darts at them, but the hardy son of First Defence might just be Ireland’s answer to the French and English stars.