English trainer Martyn Meade dodged a bullet when his Advertise landed last Sunday’s Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.
His comments leading into the contest were bordering on the ridiculous and there were those of us waiting in the long grass just bursting to send a volley in his direction.
But Advertise managed to squeeze home in front, to land the €142,500 first prize, and so Meade’s blushes were largely saved and thiscolumn has had to travel in a mildly different direction.
In the Racing Post last Wednesday week, Meade opened the can of worms, as he spoke about Advertise challenging for either the Phoenix Stakes, or waiting for the Prix Morny at Deauville tomorrow.
He was quoted as saying: “I think we (Advertise) are the best horse around at the moment and it’s just a case of which race we want to go and win.
Reading that you felt like screaming: “Martyn, old son, the reason it sounds terribly arrogant is because it bloody well is.’’
Here was Meade playing an away game and taking on a number of, three as it turned out, Aidan O’Brien-trained horses.
Now O’Brien is a prolific winner of Group 1 races, unlike Meade, and had already landed the Phoenix Stakes an astonishing 16 times. And yet Meade, apparently, felt quite comfortable dismissing the O’Brien challenge, almost with contempt.
I don’t know Meade at all but, nevertheless, found his comments most surprising. I have, however, seen him being interviewed several times on television and he has always shaped as a perfectly decent guy.
Indeed, in the aftermath of Sunday’s success, he came across as mild-mannered, articulate and without a hint of arrogance.
On the lead-in to the race, Meade was subjected to plenty of stick on social media and admitted on Sunday that “some of the comments (his) were a little bit over the top.’’
He also claimed they were “misunderstood’’, although not asked to explain in what way. Significantly, though, at no stage did Meade claim he was misquoted in the Racing Post.
Meade has been around a long time and research this week told me he trained his first National Hunt winner as far back at 1972, before deciding later on to concentrate on the flat.
I’d imagine this little episode may have taught him some valuable lessons, mainly that that you are never too old to learn, a closed mouth catches no flies or, perhaps, the next time a Racing Post reporter comes calling that being stuck at a meeting mightn’t be a bad excude!
Away from the fun, Advertise did his job reasonably well, in a contest that didn’t work out at all in the manner which might have been anticipated.
Advertise, successful in the meantime in a Group 2 at Newmarket, was beaten a length into second by Calyx in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and had Sergei Prokofiev a neck behind in third.
All the evidence then told us there should have been nothing between them at the Curragh, but with Sergei on home ground he was put in last week as the 11-8 favourite to reverse placings, with Advertise on 7-4. Meade may not have thought so, but the bookmakers at least felt this was essentially a case of tossing coins!
All the talk coming out of Ballydoyle regarding Sergei Prokofiev was positive and there seemed little reason to think he might seriously under-perform.
But Sunday told an entirely different story and gradually we came to the realisation there was a real possibility that not a huge amount was expected of him at all.
He began to drift rather alarmingly in the market and, at one stage, could be backed at almost 2-1 on the exchanges. Sergei was eventually returned at 7-4.
But no race has ever been won in theory and, as the contest developed, it soon became clear that 7-4 represented shocking value.
Ballydoyle has a great record of getting their tactics exactly right, but this was one occasion when it blew up in their faces.
O’Brien has long been on record as saying a true-run race is best and nearly always ensures that the best horse ends up winning.
But there was no great pace in the first half of this test by accident or design, who knows, with O’Brien’s The Irish Rover sitting in front. For the other two Ballydoyle runners that proved disastrous.
Sergei Prokofiev refused to settle and the filly, O’Brien’s So Perfect, took a fierce hold. Sergei, in trouble a fair way out, was allowed to come home in his own time by Ryan Moore, fifth of five, while the fact runner-up So Perfect was able to get within half a length of Advertise would indicate she may have a decent future.
The feeling, when the whole thing was done and dusted, was this was a Group 1, both on and off the track, that was overwhelmingly unsatisfactory.
- When Alpha Centauri finished tenth of 13, even if the ground was heavy, on her seasonal debut at Leopardstown in the middle of April no one could have envisaged her going on to win four Group 1’s in-a-row.
She completed the four-timer with that staggering display at Deauville last Sunday, a breathtaking performance, made all the more meritorious given the surface was far from ideal.
Jessica Harrington is some trainer and her decision to appoint Colm O’Donoghue as number one jockey was simply inspired.
O’Donoghue has long been a top man, but it is no exaggeration to say he has taken his riding to a new level this season.
Just watch what he did aboard the Harrington-trained Still Standing in a ten furlongs handicap on that truncated card at Ballinrobe on Monday night.
Still Standing was making a belated start to the season and was produced from last to first by O’Donoghue to score by a head. Not once did he lift his whip.
- Dermot Weld may no longer be the Galway maestro, but is enjoying a solid season, and two of his fillies that look set for a good end to the campaign are Eziyra and Making Light.
Eziyra hardly turned a hair when winning a Group 3 at Leopardstown nine days ago, on a surface which was, arguably, on the quick side for her.
That was most encouraging, considering it was her first spin since September of last year.
Making Light cruised to victory in a Listed event at Cork last Saturday and that too was most encouraging, on the basis it was her first outing for seventy-seven days.