PAT KEANE: Lyons emerging as only serious threat to O’Brien

Ger Lyons. Picture: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

It is highly unlikely Ger Lyons will ever be champion flat trainer.

Indeed, as long as Coolmore-Ballydoyle maintain current standards it’s a virtual certainty that only Aidan O’Brien, or whoever might replace him in the distant future, will be crowned champion as far forward as you can see.

No one will be more aware of that than Lyons, but what we can say with some certainty is that he will continue to be fiercely competitive.

Lyons has made giant strides over a number of campaigns and his seriously progressive yard is now universally respected.

Last season he trained 72 winners and that was bettered only by O’Brien on 119. He was well clear of third placed Jim Bolger (60) and Lyons has now emerged, arguably, as the main bulwark against the massive Ballydoyle power.

He may never be champion trainer, but he took great pleasure last season in supplying most of the ammunition for his trusty lieutenant, Colin Keane, to land a first jockeys’ title.

What helps to make Lyons such an interesting figure, however, is that year after year a number of loyal owners, far from high-profile, keep coming back for more, repeatedly reinvesting.

That is the clearest indication they feel they are getting value for money and the early indications so far this season is that having Lyons on your side, if you are a punter, is likely to reap more than the odd dividend.

Lyons has hit the ground running, as evidenced by a double on the opening day of the turf season at Naas on March 25.

His Medicine Jack landed some decent wagers when taking what shaped as a fiendishly difficult to solve six furlongs handicap, but of more significance was the success of his newcomer, Bobby Boy, in a one-mile maiden.

The Big Bad bob gelding was a strong order through the day, but went off at 4-1, after Aidan O’Brien’s Full Moon was backed late on from 2-1 to 5-4 favourite.

Full Moon ran a cracker, but Bobby Boy was too strong for him close home to prevail by a hard-earned half a length.

Then at Navan last Saturday, Lyons was at it again when another first-timer, Flat To The Max, won a mile maiden.

This was a match in the betting, between the winner and Dermot Weld’s once-raced Zayriyan, but it was the Lyons horse who displayed much the greater resolution up that punishing Navan hill.

At Dundalk on Tuesday, Lyons introduced two horses, Bucky Larson and Georgie Hyphen, against Kevin Prendergast’s 2-7 shot, Alghabrah, in a seven furlongs maiden.

Bucky Larson looked capable of turning over the hot-pot for much of the straight, but was eventually beaten half a length into second.

In the meantime, Georgie Hyphen (20-1) was noted doing all his best work at the end to claim fourth. A pair of Lyons winners in the waiting, you’d imagine!

Glancing at the amount of talent Aidan O’Brien has at his disposal this season it is crystal clear that Lyons, along with all of his colleagues, will have to go some to make a real impact.

The early indications, admittedly based on very limited evidence, are Lyons may be best placed to regularly challenge O’Brien. If a couple of other trainers can join in as well, then all the better for the game.

What we don’t want is a National Hunt type scenario, that has the capacity to sour punters. Just wait and see what Punchestown is going to bring!

A PUNTER made me laugh on Tuesday, after Aidan O’Brien’s Could It Be Love had landed a seven furlongs fillies maiden at Dundalk.

O’Brien had two in the race, saddling the heavily supported even-money market-leader, Hence, as well. She was also strong on the exchanges at the off, but Could It Be Love, returned at 4-1, could be backed at 8-1 on the machine, as the stragglers were loaded into the stalls.

Hence, of course, never went a yard, finishing a distant sixth, while Could It Be Love bounced away from an unfavourable draw like a rocket to win in a canter by six and a half lengths.

It moved the exasperated and frustrated punter to mutter the immortal words: “If them fellows that think they know about the Ballydoyle horses can’t get it right what chance have the rest of us?’’

It was lovely to see Kevin Prendergast on site to view his Alghabrah taking a maiden. Mind you she was rather disappointing, even if making the running didn’t suit.

Prendergast is a remarkable man. He has held a licence since 1963 and will celebrate his 86th birthday in July. He makes Jim Bolger (76) and Dermot Weld (69) look like a pair of kids.

I HAVE absolutely no idea who’ll win the Grand National today, but will obviously tune in for the nine minutes plus, or ten minutes plus, depending on the ground, that it will take to run the race.

I do know what I would love to happen and that is for one of the three lady riders to do the business. The girls are represented by top amateur, Katie Walsh, who has more than stood the test of the time, and two really talented professionals in Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost.

It is hard to get racing onto the front pages, usually it happens for the wrong reasons, but a lady rider winning the Aintree Grand National for the first time would be the dream story. Chances are it won’t happen, we can only hope.

THERE was plenty of money for a horse called For Pleasure in a ten furlongs handicap at Navan last Saturday and one’s gut instinct was that this was confidence destined to be sadly misplaced.

For Pleasure had been given the obligatory three outings to get a mark, showing a little promise at Listowel last September, when a poor third, before finishing tenth of seventeen at Naas in October.

He reappeared at Cork on March 31, taking a remote fourth of eight, beaten fifteen and three quarter-lengths, in the maiden won by John Oxx’s Tullyallen.

Then onto Navan a week later and his first venture into handicap company, off a mark of 57. That the handicapper had got him wildly wrong was soon apparent, as For Pleasure skipped clear early in the straight to score by six and a half lengths. He went up 9lbs this week for his impertinence.

Moral of the story is the next time you see money for a horse trained by one James M Barrett do not dismiss the notion of it winning without due consideration.


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