Last weekend, three of the five Group 1 races on offer across Europe landed on these shores courtesy of Aidan O’Brien’s Oaks and Derby double, with the flawless Love and surprising Serpentine, and Donnacha O’Brien’s Fancy Blue in the Prix de Diane at Chantilly on Sunday.
Mind you, had Love failed to leave the stalls, Aidan still would have been victorious with Ennistymon, and had Fancy Blue failed to board the plane last Sunday for Paris, Jessica Harrington would have won with Alpine Star. And had she fallen rounding Chantilly’s home bend, Aidan would have won with Peaceful, such is the dominance of the Irish three-year-old fillies right now.
Quarantine rules and travel restrictions have not been kind to everyone but they certainly have not halted the gallop of Irish trainers as they work the logistics of transporting horses and staff through all the hoops and loops of the necessary guidelines our government is enforcing to keep Covid-19 somewhat at bay.
Horse or animals, for that matter, are not affected by the virus but the restrictions have meant all the above trainers have had to watch their stars sparkle overseas from home, and that has also meant opportunities gained and lost for jockeys.
Emmet McNamara made the single biggest gain last Saturday, not in monetary terms as his Epsom victory was only 50% what it would have been in normal circumstances, but in terms of achievement. To win the English Derby is simply the holy grail for any Flat jockey in this jurisdiction and the coronavirus most certainly handed him his chance.
Normally, Ryan Moore is number one, Seamie Heffernan two, Wayne Lordan three, Pádraig Beggy four and Emmet five, but with 14 days quarantine required upon return to Ireland from the UK, Wayne Lordan was left at home to ride as the Ballydoyle number one while everybody else quarantined.
So, the pecking order shifted, and Emmet Mc grasped his golden opportunity with both hands and rode Serpentine with the timing of guy who was looking at Big Ben and not out through a horse’s ears. My kids watch a show call Nailed It and that’s exactly what Emmet did.
So did Pierre-Charles Boudot on Fancy Blue at Chantilly, but that should have been Seamie or Wayne. Frankie guided Alpine Star to Group 1 glory at Royal Ascot but that should have been Shane Foley, and Seamie won two Irish Classics, on Santiago and Peaceful, that Ryan Moore should have ridden. A handful of examples of what the new what the normal is throwing up, but it’s more of a could-have-been or would-have-been scenario than should have been because there is no precedence right now.
The only real normality in riding terms in that jockeys, like all sportspeople, will commit fouls and Seamie Heffernan felt the full force of the French stewards last Sunday when he received a 22-day ban for breaching their whip rules.
So, between his 14 days in isolation for riding in Epsom and Chantilly and his suspension, Seamie is out of action till August 9. Who knows what the jockey bookings in the Irish Oaks will be, but there is a huge chance a new name will appear on the roll of the honour?
Today is no different as Frankie Dettori maintains his new partnership with Denis Hogan’s ace sprinter Sceptical in the July Cup. Frankie took over from Sceptical’s regular partner, crack apprentice Joey Sheridan, for the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot and maybe he would have anyway as an apprentices cannot claim their allowance in a Group 1 contest. But who knows, perhaps Joey would have kept the ride.
Frankie knows a lot more about the horse today than he did as Ascot and hopefully he can continue the super run of our trainers at Group 1 level and turn the form with Hello Youmzain. But the three-year-old Commonwealth Cup winner Golden Horde is a big danger too.
Aidan O’Brien is represented in the July Cup too, with outsider Southern Hills, but his Hudson River, in the Superlative Stakes at 3 o’clock, is more interesting. He made all the running first time out at the Curragh 13 days ago and is sure to push his English rivals hard. Today Colin Keane is getting a chance on the flip side of the restrictions as he picks up the ride on Zabeel Prince in the Meld stakes at Leopardstown for trainer Roger Varian. But Patrick Sarsfield and Ancient Spirit offer a strong home defence and I am for the former to hold off the UK challenger.
Colin could be faced with a huge decision himself in three weeks’ time when Siskin travels to Goodwood for the Sussex Stakes. Does he go and ride the star horse he has the ride on, or does he stay here and let someone have a go? He is unlikely to face Pinatubo, who heads for Deauville tomorrow to contest the seven-furlong Prix Jean Prat.
I think a drop in a trip is ideal for Pinatubo and he can follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Too Darn Hot, and get his three-year-old campaign back on track by beating Tropbeau and Lope Y Fernandez.
On home soil tomorrow, Dundalk reopens it facilities after extensive work was carried out to replace the all-weather surface at track. It is work that no doubt cost a pretty penny but was a necessity all the same as the old surface had been subject of much debate.
Dundalk certainly got value out its last surface and does play an important role in the industry, but its surface is its value so hopefully they are already saving for the next replacement. Nothing lasts forever and, like roads, the more traffic you have the quicker potholes appear.