Low-key start to Flat season due to the abysmal weather

The Flat season gets under way this weekend, although it will be a low-key opening for me due to the weather.

Peggy’s Leg is my sole contestant, taking her place in the six-furlong Big Bad Bob Maiden at the Curragh tomorrow. Like a lot of those taking part in the 14-runner contest I suspect, her fitness will come on a good bit for it.

We have been building up to the beginning of the campaign with the last few months, even though all the focus was on the jumping scene and Cheltenham in particular. The work with the Flat horses was going on in tandem with those preparations.

Liberating, who is my highest rated two-year-old from last year, is going to run in a seven-furlong Listed race at Dundalk in 11 days’ time. She’s been going well and I’m hoping she will be alright.

Magical Steps was fifth in a Curragh maiden last year and we had planned to run her in 10 furlong maiden at Leopardstown next Wednesday but she mightn’t now because of the rain.

Also entered for that is Davanti, a nice Danehill Dancer filly that was second in a Leopardstown maiden in the second of her two starts.

Newberry Hill, who was second twice, including being beaten by just a neck at Leopardstown in a nursery last November, has done his first bit of work and seems a good bit stronger this year. He’ll come back in a handicap.

Polished Rock was second in a Leopardstown maiden before disappointing on the all-weather. He seems to be a good bit stronger as well so I’m happy with him.

I’ve got a couple of unraced Big Bad Bobs and there are a couple of nice three-year-olds – a gelding and a colt. They’ll be coming out shortly.

I worked the first two-year-olds on Thursday. Because it was so cold, I only took a filly and a colt up but I was happy enough with them. I have a nice Intense Focus colt which probably won’t run until the end of May but he seems to be going nicely.

I have about 20 two-year-olds. I’d say we’ll have our first ones out around the April. The ground will have a big say but we’ll hopefully get a bit nice ground now.

I was delighted that Dane Street stayed in training as a four-year-old because she’s a nice filly. The likes of One Fine Day, Hurricane Ridge, Takeyourcapoff, Bible Belt, Bob Le Beau and of course, Steps To Freedom will be amongst the older horses that will see plenty of action hopefully.

Takeyourcapoff is just desperate for some good ground, while Steps will campaign over both jumps and on the level, wherever we can get that ground that he craves too.

Beyond Berlin is another that might be interesting. He was unraced as a two-year-old having been backward but was third in a maiden and fourth in two others. So he should have improved a good bit.

Overall I’ve got a few nice ones that I’m looking forward to. I’m not saying I’ve got a Classic horse this year but I might have some well-handicapped horses.

With that in mind, I was delighted to see HRI announcing the new programme of €100,000 and €50,000 handicaps which are sure to attract plenty of interest. They will certainly be targeted by trainers. Hopefully one or two of those pots will make their way to Commonstown if I’m right about having a few well-handicapped inmates.

The powers-that-be will continue working to make Flat racing more attractive to the public too. It doesn’t draw the same crowds as the National Hunt does but I think moving the races to later in the evening rather than holding them in the afternoon is the right way to go, to try to get them to be part of people’s social excursions and nights out. Putting on other things like music after the racing will help too.

The main thing, of course, is the weather. People will go racing on the Flat in the summer if the weather is nice. But you’ll only get two men and a dog when it’s like it was the past few days.

Meanwhile, the three Cheltenham horses have come back well. Plans remain a bit fluid but if the ground is good, Jetson will go to Aintree.

Finally, I want to congratulate Joe Keeling on his new job as chairman of HRI and wish him well.

I trained a horse called Market Lass for him that won five times over hurdles and fences between 1997 and 1999. He has big boots to fill replacing Denis Brosnan but he knows the industry well and looks a good choice for the job.


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