Naas (25 March 2018) – soft-heavy ground

 

5f 2-y-o maiden

 

This was a somewhat unusual start to the turf flat season with Jim Bolger as the only recognisable training “name” amongst the nine runners. Some first-season-sires were represented, notably Frankel’s half-brother Morpheus, but my eye alighted on a less-obvious first season sire whose representative happened to be the cheapest yearling of his sold at public auction as a yearling in 2017.

 

The honour falls to Augustine Leahy’s filly Merida who cost connections just €800 and based on initial market signals and a reasonable performance is likely to be a bargain. She broke quite slowly and didn’t have the finishing kick to challenge the principals. There was a whisper around for this filly and it was not misplaced in my book. The ground was a tough task for many of these.

 

Leahy runs a quiet operation in Co. Limerick and is more synonymous with jumpers but of 11 winners he has had on the flat in the last 7 seasons 3 of these winners have been 2-y-o’s. We may have to wait until later in the season to see this filly win but any run in a similarly weak contest – perhaps without the big four represented – should be seen as an opportunity.

 

Her sire, Gregorian (NOT the champion trained by Vincent O’Brien from 1978-1980!), won the G2 Hungerford Stakes over 7f for John Gosden in 2013 and liked an ease in the ground which might be significant for Merida who is out of a maiden half-sister to three winners over 6f and 7f by Sixties Icon. The folks at Rathasker Stud, where Gregorian stands, will have taken some small encouragement from this first runner for the sire. Given that she was a cheap-as-chips purchase it might be sign of things to come.

 

6f 3-y-o+ maiden

 

I used to love these opening day maidens as David Wachman occasionally unleashed a handicapper that paid to follow in the early months of the season. Johnny Murtagh’s Ajmera (by Canford Cliffs) may have been 20/1 here but there was definitely some market interest in her. She was only beaten 3L by a potential stakes winner and a Ballydoyle filly in third and lost enough ground in a skirmish leaving the stalls to suggest she could have finished even closer to the front two.

 

Ajmera has a very nice pedigree although she failed to sell as a yearling and two-year-old breezer. She is a half-sister to a winning handicapper over 10f (rated 72 at best) and a two-time 5f handicap sprint winner off marks of 72 and 78. This run was a step up from her debut in a Dundalk maiden in January and she is going the right way.

 

6f 3-y-o+ extended handicap (100 = anchor weight)

 

Jim Bolger’s Smash Williams (by Fracas) has been in my tracker a long time and he almost gave me a decent pay day here as I was very keen on him here thanks to being gelded last year and a 7lbs break from the handicapper over the winter. Regrettably, I don’t think he will be such a nice price again anytime soon. On the plus side he could be group class if he fulfils his 2-y-o promise belatedly but I am also very interested in an intriguing ploy by Jim Bolger based on the two wins of this horse as a 2-y-o in 2016.

 

He reportedly sent a busload of mares to the stallion Fracas (possibly also taking an equity interest) and these foals will be two-year-olds of 2018 so I shall be watching them closely. I will also be taking an avid interest in the utterances of JSB to see if Fracas/Smash Williams get a mention in stable tours. Fracas was a decent horse in his own right – trained by David Wachman – and this is an interesting sub-plot for the 2018 season.

 

1m 3-y-o maiden

 

It was a little disappointing to see Adrian Keatley’s Caffe Macchiato finish all of 11L behind the front three in fourth here as there was strong market support for him in the morning and he was a solid 7/2 chance come race time. As they were taking on a Ballydoyle colt rated in the low eighties they obviously believed they had a colt of some ability. He ran well enough in two Curragh maidens last summer and must have been put away to help him thrive at three.

 

Caffe Macchiato is by Fast Company and Keatley has trained his best representative to date in Jet Setting, to win on soft ground so there was little concern about the ground beforehand as the trainer believed he’d like an ease in the ground. To my untutored eye however he seemed a little at sea on the very soft-heavy ground and failed to pick up on it.

 

Caffe Macchiato was beaten by G1 winner Verbal Dexterity on his fancied (5/1 from big morning prices) debut and finished in front of group-class runners Burgundy Boy and The Pentagon so all is certainly not lost.

 

He is a serious challenge right now for his trainer but must be given another chance or two to prove he is better than this.

 

Irish Lincoln (1m)

 

Not surprisingly, a number of horses were fancied here and I have a trio of interesting “also rans” to keep a very close eye on.

 

Richard O’Brien already had a red letter day winning the earlier Madrid handicap and they certainly fancied the recent three-time scorer Beach Bar who made all but I suspect just did not like the ground with any “heavy” descrption. Although a three-time winner for O’Brien since arriving from the UK he is still 2lbs below his highest-ever winning mark of 96 and although very difficult to train by all accounts just might be capable of one more success before the preferred soft-yielding ground goes against him.

 

I love the profile of Willie McCreery’s Wild As The Wind and although she never featured here and, in truth, ran very poorly – was not completely unconsidered in the market – I cannot get away from her run in the G3 Park Express Stakes here on similar ground in March 2017. On the negative side she was almost a year off and reappeared here in a first-time hood but if McCreery can get her sweet again she would be a cracking bet sometime.

 

Finally, Harry Rogers’ Ontheiflist needs some attention. Rogers won the Lincoln in 2003 with his wonderful mare Livadiya who won this race rated 92 and achieved a career high mark of 112.

 

Something went seriously awry for Ontheiflist as a yearling as, having cost €63,000 as a foal, he only fetched £10,500 at Tatts December sale. His only win to date had come at Roscommon last year over 10f on heavy ground off a mark of 79 and he was running off 82 here having been eased 5lbs over the winter. His jockey kept to the inside here which wasn’t a bad tactic as the final bend at Naas can throw horses very wide and he stayed on nicely to finish sixth, beaten just under 10 lengths.

 

He is now four and ran in three maiden hurdles over the winter and is also a likely sort for a handicap hurdle with a rating around 105. Rogers tends to use the track to get his horses fit so he is sure to been seen in public quite often.

 

 

Ahead of the Handicapper:

 

One of my great interests in any flat season is following handicappers who have dropped below previous winning marks and I will try to unearth a few likely sorts for the season. They generally come to my attention as they are entered for upcoming contests. Long years of experience tells me that many horses usually have a ceiling that they cannot progress beyond but they can be very competitive at their own level.

 

Sors (Andy Slattery)

 

Ran in the Smash Williams handicap off a mark of 81 having been dropped what looks an extraordinarily-generous 11lbs since his last run in August 2017. Sors has collected 5 races over 5f and 6f in the past and his last win came in August 2016 at the Curragh off a mark of 89 over 6f. He has also won handicaps off marks of 69 and 82. He likes to blaze a trail in front and is now winless after 10 consecutive runs and down to a mark of 81 from 98.

 

He really looks a serious horse to follow over the coming weeks and months. (He was even second at Cork last April over 5f off 94). His wins have come at the Curragh (3) and Dundalk(2) although he also has run well at Cork on a few occasions.

 

Declan McDonagh and Killian Leonard are usually in the plate but it can be pretty certain that when this horse wins again it will be under the trainer’s son, also Andrew, who is making a name for himself in recent months, claims seven and rode Sors for the first time on this occasion.

 

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