Ben Coley previews Sunday's card at Naas as Ruby Walsh rides on the opening day of the Irish turf Flat season for his mother and father in a six-furlong maiden.
1.30 - Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden
- The only winner of this race to win as a three-year-old was Dawn Approach
It's easy to think that the best guide to the first race of the Irish turf season will be the market, as a field of 12 unraced juveniles go to post. That's not necessarily been the case.
Over the last 10 years, first at the Curragh and then here at Naas, just two favourites have won - both trained by Jim Bolger, both carrying the sort of confidence which goes beyond that of a whisper.
The first of them was the brilliant Dawn Aproach; the second was Saburo, who we never saw again. Who knows what he might have been. Dawn Approach, of course, won four Group One races in a magnificent career.
Otherwise, though, the market hasn't quite got it right. We've had winners at 25/1, 20/1 and 10/1 twice, and the shortest in recent memory - 4/1 shot Moonlight Bay - left the heavily-backed 6/4 favourite for dead.
Perhaps a better guide is simply the name of the trainer. Those 10 winners come from just five yards and only three - Jim Bolger, Brendan Duke and Michael O'Callaghan - are represented here.
O'Callaghan and Duke otherwise have poor records at the track, but it's surely significant that Kevin Manning rides Value Chain for the latter, owned by Jackie Bolger, rather than Feminista in the same colours, the Bolgers having started sending horses to Duke in 2014.
Value Chain will be the yard's first runner in 2019. Bolger once told him that it would take about five seasons for things to really start to roll. Winning the first race of the season would be some way to prove his friend right.
2.00 - Kildare Post & Kildare Now Maiden
- Aidan O'Brien has saddled two winners and a second in the last four renewals, with no runner in 2016
Ruby Walsh has ridden 61 winners at Naas, but on Sunday he takes his first ever ride there in a race on the level, in what looks a modest maiden for three-year-olds and upwards.
If it seems bizarre, well, it is, but it's made less so by the fact that Castletownshend is trained by his father, Ted, and owned by his mother, Helen.
What chance of a winner? Each-way might be the best description. Castletownshend's best run came on his course-and-distance debut, and his rating of 73 gives him a chance in an ordinary race, one lacking in depth despite attracting a full field of 22.
Walsh is in fact a more than respectable 13/55 on the Flat, close to 25 per cent, and while six furlongs shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Colin Keane and Ryan Moore might remain somewhat alien, there's no doubt that if the horse is good enough, so will be his horseman.
Keane's mount brings a similar profile to the race, and it's Moore's who appears to set the standard. Empire State is a three-year-old with a rating of 85, his head second here in November is up there with the pick of his efforts and, while expensive to follow, this is the first time he'll have Moore's assistance.
The Moore Factor was a beaten favourite in this race three years ago. Perhaps it'll count for more this time.
2.35 - Naas Racecourse Launches The 2019 Irish Flat Season Handicap
Any six-furlong handicap with 16 runners on soft ground is tricky, throw in the fact that this is day one of the new season and it's almost impossible.
Fourteen of the 16 have not been seen in 2019. They include Jewel Maker, second here to Flag Of Honour in 2017 and seen just once since, when winning at Cork last May from a horse who won by more than eighth lengths next time.
Clearly, he's interesting off a mark of 87, but back a furlong in trip and experiencing this sort of challenge for the very first time, he's perhaps not one to get carried away with.
Though it's likely that this is won by a horse returning from a lengthy break, Bubbly Bellini put Dundalk fitness to use to go back-to-back in 2015 and 2016, and there are two who arrive off an all-weather preparation.
Stanhope looks the pick at first glance, particularly with a low draw, but soft ground would be a major concern and Hee Haw is preferred.
This five-year-old will have to defy a wide draw, but he won't mind the going, doesn't look handicapped out of winning and, crucially perhaps, is trained by Adrian McGuinness - the man who plotted a path here with Bubby Bellini, another UK recruit.
3.05 - Naas Racecourse Business Club Madrid Handicap
- Chris Hayes has ridden the winner of this race for three years running; he's aboard Black Magic Woman
This is a good three-year-old handicap - though whether it will produce a subsequent Irish 2000 Guineas winner, as was the case with Awtaad in 2016, remains to be seen.
Awtaad was defying top weight, and the horse carrying it this time is San Andreas, a winner here in October who went on to finish last of six in Group One company at Chantilly.
He and stable mate Never No More, who looked speedy when winning a Dundalk maiden, are in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, but so too is Parkers Hill and he's no less interesting for Johnny Murtagh.
Rated 83 after beating a 2/11 favourite of Aidan O'Brien's at Leopardstown, he could be better than that, especially up a furlong in trip, and with the tongue-tie on looks one to watch.
3.40 Naas - Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes (Group 3)
- Three horses have been sent off odds-on in the last 10 renewals; all were beaten
Some good horses have been beaten in this race.
In 2017, Somehow, fourth in the previous year's Oaks, finished second as 7/4 favourite. She'd go on to win her next two, including the Group Two Dahlia Stakes, before ending her career with second place in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. Czabo, the winner, had hitherto looked a decent handicapper and was only seen once more.
In 2016, Devonshire was the well-backed runner-up. Though not quite as good a filly as Somehow, she went on to win her next start, too, whereas it took winner Queen Blossom two years to strike again - this was her finest hour.
In 2015, the 100/1 winner - and a decisive one at that - was Ramone. She never won again, racing only twice, whereas seventh-placed Odeliz, well fancied, went on to win twice at the very highest level.
Odeliz had also met defeat in 2014, but the biggest upset of all came in 2009, when 30/100 favourite Mad About You was turned over before she too won next time - at 9/4.
Perhaps Delphinia, an Irish Oaks-entered Galileo filly, will be the good horse beaten this time.
4.10 - Tote Irish Lincolnshire
The Flat season in Britain is almost upon us and Malton trainer Richard Fahey is usually a man to follow at this time of year, his recent record at Doncaster's Lincoln meeting a good indication of that point.
Fahey's trips across to Ireland are usually worth taking note of, too, and the big pot on offer in the Tote Irish Lincolnshire has ensured he fires a three-pronged attack at the Naas feature with Crownthorpe returning to this venue having finished third in the seven-furlong handicap on this card 12 months ago.
He’s on a fair mark if able to produce his best form while stablemate Calvados Spirit was given a light campaign in his first season with Fahey last summer but certainly remains with potential and could have a big prize in him.
Fahey’s team is completed by Society Red, who has a York handicap win on his CV and has Conor Murtagh taking 5lb off his back.
Heading the home defence is Jim Bolger’s hat-trick seeking Theobald while Kawawaan is a fascinating runner on his first start for Ger Lyons.
4.45 - Devoy Stakes (Listed Race)
He may be 10lb shy of the top-rated Stellar Mass on ratings, but this race looks all about Amedeo Modigliani and whether all that ability and potential remains after 596 days off the track.
Third to subsequent Group Two winner Gustav Klimt on debut in July 2017, this son of Galileo went on to win as he liked a month later and while that form itself is nothing special, the evidence of two low-key runs suggested this could be a top-class horse in the making, a feeling which went with him and the antepost Derby market into the winter.
An entry in the Group One Tattersalls Gold Cup suggests that hope remains he can make up for lost time and that quest starts here, over 10 furlongs, at Naas.
5.20 - Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden
The first day of the Irish turf season used to be synonymous with Tommy Stack, and son Fozzy has a chance to end it on a high with the standard-setting Wargrave.
A son of Galileo out of an Oratorio mare, he's part owned by Mrs John Magnier and still has a Derby entry, with the pick of last year's five runs earning him a rating of 97 - a high standard in any maiden.
That gives him plenty in hand over National Guard and Ferretti, who along with Globe Theatre make up Aidan O'Brien's team, and perhaps connections of Wargrave have most to fear from Georgeville.
A once-raced Dawn Approach colt, he too is in the Derby and there are surely races to be won. Whether they include this one depends much on whether the aforementioned Wargrave can run to his mark.
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