The Irish point-to-point scene got off to a slightly delayed start last weekend on account of a very dry September that saw both a late-September fixture at Rathcannon and a Toomebridge early-October meeting deferred to a later date. The rains came in time for Castletown-Geoghegan (located in Westmeath in the centre of the country) and they managed competitive fields compared to their last fixture in April that only produced 45 runners including two three-runner affairs. I’m pleased Rathcannon hasn’t been lost as it has produced an interesting rules winner or two in the past with Michael Hourigan’s Run With The Wind being a particular favourite.
My main focus in this blog will be to try to unearth future rules winners and in this regard I will be concentrating almost exclusively on winning four- and five-year-old maidens. The occasional “also ran” will feature on account of an eye-catching or unlucky performance or if I feel the horse has connections that shouldn’t be ignored.
I also like to keep an eye on the younger mares although their progression to the winning ranks under rules, in general, tends to be minimal. Finding and following a winning mare can be an enjoyable journey given the massive odds stacked against them in the jumping game. Finally, a small number of handlers (trainers) believe in the benefit of a good p2p education and will tend to run younger winners in winners’ company rather than immediately step them up to the track. These more battle-hardened runners can sometimes hold an edge over their tyro peers and if trained by somebody like Jim Dreaper (a man with the patience of Job who can have a couple of these performers in his yard most seasons) there can be an advantage to following them in their early novice careers.
Castletown-Geoghegan is a progressive course run, as ever, by a great team of volunteers and would be in Michael O’Leary’s backyard. The notable feature of the track is a steep downhill run to the final fence that can prove difficult to negotiate. As there is only a very short run-in thereafter this can prove to be the winning and losing of the contest. It almost had an impact in the very first contest of the new season!
This 13-runner affair attracted a single mare (finished last of 9 finishers) and the established form on view beforehand did not look the strongest although the eventual winner had finished fourth on his only start behind a horse (John Halley’s As Jussiniere) that subsequently sold for €40,000 at Goffs. However, many of the main Wexford stables were involved – The Doyles, Colin Bowe and Denis Murphy – with Colin McKeever (trained 3 winners in past 6 years) also sending a challenger from the north but it was the Tipperary-based Martin Hassett who produced the winner in Jack Steel.
Fourth on his only start at Lisronagh last April he showed decent improvement to win here having made all at what seemed a modest pace. He made a mistake at the last and taking this fence at speed was almost his undoing. Deciphering connections overly-exuberant quotes can be a minefield in this sector but it looks as if this son of Craigsteel is sales bound shortly having proven the retrospective pre-race confidence to be accurate (although not reflected in the market!!). He was given a rating of 87. I am choosing to ignore the quote that “he might go for a bumper” as this can often be snake oil saleman’s palaver.
This has tended to be a good maiden and since 2008 has produced 5 track winners from 9 qualifiers with the best of them being Ballyoliver (good staying chaser for Venetia Williams), Trustan Time (placed in Scottish National last start for Tim Easterby) and Ceasar Milan who is still relatively unexposed for Paul Nicholls and there’s some hope value from at least two previous winners who are now with David Pipe (Border Breaker) and Tim Vaughan (Ballymoat).
Jack Steel was a failed 3yo store pinhooker for connections and they decided to train and race him themselves. The Hassett’s have been employees in both Ballydoyle and Coolmore for years and the pro jumps jockey Shane Hassett is closely connected. This horse cost €9,000 at the Goffs Derby Sale and is a full-brother to a Philip Rothwell 2m5f maiden hurdle winner who seemed to seriously regress afterwards. The unraced dam is related to 4 winners of a single race each over distances from 2m-3m. The third and fourth dams are closely related to some very good staying chasers and 2m hurdlers including Champion Hurdler Gaye Brief.
Jack Steel’s sire Craigsteel’s first NH crop are now 10yo’s and his best runner to date, Cross Kennon (a very good staying hurdler), is from that crop. His stock that win point-to-points generally progress and these include He’s A Delight (Irish bumper and hurdle winner), Boss Croaker (dual handicap hurdle winner), Ballincurrig (progressive handicap chaser with Nick Skelton who had Galway Plate aspirations earlier this year), Truckers Steel (won bumper on debut for Tom George) and the “could be anything” Pulled Mussel, a 20L bumper winner for Robert Tyner on his only start so far under rules. Donald McCain and Jonjo O’Neill have three winning graduates from last season to race this year-Five For Fifteen, Amys Choice and Rainman and all three are worthy of attention.
Finally, I cannot pass this race without another mention of Colin McKeever and his record in this race. As mentioned above he has won this race three times in the last six years and every other horse he has run has at least collected a maiden point. Among his winners, Bally Sands and Ballyoliver have tasted success for Robin Mathew and Venetia Williams while Ballymoat has been unlucky not to win (so far) for Tim Vaughan. His “also rans” have been Drumlister (three-time winner for Arthur Moore), Brownville-a promising bumper winner for Twiston-Davies and only Watford (winner of a subsequent point maiden) has failed to score under rules. His representative this year, Ballykan, started favourite and finished second to Jack Steel having threatened briefly on the run to the last. One can say with a degree of certainty that he will win his pointing maiden and should prove up to the task of winning under UK rules as most of McKeever’s and his principal, Wilson Dennison’s winners, are sold into this market.
This was won by Robert Tyner’s Gowanauthat a 6yo son of Golan who’s had plenty of previous experience in maidens and under Rules without distinguishing himself. I would be slightly biased against the older age profile but what discourages from nominating him is the poor record of previous 6yo winners in this race who have been, largely, entirely forgettable. His only two (of three elder) siblings to race failed to trouble the judge in 20 outings. He wouldn’t be the first horse to improve after a series of modest efforts but it won’t surprise me if he tends to keep himself to winners’ company between the flags as have many previous winners of this contest. On the other hand, if he keeps the sales date that connections mentioned afterwards, he may be capable of modest success in England at the lower-grade tracks.
Horses to follow: