Irish focus on quality shows way to declare war on dross

Dundalk points the way to better all-weather programme more »

Monday, September 2, 2013

Editor

So how many of you fell into the trap of believing the Juddmonte International was a two-horse race and punted accordingly? This ‘judge’ expected a straight fight between Al Kazeem and Toronado, the two most exciting horses in Britain, with the winner set for stardom and a prized spot on the cover of this magazine. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Declaration Of War’s victory may have been something of an anti-climax – maybe even a disappointment – for racing fans expecting an epic battle between the two favourites a la Grundy and Bustino, yet a look at the winner’s profile makes this assessment harsh in the extreme.

The International Stakes was the four-year-old’s seventh run of the season, his last six coming at the top level. If there is a Group 1 event in Europe over a mile or ten furlongs, Declaration Of War is likely to turn up to the party, having already taken in Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, Deauville and now York. Maybe there is a tougher horse in training, but I haven’t seen him/her.

Comparisons with former Ballydoyle star Giant’s Causeway may be wide of the mark – the so-called ‘Iron Horse’ chalked up ten runs during his three-year-old career, finishing first or second every time – though the fact they race in the same colours brings an inevitable connection.

A fascinating angle to the Declaration Of War success story is his pedigree, as he is US-bred, by the stallion War Front. The reputation of American sires in Europe has fallen over the past two decades but the signs are that this could be about to change, with No Nay Never, a son of Scat Daddy, also impressing with wins in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot and Prix Morny at Deauville.

The Keeneland September Yearling Sale is the place to go if you want to take a punt on progeny of Stateside stallions and Sid Fernando takes you through the possibilities in our exclusive preview.

While Declaration Of War is not Irish-bred, he is Irish-trained, a fact sure to please Brian Kavanagh, the Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland and the subject of this month’s Big Interview.

Kavanagh, who is also Chairman of the European Pattern Committee, offers plenty of food for thought on a variety of subjects, including the creation of Irish Champions Weekend, the announcement of which caused a rumpus on these shores due to its clash with the St Leger at Doncaster.

“This has been in the planning for two years,” says Kavanagh. “The mid-September slot is perfect as it fits in with the Arc and British Champions’ Day.

“Doncaster has always clashed with either the Irish St Leger meeting or the Irish Champion Stakes meeting for each of the last 22 years. No new Pattern race clashes are created by this move.

“Looking at the big picture, this opens up wonderful possibilities for end-of-season championships and Triple Crowns in each of the major categories.”

Kavanagh also provides a fascinating insight into racing at Dundalk, Ireland’s only all-weather track, where fixture numbers are strictly policed.

Unlike in Britain, with its glut of all-weather fixtures, the vast majority featuring moderate animals running for poor prize-money, Ireland has a different policy, one that views quality as more important than quantity.

Such is the benefit of an industry that does not rely on bookmakers’ demands to function.
Kavanagh says: “We did a deal that enabled us to run winter fixtures at Dundalk at the same prize-money levels as other fixtures. Any maiden at Dundalk is worth the same as one at Gowran Park or Navan.

“Racecourses in Ireland don’t own fixtures, as they do in the UK. They race when we allocate them fixtures, and we allocate the race programme as well.”

How successful is the Irish approach to staging all-weather racing? Declaration Of War raced and won at Dundalk on his final start last year. Enough said.

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