IRISH CHAMPION HURDLE
It’s that time of year when all of a sudden the championship races are upon us! On 1 February we have the Irish Champion Hurdle. A race won by the majestic Apples Jade last year became the first mare to win for 16 years when she demolished a high class field including 2018 winner Supasundae and Petit Mouchoir the 2017 winner.
Before 2017 we saw the Willie Mullins dominance from 2011-2016 when the magnificent Hurricane Fly won on no less than 5 occasions in a row and the machine Faugheen won in 2016.
Will this year see the return of Willie into the winners enclosure or is there someone else with a horse to take the title of Irish Champion Hurdler for 2020?
The market is headed by the unbeaten Henry de Bromhead trained Honeysuckle, the 6 year old mare who has beaten all before her in her 6 outings to date. Honeysuckle ridden by Racheal Blackmore beat Bacardys and Apples Jade in her last outing at Fairyhouse at the start of December over 2 miles 4 furlongs with the trainer suggesting the drop back to 2 miles will not inconvenience her. One point to note here, Honeysuckle hasn’t run on a left handed track since winning a point to point 2 years ago. Could this be a possible issue or will she power away from her more experienced rivals as she has done to date?
Second in the betting we have the Willie Mullins trained Ricci owned Sharjah. A year older than Honeysuckle and therefore more experienced, Sharjah beat Petit Mouchoir over the Christmas period by 3 ¾ lengths. That win over 2 miles showed Sharjah at his best and could be the one to give Mullins yet another win in this race.
Willie Mullins also saddles Klassical Dream. Last season he was unstoppable winning the Supreme at Cheltenham and then followed up with the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. However this season has been less impressive. Both runs have ended in defeat with excuses on both occasions, however he doesn’t seem to be in the form he was in last year. Still a fairly short price perhaps based on last year's form and the fact he is trained by Willie.
Envoi Allen is a novice who won the Cheltenham Bumper last season and has gone on this year to show he is a superstar in the making. It’s not clear whether he will run in this or indeed which race he will turn up for at Cheltenham. The Gordon Elliot trained novice has shown his ability and given the possible weakness of the 2m division this year there may be a chance of him turning up. It will be interesting if he is declared for the race at the weekend. If he does run and runs well expect him to turn up at Cheltenham for the champion hurdle!
Looking at the remainder of the field, Petit Mouchoir and Supasundae have won this before and will no doubt give their best, however this year looks like being a year for the up and coming stars.
Honeysuckle against Envoi Allen jumping the last would be a spectacle and something to dream of come the weekend!
Dylan Hogan Exclusive
We've been lucky enough to get to talk to a jockey who's very much in form right now, Dylan Hogan has been in the public eye this week after a remarkable win at Wolverhampton last Wednesday aboard WANAASAH a 12/1 shot. We wanted to hear from the man himself exactly what happened in that race.
Right from the break Dylan sent Wanaasah to the front of the field and by the time they had ran the first two furlongs they were 5 lengths clear, they pulled further and further away, the chasing pack were happy to stay bunched up in behind, at one stage in the race Dylan and Wanaasah had pulled almost 20 lengths clear of the chasing pack which is truly incredible for a race like this on the all weather, many watching would have thought that Dylan had set the pace far too quick even the jockeys on the chasing pack felt that the pace was too quick and it resulted in an official stewards inquiry. We asked Dylan about what exactly happened in that race, "I jumped out and went a good gallop to get a nice easy lead and was able to maintain the lead the whole way around and just kept going to win easily."
Dylan's ride on Wanaasah has been labeled "ride of the month" by many, it was a truly remarkable ride to stretch out so far and just like many we thought Dylan had gone too quickly so we were interested to see what exactly the plan was for that race and if Dylan felt maybe he was going too quickly, "at the start yeah I felt I was going too quick but the filly never gave me the feeling that she was to going to stop, the more I asked the more she tried." Dylan and trainer David Loughrane discussed the plan before the race and David reassured Dylan by telling him,"if I think I'm going to quick I'm not and to go quicker." That certainly shouts confidence from David Loughrane and Dylan most definitely carried out the plan.
Dylan is originally from Kildare and he stated to us he wasn't from a racing background it was a family friend called Ian Maxwell who got Dylan into racing. "Ian got me in with a local trainer at home in Ireland called Fachtna Twomey and I got to ride out there, I went to racing school and came back there on the weekends. I learned a lot there." Dylan has since moved to England to ride and is getting a lot of nice rides, we asked if Dylan felt the decision to move to England was the right choice to which he responded, "definitely I'm riding for David Simcock and i have a good agent in Niall Hannity and I'm starting to get plenty of rides for other trainers too which is good."
We asked Dylan about his first winner as a jockey and how it has affected him, "it was a horse called Nonios, it was my first ride in the UK in an apprentice race at Lingfield. I hit the ground running over there but slowed up over the Summer but this Winter has been good to me so far." Dylan rode Nonios again last week finishing third he's a horse that has been good to Dylan during his career,"yeah he's a horse I get on quite well and won a class 2 on him last year so he's been a good horse for me."
Dylan has since won again riding a horse called Nigel Nott at Chelmsford for David Simcock, it's been a tremendous start of the year for Dylan and 2020 looks like it could be a very big year for him. We want to wish Dylan the best of luck for the upcoming year.
JOCKEY OF THE FUTURE
Yesterday, one of the most exciting upcoming talents in racing, Aidan Kelly won his first race riding the the 10/1 shot OPEN TO THE WORLD at Thurles and we decided to catch up with him after that race to talk all about his win and his future.
Obviously the first thing we had to ask Aidan was how the feeling of riding a winner felt, Aidan was overjoyed telling us, "it’s unbelievable words can't describe how I'm feeling, it still hasnt kicked in yet that I have rode my first winner but I guess its going to take time." Aidan rode Open to the world to victory in the 1:15 Molony Cup at Thurles yesterday for trainer Padraig Roache, he contested a thrilling finish with the Denis Hogan trained Lady Writer narrowly edging her out to win by a head.
Aidan was clearly thrilled getting off the mark and registering his first win. We wanted to find out a bit of a back-story about himself and how he got involved in racing, Aidan told us that he always had an interest in horse racing and he became addicted at the Curragh, "I remember going racing at the Curragh when I was younger and always enjoyed seeing the horse fly up the home straight." Aidan recalled the first time he rode his first racehorse and that's where the dream of being a jockey kicked in for Aidan, " I rode my first ever racehorse for my neighbour Buddy Harrison (Pat) at the age of 11 up the gallop for him and it was an instant addiction I loved it."
Aidan soon chased his dreams of becoming a jockey when one of his close friends went to the Racing Academy which he thought he should follow suit and join as well, "One of my close friends Mikey Melia went to the Racing Academy in Kildare and I thought I should give it a try after I finished my Junior Cert in school and in August 2017 I ended up going there." Aidan finished the course after joining Padraig Roache's yard in November of that year, since then he has remained with Padraig at his yard.
Padraig has obviously had a big influence on Aidan's life and he has a lot of respect for Padraig, saying "most of my rides came from Padraig so I can't thank him enough he's been a great help to me and has given me great advice."
In July 2018 Aidan won trainee jockey of the year which he says came as a bit of a surprise, however he says it "boosted confidence" and ultimately played a big part on his career, "I think it helped me a bit with my confidence as I believed that I was good enough to get my license and come to where i am now." It's certainly clear to see that Aidan has the ability and talent to kick on from yesterday's win so obviously the next question for Aidan is what's next? It's clear to see Aidan is focused on the task ahead and he knows what he wants. "With a bit of luck ride a few more winners and try make a name for myself here in Ireland."
Aidan described himself as a "home bird" and doesn't see himself moving abroad which is good news for Irish racing but it's a well known fact that being an upcoming jockey in Ireland is no easy task so we wanted to know how Aidan was coping with this, "I think it's very hard here in Ireland to get rides but hopefully now that I have ridden a winner that I pick up a few rides for outside people. The only other people, other than Padraig that has helped me is James and Jarlath fahy and i really appreciate there help too." Aidan has clear respect and a lot of time for the people that have helped him out thus far in his career and he is sure to pick up more rides after yesterday's ride.
Aidan is no different to any upcoming national hunt jockey with his dreams, he has dreams that one day he will win a gold cup or grand national. We want to wish Aidan the best of luck in 2020 and we're sure to hear from again.
DONNACHA O'BRIEN EXCLUSIVE
We were recently very lucky and privileged to catch up with two time Irish champion jockey Donnacha O'Brien. He took time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with us about his riding career and what the future holds.
Donnacha has been one of the top jockeys in the UK and Ireland in recent years and has won some of the best races there are in racing such as the Irish Derby in 2018 on Latrobe, The 2,000 Guineas twice, in 2018 and 2019 on Saxon Warrior and Magna Grecia and the Epsom Oaks in 2018 on Forever Together. We asked Donnacha what the highlight of his riding career would be, he responded by saying "The Irish derby or becoming champion jockey was incredible, winning a classic was amazing as well."
Donnacha is ,without question, from one of the most famous family’s in racing and the passion for horse's and racing is in his genes. Donnacha won his very first race as a jockey on a horse called Quartz at Dundalk, which is where he is expected to make his debut as a trainer. Flower Garland and Mythologic are both entered into the 7:00 race at Dundalk on Friday and Flower Garland also holds an entry for the 8:00 race as well, we quizzed Donnacha about his chances of winning on his debut night, he told us "I think they're both in good form and have little chances." He may feel they have a small chance but he feels that they may be priced up "a bit shorter than what they deserve."
Donnacha recently made the decision to retire as a jockey in November at the young age of 21, what he has achieved in such a short space of time as a jockey is mind blowing. Obviously, the decision to retire was never going to be an easy one. We asked if he felt it was the perfect time to retire from riding and go into the training business, "I don't think there was ever going to be a perfect time but I'm happy to get started in the next chapter," Donnacha responded.
Donnacha's father Aidan is renowned and world famous for his career as a flat trainer and his brother Joseph has had a great career so far as a dual purpose trainer. We thought it would be interesting to ask Donnacha which path he would follow, his father's as just a flat trainer or his brother's as a dual purpose trainer. Donnacha told us that he had his jumps training license but for the time being he is "going to focus on the flat".
Donnacha was hesitant to set any goals for himself as a trainer just yet, but he is hoping that he can do the horses he trains "justice". We're fairly confident Donnacha will be just as successful as a trainer, he's remarkably young but success runs through his blood and as the saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Donnacha is most likely going to take on his brother at Dundalk on Friday night, which is sure to provide interesting viewing. Donnacha had nothing but nice words to say about Dundalk Stadium speaking of their "great facilites." It would be a special moment for Donnacha if he was to have his first winner at Dundalk as a trainer, after having his first win as a jockey at Dundalk.
We want to thank Donnacha for taking time out to answer our questions and we want to wish him all the best in his training career.
Dundalk’s top owners
Our editor Ryan Sharkey sat down and spoke to James McAuley of Hilltop Racing recently and gave a great in-depth interview which consisted of the past year, the stable stars, Denis Hogan and what we can expect to see in 2020 were all discussed. James McAuley is part of Hilltop Racing who are the number one owners at Dundalk for 2019 and it consists of James and his brother Stephen McAuley and his uncle Jim Gough.
First of all, Ryan got a bit of a background story off James and got to know how he got into racing. James spoke of how his uncle Jim was the biggest influence in getting him and his brother involved in racing, “My uncle Jim Gough was involved in racing before I was born with Joanna Morgan, he had a farm in Ballivor, Co. Meath. He thought us how to ride horses there.” Jim Gough then soon purchased Hilltop Stables. James spoke of how they got Stephen Mahon to train from hilltop stables and how he trained the first winner, “Stephen trained our first winner, Romaha to win a bumper in Navan.” Things soon changed for the hilltop boys however when Stephen left the yard and this is where James’s brief spell as a trainer began, “When Stephen left the yard, we needed to get someone new in or one of us had to get a trainers Licence. I went and done the course and got a trainer’s license out.” During his brief spell as a trainer James had some good success including a grade 3 chase at Thurles with a horse called Gaspar, which James says, “it was the highlight of my training career.”
Obviously the feeling of seeing a horse you’ve trained or owned race past the finish line in front is a feeling like no other and it’s no different for the Hilltop racing crew, we asked James does he get a different feeling with each winner to which he told us, “All winners feel great, obviously you get fond of some horses more than others. Yuften winning the other day was brilliant, Sceptical winning because he makes you dream of what he might be capable of and Hathiq showing what he is capable of, have been the highlights of the year.” These where all top moments in what has been a tremendous year for hilltop racing, from winning on the opening day of the newly developed Curragh, having a runner at Royal Ascot and being the number 1 owners of 2019 at Dundalk.
Being the number 1 owners at Dundalk was not something the lads had planned for according to James he explained how it did just make sense to have that many runners at Dundalk as the track both suits their horses and themselves, “it just suits the horses we buy. It is a 35-minute drive for us to get up there so it suits us to go up every Friday.” Jim, James and Stephen are weekly visitors to the track and can be easily spotted in their Hilltop Racing jackets and gear. Ryan asked James if now that he has conquered Dundalk would they be aiming to take over any other tracks but James wasn’t too optimistic about that, “I can’t imagine we would be leading owners anywhere else, we are realists, we don’t spend much money on horses and we know the level we can compete at.” Although he feels they’re not going to be able to compete at a higher level with the money they have spent, they have struck lucky with bargain buys Hathiq and Sceptical and James feels these two could be the two of his current batch that will be able to compete at a higher level in 2020.
Hilltop and Denis Hogan have formed a strong relationship and seem to be a match made in heaven, they seem to have found the perfect formula to run their horses to their full potential and always seem to get the very best out of the horse. James didn’t have a single bad word to say about Hogan and respects him greatly which was clear in what he had to say about Hogan, “it’s definitely the perfect formula for us at Hilltop, I can honestly say we have never once had a cross word with Denis and he has more than repaid the faith we have placed in him.”
The choice of jockey is also a tough decision for owner and trainer to make but James and Hilltop have their usual batch of jockeys who they trust to ride their horses. James had this to say about the jockeys he has used, “I honestly think Joey Sheridan was the find of the season for Denis. I think with any backing from outside yards he is good enough to challenge for the apprentice title, I honestly think he is that good. For me he is robbing his 7lbs claim. Joe Doyle is the ultimate professional, it was a hard call for us to cancel an agreement with Rory Cleary to ride all of our horses, we rate Rory extremely highly but Joe works hard in Denis's 7 days a week and it was hard not supporting him as stable jockey. Joe has proved his worth this year and just needs to gain some more contacts and he will prove how good he is. Joe made a huge impression when he went to England as an apprentice and after taking some time out, he has proved how good he is and came close to riding a Group 1 winner last season.” It’s clear to see the respect and time James has for these jockeys.
We had to ask James if he had any advice for new owners and if he would recommend claiming a horse for new owners and he was all for recommending claiming a horse to get started out and gave us a good and logical reason why claiming a horse was the best way to start out, ” If I was a new owner entering racing I would be inclined to claim a horse. You can buy a horse at the sales and get him home to find an injury, put 3 or 4 months training into it to find it's no good. With claiming races, you are highly unlikely to ever find a star of the future, but u can claim a horse that can carry your colours within 1 week.” If you are looking to start out as an owner claiming could be the best option.
Hilltop Racing have used the claiming system to near perfection and that led us to our next question, their most recent purchase is a Racing Records long-time favourite Sayesse. We couldn’t resist finding out more about him and when he would be seen again and why exactly did they decide to claim him James told us, “his run behind yuften was very good, he was unlucky in a handicap on his next start and then he went and won so claiming him for 9k was a no brainer really, especially considering Sir Ottoman was claimed from us for 8k from the same race.” With a price tag of 9 grand Sayesse certainly seems an absolute bargain and we’re sure he will no doubt be able to live up to that price tag and give great success to the men at hilltop James also told us that Sayesse could well run on the 3rd of January at Dundalk.
We couldn’t let James go without letting us know what the goals and aspirations where for 2020, ”Our goals for 2020 would be to run better in the better races.” He also told us he holds high hopes for both Hathiq and Sceptical in the coming year speaking of Hathiq first James referred back to last season, “luck deserted Hathiq when he stepped up in grade but he genuinely had excuses for it. I'd love for him to prove how good is can be. Having had wind surgery and surgery to remove a screw from his joint that had been bothering him, I'd be hopefully he could take us to some big meetings.” We have no doubt that Hathiq will indeed have some big days out in 2020 as if you look back to his race at the curragh it is clear to see what he is actually capable of doing. As for Sceptical James is confident that he will have a big year but believes he was unfairly rated for his destruction at Dundalk, “We still don’t know what to expect from Sceptical, he is definitely the biggest unknown on our team. Hopefully he can prove as good as he has looked though after being rated 90 for winning a terrible maiden in Dundalk, he will be up against it.”
We would like to thank James for taking time out of his busy schedule for chatting with us and we’d like to wish all the Hilltop lads Jim, James and Stephen the very best of luck in 2020.