IT is remarkable to think that when Romanised rattled down the outside to win the Irish 2000 Guineas on Saturday, he was giving his trainer Ken Condon his first win in Ireland since July 29th last year - when Ice Cold In Alex won a five-furlong handicap at the Curragh.
That was one of only five wins in Ireland last year for Condon but he did have two significant wins in Britain. He trained Elusive Beauty to win a listed race at Carlisle and he won the Group 2 York Stakes with Success Days.
It was good training to attain a listed race with Elusive Beauty. She is a filly that has never been rated higher than 94 and so she’d struggle to land a stakes race at home, indeed she was well beaten on her immediate next start in a Group 3 at Fairyhouse.
Success Days has his limitations at the top level but Condon deserves serious credit for keeping him at a consistent level for the last three seasons - in which he has won a group race in each - and in finding the stakes races the grey can win.
They say good horses make good trainers but in Ireland one suspects there are many good trainers who don’t have many good horses. That is the way of the world, there are only so many good ones to go around. So it is so important that when you get one, you make the absolute most out of it. Condon seems to be doing exactly that.
Last year must have been a testing time for the trainer. It was his worst return of winners since 2009. To make matters worse, he was resigned to losing Success Days as his owner Robert Ng was keen for the horse to start a career at stud. Luckily Ng did a u-turn with Success Days this year and, funny how things work out, he now perhaps has a more viable stallion prospect in Romanised.
In the aftermath of Romanised’s win on Saturday, giving the trainer a landmark first classic success, Condon commented: “There are a lot of guys like me. The country is full of very good horsemen and riders and we’re all looking to get our hands on a good horse and show what you can do.”
On Saturday, the Curragh-based trainer became the 11th different trainer to claim a stakes race since the beginning of the season, which backs up his assertion of the strength in depth below the top stables. Traditionally jumps racing has given the smaller trainers a better chance of achieving big things but in the current climate, it seems you may be better off training on the level.
Condon, who spent five years assisting John Oxx, has had plenty of notable successes before. Among them, he trained Norman Invader to win the Round Tower Stakes in 2007 and he trained Newsletter to finish third in Anthem Alexander’s Queen Mary Stakes in 2014.
He can do the job when he has the horse. Romanised is now the prime example.
Alpha Centauri (grey) gathers in long-tie leafer Could It Be Love (rail) to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas
Jessica Harrington can do the job as well and she most definitely has the horses. Yesterday she joined a unique club of trainers who have trained a winner of one of the big three races at Cheltenham (she has won all three) and a classic winner.
Commonstown Stables must be a truly unique place to work, especially towards the end of the jumps season and beginning of the flat term. Around about this time last year Harrington was training Sizing John to win Gold Cups, Our Duke to win the Irish Grand National and preparing a two-year-old filly, heavier and bigger than the both of them, to win her maiden first time out at Naas.
Alpha Centauri was a talking horse this time last year, as an unbeaten filly and favourite for the Albany. She ran a cracker to finish second to Different League at Royal Ascot and then finished fifth in heavy ground in the Moyglare. She had been a little disappointing on her comeback run when finishing well beaten in the first 1000 Guineas trial at Leopardstown but that was again on soft ground and Harrington was sure the daughter of Mastercraftsman would be much better on a faster surface. That she was.
There seems little left for Harrington to achieve for the first time now. Group 1 winner, classic winner, Cheltenham winner, Irish Grand National winner. I suppose you could say an Aintree Grand National success and a Royal Ascot winner would be next on the list. And you can guarantee she’ll make a good fist of that, starting next month.
While Ken Condon and Jessica Harrington rightfully took all the headlines for achieving their first classic wins this weekend, the winning jockeys Shane Foley (Romanised) and Colm O’Donoghue (Alpha Centauri) each secured significant success on a personal level.
Foley parted company with Mick Halford last season so you could say he is in a transition phase early in his career, now riding freelance. However things have been going really well when you take into account he has had more rides than any other jockey on the turf and at Dundalk this year. This headline win will only reinforce the regard in which he is held by a variety of trainers.
O’Donoghue made a brave decision to end a 20-year stint with Aidan O’Brien to ride full-time for Harrington, starting this season. The 37-year-old was down the pecking order at Ballydoyle but enjoyed plenty of success there, winning the Irish Derby on Treasure Beach, Irish Oaks on Bracelet and Epsom Oaks with Qualify; three classics among seven Group 1 victories. Perhaps jockeys can be likened to football players in that they just want to be number one choice and the chance to be a full-time number one to Harrington was too good to miss for O’Donoghue. He was rewarded for that decision straight away yesterday.
It is still mildly surprising you can back Hazapour at 14/1 for the Derby this Saturday. It was a generous price even before Sunday when Platinum Warrior, fourth in the Derrinstown, came out and won the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes impressively, despite drifting around late on. Dermot Weld’s horse did extremely well to win at Leopardstown on his first start of the season, beating two race-fit Ballydoyle horses and now a solid Group 3 performer (at least) in fourth. Saxon Warrior obviously covers most of the market but every horse is a price and 14/1 about Hazapour looks a little generous.