The production line of future equine talent that is the Irish point-to-point industry, has certainly ramped up in recent years. Between and October 2017 and May 2018, no fewer than 1,236 races in Britain and Ireland were won by horses that began their careers in the Irish point-to-point fields - an all-time record.
That record figure included 111 black type winners, including the likes of Native River in the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup, Faugheen in the Punchestown Champion Stayers Hurdle, and the mighty Samcro’s two Grade 1 successes.
Storm Ophelia and the harsh winter weather may have given its best shot at derailing the 2017/18 point-to-point season, however, the show went on in a campaign stacked with exciting prospects, who will look to become the star names from the class of 2018.
As always, for the purpose of this list, any horse from last season that has already run under rules since their point success have been removed, taking out the likes of Commander Of Fleet, Danny Kirwan and Know The Score. Instead, the focus is on those maiden winners which have yet to appear under rules for their new connections.
Having learned his trade in point-to-points, Gordon Elliott has quickly become one of the biggest trainers in Ireland, but he continues to return to the pointing fields in search of new equine talent. One of the most notable horses from last season that is now resident at his Cullentra Stables is Andy Dufresne. The Doyen gelding was saddled by Elliott when making his debut at Borris House in March, when owned by his Travelling Head Lass Camilla Sharples. The leading trainer made what is now a rare visit to a point-to-point to witness the run in person and he had every right to be impressed.
In what seemed a very competitive contest, the four-year-old travelled very powerfully throughout, cutting through the field in the shape of a high-class horse, before he eased clear from the second-last to win by six lengths. Unsurprisingly, he was at the top of many people’s shopping lists when offered at the Cheltenham Festival sale, where a final bid of £330,000 was enough for Elliott to retain Andy Dufresne for new owner JP McManus. With the pace he produced at Borris, it is doubtful that we will be seeing this high-class prospect back over three miles in the near future, as he has all the speed to excel over shorter trips.
Midleton handler Donal Coffey may not have the same number of horses passing through his hands on an annual basis as some of the leading operators within the sport, however, he certainly has a pedigree in producing some smart graduates from the pointing fields, including black type performers Copper Bleu and Presenting Copper. In Ask For Glory he may well have his best to date.
The son of Fame And Glory, who was also bred and owned by Coffey, jumped sluggishly on debut at Bartlemy in mid-May, but once warming to that task, he routed the field with a comprehensive 10-length success over a more experienced runner-up. Ground conditions were softer than may be typical of a mid-May maiden, and so there should not be any real concerns for him ahead of a winter campaign, having joined the Paul Nicholls yard after being sold for £280,000 at Doncaster.
Pat Doyle has an enviable record of producing subsequent Graded performers, from many of the big Gigginstown House Stud winners of recent times, such as Grade 1 winners Shattered Love, No More Heroes, and Death Duty, National winners Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses, to the likes of Willie Mullins’s Grade 1 winner Bacardys, and the ill-fated Cheltenham Festival winner Brindisi Breeze.
The 2018 spring season was one to remember for the Tipperary trainer, kick-started by the success of Asterion Forlonge at Oldtown in February. The Coastal Path gelding benefitted from a top drawer Derek O’Connor waiting ride, which saw him produced approaching the final fence, to outstay his main rival up the run-in and win by six lengths over the shorter 2m4f trip. Like Bacardys, Asterion Forlonge moved from Doyle’s Suirview stables to Willie Mullins’s Carlow base, having been purchased for £290,000.
One notable feature of the Irish point-to-point scene in the very recent past, has been the notable and sustained increase in the quality of young mares that are being introduced between the flags. The 2017/18 campaign season was no different, and Beyondapproach may well be the most noteworthy of the bunch. She was pitched in against geldings at Tinahely in February for her debut, and when it is remembered just how competitive four-year-old point-to-point’s are at present, to even contemplate doing this is a testament to the belief a handler has for a mare. Her trainer Donnchadh Doyle was vindicated for his bold decision, as she ran a cracking race to chase home Western Warhorse’s half-brother The Hollow Chap, a horse who fetched £140,000 subsequently.
The daughter of Jeremy dropped to mares only company for her next start at Bellurgan Park, and whilst it may be easy to dismiss the form, as she only beat home one finisher, a well-bred Walk In The Park mare, it is difficult to convey just how easily she defeated that rival without coming off the bridle. With the form also being boosted when the runner-up won her maiden at Dromahane on her very next start, there is an awful lot to like, suggesting that her future should certainly be bright.
Coming with a price tag of £410,000 from the Tattersalls Cheltenham Sales ring in February, Dlauro was the most expensive point-to-point winner sold at public auction last season, and unsurprisingly, he will be one of the main horses that the followers of points form will keeping a particularly close eye on when he makes his debut for new trainer Joseph O’Brien in the colours of Melbourne Cup winning owner Lloyd Williams.
Confidence was clearly high with the French-bred son of Lauro ahead of his debut at Bellharbour in February, as the then Donnchadh Doyle-trained five-year-old was well supported in the market, and ultimately proved much too good for his ten rivals. Making all of the running, the five-year-old excelled with his fencing, gaining lengths on his rivals at most obstacles, before skipping clear of the field before the home bend. Everything about that debut success would suggest that he is a very sharp individual, who would have to strongly fancied ahead of his rules debut.
The four-year-old maiden at Monksgrange is famed in recent years for producing the Irish Cheltenham Festival banker of 2018 with Samcro, a horse that defeated the subsequent Grade 2 winner Elegant Escape at the Wexford course two years earlier. As the local course for many of the leading trainers within the sport at present, it typically draws a high-quality line-up, with connections out to win on local turf. The 2018 renewal was no different. Donnchadh Doyle selected the race to introduce his €100,000 store purchase Tactical Move, a close relation of Gold Cup victor Denman, himself a graduate of the Irish pointing fields, and indicators suggested it would be a winning debut for the Stowaway gelding who was well-supported ahead of the race, jumping off as a strong odds-on favourite.
However, he would ultimately have to settle for second best, behind the exciting Eden Du Houx. Handled by a rising star of the training ranks in James Doyle, the French-bred had raced keenly when dropped in on the opening circuit, however once being brought to the head of affairs after a mile, he never looked back, powering to a four-lengths success in the manner of a future black type performer. Bought privately by Tom Malone after the victory, the Irish Wells gelding is now with David Pipe.
Early spring maidens often provide students of form with a better gauge to the depth of a race ahead of a horse’s subsequent rules debut, as with four months of racing following it, opportunities for the ‘also-rans’ to reappear are plentiful. Envoi Allen won one of the first four-year-old maidens of 2018 in early February, and both his new owners David and Patricia Thompson of Cheveley Park Stud, and those fans who were immediately struck by his winning performance, will have been bolstered by seeing that the third and fourth-placed horses from the are themselves now maiden point winners. </p> <p> The French-bred may well have been easy to back before the off on his debut, however his starting price certainly looked big by the end of the race, as the strong travelling son of Muhtathir raced up at the head of affairs throughout before producing a turn of foot which marked him out as a class above his rivals. Ultimately, breezing past the winning post with rider Barry O’Neill sat motionless in the saddle. It is also worth noting, that he won one of the few 2m4f maidens run here in that manner, suggesting he is a horse where the emphasis is certainly on speed.
Costing €205,000 as an unraced three-year-old at the Derby sale, Fury Road was the most expensive store purchase to appear in a point-to-point last season. His debut may not have gone to plan when finishing fourth behind Monkfish at new course Stowlin in late April. However, he reappeared at Dromahane three weeks later when looking a cut above your average four-year-old maiden winner. Racing prominently throughout, the half-brother to Thyestes Chase winner Monbeg Worldwide, was sent for home with three to jump and could soon be called the likely winner of the race for handler Pat Doyle. The son of Stowaway clocked a time nine seconds quicker than the winner of the other division of the four-year-old maiden on the same card, and that horse, Longhouse Sale, has remained unbeaten, winning his next four consecutive starts in bumpers for Dan Skelton.
Whilst this piece is focusing solely on maiden winners, Fury Road’s race has double significance, as it also featured what could arguably be one of the most eye-catching second-placed finishers of the season, in El Barra. That French-bred was trained by Robert Tyner and the striking late progress that he made when his chance with the winner had gone, clearly caught the eye of none other than Willie Mullins, who subsequently acquired him, ensuring he too is one to follow closely.
In years gone by, the winner of a Dromahane maiden was held aloft above any other. More recently, other courses have caught up, as the sheer number of smart performers has ensured that future stars are popping up each weekend at courses right across the country. However, one race in particular that has managed to carve out a lofty reputation for itself is the four-year-old maiden that is run over Easter at Loughanmore. When you look back at recent renewals it is not hard to see why. The 2016 race alone which was won by Claimantakinforgan, has seen five of the six finishers already reach official ratings in excess of 135.
The 2018 renewal was certainly in keeping with recent editions, as the Stuart Crawford-trained Malone Road, earmarked himself as a horse potentially destined for big things with a notable three and-a-half length victory. The Kalanisi gelding was not aided by his jumping over the final three fences, which lacked fluency when the tempo of the race increased. Crucially, he had the engine to compensate for that, swiftly regaining any lost ground to battle back and win a very competitive race where the front pair pulled well clear of any other challengers. Gordon Elliott snapped up a number of exciting pointing graduates, and Malone Road is one such horse, coming from the Aintree Sale for £325,000.
The French-bred Quoi De Neuf tore apart a very competitive looking field which contained a number of well-bred sorts at Ballysteen in April. The second, third and fourth-placed finishers in the race were bought for an average of €46,000 as three-year-old’s, and all three were cast aside by this son of Anzillero.
The bay gelding produced a striking turn of foot in the home straight, and it is when he hit top gear that his class became evident, signalling him out as a very exciting prospect. He has since joined Evan Williams, having cost €180,000 at the Goffs Punchestown sale.
Horses of the calibre of Cheltenham Gold Cup-second Minella Rocco, Seabass and Home Farm have all won the four-year-old maiden at Horse & Jockey at the infancy of their racing careers, and Donnchadh Doyle’s The Big Getaway could be another name added to the list of notable graduates from the race’s previous winners. He made his debut at the Tipperary venue with a big home reputation to uphold, something he did in no uncertain terms with a commanding success.
Left with the lead along the back straight, when his main rival crashed out, the imposing son of Getaway, who certainly has the size and scope to match his name, eased clear of his rivals to win by a distance. Unsurprisingly, his raw potential marked him out as one of the notable lots offered at the Cheltenham Festival sale, where a final bid of £230,000 was enough to ensure that he joins the Willie Mullins team, a yard that will certainly maximise his exciting early potential.
The second of two Loughanmore maiden winners from the Stuart Crawford yard to feature among this list, The Very Man, did not even make it to the halfway point on his debut at Moira, when falling in the race won by Angels Breath. But the Jeremey gelding made amends just under a month later, producing a striking turn of foot to win a competitive 13-runner event, run on Yielding ground.
The four-year-old only sat in eleventh position with half a mile to race, however he decisively cut through the field approaching the home bend, arriving on the scene travelling best of all the horses that surrounded him, before kicking for home in the wings of the final fence. The run from the last to the winning post at Loughanmore is one of the longer run-ins on the circuit, and the manner in which he continued to pull clear of his rivals on the run-in was very likeable. He too has found a top new home, having been bought for £210,000 to join Gordon Elliott’s impressive team and follows a similar path to Elliott’s as Irish National winner General Principle, who won his maiden point for Stuart Crawford and owner Roy Wilson before being bought by Elliott.
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