Irish point-to-point experts Richard Pugh & Eoghain Ward pinpoint 12 former Irish pointers with potential who are set to embark on a new career under Rules.
Horses to Follow
With over 1,200 races, including 81 black type contests, in Britain and Ireland last season having been won by Irish point-to-point graduates, it is no surprise that attention once again turns to the point-to-point fields ahead of the new National Hunt season to get a glimpse of the potential future stars which are set to make headlines into 2018.
The strength of four-year-old maidens in particular has never been greater, ensuring that it is easy to see why this particular age division of point-to-pointers has been responsible for more Grade 1 winners in Britain or Ireland in the past two seasons than any other race type across, Ireland, Britain or France. Within that time period, 30 Grade 1 races were won by horses who had begun their careers in Irish point-to-point maidens for four-year-old’s, more than any other age and race category.
So much of the focus on Irish point-to-point graduates last season was generated by the remarkable season of Finian’s Oscar, a horse who made a winning debut in a four-year-old maiden at Portrush point-to-point in late October, before winning the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown less than three months later. That proved to be just one of the two Grade 1 prizes which he collected in that debut campaign, as he topped-off the season by winning the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree and finishing second, beaten just a short-head by fellow point-to-point graduate, Bacardys, in yet another Grade 1 contest at the Punchestown Festival.
Such is the quick turnaround, particularly of the autumn four-year-old point-to-pointers, that Finian’s Oscar is not alone in making a notable impression, with fellow autumn graduates, Poli Roi, Minellafordollars and Fabulous Saga all having already made the swift transition for new connections on the track, ruling them out of our list which instead focusses on those horses who have yet to appear on the track.
The Doyle brothers have become powerhouses when it comes to producing four-year-old’s through Irish point-to-points, and Donnchadh Doyle was certainly the trainer to follow last spring, winning no fewer than 15 of these four-year-old maidens in 2017 with a number of very smart looking prospects. Unsurprisingly, given his sheer number of winners, his horses are well represented within this list.
The first of Donnchadh’s winners which we will take a look at, Aione, is likely up among the pick of the list following the performance which he produced on debut at Dromahane in May. This course which is just outside of Mallow in County Cork, has a long-standing reputation for producing ultra-competitive races, and that was very much the case last season with a number of standout races. This Coastal Path gelding made much of the running before quickening clear in eye-catching fashion at the final fence. Having jumped out to his right at that obstacle, he gave his nearest challengers the opportunity to come back at him, However, encouragingly, he picked-up once again on the run-in to ultimately comfortably hold them by the line.
Rich Ricci has acquired a number of notable horses from the point-to-point fields, including Faugheen, Champagne Fever, Ballycasey and Getabird, and this appears to be yet another. Out of an Acatenango mare who was a winner on the level in Germany and closely related to a number of sharp types, Aione is likely to feature highly among Willie Mullins’s bumper prospects for this season.
The Easter weekend four-year-old maiden which is staged at Loughanmore is typically one of the key races within the point-to-point season each year, owing to the large number of ‘Saturday’ horses which it has thrown-up in recent years. As such, it tends to be a very competitive race, and whilst it was divided in 2017, it was very noteworthy that in a notoriously hot race, there was significant market support for the newcomer Battleoverdoyen, who went off as the even-money favourite.
The son of Doyen very much vindicated that support by comfortably defeating a pair of Colin Bowe-trained runners, including the very well-related and €52,000 store purchase Big Difference. Patiently ridden towards the rear of the field for much of the race, it was striking the ease at which Battleoverdoyen made rapid progress within the final half a mile, before quickly eased clear to score by a comfortable three lengths. Fans of the clock will note he recorded a time 10 seconds faster than the day’s average and having joined Gordon Elliott for £235,000 at the Cheltenham sales in April, he looks a high-class recruit for Gigginstown House Stud.
The first of two autumn four-year-old winners from last season to feature in the list, Cool Getaway is a potentially high-class sort, as he held off some very talented and highly regarded youngsters in one of the strongest maidens of the autumn at Tattersalls Farm. Trained by Stuart Crawford, who held this son of Getaway in the highest of regards prior to the off, the bay gelding was settled in mid-division for much of the race before being steadily introduced into the race with less than half a mile to race. Once being asked to quicken inside the home straight, the response was immediate and despite complicating his task somewhat with a mistake at the final fence, he overcame that with eye-catching ease suggesting there was still plenty left in the tank, as he crossed the line with three-lengths to spare.
Well-related himself, being out of a half-sister to the 2014 Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor, Cool Getaway defeated some well-bred individuals who filled the placings behind him, whilst great confidence has to be taken from the performance, given that no fewer than four winners have come out of the race already. Cool Getaway is now in the care of Gordon Elliott and will run in the colours of J.P. McManus.
Entrusted by Gigginstown House Stud with the care of many of their young horses, Pat Doyle has had many equine stars pass through his hands over the years, and last season with both Dorrells Pierji and Stay Humble, he could have some of his best ever. The former, a French-bred son of Coastal Path was sent off as a very short-priced odds-on favourite at Bellharbour, on the opening day of the spring four-year-old campaign. Making all of the running in the small field contest, the bay gelding simply outclassed his rivals with a spectacular performance.
Once kicking-on at the second-last fence, he immediately had his rivals under pressure, leaving them trailing in his wake within a matter of strides. Such was the blistering turn of foot which he produced, he could already have been called the winner early in the home straight, returning a wide-margin winner without ever coming off the bridle. Visually, this was as good a performance as you could expect from a four-year-old on debut and it is that striking turn of foot which ensures that Willie Mullins has a very smart prospect for the future on his hands for owner Jared Sullivan.
Eleven-time champion point-to-point jockey Derek O’Connor has partnered many future stars in the early part of their careers between the flags, and in 2017 he could have done so on one of the very rare occasions that he has teamed up with leading trainer Donnchadh Doyle. The pair combined to introduce the visually very impressive Invincible Cave at Bartlemy in May.
Jumping notably well at the head of affairs, the Court Cave gelding dictated the pace of the race. Possessing all the gears to quicken clear after jumping the penultimate fence, such was the authority which he held over his rivals, that he was able to be eased down in the closing strides to win by a very comfortable seven-lengths. A sharp sort, whose fencing is one of his greatest strengths, he appears to be another that can become a bumper winner this season for new trainer Gordon Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud.
As part of the fallout from the removal of Gigginstown House Stud-trained horses from Willie Mullins’s yard last year, Eddie Hales was brought in alongside Gordon Elliott and Pat Doyle, to complete the trio of trainers who were given responsibility for the care of Gigginstown’s four-year-old point-to-pointers. Hales, who had previously sold subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Don Cossack to Michael O’Leary’s racing operation after he had trained him to finish fifth in a Punchestown bumper on debut, could also be responsible for producing their most impressive point-to-point winner of last season, Felix Desjy.
The French-bred produced what visually appeared to be a very smart looking performance. The always prominent son of Maresca Sorrento was sent for home at the second-last and he immediately began to extend the advantage over his ten rivals, galloping relentlessly through the line to win by 15 lengths. With plenty of pace through his pedigree, he is not short of speed either ensuring that bumper success in the immediate future has to be expected for Gordon Elliott's charge.
Having produced the unbeaten Listed Bumper-winner Samcro to impressively win the four-year-old maiden at Monksgrange last year, there was much interest as to what horse he would aim at the corresponding race last season at what is his local course. That interest was worthy as Madison To Monroe, the roan gelding which he chose to unleash in the 2017 renewal of the Monksgrange four-year-old maiden, ran out a clear-cut eight-length winner in the hands of champion jockey Barry O’Neill.
Unsurprisingly sent off as the favourite for the three-mile contest, the son of Presenting was in front from the halfway point and O’Neill was always in control aboard the son of a dual-purpose winning mare. Going for home with two to jump, the writing was on the wall for his seven rivals well before the last as he was able to cruise home by eight-lengths in a time eight seconds quicker than the day’s average time. Jessica Harrington, who provided owner Alan Potts with a first Gold Cup in March, has been entrusted with this £300,000 Aintree purchase.
Despite the majority of point-to-points taking place over distances of three miles, it is becoming far more common that graduates are proving to be very effective over shorter trips, with Faugheen and Special Tiara, two such graduates to have won championship races over two miles at the Cheltenham Festival in recent seasons.
Of last season’s four-year-old winners, Mr Lingo certainly catches the eye as a sharp sort who will also prove very effective with a drop back in trip when switching inside the rails. The giant-striding Curtain Time gelding disputed the lead for much of his Dromahane maiden, however his natural pace allowed him to easily extend racing into the home straight. Visually that turn of foot which he produced was very striking as he effortlessly eased clear of a number of well-bred rivals without having to be asked a serious question. Another of last season’s leading four-year-old’s to have joined Gordon Elliott’s expanding operation, Mr Lingo cost Gigginstown House Stud £250,000 at the Cheltenham April sale.
One of last season’s undoubted star four-year-old’s was the now deceased Flemenshill. Colin McKeever and Wilson Dennison’s Loughanmore academy is adept at producing future stars with the likes of Yorkhill, Bellhshill, Blaklion and Shaneshill among their many former inmates. This Flemensfirth gelding had created a massive impression when winning at Oldtown in February. Unsurprisingly, he immediately became hot property, joining Colin Tizzard for a sizeable sum. Tragically however, he suffered a heart attack during routine work last month and we have been robbed the opportunity to see more of this most exciting prospect.
One horse who finished behind Flemenshill does however make it into this list. Palmers Hill finished third on debut at the Co. Dublin track in what was arguably one of the strongest maidens of the season, with Gigginstown House Stud’s Derby sale top-lot, Defi Bleu, finishing just in front of him. The Gold Well gelding was likely not suited by the sprint finish which developed in the closing stages of that shorter 2m4f contest, but he very much built on that promise when re-appearing a month later at Tyrella over the longer three miles. Running out one of the easiest winners of the season, returning 20 lengths clear in a time 12 seconds quicker than the average, he himself was in big demand when offered at the sales, with Kieran McManus snapping him up on behalf of his father for £310,000. Palmers Hill will be trained under Rules by Jonjo O’Neill.
With trainer Donnchadh Doyle having saddled this year’s Grade 1 Cheltenham Champion Bumper third, Claimantakinforgan, when he won the 2016 edition of the Loughanmore Easter Monday, many eyes were focussed on the horse which he would produce for last season’s renewal.
Plouios, the son of Milan which was tasked with repeating that success, certainly delivered in the manner that would be expected of a horse who cost €52,000 as an unraced three-year-old. Making all the running and jumping with notable confidence for a newcomer, this half-brother to a six-time winner was strongly pressed on the run to the last, however he picked-up once again on the good ground to race clear by the line and score by four-lengths. He is clearly not short of pace which should see him tough to oppose in a bumper, however it is when J.P. McManus’s charge goes over an obstacle that his true potential will be realised, if his round of jumping at Loughanmore is anything to judge him by.
Given the calibre of horses which have already emerged from within last autumn’s four-year-old maidens, including dual-Grade 1 winner Finian’s Oscar, Grade 1-third Poli Roi and three-time track winner Fabulous Saga, the performance of Slate House looks particularly eye-catching. The Presenting gelding had finished fifth behind Champion Bumper third Claimantakinforgan on his debut at Loughanmore in March 2016 on what was his only start during that season. Re-appearing the following November as a transformed and much stronger horse, Ian Ferguson’s charge made much of the running to defeat a field containing a number of very well-bred sorts by upwards of 10 lengths.
Controlling the pace of the race at the head of affairs, once being sent on at the penultimate fence by Noel McParlan, Slate House quickly pulled clear of his rivals. Despite making a final fence error, there was still plenty left in the tank as he comfortably ran out a 10-length winner. A €44,000 purchase as a three-year-old himself, the runner-up, Ringmoylan, cost €42,000 as a store, whilst the third fetched €52,000 at the Land Rover sale indicating the depth of runners which can be found in so many four-year-old maidens at present.
The Stay Humble story is one very similar to one of last season’s Grade 1 winners Bacardys. Like the Punchestown Festival victor, Stay Humble won his maiden point-to-point as a four-year-old whilst carrying the colours of renowned breeder Walter Connors and representing trainer Pat Doyle before being sold privately to Champion Trainer Willie Mullins to run in the colours of Graham & Andrea Wylie.
All involved with this exciting son of Beat Hollow will rightly also have Grade 1 aspirations for him on the back of his winning debut at Ballyone in early April. With 13 runners going to post, one of the larger fields by four-year-old maiden standards at that time of the year, Stay Humble always caught the eye in running in the strongly run contest with the ease at which he travelled through the race in the hands of Derek O’Connor. Easily asserting from the second-last to ultimately win by five lengths in the quickest time of the day, this well-bred horse could have it all and is very exciting.