Strange times, but today's start of the Flat is of no small significance
We are living in strange times, each week more bizarre than the last and amid all the global uncertainty the restart of Flat racing on Irish turf at Naas on Monday might seem parochial, yet it is of no small significance.
To the racing world it represents the green shoots of spring, the first two-year-olds to feel the grass of a racecourse under their feet, sleek, top-class, potentially Classic thoroughbreds back on track. It also provides some sort of reassurance, even if it is taking place behind closed doors, on an unusual day and with no certainty that it is the beginning of a season that will unfold with any normality.
Not only is there racing, Naas presents a compelling card full of intriguing contests and questions: so here we are looking forward to seeing last year's Derby favourite Sir Dragonet in the Devoy Stakes, wondering whether another Classic winner like Awtaad is masquerading as a handicapper in the Madrid Handicap and if a 1,000 Guineas contender will emerge from the Park Express Stakes. That is if there is a 1,000 Guineas this year.
We are in a very peculiar place right now and this is a very peculiar Monday. Whatever your view on whether racing should be continuing behind closed doors, for a few hours, a few miles from the home of Irish Flat racing, there will be a temporary release from the wretchedness of what's going on all over the world. Naas will put on a brave face.
If normality is to return this summer, boy is there a lot to look forward to. Pinatubo might have done an uncanny impression of Frankel in the National Stakes, but Siskin is unbeaten, too, and that Anglo-Irish clash in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket would be some showdown.
Now that Ger Lyons has finally won a domestic Group 1 you sense a first Classic is just around the corner too.
And, don't forget about Aidan O'Brien. As if you would. Arizona had Pinatubo petrified a furlong from home in the Dewhurst and he looked all class when winning the Coventry. The first Classic of the campaign has gone to a Ballydoyle resident for the last three years on the trot and ten times in all. That is domination.
Jessica Harrington dominated the top races for juvenile fillies last season and she has surely got her eyes firmly fixed on the Classics with her quality quartet. Albigna, Alpine Star, Cayenne Pepper and Millisle were all tremendous at two and have the potential to be even better at three. They are getting excited out in Moone.
Could Kew Gardens be the new Yeats and turn into a staying sensation? Will Dermot Weld continue to get a tune out of last year's Irish St Leger heroine Search For A Song? How will the first-season sires do? And do you think Donnacha O'Brien will hit the ground running just as older brother Joseph did? So many questions. Here's hoping we get to find out some answers.
Aidan O'Brien is getting his team out early at Naas, perhaps due to all the uncertainty that lies ahead. The opening turf maiden hasn't had a Ballydoyle representative since 2013 when Stubbs finished third.
You have to rewind all the way to 2004 to find the last time O'Brien sent out the winner of the first maiden of the season. That is an astonishing statistic when you consider his stranglehold on the juvenile division over the last couple of decades.
Lipizzaner, a son of Uncle Mo, is out to end that drought under Seamie Heffernan. He is the chosen one from five Ballydoyle entries for the race.
O’Brien has six runners in all on the opening day, but most eyes will be drawn to Sir Dragonet. This time last year we had never even seen the son of Camelot. He achieved an awful lot in a very short space of time and traded at a low of 1.66 on the exchanges in-running in the Derby.
He finished only fifth but was just three-quarters of a length behind stablemate Anthony Van Dyck. Given how long it took him to appear, there is a strong suspicion he will come into his own as a four-year-old.
There might not be any obstacles jumped at Naas, but there have been any amount of obstacles cleared to get here. The Irish Flat season is about to take off. No crowds and no fanfare, just an industry doing everything possible to continue in unprecedented adversity. Take care one and all.
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