4th July 2020
Eclipse day! Except it's actually Derby day. And Oaks day. And the Eclipse is tomorrow. And if your weather in the south of England isn't hot, that's another anomaly to add to the list. Never mind, The Derby has come around at last and the only colts lining up that I've actually seen are Amhran Na Bhfiann, who was ordinary; Gold Maze, an imposing strong middle-distance type; and Mogul, very plain and ordinary. As Sir Dragonet proved last year, it's too difficult to judge horses from the TV, which adds several kilos to their physique and gives no accurate impression of size, but at least I was able to look at Kameko alongside Innisfree, so I'm fairly confident Kameko is a strong, classy colt. He has the physique to be a middle-distance colt and stay 12f, even though his pedigree suggests 10f is his maximum. But he's a Classic winner and Gr1 winner and class will always out. Against less than top-class rivals his class will see him over the extra furlongs. Going down the Sir Dragonet route, English King looked the part, but without physically seeing these horses in person, it's a tough call.
What is much easier is the dismissal of ludicrous statements such as "bad draw" or "previous trends". There is no bad draw in a Group 1 race and the only trend is that the best horse wins! 53 Derby winners have departed from a randomly-drawn stall to date. If they'd all been randomly drawn Stall 1, it doesn't give Stall 1 an advantage. I suppose the same pundits could write an article about the probability of throwing a six with a single die, if six had just been consecutively thrown five times (it's still one in six, by the way).
If The Derby and Oaks are too tricky for you, try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.
29th June 2020
It was disappointing not to be at the Curragh for the Irish Derby festival, especially as I hadn't seen most of the field. Of those I know, Iberia I'm not keen on, Gold Maze I liked at two and looked as though he'd make a nice middle-distance colt and, of course, Chiricahua I love. Sadly, for whatever reason, the RTE coverage failed to show the horses ahead of the race, so I could only view them as they circled at the start. Chiricahua was badly sweated up and looked too anxious. He ran badly, while Santiago stamped his Ascot form impressively.
This Saturday it will be The Derby and it's an open race so far, with the final entries due out later. English Prince looked impressive in his trial and I'd love to see Kameko win. He may not quite see out the trip, but class will out. Good horses don't need excuses, their class gets them over any difficulty. Military March has advertised his Derby credentials well and I'd be overjoyed to see Saeed bin Suroor gain another Derby. Of the Ballydoyle entries, I love Persia and Nobel Prize, but the latter looks in need of a turn of foot for Classic company and Persia is untried this season. So is my Derby colt, Innisfree. You have to go back to 1996 and 1995 to find a rare example of a horse winning The Derby on his seasonal debut, by coincidence Shaamit managing the feat the year after Lammtarra did so. Lammtarra was Saeed's last Derby winner and it was also the last Derby I attended, in the hope of seeing Thierry Jarnet win on Pennekamp. It was a fairytale ending, but not for the Fabre camp. Pennekamp picked up an injury in the race and was eased down before the straight. Winning jockey Walter Swinburn said when he came in that only Pennekamp was travelling better than him at Tattenham Corner. Never mind, I got to see Thierry win two Arcs on Treve and even have his lucky wristband from the day!
Don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.
22nd June 2020
Well, that was a very entertaining but difficult Ascot week. The first difference was not being there, so to balance the fourteen-plus miles a day of walking it would normally involve, I viewed it on TV from an exercise bike instead of a couch! Not having to dress up was a big plus! Getting used to watching the Derby consolation races as Derby trials was also a bit disconcerting. With over 300 years of Royal Ascot history embedded in my system, the peculiar calendar of this season is hard to adjust to.
Pinatubo again ran with great credit. It has to be remembered he has lost the advantage of physique he held over his immature rivals last year, but not his ability. Trying to assess two-year-olds (and, when I remembered, the prospective Derby colts!) was hit and miss, reliant on TV coverage and camera angles. The Chesham Stakes was one of the more successful viewings and Battleground and March Law were the standouts in the paddock from the whole meeting, both big strong muscular colts with plenty of scope for next season. Stradivarius was an obvious highlight and a true star. Below are my photos of him from last year.
My Ascot week was also enhanced by the addition of two new family members. We adopted two ex-battery hens, who have spent their first fifteen months of life caged in a factory, but are now very happy as free range birds. Little Miss No Feathers gave us quite a scare yesterday when she went missing for over three hours, but was found safely, turning a very sad household into one of joy.
Don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.
13th June 2020
Horseracing is back and I was thrilled to see the gorgeous Kameko win the Guineas. He looks like a Derby horse, but his pedigree suggests 10f is his maximum and not having seen him in person I can't judge by eye. Military March ran a good Derby trial and even Pinatubo ran above my expectations with a fine third. Onwards to the Curragh and a great pity Siskin couldn't have a normal season and take in the St James's Palace Stakes, but the Sussex Stakes beckons instead. He is a beautiful neat little colt, oozing class, and I'm so pleased for Ger Lyons and his team in securing their first Classic.
It was odd to be watching the Curragh on TV, something I've not done in about 25 years, but I will also be watching Royal Ascot on TV for the first time in 15 years. Royal Ascot is the week I get to view the UK and international horses and, crucially, the two-year-olds; but this year that will not be the case. The importance of judging by eye, and not form or times, was highlighted by Pinatubo being sent off favourite for a race he was never going to win. My missing the racing this year will have a big impact next year.
Don't forget to try out a devilishly tricky sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.
3rd June 2020
It's good to have the Classic generation back and even better to see another example of such infectious enthusiasm and utter confidence from Mickael Barzalona, who was once again already standing in the irons punching the air before Victor Ludorum had reached the winning post! His similar action in what to others appeared a tight photo-finish on Pour Moi in The Derby remains one of my all-time racing highlights. The funny thing is, the photos of the finish never show his celebrations, as photographers wait until the actual finish to click! Thank you, Mickael, you are a ray of sunshine.
The UK Classics are the coming highlight and it would be lovely to see a champion emerge in the expected style of Pinatubo, but from what I've twice seen of him I suspect he will find it hard to beat Kameko or Military March. A pity Innisfree won't be there, or my suspicion would be certainty.
While back to work with magazines and teaching, I am also returning to my youthful creative roots and keeping a handwritten journal for the Kildare Arts Project. Alongside other journals, it will form a digital art display for the future, to reflect back on the covid lockdown. My novels see me writing about my creations, my magazines see me writing the thoughts of others, so it has been quite an interesting pastime to consider my own thoughts and reflections and set them to paper. Unlike fictional characters, however, my own thoughts are not of that much interest! I'm pretty grateful for my contented life and wouldn't swap it for the perils of my creations!
Don't forget to try out this devilishly trick sliding puzzle game created by my husband! here.
21st May 2020
I have been busy all week with various literary committees, as well as some interesting articles to write, which have involved a lot of research. Progress on "Grey Motive" has inevitably slowed, but I have found a minute or two to complete Leitmotif's pictorial pedigree. Many of his relations I was lucky enough to see race and I have been able to use my own photos, never dreaming at the time I took them that I would one day own one of their grandchildren! Here are his parents, First Melody and Linamix, and First Melody's slightly more successful son, El Ventisquero.
Tony's also been keeping busy, check out his sliding puzzle game here.
15th May 2020
I have been enjoying the racing from France and Germany, shown live on their governing body's websites, but the return of racing in Britain and Ireland isn't quite so accessible, which is disappointing. It will be strange to watch the champions emerge without the usual historic route to stardom we're used to.
I've been progressing quite well on the novel-in-progress, Grey Motive, but have taken a break to work on the forthcoming issues of Irish Trainer and European Trainer magazines, involving fascinating research and the opportunity to chat with trainer Takashi Kodama, which was so enjoyable. What a lovely man and so very insightful.
I also discovered a very successful half-brother to my own horse, Leitmotif, a champion in Uruguay called El Ventisquero. It's exciting to have such a good horse in the family! I'm compiling a pictorial pedigree of Leitmotif, as I have been lucky enough to see in person many of his famous relations. It's a lovely link to history and every name brings back wonderful memories.
1st May 2020
French racing returns 11th May, which is good news, but we may need to wait a little longer for racing in Ireland and the UK. The French Guineas will be held 1st June and the Prix du Jockey Club and Diane will be run 5th July. We would have been enjoying the first Guineas tomorrow and what a match awaits us when it's finally run, with Kameko and Innisfree. The distance should suit Kameko, while a good performance over a trip a bit too short will see Innisfree and Military March bang on for The Derby. What of Pinatubo? Will he have progressed as strongly as his peers over the winter? I have my doubts.
I'm not really missing going racing, or going out. We have enjoyed live concerts beamed to our sofa and there's plenty of writing to be done, so all is well here, at least.
18th April 2020
There remains hope I'll be able to report in person on the spring Classics, but they will probably be summer Classics! Hopefully the season can be shuffled, but my heart goes out to the trainers and their team who are struggling to keep horses ticking over, with no fixed target. The fillies and two-year-olds must be posing quite a challenge. The two-year-olds are still being taught their trade and have no idea what a racecourse is yet. If they are nearer three than two by the time their chance comes, the precocious ones will be unable to compete and the tougher ones will be a proper handful. The late-maturers should be better suited to a later season, but will have experience so against them.
Trainers are losing horses, too, as horses return to stud farms to save on fees. Hopefully pre-trainers are gaining from this, but it's a horrible time for every profession. Remembering better days, I've been busy posting up very old (and poor!) photos from my earliest days' racing, with lots of happy memories. Check them out on Facebook @80sHorseracringScrapbook if you're old enough to remember today's names when they were FIRST used!
5th April 2020
Virtual Classic Trials Day at Leopardstown! If Aintree can go ahead, then I'm damn sure the Ballylinch Stud Classic Trials can still go ahead, too. I'm a fiction author as well as a journalist, so welcome to sunny Leopardstown on this fine spring day, with an equally sunny smile from Carol Cusack as I collect my first pass of the season. Welcome back! Smells Like Teen Spirit is playing over the tannoy as I enter (if it isn't, then I already miss Pat Keogh!) and I meet manager Tim Husbands for the first time. Then it's up to the pre-parade ring to see the 3yos for the quality one-mile maiden. Springbank has done well over the winter for Johnny Murtagh, but is no match for Jim Bolger's Agitare at the line.
The Ballylinch Stud 2000 Guineas Trial over 7f is next up and Aesop is looking well for Jessie Harrington, but it's Siskin who strides out a clear winner, a very nice return to keep his unbeaten record intact. I think this trip may be his limit, though. In comparison, So Wonderful looks like she'll relish the step up to a mile when springing a surprise in the 1000 Guineas Trial. Runner-up Cayenne Pepper is another who needs further.
The handicap passes unnoticed, as I'm up at the saddling boxes looking at the Derby colts ahead of the 10f Ballysax Stakes. Justifier really fills the eye (and I'm wondering anxiously why he's not listed still by Ger Lyons!), and Geometrical looks well but better suited to a mile. Of the Ballydoyle trio, eventual winner Monument Valley looks full of quality, as does Sherpa, but it's the favourite, third home Cabot Hills, who looks the more relaxed Derby-type. Of course, the better Derby horses are yet to appear and the Guineas will prove the best trial. Let's hope I won't be reporting on it virtually!
28th March 2020
A strange first day of the Flat in the UK, as it's a non-starter and unlikely to be back until May. Our own first day back was behind closed doors and now even that has ended. As much as I couldn't wait to be over the cold turkey of the winter break, my first day back at Doncaster was always a bit subdued. As much as I fought it, the last day, at the same track, was always quite joyful and celebratory. I wrote a short story about it, The Last Post.
I'm managing to survive without seeing racehorses and very much enjoying having the family home and all safely working from our laptops here for the past two weeks. We're looking forward to another three weeks of it and will be sorry to return to normal service. It also means more time to devote to the novel-in-progress, "Grey Motive", as I have no actual work to distract me! Happy days, in fact, despite that dreaded Lurgy!
15th March 2020
So much for looking forward to The Flat. Racing is taking place behind closed doors, although other sports have ceased completely, so we should be grateful for small mercies. The pre-season look at Aidan O'Brien's Classic hopefuls is now seriously at risk as well, but I know my top four there and I'm confident in how they would have progressed this winter. Saeed bin Suroor sends good reports of Military March, as well, back in serious work.
Slightly more upsetting is the cancellation of a lot of great music gigs. Even the International Ska Festival at Easter in Tramore has been postponed. With no racing and no gigs, I really will be able to get that book written!
11th March 2020
While all around me are soaking up Cheltenham, I'm getting excited about the first day of The Flat at Naas 29th March! I have The Derby and the Guineas entries to keep me occupied until then and, of the 139 Derby hopes, Innisfree is The One. Nobel Prize is in there too, Persia may prefer the St Leger and Shoshone Warrior needs to step up at three. A notable absentee is Military March, who will need to be supplemented but will look every inch the part come the Guineas. Roll on June!
I'm pleased to say March is also a good month for Sainte Bastien, which is in the running for Cover of the Month. It was selected for the shortlist and is now through to the final 50. Here's hoping! Cast your votes via links on my social media.
25th February 2020
As you can see from the dates, all in a day's work turns out to be nearer a fortnight's! Still, all clear now, so I may start to make a dent on that 'this year'� deadline I've set myself for my next novel, "Grey Motive". I'm happy with the storyline so far and I'm enjoying the characters involved, so no excuse but time to progress.
I'm still reeling a little from some of the features I worked on, particularly the research into substance abuse within the horseracing industry. Even now, it's only just sinking in that such abuse was at the root of the early demise of the friends I've lost to illness and suicide. We took so much for granted in our youth and saw nothing unusual in champagne diets and diuretics. That has now been recognised as a problem and support networks are in place. But sadly it's not the problem, merely the symptom, and the bigger problem is never going away.
14th February 2020
No sooner did Racing Certainty magazine go safely to print, other deadlines loomed! This week I've been busy interviewing vets about common procedures faced by racehorses and the great facility at the Irish Equine Centre. I've also researched substance abuse within the racing industry, which is truly heart-rending, and professional development options for the racing community. Just left now with the minor problem of attracting the next generation to the sport! All in a day's work!
6th February 2020
My good news of this week is that the magazine I edit and write for, Racing Certainty, was signed off and sent to print. It should be with you by the end of the month. It can also be read online if you follow the link on my USEFUL LINKS page. You may need to search for the 2020 issue. It was a real pleasure meeting with and interviewing those featured. It did limit the progress of Grey Motive, though, so it's now time to crack on with that.
1st February 2020
Gina Rarick has been having a successful Cagnes-sur-Mer campaign and it's fun to watch the horses racing past the beach. I don't often get to see a blue sky and blue sea! At the moment I'm pinned to my laptop, producing the Racing Certainty magazine, but I did get to complete a further 1,000 words of my next novel, Grey Motive. My work on the novel also included deleting about 1,200 previously completed words, so it's a bit of a case of one step forward, two steps back! Still, when it is finally finished it will be all the better for my fussiness.
19th January 2020
I spent a very productive and enjoyable day yesterday at the Writers' Centre, discussing with other professional writers the current issues facing Irish writers and those worldwide. I spoke about the many functions of the Writers' Union and must now set a goal of increased awareness of Public Lending Right. Few people realise the purpose is to compensate authors for the multiple loans of single copies and a specific budget funded by copyright licensing ensures this small remuneration does not come out of library budgets or Arts funding. Ireland has the lowest rate in Europe at 0.04ct, which means ten loans result in 4ct! It is 7p in the UK and the job now of the Union is to work on this discrepancy. Meanwhile, my personal goal to write at least 1,500 words a week of my novel "Grey Motive" has again been put off until next week!
For anyone following the stable of Gina Rarick, we had a good day yesterday, all five runners finishing in the money and one winner. No wonder Cagnes has been one of my favourite meetings since my teens.
14th January 2020
It has been a quiet time for Flat racing, so I enjoyed a visit to Coolmore Stud, catching up with old heroes. I will never forget Camelot's heroic St Leger defeat, standing watching in silence, breath held. He is one of the most professional horses I've been privileged to meet and he still is; that magnificent blend of playful interest and utter professionalism when called upon. Australia remains a sweet-natured, unflappable horse and, wow, what a looker Magna Grecia is! He and Churchill are so impressive. I also stopped in to see my young man, Sea The Stars!
This week saw the opening of the Cagnes-Sur-Mer Flat meeting and what a joy to watch horses racing past a pretty promenade and beach, especially from a cold, grey and thoroughly wet Ireland! I am following the stable of Gina Rarick and having lots of fun cheering home her horses.
I have also been busy with various interviews, about my books and writing in general. My advice, as always, to would-be writers is don't waste time analysing or learning theory, just sit down and write the book you want to read. If you enjoy writing it, and will enjoy reading it, then so will others.
4th January 2020
Happy new year to everyone, may it be enjoyable and healthy. I'm busy working on a new, improved website, so hopefully there will be more photos and stories to share in the coming weeks. Plenty of Innisfree - the horse, not the place! I'm also determined to get Grey Motive, the novel-in-progress that hasn't been, back underway and finished! But first my new year kicks off with the first of my regular slots on the UK's Chat And Spin radio on Tuesday (7th) at 5.20pm, when I will be chatting about one of my books. Friday will then find me on hallowed ground, viewing stallions at Coolmore Stud. I can't wait to catch up with some equine friends and heroes. Lots to look forward to for 2020!
3rd November 2019
Last day of the Flat today at Naas and I had thought the biggest draw would be Nobel Prize. As it was, a very close second, both in the parade ring beforehand and in the race, was Chiricahua. A lovely colt and a lot to look forward to next year. A definite Classic prospect, but 10f could be his maximum on paper. Nobel Prize remains a Derby colt, but I think his stablemate Innisfree is the better prospect. I haven't seen Kameko in the flesh, but he has always looked a lovely colt and if he could get more than 10f he has already proved himself superior to Innisfree. However, that's a big if. My Derby dreams will be with Innisfree.
20th October 2019
How can I be disappointed by Stradivarius, when he ran another great race to go down so narrowly to my beloved Kew Gardens? Stradivarius thought he'd won, so no disappointment for him! He came in yelling his delight! I know my Kew doesn't like soft ground, so I'm very proud of him. A great run from two of my favourites, followed by a third favourite, the adorable Star Catcher, who then gave Frankie his 250th Group One winner and will remain in training next season. Fantastic! Then Magical left Aidan O'Brien with only two elusive British Gr1s to obtain (King's Stand & Sprint Cup), giving him his first Champion Stakes. Japanese heroine Deirdre ran well for third. Not such an anti-climax after all, but we've only the Futurity Stakes left now. Only Cagnes-Sur-Mer to look forward to thereafter!
19th October 2019
For me, the racing season ends on Arc day. We are building toward The Derby and Classics all winter, but the Arc is always the holy grail on the horizon, the one race that separates the season's champion from the good ones. This year we may have seen the champion on the wrong side of the separating line, but all credit to the wonderful Waldgeist for having the finishing turn of foot to defeat the mighty Enable.
After the Arc, all else is an anti-climax. We have our champion and are merely sorting out the minor medals. I'm a great one for tradition and remembering winners of old, so while the Champion Stakes still excites me, the Breeders Cup has a long, long way yet to go. If I were ever an owner, I'd have no interest in having a runner there. A top-class horse should end its season at Longchamp or Ascot (grudgingly), the Champion Stakes will always be at Newmarket in my heart! A top-class horse should be racing, so to see Enable return to race as a six-year-old is the highlight of this season and there is no reason why she won't get her third Arc in the end.
Looking back on the season so far, once again the sprinters haven't established a true champion, and the three-year-olds haven't been outstanding, but for the first time in many years we have a true champion stayer and I will settling down now to cheer on Stradivarius. I hope the ground doesn't get him, but he hates to lose and will fight to the finish. It will take a brave horse to pass him!
1st October 2019
Ireland's Future Champions Day at the Curragh didn't disappoint and seeing Innisfree could be my highlight of the season. Definitely a future Classic horse, if not a champion. He reminds me very much in build and expression of a past champion, often overlooked, High Chaparral. He has shot to the top of my Derby list and is my idea of the winner.
Persia, Nobel Prize and Shoshone Warrior are three other very nice Derby prospects and I haven't lost faith in the Guineas prospects of Lope Y Fernandez, but Earthlight definitely looks the one to beat if everyone catches up with, and overtakes, Pinatubo at three.
26th September 2019
Irish Champions Weekend never disappoints and I had the added treat of meeting the Japanese filly, Deirdre, following her excellent run in the big race itself. We are honoured to have hosted the first Japanese-trained runner in Ireland and I hope more follow in her hoof steps.
I'm so excited about the all-two-year-old card at the Curragh this Sunday, where we will be on one of our final watches for next year's champions! Last year was an easy one, but frustrating, spent looking for a Derby horse rather than assessing any. I liked Magna Grecia, Quorto, Advertise (milers) and Anthony Van Dyck, our only Derby colt, but I thought the UK or France must surely have a better one. I didn't think Madhmoon looked to have scope, but he grew in muscle more than height over the winter and pleasantly surprised me. The fillies, in stark contrast to the colts, were a lovely bunch.
The really good Classic types start to emerge September and October, and yet already I have a nice list and a lot to be assessing. It really has been a busy season and no day more so than a Curragh card with four juvenile races, two of which were Group class, from which no fewer than 22 horses went into the notebook! Considering 21 got noted over the whole of Royal Ascot, it shows the strength of card. Six more got added at a later meeting and another at Champions Weekend.
I note only the better-quality horses who may be Classic contenders next year. The ordinary ones, or precocious 2yos, aren't part of my job description, so often you'll find on my list the 5th or 8th in a race but not the winner. Today's result is rarely a factor in next year's predictions. Stay tuned to The Diary for an end-of-season update as the 2020 Classic horses get finalised on my list! How high will Persia, Nobel Prize and Lope Y Fernandez be, or will Earthlight set the scene for the Year of the French?
3rd September 2019
It was a hectic evening's work at the Curragh two meetings ago, with a great many really promising 2yos on view, several who could be Classic prospects next season. Things got even more exciting at the next meeting and last Friday evening the stars really came out! The rather ordinary Mogul might have won, but it was those behind him who set the heart pounding. Shoshone Warrior looks a very good Derby prospect, while Nobel Prize could be The Derby winner himself. And look no further than Lope Y Fernandez for the Guineas. Pinatubo is the better 2yo, but tables will turn next year at three.