Racing: Ground-breaking raid led by Murtagh

Click to follow

Eighteen years after Niklas Angel put himself in the record books as the first winner of an all-weather race in Britain, Ms Victoria similarly made herself the answer to a quiz question yesterday. The Mike Halford-trained filly held on under Johnny Murtagh by a short-head to take the MCR Steelworks Race, the prosaically-named start of a new era for Irish racing.

The track at Dundalk, open for equine business again after a six-year hiatus, hosted Ireland's first meeting on a synthetic surface in front of a sell-out crowd of 7,000, with eight races offering a total purse of ¿229,000 (£155,000). There was not a full complement of bookmakers because of a dispute over pitch allocation, but the gaps in the ring did little to dent the enthusiasm for proceedings.

The occasion was supported by all the great and the good. Aidan O'Brien, who came closest to the prizes with Etu, fourth in the finale, said: "This is what racing here has been waiting for. It's just super, a fine big galloping track with a consistent surface."

In the past, O'Brien's attention to detail has meant he has flown contenders for Breeders' Cup dirt races over to Britain's all-weather tracks – Southwell or Lingfield – for pre-race spins. Now he has a practice arena, on the Polytrack surface rapidly finding favour as a dirt replacement in the States, much closer to home. "This project is a credit to everyone concerned," he added. "It's bringing the whole world together."

Dundalk, the chief town of Ireland's smallest county, Louth, has not left much of a footprint on history. But the new track – equidistant between Ireland's two largest cities, Dublin and Belfast – may ultimately bring the place more fame than even its greatest claim so far, the great Celtic myth that is the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

British all-weather racing largely caters for moderate horses and the lower orders will be catered for at Dundalk, which also stages dog racing, at a series of upcoming evening meetings. But decent levels of prize money should ensure yesterday's standards are maintained. In taking the juvenile maiden Leandros earned ¿11,747, more than twice as much as did Ancien Regime, stylish winner of a similar contest at Yarmouth earlier in the afternoon.

Leandros, trained by Ger Lyons, gave Murtagh a double. "In a couple of years," said the jockey, "we'll be wondering how we did without this track."

The day's richest prize, the ¿48,828 for the 10-furlong handicap, went to Charlie Swan's consistent and versatile charge Emmpat, with Billy Lee in the saddle. The nine-year-old, winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle in May, inched out the Gerard Butler-trained All The Good in the final stride.

The weekend's top-level action was in the United States, where Street Sense and Hard Spun, first and second in the Kentucky Derby and both recruited as potential stallions by Sheikh Mohammed, took the feature contests at Saratoga on Saturday night, the 10-furlong Travers Stakes and seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes respectively.

Street Sense had a harder task than expected, narrowly overcoming Grass-hopper after a gruelling duel in 95-degree heat. After a slow early pace the son of Street Cry had to dig deep to get past his unconsidered rival, but did so with a will and his half-length success was decisive in the end. The pair were 10 lengths clear of third-placed Helsinki.

"He couldn't goof around like he sometimes does," said jockey Calvin Borel. "When he gets a length up he'll prick his ears, but Grasshopper didn't give him the chance to do that. But he will always finish when he's hooked up eyeball to eyeball, and once I hit him left-handed, right quick, he pulled away just like I expected."

Street Sense was the first to add the $1m (£496,000) New York feature to his Churchill Downs success since Thunder Gulch 12 years ago, and only the 10th ever. "He was stressed after the race and we had to get him to the hoses quick," said trainer Carl Nafzger, "but he walked off good."

At Deauville yesterday, Irish Wells won the Grand Prix de Deauville for the second consecutive year for Francois Rohaut and Dominic Boeuf.

The four-year-old, who has been highly-tried this season, made all the running and held off the persistent challenge of Poet Laureate.

Comments