John O’Connor, Chairman of the Irish European Breeders’ Fund since 2010, announced today that he will step down as Chairman at the upcoming AGM of the Irish EBF later this week.
Commenting on his decision, O’Connor said: “Since I was first elected as Chairman in 2010 I have been honoured to be re-elected by the Governors on four occasions. I am very grateful for the support of all the Governors during my tenure as Chairman and in particular to Joe Foley my Deputy Chairman since 2017.
During that time the Irish EBF has brought forward a large number of new initiatives which benefit the industry at all levels and this year the Irish EBF contributed a record €2.6 million to Irish prize money. This has been achieved by the contribution of all the Irish Stallion Farms, large and small including both Flat and National Hunt. It underlines the commitment of the Irish Stallion Farms to support the Irish Racing Industry and reflects the efficiency of our excellent manager Nessa Joyce.
I am very proud of the achievements of the Irish EBF and the significant role that it plays supporting the Irish Racing Industry at many levels, but I feel that now is a good time to pass on the baton to one of the other Governors. I will remain on as a Governor and will be available to give my full support to my successor as Chairman.”
Noel Meade has reported Irish EBF Auction Series graduate Helvic Dream to be “in tremendous form” and is hoping to have his Group 1 hero primed for a tilt at some elite autumn prizes including the English Champion Stakes.
The one fly in the ointment is the health cloud hanging over the yard at the moment that has impacted the performances of other high-class Series alumnae, one-time Irish 1000 Guineas hopeful Elysium and Layfayette, and prevented star hurdler Jeff Kidder from availing of a potentially attractive handicap mark on the Flat.
To that end, Meade has opted to cut right back on his runners at present, which is a frustration for a man who has enjoyed such a resurgence on the level in recent years.
There was a time when Tu Va Stables was operating at a high end on the Flat, Sweet Mint famously scoring in the Cork and Orrery Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1978. Meade saddled two Guineas runners-up and also finished fourth in an Epsom Derby before going on to dominate National Hunt as an eight-time champion trainer.
The inauguration of the Irish EBF Auction Series in 2015 prompted a re-emphasis on the Flat game by the Meath conditioner though, with its 24 races over a variety of trips confined to juveniles bought for €72,000 or less at public auction. With weight allowances for cheaper horses and phenomenal prizemoney – Irish EBF are funding a total fund of €699,000, culminating in the €120,000 final at Naas on October 17 – Meade was just one of many to spot an opportunity.
Of his 68 runners, 31 have been in the money, accumulating €130,175 from horses with an average purchasing price of €10,991.
“It’s had a huge bearing on it,” asserted Meade in the Irish EBF Auction Series Shout Out of the Series’ influence on his growing visibility on the Flat in recent years.
“We’ve been quite lucky in the last couple of years with the horses we bought. At the moment, the National Hunt market is very strong and it’s got very difficult to buy into. We found we were able to buy horses of value on the Flat front. We’ve been lucky in the last couple of years so we decided to buy a few more. This year we have 12, 13, 14 two-year-olds and I intend to do the same again this year.
“The last couple of years we’ve had a good one for each year. Helvic Dream came along (winning his Irish EBF Auction Series Maiden at Roscommon in 2019) and he’s been a legend in this place because he never stopped improving and ended up winning a Group 1 and that was from a €12,000 beginning. So that was a big hit.
“Last year we had a very nice two-year-old called Elysium (who landed her Irish EBF Auction Series maiden at Navan) and she ended up winning a Group 3 at The Curragh and being sold to an American owner who left her with us. Unfortunately we’ve had a bad old run with her this year, nothing has gone right. We’ve been struggling with her blood and a kind of a deep-seated infection in her lungs. Hopefully we will get her straightened out before the end of the year. But she’s still there and if we can get her back on track, I think she has a load of ability.
“We were looking forward to running her in one of the Guineas trials and we were hoping to run her in the Irish Guineas. Just a fortnight or so before the Trial, we felt that she wasn’t doing her stuff the way she should have been. Her bloods were wrong, we did all sorts of tests and we’ve been working on her ever since.
“I thought I had her right and we sent her over to (Royal Ascot) but everything went wrong that day. The ground was too quick for her and she ran very free but actually scoped wrong afterwards as well so we’re back to square one and we’re hoping now that we get her out before the end of August. She does want a bit of cut in the ground. We can’t run on her fast ground.”
Layfayette’s failure to land a blow in the Royal Whip Stakes at The Curragh last week was another indication that all is not right. A September 2019 Irish EBF Auction Series Maiden victor at Navan and subsequent Final runner-up, the son of French Navy has been in good form this term, getting the year off to a brilliant start by winning the Irish Lincolnshire at Headquarters in March and adding a Listed prize to his CV at Roscommon in June, having run a cracker when sixth of 30 runners in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot.
“We’ve been struggling with the last two or three weeks with something similar that’s been happening to Elysium. The horses are just not right and the blood tests are coming up wrong. We tested him before we went and we thought we were happy but he stopped too quick. The one thing that Layfayette will always do is he’ll finish out and he didn’t finish out at all.
“Chris Hayes rode him and he knows him very well and when he found he wasn’t right he eased him down at the end. He’s on the easy list for a short while… I think he can go on further. He’s rated 100 at the minute and I don’t think that’s the top of him yet. I think he can get on a bit further. I’d put a line through his last run.”
Thankfully, Helvic Dream’s absence since mowing down subsequent Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud victor Broome when providing Meade with his first ever Group 1 success in the Tattersalls Gold Cup in May has had nothing to do with being under the weather, however.
“He grows a leg when he gets soft ground so we felt there was no point in keeping him up on a high the whole summer just hoping we might get the ground. So we decided we’d give him a complete break. We gave him a break for the best part of a month and he’s back in training now with a view to running him in the autumn.
“He’s entered in a few races. There’s a race in France on Arc weekend (the Group 2 Prix Dollar) which is a possibility and he’s entered in the English Champion Stakes. I know that’s flying a bit high but we felt that if there’s a chance of getting very soft ground that would bring him into the reckoning. He’s in the Irish one as well but I suppose the chances of getting that sort of ground in Leopardstown are pretty slim. But on his day, he’s entitled to run in those races if things go right.
“He’s in tremendous form. I just got a blood test back from him today (Monday) and he’s absolutely in tremendous form. I think the break has freshened him up well. He looks tremendous and we’re really happy with where we are with him at the moment.” Jeff Kidder provided Meade with his sixth Cheltenham Festival triumph in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle last March and built on that to land Grade 2 and Grade 1 honours at Fairyhouse and Punchestown subsequently. A planned Flat campaign has had to be shelved however, for the moment at least.
“He was a revelation. As the season went on, he just got better and better and better. I was actually looking forward to him coming back and running in a few Flat races because he’s reasonably handicapped at the moment and… I was hoping he’d end up winning a few. But again, he got held up with whatever the hell is on so we have to wait.
“It’s a tough year for him as a hurdler, as a four-year-old turning (five), it’s not a simple year for them. He has to play with the big boys now and that’s not going to be simple. But he’s in good form and if he gets back healthy again, I’m sure he’ll acquit himself well.” Meade is finding it hard to pinpoint exactly what the issue is that is impinging on his horses’ performances.
“There doesn’t appear to be anything much wrong with them to look at them but they’re just not finishing out. It’s not something I didn’t have before and it’s probably not something I won’t have again and every trainer has it at some stage but it’s just frustrating when it happens. You just have to sit and suffer and wait until you get out of it.
“We’re going to have very few runners for the next ten or 12 days. That’s just where I’m at. Although they’re not sick or anything like that, I’m not happy with the way they’re firing at the minute so I just have to wait and suffer through it.”
Chestnutter and Might And Mercy are two fillies he pinpoints as capable of winning maidens and will be pencilled in for the Irish EBF Auction Series Final, which has an early closing date for entries of September 15.
“I’m hoping we’ll get them back on track again. We’d a great Spring and this has just slowed us down at the minute. It had been hitting me for a while and I’ve been pitching my way through it but I’ve just got to the stage where I have to stop and wait. Hopefully we can get back on track before too long and we’ll be back firing on all cylinders. We have a few two-year-olds we’d like to run. I’d like to get them out if I can and I hope we’ll be able to buy a few more.”
Cream Sparkes (IRE) earns an additional €15,000 for Roscommon owner
Connections of Cream Sparkles (IRE) had a night to remember at Ballinrobe Racecourse on Monday when winning the €20,000 RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle in a photo-finish under a cool ride by Denis O’Regan for Roscommon owner Micheál O’Connor and County Fermanagh trainer David Christie.
In addition to winning the series race, which offered €12,000 prize money for first place, Cream Sparkles (IRE) also scooped €5,000 from the Weatherbys / Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (ITBA) National Hunt Fillies Bonus Scheme and qualified for a €10,000 Irish thoroughbred sales house voucher as part of Horse Racing Ireland’s IRE Incentive campaign – €27,000 total winnings. She is also now well placed to enter the €75,000 Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final at the 2022 Punchestown Festival.
The win was made even sweeter for Roscommon owner Micheál O’Connor as he bought the horse for €5,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland August National Hunt sale in 2017.
MicheálO’Connor said: “We had a brilliant evening in Ballinrobe and I was thrilled for Denis and David too. It was an extra special winner for my family and me as I bought Cream Sparkles myself and look forward to keeping her as a broodmare when her racing career finishes.
“The series of auction races run by Irish EBF and Red Mills are a great idea and hopefully we get a shot at the big final at Punchestown next year. The Weatherbys / ITBA NH Fillies Bonus Scheme and Horse Racing Ireland’s IRE Incentive Scheme are a big draw for a small owner/breeder like myself and I look forward to re-investing at the bloodstock sales very soon.”
Nessa Joyce, Irish EBF Manager, said: “Cream Sparkles win in the series is the perfect showcase for buying and racing a mare in Ireland. The auction hurdle series is the only place where both bonuses are on offer in National Hunt races and we are delighted for her connections to have scooped the brilliant prize-money and both bonuses. The series has 14 more qualifying races to run before the final and hopefully more great stories will emerge like Cream Sparkles and possibly we will see her in the €75,000 series final at Punchestown next year.”
Gareth Connolly, Sales and Marketing Director at Connolly’s RED MILLS, said; “This is the result we’ve all been waiting for; all of the RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series races offer the ITBA fillies bonus and to see it collected for a mare that cost just €5,000 is the cherry on top of a great result for all the connections of Cream Sparkles, and then for the IRE Incentive bonus to apply, that just made it even sweeter. This series has been all about creating opportunities for horses in the lower to middle segment of the market, we’ve seen some brilliant results over the last three years and witnessed so many horses and their connections enjoy some memorable days, collecting significant prize-money for their efforts. For RED MILLS it is so important that what we invest back into the industry makes an impact and we’re very grateful to the Irish EBF and Horse Racing Ireland for working with us to make this series work for the industry and of course our customers.”
Charles O’Neill, CEO of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, commented: The Cream Sparkles story is exactly what IRE Incentive Scheme is all about – targeting owners of all sizes across the 150 selected races over the Irish Flat and National Hunt programmes. The €10,000 sales voucher is a practical way assist owners to re-invest in quality Irish bloodstock at the Irish thoroughbred sales and it’s great to see the money being re-invested West of the Shannon. Congratulations to owner Micheál O’Connor and all winning connections – all the stars seemed to align for them in Ballinrobe on Monday.”