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.”
Johnny Murtagh has hailed the role of the Irish EBF Auction Series in building his operation to the point where he is now a Group 1- and Royal Ascot-winning trainer, whose success prompted three of the largest owner-breeders in the world to send him horses.
Murtagh was a generational talent as a rider, recording success at the highest level on a global scale including in Ireland, England, France, Germany, USA, Canada, Hong Kong and UAE.
Having been legged up on the best pedigrees around throughout a stellar career, training was always going to begin at a different level without access to the blue bloods. And it is notable how the boss of Fox Covert Stables on The Curragh reflects on the opportunities to access considerable prizemoney – €699,000 this year – in the Irish EBF Auction Series helped him grow.
“It is special, it got us started,” was Murtagh’s glowing reference on the Irish EBF Auction Series Shout Out.
“I can’t thank them enough for it. It gives those horses that opportunity to win good money for syndicates and for the smaller owners who can’t afford the blue bloods of the world. But if you could win one of those it is going a long way to pay the training fees for the year.
“That is what you are trying to do. You are just trying to make sure that the horse that they have in training with you can pay its way.” Murtagh has continued to support the series, even as the quality and quantity of his string has expanded. In all, he has registered eight maiden winners since the commencement of the series in 2015 and accumulated a total of €144,735, with 33 of his 67 runners collecting in some fashion.
Two of those winners have come this year, Lord Gorgeous taking the spoils in the very first race of the series at Dundalk in April and then more recently, Threebagsfull scoring at Bellewstown.
It is the presence of Champers Elysees on the roll of honour that stands out, however. A €28,000 purchase at the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale in 2018, the Fitzwilliam Racing-owned filly collected €17,000 alone for her triumph at The Curragh 12 months later.
She continued to progress through her three-year-old campaign, famously providing Murtagh with his maiden Group 1 success in the Matron Stakes at Irish Champions Weekend 2020. September is clearly her favourite month of the year.
The daughter of Elzaam, who has now accumulated almost €300,000 in prizemoney to date, is far from an outlier when it comes to the quality emerging from the Irish EBF Auction Series.
Laws Of Indices and Helvic Dream are former series maiden winners to provide their trainers Ken Condon and Noel Meade with Group 1 victories this year, having been purchased for just €8,000 and €12,000 respectively, while Gavin Cromwell’s Quick Suzy won the Irish EBF Equine Maiden at The Curragh in May and subsequently landed Group 2 spoils in exhilarating fashion for Gavin Cromwell at Royal Ascot.
In all, there are 24 qualifying races, run over five, six and seven furlongs, confined to EBF-eligible two-year-olds purchased at public auction for €72,000 or less, with weight allowances for horses purchased at lower prices. The minimum value of each race is €20,000 while a final, which is worth €120,000 alone, and an alternative €30,000 nursery final will bring the series to a fitting climax in Naas in October.
There are still 15 maidens remaining this year, including two this weekend at Cork (Friday) and Gowran Park (Saturday), before attentions turn to the Galway Festival contest on July 31st.
For Murtagh, these maidens presented and continue to present an obvious opportunity to source horses and owners, with the potential for getting a return in terms of prizemoney and/or a sale, and the dream of finding a horse capable of competing at the highest level. Success breeds success, not just for the trainer and that means owners are much more likely to reinvest.
“It’s great. When you go to the sales on a budget, you are looking for the horses between the €20,000 and the €40,000 so you are eligible for those auction series. You could run maybe in a maiden and run well, and then I always ask my jockeys, ‘Can she win an auction maiden?’
“The prizemoney is so good. You could rock up at an auction maiden there could be four or five real live chances. They are very competitive but it is a great initiative for those horses. At least you are not rocking up against a Galileo or a Frankel or a Sea the Stars or a War Front. It gives you a chance at your own level.
“And the sweet spot is, if you get one for €10,000 and you are taking on a €50,000 horse, you get the weight allowance. It is a game changer for us. And it is something that we really appreciate that has come on board. We have been lucky in a few but we really appreciate what everybody did behind the scenes to give horses that don’t cost, haven’t the big pedigrees, a chance to pay their way through the year.”
“(As a trainer) it gives you an opportunity to get a win beside your name. Everybody is happy to go to the races. There is no better way to promote yourself than getting those winners on the board. And you get some money in for the kitty to pay for the training fees. And then at the end of the year if you sell on you can go back shopping again for the following year.
“That is the way it has been. That is the way we have ran the business there for the last number of years. It is good prizemoney, it is good profile for you. There is nothing better than bringing people to the races and they walking to that No 1 and standing there for the photo. And then the opportunity to race for the big bonus at the end of the year which is the icing on the cake.”
The success has continued this year in association with new stable jockey Ben Coen, and Create Belief supplied the pair with another landmark triumph in the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
As a result of this glory, founded on having a series for the market of horse he could trade in, the pedigrees are now being sent his way. The Kells native now trains for the Aga Khan, Coolmore and Godolphin, and he was only a neck away from hitting the target for the triplicate of titans in the space of 24 hours last week.
“It was nearly a great weekend because I had the first winner for the Coolmore partners, the first horse they gave me (Ever A Dream, an eight-length handicap winner at Fairyhouse on July 11). Took her a while to win but it was great. To get those owners into the yard it is very hard and then to show them that you can do the business it means a lot.
“We had our first winner for Godolphin the next day (Safecracker bagging a Dundalk 3yo+ maiden). So that was extra special as well because going back years ago, John Oxx had all those horses for Sheikh Mohammed when he came on first. We have only got two horses for them so to win with one of them was good also.
“And we nearly had our first winner for the Agha Khan down in Killarney (when Karakoul was just headed on the line in a 2yo maiden the same day). It was nearly a great weekend’s work but to get those big owner-breeders into the yard (is great). Because there is always a chance you can get that one horse and that is what we are looking for.”
But the Irish EBF Auction Series will remain a key focus of the Murtagh organisation, because of what’s on offer, in terms of prizemoney and potential quality, such as Champers Elysees.
“She went on to win a Group 1 which is really good but I can’t emphasis enough… Everybody targets the auction maiden now because the prizemoney is so good. If you do win you have a chance of going for the final as well. So it’s a great initiative.”
“When you see the likes of Laws Of Indices flying the flag for the series, coming up through the ranks, it can only be encouragement for people to get involved”
“For the owners, it’s dream stuff really. They’re five friends, they spent €8,000, you win a Railway Stakes, you run in Royal Ascot and you win a Group 1 in France”
Ken Condon is targeting an assault on three big prizes for his Irish EBF Auction Series graduate Laws Of Indices, following the Osborne Lodge colt’s elevation to elite status after his stunning Group 1 Prix Jean Prat triumph at Deauville last Sunday.
A return to the picturesque seaside venue Laws Of Indices clearly relishes is likely to be in the offing first, to tackle the older horses in the Prix Maurice de Gheest next month, with the focus then lying on the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October and thereafter, a potential tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Mile in Del Mar at the beginning of November.
“The Maurice de Gheest is on August 8,” notes Condon in the Irish EBF Auction Series Shout Out. “It’s four weeks between both races. We’ll see how he is in the next ten days but that’s where he could go next.
“Longer term, I’d say the Prix de la Foret on Arc weekend is the main target. I think seven furlongs is his optimum trip. If he does go to the Maurice de Gheest, I could see him having a little break and waiting for that race on Arc day. He’d have all the credentials you’d need to run in a Breeders’ Cup Mile as well so that could also be the possibility but I’m sure the Foret is the prime target now.
“The owners are very brave. Their ambition has been rewarded. He’s run in quite a few Group 1s and you don’t do that unnecessarily and I think everything conspired on Sunday to give him his perfect set-up.
“He’s a horse that always turns up. He never lets you down. He looks to be very ground versatile but he wouldn’t have been in love with those very deep conditions (in Ascot and Longchamp last year) and he got probably his perfect set-up the other day; and he got a masterclass from Olivier Peslier from the front. The stars aligned and it was brilliant, fantastic.
“We’re all thrilled. It’s so hard to win these Group 1s. Even to have a horse to take part, it’s a wonderful story. For the owners, it’s dream stuff really. They’re five friends, they spent €8,000, you win a Railway Stakes, you run in Royal Ascot and you win a Group 1 in France… They don’t know what they cost. A great story all round.”
It is a remarkable playlist Condon reels off for Laws Of Indices and one that advertises the calibre of horse available in the middle-to-lower scale of the sales market.
Nothing has illustrated the quality available at a relatively cheap price quite like the Irish EBF Auction Series, which is a staple of the two-year-old programme since its establishment in 2015. Races are confined to EBF-eligible horses purchased at public auction for €72,000 or less, with weight allowances for horses purchased at lower prices.
This year’s total prizemoney is €699,000 through 24 qualifying races over a range of distances from April, with a €120,000 final and an alternative nursery final worth €30,000 in Naas in October.
Condon has won €176,350 since the commencement of the series, with 33 of his 57 runners finishing in the money. He has already been on the mark this term, with €5,500 purchase Harmony Rose landing €14,400 when scoring in the Cork Irish EBF Auction Series Maiden in May and since going on to be placed in Listed company.
Laws Of Indices and Group 2 winner (and twice Group 1-placed) Miss Amulet landed €30,000 between them just from winning Irish EBF Auction Series Maidens at Navan and Cork last year, bought for just €8,000 and €8,325 respectively.
The former has accumulated in excess of €350,000 in total prizemoney, the latter more than €200,000.
“It’s extraordinary. It shows you the strength in depth in Irish racing. There was an Irish EBF auction race run in Roscommon on a Monday evening two years ago now. The winner was Helvic Dream and four and a half lengths behind in second was Champers Elysees. So if you wanted any further proof of what we were talking about, there’s two Group 1 winners. And fellas might be going to Roscommon on a Monday thinking ‘I might have a little chance here with a cheap horse.’ That’s why I keep coming back to the quality.
“It’s a credit to Irish EBF. The proof is in the eating. It allows relatively cheaply-bought horses to get a chance to win some very good prizemoney but as we see, the quality is top class as well. Group 1 winners are there to be found in these races.”
The Harmony Rose Syndicate have intimated their intention to reinvest in a yearling filly after the success of their pride and joy this year, which is a boon to all sectors of the industry and a primary motive of the Irish EBF Auction Series.
“When you see the likes of Laws Of Indices flying the flag for the series, coming up through the ranks, it can only be encouragement for people to get involved. It’s a great series to get involved in.
“I thought Harmony Rose might level out in May or June but she seems to love her racing and to get her Listed-placed last time out, there was great satisfaction involved and the guys got a great kick out of that. She’s not very big. She’s neat but she’s strong and she wants to run and enjoys it. There’s a conditions race in Down Royal next week that might suit her well.”
Meanwhile, Condon is hoping for a big run from Ice Cold in Alex in Saturday’s six-and-a-half-furlong Scurry Stakes on Irish Oaks day at The Curragh.
“All those big meetings at The Curragh are fantastic so it’s always nice to go there with a runner or two with a chance. Ice Cold Alex will take his chance in the Scurry. He’s a horse that it’s been a long time between drinks for. He didn’t win since 2018 ‘til he won at the Curragh Derby weekend. That was tremendous. He’s a great favourite in the yard, he’s been here so long, he’s seven now. He backed that up with a very good run at Fairyhouse (when second). It might be a fraction short of his optimum. The draw is crucial around The Curragh on any given day but he’s in great form.”
Sunday’s Romanised Minstrel Stakes is sponsored by one of Condon’s chief patrons Robert Ng and named after the winner of the last two renewals, who provided Condon with a memorable Irish 2000 Guineas success in 2018 and is now at stud in Haras de Buquetot.
“Romanised is a horse Mr Ng was very fond of, and still is. He’s supporting him at stud. He’s covered 127 mares this year and that part of his career is going well. He’s a fantastic physical of a horse with just that touch of class and acceleration that sometimes is the hallmark of a sire. It’s up to him now. He’s in a good farm and getting plenty of chances.
“He was very good in the race the last two years and it was fitting that Robert Ng was sponsoring and he was delighted to do it. It’s a nice touch and we’d love to have a runner in it, so hopefully Thunder Beauty might run there.”