Racing

2018 Flat Racing review: Ballydoyle rule the roost but smaller stables too striking it rich

Trainer Jessica Harrington with Alpha Centauri after their win Tattersalls 1000 Guineas during day two of the 2018 Tattersalls Irish Guineas Festival at Curragh Racecourse, County Kildare.
Gary Carson

There has been a remarkable shift in the past 10 years within Irish racing as the National Hunt game has become dominated by a handful of players while the fairytale stories are now more likely to be seen in once elitist Flat racing scene.

The powerhouse of Ballydoyle still rules the roost on the level but we have seen over the last few years more small operations striking it rich.

Ken Condon trained just seven winners in 2018 but crucially one of those was a classic success with Romanised in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

The Holy Roman Emperor colt sprang a shock in the Curragh classic in May and although he failed to show that level again in three subsequent runs it was a terrific achievement for a handler with just 30 horses.

Another filly to hit the heights from humble beginnings was Skitter Scatter who went from Dundalk maiden winner in April to Group 1 heroine on Champions Weekend in September.

Patrick Prendergast is another trainer who showed his ability to produce a top-class animal from small numbers.

The daughter of Scat Daddy progressed with every run throughout the summer before giving her trainer, and jockey Ronan Whelan, a first top level success in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

The star of the Irish Flat racing scene during the summer was the wonderful grey filly Alpha Centauri.

Jessica Harrington's filly had shone brightly at the start of her juvenile career before disappointing slightly on testing ground at the back end.

Having been well held on heavy going on her return this year she was sent to post a 12/1 shot in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

The better ground transformed the daughter of Mastercraftsman and she showed her true worth with a stunning turn of foot to swoop inside the final furlong for classic glory.

With that success under her belt she went on to land three further Group 1 successes on her travels with devastating wins in the Coronation, Falmouth and Jacques Le Marois.

Sadly a homecoming in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown ended in defeat and subsequent retirement after it transpired she had injured a fetlock in her shock reverse to Laurens.

It was a mixed campaign for Aidan O'Brien and Ballydoyle but the Coolmore backed operation still emerged with 14 Group or Grade 1 winners.

It was to prove a breakthrough year for O'Brien's youngest son Donnacha as he tasted classic glory for the first time at Newmarket and went on to land three blue riband events, ending the year as champion jockey in Ireland.

Saxon Warrior started the year in scintillating fashion when taking the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket but failed to live up to his billing in the Derby.

He went down fighting against Roaring Lion in the Eclipse before injury ended his career when again second to his old rival in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Donnacha was on board the right one in the Oaks at Epsom as Forever Together stormed home to record a impressive victory in soft ground.

Aidan O'Brien has long been the dominant force in Irish racing and it's his eldest son Joseph that looks to be emerging as his main rival in the training ranks over the past couple of years.

The Ballydoyle maestro has had to give best to his sons on a few occasions and was a proud father as he greeted the pair after Latrobe's victory in the Irish Derby at the Curragh back in June.

The Camelot colt ran on strongly to claim the €1.5 million prize, holding at bay four Coolmore representatives just behind him.

Over the water it was John Gosden who was the big winner in 2018 with champions Cracksman, Roaring Lion and Enable all under his care.

Like the lady she is, Enable entered the scene fashionably late this year.

After a warm-up at Kempton in September she won a terrific renewal of the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe.

The brilliant filly held off the late surge of Irish Oaks winner Sea Of Class to claim back-to-back victories in Europe's premier race.

Connections felt she might not have been at her best at Longchamp but she still had the class to get the job done.

A month later she lived up her billing once again to hold a game effort by Magical in Breeders Cup Turf and it's a sporting decision by owner Khalid Abdullah to put her back in training for 2019.

Roaring Lion found his niche in the summer over ten furlongs and rattled off four top level successes.

His victory in the Juddmonte was probably the pick of those and he established his superiority over old rival Saxon Warrior in the Eclipse and Irish Champion.

Cracksman had a couple of blips in 2018 but proved what a top-class performer he is on his day in the Champion Stakes at Ascot with a stunning six-length victory in first time blinkers.

He finished his campaign joint on a world leading mark of 130 with the mighty Australian mare Winx.

Like his stable-mate Roaring Lion he headed to the breeding shed but as ever there is plenty to look forward to next year with a new crop of stars on the horizon.

That man Gosden has the 'next big thing' in Too Darn Hot who blazed a trail through an unbeaten juvenile campaign.

A stunning victory in the Dewhurst saw bookies running scared and the Dubawi colt is now as short as 5/4 for the 2,000 Guineas next season.

Aidan O'Brien has his usual slew of classic contenders with plenty more sure to emerge in the early part of 2019.

Chief among the Ballydoyle two-year-olds looks to be the unbeaten Ten Sovereigns who made such a big impression on his Curragh debut and rounded off the year with success in the Middle Park Stakes.

Sickness in the middle of this year may have put a temporary cloud over the Tipperary operation but it's a yard that is never down for long and they are sure to be big players on the classic scene again in 2019.

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