It is classic weekend at the Curragh but the Group One focus for race-planners at Irish racing's HQ on Sunday will be firmly directed on the make-up of the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the threat to its top-flight status in 2016.
Earlier this year the European Pattern Committee warned that the €250,000 older-horse highlight, which has been won by legendary names such as Montjeu and Daylami, could lose its Group One status if it again fails to meet ratings criteria for identifying top races.
Over an on-going three-year period Group One races have to average an official rating of 115 for the first four finishers. The figures used are those credited to the first four at the end of the season rather than how they are rated in the race itself.
Although internationally acclaimed horses continue to win the Tattersalls Gold Cup, the race has been plagued by small fields over the years with the ratings of horses that fill out the first four sometimes dragging down the average.
In 2013 Al Kazeem, who is likely to line up again this Sunday, beat the dual-Derby winner Camelot but the only two other runners in the race, Windsor Park and Negotiate, were inferior on ratings, with the latter rated only on 88.
In 2012 just five ran, with So You Think beating Famous Name, but the third and fourth, Robin Hood and Bible Belt, wound up handicapped on 99 and 107. That meant the 2012 average was 108.25, while 2013's was 113.5.
Only five lined up again in 2014 when Noble Mission beat Magician. Their end-of-season ratings were 122 and 123, while the third, Euphrasia, was 111 and Einsteins Folly in fourth was a 104.
That's an average of 115.75, which gave the race a reprieve, and hopes are high that a 10-strong entry at the five-day stage for this weekend's race, which also looks set to include The Grey Gatsby, Free Eagle and Luca Cumani's Postponed, can see that pattern maintained.
The Tattersalls Gold Cup is one of just a dozen Group One contests in Ireland and a demotion would be a considerable blow to Irish racing’s prestige.
“Its problem is that it usually gets one very good horse, or two, but otherwise gets small fields with pacemakers or horses making up the numbers, so the average rating of the first four is affected,” said Ireland’s senior flat handicapper, Garry O’Gorman.
Threat “It looks like the Curragh have done really well
[this year]. But the threat is ongoing and the reality is, another sub-115 average could be fatal to the race’s status.”
A feature of this year's Tattersalls Gold Cup will be the lack of an Aidan O'Brien-trained runner. However, that has freed up Ryan Moore to maintain his partnership with The Grey Gatsby, whom he memorably guided to French Derby and Irish Champion Stakes wins in 2014.
The Grey Gatsby’s trainer Kevin Ryan’s worries about soft ground look to be easing – the going is yielding with a largely dry week forecast – and the Yorkshire-based Irishman said: “Ryan is free to ride him so we’re delighted to have him able to keep up the association.”
Dominates As expected, the Newmarket Guineas hero Gleneagles dominates the betting for Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas and he’s one of seven Aidan O’Brien-trained horses among an entry of
16 after the five-day declaration stage.
Also figure among the Ballydoyle possibles are the beaten French Guineas favourite Highland Reel and Sir Isaac Newton, who was beaten in a Chester maiden at odds of 1-6 on his first start of the season.
Richard Hannon’s Ivawood leads a likely cross-channel challenge that also includes Roger Varian’s Belardo, while Dermot Weld has left in the Tetrarch winner Tombelaine.