Gigginstown urge Leopardstown to consider watering track

Stud plans to enter almost 70 horses as Apple’s Jade bids for Champion Hurdle glory

The pressure appears to be on Leopardstown to provide "safe" going for this weekend's Dublin Racing Festival.

Such ground conditions have been described as vital for Irish racing as a whole by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team which has entered almost 70 horses for the two-day €1.8 million extravaganza.

The Ryanair chief executive's star Apple's Jade is on course for Saturday's BHP Irish Champion Hurdle and features as a 5-4 favourite to become a first mare in 16 years to land the €175,000 Day One feature.

However Eddie O’Leary warned that running plans for the rest of Gigginstown’s mammoth weekend entry – including other likely Grade One favourites, Delta Work, Battleoverdoyen and Vision D’honneur – will be made on a “horse by horse basis”.


O’Leary pointed to how some of Gigginstown’s Christmas runners at Leopardstown returned home with sore shins on unseasonably quick going which continues to persist even during the depths of winter.

The ground on the chase track at Leopardstown is currently “good” while it is “good to yielding” on the hurdles course.

Up to 20mms of rain is forecast to fall at the course on Thursday. But even that represents a potential headache for officials as some of it may fall as snow. Night-time temperatures are also expected to dip as low as minus two over the rest of this week.

Leopardstown's clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer said on Tuesday he is "mindful" of the snow threat although he added that current indications are for the worst of the weather front to stay to the south later this week.

Eddie O'Leary however has urged the Leopardstown team, headed by chief executive Pat Keogh, to consider watering if it is necessary.

“We need, as an industry, safe ground at the weekend or else you risk busting up your Cheltenham horses. These are Cheltenham preps and we need a safe surface. You need to guarantee it – Cheltenham would,” said the Gigginstown spokesman.

“I am hoping to God soft will appear somewhere [on the ground description]. They’re supposed to get 10-15mms on Thursday and it will take all of it to make it good to soft. It’s all very worrying in early February, with Cheltenham preps, that it’s like this.

Two miles

“I suppose Man plans and God smiles: God might smile – but Pat Keogh has a sprinkler!” O’Leary added.

Just half a dozen horses remain in Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle with four of them owned by the O’Leary team.

They include the 2017 winner Petit Mouchoir although all eyes will be on Apple’s Jade who bids to win her 10th career Grade One by dropping back to two miles for the first time in 26 months.

“I don’t believe she’s ground dependant and I hope she is good to go,” said O’Leary who will also hope to point the ante-post favourite Road To Respect at Sunday’s €225,000 Irish Gold Cup.

Thirteen horses remain in the most valuable race of the weekend although they don’t include the 2017 winner Sizing John who won’t appear because of the prevailing ground. So does the English star Waiting Patiently.

Gigginstown could be represented in all eight Grade One contests at the weekend and feature in all but one of the 15 festival races after Tuesday’s forfeit stage.

On Tuesday Keogh’s weather headaches extended to insisting “no conversations” have taken place about potentially having to postpone the Dublin Racing Festival should weather conditions take a turn for the worst.

“We’re still a few days away and the situation is changeable,” he reported. “There is an expectation most of the snow will be in the south of the country so hopefully we’ll be fine.”

Champion trainer Willie Mullins has left four entries, including the Christmas winner, Kemboy, in the Irish Gold Cup, a race he will try to win for a tenth time on Sunday.

Hurricane Fly gave Mullins five in a row in the Irish Champion Hurdle between 2011 and 2015 while Faugheen also scored in 2016. This time his hope is Melon who along with last year’s winner Supasundae are the only challengers to counter Gigginstown’s strength in depth.

Melon disappointed Mullins a little on his return at Christmas but the trainer said: “He looked like he needed the run. He’s a lot stronger this year and is taking more work. We see improvement at home. If he shows that improvement on the racetrack he has a major chance I think.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column