O’Leary team say too much watering better than too little at Leopardstown

Road To Respect ruled out for the season due to a leg injury

Michael O’Leary’s hopes of a third Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup success at the upcoming Dublin Racing Festival have been dealt a blow as one of his big hopes, Road To Respect, is out for the rest of the season with a leg injury.

With another of the Ryanair chief executive's top contenders, Delta Work, holding an alternative entry at Cheltenham this Saturday, it means attention remains on the state of the ground at Leopardstown's steeplechase track.

Eddie O’Leary, the spokesman for his brother’s Gigginstown Stud team, has stressed the importance of Leopardstown watering the chase track ahead of the €2 million festival on February 1st-2nd and said that erring on the side of too much water is preferable to too little.

“If it gets bottomless heavy, that’s grand. It won’t hurt horses. You’ll hurt them the other way,” he said on Tuesday.


Both O’Learys were critical of the failure to water the track prior to last year’s Dublin Racing Festival which saw 22 non-runners on day two of the showpiece event. Just four of the 10 declarations lined up in the Irish Gold Cup. Bellshill edged out Road To Respect at the finish of that race.

Road To Respect returned to Leopardstown at the recent Christmas festival when third to Delta Work in the Savills Chase. He had been a general 5-1 third favourite for Sunday week’s €250,000 feature but is now on the injury sidelines.

“He has a leg injury and is out for the remainder of the season. Hopefully he will be back next season,” said Eddie O’Leary who called for watering on a chase circuit he believes has been riding too fast.

“Horses get legs. But he [Road To Respect] got it in Leopardstown on a track what wasn’t watered.”

The Savills Chase took place on day three of the Christmas festival when official ground conditions changed from soft to yielding during the meeting.

A day later the going on the chase track was officially good and the Grade One novice chase on that programme was reduced to three runners because of non-runners.

Leopardstown has outlined plans for selective watering in the run up to the Dublin Racing Festival with the operations manager there, David Attwood, indicating an ideal scenario would be the absence of 'good' in any ground description. O'Leary said that such an outcome would be welcome but also suggested some connections may need convincing.

Something wrong

Delta Work is currently a 2-1 joint-favourite with Kemboy in Irish Gold Cup betting but his trainer Gordon Elliott has put the horse in Saturday's Cotswold Chase as a potential alternative prep' for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

“I hope they can assuage Gordon’s fears of quick ground in Leopardstown. That’s why he entered at Cheltenham. Leopardstown will have to start guaranteeing fellas there will be good to soft ground. And I mean good to soft. They were calling it good to soft last year and it was firm,” O’Leary said.

“I hope Leopardstown are addressing the situation. There’s something wrong. The chase track is too quick. There’s no reason not to water the chase track. The chase track won’t be used all summer long.

“Cheltenham guarantee it will be good to soft the first day [at the festival in March]. It won’t even be good to soft. It will be nearly soft to heavy the first day regardless because they water the hell out of it to have it right for the week,” he added.

Another of Gigginstown’s stars, Apple’s Jade, has been entered for Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham although O’Leary said she is likely to line up instead in Thursday’s Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran.

The hugely popular mare put off potential retirement when bouncing back to form with an 11th career Grade One success at Leopardstown over Christmas.

That success came after two surprise early-season defeats but O’Leary dismissed any suggestion that might be a sign of a change in her training to avoid Apple’s Jade’s form petering out later in the campaign.

“We were very much about to retire her at Leopardstown,” he said.

“If she had finished third or been beaten seven lengths she would have been retired immediately. She might run bad again on Thursday and it will be in the balance again,” he added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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