Smullen: Curragh Shows Its Class

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Pat Smullen | Healy Racing Photography

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Nine-time Irish champion jockey Pat Smullen has joined the TDN team as our new weekly columnist to bring us invaluable insight on the racing and breeding scene as he continues his recovery from illness.

There was a great turnout for the trial run day at The Curragh last week, which was very well organised. It is what we had all hoped it would be: a magnificent stand and facility which has been finished beautifully on the inside.

At long last we have what The Curragh deserves: a world-class facility to go along with what is a world-class racetrack, which we haven't had for many years. Now we can feel proud to invite and bring anybody from around the world to race at The Curragh and, most importantly, what the investors and everybody involved wants is to be able to encourage racegoers back to the races again.

From a jockey's perspective, they've done an excellent job in providing a huge weighing-room with everything you need in there. I was speaking to Adrian McGoldrick, our retired medical officer, and the only little negative was that the medical room was a bit small but that will be addressed along the way and in general it's been a great success.

As with any of these big projects there have been hold-ups, and that has doubtless been frustrating for those involved, but they've got it right and it's been well worth waiting for. Now we have something to make the Irish racing industry very proud and we're all looking forward to the first meeting on May 6.

Dundalk Needs Addressing

The all-weather track at Dundalk has been a revelation for Irish Flat racing. I think that word can be used because it has given a lot of smaller yards an opportunity to keep their businesses going all year long, which is greatly needed and it has been a very, very big success from word go. The middle-class to lower-grade horses have been kept on the go, having something to aim at, which keeps owners interested and keeps everybody going through the winter.

So, Dundalk has been nothing short of a huge success, and it's a great facility, very well run from a jockey's perspective. But unfortunately, over the last few years, the surface has deteriorated. Though some measures have been taken in turning it over and getting another year out of it, history will tell you that, like Lingfield and Wolverhampton, eventually you have to replace the surface.

All-weather tracks generally have an eight- to 10-year lifespan. Dundalk has exceeded this and it has become a problem. I really hope that the authorities there address it now, and do not allow it get to a stage where it's going to become a bigger problem. We've had a few injuries on the track in recent meetings and as we saw at the last meeting there were concerns from the riders and trainers about the surface. The time has come now to replace it before it brings wider negative publicity to Dundalk and to Irish racing through more serious injuries to horses and riders.

Over the years the likes of Dermot Weld, Aidan O'Brien and many more trainers have been very complimentary of Dundalk and have run good horses there. We don't want to lose that. Now we're starting to see reduced fields. The big supporters of Dundalk from the word go are not supporting it at the moment as they are conscious of horses coming off the track sore.

Like any racetrack or gallop that is put down, there's always a bedding-in period, so replacing the surface needs to be done immediately to give it time to settle ahead of the winter season. I know it's a huge investment but if a racecourse doesn't have a good, safe surface it has nothing. It's a no-brainer.

More Classic Pointers

We had yet more cracking racing last week. The two Newmarket trials threw up two nice winners. Skardu (Ire) (Shamardal) was probably a little bit of a surprise, but he won very well, coming from off the pace on fast ground, and Qabala (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) did the same, also coming from off the pace.

Last week I said that the 2000 Guineas was shaping up to be a really exciting race but we now know that Too Darn Hot (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) won't be turning up, which is disappointing, and it also doesn't seem as if Andre Fabre will be sending Persian King (Ire) (Kingman {GB}). To me, the horses we've seen so far in trials this year have to improve to win a Guineas, so at the moment, I'd be looking towards Ten Sovereigns (Ire) (No Nay Never). That said, I was impressed by Skardu, who is trained by an expert in William Haggas who knows all about getting one ready for the day, but improvement will need to come for him to get to the level of Ten Sovereigns.

Qabala probably deserves to be favourite in what is an open 1000 Guineas. She's a nice filly and will definitely be a big contender, but something tells me that Iridessa (Ire) (Ruler Of The World {Ire}) is a filly that will improve a lot from her last run at Leopardstown. She has a lot of racing under her belt and she'll get the trip well. If it's a fast-run race at Newmarket she's going to be pretty competitive.

It was good to see David Egan ride only his second group winner on Qabala. He's a very talented rider and he's had a great grounding from his father, John, who has been a stalwart of the weighing-room for many years. I don't think there's a tougher or braver man than John on a racetrack, and David seems to have inherited a lot of that from him. He's a very stylish rider and he's getting huge opportunities from Roger Varian. His future looks very bright.

For me, the horse to take out of the Craven meeting was another one of Roger Varian's, UAE Jewel (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), who was impressive in the Wood Ditton. It's a race which usually throws up a nice horse, and he won very well. He looks like he could make up into a lovely middle-distance horse.

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