The Jessica Harrington Column: Breeders' Cup Is More Than A Race Meeting

Jessica and Kate Harrington at the Breeders' Cup |


   The trainer originally best known for many high-class jumps winners that has made an eye-catching advance on Flat racing's top contests in recent years will share her thoughts with the TDN on a monthly basis in this most unusual of seasons.

It is an understatement to say that it has been a very strange year. In Ireland we managed a few meetings behind closed doors before racing shut down completely, and we then had some uncertainty over when it was going to start again. We eventually accepted the fact that there was going to be no Aintree, no Fairyhouse, no Punchestown, no Guineas at the right time.

For a while it looked like we might get back before the end of May, but then that was scuppered, and that was really like having all your toys taken away from you in one go. It felt like you'd been hit in the stomach and it knocked all the wind out of you.

The Flat has been relatively unaffected and it was a particularly good effort by the authorities to ensure that all of Ireland's Group 1 races will have been run this year, even if not necessarily all in their usual slots. The jumping calendar has obviously been more disrupted, and this week we received the news, disappointing but understandable, that the Boylesports Irish Grand National won't be run at all this year. Initially it had been postponed from its usual Easter Monday slot to some unspecified point in the autumn, but now it has been cancelled. I can understand that. It's such a special occasion that it's much more than a raceday. It's always been a real social occasion in the Dublin area and, while no race-meeting is the same without crowds, that is one in particular which revolves around the general public. Everyone always has so much fun there. We've been lucky enough to win it (courtesy of Our Duke in 2017) but it's fun however your horse runs and whatever role you attend in. We'll just have to look forward to going there again, hopefully next year.

When racing did eventually start up again in June it was great to be back, except of course I was told I couldn't go racing because I was too old. That was a bit annoying at the time but I kind of got used to it. Richie [Galway], my son-in-law, went to England three times, so he effectively had six weeks of isolating here, and then Kate went to York and to Deauville for me, so I'm lucky to have lots of people and family around, and that does make a difference.

At the beginning of July I was finally allowed to go racing again, and that was a great novelty but I have to say that going racing behind closed doors is not a great experience, especially when the weather is bad. Over here, there's only a smattering of other trainers present but at least now you can get a cup of coffee and a sandwich. For the first few meetings there were absolutely no facilities like that at all. So it's been different and it's been challenging, but it has worked. My feeling is that we'll put up with all these things as long as we can in order to keep racing going. That's the most important thing for the whole industry–

for the breeding, for the stallions–and not just in Ireland.

When we were in lockdown we were videoing the horses on the gallops, walking round, trotting round, and we kept trying to think of new ways to film the horses for the owners to make sure they weren't getting the same thing every week. Now we've started racing, we do a video of the horse going round the parade ring, then a clip of the jockey before the race saying what he's going to do, and then we record some more comments when he comes back in, and the owners get a video of the race. So even though they can't be there to see their race, we are trying to keep the horses' owners involved as much as possible.

The last few years have been great fun, having fillies, and now hopefully a few colts, who have competed at the top level on the Flat. This year would of course have been much more fun if I could have gone to Ascot or to Deauville or Chantilly, but we will just have to look forward to it next year. The fillies especially have been very good this year.

Alpine Star (Ire) (Sea The Moon {Ger}) is a really tough filly. She won the G1 Coronation S. at Royal Ascot so well and has tried so hard in her two races in France since then. She is very different physically to her half-sister, [four-time Group 1 winner] Alpha Centauri, who was a big strapping filly. This one is rather small, but she just wants to please you. Then we've had Cayenne Pepper (Ire) (Australia {GB}), who runs in the G2 Moyglare Blandford S. on Irish Champions Weekend, One Voice (Ire) (Poet's Voice {GB}), Millisle (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) and Silence Please (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}). They've all competed at the top level, and hopefully our G1 Prix Marcel Boussac winner Albigna (Ire) (Zoffany Ire}) is on her way back to doing that as well.

Last year Albigna became our first runner at the Breeders' Cup and I'm very much hoping to get to Keeneland for the Breeders' Cup this year. We'll have to see how difficult, or not, that is. Hopefully we can at least get the horses there and the American owners can see them run. It doesn't matter if I can't go. The Niarchos family have always been tremendous supporters of the Breeders' Cup, and I know Craig Bernick would love One Voice to be there, and we also have Silence Please for Team Valor. We would very much like to be there.

The same could be said about the Breeders' Cup as the Irish Grand National, in that it's much more than just a race meeting. Obviously as a race meeting it's top class, with some of the best horses in the world. But it's also a great occasion, particularly as in America the sport in general has a lower profile and it doesn't break through to the wider consciousness that often. The Breeders' Cup provides a great opportunity for racing in America to do that, and so it too just won't be the same without crowds. However, it does look like it's definitely going ahead, which will be a great feat of organisation as, with the overall COVID-19 situation in the States and with the consequent restrictions on travel etc., it's not going to be easy. We're lucky enough to have some horses good enough to attend, so God willing we'll be there.

There are of course plenty of options for those horses here in Europe but we want to keep our options open and hope we can get to America. It's going to be challenging to get the staff out there and we need to find out what isolating they will have to do once they get out there or when they come home. The staff have been fantastic and anyone who looks after a horse who is good enough to race internationally is very keen to go with them. We'll do our best to go because it's good for racing and good for owners, and it's good for the sport internationally.

It's the time of year when the National Hunt horses are starting to increase their work again. We don't have as many jumpers in as usual but Sizing John (GB) (Midnight Legend {GB}) is working away and we are hoping to run him at Listowel–that's our plan. We are keeping everything crossed and we hardly dare speak about it, but we'd love to get him back.

The Flat and the National Hunt horses all do the same thing really. I train them all muddled up together. The jumpers are great when the yearlings come in and start to be ridden. There's always a few who go out with the jumpers, and the older horses behave so the yearlings realise there's no point in jumping around because the other horses don't jump around, and they learn like that.

We have a couple of very nice horses to look forward to, like Sizing Pottsie (Fr) (Kapgarde {Fr}), who was a good novice chaser from last year and he seems to have come back very strong. And of course we have the evergreen Magic Of Light (Ire) (Flemensfirth), who was runner-up to Tiger Roll (Ire) (Authorized {Ire}) in the Grand National in 2019 and will go for the National again this season. She'll probably go down her usual route of mares' hurdles and mares' chases first. It's nice for her to do that and to get her confidence up before Aintree.

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