The Pat Smullen Column: Curragh Needs Chance To Put It Right


Pat Smullen | Healy Racing Photographers


There have been positives and negatives that have come out of the reopening of the Curragh.  The first thing to say is that it is a magnificent facility. I was very taken by the finish of the interior: it's very classy. But there are some issues, especially that the owners' and trainers' facility is quite small, and that has received a lot of negative press.

It's obviously very important to look after the owners especially, and to make sure that their experience at the races is a good one.  We have to make sure that they're facilitated in the right way and I'm sure there's enough scope within the facility to move it to a bigger area.  There's a bit of tweaking that needs to be done but I think that a little patience from people is required to give it a chance.  We've seen teething problems with Ascot when it was built, and Longchamp in recent times, so we have to give these things a little time to settle in and for people to get their bearings.

The pressure is on the management now to deliver and I'm sure they will address these issues. Guineas weekend has to go right to gain people's confidence and get people back racing. It goes without saying that without the owners we have nothing. They are the people who are putting the major investment into racing, but we also want plenty of people to come racing. With this fabulous facility it is very achievable to lay on a enjoyable day for people to watch great racing on a great race track. But I think it should be addressed that for the average racegoer, the pricing is too high.  I don't want to see a divide between general racegoers and the corporate hospitality side.  That divide seems to be growing and if that's the case, racegoers will perhaps decide they can't afford to attend. I think that point has been lost a little bit here.

We need to get people coming back to the races to create an atmosphere and to enjoy good racing.  It's €25 for people to get in to the Curragh on Guineas weekend. If it's then €8 to buy a burger and €4.50 for chips, it turns out to be an expensive day for a family. It was only €6 at Longchamp on Sunday for the French Guineas and at that price it's more viable for people to bring their families. There's no point having this superb facility only for it to be empty.

I don't want to sound negative, and I do call on the public to have a little patience as well.  Anything that's new will take a little time to settle down and I'm sure it will come right if the Curragh management can be given a little time to get it right.

Mehdaayih for me
We've seen some very exciting horses coming through for the Derby, though it's a bit of a shame that they are all from the one stable. I think John Gosden will win the Oaks with Mehdaayih (GB) (Frankel {GB}). I was lucky enough to be there last Wednesday at Chester when she won the Cheshire Oaks and she possesses what every good horse should have, and that is an explosive turn of foot. She's bred to get the trip and I also think she's the quickest filly in the race.  For a big, rangey filly she got around Chester very well, so hopefully Epsom won't pose any problems to her, and if she improves from Chester she's the one I would want to be on.

Aidan O'Brien has a very powerful stable but you have to give credit where it's due.  I know he has some of the best-bred horses in the world but there are other stables that have a similar number of horses and it's not by chance that Aidan just keeps pitching up every year with multiple healthy, sound runners. That's testament to how good a trainer he is, though I have to say I would like to see some competition for him. Let's hope that Too Darn Hot (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) can put up a really good performance tomorrow and put himself into the mix and challenge the Ballydoyle squad to make a real race of it.

Hamariyna (Ire) (Sea The Moon {Ger}) did very well on Sunday on Leopardstown.  It probably wasn't the strongest renewal of the Guineas Trial, but that doesn't take away from her performance and she hit the line very well.  On pedigree she will love going up in trip so I think she won despite the trip. She looks an improver. Whether the form of that is good enough to win a Guineas is probably debatable at the moment but I think she will come into her own going a mile and a quarter as the year goes on, and she is from a family that just keeps improving with age.

I'm pleased to see Camelot (GB) really getting some good runners now.  A year ago the vibes weren't so good for him and this is one of the things that is wrong with our industry. It's very quick to write off sires.  Camelot is a horse who has proved that and, to me, he's a horse who is really starting to stand out as a Classic sire.  I think Australia (GB) is another who is going to do very well.  There are some very good stallions coming through and two of them happen to be in Coolmore. I was lucky enough to see Camelot when he was racing as well as at the stud and I really don't think that you could see a better Thoroughbred.  If you were to draw the perfect racehorse, it's him. He has real presence and is just a smashing horse.  I'm glad now that he's really starting to perform as a stallion.

Touched by the response
The reaction to my retirement really touched me. I appreciate that I had a good career and I am content with the fact that I achieved something, but like anything in life, when it's final the reality hits you. It's been all of my working life and until 14 months ago, being a jockey was everything.

I thought I was totally prepared for it but when I made the announcement, it really hit me that it's all over, and that was a little bit of a shock.  It was a little bit hard to process but I have to remind myself why I've retired and then I realise the bigger picture and I know it was the right thing to do. It's very easy to make a decision when you know it's the right thing to do.  It's done now and I'm looking forward to moving on.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I will have an idea as to what I'm actually going to do and I'm excited by the future.  I realised in the last few days that I don't want to rush into committing to something and then find that it's not really what I want.  I want to be sure that whatever I do, I do it as much for enjoyment as for anything else.

My wife Frances has been drilling into me the fact that I need to take things a little bit easily while I'm recovering my strength from my second round of treatment.  As I said last week, I want to get back to riding.  I'm not prepared to stop riding horses and I'm trying to get myself fit again, but Frances keeps telling me to take my time.  I can't help but get a bit excited about getting back on a horse again.  The sooner that happens the better. Mentally and physically that's important for me. That's the first goal and then we'll take it from there.

I really enjoyed my day on ITV Racing at Chester despite it being a miserable day weather-wise.  They are a very professional outfit and made me feel very comfortable.  I think it went well but it's easy to speak about good racing and that is what we had there with two unbelievable performances from by Sir Dragonet (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) and Mehdaayih.

Riding for a good cause
I went to York on Tuesday to walk the course with Abi Stock, who will be riding in the Macmillan Charity Race on June 15.  Unfortunately Abi's dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer around the same time as I was and just before he passed away Abi spoke to her dad about riding in the race at York and he told her to go and do it. So she will be riding to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer and is now sponsored by SkyBet.  I found out that she was doing a course walk, so I felt that it would be the right thing to do to come over and walk the track with her to lend some support.  Fran Berry and I walked the track with her yesterday and gave her some advice on race riding, and hopefully she will do it very well on the big day.


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