Flanagan returns from injury to retain top race
In a week of many highlights, it was difficult to decide who should get top billing, and I give my 'award' to Seán Flanagan.
He returned from injury to land the first jumps Grade 1 of the year when he and Road to Respect took the €140,000 Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal on Saturday for Noel Meade and Gigginstown for the second year in a row.
In a small but select field, Flanagan rode a great race to take it up on Road to Respect (5/2) at the second last, and a couple of good jumps sealed it from Paul Nicholls' King George winner, Clan Des Obeaux (7/4f).
Meade's verdict: 'He was great and Seán gave him a super ride today…I didn't plan it with him, he planned it with me.' It was Seán's third Grade 1 success on this horse.
In a good day for Wexford connections, Paul Nolan and Seán O'Keeffe won a handicap chase with Philip Byrne's Castafiore Park (14/1 in the morning into 7/2), from Flanagan and Meade's Guided by You (9/4f).
J.J. Slevin won the opening hurdle on Joseph O'Brien's A Wave of the Sea (2/1) by 20 lengths, and Jamie Codd gave Elliott his seventh win of the two days in the bumper with Easywork (8/11).
Envoi Allen made a winning debut over timber for Davy Russell and Gordon Elliott; this one won the Cheltenham bumper and three Irish bumpers under Jamie Codd last season.
He won his point-to-point at Ballinaboola on February 4 last year when trained by Colin Bowe and ridden by Barry O'Neill, and was sold to Cheveley Park Stud for 400k stg., after that. The price seems reasonable now!
It was good to see Seán Flanagan and Seán O'Keeffe (Taghmon) return at Clonmel on Thursday after losing a few weeks to injury; neither had a winner though Flanagan got second on Meade's The Caddy Rose.
There was another win, though, for Jonathan Fogarty's (Cleariestown) Robin Gold (7/2jf), a week after he was part of a coup at Thurles.
He won by half a length under top amateur, Patrick Mullins.
J.J. Slevin scored on Joseph O'Brien's High Sparrow in a handicap hurdle, and Brian Hayes won on Seamus Neville's (Bridgetown) Notice to Close (5/1) just a few days after being second at Wexford.
The Irish flat season ended at Navan on Sunday, with the O'Brien family confirming their domination.
Aidan won the trainers' championship for an incredible 22 years in a row, with son Joseph in second place, and younger son Donnacha took the jockeys' title for the second time with 111 winners. Jim Bolger was sixth in the trainers' table. Aidan and Donnacha's final win of the season was on Nobel Prize (6/4), beating his main rival, Colin Keane, on Chiricaha (6/4) by a head.
Bolger's final win was with Mother Vincent (13/2), completing a hat-trick under Piercestown apprentice, Willie Byrne.
Aidan suffered disappointment in the Breeders' Cup races in California over the weekend where son, Joseph, scored the only European win of the two days with Iridessa (8/1) in the $1.56m Filly and Mares' Turf under Wayne Lordan.
It is considered heresy by many, British commentators in particular, to question the riding of Ryan Moore whom they routinely describe as 'the best in the world'.
Well, I feel he has been below his best all year, with the constant beatings by Frankie Dettori possibly affecting his confidence.
It was evident again in the big Breeders' Cup races and I thought his rides on O'Brien's Arizona and Anthony Van Dyck, in particular, were pretty awful, constantly finding trouble in running.
I think it was more a case of bad judgement than bad luck.
In a very unusual sequence, Aidan had doubles on four different all-weather tracks in four days.
However, he lost out in the main event, the re-fixed €200k Futurity Stakes at Newcastle on Friday evening.
This was the last Group 1 of the year and the first such race ever to be run on a non-grass track in Britain.
Comfortable winner was Kameko (11/2) for Andrew Balding and Oisín Murphy, with Aidan filling the next three places with Inisfree, Year of the Tiger and Mogul, all finishing within a couple of feet of each other.
His other doubles came at Dundalk on Wednesday, with hot shots Yale (2/7) and Vatican City (1/2); at Lingfield on Thursdsay, Seamie Heffernan scoring on Delphinia (4/6) in a £40,000 listed fillies' race, and King of Athens (15/8); at Chelmsford on Saturday under Donnacha, Battle of Liege (9/2) and Persia (4/9), but Western Australia was disappointing in the €50k feature.
On Monday, Jim Bolger convincingly saw off Aidan in a Galway maiden, with Vocatus (11/10f) and Kevin Manning beating Donnacha O'Brien on Magic Fountain (2/1) by six lengths.
The 'circus' moves on to the Melbourne Cup in Sydney, with Aidan and Joseph very much in contention for this Aus$8m 'race that stops a nation', decided in the early hours of today (Tuesday, 5th).