The nights are getting longer, the mornings colder and nothing invites the winter like racing at Dundalk

Geological and Mianna are worth keeping tabs on as racing returns to Dundalk, writes Johnny Ward.

Dundalk Stadium will undertake the installation of a new all-weather surface next year.
Dundalk Stadium will undertake the installation of a new all-weather surface next year.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THROUGHOUT THE 15 days the inspirational Greta Thunberg spent on her 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic of late, did she ponder the impending winter and what the ground will be like at Navan?

I certainly have. Last summer I bought a horse cheaply on whom I have spent over €20,000 at this stage, yet he has never raced because he needs heavy ground. Incredibly, there has essentially been no proper heavy ground in Ireland since the winter that began in 2017.

Who would have thought that the main danger involved in buying a horse who needed heavy ground might be the lack of rain in Ireland?

When it comes to all-weather racing, at least, punters and horsemen can bank on conditions they can trust. Or so you would think, which brings me to the return of all-weather combat at Dundalk this evening.

The nights are getting longer, the mornings colder and nothing invites the winter like racing at Dundalk. I, like some other degenerates, have grown to love the Friday fare at the County Louth course, but it remains to be seen how competitive the action is this winter at a racetrack that at one stage attracted the best horses from the best stables in Ireland.

Dundalk Stadium confirmed in July that it would undertake the replacement of the artificial surface with the installation of an all-new all-weather surface, work on which will be carried out next year during the months of April, May and June. As revealed here, the Dundalk board decided to stick with polytrack over Tapeta.

a-general-view-of-racing-at-dundalk Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

As recommended by track consultants, “and as an additional measure intended to add further body and elasticity to the existing track surface,”, a press released read, “some 54 tonnes of extra fibre” would be added to the track. This work was completed recently ahead of tonight’s resumption of racing in the kingdom of Oriel.

No doubt as trainers and jockeys return to Dundalk tonight, much of the talk will revolve around how the track rides. Concerns about the 12-year-old Polytrack being too fast and horses returning stiff and sore after running on it were expressed by many racing professionals earlier this year, with racing on one evening almost on the verge of an embarrassing abandonment.

Dundalk did not race over the summer, missing out the 12 July meeting that has been the refuge of many northerners trying to escape marches and punt on horses, a profitable day for a track that attracts small crowds. Relations with Horse Racing Ireland clearly soured this year and HRI took away its meetings since 3 May on account of surface-related concerns.

HRI CEO Brian Kavanagh said yesterday in relation to the relayed track: “We will be wiser after tomorrow’s fixture. The track has been passed by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body and there very large entries in most races tomorrow, so signs are positive.”

a-general-view-of-racing-at-dundalk Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The next board meeting of HRI takes place on 21 October, when a decision is expected to be made on a second all-weather track in Ireland, the idea of which remains controversial. The expectation is that Tipperary will get the nod were a second all-weather racecourse to get approval, yet Tipperary is a rural racecourse and it is hard to envisage it becoming anything other than a racino without slot machines.

I spoke to two trainers yesterday, one who said there was not a hope of him racing his best horses at Dundalk until the track was dug up next year. The other said: “Improvement comes in that it is consistent whole way around but it will ride dead or slow for the winter and I don’t think we will be running horses on it week to week to week.

“It’ll just take more out of a horse and when it rides so it pulls on the horses a little more meaning you can increase muscle or tendon injuries if you over abuse on it.”

Jim Martin, Dundalk CEO, is confident that tonight’s healthy field sizes will continue throughout the winter and adds that the race-goer, Dundalk without question one of the best tracks to visit in terms of how it caters for its customers in Ireland, will continue to enjoy the experience.

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“We have commenced the process of introducing new HD television screens and a number of video walls throughout out the stadium,” he said. “Customers will see this progress over the coming weeks and it will enhance the customer experience throughout the stadium.”

Quite how the horses enjoy the experience, however, is how the narrative will play out over the coming months.  One horse unlikely to complain is Geological, who runs in tonight’s opener (4.50). He has togged out at Dundalk no less than 53 times after being snapped up for 800 guineas by Damian English in 2015.

English has had a frustrating season, just six winners from 97 runners (but 20 placed horses). Geological’s rider in tonight’s Recruit Island Handicap, Vanessa Maye, has never ridden a winner.  And in all those visits to Dundalk, Geological has never won over five furlongs; the chances are he never will.

All of which might suggest it would be daft to back him this evening, but Betway’s traders have put him in at 20/1 and that is an insult to a horse of his reliability. Get involved.
Before that, I really like the each-way claims of Mianna in Ballinrobe’s opening Portwest 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle (3.30) under the excellent Danny Mullins. She also trades at 20/1 with Betway.

There was talk of watering at Ballinrobe this week, as we approach October. If Greta needs any more convincing that our planet is screwed, tell her they were talking of watering in Ballinrobe.

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Johnny Ward

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