From Meath to Royal Ascot - 'To be going there with a chance is unbelievable'

Trainer Jack Davison on his star filly Mooneista.

A general view of the Royal Ascot parade ring.
A general view of the Royal Ascot parade ring.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

JACK DAVISON WATCHED the Commonwealth Cup last year on the big screen in Ascot’s expansive parade ring. Royal Ascot, top hat and tails, the works, one of the best weeks of horse racing staged anywhere in the world, a perennial, and he’s there, in among them, watching his horse going into the stalls.

There was a nervousness there all right, but it was a nervousness about whether or not he belonged. If he is being honest, he would have settled for a good run from Mooneista last year, proof that his filly belonged up there in the top echelons of three-year-old sprinters.

He got that all right. The rain fell and the heavy ground combined with Ascot’s stiff six furlongs to render the test a stiffer one than was ideal for Mooneista. As well as that, she was drawn in stall one on the far side, out on the wing and without any cover.

Jack likes to be on his own to watch his horses race, and he watched on the screen as his filly broke smartly and settled into her racing rhythm on the far side under Wayne Lordan. The camera that followed the runners was on the near side, so his filly was at times obscured from view through the early stages of the race, but the trainer could see his rider’s body sporadically through the gloom and through the other riders’ bodies, motionless, travelling well.

When the camera angle switched to provide an unobstructed view of the entire field, the horses were hurtling towards the two-furlong marker and Mooneista was still on the bridle. When her rider asked her for her effort, she picked up well, and there was a fleeting moment when she closed on the leaders and you thought that she was going to be involved in the finish. But then the softened ground and Ascot’s sixth furlong and punishing final incline started to take their toll. The leaders got away from Mooneista and she faded to finish sixth. Even so, her trainer turned away, happy with the run. Happy that she belonged all right.

Four weeks later, back at The Curragh and back down at five furlongs and racing on good ground, Mooneista beat the older horses to land the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes.

“That was unbelievable,” Jack says now. “To win the Sapphire Stakes. I didn’t know how much her exertions at Ascot would have taken out of her, so I told Colin (Keane) to ride her to finish. Sympathetically. As it turned out, she picked them up easily and she won going away.”

jack-davison Trainer Jack Davison. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was a first Group race win for her young trainer, who had taken out his trainer’s licence less than four years earlier. Based at his family’s Killarkin Stud in County Meath, where his grandfather Walton Davison bred Group 1 winners Hot Spark and Steel Heart, the numbers of runners and the numbers of winners that Jack Davison has sent out since he took out his licence have increased year on year.

“We continually try to improve. We were full with 30 horses, so we had to decide if we were going to build another barn, which he have done. We’re trying to concentrate on quality as well. It’s not just a case of having a head looking out over the door.”

That quality is manifested in the results already this season. Joyous Moment won her maiden at The Curragh in April, Sally Golightly won handicaps at Sligo and Roscommon, Massaman won handicaps at The Curragh and at Gowran Park, and finished third in the Cork Derby last Wednesday, just missing out on the runner-up spot. And then there is Mooneista, the stable star.

“We only have 25 or 30 horses riding out every day, so to be involved in Royal Ascot, to be going there with a chance, is unbelievable. You could have a hundred horses and not have one that is good enough to go to Royal Ascot.”

We know now that Mooneista is good enough to go. She proved that last year. This year, the King’s Stand Stakes is her target. Tuesday’s race, over five furlongs, has been her target for ages. She could have been aimed at the Platinum Jubilee over six furlongs instead or as well, but her trainer didn’t even give her an entry in Saturday’s race. Remove the temptation.

“I think that a stiff five furlongs is ideal for her,” says Jack. “We could have left her in the Platinum Jubilee, sometimes it’s good to have a back-up plan in case something goes wrong, but it wouldn’t be the ideal race for her, over a stiff six furlongs, and I’d prefer not to ask her to race twice in one week. There’s the rest of the season to think about too.”

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Mooneista hasn’t won yet this season, but she has gone close in all three of her races. Second twice and third once. Last time, she kept on well to go down by just a half a length to Brad The Brief in the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh, when she had top class sprinters A Case Of You and Glen Shiel behind her.

“We don’t do much with her at home,” says Jack. “There isn’t much to her, she’s only 440 kilograms on a fat day! But she’s heavier this year than she has ever been, and I think that she is better this year than she was last year. She has travelled over well and I think that, this year, she can run a massive race.”

It won’t be easy. The King’s Stand Stakes is a Group 1 sprint at Royal Ascot, the race has attracted some of the best sprinters in the world, they are coming from America and Australia and the Czech Republic as well as from all corners of Ireland and Britain. But Mooneista has lots in her favour: course form, optimal conditions, a high draw close to the American and Australian horses, and Colin Keane.

Jack Davison will be nervous again, watching his filly, probably on his own, probably on the big screen in the parade ring again, but knowing that she belongs.

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Donn McClean

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