Founder of www.p2p.ie, Richard Pugh (@pughp2p), is back with his latest column, and there is plenty to talk about this month. Richard looks back at a record breaking January Sale, and points us towards some ex-Irish point-to-pointers who could make a major impact at the Cheltenham Festival...
An Irish Point-To-Point graduate hit the headlines in February, as the rescheduled Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham January Sale saw records smashed. Along with the highest price ever recorded for a point-to-point horse of £480,000, ex-Irish point-to-point graduates sold for a combined total of £1,945,000.
Headlining the sale was the hugely impressive four-year-old Oldtown maiden winner Flemenshill. He easily accounted for expensive purchase Defi Bleu (€255,000) who topped last year's Tattersalls Ireland sale for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud, and he was the real talking horse, the one of keen interest from all the key industry players.
Hailing from the Colin McKeever and Wilson Dennison team, a duo who have produced a number of high class performers including last year’s Cheltenham Festival winner Yorkhill, plus fellow Grade 1 winners Bellshill and Shaneshill, who all who came through the point-to-point ranks, the son of Flemensfirth sold for a final bid of £480,000 and the gelding was knocked down to Tom Malone and Joe Tizzard.
There was a number of other six-figure sums handed out for ex-Irish point-to-point graduates, some bumper-types which may be worth following over the coming months as they began to appear on the track. There was plenty of interest for Paul Cashman's Stowaway gelding On The Blindside and the five-year-old Kilfeacle maiden winner sold to Tessa Greatrex of Highflyer Bloodstock for £205,000. James Doyle sent out the Gold Well gelding Bitingthebullet to win the four-year-old maiden at Punchestown and was handsomely rewarded when trainer Evan Williams purchased the debut winner for £170,000.
Getareason who finished second to Bitingthebullet sold to Harold Kirk and Willie Mullins for £140,000, while that pair also purchased Kirkistown winner Sending Love for £130,000.
It was no surprise that such figures for a point-to-point recruit have been debated recently but a study from animal therapist Rory O'Brien has shown why large sums have been handed out for these sought after winners. In his study O'Brien points out that almost 61% of the Grade 1 winners in the 2015/16 season began their careers as four-year-olds in different disciplines. Of those 45 Grade 1 winners, over 37% made their debuts in Irish point to points.
He further goes on to say that almost one-quarter (23%) of the Grade 1 races run in Great Britain and Ireland in 2015/16 were won by horses who had started their careers as four-year-olds in Irish point-to-points. This ensures we can have great confidence in investing in four-year-old maiden winners when they show up for their debut runs within a matter of weeks or months from making their point-to-point debut.
We have had a number of four-year-old Autumn point-to-point winners make their debuts under rules recently, including Mon Palois and Rosie Mc Queen who were flagged up in last month's column. Mon Palois who won his maiden on his second start for John Halley in Grennan, got off the mark for Kim Bailey on his first attempt in a bumper at Wetherby. Rosie Mc Queen went straight over hurdles for JP McManus and ran a fine race to finish second in a maiden hurdle at Market Rasen. Along with these we have had impressive wins for Gigginstown recruits Empire Burleque and Poli Roi, both first time out winners under rules.
Interestingly, of the 43 Autumn four-year-old point-to-point maiden winners we had in Ireland, 21 to date have taking to the track. 38% of those have won first time out and 38% of those 21 runners have placed first time out.
Combined 76% of those 21 horses have been in the first three in their first run under rules. Those returns are solid and with more than half of those winners still to make their rules debut, the future looks bright. Some of the more impressive Autumn winners who have yet to reach the track and would be worth keeping an eye on over the coming months include Warthog, Slate House, Golden Drumlee, Timeforben, Cool Getaway, Truckers Lodge and Fabulous Saga. Judging by the above statistics, there should be winners among those named and they are well worth adding to your horse tracker.
March means it's time for the Cheltenham Festival and excitingly the team looks strong this year with plenty of fancied runners. You would be hopeful that we can better the eight winners that ex-Irish point-to-point graduates provided at last year's festival, with leading chances including Finian's Oscar, Yorkhill, Petit Mouchoir, Death Duty, Neon Wolf, Bacardys and Native River.
We will be hoping that the more obvious ones provide us with some winners but there are a couple of ex-pointers that wouldn't surprise me if they were to out-run their current odds.
Ballyward is a big price for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper on the Wednesday of the Festival. The son of Flemensfirth finished second at Tyrella in March of last year but looked sure to benefit for the initial experience. Moving from the capable hands of Colin Mc Keever to Willie Mullins did the five-year-old no harm and he could not have been more impressive when running out a 16-length winner on his rules debut at Leopardstown.
Willie looks to have a leading fancy in Ballynoe winner Carter Mckay but big prices about Ballyward are tempting. Another in the Champion Bumper who could out-run his current price is the Dan Skelton-trained Cause Toujours. The son of Khalkevi paid the price for a number of jumping errors at Oldcastle on debut but demonstrated a fair level of ability on that occasion. The five-year-old looked one to keep on side when winning first time out for Dan at Warwick, winning by an eased down seven-lengths.
Elsewhere Sweet As A Nut is interesting if lining up in the Foxhunters Chase. Trained by Michael Barry the seven-year-old is a three-time winner between the flags and looked impressive in winning a hunter chase by 15-lengths at Limerick in December. On The Fringe merits obvious respect but it would be no surprise to see Sweet As A Nut go well at a decent price.
We have an exciting period of racing ahead of us over the next few months, with many ex-point-to-pointers making their rules debuts, while the more experienced are likely to be entered in many of the graded races across the upcoming festivals. Hopefully we will have plenty of winning newcomers and festival winners to talk about in next month's feature.