04 Oct 2022

The Highway Rat takes the spoils in the Al Basti Equiworld Pat Smullen Mercury Stakes

Louth kennels return success at Dundalk Stadium, writes Joe Carroll

Last Friday evening saw Pat Smullen, the late, greatly missed nine-time Irish Flat Champion Jockey, remembered via the name of the big race, the €50,000 Group 3 Al Basti Equiworld Pat Smullen Mercury Stakes.

The five-furlong contest saw The Highway Rat take his record at Dundalk this year to four wins from seven runs in landing the big prize. Winning trainer Andy Oliver, whose wife Saffron owns the colt, said: “I told Ronan (Whelan) to keep it simple and he was brilliant. He’s a horse to look forward to next year.”

He spoke for everyone in racing when adding: “This win is particularly poignant as Pat was a great friend to all of us.”

There were doubles on the card for trainers Joseph O’Brien and James McAuley and apprentice jockey Jake Coen. Joseph took his 2021 Dundalk tally of winners to 20 as Baronial Pride (11/1), ridden by Dylan Browne McMonagle, landed the card’s apprentice handicap and Impulsar (5/2) scooped the card’s finale, a maiden contest, in the hands of Shane Crosse.

Impulsar is owned and was bred by John Camilleri, who is best known as the breeder of the brilliant Australian race-mare, Winx. Joseph went on to win the €3.3million Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia with State Of Rest early last Saturday morning, thereby adding yet another big-race success to his remarkable record in just over five years of holding a trainer’s licence.

James McAuley’s double came via Hightown Heights (12/1), ridden by Sam Ewing, in the fillies’ claimer that opened the card, and Beleaguerment (10/1), ridden by Shane Foley, in the second division of the Handicap.

Sam’s five-pound claim may have made all the difference in the claimer, a race in which James also saddled the runner-up, Sister Lola (8/11 fav). The winning distance was a neck.

Jake’s double came courtesy of Sunset Nova (10/3) in the first division of the Handicap for his uncle, Andy Slattery, and Rhythm Of Zain (5/2 fav) for Kieran Cotter in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Dundalk Nursery Handicap. Remarkably, Rhythm Of Zain has now won three nurseries, which is a rare achievement.

Jake is the younger brother of Ben, who rides as stable jockey for Johnny Murtagh. After the race the winning trainer paid tribute to the racecourse farrier: “Sunset Nova (who has won three times and been placed on a further five occasions at Dundalk this year from 13 runs), spread a plate coming here and it’s all thanks to John McAteer that he ran.”

As the saying goes: “No foot, no horse”. The card’s mile maiden, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Sires Series Maiden, went the way of Purple Dawn (4/1), who was bred by Jim Bolger but was acquired in June by winning trainer Michael O’Callaghan for £185,000.

A close relative of four-time Group 1-winner Dawn Approach, who was unbeaten as a two year-old and went on to land the English 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes the following year, Prudent Dawn holds an entry for next year’s Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Winning jockey Leigh Roche said: “He’s a big baby and so laidback, but he’s well-bred and has the size and scope to progress next year.” Add him to the list of talented juveniles that his Curragh trainer has assembled this season.

Dundalk’s next meetings is set for tonight Friday 29th October, with the opening race scheduled for 4:45pm. Once again, the card will exceed €100,000 in total prize-money.

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