By John Manley
Halloween will soon be upon us, so it seems entirely appropriate that an Irishman with a fine sense of the Gaelic traditions behind this holiday would stir up some trouble in America, where haggard, long-toothed crones on brooms symbolize the season. The man is Niall O’Callaghan and the trouble is Witchful Thinking, winner of the $273,250 Vinery First Lady Stakes at Keeneland last week.
The bay filly by Lord Avie came into this race seeking to avenge two consecutive defeats to Memories of Silver. Chris McCarron put Witchful Thinking in a stalking position, then urged her to the lead at the top of the lane, where they encountered their nemesis. As the wire drew closer, Witchful Thinking drew farther away, putting a length between her and Memories of Silver at the finish. The Leslie Grimm-owned filly’s career earnings increased to $825,475, while she paid $14.60 on a $2 win ducat.
So now the filly’s Cork-born and raised trainer can toss and turn over this puzzler: Breeders’ Cup Mile or Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita? The First Lady was 1-3/16 miles. Witchful Thinking would have to shorten up by over a furlong for the Mile against a stellar field that should include most of Europe’s best milers. But she has prospered at Churchill. If she were to win the Mile, an Eclipse Award as top grass filly would be hard to deny her. The betting here is that she heads to California, cauldron and all, and takes her chances in the Yellow Ribbon against her own kind.
O’Callaghan doesn’t go chasing after empty rainbows, broom or no broom.
One man who is now unlikely to be chasing after any Breeders’ Cup rainbows is Ulsterman Ray Cochrane, who was supposed to have returned for the Classic, in which Running Stag is to be engaged. Cochrane lately sojourned to Australia, where he partnered Taufan’s Melody, a 66-1 winner of the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne. A claim of foul by the rider of the sixth-place finisher against Taufan’s Melody was disallowed, but the stewards held Cochrane accountable for unsportsmanlike riding, docking him half his winning purse and grounding him for a month. It is possible that Kentucky employs the rule that allows suspended jockeys to compete in designated stakes races, but at the moment Cochrane must be replaying the Caulfield Cup in his head every minute on the minute.
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On the subject of jockeys, Michael Kinane and Dermot Weld have parted ways. Kinane now owes his allegiance to the Aidan O’Brien yard. At present, O’Brien is pondering Second Empire for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and the duo of Orpen and Lavery for the Juvenile, meaning that Kinane might be riding for green in the bluegrass in two weeks. Meantime, Pat Smullen has been promoted to lead jockey in Weld’s orbit. The two enjoyed their greatest success in the 1996 Irish Derby with Zagreb.
It wasn’t the Nobel Peace Prize, but while Messrs. Hume and Trimble basked in the world’s spotlight, Bill Flynn basked in the reflection cast by Mexican gold. Actually, he was in the Belmont Park winner’s circle last Thursday, where Oro de Mexico, which he owns in partnership with Tom Moran and John Dee, was a three-length winner in an allowance heat. Flynn was instrumental in facilitating the peace talks and it was beginning to seem as if a win from his colt was elusive as serenity in Belfast. Oro de Mexico was winless since August of ’97, but he came through splendidly to bring a smile to the face of Flynn, who may have had a few well-chosen words with the colt prior to post time.
Darren Glennon, meanwhile, enjoyed the biggest win of his young career. The Dublin expatriate saddled Cocney Lass to victory in the $110,900 Highlander Handicap at Woodbine. The 3-year-old filly took on older males and scored an upset to the tune of $31.00 at the windows. Purchased as a yearling for $5,515, Cocney Lass has now bankrolled $351,622.
Sonja’s Faith tuned up for the Yellow Ribbon Stakes on November 8 by winning the $150,000 Las Palmas Stakes (Grade II) at Santa Anita last week. The Irish-bred filly won on the lead, with See You Soon, the 11-10 favorite, trailing by just over a length. Sonja’s Faith, owned by Marvin Malmuth, paid $11.20.
Another Irish-bred stakes winner last week was Hawksley Hill, winner of the $274,000 Oak Tree Breeders’ Cup Mile (Grade III) at Santa Anita. David and Jill Heerensperger’s gelding led off an Irish-bred exacta that was completed by Mr Lightfoot. Hawksley Hill was no surprise as evidenced by the win price of $3.40, but Mr Lightfoot’s putting the pedal to the metal was; the $2 exacta returned $27.20. Hawksley Hill now advances to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, while Frank Lyons said that Mr Lightfoot would be poised for the Hong Kong International Bowl.