Qatar: Ireland’s breakout star Challenge ready to become Denis Hogan’s hero

Make A Challenge: heading to Qatar to contest valuable sprint. Photo: Horse Racing Ireland

By Jon Lees

Qatar: Make A Challenge, who starred in the rags-to-riches story of Ireland’s 2019 Flat season, will get the chance to shoot for his biggest pot yet when he races for a Middle Eastern sprint that will pay $142,000 to the winner.

The five-year-old gelding, a Godolphin discard who originally cost his trainer Denis Hogan only £6,500, secured the Training Performance Of The Year Award for his handler from Horse Racing Ireland for a campaign in which he won six times and his handicap mark nearly doubled from 66 to 112.

At the end of the season he was supplemented for the Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot, taking the lead a furlong out and eventually finishing fifth beaten under three lengths by Donjuan Triumphant.

This weekend Make A Challenge is due to arrive in Doha, Qatar, to contest the Dukhan Sprint, an invitational race over 6f in which he is the highest- rated entry, to fulfil Hogan’s first overseas assignment beyond France.

“It was in the back of my head that there were a couple of big races this time of year between Qatar, Dubai and Saudi,” said Hogan. “He was accepted for all three but I felt he has a bit of gate speed, it is a sharp six furlongs in Qatar and the money is very good.

“He did his final bit of work on the Curragh on Wednesday and we were very happy with him. He’s had a winter break and we wouldn’t mind an extra week or two but we are where we are now. He’s a horse that runs well fresh and we are happy to go.”

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Make A Challenge, by Invincible Spirit and from the family of Balanchine, did not race at two, was winless at three and had to be withdrawn on his first two starts of 2019 after getting loose and refusing to load.

He first caught attention when he won twice in five days at the Galway Festival and followed that with three wins from four starts at the Curragh in August and September, culminating in the Listed victory that earned him the run at Ascot.

“Last year was a revelation,” said Hogan. “I can’t tell you I knew he would end up with a rating of 112. Earlier in the year I would have been happy to win a handicap or two. Galway was his aim and he did that and progressed with every run.

“The further back in distance we went with him the better he seemed to get. That’s why I’m looking forward to him going over a sharp six in Doha. The Saudi race was over a little further and they are coming from far and wide for that, so it was going to be very competitive.”

With Hogan’s parents Martin and Mary owning 25 per cent of the sprinter with Walter O’Connor and James Reilly, the trainer hopes Make A Challenge, who will be ridden by Joe Doyle, can take them to many of the big festivals in 2020.

“There will be plenty of options,” he added. “There won’t be any hiding places and he is going to have to take on the big guns. Hopefully he can bring us to a festival or two over the summer, but for now it’s exciting to be going to Doha.

“For a small yard it is brilliant. I always wanted to have a runner or two at the Dubai Carnival and he could have gone there but I felt he needed a holiday after a busy year so we had to sit tight. It’s huge for a yard like us to have a runner out there especially after picking him up for small money.”

Hogan, who trains a mixed string of 70 in Co Tipperary, is still a licensed jump jockey but will make sure he is in Doha not Fairyhouse next Saturday.

“I definitely won’t be riding that day,” he said. “I still ride a few but it’s becoming hard to find the time for them. I see a bit more of the ground these days.”

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