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Irish Flat Season 2018 Preview: 5 Ws and 1 H

It is scarcely credible but after a seeming six-month long winter, the Irish flat season is up-and-running. We need to get Punchestown out of the way to engage with it fully but let’s kick off with six important questions for the campaign ahead.

How does Aidan O’Brien build on a record-breaking 2017?

By taking over the world.

Aside from the obvious Group 1 record last season, Aidan O’Brien continued to tighten the screw on Irish Group and Listed races generally. Consider the table below which looks at his historical record in such races since 2012.

Season Winners Runners Strikerate
2017 44 215 21%
2016 34 175 19%
2015 26 118 22%
2014 31 179 17%
2013 35 152 23%
2012 22 153 14%

 

2017 saw O'Brien have more winners, and runners, in Listed and Group races than ever before which is a pattern - no pun intended - that seems likely to continue in 2018. The problem – and it is a high-class problem – is that there simply aren’t enough races in Ireland for all his horses even with them running against each other, so he will have to travel far and wide.

Ballydoyle runners in the UK are old hat by now but they aren’t quite so common in France and certainly not at this stage of the season; yet O’Brien sent three horses to Longchamp last Sunday and they weren’t slouches either, Magical and Rostropovich Group 2 winners, Flag Of Honour successful at Group 3 level. It seems doubtful that the French trainers were enthused by this development though they might at least be pleased that none of them won.

Of course, the apotheosis of this would be Mendelssohn winning the Kentucky Derby. My initial reaction after his UAE Derby rout was to pooh-pooh any thought of Churchill Downs success, as Meydan form tends not to be replicated outside its own bubble. But his Beyer figure was 106 with the last three winners of the race coming in at 105, 103 and 102 (thanks to Ron Wood for those numbers) and the best US middle-distance three-year-old at the moment is on 104.

Simon Rowlands in his Irish Field column had him on 128 (a different scale is used here) with the potential to go higher with Bolt D’Oro behind him on 127. So on the clock he is at least in the right ballpark and he is reasonably hardened too having had seven starts and plenty of experience away from the turf. The dream of the Run for the Roses may not be insane but regardless of that I suspect we are going to be seeing the O’Brien horses running in places they haven’t before this season.

 

What did last season mean for Dermot Weld?

Not a lot probably, but…

With 44 winners in all, Weld had his worst season for at least as far as Racing Post records go back and it is worth put the campaign alongside those that went before.

Season Winners Strikerate Prizemoney Individual Runners Trainers’ Championship
2017 44 13% €1,246,600 121 4th
2016 87 20% €2,886,538 149 2nd
2015 76 19% €2,298,005 139 2nd
2014 92 22% €2,232,310 134 2nd
2013 63 15% €1,345,515 129 3rd

 

All of his numbers were well down on the previous three years though he did quickly rebound from a relatively disappointing season in 2013 the following year. The bounce-back may not be assured in 2018, however, if we consider the following comment from a recent Racing Post stable tour at face value:

Weld says he has cut down on numbers this year to concentrate on quality rather than quantity.’ Furthermore, it is interesting that his total individual runners didn’t fall off completely last year; there are surely some unraced three-year-olds that he didn’t rush as juveniles when things weren’t going right (Jaega looked a good prospect from this mould at Leopardstown on Monday) but it doesn’t seem likely that he has dozens of them.

His patience with those horses could well be rewarded, but patience has its limits, which is something Willie Mullins knows all about; should Gordon Elliott retain his lead over him at Punchestown next week, he may regret being too patient in the early part of the jumps season proper. Weld is a little like this too. Since 2003, he has had just nine horses run in either of the English Guineas, the Oaks or the Derby. Their form figures read an impressive:104890281 with Refuse To Bend and Harzand the winners, so when they get there they tend to run well.

The issue is that they don’t get there often enough and playing the long game with three-year-olds basically denies the whole shape of the calendar; many of the races that matter are over by early June. That is something to bear in mind with the great bay hope Contingent who could be an Oaks filly but it was a little disconcerting for her backers to read in the same stable tour that ‘she’s still a bit backward in her coat and hasn’t done any fast work yet.’ She could have the quality but will she be ready in time to show it?

 

When does Ger Lyons finish second to Aidan O’Brien?

This year seems as good a guess as any.

Subjectively, and it is only subjectively, I think Lyons might be the second best flat trainer in Ireland right now; I emphasise right now as his historical achievements are not in same league as Dermot Weld or Jim Bolger but then he hasn’t been training for as long as them either. Bolger was second in the trainers’ championship last year but Lyons seems to have won the battle if not the war; he had 72 winners against 60 for Bolger with a strikerate of 19% against 11% for his rival. His problem was that he didn’t have Verbal Dexterity and his €233,280 in Irish prizemoney, with the difference between the two trainers at the line being €174,445.

Lyons’ problem is his ownership profile, which is currently constrained in getting his hands on a Group 1 horse like Verbal Dexterity, as such as Sean Jones and David Spratt just don’t have the buying power, astute though the latter certainly is at acquiring horses. And even if Lyons does get a horse that can compete at the top level, keeping him becomes an issue: Doctor Geoff was good in winning the Tetrarch on seasonal debut last season but was soon on the plane to Hong Kong. His rise from very little remains notable however and is worth charting below. While perhaps not quite in the Gordon Elliott league, it isn’t far behind.

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Season Winners Strikerate Prizemoney Trainers’ Championship
2017 72 19% €1,858,035 3rd
2016 53 16% €1,324,590 4th
2015 60 18% €1,579,343 4th
2014 48 19% €935,715 4th
2013 35 14% €737,065 5th
2012 34 15% €549,890 7th
2011 43 12% €669,369 7th
2010 26 9% €456,976 9th

 

Everything seems in place for Lyons to kick on and improve again. He has the training ability, he has the stable jockey in Colin Keane and he has the right attitude too. Rather than get defeatist about the power of the big yards, he wants to get up and at them, commenting in a recent AtTheRaces interview that ‘[Aidan O’Brien] is dragging us along in his wake [and] you try to follow him.’ But if he is to be another Gordon Elliott, who is going to be his Michael O’Leary?

 

Who should the Big Four be worried about?

The Big Two.

In truth, Aidan O’Brien shouldn’t be worried about anything bar what goes on in his own yard but if winners are to be taken from the likes of Weld, Bolger and Lyons then perhaps it will be Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott who do it. Below are their respective flat winners over the past five seasons:

Mullins Season Elliott
18 2017 12
7 2016 6
11 2015 1
7 2014 7
10 2013 4

 

Mullins is slightly further down the flat training route than Elliott but both ‘suffer’ from the same problem as Aidan O’Brien in that they have so many horses and not enough races. Elliott of course won the Railway Stakes last year with Beckford from his first team of two-year-olds in 2017 and had an interesting early runner on the level at Cork last Sunday. Scealai Aonair, formerly owned by the Irish President, was bought out of Dermot Weld’s yard for €10,000 and went with a deal of promise on his first start for Elliott’s own racing club.

For Mullins, last season on the flat was all about the summer festivals with winners at Killarney, Listowel and most notably Galway. The soft ground at the last-named track may have helped but his form figures of:134115 in the premier handicaps at that meeting were deeply impressive with Whiskey Sour winning two such races and Riven Light unlucky not to do likewise and nor could he be accused at going mob-handed at the fixture.

 

Where should the astute smaller owner go with his horse?

Step forward Richard O’Brien.

Before this becomes an advertorial, I want to point out that I don’t know Richard O’Brien apart from Twitter and, as my wife constantly points out, Twitter isn’t real! He’s a good follow on that platform, however, and has an excellent blog that keeps people updated on his runners. But more than that, the statistics bear out the belief that he had a really good maiden season in 2017, coming out best of all Irish trainers with a minimum of 50 total runners on the winners-to-runners ratio or as I prefer to call it ‘the keeping as many owners as possible happy’ figure.

 

Trainer Winner to Runner Ratio
R. O’Brien 56%
G. Lyons 55%
A. O’Brien 53%
W. Mullins 48%
A. McGuinness 45%
P. Prendergast 42%
J. Feane 41%
J. Oxx 41%

 

It is unlikely if not impossible that he will keep that return up and he probably benefits from having a small sample size to date, but it remains a notable achievement to finish ahead of Lyons and his namesake Aidan. Furthermore, he has done well with acquisitions from other yards - the likes of Alans Pride rising from a rating of 52 to 73, Tom Dooley from 46 to 65 and Beach Bar from 78 to 94. We have seen this movie before with trainers like Elliott, Mullins and to a lesser extent Lyons and it can be a good gauge of trainer ability.

Already this season O’Brien has won the Madrid Handicap with Dianthus and while running her in the 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown soon after could be considered a rush of blood to the head, it is worth pointing out that Jet Setting won the same race off a not dissimilar preparation, catching some of those from the big yards cold before going on to the win the Irish 1,000 Guineas. The result may not have been what they wanted but the thinking was right.

 

Why are they racing at the Curragh again this year?

I have no idea.

- Tony Keenan

Gosden’s Lion set to Roar as Classics draw near

Newmarket is in the midst of the Craven Meeting, supplying early clues for the opening Classics in May.

The feature event takes place on Thursday, with last year’s Racing Post Trophy runner-up, Roaring Lion, set to get his season up and running. Gosden’s youngster is currently third-favourite for the colts’ classic behind Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior. Yes, the major forces in Flat racing are set to go head to head once again.

Roaring Lion will be a short-priced favourite on Thursday with the Charlie Appleby pair of Masar and Glorious Journey leading the challenge. Speaking yesterday, Appleby said: “Masar flew in from Dubai this week and is fit and well. The combination of his unfamiliarity with the dirt surface and a wide draw means that you can put a line through his latest Meydan run, but at least he has the benefit of a run. He is a colt that has shown his inexperience in the past, but he’s done plenty of racing and travelling and he has been getting better with every race. If he brings his strong Jean-Luc Lagardere and Solario form into the Craven, it will make him a major player.”

According to the markets, his other contender has the best chance of toppling the favourite: “Glorious Journey has also been in Dubai and has done very well, but whatever he does on Thursday, there will be some improvement in him,” the trainer added. “The race he won was not the strongest of Group three’s, but he couldn’t have done any more than stay unbeaten. I walked the course on Monday and I would be amazed if it is not good ground by Thursday. We know all about the Rowley Mile’s incredible drying capabilities and it will suit Masar, who is a quick ground horse.”

The Craven has gone to classy sorts in the past, including last year’s winner Eminent, who went on to win a Group Two in France prior to a place finish in the Group One Irish Champion Stakes. Team Hannon took four Craven’s in a row from 2012 to 2015, with winners including Toronado and Toormore. The former came fourth in the Guineas, before going on to capture a pair of Group Ones. Toormore landed his only Group One as a juvenile, though had several victories in Group Two’s in subsequent campaigns, and also coming within a neck of taking the Lochinge.

Haafhd in 2004 was the last horse to win the Craven Stakes prior to victory in the 2000 Guineas. Trained by Barry Hills and owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, he was particularly potent at Newmarket, winning on four of his five visits. The final success came in the Champion Stakes run over 10-furlongs, defeating a high-class field which included Azamour, Norse Dancer, Refuse To Bend and Doyen.

Chances are that Thursday’s Craven will fail to provide a Guineas winner, though in Masar, Glorious Journey and Roaring Lion, we have horses of huge potential, with the right sort of pedigree and high-profile connections.

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But, before the Colts get their opportunity to shine, the fillies will take centre-stage in today’s Nell Gwyn Stakes. As was the case with the boys, it’s been a while since the winner of this went on to 1000 Guineas glory. The front-running Speciosa was the last to do so in 2006. Having landed the Classic in May, she failed to win another of her nine further career starts.

Frankie Dettori has an extraordinary record in the race, having won seven in total, including the last four. His association with John Gosden accounts for the last two, though today he’ll be aboard Juliet Foxtrot, trained by Charlie Hills. Testing ground probably played a part in her disappointing final juvenile display at Naas last September. Sporting the familiar silks of Khalid Abdullah, she’s by Dansili out of a King’s Best mare, and will surely appreciate a sounder surface.

The Mark Johnston-trained, Threading, also disappointed on her final two-year-old start, though that came in a strong looking renewal of the Cheveley Park, won by Aidan O’Brien’s high-class filly Clemmie. She sits at the head of the betting, having impressed in the Lowther at York, though much will, of course, depend on how she has progressed over the winter.

Jim Crowley gets the leg-up aboard John Gosden’s Nawassi. A daughter of Dubawi, the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned filly probably didn’t beat an awful lot at Newmarket in November but nevertheless looked a juvenile full of potential.
Soliloquy is also by Dubawi though owned by Godolphin. Charlie Appleby will be looking to build on an impressive winter at Meydan, and this filly could prove useful.

We’re sure to learn plenty in the coming days and hopefully get a few pointers for the Guineas meeting that’s just a few weeks away.

Geegeez Cards: A few small tweaks

Nothing exciting in the latest tweaks, which are little more than minor bug fixes. Specifically, they're as follows:

- Disabled switching between race card tabs when using the arrow keys for up/down scrolling

- Added 'abandonment' notifications for races/meetings

- Fixed a bug with scrolling between Full Form runners from the drop down, whereby performance slowed the more races that were viewed

- Added more race details (distance, runners) to compact card menu 'hover over' data

- Fixed issue with incorrect 'runs since wind surgery' counts

More exciting things coming soon...

 

Part 2: The Importance of Pace in 5f Handicaps

In my first article I looked at pace in 5-furlong handicaps focusing on the running style bias angle. The figures clearly showed a huge difference between the front running chances of horses depending on which 5f course he/she was running. In this second part, we will revisit the course angle and aim to offer a more complete picture.

To recap from the first article, when I talk about pace my main focus is the early pace in a race and the position horses take up early on. The Geegeez website splits pace data into four groups - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. These groups are assigned numerical values – led gets 4 points, prominent 3, mid division 2 and held up 1. On each Geegeez racecard these figures are assigned to every horse in the race going back four UK or Irish runs.

We can use these numerical figures to create course and distance pace averages. I have done this by adding up the pace scores of all the winners at a particular course and dividing it by the total number of races. The higher the average score, the more biased the course and distance is to horses that lead early or race close to the pace. Here are the 5 furlong handicap C&D pace averages for all turf courses in the UK.

 

Course 5f pace average 5f Pace Rank
Lingfield (turf) 3.33 1
Chester 3.3 2
Epsom 3 3
Catterick 2.97 4
Ripon 2.97 5
Redcar 2.88 6
Chepstow 2.86 7
Hamilton 2.85 8
Nottingham 2.84 9
Thirsk 2.82 10
Windsor 2.78 11
Musselburgh 2.77 12
Newbury 2.73 13
Beverley 2.72 14
Leicester 2.72 15
Pontefract 2.69 16
Goodwood 2.64 17
Ayr 2.63 18
Newmarket 2.58 19
Haydock 2.57 20
Wetherby 2.56 21
Bath 2.54 22
Doncaster 2.51 23
Salisbury 2.5 24
Sandown 2.5 25
Brighton 2.49 26
Carlisle 2.49 27
York 2.47 28
Ffos Las 2.38 29
Yarmouth 2.24 30
Ascot 2.24 31

 

Lingfield (turf) tops the list, but in truth they have very few 5f handicaps so we perhaps out to take this figure with the proverbial pinch of salt. Chester comes next which is no surprise based on the stats from the previous article. In that article Chester had exceptional winning percentages for front runners and very poor percentages for hold up horses. A 3.3 C&D pace average is huge, so let us look at Chester 5f in more detail.

Running style

Chester 5f

Wins Runners Strike rate (%) IV
Led 31 88 35.23 3.38
Prominent 21 194 10.82 1.04
Mid Division 5 109 4.59 0.44
Held Up 4 194 2.06 0.20

 

As can be seen, 52 of 61 Chester races have been won by horses that have either led or raced prominently. Essentially these figures indicate that the winner is almost six times more likely to be racing in the front half of the pack early on, than the back half.

Epsom are third on the list but they have only had 25 races so, as with Lingfield turf, the data is limited. Let us instead look at the Catterick who lie fourth on the list. Catterick have had 145 races so a bigger sample to breakdown:

 

Running style

Catterick 5f

Wins Runners Strike rate (%) IV
Led 47 196 23.98 2.51
Prominent 65 672 9.67 1.00
Mid Division 15 175 8.57 0.93
Held Up 18 473 3.81 0.4

 

The stats for Catterick are not in Chester’s league in terms of pace bias to front/prominent racers, but the tendency is still strong. Front runners especially have a very potent edge. Digging deeper, if we focus on races at Catterick with 12 to 14 runners the pace bias does increase significantly:

 

Running style Wins Runners Strike rate (%) IV
Led 15 66 22.73 2.88
Prominent 22 227 9.69 1.23
Mid Division 5 88 5.68 0.72
Held Up 4 201 1.99 0.25

 

37 of 46 races were won by early leaders or horses that raced prominent early. The winner is roughly four more times more likely to be racing in the front half of the pack early on, than the back half.

 

At this juncture I decided to dig a little deeper looking to see whether the going made a difference to the overall 5f course pace averages. In the past I have heard two contrasting theories connected with front running horses which would potentially affect the course pace average on a specific type of going:

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Theory 1 – horses that lead on softer ground are difficult to peg back because horses find it harder to accelerate from off the pace on such going;

Theory 2 – horses that lead on firmer ground are likely to get less tired at the front due the faster conditions and this accentuates their front running edge. (Plus on quicker ground the race is likely to be run in a shorter overall time again meaning the front runner is expending less energy).

So which one is true – or is neither true? If front runners do have a bigger edge under certain going conditions it will push up the overall course pace average.

I decided to split the results into two – races on good or firmer; and races on good to soft or softer. Here are the course pace averages for all 5f handicaps split into these going types:

 

Going Course Pace average
Good or firmer 2.72
Good to soft or softer 2.67

 

As we can see the difference is minimal and not statistically significant. I plan to look at more extremes of going when I have time – looking at soft or heavy versus good to firm or firmer. However, looking at these initial figures, I am not expecting to see a huge variance.

My final area of research in this article is concerned with ‘class’. There is an argument, which I believe is a fair one, that the higher the class, the harder it is for horses to lead from start to finish – due to the more competitive nature of the opposition. Hence, at courses that run more higher class handicaps one might expect their course pace averages to be lower as a result. How to calculate ‘class’ at a particular course is difficult – do you use class levels, prize money, average Official Ratings across all races? I have decided to use a relatively simplistic approach by creating average class levels for each course by adding the class levels for each race and dividing by how many races there were. Hence, for example, if a course had had 10 class 2 handicaps and 10 class 3 handicaps their class average would be 2.5. Here are the course class averages for 5f handicaps (lowest class averages at the top):

Course Course Race Class Average Course Class Rank
Chepstow 5.47 1
Hamilton 5.43 2
Catterick 5.32 3
Brighton 5.26 4
Ffos Las 5.12 5
Beverley 5.11 6
Yarmouth 5.08 7
Bath 5.03 8
Carlisle 5 9
Nottingham 4.96 10
Redcar 4.95 11
Lingfield (turf) 4.92 12
Musselburgh 4.85 13
Ayr 4.77 14
Leicester 4.67 15
Ripon 4.57 16
Wetherby 4.56 17
Pontefract 4.53 18
Salisbury 4.45 19
Windsor 4.44 20
Thirsk 4.09 21
Goodwood 4.04 22
Newbury 4 23
Sandown 4 24
Doncaster 3.85 25
Haydock 3.79 26
Newmarket 3.64 27
Chester 3.02 28
Epsom 2.81 29
York 2.8 30
Ascot 2.62 31

 

As you would expect, most of the Grade 1 courses are near the bottom of the table. Three of these courses - Ascot, York and Epsom - have the most competitive 5f handicaps in terms of class.

To see if there is a correlation between course pace averages and average course race class I have ranked both lists next to each other, and produced an average rank. For there to be a strong correlation you would expect the majority of the courses to be in similar positions in each column – in other words the higher course 5f pace averages should correlate with the lower course class averages; likewise the lower course pace averages should correlate with the higher course class averages.

 

Course Course Class Rank (low>high) 5f Pace Rank Class / Pace Average
Catterick 3 4 3.5
Chepstow 1 7 4
Hamilton 2 8 5
Lingfield (turf) 12 1 6.5
Redcar 11 6 8.5
Nottingham 10 9 9.5
Beverley 6 14 10
Ripon 16 5 10.5
Musselburgh 13 12 12.5
Brighton 4 26 15
Bath 8 22 15
Leicester 15 15 15
Chester 28 2 15
Windsor 20 11 15.5
Thirsk 21 10 15.5
Ayr 14 18 16
Epsom 29 3 16
Ffos Las 5 29 17
Pontefract 18 16 17
Carlisle 9 27 18
Newbury 23 13 18
Yarmouth 7 30 18.5
Wetherby 17 21 19
Goodwood 22 17 19.5
Salisbury 19 24 21.5
Haydock 26 20 23
Newmarket 27 19 23
Doncaster 25 23 24
Sandown 24 25 24.5
York 30 28 29
Ascot 31 31 31

 

At both ends of the list, sorted by Class/Pace Average, we have the most valid correlations. For instance, Catterick, Chepstow and Hamilton all strongly favour front-runners and all host a majority of low grade five-furlong handicaps.

Meanwhile, Ascot and York, as well as to a lesser degree Sandown, Doncaster, Newmarket and Haydock, all generally host high class sprint handicaps where the early pace holds up less well.

I hope you have enjoyed this second instalment and, as always, comments are welcomed.

- Dave Renham

Monday Musings: An Unconventional National

Did you enjoy the Grand National meeting? I did, although it was one of the less conventional Aintree experiences of my existence, writes Tony Stafford. I didn’t go up until the Friday; disappeared north-easterly after racing, only returning to Liverpool the following morning. Then, instead of watching the race first hand, with some friends, I followed the first five races on the big screens of the Sir Thomas Hotel by the waterfront before setting off home, and listening to the big race on the car radio.

Top-class racing often doubles up with entertainment these days, especially in the summer, with many other tracks following the example of the long-established Newmarket Nights. At the Cheltenham Festival, arrivals at the main entrance were treated to a highly-talented female duo performing from a rooftop above the doorway and in the Sir Thomas, the gaps between races were filled with a brilliant singer/guitarist, Paul Hand, who must have sung more than 30 numbers in his six stints before making way for each of the race commentaries.

At least 100 party-goers were booked for lunch, but our local host, Scouser Bob, had the inside track and manage to persuade the management to allow us to order some food to go with the cocktails – J2O’s in my case. The snag was that half our group had to leave in time to get to Anfield, so the food did not arrive before they left. It hadn’t come by the time we set off at 4.45 either, but sometimes the anticipation is good enough.

It is only by going racing that you get the full experience, of course. On Friday, in the owners’ room – thanks Alan Spence for the tickets! – there was a premium on seating, but an accommodating gentleman who I was sure I’d seen many times before, made room for a little one.

Upon my inquisitiveness, he said he was a friend and near neighbour of Paul Nicholls who always kindly manages to get tickets for himself and his wife, who appeared not to be at the track. His name was John Bolton and he said I might have heard of him in relation to the Frankie Dettori seven-timer back in 1996.

I hadn’t, but on my return home I looked back and sure enough, there were stories on the internet of the fateful day 22 years ago when John was going racing at Ascot while his wife Mary was spending the day shopping in London. Mary was the Dettori fan and somehow they decided on a bet involving doubles and an each-way seven-horse accumulator.

The bet, struck with Ladbrokes, actually came to a theoretical £930,000, but the couple were more than happy to accept the firm’s then daily limit of £500,000. John Bolton seemed a thoroughly-genuine, under-stated chap and it was no surprise when reading the back story to discover Mrs Bolton worked with disadvantaged children.

I felt I also had a little input, in that at the time I had just finished ghosting Frankie’s account of 1996, A Year in the Life. In those days pages were not as easily changed as nowadays, and the full run was already set, if not in stone, in type. We had to add a chapter starting something along the lines of: “Just when I thought….” As you can guess, the relevant volume is no longer in my possession.

I digress… The 2018 Grand National will be memorable for many reasons. I expected it to be something of an easy touch for Total Recall, but it didn’t take a clairvoyant to realise he wouldn’t be winning after the first few fences when his jumping technique proved totally inadequate. I doubt he’ll have a Recall next year.

Listening rather than watching, there was the feeling that there was a fair amount of carnage, but analysis of the result tells us that of the 38 horses that set off, only six actually fell, one of them because he was short of room.

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Five more unseated their riders, and two of these, including my 66-1 long-shot Lake Windermere, were badly hampered. You could hardly blame the only two to be brought down, including the strongly-fancied Blaklion, who ended the hopes of connections, his legion of backers and his breeder Mary Morrison, when taking the opening fence right in the path of Perfect Candidate, the only other victim there.

Thirteen more pulled up, including Total Recall who got to the second last before being allowed by Paul Townend to ease off. Of the 12 finishers, my other each-way shot was the fellow (to the winner Tiger Roll) Gigginstown representative Road to Riches, at 50-1, who was a gallant sixth. Should have gone to Specsavers – certainly not to William Hill, who only paid down to fifth!

There will have been plenty of British-based trainers who would have been having a bit of a giggle when thinking back only just over a year to the bleating of Gigginstown’s boss Michael O’Leary, saying Phil Smith, the soon-to-be-retired senior BHA handicapper, was treating his (and other Irish) horses unfairly. O’Leary went as far to say he wouldn’t allow his trainers to run them in those circumstances. The Irish had the first four over the line, and five of the first six (eight of the twelve finishers in all).

Maybe it’s a shame he didn’t stick to his guns, as he does in the management of his airline, Ryanair, where if you want something remotely extra it’s a case of pay, pay, pay! Scouser Bob passed on a nice joke on Saturday. Michael O’Leary went into a bar, and outside there was a notice saying: Guinness 50p a pint. “Is that right?” says O’Leary. “It is,” replies the barman. “I’ll have a pint, then” says O’Leary. “Will you be wanting a glass with that?”

The weather for much of the country has been anything but a joke. Going across the Moors from the Cumbrian village of Tebay adjacent to the M6 across to Wilf Storey’s in Muggleswick, all the streams were running fast and there were still on Saturday morning the last isolated remnants of what by all accounts has been snow of biblical proportions.

It’s only now starting to dry out with temperatures creeping into double figures and at Hedgeholme Stud, the new location for the Raymond Tooth mares and young stock, evidence of what has gone before remains obvious.

The good news, though, is that the three foals so far born are thriving and the very flashy Mayson – Lawyers Choice colt, thus a full-brother to Sod’s Law, who ran well enough when fourth on his Kempton comeback last Wednesday, and half to Dutch Law, looks well up to the family standard.

Anyway, as I look across the rooftops from my office this morning there’s a bright sky promising more Flat-racing friendly weather for Newmarket and Newbury this week, and also less demanding ground for Cheltenham and, hopefully, Ayr’s big Scottish Grand National meeting.

Not much went wrong for Nicky Henderson with his host of Aintree Grade 1 wins, but one that should have won but didn’t was Theinval. If he turns out quickly again at Ayr on Friday there must be  very high hopes of a successful recovery mission.

Stat of the Day, 16th April 2018

Saturday's Runner was...

4.05 Chepstow : Kimberlite Candy @ 4/1 BOG WON at 11/4 (Tracked leader, tracked new leader before 3rd, led next, joined 4 out, in command and good jump last, stayed on strongly to win by 10 lengths)

And we kick off a new week via Monday's...

2.40 Kelso :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Geronimo @ 5/2 BOG

A 7-runner, Class 4,  2m6.5f handicap hurdle (4yo+) on soft ground worth £4289 to the winner...

Why?

This 7 yr old gelding is certainly knocking on the door, having finished as a runner-up on all three starts so far. He can consider himself unlucky not to have won last time out when badly hampered late on by a faller (Luckime, who incidentally won at Taunton last week) contributing to him getting caught and headed close to home causing him to be be beaten by just half a length.

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That was his handicap debut and he'd been stepped up in both class and trip, so I'd expect another good show from him today back down at Class 4 and over a trip some 2.5 furlongs shorter, especially as he was some 24 lengths clear of the third placed horse, whilst the narrow winner was more experienced in handicap racing, landing a third win from six attempts.

Stat-wise, since the start of 2013, in UK NH handicaps, horses coming into a contest off the back of three consecutive runner-up finishes finally managed to go one better on 55 of 357 (15.4% SR) occasions, returning profits of 62pts at an ROI of 17.4% and from these 357 "triple bridesmaids"...

  • males are 51/328 (15.6%) for 73.1pts (+22.3%)
  • 6 to 9 yr olds are 43/266 (16.2%) for 97.8pts (+36.8%)
  • those beaten by 0.25 to 4 lengths LTO are 33/180 (18.3%) for 106.9pts (+59.4%)
  • in the opening third (Jan-Apr) of the year : 30/175 (17.1%) for 105.4pts (+60.2%)
  • and those ridden by 7lb claimers are 8/38 (21.1%) for 39.9pts (+104.9%)

OR...based around the above, you could save this little micro-system...6 to 9 yr old males in January to May, beaten by 0.25 to 10 lengths (the extra month and bigger margin of defeat gives a better/more reliable sample size) are 23/106 (21.7% SR) for 159.3pts (+150.3% ROI), with 7lb claimers riding 4 winners from 12 (33.3%) for 33.7pts (+280.8%)

I mention the 7lb claimer jockeys, because trainer Sandy Thomson is very adept at booking such jockeys, as his record with them is 22/120 (18.3% SR) for 251.1pts (+209.2% ROI) since the start of 2015...

...pointing towards...a 1pt win bet on Geronimo @ 5/2 BOG which was widely available at 5.30pm on Sunday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.40 Kelso

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

SotD Update, 9th to 14th April 2018

A couple of winners to end the week couldn't have at a better time for many of us!

It dragged me back off the cold list, for you might recall that after an 8/1 winner I had four losers before my holiday (which seems sooooo long ago now, must be due another 😉 ), which were then followed by three poor efforts and a non-runner.

Thankfully, winners at 7/2 and 4/1 on Friday & Saturday ensured another profitable week (just as the one pre-holiday was!), rendering any fears fairly redundant after all. The "bubble" is still intact, put the sharp objects away! The latest winner was our 25th of the year so far and takes us to within 2 of 550 overall from less than 2000 selections : so that's the target this week.

Selections & Results : 09/04/18 to 14/04/18 

09/04 : The King's Steed @ 4/1 BOG 10th at 2/1
10/04 : PC Dixon @ 7/2 BOG non-runner (Meeting Abandoned : Waterlogged)
11/04 : Roundabout Magic@ 7/2 BOG 8th at 4/1
12/04 : Dicosimo @ 9/4 BOG 4th at 7/2
13/04 : Terrefort @ 7/2 BOG WON at 3/1
14/04 : Kimberlite Candy @ 4/1 BOG WON at 11/4 

09/04/18 to 14/04/18 :
2 winning bets from 5 = 40.00% SR
P/L: +4.50pts

April 2018 :
3 winners from 11 = 27.27% SR
P/L: +2.00pts
ROI = +18.18%

2018 to date :
25 winners from 81 = 30.86% SR
P/L: +36.01pts
ROI = +44.46%

Overall:
548 winners from 1966 = 27.87% S.R
P/L: +523.80pts
ROI: +26.64%

P.S. The full month by month SotD story can be found right here.
P.P.S The review of SotD's 2012 performance is here.

Whilst the details for 2013 are now online here.
And the figures for 2014 are now available here.

Our review of 2015 can be found right here
Whilst 2016's details are right here

And here is the full story from 2017.

Stat of the Day is just one component of the excellent package available to all Geegeez Gold Members, so why not take your £1, 30-day trial right now?

Click here for more details.

Why I’m NOT writing a Grand National preview this year [v2.018]…

[I originally wrote this post for last year's race and, while missing out on the Grand National winner, it did flag placed horses at 80/1 and 40/1. So the below is a slightly amended version adding into the mix what we learned twelve months ago. A version 2.018 if you will...]

It's the greatest race in the world, or so they'd have us believe. But, since the modifications, the Grand National has become a deeply unpredictable lottery, and far from a sensible punting conveyance.

Fine for a bit of a laugh, and an interest, but nothing more. Which is a shame because, in the good old days - you know, like eight or ten years ago - it was actually a pretty solid trends race.

It used to be the case that winners had won over three miles-plus, had proven jumping ability, had won in big fields, and had a touch of class. Oh, and they'd lug less than eleven stone.

While last year's race was won by a horse - One For Arthur - that was strangely 'gettable', 2016's winner had NEVER finished in front in a steeplechase... And in 2015, a horse a pound off top weight won. The year before, a horse that won a veterans' chase on it previous chase start prevailed. The year before that, the 66/1 winner had chase form of U0P45F5 coming into the race.

The average winning SP of the last six winners has been 32.5/1 - and that's after the bookies have squeezed the fleshies of the price of just about every horse in the hours running up to the start!

Since 2007, the last eleven years, the average winning SP has been 32.73/1 - a sequence that includes winners at 7/1 (fav) and 100/1.

Let's face facts: this is machismo betting; it's vanity punting. The only reason to bet in the Grand National these days is to say, "I had the winner of the Grand National". Better to be lucky than good, right?

Seven of the last eleven winners paid 25/1 or bigger at starting price, and 17 of the 44 placed horses (including winners) did likewise. So if you really want to get macho about betting the Nash, exclude all the fancied runners and take four against the field.

Horses aged nine, ten or eleven have won 17 of the last 20 renewals. That's 85% of the winners from two-thirds of the runners, and they've had 75% of the places too.

[2.018 Update: Two of the exceptions, including last year's winner, were eight. The fourth horse last year was also eight, suggesting that the reduced stamina and jumping test is paving the way for younger horses to further press their claims. So we'll revise this to be horses aged eight to eleven.

Lob out any runner rated north of 148 - yes, it's arbitrary (albeit based on the fact that only one 9-11yo managed to win from higher) but I don't care; this is the daftest betting race of the year after all!

[2.018 Update: Although the winner last year was rated 148, the placed horses were 150, 147, and 152. Again, it feels like the arbitrary bar should be elevated to 152. That still excludes the top nine in the weights. So we'll lob out any runner rated north of 152.]

And if you throw in a horse that finished in the top five last time out, you get a system that has found three of the last four winners, and the second-placed horse in the other year. [2.018 Update: no change here, this is still a surprisingly good way to whittle the field with the top seven in 2017 fitting the bill, where 13 runners did not.]

Will this work this year? Probably not. But is it as reasonable an approach as any of the voodoo ratings agencies, or super trends, or form boffins, or dosage boys'? Erm, probably not. But it's also probably not that far away.

Here's how this played out over the last decade:

2007: 33/1 winner  (from 3 to qualify)
2008: five fallers, nothing placed (from 8 to qualify)
2009: 8th and 12th (from 2 to qualify)
2010: three fallers (from 3 to qualify)
2011: 28/1 4th (from 4 to qualify)
2012: two fallers (from 4 to qualify)

NEW FENCES INTRODUCED

2013: 66/1 winner (from 7 to qualify)
2014: 25/1 winner, 33/1 6th, five fallers (from 8 to qualify)
2015: 25/1 2nd, 25/1 6th, three fallers (from 8 to qualify)
2016: 33/1 winner (from 4 to qualify)
2017: 25/1 3rd, 50/1 5th
2018: ?????

There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the entire complexion of the race has changed since the modifications to the fences. And look at the results since then. It's a tiny sample size and perhaps just coincidence than anything more scientific... but it's not definitely coincidence.

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During this time, two other things have happened as well: the race is a little bit shorter, and the handicapper has been given discretionary power when it comes to weighting the runners. It is plausible that the latter of those two factors has led to more lenient handicapping of older, seemingly thoroughly exposed, horses. And it is likely that the former has enhanced the prospects of younger, less physically mature types.

At this stage of proceedings, there are a few horses that could qualify, as follows (along with their current top price):

Tiger Roll (12/1, too short), Seeyouatmidnight (16/1, too short), Regal Encore 33/1, Vieux Lion Rouge 33/1, Warriors Tale 50/1, I Just Know 25/1, Captain Redbeard 25/1, Houblon Des Obeaux 50/1, Milanbar 33/1, Delusionofgrandeur (reserve) 66/1, Vintage Clouds (reserve) 33/1.

Removing those too short in the betting and the reserves leaves just seven possibles.

Trying to work out which will start at 25/1 or bigger is something best left to the minutes before the race, but it makes sense to try to steal a march on those which are more likely to go off big prices but are currently very big prices... if you see what I mean. (Let's face it, nothing about betting in this race makes sense, from a financial advice perspective at least, so we might as well have a bit of fun with it).

Warriors Tale, Regal Encore, Vieux Lion Rouge, Houblon Des Obeaux and Milansbar look to be the five with a good chance of going off 25/1+. So maybe split your stake between them and see how you go.

If betting each way, note that a number of firms are paying SIX places but they are all a fifth the odds the place). bet365 are my preferred option: see why at the bottom of this post. While they are only paying five places, they are a quarter the odds a place, and both non-runner no bet and Best Odds Guaranteed; but they've also got a huge money back offer for EXISTING customers.

The going is a bit of a guessing game at this stage, but probably between soft and good to soft, so I've sorted the field by that prospect - also changed distance range to 3m to 4m4f - on this place view of Instant Expert:

2018 Grand National form profile, courtesy of Instant Expert

2018 Grand National form profile, courtesy of Instant Expert

And the pace map for the early stages suggests a running order somewhat akin to the following:

Grand National 2018 pace map

Grand National 2018 pace map

Looking at the shortlist from a soft or good to soft ground/prominent racer perspective may slightly elevate the prospects of 25/1 I Just Know, 33/1 Vintage Clouds in case he sneaks in (money back if he doesn't), 50/1 Warriors Tale, and 33/1 Milansbar. So, if you were mad enough to want my tuppence worth on the world's most unfathomable horse race, there it is. I will be having token interests on that quartet, all at nice big prices, I'm already on Regal Encore (sentiment) and may have a crack at 33/1 Vieux Lion Rouge as the only other possible qualifier. I'm happier backing losers at nice big prices than at shorter...

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. This is a standout money back offer for EXISTING bet365 customers. You can bet up to £250 (i.e. 5 x £25 e/w) and receive half your money back as cash (if you bet in cash, as opposed to free bet tokens).

 

More hit than miss…

...is the simplest way of describing the performance of our trials over the last three weeks (I was away last week), as can now be seen in the Geegeez System Trials Roundup to 10/04/2018. 

Of our dozen active reviews, 5 of them made a combined profit of £637.00, whilst the other seven handed £516.52 of that money back to the bookies, so hypothetically if someone was using our trial services as a betting portfolio, they'd now be £120.48 better off over the past three weeks.

What this means is that now 8 of the 12 are in profit and across all twelve the imaginary portfolio is worth £1377.66, which is very good, but is skewed by a quartet of higher earners as I'll show in our "league table" a little further down this page.

Since my last roundup (post-Chelts but pre-Easter), five of our twelve triallists have posted triple digit results ie they've made or lost more than £100, with three of them doing so to profit. Those three (in ascending order of profit) are...

Bronze - Racing Excellence 5f Lays who managed to find 8 losers from 9 lays (88.89% SR) enabling their progressive staking plan to earn them £133.51, as listed here in David Sutton's review.

Silver - goes to the consistently good Cleeve Racing who (as shown here in Iain MacMillan's review) had 5 winners from 12 selections (41.67% SR) on their way to adding another £180.25 to their bottom line at a massive ROI of some 75.1%. To be honest, this strike rate & ROI actually make Cleeve Racing my top performer over the last three weeks, but in pure monetary terms, they were only beaten by...

Gold - The 15 Point Plan whose £232.87 profit over the last three weeks represented a 26.95% return on stakes invested and came via an 18.56% strike rate after hitting 18 winners from 97 picks. Sadly (as you'll see shortly) this might not be enough for them to get a positive verdict from Ernest Anthony's review, which is right here.

And the pair of £100-plus losses?

Well, it was a pretty woeful time for both Racing Excellence VIP Bets and the Race Reader service. James Cross' review of the former shows just 5 winners from 26 (19.23% SR) for a loss of £111.62 or 45.26% of stakes (the issue here being the odds of the winners not covering the losses, as the SR was OK).

And in a complete role reversal, reviewer Ernest Anthony who is overseeing our highest earner this time around, is also tasked with reporting on the "winner" of this roundup's wooden spoon, as the Race Reader service failed to find a single winner from 13 selections, losing some £190.00 along the way. Ernest's review make pretty grim reading right now, I'm afraid!

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So how does this affect the overall picture...

System Profit Service Days Trial days Fortnightly P/L Full Review ROI
Cleeve Racing £803.70 (at day 33) 33 £180.25 Click Here 44.15%
E/W Leader £252.43 (at day 56) 56 -£33.50 Click Here 40.71%
Each Way Hits £229.99 (at day 40) 40 £47.87 Click Here 54.11%
Racing Excellence 5f Lays £211.70 (at day 10) 10 £133.51 Click Here n/a
Loves Racing £104.00 (at day 11) 11 £42.50 Click Here 14.25%
Betting Mastermind £90.60 (at day 56) 56 -£56.70 Click Here n/a
The Racing Tipster £13.54 (at day 33) 33 -£52.46 Click Here 2.42%
Racing Excellence Best Bets £5.90 (at day 60) 60 -£11.64 Click Here 1.01%
Racing Excellence VIP Bets -£41.65 (at day 60) 60 -£111.62 Click Here -1.40%
Draw Master -£63.40 (at day 48) 48 -£60.60 Click Here -2.39%
15 Point Plan -£98.48 (at day 56) 56 £232.87 Click Here -4.05%
Race Reader -£130.67 (at day 24) 24 -£190.00 Click Here -29.70%

As usual, clicking the name of a service takes you straight to their home page, whilst there are links to every review above.

Now, to be honest with you, there's not a great deal of change in that leaderboard since my last roundup. The top three are the same and in the same order and the bottom two from last time have just moved up a place after our new wooden spoonist fell to the bottom of the table. The table itself is self-explanatory, so I won't patronise you by explaining it, but you do know where I am if something's not clear.

And my post-Easter three to follow (or at least keep an eye on!) are as last time...

  • Cleeve Racing for breaking beyond £800 profit at an excellent ROI at just past the halfway point of their review.
  • E/W Leader for an excellent profit of over 40p in the pound, despite a small setback this time around
  • and Each Way Hits, whose profits are currently running at over 54% of stakes invested.

I'm not telling you to rush out and sign up to any just now, but if you were interested in adding something new to your portfolio, you could do a lot worse than one, two or even all three of those I've singled out.

If you've any questions about my three eye-catchers, any of the other nine trials or just any other product you might have seen/heard of you know where I am! Otherwise I'll sign off here.

Thanks for reading, I'm back in a fortnight.

Chris

The Importance of Pace in 5f handicaps

This is my first article for www.geegeez.co.uk and before I start I would like to share with you my racing background, writes David Renham. I have worked for the Racing Post as a Spotlight writer and the Racing and Football Outlook as a trends ‘expert’; I have also written several books, mainly on draw bias, back in the early 2000s. And I have been a tipster with some success – and some failures! In all, I have written over 700 racing articles for magazines, newspapers, and websites.

Matt asked me to write on an ‘ad hoc’ basis which suits me as I have a full-time job outside racing at present. I hope you will find my articles interesting, useful, and ultimately lead to some profitable betting opportunities. However, as we all know, making money from backing or indeed laying horses is not easy. You need a combination of many things I believe – hard work; a good understanding of what you are trying to achieve; some sort of specialism as I feel there is simply too much racing and too many horses to gain a handle on if you don’t specialise; and, last but not least, a bit of luck.

For this article I am going to discuss pace in a race. When I talk about pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race and the position the horses take up early on. One of the many useful aspects of geegeez.co.uk is the pace section and the stats I am sharing with you in this article are based on the site’s pace data (found in the Pace tab on the racecard).

The pace data on Geegeez is split into four - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. Let me try to explain what type of horse fits what type of pace profile:

Led – essentially horses that lead early, usually within the first furlong or so; or horses that dispute or fight for the early lead;

Prominent – horses that lay up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race mid pack;

Held Up – horses that are held up at, or near the back of the field.

So after each race all the horses are assigned points in regards to what position they took up early in the race. Leaders get 4, prominent runners 3, horses that ran mid division 2, and those held up score 1. Geegeez has over 1,059,000 runners’ pace comments scored, from a total of about 1,100,000. [The others are things like unseated rider at the start, or where there is no discernible pace reference in the comment].

If you click the pace tab on the website you are presented with pace data regarding the specific course and distance of that race, and pace data for each horse covering their last four UK or Irish runs. For this article I am concentrating on the course data and creating pace figures for specific course and distances – namely handicap races run over 5 furlongs. I have always been a fan of sprint handicaps and early pace in sprint handicaps generally gives a bigger advantage to front runners than races over longer distances. In addition to this, some courses offer a bigger advantage to front runners than others as you will see.

The first set of data I wish to share with you is the overall pace stats for 5f turf handicaps (minimum number of runners in a race 6):

Pace comment Runners Wins SR%
Led 3450 637 18.5
Prominent 9987 1078 10.8
Mid Division 3187 235 7.4
Held Up 8465 567 6.7

Horses that led, or disputed the lead early, have a huge advantage in turf 5f handicaps. So, if we could predict the front runner or front runners in each race we should be ‘quids in’, and indeed would be. Unfortunately, it is not an exact science and how best to do this I will leave for a future article.

Best performing 5f handicap tracks for front runners

My aim for this article is to show you the differences in the course figures for 5f handicaps and how some courses are more suited to early leaders/front runners than others. Here are the courses with the best strike rates (minimum 40 runners):

Course Front Runners Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Chester 88 31 35.2 120 3.38
Catterick 196 47 24 177.71 2.51
Hamilton 170 39 22.9 130.29 2.04
Beverley 197 44 22.3 167.29 2.51
Epsom 50 11 22 45.5 2.96
Nottingham 219 48 21.9 224.08 2.32
Leicester 88 19 21.6 60.75 1.91
Windsor 160 34 21.3 100.31 1.9

 

Chester has amazing stats for early leaders: the tight turning 5f clearly suits front runners and, when combined with a good draw, front runners are clearly hard to peg back. Another round 5f, Catterick lies second with excellent figures also. Keep in mind that the average strike rate is 18.5% for all courses over this minimum trip.

Worst performing 5f handicap tracks for front runners

At the other end of the scale here are the courses with the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners in 5f handicaps:

Course Front Runners Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Newmarket (July/Rowley combined) 88 12 13.6 -8.37 1.19
York 106 14 13.2 21 1.78
Haydock 146 18 12.3 -18.17 1.25
Sandown 119 13 10.9 -19.37 1.04
Yarmouth 96 10 10.4 -39.58 0.86
Ascot 98 8 8.2 -30.5 0.99
Doncaster 90 6 6.7 -32.5 0.81

 

It is interesting to see York in this list – York is often considered a decent front running track, but not according to our figures.

 

Chester performance by number of runners in race

Looking at Chester in more detail, we can split the data by number of runners:

Runners in race Front Runners Wins SR% P/L SP IV
6 to 8 36 18 50 90.5 3.65
9 to 11 35 11 31.4 23.5 3.22
12 to 14 17 2 11.8 6 1.46

 

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Here at geegeez.co.uk, data regarding number of race runners is calibrated slightly differently to my table, but you are able to change the figures on the site to suit your own personal requirements.

 

Overall performance by number of runners in race

As we can see from the Chester figures, the smaller the field size, the better it has been for front runners. The general perception of punters I believe matches the Chester data – in other words most punters believe front runners are more likely to win in smaller fields. It makes sense I guess as there are less rivals to pass the leader. However, is this really the case? Here are the data:

 

Runners in race Front Runners Wins SR%
6 to 8 1214 264 21.7
9 to 11 1205 223 18.5
12 to 14 624 106 17.0
15+ 407 44 10.8

 

The stats back up the basic theory, but a 17% win rate for early leaders/front runners in 12 to 14 runner 5f turf handicaps is a strong performance, especially when you take into account the likely prices of such runners. Hence, one could legitimately argue that the best front running value lies in the 12-14 runner range.

 

Best performing 5f handicap tracks for hold up horses

Of course, early leader/front runner stats are not the whole story when trying to build up a ‘pace’ picture of each course. We need to look at the stats at the other end of scale – those for hold up horses. Firstly a look at the 5f courses that offer hold up horses the best strike rates:

Course Hold up horses Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Yarmouth 195 27 13.8 -33.04 1.16
Bath 332 41 12.3 -9.5 1.1
Brighton 258 30 11.6 -68.97 0.89
Newbury 99 9 9.1 -31.92 0.82
Salisbury 66 6 9.1 -23.5 0.8
Leicester 178 16 9 -51.87 0.79
Carlisle 192 17 8.9 -55.25 0.82

 

Interestingly you would expect these courses to match those that have the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners (see above). However, only Yarmouth appears in both groups. Hence the importance of not just looking at the ‘led’ data in order to appreciate pace biases at particular courses.

More materially, perhaps, all courses are firmly negative at SP, and most have an impact value of less than 1, meaning such types are less likely than horses with other run styles (1 meaning the same likelihood).

Worst performing 5f handicap tracks for hold up horses

Now a look at those courses with the worst strike rates for hold up horses:

Course Hold up horses Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Chepstow 187 10 5.3 -104.42 0.5
Musselburgh 746 39 5.2 -346.17 0.5
Ripon 200 8 4 -122.42 0.38
Redcar 307 12 3.9 -200.92 0.41
Catterick 473 18 3.8 -312.17 0.4
Epsom 113 3 2.7 -98.25 0.36
Chester 194 4 2.1 -160.5 0.2

 

Chester, Catterick and Epsom appear in this table – courses that appeared in the top 5 for front runners. However, once again the correlation between good courses for front runners / poor courses for hold up horses is not as strong as one might expect.

What can be said with a degree of confidence is that these tracks are graveyards for hold up horses and such runners make abject bets in the main.

Summing Up

So how should we use the data discussed in this article? There are numerous ways to do this, some of which I will elaborate upon in a future article. Ultimately however, it is important to appreciate the differences between each course and distance in 5f handicaps, especially their configuration and favoured run styles, points which should inform your betting when you decide to use pace data as part of your betting strategy.

For example, if you feel you have found two ‘nailed on’ front runners in two different 5f handicaps, at say Chester and Yarmouth, you need to appreciate that whoever front runs in the Chester race, has, according to past data, over 3 times more chance of winning than your Yarmouth trailblazer. Of course your ‘nailed on’ front runner might not lead early but that is not really the point I am trying to make!

I hope you have found this article interesting and potentially useful from a betting perspective. If you have yet to use the pace data on geegeez.co.uk, I hope I have sown some seeds of interest and that you may start to think about how to incorporate pace handicapping into your betting armoury.

- David Renham

** You can read Part 2 of this series here **

Monday Musings: Sod’s Law!

Once upon a time I thought I had a decent memory, writes Tony Stafford. Not quite total recall, but pretty good. Yet nowadays it’s anything but. For example I was recently given a couple of slim bright red volumes of Copes Racing Encyclopaedia (properly ae-diphthong-ed) for 1958 and 1960. Copes were one of the old football pools companies as well as bookmakers founded in 1895.

The 1958 version, apart from telling me that as long ago as 1957, the Queen was Leading Owner on the Flat with a handsome £62,000 in prizes, from 30 victories including the Oaks with Carrozza, and subsequent stallion Pall Mall, has many more compelling reminders of a different era.

One I’m sure I spotted was a snippet that mentioned a young Irish apprentice, Tim Hyde, who rode his first winner for Harry Wragg. When I saw the said Timmy Hyde at Cheltenham last month, he told me he came to Newmarket aged just 15. I promised to bring along the pertinent book to the Craven meeting, but ever since, I’ve been scanning the pages and cannot find the relevant passage.

During our Cheltenham chat, I told him that on my first Cheltenham visit, Persian War won the Champion Hurdle and L’Escargot the second division of the Gloucestershire (now Supreme) Novice Hurdle. Timmy reminded me he had been on Kinloch Brae in 1970 when L’Escargot won the first of his two Gold Cups. Kinloch Brae, in the Arkle colours of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, started favourite and according to Timmy “would have won”, had he not fallen three fences from home.

A week after Cheltenham, Timmy, best known for running Camas Park Stud, put on his other hat, as trainer, and won with both his runners at Limerick. Incidentally, my friend Harry Taylor managed to be on each of the beaten favourites. The following day he told me: “I backed two horses yesterday. Guess who beat me both times? Timmy Hyde!” It didn’t make Harry feel any better when I pointed out they were Hyde’s only winners of the entire season so far.

I started about Total Recall. I presume the now-Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old of that name collected the label from the 2012 film, a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger original. I saw the later offering only the other day and for a while wondered where I’d last heard the phrase.

While Native River and Might Bite were exchanging blows at the conclusion of the Gold Cup last month, I thought they might have had something to think about if Total Recall had not crumpled on landing after an apparently secure jump four from home – one after Kinloch Brae’s departure almost half a century before.

Until that point David Mullins had started to move his hands almost apologetically by which time Total Recall had moved comfortably into a closing sixth. On Saturday, in the Randox Health Grand National, he runs off 156 and 11st 4lb, 3lb behind Anabale Fly, who stayed on strongly into fourth after the race was almost over at Cheltenham. I’ve heard pundits reckon Anabale Fly is well treated. If he is, then Total Recall must almost be thrown in, but of course in this race that’s a difficult premise to justify.

Total Recall started with the late Dessie Hughes, before switching to Dessie’s daughter Sandra, only moving to Mullins on Sandra’s retirement. Before Cheltenham, three races had brought three wins, the second in the Ladbroke, the first of that sponsorship following Hennessy’s departure. Native River was the last horse to win the Newbury feature during the Hennessy stewardship.

I’ve never stopped marvelling at the Irish handicapper allowing Total Recall to run off 125 in a quite valuable handicap hurdle at Leopardstown – of course he made all – a couple of months after that Ladbroke victory off 147. That day he beat Oscar Knight three lengths at levels. Oscar Knight was my very confident fancy (at 16’s if you please) off only 136 for the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, and was, naturally, brought down at the fifth.

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Although there are signs that after all the bad weather of the winter, it’s warming up, there’s still not too much dry about. The forecast at this stage for Aintree this weekend is soft. We were hoping that Apres Le Deluge (after the storm/deluge), a home-bred son of Stormy River, might be an appropriate contender for Friday’s bumper. But Sod’s Law, he rolled in his box on the night before his final prep workout and banged his joint. It’s doubly irritating for all of us, especially Hughie Morrison, who laid out the plan soon after the gelding’s easy Hereford debut win last December.

That came three days after another home-bred of Ray Tooth’s, Sod’s Law – see, it all links up! – beat all bar subsequently-Hong Kong-bound Rusper in the middle of that Jamie Osborne horse hat-trick at Kempton. That was a first try for Dutch Law’s half-brother, who got within a short-head without P J McDonald exerting much more than token pressure in the closing stages.

Sod’s Law will have his first run since then in the Kempton seven-furlong novice race, sure to divide on Wednesday evening. If he is anywhere near as good as his brother, and so far the signs are promising, then he’ll be worth keeping an eye on.

The proximity of Punchestown, a little earlier than sometimes later this month will naturally restrict the number of leading Irish horses coming to Aintree. One whose staying away would not be regretted by potential opponents is Samcro. He easily won the two miles, five furlongs Neptune Novice Hurdle at the Festival when On The Blind Side was a forced absentee after a minor injury.

Similarly unbeaten, it would have been interesting, to say the least, for the Gordon Elliott – Nicky Henderson rivalry to have been tested again last month. I’ve no idea whether On The Blind Side will take his chance as Henderson has other options, but he started his career for Alan Spence with an Aintree win before more demanding Cheltenham and Sandown assignments, both easily accomplished.

I’ve always enjoyed Aintree, seeing many Grand Nationals and backing and tipping quite a few winners of the race, too. I made my first appearance as Mr Tooth’s Racing Manager there 11 years ago for Punjabi’s second placing behind Katchit, his Triumph conqueror in the Juvenile race. Sadly, I was unable two years later to witness first hand his Champion Hurdle win as I was at Moorfields Eye Hospital following up a detached retina operation.

Age catches up on all of us, and for the start of the Craven – happily restored to three days, Tuesday to Thursday next week - I’ll be absent again on medical grounds. This time it’s an assessment of a second basal cell carcinoma – skin cancer to you. The previous bout - a few years ago - involved lots of stitches, above and below the surface. It didn’t hurt much – till they took them out, that is. [Mend well, Tony - Ed.]

 

Stat of the Day, 9th April 2018

Saturday's Runner was...

3.00 Kelso : Yala Enki @ 5/1 BOG 6th at 7/2 Prominent, went 2nd from before 10th, weakened before 2 out.

We continue with Monday's...

8.15 Wolverhampton

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

The King's Steed @ 4/1 BOG

A 13-runner, Class 6, 8.5f A/W handicap on tapeta worth £3105 to the winner...

Why?

This 5 yr old gelding has discovered a new lease of life since a move to Shaun Lycett's yard late last year and a subsequent switch to A/W racing. Since the "transfer", this lad had made the frame in 5 of 7 starts, winning twice and in those seven starts, he has...

  • 2 wins, 2 places from 5 at Class 6
  • 2 wins, 2 places from 5 at 8/8.5 furlongs
  • 2 wins, 2 places from 4 under today's jockey Kieran Shoemark
  • 1 win from 2 here at Wolverhampton
  • 1 win from 2 course and distance efforts

His most recent form reads 3113 and he was only denied a hat-trick last time out when staying on into third over a mile at Lingfield under a penalty five days ago, beaten by less than a length. The way he finished that day suggests that an extra 141 yards carrying 5lbs less could well make all the difference today.

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Trainer Shaun Lycett's Wolverhampton Class 6 handicappers are 6 from 48 (12.5% SR) for 57.6pts (+120% ROI) profit since 2012, with his 5 yr olds winning 3 of 15 (20% SR) for 24.95pts (+166.3% ROI).

Meanwhile, today's jockey Kieran Shoemark is in good nick, winning 5 of his 25 (20% SR) races over the past 30 days and also has a 3 from 9 (33.3% SR) record in A/W handicaps on Shaun Lycett's horses with this record yielding 23.7pts (+263.3% ROI) profit. Of those nine, those racing over a mile to a mile and a quarter are 3/6 (50%) for 26.7pts (+445%).

And finally (!) and a bit more generally...

In UK A/W handicaps over trips of 6 to 10 furlongs since the start of 2013, horses turned back out just 2 to 5 days after a win or defeat by less than three lengths LTO are 234/937 (25% SR) for 213.7pts (+22.8% ROI), which is impressive enough as a micro, but filtered down into the context of today's race, those 937 quick returners are...

  • 151/660 (22.9%) for 211.5pts (+32%) after a defeat LTO
  • 128/497 (25.8%) for 151.8pts (+30.5%) at Class 6
  • 90/344 (26.2%) for 92.9pts (+27%) having raced 5 days earlier
  • 86/328 (26.2%) for 107.9pts (+32.9%) here at Wolverhampton
  • 25/85 (29.4%) for 47.65pts (+56.1%) over the 8.5f trip
  • and 12/37 (32.4%) for 11.6pts (+31.4%) stepping up in trip by half a furlong (officially)

And those Class 6 runners who turned back out 5 days after a defeat by less than 3 lengths are 29/120 (24.2% SR) for 46.6pts (+38.8% ROI)

...pointing to...a 1pt win bet on The King's Steed @ 4/1 BOG which was available from Betfair & Paddy Power at 5.05pm on Sunday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 8.15 Wolverhampton

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

SotD Update, 26th March to 7th April 2018

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll know I went away on Good Friday for some family time and a much needed recharge of the batteries : the number crunching hurts the brain after a while!

So, that's why this is a fortnightly roundup rather than weekly one. As is the case in my absence, Steve, our Race of the Day man, steps into my shoes to ensure there's no break in service and like me he's prone to the vagaries of form!

Much (probably too much!) has been said of late about a 9-day losing run and I've answered some comments directly, but I want to put this to bed right now. The 9 losers were bookended by two winners at 8/1 and 5/2, so punters with us over this time still made 1.5pts profit at an ROI of 13.6% which is a better return than most tipsters out there.

I've also been at pains to warn you all of an overdue correction in figures. With a strike rate of 27% long-term (almost 2000) selections, the fact that 2018 was running at 32.8% should tell you a dip in form was imminent : tie this in with some awful racing conditions and there you have it.

We won't win every day/week/month, it's not possible, but since inception in 2011 : we do win every year! Stick with it, take the bad medicine at times, but if a 9/14/20 day losing run is too much to bear, SotD is not for you, nor is any other "tipping service".

Selections & Results : 26/03/18 to 07/04/18 

26/03 : Clondaw Westie @ 9/2 BOG WON at 8/1
27/03 : Bridane Rebel @ 9/2 BOG 4th at 6/1
28/03 : Awesome Allan @ 3/1 BOG 10th at 5/2
29/03 : Blakemount @ 10/3 BOG 6th at 9/2
30/03 : Kachy @ 5/2 BOG 2nd at 11/8
31/03 : Time To Blossom @ 11/2 BOG 7th at 11/4

02/04 : My Boy Henry @ 4/1 BOG 7th at 5/1
03/04 : Wolf Of Windlesham @ 11/4 BOG 7th at 3/1
04/04 : Kyllachys Tale @ 10/3 BOG 6th @ 11/2
05/04 : Ourmullion @ 7/1 BOG 5th @ 4/1
06/04 : Financial Conduct @ 5/2 BOG WON at 2/1
07/04 : Yala Enki @ 5/1 BOG 6th at 7/2 

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26/03/18 to 07/04/18 :
2 winning bets from 12 = 16.66% SR
P/L: +0.50pts

March 2018 :
8 winners from 23 = 34.78% SR
P/L: +15.53pts
ROI = +67.52%

April 2018 :
1 winner from 6 = 16.66% SR
P/L: -2.50pts
ROI = -41.66%

2018 to date :
23 winners from 76 = 30.26% SR
P/L: +31.51pts
ROI = +41.46%

Overall:
546 winners from 1961 = 27.84% S.R
P/L: +519.30pts
ROI: +26.48%

P.S. The full month by month SotD story can be found right here.
P.P.S The review of SotD's 2012 performance is here.

Whilst the details for 2013 are now online here.
And the figures for 2014 are now available here.

Our review of 2015 can be found right here
Whilst 2016's details are right here

And here is the full story from 2017.

Stat of the Day is just one component of the excellent package available to all Geegeez Gold Members, so why not take your £1, 30-day trial right now?

Click here for more details.

It never rains but…

If you are on a floodplain you can expect to be flooded. Huntingdon racecourse is on a floodplain, and last weekend it was flooded, depriving the course of its Family Fun day fixture and a crowd likely to be upwards of 4,000 people. I had driven past the track on Tuesday, at which time it was all under water, and Noah could have moored his ark right by the grandstand.

This morning I went to meet Sam Butler Spelzini, Head Groundsman, to find out what he and his team would have to do to have the course ready for the next meeting on 24 April. I was astounded when I arrived to see plenty of green grass, as almost all the water had drained away as quickly as it had appeared. Sam went through the timeline of recent days that led up to the abandonment of Monday's meeting before talking through the remedial work necessary to repair the damage to the course.

The first indication that rain was on its way came in a flood alert for Kings Lynn and the fens at around 1030 on Friday night (30 March). Early the following morning it arrived, and 13 mm over the course of the day was enough so that, in the words of the old Sunday School chorus, "The rains came down and the floods came up." You could almost see the water rolling across the track. Indeed, when there was torrential rain at the conclusion of a previous meeting Sam had to give a real hurry up to the burger vans to move or risk being marooned.

One of the contributory factors to flooding is the network of culverts and streams that surround the course. They are something of a double edged sword, for whilst they help enormously with quick drainage, when there is more water in them than they can cope with, the only way is up. Three of them converge at one point, so it's like three lanes of motorway traffic merging into one, with neither the cars nor the water able to continue at their original speed. Result - blockage followed by overspill.

Huntingdon is regularly described as a flat track, and so it is, though not totally. Most times when there is waterlogging, around half the circuit will be submerged, roughly from the chute at the end of the home straight to the end of the back straight, following the line of a brook running diagonally across the infield. Last weekend you could add to that most of the home straight, the area of picnic tables in front of the stands, and the whole area behind the stands, including the paddock. All of this area was in a good foot of water, and in parts of the course it was more than two feet deep.

Huntingdon stable block

A final area that became flooded was the stable block. This has room for 100 horses, and by Friday evening all units were kitted out with bedding ready for Monday's meeting. The first job on Saturday morning was to lift as much of this bedding as possible; clearly if it became waterlogged it would just have to be thrown way. It was the flood water reaching this far that prompted one of the groundstaff team to remark that he had never seen conditions so bad in his 12 years working there.

There was nothing the team could do until the water receded, which it began to do on Tuesday. The further rain forecast for that day thankfully didn't materialise. This morning almost all the water had drained away they and the team was out on the track to begin the clear up. The first job is hand raking through the turf to collect all the debris that's been left behind. Mostly this is reeds and straw, but amongst the other items to have been deposited are some pieces of plastic running rail and an old railway sleeper.

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Once that job is done, the task of getting the turf back into racing condition can begin. There are two activities here. First Sam will verti-drain the course to help further with the drainage, and also to aerate the soil. Think putting your garden fork in the ground and wiggling it back and forth. Thankfully Sam's machine fits on the back of a tractor.

The clean up begins

I wondered what damage the soaking might have done to the fences and hurdles, and was a little surprised to find they should all be fine. Of course the core of the fences is hard wood, and the birch for the hurdles is another natural substance. The most vulnerable part of the obstacles is the kick board on the take off side of the fences.

The flooding has dislodged many of the divots brought up from racing during the season. Replacing these with a mix of topsoil, compost and seed, followed by a levelling of the surface will bring the racetrack up to fitness, but not the public or stable areas.

Rightly, the British Horseracing Authority has rigorous requirements for the welfare of horses, and there's work to be done in the stable block following the flood to ensure those standards are met. In total, 95 of the stable units were under a foot or so of water. Now they are clear of any bedding that couldn't be removed earlier. Next they will all be pressure hosed down and disinfected, before another wash down. Finally, after time to dry out, they can be kitted out with fresh bedding ready for he next equine visitors.

On Tuesday afternoon the BHA offered an extra fixture to Huntingdon, to take place this coming Saturday. After deliberation, the course turned down the opportunity, feeling they would not be quite ready. It's taking place at Fakenham instead. If it were scheduled for Sunday, Sam reckons they might have gone for it, and next Monday they would jump at the chance.

What a busy few days, all the more so when you realise that in the week before a meeting on 30 March last year the course was dry and the team were watering the track. Oh, the vagaries of the British weather.

Irish Jump Racing: Do We Have A Problem?

For whatever reason, the Irish Grand National seems to bring the competitiveness issue in Irish jumps racing into sharp focus, writes Tony Keenan. Perhaps it is the long-held view, correct or incorrect, that the National is a lottery race where everything has a chance; in the early part of this decade, there were wins for Bluesea Cracker at 25/1, Lion Na Bearnai at 33/1 and Liberty Counsel at 50/1. Those three horses have more in common than their prices though as all were trained at small yards by James Motherway, Thomas Gibney and Dot Love. In the seasons since their big wins, those trainers have averaged 3.4, 1.6 and 3.4 winners per campaign so we really are talking about smaller operations.

There was some representation from similar stables in this year’s race; Forever Gold for Edward Cawley, Call It Magic for Ross O’Sullivan, Killaro Boy for Adrian Murray and Westerner Point for Eoghan O’Grady and I wouldn’t argue with anyone looking to stretch that out to John Ryan’s Kilcarry Bridge or Pat Kelly’s Mall Dini. Still, the story of the National, pre-race at least, was Gordon Elliott’s record number of runners, 13 in all, eight owned by Gigginstown who also had two more runners with other trainers.

The Elliott/Mullins duopoly is often said to have made life difficult for small trainers and when possible measures to redress this imbalance are discussed – if indeed they are necessary – it is always in the context of improving the lot of the small trainer. This may misrepresent the reality however as it is the middle-rank trainers who have really suffered during the rise of the ‘Big Two’ with the minor yards still getting by to a degree. Consider the snapshot of three seasons from the last decade, the 2006/7, 2011/12 and 2016/17 campaigns. In those years, the number of total races was 1,377, 1,399 and 1,422 respectively so the totals are broadly similar. In them I have broken down trainers by winner totals to see the distribution of winners across the size of each yard.

 

Winner Totals 2006/7 2011/12 2016/17
100 plus 1 1 2
50 to 99 1 1 2
20 to 49 11 10 2
6 to 19 41 46 41
1 to 5 211 222 202

 

As you can see, the small trainers are holding their own in terms of getting a handful of winners; whether they are getting into the better races with their one good horse is another issue however. It is those in the middle, trainers having between 20 and 49 winners that have been wiped out. In 2006/7 that group comprised Jessica Harrington, Charlie Swan, Paul Nolan, Dessie Hughes, Tom Taaffe, Tony Martin, Edward O’Grady, Michael O’Brien, Joe Crowley, Dusty Sheehy and Michael Hourigan. Only Harrington is any sort of force now. The top trainers were much more compressed back then and while Noel Meade did break the 100-winner mark it was with 102 winners. As an aside, I can’t have any comparisons between Meade winning eight trainers’ championships and what is going on now; that 102 winners was his highest ever total with 86 his next best and this was a time when he struggled massively for Cheltenham winners.

Back in in 2006/7, Willie Mullins has 79 winners but by 2011/12 that number was up to 138 while Meade had dropped back to 59. Elliott, meanwhile, had 40 winners. But five years later, things had shifted again with Elliott and Mullins having 193 and 180 winners, followed by Henry De Bromhead on 68, Meade on 57, Harrington on 48 and Joseph O’Brien with no one else breaking 20 winners. The gap between the best and the rest is going to widen further this season with Elliott having already broken 200 winners and Mullins certain to do so. There will be more trainers breaking into the middle tier of 20 winners-plus this season albeit at the lower end.

Some observations on all this. For betting purposes, Elliott versus Mullins is eminently preferable to Mullins bossing everyone as was the case five years ago. Back then, he was running his horses sparingly and often in the most uncompetitive races which was boring. It is fascinating that Elliott has made Mullins dance to his tune this season, forcing the champion into running his horses much more frequently than previously, a pattern that was especially noticeable at the Dublin Racing Festival and Fairyhouse just gone. When the season comes to a close, Mullins’ average runs per season will be well up.

If the championship leaves Closutton this season – rated more likely than not by current odds – it could well be because he failed to be aggressive enough in campaigning his horses in the early part of the jumps season proper, the months of October, November and December; he eventually followed Elliott’s lead, but not soon enough. Seeing good horses run more frequently and in more competitive races is obviously a positive though a balance needs to be struck with not running them into the ground, literally in this current season. One wonders what sort of racing we will have at Punchestown after both Cheltenham and Fairyhouse were held on testing turf.

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It also needs pointing out that while both Mullins and Elliott train for some massive concerns, they also handle horses from single-horse owners. This is cherry-picking but consider the Irish National just gone; the runner-up Isleofhopendreams runs in the colours of the Kilbroney Racing Partnership and seems to be their only horse while the official fourth Folsom Blue is the only horse to run this season for the Core Partnership, allowing that their most high-profile partner Gary O’Brien has shares in some others. How do you crab such owners for wanting their horses in the best yards, allowing that there is the chance they could be lost in the mix?

The role of big ownership is much more interesting to consider. This season, Gigginstown have had horses run for six trainers: Elliott, De Bromhead, Meade, Joseph O’Brien, Mouse Morris and Edward Hales. Last season, that number was nine. In 2015/16 it was 12, in 2014/15 it was 16 and it peaked back in 2013/14 at 17. The pattern is of contracting their roster of trainers each season and while it is possible they will give an opportunity to some up-and-comer in the near-future, it seems at least as likely further consolidation will occur; I can certainly foresee a point when Elliott trains all their horses. With the achievements of Road To Respect and Balko Des Flos this past season, Meade and De Bromhead have done enough to be kept on but it is hard to be believe that a conversation about sending everything to Gordon hasn’t been had by the O’Learys.

Of the other major owners, the likes of Rich Ricci, Graham Wylie and the Sullivan operation are all single trainer setups with Mullins the handler in question. Ann and Alan Potts Limited have used five Irish trainers this season – Harrington, Jim Dreaper, Liam Burke, Jimmy Mangan and Mouse Morris – though the future of their racing interests remains in question. All of this make JP McManus look like racing’s benevolent fund which is not something I thought I would ever write; this season he has had horses run for 49 (yes, 49!) separate Irish yards.

One does wonder however about the effect this is having on attracting new owners to the sport. While watching racing from Fairyhouse on Sunday I was struck by a representative from Tattersalls Ireland saying that “national hunt racing is traditionally about opportunity for everyone” which rings a little hollow at the moment. I can’t speak for any owner as they will all have their own views but I do wonder about the attractiveness of the sport to the person who wants to spend a reasonable few quid – let’s say small six-figures on a horse – and send it to their local mid-tier trainer. That ownership space seems to be gone now though those people obviously have the option of sending it to Mullins or Elliott.

Ownership is not the only concern however; employment might also be an issue. Both Mullins and especially Elliott seem to have a raft of assistant trainers and staff, many of them evidently excellent at their jobs. Is the increased employment they provide enough to make up for the other trainers slowing down? And if it is, there is also a pressure on racing staff to move away from their homes closer to the power-bases in Carlow and Meath though perhaps that is just a fact of life in any profession. I am completely unqualified to answer these questions but it would be interesting to get the views of those involved.

The rise of Mullins and Elliott is evidence of capitalism/meritocracy in full flow but there is a complicating factor in all this; racing in Ireland is heavily subsidised by the state with almost €64 million going into the coffers for 2017. Rural employment and approximately 18,000 jobs are frequently trotted out as the justifications for this funding. That employment seems to be becoming less available however with the total national hunt trainers in Ireland down to 93 in 2017, the lowest total since 2008, and a recent course for new trainers cancelled due to lack of interest. When asked about this in February, HRI boss Brian Kavanagh said that their “emphasis [was] on quality” and that Ireland was “a very, very competitive market and ultimately that’s no bad thing.” Perhaps I am soft but those comments seemed a little harsh; HRI might need to do more than just let things take their course.

I don’t have any solutions to this, if indeed solutions are needed. The fantasist in me imagines a weird sort of draft system where smaller trainers get access to top equine talent and what fun that would be. Could you imagine: ‘with the first pick of the 2017/18 draft, Garrett Power selects…. SAMCRO!’ But this is Ireland, not America, where the ‘sure, it will be grand’ attitude prevails. Perhaps it will and racing is always changing as we see from the tables above; maybe Michael O’Leary will decide over the summer that he prefers football and wants to see Westmeath United in the Champions’ League!

- Tony Keenan

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