Eddie Harty: Irish handicap shrewdie

Irish Angle: The Value of Handicaps

When writing about the Mullins/Elliott title race last time, something that stood out was the importance of high-value handicaps in the outcome of the trainers’ championship, writes Tony Keenan. Those races seemed worthy of a study all of their own, not least because I love them myself; give me a classy handicap with a host of runners over a small-field graded race any day of the week. That said, these races invariably being sponsored by bookmakers probably isn’t the best sign; Ladbrokes back an inordinate number of valuable handicaps in Ireland like the Troytown, and Boyle has the Irish National while big Leopardstown events are named after Paddy Power and Coral.

Even so, there are some angles that can be exploited, not least trainers. Below are the trainer figures for Irish national hunt handicaps which were worth more than £20,000 to the winner (I used the Horse Race Base database which works off pounds sterling), including only those who had more than 30 runners, since the 2010/11 season:

 

Trainer Wins Runners Win % Place % Level Stakes A/E
W. Mullins 22 310 7.1% 27.4% -139.37 0.74
G. Elliott 17 249 6.8% 12.3% -73.50 0.79
T .Martin 11 154 7.2% 27.5% -78.77 0.69
N. Meade 9 195 4.6% 18.0% -95.50 0.53
T. Mullins 7 80 8.8% 28.8% +8.75 1.10
E. Harty 7 49 14.3% 30.6% +19.5 1.26
A. Moore 6 87 6.9% 23.0% -37.00 0.70
M. Morris 5 89 5.6% 18.9% -47.50 0.79
T. O’Brien 4 30 13.3% 36.7% +7.00 1.75
J. Harrington 4 83 4.8% 25.3% -30.00 0.57

 

It’s the usual suspects at the top with Mullins, Elliott and Martin filling out the podium positions, while both Dessie Hughes and Colm Murphy were in the list too but I stripped it down to those training currently.

Tom Mullins and Eddie Harty are the surprises; Harty does well across the board and his patient style of campaigning his horses clearly pays off. Minella Foru won last season’s Paddy Power for the trainer in the manner of one that could go in again – it was his first start over three miles – and there was some promise in his return at Naas last month.

Of the major trainers, Henry De Bromhead comes out badly, his numbers reading 3 winners from 81 runners with an actual over expected of 0.43, the lowest in the top 20 trainers. He did however improve his record with Champagne West winning the Thyestes, and Stellar Notion went close to winning the Leopardstown Chase in the same week.

Another angle worth considering here is the record of trainers in both hurdle and chase races; I’ve gone a bit deeper with the chases as there are more of them.

 

Valuable Handicap Hurdles

Trainer Wins Runners Win % Place % Level Stakes A/E
W. Mullins 11 140 7.9% 27.9% -53.50 0.83
G. Elliott 6 91 6.6% 23.1% -20.00 0.73
E. Harty 4 25 12.5% 28.0% +12.50 1.44
N. Meade 4 65 6.2% 15.4% -12.50 0.67
T. Martin 4 78 5.1% 28.2% -58.37 0.46

 

 

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Valuable Handicap Chases

Trainer Wins Runners Win % Place % Level Stakes A/E
G. Elliott 11 158 7.0% 20.3% -53.50 0.83
W. Mullins 11 170 6.5% 27.1% -85.87 0.66
T. Martin 7 75 9.3% 26.7% -20.40 0.95
A. Moore 6 71 8.5% 28.2% -21.00 0.83
N. Meade 5 130 3.9% 19.2% -83.00 0.46
T. O’Brien 4 24 16.7% 28.9% +13.00 2.11
T. Mullins 4 45 8.9% 28.9% +6.00 1.08
T. Walsh 4 20 20.0% 45.0% +6.50 1.61
M. Morris 4 83 4.8% 15.7% -49.00 0.67
J. Ryan 3 28 10.7% 39.3% -12.00 1.41

 

Harty comes out well in the hurdle table but the real notables are with the chasers where Terence O’Brien is a revelation, so much so that his excellent record takes him into the top ten overall. It’s not as if his four winners were all with the same horse; Ballyadam Approach won two but there were also wins for She’s Got Grit and Farrells Fancy. Ted Walsh, when taking time out from media duties and telling his kids how to ride, does really well from very few runners while John Ryan sneaks in at the bottom. He’s a trainer that likes to run his horses plenty but to good effect – note his excellent place strikerate – and Kylecrue looks one that can win another good handicap judging on recent efforts; he has earned over €200,000 already.

While all the races covered here are valuable, this does not mean they are as competitive as each other. Part of this may simply be to do with the shape of the calendar; in the 2016/17 season, there are 44 national hunt handicaps in Ireland worth more than €50,000 with the breakdown being 29 to 15 in favour of chases. Trip also plays a big part in this. The glamour races over hurdles are invariably over the minimum distance while over fences they are mainly for stayers; it seems we, or at least the racing authorities, want our hurdlers to run fast and our chasers to run, if not slow, then at least long. Few remember the winners of the Proudstown Handicap Hurdle (2m7f, Navan, November) or the Kinsale Handicap Chase (2m1f, Cork, October) but they will recall winners of the Galway Hurdle or Thyestes Chase.

Consider the breakdown of races by distance below per this season’s calendar; I’ve divided them into four categories: speed (16-18f), intermediate (19f-22f), stamina (23f-26f) and extreme (27f plus). There are no extreme distance hurdles in Ireland though I do wonder what they would look like. Sadly, given many people’s general disdain for the division, I doubt there would be much interest. I’ve also included the average field size for each type of race going back to the 2010/11 season.

 

Distance 50k plus races 100k plus races Average field size
Hurdles      
Speed 8 4 16.8
Intermediate 4 1 18.9
Stamina 3 0 18.3
Chases      
Speed 6 1 11.6
Intermediate 10 4 15.0
Stamina 9 7 17.6
Extreme 4 1 20.0

 

With the hurdle races, the field sizes are pretty consistent across all trips with the two mile races having the lowest average of the three; this may be a product of there being more opportunities in these types of races while there are also many options in the UK too. The speed races over fences come off as the poor relation by a long way and it has consistently been the weakest division of Irish handicap chases; I’m surprised an enterprising trainer hasn’t bought a few half-decent UK handicappers to run them in these races. As the chasers go up in trip, the field sizes (and the prizemoney) get bigger though the maximum field Irish National every season plays a big part in these numbers.

Given all this prizemoney that is available, one would think that these competitive races would produce horses that were up to competing in graded races. On the whole, this has not been the case with most of the big handicap winners experiencing their career zenith on the day of victory. Of the 92 winners of the top Irish jumps handicaps since 2010/11, only 16 went on to prove bona-fide graded class by my reckoning. They did include Gold Cup placers like Djakadam and On His Own but perhaps the most interesting thing was the quality of the Galway handicaps with Overturn, Rebel Fitz, Carlingford Lough, Missunited, Road To Riches, Quick Jack and Clondaw Warrior all emerging from the Plate and Hurdle recently. Not bad for a summer jumps meeting!

- Tony Keenan

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