I try not to revisit previous offerings before the metaphorical ink is dry on the predecessor, writes Tony Stafford, but this time I really have to break that unofficial restraint.
Actually, I’m sure most regular readers will say “you always cover the same old ground, if not all the time”. That’s probably true enough, but this time I feel an imperative.
It always amazes me how many insiders who should be aware of racing statistics seem innocent of all bar which jockey is leading the title race – hang on, what title race? The Flat-race jockey championship, slimmed into a main-season affair and to what end? Or should it be the whole-year so that worthies such as Luke Morris and Adam Kirby, denied the off-season riches of the Ryan Moore/James Doyle/William Buick cartel, could step up? They have to be content with the steady earnings in the All-weather winter championship.
But the stats which interest me most, as last week’s effort will have reinforced, are the leading trainer tables, Flat and National Hunt, published in long or shorter-form almost every day in the Racing Post.
Through the year, indications of which stables are in, or out of, form are vital for the punter. But it is fair to say that the 2016 Flat-race season in the UK has been uniquely unusual, and in an accelerating fashion. In simplistic terms, Aidan O’Brien has beaten his best previous prizemoney tally, and by the end of Goodwood!
Last week, I detailed the history of six leading trainers, all of whom had exceeded £3m in a UK season. John Gosden raised the bar to a highest £5.3m last year, thanks principally to the exploits of Golden Horn, but as last week’s article suggested, it seemed inevitable that O’Brien would quickly overtake that figure.
For once the Hackney Wick crystal ball and tarot cards were on track. Buoyed by the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes win of Highland Reel at Ascot the previous Saturday, Aidan lined up a select ten-strong raiding party to tilt at the newly- lavish Goodwood prizemoney buoyed by Qatar cash. All ten, like the three at Ascot the previous weekend, collected a cheque.
From How’s £675 for sixth place in the Princess Margaret at Ascot behind Fair Eva to Minding’s workmanlike sixth Group 1 triumph of her career in Saturday’s Nassau Stakes, the team’s collective earnings were £2,018,175 for five first places, two seconds, two thirds, two fourths, a fifth and How’s sixth.
Aidan won Group 1’s with Highland Reel, The Gurkha (Sussex Stakes) and Minding; a Group 2 with War Decree and a nice fillies’ juvenile maiden with the classy Rhododendron.
When you say it quickly – Aidan won £2,018,175 in six days’ action in the UK with 13 runners, it sounds quite impressive. It’s when you put that level of earnings by an overseas trainer against those of the four leading British-based handlers, that it stretches credibility.
It has taken 82 runs and 20 wins to arrive at £4,980,801 this year. That puts him within less than £300,000 of Gosden’s record tally. Of the 20 wins, 14 have been at Group level, Minding leading the way with three. It is also not uncommon for even two or three O’Brien runners to contest the top races, making the winning percentage in wins to races terms even better than the 24% wins to runs ratio.
John Gosden is the nearest to O’Brien this year. He’s earned £1,912,980 with 68 wins from 340 runners and six Group races. Richard Hannon’s 112 wins from 785 runners (four Group victories) has brought £1,844,827, while Richard Fahey with 121 wins from 974 runners has brought home £1,743,830 to his owners but only a single Group-race success. A lucrative Goodwood has pushed Sir Michael Stoute into an excellent fifth place with £1,701,758 from 63 wins and 271 runners. The ten Group-race wins show how well this veteran is coping with his younger rivals.
Yet the fact that O’Brien can have exceeded the season-long earnings of all the major opposition within a week is the astonishing part.
When you consider the level of fire power being readied for York, a realistic season-long target could approach a minimum £7 million. Godolphin’s two main trainers, Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor, have just passed a joint £2 million between them from 75 winners and five Group wins. Godolphin has more representatives in other leading stables these days and such as Gosden, Roger Varian and Hugo Palmer strengthen the big-race opportunities for the boys in blue. It is still obvious that if there is to be a challenge to Coolmore in the top races, it can only realistically come from Sheikh Mohammed’s single-minded energy for the battle.
I missed seeing The Gurkha in the flesh, as with Ray Tooth and Steve Gilbey, I took the train to Shropshire and Kinsale Stud to see the yearlings being readied to go into training. They look Ray’s best bunch yet and the recent efforts of Dutch Law and Stanhope suggest we’re getting onto the right path.
Stanhope will have his third race, back at Yarmouth where on debut, as a 50-1 shot in a five-horse affair, he got to within a length and a quarter of the Godolphin favourite, Final Reckoning. When that horse followed up, justifying favouritism in the 17-runner nursery at Goodwood on Friday, we got a little excited.
In between the two races, Stanhope had run another good race in third, beaten one length and a last-stride nose by Fly At Night (also a Charlie Appleby/Godolphin newcomer) and the Jamie Osborne-trained Harbour Master. That colt had run twice before and got a 76 rating in the first official list of juvenile handicap marks last Tuesday.
Jamie didn’t take long to test the form, and we were in for another boost when Harbour Master won a competitive Lingfield maiden by almost four lengths on Saturday night.
Micky Quinn reckons Stanhope has improved again and is highly optimistic that the colt can get his first win on Thursday. Two days later Hughie Morrison’s Dutch Law goes back to HQ after getting his head in front in a competitive race there last time following some near misses. He’s now up to 87, but looks sure to be competitive for a nice 86-105 race over his favourite seven furlongs.
We won’t be worrying Aiden O’Brien too much, but a couple more nice runs will reassure the boss that we’re going the right way. Looking at the foals, there’s also plenty of promise for the future.