Paddock Inspection: The Curious Case of Quae Supra

The Curious Case of Quae Supra

By Hugh Fowler, paddock expert

Foreword

By way of introduction my name is Hugh Fowler. Nearly 2 years ago I decided to try and develop my enthusiasm for studying 2yo maiden race runners into a way of making a retirement income whilst also indulging my passion for going racing.

I was brought up in a family steeped in National Hunt racing and my first ventures into ownership were over the sticks. I was a partner in Thinkers Effort who won his debut race under rules at Stratford in 1999. Sadly he was injured in a training accident shortly afterwards and eventually retired without running again; although he lived a long and happy life as a huntsman’s ride with the Devon and Somerset hunt.

Other NH horses followed and I had some other winners but the rate of attrition gradually took its toll and too many tears were shed.

It was quite by chance that my interest in 2yo’s was piqued around 2001 at Goodwood where I was standing with my horsey cousin at the pre-parade ring. She and her husband immediately picked out 2 of the 2yo race as head and shoulders above anything else without recourse to the racecard. They finished 1st and 2nd well clear of the field. This was how I first became aware of the art of paddock review. The winner was Majestic Missile who was a short priced favourite but they knew none of that they simply looked at the conformation of the animal.

From then on I was hooked on the idea that you could find winners from fields of unraced maidens simply by looking at them. No worrying about handicap marks and speed ratings, simply an assessment of their physical attributes and athletic potential. I soon found that it was more complicated than that but that is another story.

Over the next few years I was lucky enough to be in several 2yo syndicates including Orpen Grey and Red Presence trained by Tom Dascombe and was also lucky enough to get to know Nick who runs the British Two Year Old Racing website – www.B2yor.co.uk. I should say at this point that an awful lot of what I have learnt has been due to this fantastic resource where anyone interested in developing paddock review skills should start.

Since the beginning of the 2013 turf season I have been attending as many 2yo races as I can, photographing the fields and rating the runners. Many of my photos from the Southern racecourses can be seen on B2yor as I send all my virtual paddocks to Nick for publication. If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert I think I am about half way there as the extended example of how I think about 2yos below illustrates.

More of my history with 2yos will be revealed in due course but first I must turn to the title of this piece….

The Mysterious Affair of Quae Supra

I first saw Quae Supra on debut at Salisbury on 29th June in a class 4 7f maiden. He cost 22k, was by Exceed and Excel and was trained by R Hannon and looked a fine fellow; yet is now a 6 race maiden rated 56 and heading south. Below is my picture of him and hopefully an explanation of this mysterious or not so mysterious affair …

Quae Supra ahead of debut

Quae Supra ahead of debut

After the race I wrote the following “Quae Supra – the conundrum of the race, certainly looked capable of running a decent debut in the paddock. Calm and relaxed and although not highly tuned looked fit enough to be in the ruck. 76 if there is not something wrong.”

The 76 refers to my estimate as to what OR the animal might be capable of reaching based on his physical appearance. The key here is the comment ‘if there is not something wrong’.

Quae Supra was clearly a second string to the stable’s Mysterioso, with Hughes up, as he was 18/1 and not ridden by a stable jockey. Those negatives aside the Hannon’s usually only bring decent ones to Salisbury so one would think QS should go into the notebook. However why was he soon outpaced and beaten 43 lengths? Hence the statement ‘If there is not something wrong’.

Physically he is an average sized beast, looks alright at the shoulder, possibly might be marked down for a marginally sloping croup and too rounded thigh but looks reasonably calm and although physically unexceptional certainly with the size and scope from this stable to be a season winner. If there is not something wrong.

 

Next time out was 16th July at Sandown, dropped to class 5 but again at a track where Hannon sends his better ones. Again he was a 2nd string at 50/1 this time with a stable jock Sean Levey up and Pat Dobbs on his stablemate who was 33/1, an odd situation for this stable at Sandown.. Beaten 19.5L this time I have two pictures of him –

 

Same horse? Yes, amazingly

Same horse? Yes, amazingly

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QS2

 

It is hard to believe that they are of the same horse, in the first he looks well-muscled and mentally up for it although perhaps a little weak in the gaskin. The second of these perhaps gives the impression of a less willing accomplice looking a bit sleepy or dubious with a distinct roundness to the croup and buttock. Enough here to make one question his resolution and capability but still enough physical presence to think he may be a winner during the season. Unless I was missing something?

Below is a diagram to help with identification of the anatomy.

Anatomy of a horse

Anatomy of a horse

Next time out was a class 5 maiden at Goodwood after a two month break, yet another course where the Hannons like to send their better ones but this time 100/1 and Pat Dobbs up. The photo here appears to show an animal absolutely ready to race, gleaming in

Yes, Quae Supra again...

Yes, Quae Supra again...

his coat and looking to have grown and strengthened up. Second string this time to Frognal Bear who is just ok and the SP suggesting the stable have no expectations.

The result, a bit better, finishing 7th and beaten only 10L. My post-race comments were “Quae Supra – Still a conundrum, is he going to spring a late season surprise? Can’t quite understand why he is not running better. I have four pictures of him and he looks a different horse in each. Just slow or a plot? Still has the potential to be 70+”

QS then went handicapping and was backed in to 7/2 with Hughes up in a class 6 handicap at Kempton where he was  beaten 14L.

I then caught up with him again at Leicester in a nursery over 8.5f on heavy, all his previous runs had been over 7f. Dobbs up this time with Hughes on a 7/1 stablemate. This was a bad race on bad ground, QS was third to his stablemate in a race run so slowly he finally could keep up. Here is his picture from that day –

Very odd hind quarters...

Very odd hind quarters...

All the questions posed about his back end previously come to the fore again but he is still by no means a bad looking animal. So what was wrong?

Well, it actually took me four bites at this cherry before I saw what the problem had been all along. If one looks at all the pictures he is never seen taking a decent stride. In fact in the very first photo from Salisbury he appears to have both his hind feet on the ground presenting a very poor stride at extension. At Leicester I finally saw this across the paddock and realised he minced like Kenneth Williams in a Carry On film, just not physically built to be able to stride out.

So the answers to all my questions, was there something wrong, was he just slow or was it a handicap plot were finally revealed. The reason he could not perform had been staring me in the face all the time and was a simple matter of how he moved.

One imagines that the Hannons always knew this and were simply saving transport costs always sending him with another runner in the hope that the racecourse would spark some further ability out of him.

Can QS ever win a race? Well he has run twice in nurseries since the last picture, still with the Hannons finishing 14L 7th of 10 at Leicester, then 12L 12th of 14 at Kempton Class 6 down to an OR of 56. I suppose he may eventually win something but it looks doubtful. No matter how far he comes down the weights he is never going to be able to shift himself efficiently.

- Hugh Fowler

 

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8 replies
  1. Daniel McSkelly says:

    Really interesting article, thanks Hugh & Matt.

    As a newbie to racing one of the things I’m just starting to get to grips with is assessing the physical characteristics of a horse, both in the paddock and on the hoof. I’m just starting to grasp the fundamentals of why some horses “look better” but it’s still a dark art to me, fantastic to get insight like this from someone more experienced. Especially as someone who consistently loses his shirt in maidens 🙂

  2. fredcm says:

    Excellent article really enjoyed reading your comments and thoughts, looking forward to the next instalment.
    Fred

  3. Seattle Dancer says:

    Interesting piece Hugh and one assumes that auction price can generally be assumed to adjudicate on pedigree, conformation or both?

    By the way what I really want to know is how the “retirement income” project is progressing???

  4. alpha2 says:

    Thanks for the comments. As far as auction price is concerned one would like to think that as the price can be presumed to reflect the worth of an animal as defined by the different panels of experts/bloodstock agents/trainers etc who decide to bid that it would be a significant part of the calculation. I am fairly sceptical about that.

    After my first year I took it out of my scoring method altogether as it can be so misleading. Partially because it may well be that many fillies attract what Nick from B2yor calls the golden goose effect. They may not be that perfect in confirmation or racing potential but if they can win a race or even get a bit of black type then their value in the breeding sheds will shoot up and their offspring can be sold well.

    The other factors that may in my view perversely affect the auction price is the ‘honesty’ of the whole bloodstock agent industry and the need to fulfill orders. The number of really good yearlings and 2yos at auction is small. Many of the good ones we see each year are owner bred so there is tremendous pressure on the agents and trainers to find a good one for their owners from the public auction pool. Consequently prices may get inflated far beyond any true reflection of their value. I think this has been exacerbated in recent years by the enormous sums flooding in from the Qataris.

    So in the end I think that who the horse is trained by, that trainers methods and what its breeding is, brings far more to the table than just pure price. For arguments sake a £200k colt on debut may well be bred only to prosper from 3yrs on, or its trainer may be one who hardly ever gets them ready to win fto. Price is only a very mild indicator of racing potential to my mind.

  5. Hugh Fowler says:

    I should perhaps add that I do treat those that are sub10k with extra care although there are a couple of trainers who seem to be able to make something of these ultra cheap ones.

    I have experimented with trying to band them by price but cannot find any significant edges and probably the best thing to say is that there is for obvious reasons a likelihood that a 300k colt will be better than a 50k one but simply applying the sales price does not work.

    • Seattle Dancer says:

      I have experimented myself in this area in the past-I did a very extensive analysis of all 2yo’s sold at the breeze-ups over a number of years. My logic was that seeing a horse broken, in public, temperament on show in a strange environment and capable of running fast (albeit only over a few furlongs) was giving the buyer an edge over untried stock sold the previous autumn and one could assume that lively, fast and precocious types would soon be in evidence on the track. This did not prove to be the case and I think I know why but fear I don’t want Matt to be sued for libel!

      In line with your general observations I found that the strength of the buyers entirely skewed the market and one was far more likely to be rewarded following a trainer spending a scarce resource rather that the “money is no object” agents on behalf of the big players.

      P.S. The website you refer to has a huge amount of detail and merits some detailed study but I have a couple of negative observations. Firstly, the language used is far too intricate and dense and it seems to take forever to make a point. Secondly, the ruthless filleting of every pundit involved in the game would not sit comfortably with me and I think the website originator loses a lot of my respect with the unnecessary and somewhat gratuitous nature of his remarks. These articles should be removed as they add nothing to the scholarly nature of the work and merely “big up” the author…..by himself!

      P.P.S. Have you managed to gain a successful financial edge from the data?

  6. alpha2 says:

    Well SD, I used all the collated data on B2yor to establish the simple algorhythm I have developed as my first tool in assessing 2yo maidens. Having now got a full years results I am in the process of reviewing it all with the aim of weighting some of the elements to improve performance.

    As far as gaining a successful edge, in 2014 I found the first three months of the season very profitable but managed to undo the good work in July, August and September. This reflects the pattern of my first season at this as well.

    My tentative conclusion is that it my approach works best in fields with as few previously raced runners as possible. Hopefully year three will see me getting better at assessing the value of previous runs and scope for improvement. As ever it is trying to understand the scale of the variables and order them correctly that is the challenge. Naming no names, the more you see excellent specimens on 2to trained by those who do not get the animals mind focused getting beaten by much lesser beasts fto who are competently prepared and have learnt to race the more one realises that there is no one answer.

    • Seattle Dancer says:

      thank you.

      I agree that there never can be one key to any puzzle involved in the game.

      The great Noel Murless was of the opinion that a trainer should be judged on preparing 2yo’s to win first-time-out but there’s more holes in this statement (taken in a general context) than in your average colander.

      2yo favourites win close to 40% of all races so assessing the market isn’t a bad place to start!

      My favourite anecdote on trainers of 2yo’s relates to a small Irish trainer who consistently produced half-a-dozen 2yo winners every season so the basic data was there for further study. I discovered that he had a remarkable record with horses that started at less than 5/1 on their third start. I prepared in earnest for battle only for a virus to descend on the yard and in the next five years he never trained a single 2yo winner!

      Jim Bolger had a terrific run a few years ago training any number of nursery winners from a yard ripe for such opportunistic campaigning. Nowadays, he barely registers in that division.

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