English Horses in Irish Group 1s
The introduction of British Champions Day is 2011 has proved a beano for Irish trainers; of the 20 group races run at the meeting since its inauguration, nine have gone to Ireland, writes Tony Keenan. That Ascot card tends to be run on soft ground which plays its part as even when our horses aren’t at their best on it, they tend to be accustomed to racing on it.
How UK-based trainers feel about this is probably unpublishable but they went some way to redressing the balance at Ireland’s premier flat meeting last year, the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend. 50 UK runners took part and, even allowing that 15 of those were in a two-year-old sales race, their record was impressive, winning eight of the 16 races and three of the Group 1s with The Grey Gatsby, Cursory Glance and Brown Panther. Again, the responses of Irish trainers on the Sunday evening of the weekend were likely unpublishable!
The fact remains however that Irish racing needs English runners and vice versa; ours is a symbiotic relationship. We don’t have enough horses to sustain proper Group 1 racing on our own as a look at average field sizes over the past decade confirms. From 2005 to present, the average field size in an Irish Group 1 was 8.71 runners but if you took out the UK runners it drops to 6.56. That’s an unsatisfactory figure whatever your perspective; punters are more likely to play when the full each-way terms are available whereas purists prefer to see bigger fields that produce a stronger pace and hence truer results.
At this stage, it’s important to point out that horses running abroad do better than the home runners and this applies in both Ireland and the UK. Irish flat horses running in Britain have hit at a rate of 13.01% since the start of 2010 whereas the UK horses have won 10.82% of their races; meanwhile, the UK raiders have won 14.19% of their Irish races with the home team at 9.12% in the same period. This is common sense. Taking a horse to a track that can be accessed by road is obviously less of an ordeal, in both effort and monetary terms, than using a ship or a plane. If a trainer thinks a horse is worth racing in another country, chances are there is the expectation of a good run.
Even allowing for this, UK horses have an excellent record in Irish Group 1s. Since 2005, they are 43/271 in these races for a strikerate of 15.87% with a level-stakes loss of 54.42. Irish runners are 85/840 with a strikerate of 10.12% and a level-stakes loss of 339.47. What is more interesting however is when we focus on the most recent cohort of raiders.
UK horses in Irish Group 1s, 2005 – present
|2005 – 2009||15||132||11.36%||-58.77||0.75|
|2010 – present||28||139||20.14%||+4.35||1.06|
So despite having roughly the same number of runners in both periods, UK raiders have won nearly twice as many Irish Group 1s in the past five years (or so) than they did in the five years before that. The reason or reasons for this are hard to say. Aidan O’Brien certainly hasn’t been winning less at the top level – he had 24 Irish Group 1 winners between 2005 and 2009 and has had 27 since – but maybe it’s the other Irish trainers that are falling behind a little.
The Ballydoyle trainer obviously presents the main stumbling block to further UK success and the raiders often do best in the races he is, if not weak, weaker in. O’Brien’s team of older horses are rarely as dominant as his juveniles and three-year-olds, the better ones often sent to stud rather than racing on at four; only 8 of his 51 Irish Group 1 winners since 2005 were four or older. That pattern is even more marked with the fillies with the trainer having run just three older fillies in an Irish Group 1 in the past decade. Some of that is bad luck – neither Alexandrova nor Peeping Fawn made it to the track as four-year-olds despite being in training – but most of it is due to the fillies being seen as more valuable as broodmares than on the track.
This presents a window of opportunity for UK horses. If you’d backed all the raiders in Irish Group 1s open to older horses (five races: the Tattersalls Gold Cup, the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Matron Stakes, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Irish St Leger) since 2010, you would have hit 20 winners from 96 bets, a strikerate of 20.83% with a decent level stakes profit of 11.09 points and an actual over expected of 1.19. That profitable pattern is even more marked with older fillies; such runners are 6 from 21 with another 7 places and an actual over expected of 1.46.
The face of the top UK trainers in Irish Group 1s is largely as expected:
UK Trainers in Irish Group 1s, 2005 – present
The sample size here is thin but John Gosden stands out (as mentioned previously here). He’s a trainer that has improved in the last five years or so, going from a very good handler to an excellent one, from top ten in the title race to perennial champion trainer contender. He’s already won an Irish Group 1 this season with Jack Hobbs and his older top three-year-old Golden Horn will bid to get his season back on track in the meeting’s feature, the Irish Champion Stakes. Indeed, since, 2009, he’s won eight of eleven Irish Group 1’s he’s contested.
Michael Stoute has had his share of hard luck in these Irish Group 1s, saddling seven placed horses as against three winners, and the Matron Stakes is a race he tends to aim one at, winning it in both 2003 and 2007. Integral is in the mix for that race this season though the leading UK challenger, Amazing Maria, is trained by a man who has yet to have an Irish Group 1 runner, much less a winner, in David O’Meara. His dual Group 1 winner hits a few other key trends, notably being an older UK-trained mare, and her trainer is unlikely to draw quite as much ire from the home contingent should he win, given he’s from Cork!