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Monday Musings: Moore frustrated than ever

Three championship races defined Epsom’s 2019 Derby meeting, writes Tony Stafford. Three times Ryan Moore struck the front in Classic Lester Piggott mode at around the two-furlong pole, the first twice on horses just shaded for favouritism but with outstanding claims and finally on the clear Derby favourite. All three times he was usurped in what in time might come to be regarded historically as a one-off Golden Highway up the far rail.

Traditionally Epsom’s camber takes hold of tiring horses, especially at the end of the mile and a half Group 1 trio of Investec Derby, Oaks and Coronation Cup. Routinely it deposits them struggling for balance on the rail where any recent rain, especially when combined with excessive watering (very rare with Andrew Cooper in charge), would slow the ground compared with higher up the camber and interfere with faltering stride patterns.

This time, fast conditions and, particularly on Saturday afternoon, hot weather and a drying breeze more than countered the three millilitres Cooper decided to put on the track on Friday night. First Defoe in the Coronation Cup, then Anapurna in the Oaks, and finally Anthony Van Dyck in the Derby came late and fast to deny Ryan in turn on Kew Gardens, Pink Dogwood and Sir Dragonet in the Derby.

It was easy to criticize Moore (as many did) and I went home on Friday having imagined seeing him go clear on both Kew Gardens and Pink Dogwood, but the reality was that neither ever got far ahead of their eventual nemeses.

Equally, it was unusual in the extreme just how Andrea Atzeni aboard Defoe, Frankie Dettori on Anapurna and above all Seamie Heffernan, the Peter Pan-like 46-year-old rider (really?) of Anthony Van Dyck found a clear course along the rail. In Heffernan’s case he was actually wider than Moore as the Coolmore number one rider launched his mount to the lead.

A right-hand tap on a horse clearly going very well, took him left and as he stayed on strongly, the same leftward course found the rail. In the same moment, four rivals on his outside contrived almost to manufacture a quadruple dead-heat, AvD’s stamina kicking in to pass them all 100 yards from home for a half-length victory.

For the record, the only interloper in an O’Brien multi-coloured justification of his block entry of seven in a 13-horse field, Madhmoon, rallied late to pinch second back with on the outside Japan and Broome staying on strongly, all three catching Sir Dragonet and relegating him to fifth in a miasma of a nose and two short heads.

You could understand Ryan cursing his luck. Not only had he ridden Anthony Van Dyck to victory in the Lingfield Derby Trial when O’Brien believed the Galileo colt to be well short of peak fitness, he had been in the saddle on five of his eight previous races including when unplaced behind Line of Duty – never sighted on Saturday – at the Breeders’ Cup last backend.

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Had the decision to supplement Sir Dragonet at a cost of £85,000 not been made – at a time when there was an expectation of imminent rain – Ryan almost certainly would have been on the winner. But would he have won if he had taken the same up-the-middle course?

So quickly did the picture change in the Derby that if it were run multiple times, who could say which of the O’Brien four in their respective pink (Magnier second colours), purple (Derryck Smith), blue and orange (Michael Tabor) or dark blue (Magnier) – or the Prendergast one – would have prevailed.

The tendency in any close finish is to condemn the whole lot as ordinary. That could be a very dangerous assumption. Sir Dragonet showed class and speed enough to win the race and failed by less than a length. He did wonderfully well to make light of his inexperience – the first race of his life was only 37 days previously – and he was also in his first contested finish on an alien track and under novel fast conditions.

Japan and Broome flew home on the outside, Japan finding at least 14lb on his Dante run when acknowledged as well short of peak fitness by his trainer before and after the fact, while Broome continued to show the kind of stamina that could make him the number one St Leger candidate come the autumn.

But what O’Brien manages to a degree that no other trainer can – and of course he has the raw material, not just in quality but numerically – is to identify the right horse for the right target.

The Derby comes early in the season, just nine weeks since the start and we’re already 80 per cent through the English Classic races. This year it was the earliest possible, so these staying horses are still in a semi-embryonic stage. Which of them will go to the Irish Derby? By late July will any be ready to take on the older generation, and that possibly means Enable in the King George?

And then there’s the Eclipse, the Grand Prix de Paris, as zealously sought as the remodelled (some time ago now, but we live in the past!) French Derby which yesterday had its normal token Ballydoyle attention: Epsom Derby Trial winner Cape of Good Hope, first string of three at 24-1, was guided to a creditable fourth by that man Moore behind the impressive winner, Sottsass.

Moore suffered a frustrating weekend. That Derby slide from second to fifth in the last 20 yards was costly indeed. Second spot was worth £350,000 and fifth £43,000. Eight per cent or thereabouts of the 300k he forfeited will be hard to stomach.

I happened to be walking through along the side of the weighing room as Chris Hayes came out wheeling his little case and still sporting the “I got Ryan’s money!” grin. I couldn’t help remembering that his first trip to the UK came when I booked him to ride my filly Ekaterina, named after Mrs Stafford, but of widely differing abilities as a 16-year-old when he looked about ten.

“I thought I had it!” he said without a glimmer of regret. It’s great when nice people do well and as one of the Irish jockeys young enough and with no weight problems to have multiple chances in the future, I’d be amazed if he didn’t win the race one day.

I felt truly sorry for Hughie Morrison and the brother and sister team of Mark Weinfeld and Helena Ellingsen that Telecaster found Derby Day all too much. The most obvious sweater in the paddock, he was also the least compliant as they went out for the parade, possibly exacerbated by being last of the 13 to go out.

There was concern that number two draw had been a guarantee of failure in the past, but watching the initial stages, it could only be a mathematical anomaly rather than a physical negative. What was not arguable was that he was the first of the leading bunch to be beaten and, along with his Doncaster conqueror Bangkok, never looked like denting the Irish hegemony.

At least the Weinfeld family had the Oaks win to cheer them and soften the blow of the blown 85 grand. Anapurna is a direct descendant of Egon Weinfeld’s 1979 1,000 Guineas winner One In A Million. No such luck for Morrison, whose father James was owner of the other 1979 Classic winning filly, Scintillate.

The Queen unveiled a bronze statue of Lester Piggott, nine-time Derby- winning jockey, on Saturday. Aidan O’Brien, in equalling that number, also equalled the record for training the winner and surely as night follows day, will beat it sooner rather than later.

Galileo, the 2001 hero, is now responsible for four Derby winners. John Magnier and Michael Tabor have been associated with all five horses and three other Derby winners, so are one ahead of O’Brien in the official records, although one report suggested Magnier had reached number ten, presumably as a minor partner in Robert Sangster winners.

Whatever the accuracy of that account, the astonishing fact is that six of the winners of the years between 2011 and 2019 have been in their ownership, all with Derrick Smith, a late entry into the team. Only Pour Moi, trained by Andre Fabre, did not hone his Epsom credentials on the Ballydoyle gallops.

Some wonderful trainers based in England have massive strings of expensively-bought or home-bred colts with Classic pedigrees. Gosden, Haggas, Varian, Charlie Appleby and the like you would think, might be feared but every year the one to beat is Aidan O’Brien. It’s not very often that he is.

Social Discourse – 27th May 2019

Another weekend, another set of top-class races to review through the window of social media. This week’s edition is going to focus on the races that defined the weekend – namely the three Group 1’s and the small matter of two big British sprints that brought different results for the favourites, writes William Kedjanyi.

 

  1. Rise of The Phoenix

Before a hoof had been set on the rebranded Curragh – and how glorious it does look now - the Irish 2,000 Guineas narrative was all about two horses. In the purple corner, Magna Grecia, the impressive winner of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. In the pink corner, Too Darn Hot, second in the Dante and an extremely impressive champion two-year-old last season, who had won the Dewhurst and earned himself a rating of 126.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that neither won, as no horse in the race could touch the mightily impressive Phoenix Of Spain, who was smartly away and always in front to the far side.

When the challenges came – and there were plenty who wanted a crack, most notably Too Darn Hot – he had all the answers and eventually ran out an impressive winner.

https://twitter.com/RadioEmmet/status/1132380888057229315

https://twitter.com/HattieLFuller/status/1132371577180446721

Too Darn Soon?

Too Darn Hot loomed up before Spencer and Phoenix really kicked on, and eventually finished second, a very creditable performance given the short amount of time since his Dante second – in itself a hard race on his seasonal comeback.

John Gosden himself admitted this was hardly a tried and tested route for a top horse of his, when speaking to the media in the week:

"Obviously his programme was turned upside down in the spring. He never made the Greenham; he never made the Guineas and he spent quite a long time walking.

"As I told everyone when he went to the Dante, he was 85 per cent and he ran a good race. The distance was a little too far, but he probably laid back a bit far off our pacemaker. I thought the winner won well.

"It was not my intention to go to Ireland, but I thought he came out of the race in great order. He was eating well and was full of himself.

The Bottom Line: It’s entirely possible we’ve not seen the best of this horse yet this season, for all that people will miss the horse of last year.

The Rest: Decrypt ran a fantastic race to take third on the line from Skardu, who also ran with big credit. The pair have just eight runs between them and bright futures ahead, and both ran much better than Magna Grecia, who was one of the first off the bridle and who failed to respond to Ryan Moore’s urgings.

Targets aren’t known for the third and fourth yet, but Ascot could beckon, with either the St James’s Palace or the Jersey Stakes realistic targets. It remains to be seen what was up with Magna Grecia….

 

  1. Blast From The Battaash

 On this side of the Irish Sea, there was a force of nature somewhere in the Northwest, where Battash was back to his best and once again blazing the turf in the Temple Stakes. Let’s enjoy the closing stages once again.

https://twitter.com/itvracing/status/1132301347263590400

Charlie Hills’ five-year-old was making it back to back successes in the Temple Stakes, and in doing so brought back a great deal of shine to his reputation, which had taken slight knocks in defeats at the highest level towards the end of last season.

https://twitter.com/lad_racing/status/1132300771792433153

Alpha Delphini was a creditable second and Mabs Cross was third under her penalty, having also lost a shoe.

The next step? It’s time to get your top hats on once again. The King's Stand beckons.

 

  1. Well Hello, Youmzain

One of the feature attractions of a super Saturday of racing was Calyx, the 2018 Coventry winner who was unbeaten in three starts and the favourite for the Commonwealth Cup. He was expected to extend his sequence to four on his way to Royal Ascot with ease – indeed he went off 2/13 to beat three rivals in the Sandy Lane Stakes – and all looked well until… Robert Havlin pressed the button.

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https://twitter.com/racingblogger/status/1132292583613452288

 

Calyx shifted further left than Jeremy Corbyn in the 80’s and suddenly Hello Youmzain, who quickened impressively, was away and not for catching.

The winner is now a dual Group Two winner who is single figures for the Commonwealth Cup – a nice position for Kevin Ryan, who’s excellent with his sprinters – and he goes to Ascot with a genuine claim of being involved.

 

John Gosden’s View:

From the horse’s mouth: "At the end of the day, we can't be afraid of one horse. It would be too soon to write (Calyx) off - but we're just delighted with ours. We had to try the Greenham, to see if he stayed - you only get one crack at these Classics. It was pretty clear he didn't (stay), so this was the next logical step.

"He's won two Group Twos now - all he's going to do is keep improving. He's been like that since day one - the more racing he gets, the more he's going to mature. We hope there's plenty to come. He's still learning the game. He's in that [Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot] - it's the logical step. Let's enjoy today, we'll have a chat with the owners and everyone involved."

 

Spare a thought...... For those who had Calyx let them down on short Saturday accas...

But not those who were stupid enough to boo a horse. Yes, that's right, boo a horse.

https://twitter.com/James_Watson98/status/1132291269944926208

  1. Hermosa and Hosed

Aidan O’Brien had suffered a rare G1 disappointment on Saturday with Magna Grecia, but Hermosa never looked in danger of failing to complete her own Classic double as she took the Irish 1,000 Guineas in style. And boy, Twitter did like what they saw.

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1132671084682256384

Hermosa, who is now the fourth horse to have completed a Guineas double after Attraction (2004), Finsceal Beo (2007) and Winter (2017), is headed on her travels again – to the Prix de Diane.

Her next challenge? Siyarafina, who won the Prix Saint-Alary in cool style under a relaxed Christophe Soumillon.

https://twitter.com/racingblogger/status/1132657587814576129

 

Of the rest? 

East was a disappointment, finishing  nearer last than first, with many blaming the quickest ground she’d run on.

 

Pretty Pollyanna ran a great comeback race to finish a good second, ahead of Foxtrot Liv, who outran her odds to finish a fine third

Iridessa disappointed at Newmarket but stayed on well in the fashion of a horse who now needs at least 10 furlongs.

Fairyland never got into things and might not be a miler, whilst Just Wonderful was well backed but appeared to fold and was a disappointment once again.

 

  1. Magic In The Horse, But Not The Race

Magical is a wonderful horse, and it’s exciting to think that we might not have seen the very best of her just yet despite her having had plenty of runs already for a top class flat horse.

https://twitter.com/TracksideJay/status/1132661151899291649

 

It’s also fun to see her strut her stuff on the racecourse. However, it’s generally more fun to see her test herself against proper opposition in the right circumstances, and today’s Tattersalls Gold Cup didn’t match that.

https://twitter.com/RacingTV/status/1132661392740356096

In what was essentially an exercise gallop, Flag of Honour set a strong pace, followed by his stablemate, and the other three were out of the race by the time they’d come halfway down the hill. It was not the most riveting spectacle for the racing Twitteratti.

 

Is the Gold Cup going to stay much longer as a Group 1? Many think it shouldn’t:

https://twitter.com/wild_julian/status/1132657576682885120

Too many races spoil the broth: The d’Ispahan (see below) being run on the same day doesn’t help matters, whilst the Coronation Cup is also in near direct competition just a week after. The Brigadier Gerard Stakes was run earlier in the week and when you add in the Lockinge, there’s an awful lot of options around this distance. Some might even say too many, but it’s not my place…

 

  1. The Prince of Paris

Siyarafina was an impressive winner of the Prix Saint-Alary, and she wasn’t the only Group 1 winner in Paris yesterday.

In complete contrast to the Tattersalls Gold Cup – sorry Magical – this was a properly contested Group 1, with five top-level winners slugging it out, and Zabeel Prince fought hardest and fought best to get the better of Study of Man, who came with a withering late run to take second.

It was a breakthrough Group 1 for him but it had been on the cards based on his win in the Earl of Sefton Stakes, form which is arguably the hottest in Britain so far this year. Forest Ranger has won the Huxley Stakes, Mustashry the Lockinge, and Elarqam has taken a listed contest at Goodwood in good style since.

https://twitter.com/TimeformLive/status/1132675560709267457

 

Best of the rest;

Second Study of Man will be aimed at August prizes after two good runs to start his season.

Trais Fluors was disappointing at Sandown but can hopefully come back to this sort of form for the rest of the season, and Intellogent, a former Jean Prat winner, ran a good race.

Godolphin's two representatives, Dream Castle and Wild Illusion, finished only fifth and sixth but were not on their best form and better can hopefully be expected.

Until next time...

Monday Musings: Trials and undulations

After 2,000 Guineas number ten, on Sunday we had a fifth 1,000 Guineas, again not with the most expected candidate, for Aidan O’Brien and so it went on with the Derby Trials, writes Tony Stafford. Circus Maximus (Dee Stakes), Anthony Van Dyck (Lingfield Derby Trial) and Broome (Derrinstown Stud Stakes) were all favourites when winning their Epsom preps, but Sir Dragonet, a Shergar-like winner of the Chester Vase, emphatically was not.

It’s just a year short of 40 since Shergar exploded around Chester to propel himself into Derby favouritism. My recollection of a 20-length margin was corrected by Wikepedia early this morning which relates to a 12-length win but in an article which suggests a non-racing author. I looked in vain once again for the 1980 form book!

What is not in question is the ten-length romp at Epsom for which I watched sat next to John Oaksey overlooking the old paddock there. For some reason I had been co-opted to “help” the Noble Lord but what assistance I actually provided I cannot recall. It was great of course to be at Epsom for one of the epic Derby performances.

Sir Dragonet is NOT a son of Galileo. Neither is Broome, although he is from the first crop of Galileo’s Derby winning son, Australia. Anthony van Dyck and Circus Maximus do have the standard Coolmore Galileo branding but Sir Dragonet is a son of Coolmore’s other multiple Derby winner producer, Montjeu.

Three weeks ago Sir Dragonet had never even been heard of outside his stable. When he turned up at Tipperary on April 25 he was a 14-1 debutant, ridden by Seamus Heffernan in a mile and a half maiden where another son of Camelot, the previously once-raced King Pellinore was a 4-5 shot.

In the manner of races where the ground changes to soft, the field swung around the final left-hand turn and aimed for the stands side, causing traffic problems for a number of horses, notably King Pellinor. Those who laid the odds soon knew their fate, Donnacha O’Brien giving up the ghost some way from home.

Meanwhile the stable neglected was being guided from some way behind to the inside, getting a clear run. He still needed a fair engine to sweep past the entire field to win by three clear lengths, so it was possibly a surprise that he could start as big as 13-2 for his Chester challenge 13 days later.

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This time Donnacha had the mount as Ryan Moore partnered the dual winner Norway (9-2) in a seven-horse field. O’Brien sat a long last as Dashing Willoughby set a good pace, but could be seen making very comfortable ground on the outside coming to the last half-mile of the 12-furlong test.

The result was never in doubt, Sir Dragonet drawing clear to win by eight lengths from a staying-on Norway with the rest trailing in at intervals. Sir Dragonet, despite no direct Galileo-ness, does have an element of the great sire’s bloodline as his dam, Sparrow, is a grand-daughter of Urban Sea, via Galileo’s full-sister, All Too Beautiful, herself runner-up to Ouija Board in the 2004 Oaks.

Urban Sea’s other main claim to fame of course is as dam of a second Derby winner in Sea The Stars, who for good measure also collected the 2,000 Guineas on the way. Camelot for his part, would have preceded the two now Coolmore-owned US Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify by becoming the first English Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970 bar Encke’s intervention. Encke, clean on the day, was subsequently found to have been one of the Godolphin horses under the disgraced Mahmoud Al Zarooni’s care to have traces of a steroid in his system.

It would require an £85,000 supplementary entry fee for Sir Dragonet to take his place in the Investec Derby in just short of three weeks, probably not an insurmountable problem. I think he’ll win at Epsom and as Aidan O’Brien has said since his Chester win, the colt needed to go there for his education. At no stage did he seem to need much more tuition and O’Brien’s and the Coolmore team’s seventh success in the Classic is most likely to come from him.

As mentioned before, Telecaster will also require supplementing for Epsom should he convince his owners, Castle Down Racing, by his performance in Thursday’s Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

Over the years the Dante has been the best of the trials and to win it Telecaster, yet to race out of maiden company, will need to beat last year’s champion juvenile Too Darn Hot (John Gosden and the Lloyd Webbers) and O’Brien’s Japan, for some time regarded as Ballydoyle’s prime Derby hope.

Like Anthony Van Dyck, so comfortable at Lingfield on Saturday, Japan reportedly had a minor setback around a month ago. He narrowly won the Beresford Stakes (Group 2) from stablemate Mount Everest last September but has not appeared since.

Should Telecaster come through the test on Thursday, Hughie Morrison and his owners, brother and sister Mark Weinfeld and Helena Ellingsen, will have to restore their home-bred to the race from which he was a March withdrawal, a few weeks before his promising second to Bangkok on debut at Doncaster.

As with Too Darn Hot, unable to take up his planned date at the yearling sale, Telecaster would normally have found other owners but nobody would pay the price and he was retained for 180,000gns.

The family race their fillies in the well-known name and black and white colours as Helena Springfield Ltd and they were prominent last week. On Friday their Twist ‘n’ Shake, a daughter of Kingman, romped away with a Nottingham maiden after making all the running; then on Saturday, Anapurna, by Frankel, cantered clear of her Lingfield Oaks Trial opposition under Frankie Dettori.

Afterwards, an elated John Gosden was happy to add her to his similarly-easy Cheshire Oaks heroine Mehdaayih as Oaks-bound. If O’Brien apparently has the Derby covered – unless Too Darn Hot or one of the others on Thursday argues otherwise - Gosden surely is more likely to collect a third Oaks rather than O’Brien recording number eight.

This weekend’s highlight will be the always-informative Lockinge Stakes at Newbury where the ante-post favourite is Le Brivido ahead of Magical and the wonderful Laurens. Le Brivido ran an astonishing first race for O’Brien – transferred from Andre Fabre – when third after rearing at the start at Naas, staying on strongly into third.

Le Brivido won last year’s Jersey Stakes in the colours of Prince Faisal bin Khaled and judged on that Naas comeback could be an upwardly-mobile performer for Prince Faisal and his new partner Michael Tabor.

Tony Keenan: Irish Flat Season 2019 Preview

You might have guessed this already but more than anything in horse racing, it is the role of the trainer that fascinates me, writes Tony Keenan. We can wonder about the influence of various factors in trainer success, some of which are very obvious, others of which we will never know; no more than a punter, if a trainer has an edge, they can hardly be expected to comment on it publicly.

(A somewhat random aside: I read recently that Thady Gosden – son of John – had spent some time at the Joseph O'Brien yard and while I appreciate O’Brien Jr. seems a thoroughly decent man, there surely had to be the temptation to either: one, fill him with misinformation to take back to Gosden Senior, or, two, lock him in a darkened stable with a fire and a poker to extract the secrets of what his father does so well. I have never understood this part of racing where one trainer allows a rival, actual or potential, access to their yard. It must be because they’re all lovely people.)

One thing we can do however is look at the broad sweep of success trainers have over a period of time. Below I have put together the records of the top 20 active Irish flat trainers (with one exception, Patrick Prendergast, for reasons that will become apparent) and their turf runners in Ireland over the past decade; Dundalk is not included. It necessarily leaves out some relevant figures – notably Fozzy Stack – but should offer a decent overview of what has happened since 2009.

It deals with winners only which is a pretty blunt instrument but one that most trainers seem to apply as a measure of their own success. A clatter of winners doesn’t always equal success however; Aidan O’Brien had a record-breaking season at home in 2018 but most (including the trainer himself) would have regarded the campaign as a down year if not a failure. Ken Condon had only seven turf winners last year but one of them was Romanised in the 2,000 Guineas so 2018 might even prove the best of his training career. But in the main, winners figures are useful, especially when compared to what went before.

 

That’s a whole lot of numbers right there so the Cliff Notes version is below:

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This does give us a fair overview of what has happened over the last ten years or so, which yards have risen and which have fallen, what rising stars made it and who never got there (hint: it’s very difficult to make it in Irish flat racing). The decline of the veteran pair John Oxx and Kevin Prendergast are patterns that jump out immediately as is the gradual rise of Ger Lyons, while a recent jump from Jessica Harrington and the rapid growth of Joseph O’Brien are also notable.

Atop the table for the decade and every year of it is, of course, Aidan O’Brien. 2018 was represented as a disappointing campaign for Ballydoyle, a mid-season bug impacting a number of horses, his record outside of Ireland significantly worse than previous years and the yard a little thin on stars, relatively speaking (see last season’s flat season review for more on this). But at home, it wasn’t just business as usual but a record-breaking season with 143 winners on the turf, his previous best being 124 in 2013.

From the point-of-view of the other major Irish yards, it was both disappointing and surprising that they weren’t able to exploit this brief chink in the Ballydoyle armour with the likes of Weld, Bolger and Lyons having down seasons to one degree or another. Perhaps his continued success at home, numerically at last, allowed O’Brien to remain quite sanguine about his horses being sick though experience does seem to have brought confidence whereas in times past he may have let it rattle him a little. If anything it was his son who took advantage of any slippage, his win in the Irish Derby standing out, though much of Joseph’s success came in lower grade handicaps with acquisitions from other yards. Aidan can at least console himself that should things ever go belly-up at Ballydoyle, he can have an assistant trainer post on the hill!

It is hard to get away from the belief that 2019 will be another big year for O’Brien, Sr. He has a huge team of horses, the spring has been kind weather-wise and his stars all seem healthy, none of the big guns ruled out yet. His early returns have been good with the likes of Magical, Le Brivido, Flag Of Honour and Sergei Prokofiev running well on seasonal debut.

One of O’Brien’s old rivals in the best races was John Oxx and his 2019 could be one of the most fascinating of all, Patrick Prendergast having come on board as assistant trainer and taken his team of horses with him. Plenty wondered at Prendergast’s motivation for this move, viewing him as a trainer on the up with Oxx the main beneficiary of the new setup. I don’t think it’s as simple as that as the John Oxx name still has some cachet while there is also succession to think about with Oxx aged 68.

It is also important to note that while Prendergast trained his first Group 1 winner in 2018, these successes have proved largely useless in elevating mid-range trainers to a higher plane. There have been numerous examples of Irish trainers winning their first Group 1 race this decade and it doing little or nothing for them in terms of getting more winners or horses in the short-term. Ger Lyons won the 2011 Cheveley Park with Lightening Pearl; he trained 31 winners that year and 24 and 29 the following years. Eddie Lynam won the Nunthorpe with Sole Power in 2010; he had 10 winners that year and 13 and 9 respectively the next two seasons.

It was a similar story with Mick Halford and Jessica Harrington in 2010 as they won Group 1 juvenile races with Casamento and Pathfork and while it could be argued that all those trainers making the top-level breakthrough around that period was awful timing with a view to attracting new owners as they may have cannibalised each other’s opportunities, neither Adrian Keatley nor Ken Condon seem likely to ‘kick on’ from recent Classic victories. Both Lyons and Harrington have gone to another level since those wins but that was because of their broad body of work rather than one win or horse and Prendergast may well have been wise to learn that lesson from recent history.

One thing Oxx may be hoping to get from Prendergast is an edge with juveniles; Oxx has trained only one two-year-old Group winner since 2013 and if there is a single cause for his decline this might be it. His patience, once seen as a virtue, now seems a black mark for prospective owners. Oxx did have a reasonable record with juveniles in the early part of the decade but that dwindled to nought in the last five years with only nine two-year-old winners from 137 runners (6.6% strikerate) between 2014 and 2018; in that period, Prendergast was 21 from 196 (10.7% strikerate).

Last season, with Skitter Scatter playing a big part, Prendergast finished tenth in the trainers’ championship, Oxx only thirty-eighth. Combining their prizemoney would have brought them up to eighth overall. Oxx commented in a recent interview that he felt he had only seven horses that could win a race going into last season (eight won in the end) but combining his and Prendergast’s numbers puts them in a better place for 2019. Oxx ran 35 horses, Prendergast 28, and 63 total horses would have left them just behind the O’Briens, Weld, Bolger, Lyons and Harrington last year. In the same interview, Oxx said they had 75 horses in for the season and while all of them won’t run, they should be significant players.

To conclude, let’s look at a yard or two that might be due some regression, be it positive or negative. One way to do this might be to compare what a trainer did last season versus the broader picture of the last ten years but sometimes that gives a false impression. Using an approach like that, one might think that the likes of Jessica Harrington and Johnny Murtagh are due to drop off now while someone like Mick Halford or Kevin Prendergast will bounce back. The reality is that both Harrington and Murtagh are simply yards on the up, the former in particular having taken a leap seemingly out of nowhere, never having more than 28 winners prior to 2017 but having 40 in each of the past two years.

I do think that strikerate could be informative here is it takes less account of the actual of number of horses in the yard; a trainer might be able to maintain a broadly similar return regardless of how many individual runners they have from season-to-season, allowing that there are outliers now and then. So below are the ten-year strikerates of the top 20 active turf trainers versus what they did last year.

 

 

The majority of the differences are too small to be statistically significant though the numbers for Oxx and Patrick Prendergast are interesting in light of what is discussed above. The one that stands out however is Harry Rogers who had a terrible 2018 but might be about to improve on that this year. Smaller yards like his can be a hostage to fortune and the dry summer of last year hardly suited his horses, many of whom prefer an ease. I must admit to being a bit of a fanboy of this stable as I like how his horses run frequently when they are fit and better days should be ahead.

- Tony Keenan

Stat of the Day, 12th October 2018

Thursday's Pick was...

2.15 Bangor : Handy Hollow @ 3/1 BOG UR at 9/4 (Took keen hold, led, going well enough before blundered and unseated rider at 4th)

Friday's pick runs in the...

4.10 Newmarket :

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?

Astronomer @ 9/2 BOG  

...in an 11-runner, Class 2, Heritage Handicap for 3yo over 1m4f on Good to Firm ground worth £74700 to the winner...

Why?

This 3 yr old colt has finished 41111 so far, including 4/4 under today's jockey Donnacha O'Brien, 3/4 on the Flat, 2/2 at 1m4f and 2/2 in handicaps. He's won on Good, Soft and A/W too so the ground shouldn't be an issue either. This is a tougher task than he's faced so far but (a) that's why were not facing really short odds and (b) I think he has plenty more in his locker.

Over the last 14 days...

  • Trainer Aidan (AP) O'Brien is 16/52 (30.8% SR) for 10.8pts (+20.8% ROI)
  • Jockey Donnacha is 8/28 (28.6%) for 1.91pts (+6.81%)
  • And together they are 6/17 (35.3%) for 6.56pts (+38.6%)

And here on the Rowley over the last four seasons...

  • AP is 27/113 (23.9%) for 59.9pts (+53%)
  • Donnacha is 4/12 (33.3%) for 12.54pts (+104.5%)
  • And together : 4/9 (44.4%) for 15.54pts (+172.7%)

And from AP's 27 from 113 record here quoted above...

  • 11-45 days since last run : 17/64 (26.6%) for 65.8pts (+102.8%)
  • on Good to Firm : 16/50 (32%) for 74.9pts (+149.8%)
  • LTO winners : 14/44 (31.8%) for 16.9pts (+38.4%)
  • 3 yr olds : 9/45 920%) for 11.6pts (+25.7%)
  • at Class 2 : 2/7 (28.6%) for 9.66pts (+138%)

And, since the start of 2015, Irish horses (ie those with IRE after their name) are 131/998 (13.1% SR) for 131.3pts (+13.2% ROI) in UK Flat/AW handicaps after having run in Ireland last time out, from which...

  • those whose yard run most of their races in Leinster, Ireland are 88/531 (16.6%) for 165.7pts (+31.2%)
  • 16-25 days since last run : 36/202 (17.8%) for 76pts (+37.6%)
  • over a 1m4f trip : 16/81 (19.75%) for 84.6pts (+104.5%)

...and from the above, there's a nice little micro (or nugget as someone on the Gold forum very kindly described these supplementary angles) whereby in this 2015-18 timeframe, those whose yard run most of their races in Leinster, Ireland and are now racing over 7.5 to 12 furlongs, within 25 days of their last run are 33/129 (25.6% SR) for 133.9pts (+103.8% ROI), including 4 winners from 8 for 33.9pts over the last five weeks!

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on Astronomer @ 9/2 BOG, a price available from BetVictor, BlackType, Coral & Ladbrokes at 4.50pm on Thursday evening, a price still widely available at 8.45am Friday when I started typing my notes up.  To see what your preferred bookie is quoting...

...click here for the betting on the 4.10 Newmarket

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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!

Aidan O’Brien: The Season So Far

A record total of 28 Group/Grade 1 winners worldwide last year set an impossibly high bar for Aidan O’Brien to surpass in 2018 but any regression has been speeded along by a bug in the Ballydoyle barns, writes Tony Keenan. We know this because the trainer has been so open about the situation, commenting in early August that it would take six to eight weeks for his horses to come right. He added at the recent Irish Champions Weekend launch that “it went through the whole yard and all the horses got it. We hadn’t leaned on any of the horses up until last weekend [Phoenix Stakes day at the Curragh] and we thought if we got through last weekend we might be able to start leaning on them a little bit more”.

His reference to the six to eight week timeframe might be the most interesting point; his horses were probably incubating something when not at their best in June and July and aren’t expected to come back to form until mid-September at the earliest. That’s an important stage of the Irish season – Champions Weekend is on September 15th and 16th – but also shows how harmful a mid-season illness can be to a big stable as the majority of major races are at this time. Below is the breakdown of Group 1 races in Ireland and the UK by month; I have taken the race dates from 2017 here but bar one or two that are at the turn of the month, the numbers are the same this year. Those mid-summer months are vital and so too is September with six Group 1s over Champions Weekend as well as the St Leger, Sprint Cup, Cheveley Park and Middle Park.

 

UK and Irish Group 1 Races by Month

Month Number of Group 1 Races
March 0
April 0
May 6
June 11
July 7
August 7
September 9
October 8
November 0

 

Group 1 winners may be thinner on the ground than they were last year – O’Brien has eight at this point – but any virus in the yard has not been reflected in his record at home. His overall win strikerate (first table below) has been better than any of the previous four seasons and he seems sure to break the three-figure winner barrier as he has done in each of the two previous campaigns. His record in Group races (second table below) has dropped off a little but hardly so much that it is statistically significant.

 

Aidan O’Brien in recent Irish Flat Seasons

Season Wins Runs SR% Places Place SR% Actual/

Expected

2018 so far 86 366 23.5% 167 45.6% 0.92
2017 119 555 21.4% 260 46.9% 0.90
2016 117 589 19.9% 278 47.2% 0.85
2015 98 441 22.2% 193 43.8% 0.94
2014 103 520 19.8% 208 40.0% 0.86

 

Aidan O’Brien in Irish Group Races

Season Wins Runs SR% Places Place SR% Actual/

Expected

2018 so far 17 94 18.1% 38 40.4% 0.80
2017 32 151 21.2% 75 49.7% 0.99
2016 25 118 21.2% 51 43.2% 0.82
2015 20 84 23.8% 37 44.1% 1.16
2014 23 115 20.0% 41 35.7% 1.03
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But Group 1’s are ultimately where it is at for Ballydoyle and only Lancaster Bomber has managed to win an Irish Group 1 in 2018, from seven in all thus far. That obviously takes in the Classics too and 2018 is in danger of becoming the first year since 2005 in which O’Brien failed to train an Irish Classic winner; since 2009, he has won 19 of the 49 Classics as we can see below. It is odds-on however that he maintains that impressive record with Order Of St George set to go off a very short price for the Irish St. Leger, his task eased by Torcedor moving to be trained in Germany in recent days.

 

Irish Classic Winners since 2009

Year 2,000 Guineas 1,000 Guineas Derby Oaks St. Leger
2018 Condon Harrington JPOB Haggas ?
2017 APOB APOB APOB Gosden APOB
2016 Prendergast Keatley Weld APOB Mullins
2015 APOB Bolger Gosden Palmer APOB
2014 Gosden APOB APOB APOB Dascombe
2013 APOB Hills JSB Royer-Dupre Weld
2012 APOB Channon APOB Gosden Carmody
2011 APOB APOB APOB Al Zarooni Gosden/Johnston
2010 Hannon Weld APOB Dunlop Noseda
2009 APOB Wachman APOB Bell Oxx

 

The place where the yard’s issues have really been felt is with the UK runners and the next table reveals how his strikerate, win and place, has fallen dramatically. UK races are vitally important to the Coolmore/Ballydoyle operation: there are few cases when a trainer would not prefer to win a UK version of a race than the Irish equivalent, the Epsom Derby being typically a better race than the Curragh one for instance, with the Irish Champion Stakes a notable exception. Not only that but the UK simply has far more Group 1 opportunities, 36 Group 1’s versus 13 in Ireland this year.

With this in mind, Ireland is sometimes the training ground for the O’Brien runners but the UK is the testing ground and by-and-large in 2018 they have been failing. Part of that might be the standard of competition: in the UK so far this year, the average field size in Group races has been 9.2 runners whereas in Ireland it is 7.1 and oftentimes there will be [many] more than one O’Brien runner in the latter. His horses seem able to get away with being just a little off concert pitch at home but not on their travels. Interestingly however, the lack of success hasn’t deterred the trainer, with O’Brien having more UK runners than ever before this season. I wrote last year that as his yard gets bigger this was an inevitable consequence as he sought more suitable targets for them. (link: https://www.geegeez.co.uk/irish-champions-weekend-2017-the-best-gets-better/)

 

Aidan O’Brien in recent UK Flat Seasons

Season Wins Runs SR% Places Place SR% Actual/

Expected

2018 so far 13 142 9.2% 43 30.3% 0.59
2017 32 165 19.4% 69 41.8% 1.07
2016 28 133 21.1% 70 52.6% 0.98
2015 17 78 21.8% 37 47.4% 0.97
2014 11 81 13.4% 24 29.6% 0.82

 

O’Brien has had eight Group 1 winners this year: Saxon Warrior (2,000 Guineas), Rhododendron (Lockinge), Lancaster Bomber (Tattersalls Gold Cup), Forever Together (Oaks), Merchant Navy (Diamond Jubilee), Athena (Belmont Oaks), Kew Gardens (Grand Prix de Paris) and U S Navy Flag (July Cup). That none of them has managed a second Group 1 thus far hasn’t helped; as you can see below, eight horses won multiple Group 1’s for the yard last year. That table includes all their Group 1 winners from 2017 and their fates since. There have been some untimely injuries, notably with Capri, but these things are inevitable with a stable of that size. It is the fillies from last year that have been the most disappointing; the big four juveniles (Happily, Magical, September and Clemmie) have contributed little while the two flower girls, Rhododendron and Hydrangea, have regressed from promising returns.

 

2017 Group 1 Winners

Horse 2017 Group 1 Wins 2018
Churchill 2 Retired
Winter 4 Retired
Wings Of Eagles 1 Retired
Highland Reel 3 Retired
Caravaggio 1 Retired
Capri 2 1 run, injured thereafter
Roly Poly 3 Retired
Sioux Nation 1 1 win (Group 3) from 5 starts
Hydrangea 2 0 wins from 3 starts
Happily 2 0 wins from 4 starts
Order Of St George 1 2 wins (Group 3, Listed) from 3 starts
Clemmie 1 0 wins from 3 starts
Rhododendron 1 1 win (Group 1) from 5 starts
U S Navy Flag 2 1 win (Group 1) from 5 starts
Saxon Warrior 1 1 win (Group 1) from 4 starts
Mendelssohn 1 2 wins (Group 2, Listed) from 4 starts

 

With all this in mind, the next few weeks take on an additional significance. By the sounds of things, the O’Brien horses are only really starting back at the Ebor meeting and it will be fascinating to see how the market deals with them. Certainly the trainer left the impression in recent comments that Saxon Warrior’s main autumn aim was the Irish Champion Stakes rather than the Juddmonte International, and historically the Ebor fixture has not been a good one for O’Brien (see below), perhaps all the more so this year as he builds towards Irish Champions Weekend, the Arc meeting and beyond.

 

Aidan O’Brien at the Ebor Meeting (since 2003)

Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/

Expected

10 117 8.6% 44 37.6% -78.39 0.50

 

So what might all this mean? In reality, very little. A drop-off from the highs of 2017 was likely and Aidan O’Brien does not strike me as a man under pressure, at least judging by his dealings with the media. There were times in the past when a down period like this might have produced some external evidence of stress but seemingly not anymore. His status as Master of Ballydoyle is like that of Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford or Bill Belichick at Foxboro yet he now deals with the media much better than the latter in times of adversity; if you have never seen Belichick’s ‘Moving on to Cincinnati’ interview following a heavy loss, here it is!

O’Brien certainly hasn’t blanked media questions with ‘moving on to Irish Champions Weekend’ comments, in fact quite the opposite; he has been utterly open about wellbeing or otherwise of his horses this season and is in general a much-improved communicator with the media. Regardless of what unfolds between now and season end, I suspect he will look back fondly on a  season when his sons trained and rode the Irish Derby winner with Latrobe, a Group 1 race he didn’t want to win!

- Tony Keenan

Monday Musings: Blame it on the novichok…

You can blame it all on novichok and Brexit, writes Tony Stafford. But for the political reaction to the first Salisbury poisonings back in the spring of a former Russian spy who years ago sold secrets to the British, and his daughter, many more England supporters would have dared to travel to Russia for the World Cup.

It was suggested around 3,000 England fans were in the stadium in Samara on Saturday as they beat Sweden 2-0. By my reckoning, not far short of 3,000 more blocked the traffic going down from Regents Park towards Camden Town at around 5.30 on Saturday afternoon. Luckily I was able to take a right turn and escape with a clean car unlike the Emergency Ambulance, jumped upon and as good as wrecked in Borough High Street, Central London, that evening.

As England’s path to a second World Cup win moves ever closer, confusion over Brexit and indeed novichok, following another dual exposure in the Salisbury area late last week, deepens.

David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, resigned over the weekend. Governments like to issue bad news when there are other distractions, so Mrs May might well be grateful of the progress in the World Cup by the home country’s footballers.

She will probably also be relieved that it was Croatia rather than the hosts that won Saturday’s other quarter-final after a penalty shoot-out in Sochi. Croatia’s female president showed her dancing skills when her team opened the scoring, while Russia’s PM Medvedev looked away. Considering the extreme cool in the Putin – May relations since Salisbury, it might be worth Betfair’s opening a market on whether Theresa will find time to travel to the Final next Saturday should we be there, with so much turmoil around Westminster.

My Internet-minded wife did show me one video image late yesterday, on the reaction of the Russian police when one misguided England fan, mirroring the ambulance abuse back home, jumped on a vehicle over there. Within seconds he was hauled off and got an instant “correction” from a policeman’s baton.

I played cricket the only time we won the World Cup when probably a good few of Eton Manor’s team preferred to watch the football. On Saturday I was at Sandown for the Coral-Eclipse Stakes which suffered a last-minute absentee when Masar, the Investec Derby winner had to miss the race through a minor setback.

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Many thought Sheikh Mohammed and his Godolphin entourage might also avoid the engagement, but such is the renewed confidence especially with the Charlie Appleby end of the team, that there was a full contingent to see Hawkbill finish fourth. While not collecting the major prize, Sheikh Mo will have been gratified to see the Derby form upheld, with Roaring Lion, third at Epsom, maintaining his superiority over Saxon Warrior, fourth in the big one, in a tight finish.

Had the pair been competing in France or the US then the slightly errant late course of Roaring Lion, which caused Saxon Warrior to be tightened up might well have been reversed. But with the Sandown crowd building up the excitement with those other Lions about to take to the pitch in Samara, the result, a popular one with the favourite winning, was allowed to stand. The four-day ban that Oisin Murphy, 22, received for the move on Donnacha O’Brien, 19, was enough to salve any protests.

It has been widely assumed that Donnacha , already the possessor of three Classic wins this year to Ryan Moore’s zero, will not wish or be able to continue riding for much longer. Elder brother Joseph at 25 is already an established top-level trainer a couple of years in after his precipitous retirement, but the incentive for the younger O’Brien to remain in the jockey arena could hardly be more attractive.

Well used to reading in the footnotes to ordinary races in Ireland that his mounts would be liable to carrying overweight – 9st was supposed to be his absolute limit – it certainly surprised me that he was allowed to resume his 2,000 Guineas winning partnership with Saxon Warrior. Moore, absent on Kentucky Derby duties with Mendelssohn on that first Saturday in May, was back on the favourite both at Epsom and The Curragh, but again in the US for the very disappointing Mendelssohn at Belmont Park on Saturday night. Luckily Athena – my late mum’s name – picked up just short of 400k when winning the Belmont Oaks, so the trip did have some minor financial recompense for his troubles.

Saxon Warrior, along with the other three-year-olds in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse, had 8st11lb, but when I asked Aidan O’Brien after the race whether Donnacha had “done” the weight, there was a hint of surprise that I’d even asked. He did. As with Lester Piggott in an earlier age, and until recently George Baker, the lofty Donnacha is showing the amazing will-power that jockeys can employ to manage their weight and of course their appetite.

My appetite was given a bit of a test in the Coral tent – no doubt the early start, England’s match and above all a blockade on the M25 contributed to a host of non-runners among the guest list– after I got a late call from Matt Yates, to partake of some excellent victuals.

Matt was an Olympian 1500-metre runner and if you could believe it actually beat Messrs Coe and Ovett back in the day. He walks pretty quickly too, and his athletic prowess didn’t hurt as he shepherded Coral and Ladbrokes customers from table to bar, and of course to the betting point while Colin Brown (without Desert Orchid) mastered the ceremonies in his usual effortless style.

The food was good, the company even better and until attention switched from horse racing to England on the big screen it was all serene. The initial stages of the match were fairly sterile, and the decision was made to drive back with Peter Ashmore and family to St John’s Wood and watch the second half and the inevitable shoot-out after the probable 0-0 draw in comfort and quiet.

Harry Maguire’s missile-guided head had already altered calculations by the time we got there and the second goal by Dele Alli offered security. It was left to some excellent saves by Jordan Pickford – “that’s what he’s there for” – to retain the victory margin and disguise the actual superiority. With two games to go, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a win. Champions of the World!

Will Mrs May dare to go, though, and sit alongside President Putin at the Final in Moscow? Or even more intriguingly will it be Boris, as Foreign Secretary, or will he have resigned by then, too, in an attempt to unseat the PM and nick the top job for himself amid the inevitable fall-out? When I used occasionally to be in close proximity to Boris (and others of course) going up in the the lift at the old Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street all those years ago, I’d never have believed where he and all of us would be now.

While there may be distractions, the top trainers do not allow themselves to be diverted. On Saturday there were notable multiple wins, not the least impressive being Ian Williams’ four-timer – one at Haydock and three-out-of-three for a 143-1 treble from his only runners at Nottingham.

The horseboxes rolled out early from Kingsley House on Saturday morning, no doubt waking the owners in the guest apartments, aiming for six of the seven Flat meetings on the day- avoiding perhaps fortuitously Sandown and those motorway frustrations.

Mark Johnston’s sole Nottingham runner finished only fourth, but his other 23 contenders fared far more impressively. I wonder whether expectations were particularly high, as of the 24, only two started favourite and neither Austrian School, runner-up as 4-1 market leader at Haydock or the odds-on Winger Spur also second at Beverley, could quite justify the position.

Otherwise it was success everywhere else, with wins at Chelmsford (two), Carlisle, Leicester, Beverley and another double at Haydock. In price order, the winners started at 20-1, 12-1, 8-1, 6-1, 9-2, and 5-2 twice. Johnston had sent out 28 winners in the previous 14 days, so with another at Ayr yesterday, that makes it 36 wins in 16 days. Man in form? He’s almost in the Gareth Southgate class.

Tony Keenan: Training by Gender

About two years ago I wrote about the main Irish flat trainers and how successful or otherwise they were with horses over various trips; it has taken some time, too long in fact, but I now want to follow up and look at the records of those handlers with different genders, writes Tony Keenan. With this in mind, I looked at all Irish flat races between 2012 and 2017, turf and all-weather, which took in 6,727 races and 72,409 runners in all. The average field size for these races was 10.76 runners making the average strikerate 9.29%. Below is a breakdown of all those races, first by simple gender, and then by more specific horse type.

 

Gender

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Actual/Expected

Impact Value

Male 4,195 41,867 10.02% 0.82 1.08
Female 2,532 30,542 8.29% 0.77 0.89

 

Horse Type

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Actual/Expected

Impact Value

Colt 1,388 9,620 14.43% 0.85 1.55
Horse 48 355 13.52% 0.87 1.45
Gelding 2,759 31,892 8.65% 0.81 0.93
Filly 2,1111 24,929 8.47% 0.77 0.91
Mare 421 5,613 7.50% 0.78 0.81

 

A few universal truths emerge from this. Male horses make up a bigger proportion of the fields during this time, 58% versus 42% for females, and they win more often too. Keep this in mind later on when looking at the records of different trainers; a trainer may have a lower strikerate with fillies and mares than they have with colts, horses or geldings but it could still be better when compared to the overall horse population.

During this article, the focus will be on the top ten Irish trainers between 2012 and 2017 in terms of total winners trained; I’ve taken out David Wachman because he has since retired which leaves Aidan O’Brien, Dermot Weld, Jim Bolger, Ger Lyons, Michael Halford, Eddie Lynam, Willie McCreery, Jessica Harrington, John Oxx and Kevin Prendergast. Below are their respective records with fillies and mares in the period covered and the order is taken from their total winners in that time.

 

Trainer

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Actual/Expected

A. O’Brien 187 1,236 15.13% 0.80
D. Weld 233 1,159 20.10% 0.90
J. Bolger 167 1,616 10.33% 0.76
G. Lyons 81 452 17.92% 1.05
M. Halford 96 887 10.82% 0.77
E. Lynam 78 643 12.87% 0.89
W. McCreery 125 1,122 11.14% 0.92
J. Harrington 68 817 8.32% 0.73
J. Oxx 66 523 12.62% 0.76
K. Prendergast 55 568 9.68% 0.78

 

The first thing that jumps out is that Aidan O’Brien isn’t the best at something in Irish flat racing, Dermot Weld is clearly superior in terms of strikerate and winners trained. Ger Lyons is next in strikerate though with relatively few female runners in that time: despite training the fourth highest total winners in this time, he ran the fewest fillies with the next trainer (John Oxx) having 71 more. Willie McCreery is the opposite, running the fourth most fillies and mares in this time and having one of the better actual over expected figures. Of the top ten, Jessica Harrington comes out worst in strikerate, her figure of 8.32% only marginally better than the national average of 8.29% when you would expect the main trainers to be comfortably beating that.

Next let’s compare those strikerates with both their overall records and how they do with male runners.

 

Trainer

Overall Strikerate

Male Strikerate

Female Strikerate

A. O’Brien 21.28% 25.06% 15.13%
D. Weld 17.18% 14.68% 20.10%
J. Bolger 12.32% 14.38% 10.33%
G. Lyons 17.23% 17.02% 17.92%
M. Halford 12.44% 13.36% 10.82%
E. Lynam 11.78% 11.43% 12.87%
W. McCreery 10.27% 7.54% 11.14%
J. Harrington 9.70% 11.30% 8.32%
J. Oxx 13.42% 14.35% 12.62%
K. Prendergast 9.62% 9.56% 9.68%
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The expectation here based on the overall horse population is that trainers should do better with colts and geldings so it is the yards that deviate from the norm that are most interesting. That Weld has a much better record with females than males was surprising though the McCreery figures were much more expected; my anecdotal sense looking at his runners was that he did well with fillies and mares. Ger Lyons is a really unusual case in that his strikerate is consistent across the board but that was also the case when looking at distance in the previous article. Bolger, along with Harrington, doesn’t do as well when compared with their record with males.

To wrap up looking at the top ten trainers as a whole, let’s consider how their stables are broken down in terms of male and female runners. The overall population is 58% male and 42% female in this time so they are the base rates to work off and perhaps also bear in mind whether trainers with good/poor strikerates are training too many or too few fillies and mares.

 

Trainer

% of Males

% of Females

A. O’Brien 61.9% 38.1%
D. Weld 53.9% 46.1%
J. Bolger 49.1% 50.9%
G. Lyons 76.9% 23.1%
M. Halford 63.9% 36.1%
E. Lynam 50.7% 49.3%
W. McCreery 24.2% 75.8%
J. Harrington 46.1% 53.9%
J. Oxx 46.0% 54.0%
K. Prendergast 50.8% 49.2%

 

Some of these trainers seem to have things spot-on; Willie McCreery’s yard is predominately female and while some of this may be self-fulfilling it does make sense. Dermot Weld has more than normal percentage of fillies and mares but it does look as if a few of these trainers might be leaning too much towards females, notably Jim Bolger and Jessica Harrington.

But it’s Ger Lyons that is the really strange one. Despite having the second-best strikerate with fillies and mares, his yard is heavily stacked towards males; unlike Bolger and Harrington, he probably isn’t training enough fillies.

The trainer says this is because his has traditionally been a selling yard and without black type it is difficult to sell fillies. Furthermore, Hong Kong – where a number of his horses have been exported to – have no real interest in fillies. That said, he has been buying more fillies in the last two years and in 2017 he had 22 winners from 115 female runners, whereas his previous highs were 13 winners (2013 and 2015) and 80 runners (also 2013).

Lyons has had Group race success with fillies this year courtesy of Who’s Steph and Lightening Quick, and that is reflected in his overall record with different genders in the better races. Furthermore, his sole Group 1 winner to date was the filly Lightening Pearl. Below is his record in UK and Irish Group and Listed races between 2012 and 2017 by gender.

 

Gender

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Level Stakes

Actual/Expected

Male 21 198 10.6% -75.15 0.67
Female 13 94 13.8% -26.14 0.98

 

Weld however remains the best with fillies and mares and has had nearly twice as many female than male Group and Listed winners in UK and Ireland between 2012 and 2017, 70 versus 36. Those looking for a punting angle might consider linking this back to the training for distance article; Weld is not a trainer of sprinters but does well over longer trips. Below is his record over varying distances with female runners in the period covered.

 

Distance

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Level Stakes

Actual/Expected

5f – 6½f 15 158 9.49% -79.52 0.58
7f – 8½f 101 532 18.99% -108.50 0.88
9f plus 121 485 24.95% -26.96 1.01

 

In the period covered, McCreery has managed only one male Pattern winner as against 14 female winners of such races; his best horse to date, Fiesolana, came around the start of this time and may have helped in bringing more fillies and mares in. In terms of betting on his fillies and mares, age is something to consider as seen in the table below. One word of warning however: the massive level-stakes profit is due to some big-priced winners including 66/1, 25/1 and 16/1 (three times). Still, his strikerate is markedly better with the older ones.

 

Age

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Level Stakes

Actual/Expected

2yos 25 255 9.80% -84.77 0.86
3yos 49 517 9.48% -161.82 0.76
4yos plus 53 376 14.1% +77.24 1.17

 

The red herring in the whole group however is Jessica Harrington, her overall strikerate with fillies and mares the worst of the top ten trainers. This is despite her best flat horse to date, Alpha Centauri, being a filly and this could be a case where the numbers cannot be trusted. If we look at her 18 Listed and Group winners between 2012 and 2017, we see that 11 were by fillies and mares and that includes the talented pair Bocca Baciata and Jack Naylor. Maybe she is good with the better fillies but not so much with the ones down the pecking order.

This is only one way of measuring a trainer’s success with fillies and mares and there are obviously other methods of doing it, getting black type for a high proportion of their female runners something that springs to mind. Still, we are working off a reasonable sample size of six years racing, and it raises some interesting questions, not least about whether or not trainers sell themselves as being good with fillies. I suspect Willie McCreery already does and Ger Lyons should do it a bit more.

- Tony Keenan

Irish Flat Season 2017: Winners and Losers

Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup are to come but the domestic turf season in Ireland is effectively over with only five meetings left. so now is a good time to take stock before we go full bore into national hunt mode. 2017 will go down as a good year with Enable, Aidan O’Brien’s drive for 25 and Keane versus Smullen among the memorable stories, though we probably could have done without rain spoiling play on many of the major race days. Rather than grade the trainers again this year I’ve decided to go with a winners and losers approach, a change being as good as a rest and all that.

 

Winner: Aidan O’Brien

Breaking Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group 1 winners in a season has been coming for a while with O’Brien but there was the suspicion that it would take a perfect storm of circumstances to finally get over the line. In reality, that unique set of conditions didn’t unfold as the trainer had plenty go wrong this season; his best horse from 2016 (Minding) had to retire early on, his dual Guineas winner Churchill failed to build on early successes while the pick of his juvenile colts (Gustav Klimt) never got to compete at the top level.

Yet it is almost inevitable that O’Brien will break the record anyway and even in an age of Group 1 inflation it rates a sizeable achievement. The trainer himself is apparently nonplussed by the whole situation and has always struck me as having a keen sense of living in the present; he always seems to think one of his current crop is his best ever! But racing is a sport with an especially rich history attached and it is worth celebrating.

As a side-note, one also has to admire his appreciation for each and every one of his big winners and it seems the feeling of winning has not gotten old for him despite its frequency. Perhaps that simply comes with the territory of dealing with horses and the manifold disappointments they provide but I would certainly have his attitude over the stony-faced ‘celebrations’ of Jim Gavin after Dublin’s All-Ireland win.

 

Loser: Dermot Weld

With 40 winners at the time of writing, Weld is in line for his lowest total since at least 1988 and probably before that; 1988 is as far back as the Racing Post database for season totals goes back. Not only is it his worst tally in nearly 30 years but it is significantly below his next lowest tally of 61 winners in 2004. Zhukova’s win in the Man o’ War at Belmont back in May will likely rate the high-point but even that was a lacklustre affair as she beat a motley crew of four opponents in a race that was run early due to a thunderstorm.

Galway was clearly disappointing with just two winners for the yard though a pair of successes over Irish Champions Weekend for Eziyra and Shamreen were warmly received. To be fair to the trainer, he flagged things up from an early stage, stating that his string were suffering with a virus back in May and indeed his number of runners has been well down on previous years. Pat Smullen was an obvious victim of the down campaign but it is to his credit that he has still managed to make the jockeys’ championship such a tight race given the relative lack of firepower from a yard that is typically his strongest supporter.

 

Winner: Johnny Murtagh

Murtagh will likely finish 2017 with fewer winners than in 2016 but overall he’s been a much improved trainer in recent seasons after a rocky start to his new career; none of this comes as the greatest surprise given the resilience he has shown in both personal and professional spheres throughout his life. What is most impressive about his operation is that there is a plan in place and for him it is all about the two-year-olds; far too many trainers seem to approach the campaign piecemeal with no sense of overall objectives.

But in 2017 Murtagh has sought to exploit an opening in the programme book and the trainer had every right to recently tweet out that his 57% winner to runner ratio with juveniles paces the field in 2017, ahead of Aidan O’Brien on 48% and Ger Lyons on 45% with the next best on 33%. I’ve been critical of Murtagh’s placing of horses here in the past but his methods with juveniles this season are beyond reproach; he managed to win Plus Ten races (races where there is an extra £10,000 to winner along with the usual prizemoney) with all eight of his juvenile winners with three – Golden Spell, Guessthebill and Too Familiar – winning two such races. None of his two-year-olds are stars, far from it in fact, but to basically double their prizemoney on 11 separate occasions is exemplary race planning.

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Loser: David Wachman

David Wachman might well be enjoying life to the full now and good luck to him if so but the racing professional in him may regret the timing of his decision to retire at the end of 2016. The likes of Rain Goddess and White Satin Dancer were good prospects for this season but the campaign would likely have been all about Winter, already a four-time Group 1 winner for Aidan O’Brien with the potential of more to come this Saturday.

Some might argue that her success is simply a by-product of her move to Ballydoyle but while O’Brien is clearly the superior trainer of the two, that is to do Wachman down a little as he showed he could skilfully manage a similar type when he had Legatissimo in her classic season of 2014. It is also likely that he would have had some of the excellent juvenile fillies that currently reside in Ballydoyle under his care and it is hardly a ridiculous suggestion that Clemmie may have been one of those given he trained both her dam Meow and sister Curlylocks before the brother Churchill ever came along.

 

Winner: Brendan Duke

Despite making no meaningful impact on the trainers’ championship, Duke will go down as one of the stars of 2017 for his campaigning of Warm The Voice... and I mean his media campaign as much as anything! The horse has been a good juvenile, winning three times including a premier nursery at Listowel and getting black-type when third in the Beresford, but the real story has been Duke’s interviews both in print and on TV.

His raw enthusiasm for horses and the sport have engaged many and his openness is a lesson to other trainers. There’s a wonderful sense of humour in there too and a sharp knack for the one-liners from comparing Warm To Voice to an ice-cream (‘he loves himself so much he’d lick himself’) to commenting on the difficult choice Kevin Manning would face at Newmarket next May when he had to pick between Duke’s stable star and Verbal Dexterity.

 

Loser: Camelot

One of the most overrated horses of this century, Camelot seems likely to prove little better as a sire with the his best progeny topping out at a Racing Post Rating of just 100 and a single Listed race being the most high-profile success to date. It is early days for a horse that stayed 14 furlongs as a three-year-old and perhaps his stock will do better in time but it does seem significant that Aidan O’Brien has yet to train a winner sired by his one-time star.

His three Irish winners have instead been trained by Patrick Prendergast, Jessica Harrington and Gavin Cromwell with the pick of his Ballydoyle-based runners thus far being the limited Lucius Tiberius; after I backed said horse recently, a fellow punter remarked that he could not be any good with a name like that! Camelot has however sired winners in Russia and Italy and that might be where he finishes up for all the brilliant naming possibilities offered by Arthurian legend.

 

Winner: Galway

It rained plenty in Galway during race week with racing taking place on varying degrees of soft across the seven days but that did little to quell enthusiasm for all that crowd numbers and bookmaker turnover were slightly down. The big players may have won the Plate and Hurdle with Willie Mullins also taking home the top trainer prize but a greatly reduced Weld factor led to a number of winners on the flat from unexpected sources, most of which came with their own stories.

Among them were Bubbly Bellini hitting another marker on the way to 20 career wins, Cascavelle providing Robbie McNamara with a first Galway winner, Remarkable Lady winning for Team Rogers and Browne on Hurdle Day, Perfect Soldier bringing the house down for Michael O’Callaghan and his Racing Club and of course Warm The Voice and Brendan Duke. The Fahey brothers too had an excellent week and it is winners like this that breathe life into the grassroots of the sport and encourage potential owners to get involved.

 

Loser: The Curragh

The decision to race on at the Curragh amidst building works was a debacle from the outset and became all the more unsatisfactory as we had to listen to mealy-mouthed justifications about maintaining the integrity of the racing programme. Leopardstown was the obvious alternative and arguments about the proximity of 12-furlong start to a bend and lack of a straight sprint course rang hollow when we consider some of the compromises that have been made elsewhere. A decision to hold the Curragh’s programme at another track would have created a welcome novelty factor akin to Royal Ascot at York in 2005 but instead we got a lot of bad will towards the course.

By the end of the season it was difficult to find anyone outside of the decision-makers who were in support of the Curragh continuing to race. The weather certainly didn’t help with feature days like the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and second day of Irish Champions Weekend blighted by rain but the fact that the track failed to reach capacity for the last two meetings said plenty. In any case, the Curragh’s susceptibility to bad weather was hardly news to anyone who regularly attends the track and we have to endure more of the same in 2018. A bad situation, made all the worst by the unnecessary nature of it all.

 

Winner: Colin Keane

Regardless of the outcome of the jockeys’ championship, Colin Keane has been a big winner in 2017, rising from champion apprentice just three seasons ago to be one of the biggest players in the weigh-room at just 23. His record in the saddle has been one of continual progression, his winner totals rising from 1 in 2010, to 9, 12, 42, 66, 75 and 90 in the succeeding seasons with 90 his current total. 2017 may have been a down year for the Weld/Smullen connection but that shouldn’t take away from Keane’s achievement and top-level sport is all about grasping opportunity when it presents itself.

Central to that achievement is that he is competing without the support of either Ballydoyle or Rosewell and is bidding to become the first champion jockey since Declan McDonogh in 2005 to reach the top when based with a stable other than the big two. It points not only to Keane’s ambition but also to Ger Lyons, who has to be commended for taking on a prospective champion so early and putting him in a position of responsibility.

- Tony Keenan

 

Monday Musings: The Record is On!

So the record is on, so much so that Paddy Power has paid out already, writes Tony Stafford. I’m not sure how many people got involved in betting that Aidan O’Brien would exceed the 25 Group or Grade 1 wins in a calendar year set by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003, but we’re all mighty interested, now it looks like happening.

In 2008 Aidan got to 23 and despite a large contingent (eight) at that Breeders’ Cup and a trio in the Melbourne Cup, he could not quite make the mark. The Ballydoyle stable will be aiming to complete the task in Europe, never mind what could be achieved at Del Mar next month.

The remarkable Roly Poly overcame (with help from a gently-rebuked, two day-banned, Ryan Moore) a difficult draw to make most and collect her third Group 1 with a battling performance in Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes. The same doggedness which enabled her to follow Winter home in the Coronation Stakes after seeing off the French 1,000 Guineas winner halfway round at Royal Ascot was fully employed once more.

It is that innate toughness and propensity to improve that characterises the O’Brien team. There are four Group 1 winning three-year-old mile fillies, with Winter supreme having won both English and Irish 1,000 Guineas along with the Coronation. Rhododendron and Hydrangea also collected at that level in the autumn and it is possible to rank all three superior to Saturday’s winner on some performances.

There is a similar story among the two-year-old fillies. Clemmie (Cheveley Park), Happily (Grand Criterium Jean Luc Lagardere, against the colts), Magical (Moyglare) and September are all highly-ranked and deservedly so.

On a lower level – but given time, who knows? Like Winter, Rhododendron and Hydrangea, Bye Bye Baby is a daughter of Galileo. Her dam, Remember When, by Danehill Dancer, was second in the Oaks but never won. She is, though, closely related to Group winners Wedding Vow and Beacon Rock.

Bye Bye Baby did not make the track until August 16 when she finished a modest sixth of ten in a fillies’ race on The Curragh. She returned there ten days later for a Group 3 and finished fourth. Two weeks on, she was caught late after making most in an 18-runner maiden at Leopardstown. Ryan Moore, who rode her there, had the mount again when she made her fourth appearance within six weeks in a maiden on the Cheveley Park/Middle Park/Cambridgeshire undercard and made all.

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After that race, Moore was suggesting she could easily cope with a raise in class and yesterday at Navan, she was one of a trio of Aidan O’Brien fillies in a Listed race, and made all to win comfortably. At the present rate of progress she could be in the top division in her stable next year when the Classics come round.

The advantage Bobby Frankel and anyone in the US had and has over anyone in Europe is that the big stables can have different divisions permanently based on either side of the country. So while nominally in California, a trainer could and often does have an assistant located in New York, Florida or the Mid-West, with a large team of horses to cover the race programmes and the multiple Grade 1 races on offer in the various regions.

For a stable based in Ireland, there are only 12 domestic Group 1 races, compared with 36 in Great Britain and 27 in France, so he has to travel. Germany with seven and Italy with one make up the grand total of 83 across Europe. At this point there are 11 more Group 1 races still to be run in Europe, seven in the UK, three in France and one in Germany. Ireland’s stock has been used up.

O’Brien has his eyes on the first of them, Friday’s Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket, where his quintet includes the top trio Happily, Magical and September, the last of whom it would seem may have freshness on her side. The potential squad also includes lesser winners Ballet Shoes and Sizzling, respectively third and fourth behind Bye Bye Baby yesterday.

Then comes Saturday’s Dewhurst, also at Newmarket. While such as Middle Park winner and second US Navy Flag and Fleet Review, sons of War Front, and Champagne winner Seahenge (Scat Daddy) could be contenders, Moore fears that a fit-again Expert Eye might give the edge to Sir Michael Stoute’s stable. Then again, maybe the top Coolmore fillies, among them Clemmie, could be waiting in the wings.

Most of the remaining opportunities come on the following Saturday on Champions Day at Ascot. In value order the Champion Stakes (£737,000 to the winner), QE II (£623,000), Champion Sprint and Champion Filly and Mare (both £340,000) are the Group 1 races, although O’Brien will be happy enough to collect the Group 2 Long Distance Cup and its £255,000 first prize with Order of St George after his excellent Arc fourth.

The money will also be on O’Brien’s mind. Last year he set astonishingly high marks when more than doubling his previous best earnings figures. From £3.56million from 16 wins in 79 races in 2015, he advanced to £8.13 million from 28 wins in 133 runs in Britain last year.

This time he stands only one winner shy (27) from three more runners, but can be perceived to be “lagging” a little on £6,586,278. The percentages are remarkably consistent, 20 in 2015, 21 last year and 20 again now. His best ever percentage-wise was way back in 1999 when his 11 winners came from 44 runs and realised £713,000!

What is equally surprising is that in each of the last three seasons, O’Brien runners have returned significant level-stakes profits, possibly reflecting that when he sends out multiple runners, almost all are there with a chance of victory. His profit this year is 18 points from 136 runs; last year it was 22 from 133 and in 2015, a massive 47 points profit from only 79 runs. That makes a combined 88 points from 348 runners, a yield of more than 25% on level stakes.

With John Gosden way back on £4.28 million (although Enable earned the team £2.44 million when winning the Arc) O’Brien would only need a couple of the major prizes and a sprinkling of the generous places available to meet last year’s demanding standards. Expect a mass attack on the Champion Stakes, QE II and the Fillies and Mares, although there will need to be an element of Breeders’ Cup consideration.

The last UK Group 1 is the Racing Post Trophy and there is usually a strong Ballydoyle representation in that. One disappointment about the Racing Post Trophy is that the minimum standard prizemoney for a European Group 1 race is a total of £200,000 and the race is worth precisely that with £113,400 going to the winner.

This might seem slightly embarrassing given that at Velifiendi racecourse in Istanbul, Turkey, last month five international races were staged over the two-day weekend and three of them, all designated local Group races were worth £98,000 to the winner and £170,000 in all, while the top two races on the Sunday carried total prizes of £385,000 and £260,000.

Either side of the Racing Post, France’s last three Group 1 races, all at Saint-Cloud, are the Royal-Oak on Oct 22, and the two Criteriums, the one-mile Criterium International and Criterium de Saint-Cloud (10 furlongs), both on the following Sunday. Germany ends Europe’s Group 1 calendar on November 1st with the Grosser Preis von Bayern in Munich.

On a different note, there was little slowing down in prices for bloodstock as evidenced by last week’s Tattersalls Book 1 at Newmarket, where a top price of four million guineas (£4.2 million) was paid by John Gosden on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin for a superb Galileo filly. As one member of Coolmore’s for-once foiled team remarked, “We’ve still got a few of them at home”. This week, starting today, Book 2 will let some of the merely seriously rich owners join in.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Baffert and O’Brien United in Cushioned Defeat

You’d be hard pushed to stand Bob Baffert alongside Aidan O’Brien and suggest they have too much in common, apart from the obvious knack of winning major races around the planet, writes Tony Stafford. Baffert, 64, is the white-haired extrovert who specialises in the big-money pots – Arrogate, for instance collecting both last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup in March this year.

He also ended US racing’s 37-year wait for a Triple Crown winner two years ago when American Pharaoh added the Belmont Stakes in June to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes triumphs, the first since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen won all three races in tight finishes with Alydar back in 1977.

I had a fleeting and slight connection with Baffert during his two earlier Triple Crown near-misses, both with horses he trained for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation, with which I had a much closer association. He was already approaching 50 years of age when Point Given, a disappointing Kentucky Derby favourite in 2001, atoned with triumphs in the Preakness and Belmont that spring/early summer.

Then the native Arizonan sourced War Emblem, winner of the 2002 Illinois Derby, securing a 90% share for the Prince, with original owner Russell Reineman retaining 10%. He immediately won the Kentucky Derby, from the front, and followed on in the Preakness. That made four successive Triple Crown race victories for trainer and owner, but a bad stumble at the start and an early bump meant the intended New York coronation was never to be. Baffert had to wait another 13 years for his place in US Turf history.

It is with some element of disbelief that we realise Aidan O’Brien has yet to win an English Triple Crown. The quietly-spoken Irishman, busy founding a family dynasty set to dominate his country’s racing industry for many years – wish I could look into that particular future, or else live to 110! – did go agonisingly close, though. Still a few years younger than Baffert was when I first encountered him, Aidan would appear to have plenty of time to find the right horse to complete that elusive treble.

In 2012, Camelot shrugged off French Fifteen to win the 2,000 Guineas before an odds-on five-length romp at Epsom preceded another simple task (if such a thing is possible in a Classic) at The Curragh. All that remained for the champion and his young rider Joseph O’Brien was the St Leger, but despite getting the trip well enough, he could not peg back Encke.

The subsequent involvement of that horse in the Godolphin steroids scandal which cost Mahmood Al Zarooni his job must leave O’Brien feeling cheated out of the right to have prepared a 16th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Nijinsky, handled by Ballydoyle predecessor, but unrelated Vincent O’Brien in 1970.

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The only other dual 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner of the present millennium was Sea The Stars, in 2009. In a sequence of unbroken success following a debut fourth place, the John Oxx-trained colt was guided to shorter-distance races after Epsom, and won successively the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion before ending his stellar career back at a mile and a half in the Arc. He never won by more than two and a half lengths, but always looked far superior to his opponents.

As a stallion he has already produced Taghrooda (Oaks and King George) and Harzand (Derby and Irish Derby), while three of his late-developing sons, Stradivarius, Crystal Ocean and Raheen House are among the strongest candidates for this year’s St Leger.

But to come back to my point about the similarity between the two disparate characters, it is their ability to shrug off defeat for a star inmate, even when the star is beaten by a stablemate.

It happened to each of them over the weekend. On Saturday night in Del Mar, Arrogate, officially and also by popular vote, the Best Horse in the World, suffered a second successive defeat in the Pacific Classic, following an earlier inexplicable fourth at 1-20 in the San Diego handicap, his first run since Dubai in March.

Baffert had been at a loss to explain that “out with the washing” run, but had a more optimistic reaction to the half-length reverse behind his Collected on Saturday. Here he was again sluggish, but rallied to good effect behind the all-the-way winner, who now has an identical seven wins from ten starts career tally to Arrogate. Where they differ is that Collected, whose only defeat in his last six runs was in the 2016 Preakness when he was distanced, has yet to make the £1 million mark, while Arrogate has amassed more than £13 million.

While clearly disappointed, saying it was like his younger son beating his elder son, Baffert managed a similar philosophical reaction to O’Brien’s yesterday when Magical and Donnacha O’Brien, his younger son, beat Happily, ridden by Ryan Moore (successor as stable jockey to elder son, Joseph), with September (Seamie Heffernan) fourth in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh.

“I expect they’ll all go to the Moyglare”, said the trainer, confident in the knowledge that victory for one of these Team Coolmore fillies represents shared success for them all. Once again it was the Galileos to the fore with Rhododendron’s full-sister coming home ahead of Gleneagles’ and Marvellous’s full-sibling.

The Camelots have been a little slow to get going, as did the Nathaniels last year, but with Enable, in line for yet another win this week in the Yorkshire Oaks, leading the way, Nathaniel’s owners, headed by Lady Rothschild and Newsells Park, have been enjoying watching a flurry of winners, generally at a mile and a half.

Since the King George, where Enable joined Winter as the best of a top–class generation of fillies, products of Nathaniel have won nine more domestic races with five in a row from August 11-16 and a Newbury double on Saturday.

The only potential opponent for Enable from Ballydoyle is Alluringly, who ended a losing run with a strong-finishing win in a Gowran Listed race over just short of ten furlongs, but whether connections fancy a third go at Enable after progressively emphatic beatings from the Gosden filly at Chester and in the Oaks is questionable.

Wednesday’s Juddmonte International at York throws up the tantalising prospect of Churchill stretching out to a mile and a quarter (and a bit) after his St James’s Palace reverse, and an encounter with Cliffs of Moher, second to now-retired Wings of Eagles in the Derby and hampered when fourth behind Ulysses in the Eclipse last time out. It would help Churchill’s stud prospects if he could get that Group 1 win at the longer distance, but stablemate Cliffs of Moher could easily give him a run for his money, never mind the others.

I hope Raheen House takes his chance in the Great Voltigeur, a race I’ve loved ever since Hethersett won it in 1962 and helped me collect a vast sum – possibly £50 – after a small stakes patent copped, with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder the other legs, as a 16-year-old. That a Bournemouth betting shop manager would allow my bet and then pay me out after my round of pitch-and-putt at Tuckton Bridge remains a source of wonder 55 years on – we were on holiday and mum and dad went shopping! – but he did and I followed up with a nice bet on Hethersett, my favourite horse of all time, in the St Leger. For the record, my favourite jumper ever was L’Escargot.

Years later, Hitman, in whom I had a share, broke down in the Voltigeur, but I still look forward to it as the best guide to the Classic. Let him run there Brian, please.

Monday Musings: Fate’s Fickle Fingers

Sometimes when watching a televised race, some of the late action gets missed as producers hone in too tightly on the principals, writes Tony Stafford. On Saturday night, the Arlington Park coverage lingered on the winning line just long enough to catch a spectacular, but horrific, moment when a stricken Permian faltered and fell and William Buick was projected somersaulting over his head.

As I was switching forward and back to my normal Saturday night viewing of yet another overseas series – into its final stage – I didn’t keep up fully with the aftermath, save being pretty certain that the brave Permian’s career was at a tragic end. But until the following morning, I was unaware of Buick’s injury to a vertebra. I’ve known William and his father Walter for a long time and hope and trust that his recovery will be swift.

It befell Charlie Johnston to be on hand to accept family responsibility in the midst of a season of hitherto unparalleled success for the Middleham stable. Permian had been the standard bearer, winning the Dante and King Edward VII before failing by an agonising nose in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

He’d only been uncompetitive previously in the Investec Derby, but for once not because of unsuitability to the track, over which he previously collected the Derby Trial. Here he was beaten a long way from home, the serious leg injury which caused the fall proving an undeserved and premature end to a brilliant career.

The Johnston stable has been in the midst of an exceptional run, most times getting somewhere around 18 wins in the fortnightly portions as reported daily in the Racing Post trainers’ feature.

Among the three most active stables – the others being Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon – Johnston has been winning at a considerably higher rate, both in percentage wins to run terms, and on the winners to horses standpoint.

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So far 156 victories have been achieved from 914 runs, with 94 individual winners from 184 horses and a domestic prizemoney tally of £2,333,676. The stable’s best of 216 was managed in both 2009 and 2013, while the most prizemoney of £2,992,112 came in 2014. Both those optimum figures, wins and money, must be within reach given the overall well-being of the team.

To compare and contrast, Fahey stands on 127 wins from 1088 runs with 100 individual winners from 261 horses. His prizemoney of £2,834,692 has been swelled by the exploits of such as Ribchester.

Hannon’s 126 wins from 846 runs – 96 individual winners from 227 horses – and domestic earnings of £1,926,341 leaves him some way back in third among the three biggest strings. John Gosden always operates on a more selective level. His 78 wins have been earned from only 385 runs and from 62 individual horses of 153 to run. He has earned £3,137,442 and is in line to beat his previous best of £4,241,991 in 2014, given that more mammoth prizes are likely to fall to his champion middle-distance filly Enable.

A cursory look at the official handicap marks of the 84 horses at present in action in Gosden’s stable explains the high conversion rate from runners into cash. Of 84 with official marks, 20 are rated above 110; 20 more in the bracket 100-109. A further 22 are in the 90-99 category; 16 stand between 80 and 89, with only four in the 70’s and just two in the 60’s.

In the face of such an overall high standard from Gosden, and the greater numerical opposition from Fahey and Hannon, Johnston’s achievement of winning so many races already, with a stable of wide-ranging abilities, is outstanding.

The Raymond Tooth team can hardly claim 2017 to be a vintage year in either money or winning terms so far, but there was more than a chink of light from the Mick Quinn-trained Stanhope when he came right back to the form of his Newmarket late June win when a length runner-up to the progressive Dark Power at Leicester yesterday.

That was creditable as Stanhope had been raised to 82 (from 74) after beating the subsequent dual winner Hart Stopper by three lengths on the July Course. Fran Berry, in the saddle on both good efforts, had been unavailable when he trailed home last after losing a shoe in between the Berry runs. He thinks the gelding has another pay-day in him.

Berry was also on the Quinn team when Great Hall – once owned by the boss – fulfilled stable expectations (backed at 20-1 by the trainer in the week, by all accounts) in the Shergar Cup on Saturday, a first Ascot success for Quinny. I know Tony Hind, Berry’s agent had been hoping for a real run at the jockeys’ title this year, but the early-season breach from his retainer with Ralph Beckett – and Silvestre’s ridiculous run of success – disrupted those ambitions.

With Buick likely to be out of action for a while it will be interesting to see developments in the Charlie Appleby branch of Godolphin, but whoever gets the majority of those rides, big-race opportunities will spread further, and after enjoying the publicity of winning the Shergar Cup Saddle, Fran Berry will be in the frame for his share.

A disappointing Arlington Million meeting for the Aidan O’Brien – Ryan Moore team, headed up by Deauville’s close third in the big race, did not dampen spirits for long, as they collected a Curragh treble yesterday.

Sioux Nation, contesting favouritism with the Gordon Elliott-trained Beckford in the Phoenix Stakes, got home half a length in front to give the trainer his 16th win in the race – a clear case for a referral to the Irish Monopolies Commission.

That followed the encouraging first win of the $3million Keeneland yearling Mendelssohn, like Sioux Nation, a son of the late lamented Scat Daddy, the cost of whose early death at the start of the 2016 stud season, is being acutely realised. When Washington DC ended his run of near misses by taking the Group 3 sprint later in the card, he completed a rare O’Brien treble. Washington DC (by Zoffany) made it three wins in a day, not unusual, except that none of them was for a Galileo!

As for the Tooth team, at least four trainers are reporting imminent action from a hitherto unraced juvenile. I will probably have news of an intended debutant this time next week, but whether we can expect first-time success is quite another thing.

Racing What Ifs: What if Aidan O’Brien had trained Frankel?

The Frankel most readily associated with Aidan O’Brien these days is Bobby, the American trainer whose record of 25 Grade/Group 1 winners in a year seems in play for O’Brien at the start of each flat season, writes Tony Keenan. His associations with the equine Frankel were limited to providing foils to his brilliance between 2010 and 2012 along with training some of his offspring but what if the greatest horse of the modern era were paired with the greatest trainer of the same period? Henry Cecil could hardly have done any better with Frankel, a horse that satisfied every judge from visuals to time to form; but Aidan O’Brien would certainly have done things differently.

Nor is it a pipedream to imagine Frankel could have finished up in Ballydoyle. There was a time in past decade when Juddmonte would send ten of their mares to Coolmore sires and each would get first choice of the foals on an alternating annual basis. In 2007 it was Coolmore that had first preference and they selected Await The Dawn whose best effort came when winning the 2011 Hardwicke and was rated 121 at this peak. The following year was the turn of Juddmonte and the rest is racing history. But what if it had been Coolmore’s time to choose in 2008? Let’s roll back to that time and do some counter-factuals on what might have unfolded…

Would Frankel have been beaten on debut?

Much has been made of Aidan O’Brien’s record with juvenile debutantes this year with even the pick of his two-year-olds getting turned over first time and many the subjects of nursing rides. They are being trained with long term in mind at the moment though that pattern was not quite so marked earlier in the decade. Consider the record of two-year-old colts on debut out of Ballydoyle over the last 10 years:

 

Year Winners Runners Strikerate
2017 2 23 8.7%
2016 5 64 7.8%
2015 6 44 13.6%
2014 6 47 12.8%
2013 16 44 36.4%
2012 10 57 17.5%
2011 11 49 22.5%
2010 5 52 9.6%
2009 10 53 18.9%
2008 11 53 20.8%

 

2010, the year Frankel made his debut, was a particularly poor year for O’Brien-trained debutants though the overall trend in that time is more towards strikerates north of 17% than those close to 10% we see today. The obvious point to make here is that none of this may have mattered; Frankel had so much latent ability that it would have shone through from the start, regardless of tender handling or lack of fitness.

But plenty of O’Brien’s stars have still been beaten first time on the track as two-year-olds. Going back to 2010, the likes of Zoffany, Power, Camelot, Kingsbarns, War Command, Air Force Blue and Caravaggio have all won their first outing. But there is an equally strong – perhaps even stronger – list of those that got beaten, which includes Leading Light, Magician, Australia, Gleneagles, Highland Reel, Order Of St George, Churchill and Gustav Klimt, allowing that some of those were not bred to be sharp early. Frankel wasn’t either by the way; his dam took four starts to win while only two of his five siblings won as juveniles.

Being unbeaten is something that matters in racing especially when you are engaged in the business of stallion-making. It adds an aura, whatever that may be, along with a few euros to the early fees before the stallion has proven itself with actual progeny. But that is not the only part of it and it is worth remembering that had Coolmore owned Frankel they would have used him extensively themselves which doesn’t bring in money as such.

Where the unbeaten record does matter however is in race planning and deciding where the horse might run next. Choosing to race on as a four-year-old is an important decision and the potential reward of an enhanced reputation must be weighed against the risk of losing the unbeaten record and the certain loss of a year in the breeding sheds. With this decision comes pressure which is something we’ll return to later.

 

Who would have ridden Frankel?

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Tom Queally rode Frankel on all 14 of his starts and that was important; he was not a straightforward horse by any means, keenness just one of his issues, and having the same rider on board likely proved a help to his development. Whether such an option would have been possible had he been trained by Aidan O’Brien is unclear. 2010 was a transitional period at Ballydoyle, Johnny Murtagh in his last season there and seemingly with one foot out of the door, Joseph O’Brien only starting his career in the saddle and Ryan Moore not really on the Coolmore horizon just yet. It is worth considering who rode Group 1 winners for O’Brien in the UK and Ireland in this period:

 

Year 2010 2011 2012
J. O’Brien 0 3 9
S. Heffernan 2 6 2
J. Murtagh 9 0 0
R. Moore 0 2 1
C. O’Donoghue 0 1 0
J. Spencer 0 1 0

 

Joseph O’Brien was seventeen at the start of Frankel’s juvenile season and by the start of his three-year-old campaign he was still claiming five pounds; he would not ride out his claim until September 26th of that year. He rode Group 1 winners in 2011, starting with Roderic O’Connor in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and later on Maybe in the Moyglare and Camelot in the Racing Post Trophy. Still, he was a claimer for the first two of those wins and no amount of family connections were going to get him on Frankel as a three-year-old.

Neither Colm O’Donoghue nor Jamie Spencer were going ride him either and nor I suspect was Ryan Moore. Moore simply didn’t have the same connection with Ballydoyle in 2010/11 as he does now nor was the Ryan Moore of that period the same rider as we see today. He had ridden 19 Group 1 winners up to the end of 2010 as he was beginning to come into his pomp with an Epsom Oaks/Derby double on Snow Fairy and Workforce but Michael Stoute was his chief supporter at that time.

That leaves Heffernan and Murtagh. 2011 was the peak of Heffernan’s career arc in terms of Group 1 winners with So You Think a big ride to get along with Misty For Me. However, he was jocked off So You Think for Joseph O’Brien the following year which makes it hard to believe he would have held the mount on Frankel for three seasons. If there were a single jockey to ride Frankel throughout his time at Ballydoyle, it would likely have been Murtagh. He was proven at all the big tracks in all the big races and regardless of the issues that may have been going on at the time, both sides would surely have made it work. A horse like Frankel was too important to get wrong.

 

Where would Frankel have run?

In many ways, this is the most interesting part of the entire discussion and it might be best to start with some comparables, using the ten O’Brien-trained horses of recent times that most resemble Frankel. Even with them in mind however, this is far from straightforward as he could have gone a number of ways.

[Note: When I say signature races below, it does not necessarily mean the races the won but rather the races that defined them.]

Horse Careers Wins/Runs Peak OR Signature Races Four-year-old Season?
Rock Of Gibraltar 10/13 126 All the mile races No
Hawk Wing 5/12 137 Guineas, Derby, Lockinge Yes
George Washington 6/14 124 Phoenix, National, Guineas Yes (but…)
Dylan Thomas 10/20 127 King George, Irish Champion Stakes (x2), Arc Yes
Henrythenavigator 6/11 125 Both Guineas, Breeders’ Cup No
Rip Van Winkle 5/14 130 Sussex, QEII, Juddmonte Yes
Camelot 6/10 124 Triple Crown Yes
Australia 5/8 123 Guineas, Derby, Irish Champion Stakes No
Gleneagles 7/11 122 Both Guineas, St. James’s Palace No
Churchill 7/9 123 Both Guineas ?

 

As a two-year-old, Frankel had four runs: a maiden, a conditions race, the Royal Lodge and the Dewhurst. Had he been with O’Brien, things would have been broadly similar. He would have won his maiden (or not!) then gone for a lesser Group race before taking in the National Stakes and then the Dewhurst. There is a possibility he would have been given more time and fewer starts like a Camelot or Australia but this seems the likely campaign.

The start to his classic season would have been straightforward too as he would have gone straight to the 2,000 Guineas as is the case with almost every O’Brien colt that fits that profile. There would have been no prep run as Frankel had in the Greenham, a race Cecil credited with taking the freshness out of him ahead of Newmarket, and he could have been vulnerable there for missing that run. Regardless of that, then would have come the big decision: go for the Derby or stick to the mile. It is difficult to say which way he would have gone; Hawk Wing, Camelot and Australia went to Epsom and were generally successful while Rock Of Gibraltar, Henrythenavigator, Gleneagles and Churchill stayed at eight furlongs.

More difficult decisions would have followed as the options really would have opened up from the mid-summer. I strongly suspect the Irish Champion Stakes would have been on the cards as it is a race O’Brien has a deep association with; Frankel would have gone to Leopardstown regardless of whether he were going up or down in trip. The Arc seems much less likely – it is not a race where O’Brien runs many three-year-olds – nor would British Champions’ Day have been high on the list of potential targets. Henry Cecil had an affinity with that meeting, not least because it was central to the British calendar and was in its infancy, he and Frankel due much credit for launching the early runnings of that event.

Champions’ Day has been little more than an afterthought for O’Brien and Coolmore up to now. One meeting that is central to their plans however is the Breeders’ Cup and it is worth pointing out that seven of the ten comparable horses listed above ran at that meeting. It is vital for Coolmore to have winners there though where Frankel might have run is hard to call, the Mile, the Turf and even the Classic in the mix.

Let’s assume Frankel has got to the end of 2011 and his three-year-old season unbeaten and a call must be made on whether or not he remains in training. This is where the unbeaten record comes in; it is one thing to maintain such a record through the horse’s first two seasons when you have no real option but to race on, quite another to decide to continue at four when all manner of things could go wrong. Aidan O’Brien and the lads vacillate between risk-taking and risk-aversion at various times, as they should with no horse or situation entirely the same; but I strongly suspect they would have retired Frankel as a three-year-old as the risks were simply too high. The last two or three years may have seen more Ballydoyle horses stay in training but this was five years ago and their mollycoddling of something like Gleneagles suggests the unbeaten record may simply have been put away for posterity.

 

Frankel’s Ballydoyle Legacy: The Best Ever

Aidan O’Brien has had many horses which he has described as the best he has trained and we have even seen variations on the theme with him describing horses as the fastest, toughest and such like. There’s some recency bias in there along with sales talk but looking at the records of the pick of his recent stars one can see that it is actually quite difficult to say which was best. Many of them tend to cluster around peak official ratings in the high-120s and while Hawk Wing is the one with the best figure for his win in the Lockinge, others had more longevity and consistency.

Of course, training a horse officially rated 140 (Timeform rated him 147) that wins all his races renders all of this moot. The debate would be over and if only for that it would have been great for Frankel to have been trained at Ballydoyle!

- Tony Keenan

Some thoughts for Chester’s May meeting

Chester's May meeting is an early season highlight, offering socialites, more serious racegoers and the occasional Derby aspirant the chance to peacock around the Roodee. The famous bullring circuit, just nine furlongs in circumference, is fiendishly tight and there is a commensurate bias to those who are agile - and fast - enough to slide around the inside banister.

geegeez.co.uk has more information on Chester racecourse here. But what can we say specifically about the May meeting at Chester?

Chester May Meeting: Trainers

Using geegeez.co.uk's new Query Tool (QT) enables us to look at recent trainer form for a specific event like this. To do so, select the month of May, and Chester in the course area:

Specifying Chester's May meeting in geegeez's Query Tool

Specifying Chester's May meeting in geegeez's Query Tool

 

By placing a check in the circle to the left of the 'TRAINER' parameter and clicking 'Generate Report' again, we can see trainer performance for the Chester May meeting. I've sorted by number of wins in the image below.

Outstanding training performances by Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden at Chester in recent years

Outstanding training performances by Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden at Chester in recent years

 

The performance of Messrs. O'Brien and Gosden is spectacular, the former recording a 43.5% win strike rate, the latter a 63% in the frame record. And that from approximately five runners each per year.

 

Handicap trainers

But what of the handicaps only? There are some super competitive heats over the three days and, at that slightly lower level, different training names come to the fore. Let's add HANDICAP to our list of filters, and do the same 'Group by Trainer' report:

Andrew Balding and Ed Dunlop have excellent records, and Sir Michael Stoute has been very unlucky in Chester May handicaps

Andrew Balding and Ed Dunlop have excellent records, and Sir Michael Stoute has been very unlucky in Chester May handicaps

 

It is easy to see that Ed Dunlop and, from a larger sample, Andrew Balding have fared really well in Chester May meeting handicaps. But it is also worth noting Sir Michael Stoute: his two from fifteen record is unremarkable, until we note that more than half of them have hit the board. It would be no surprise to see Sir Michael's fortunes change this week.

What about the top races?

Selecting Class 1 (i.e. Listed or Group) races only confirms the stranglehold that Team Ballydoyle has on the big races at Chester's May meeting.

Aidan O'Brien has a mighty record in Class 1 events at Chester's May meeting

Aidan O'Brien has a mighty record in Class 1 events at Chester's May meeting

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Aidan O'Brien has won 16 of the 40 Pattern races run at Chester in May since 2009. That's 40% of them, from just 34 runners. His performance is incredible and looks set to continue this week with a typically strong hand of three-year-olds and older horses.

 

Chester May Meeting: Draw

As alluded to in my introduction, the draw at Chester has a huge bearing on how races are run, especially over sprint distances. Using geegeez.co.uk's Draw Analyser tool, we can see just how relevant a good draw generally is, especially when the going is on the quick side. The forecast is largely dry for the week and the current going description is good, good to firm in places.

Five furlong handicaps

Let's plug that into our Draw Analyser, along with a selection of handicap races only and 10+ runners; and we'll initially look at five to five and a half furlong races.

Low is heavily favoured at the shortest trips; and high is heavily UNfavoured

Low is heavily favoured at the shortest trips; and high is heavily UNfavoured

 

I wanted to include the constituent draw table so that you could see the strong linearity in the place percentages of finishers by stall position. That stall 1 has made the frame in two-thirds of all five and five-and-a-half furlong sprints in big fields on quick ground since 2009 is telling. No wonder so many absentees emerge from the car park post positions.

 

Six and seven furlong handicaps

So far so obvious, perhaps, though it is always interesting to note the concrete evidence data provides to support or resist a general perception. But what of longer sprint trips? What of six- and seven furlong handicaps? A quick change to the distance ranges and we have our answer:

Still an inside draw bias, but it is less pronounced over 6 and 7furlongs at Chester

Still an inside draw bias, but it is less pronounced over 6 and 7furlongs at Chester

 

As you can see, there is still a bias towards those drawn low but it is not nearly as pronounced as over the shortest distances. Indeed, middle drawn horses have fared pretty much as well as those on the inside, but it is still the case that a high draw is a very difficult condition to overcome.

Notice at the bottom the Heat Map. This is a simple chart that attempts to overlay the historical draw positions against a horse's run style. The arrow formation top right in the chart implies a bias towards early speed and an inside to middle draw.

Conversely, note the relatively poor performance of those drawn high, regardless of run style; and it also looks difficult to overcome a low draw if you're a hold up sort racing at six or seven furlongs in a double digit field.

None of the sample sizes used here are particularly big, so keep in mind that the above is indicative rather than assertive. But it confirms what is often said: it is very difficult to overcome a wide draw in a big field on fast ground at Chester.

 

Chester May Meeting: Jockeys

Can a jockey make a difference at Chester? Most riders are, to a large extent, hostages to the fortunes of their trainers and horses; but at the more unconventional courses, can it be an advantage to have an experienced pilot in one's corner?

Although the answer is probably yes, there is a degree of cause and effect in that if a jockey gets a reputation as being skilled over a certain circuit he is more likely to pick up the plum rides. The flip side is that, if a jockey is retained by a particular stable, he will be susceptible to the form of that yard.

Regardless, here is QT on Chester May meeting jockey performance, in handicaps only.

The top handicap jockeys at Chester's May meeting since 2009

The top handicap jockeys at Chester's May meeting since 2009

 

Some interesting gen comes to light here. First, that example of positive discrimination: Francis Norton is widely held as the 'go to guy' for Chester, and he certainly does ride the track very well as can be seen from his seven handicap winners at this meeting since 2009. But they've come from 64 rides, an 11% clip, and just 0.85 on the A/E scale.

Compare that with Jamie Spencer, supposedly a hold up rider on a speed-favouring track. His nine winners have come from just 48 rides at an A/E of 1.54. Not only that but he can back up a 19% win rate with a 44% place rate. Jamie Spencer, in fact, is one of the best judges of pace in the weighing room, from the back or the front of the field. He gets it wrong sometimes - that's an occupational hazard - but I'd never be put off a bet at any track with Spencer in the plate (and yes, I have changed my position on this in recent years!)

Lower down, Steve Donohoe is an interesting name. His three handicap winners from 20 rides is fine - good even - but nine podium finishes is a very solid effort. He could be worth keeping onside.

 

Chester May meeting: Summary

We're all set for three excellent days of racing on the Roodee. With a little luck we'll come out in front by noting the above. In some ways, there is nothing new in trumpeting the form of Aidan O'Brien in Class 1 races at the meeting, nor in flagging that inside draws have the best of it in bigger field sprints on fast ground.

But such awareness can become the cornerstone of a betting strategy for the week. If playing placepots or intra-race bets like exactas and trifectas, knowing that Jamie Spencer is a high strike rate handicap jockey, or that Andrew Balding and Ed Dunlop should always be in mind in Chester handicaps, or even that Aidan's horse probably will win the Derby trial, will help frame decisions about when to go narrow and when to go deep.

Good luck with your Chester May meeting wagers - it should be a terrific three days!

Matt

p.s. if you'd like more race-by-race statistical lowdown, check out these Chester TV Trends: Wednesday

 

Monday Musing: The Coolmore Numbers Game

Life is basically all about choices, writes Tony Stafford. Do you turn left or right? When I collected my laundered shirts by Snaresbrook station on Saturday morning, with an immediate destination of Loughton to pick up Harry Taylor en route to the 2,000 Guineas and Newmarket, option one was to turn right and go via the A12 and M11.

But almost of its own volition, my car instead turned left and travelled the urban way through South Woodford, Woodford and Buckhurst Hill, all stops along the Central underground line, but avoiding the bottleneck at Debden.

Halfway there, at Woodford Green, it was impossible to miss the statue of that location’s former Member of Parliament, Sir Winston Churchill, cast in familiar bulldog pose and dominating a piece of greenery on the southern tip of Epping Forest. A few hundred yards on, Churchills fish bar, destined to be an impulse stop around 30 hours later for a celebratory cod fillet – no chips – offered a second nudge to possible events at turf’s HQ.

Classic winners are supposed to have “good names” and there is little doubt that the octet of 2,000 Guineas heroes trained by Aidan O’Brien, all for various combinations of the Mrs Sue Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith team, have that distinction in common.

King of Kings (1998), Rock of Gibraltar (2002), Footstepsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012), Gleneagles (2015) and now Churchill all, bar maybe Foostepsinthesand, fulfil the nomenclature requirement and offer testimony to the language skills of Mrs Magnier, daughter of Vincent O’Brien.

More pertinently, as the late, great Vincent’s successor at Ballydoyle, Aidan (no relation) O’Brien has set the record for 2,000 Guineas victories, beating that set in the mists of time by John Scott, when that stable manager had neither the might nor the money of the Maktoums and the Qataris to contend with.

You say something, like “a record eighth win” quickly and as bald fact it deflects the enormity of the statistic. Nineteen years on from his first 2,000 Guineas triumph, it means that Aidan has won 40% of the possible opportunities in that timeframe. When you look at the potential fire power of some of the 200-strong teams around the UK and the almost bottomless pockets of a number of their patrons, such monopoly is truly embarrassing for his rivals.

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I took a minute before yesterday’s 1,000 Guineas to talk to Michael Prosser on just that point, and he trumped me with an even more unlikely one. I’d just taxed Aidan with the question: “Are you any good at maths?” hoping to confound him with the 40% thing, but in true character Aidan had first to apologise and then rush away to monitor one of his trio into the parade ring before the Classic.

Prosser said: “We have nine Group 1 races here and last year Aidan won six of them.” Add to that the weekend Guineas double of Churchill and Winter and that makes eight out of the last 11 and 73%!

One 2,000 Guineas which Aidan did not win was its 2011 version, dominated throughout by Frankel, named for a great horseman, New York-born Bobby Frankel, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s principal US trainer. Almost an equal part of the Frankel mystique, apart of course from the fact that he was never beaten in a three-year career, was that he was trained by Sir Henry Cecil in the closing phase of his own eventually life-ending illness.

Frankel, the racehorse, shares with Churchill and Winter, as well as Saturday’s impressive Jockey Club Stakes winner Seventh Heaven, a common factor in that all four are products of Galileo, the most potent of the stallions that have fuelled Coolmore Stud’s recent pre-eminence.

For some sections of the media – especially television – members of Frankel’s initial crop have been portrayed as embodiments and thus likely equals of their father, but in horse racing that sort of expectation can only be cemented on the racetrack, rather than in sentiment.

A number have already proved precocious, and four of his early stakes horses appeared with a fair degree of expectation in the two Classic races. Fair Eva and Queen Kindly both made good starts to their juvenile seasons, but were respectively only fifth and ninth in the 1,000, while Dream Castle and Eminent were fifth and sixth, close behind the principals the previous day. Two other sons of Galileo, shared the spotlight with dad on Saturday: Teofilo, the best of his first-crop sons, is the sire of Permian, runaway winner of the Listed Newmarket Stakes and Ronald R is by Frankel’s old racetrack rival, Nathaniel.

I cannot resist one statistical fact away from racing that further embellishes the amazing level of O’Brien’s achievements. Tottenham Hotspur, renowned as the true FA Cup team – “if there’s a “1” in the year, Spurs win the Cup” as the adage used to go, last won that competition in 1991 and the League Championship 30 years earlier! Not that you would think so with some of the coverage of that “sport” in recent months.

I’m sure there must have been a number of Churchills racing in the UK over the years and the Racing Post also lists a few reared and raced elsewhere. James Burridge, breeder and part owner of the great Desert Orchid, also probably held quite high expectations for the 1995-born son of Derby runner-up Carlingford Castle – behind Teenoso, Lester Piggott’s last winner of nine in 1983.

Lester was in the paddock before Saturday’s race, but I doubt he remembers the 1995 Churchill, sold for 700gns  to Keith Brown Properties, Hull, and a four-time raced non-achiever with a 31-length seventh, 69-length 12th before an unseated and pulled up ended his unremarkable time in action.

Also in the house on Saturday was Andy Smith, owner and bloodstock agent, who might just have got the best of the Frankel euphoria. Andy was the original owner, apart from David and Diane Nagle, the breeders from Barronstown Stud, of the filly, Toulifaut.

She won three times for the Jean-Claude Rouget stable before going under the hammer at the Arc sale, less than 24 hours before her date in the Prix Marcel Boussac. She changed hands for 1.9 million Euro, becoming the property of the Yoshida family’s Shadai Farm but was only eighth in the Boussac behind Godolphin’s Wuheida and fourth of six in her comeback run this spring.

There were critics of Ryan Moore’s performance on Rhododendron after he was briefly denied a run on the filly, but the way Winter strode clear up the hill, makes it less of a certainly that the favourite would have beaten her even with a clear run.

I am less than overjoyed that two days after he took a little each-way 20-1 on what has proved inspired information, Mick Quinn only passed on the news when Winter was already down to less than half that price. He can begin to make amends by getting a good run tomorrow night with Circuit at Leicester. She’s in the last, under Jamie Spencer, after which it’s off to Chester for three days and a switch of emphasis to Derby and Oaks trials. Phew!

- Tony Stafford