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Aidan O’Brien pays tribute to ‘irreplaceable’ Pat Smullen

Aidan O’Brien has joined the growing list of people to pay tribute to Pat Smullen – hailing the nine-times Irish champion jockey a “very special person” and “irreplaceable”.

Smullen, who was married to O’Brien’s sister-in-law Frances Crowley, died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Tuesday aged 43 following a long battle with cancer.

While Smullen spent much of his illustrious riding career in opposition to the O’Brien runners, as stable jockey to Dermot Weld, the Ballydoyle maestro has nothing but admiration for the way Smullen conducted himself both on and off the track.

“Pat was one very special person – one of these people you meet once in a lifetime,” O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing.

“He is irreplaceable. He was genuine, tough, consistent – an unbelievable horseman and a brilliant jockey.

“He helped everybody and was very sincere to everybody. Nothing about Pat was false – he was true to everybody. I think that’s why he was so admired and will never be forgotten.

“We felt privileged to know him and to have worked with him and to be part of our family.”

Chief among Smullen’s many achievements was completing the English-Irish Derby double aboard Harzand in 2016.

O’Brien saddled the second and third at Epsom in US Army Ranger and Idaho, while the latter was beaten just half a length into second at the Curragh three weeks later.

O’Brien added: “Pat beat us in two Derbys – he beat us at the Curragh and at Epsom. We did everything in our power for that not to happen, but he had it worked out and had the power, the courage, the skill and the determination to make it happen.

“We’re so delighted that he experienced those days.”

Stradivarius denied in Prix Foy by Anthony Van Dyck

Stradivarius remains on course for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe despite being denied in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp, as Anthony Van Dyck claimed his first victory since landing last year’s Derby.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Anthony Van Dyck had finished a place ahead of Stradivarius when runner-up to Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket in early June.

However, having claimed his third victory in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and a record fourth Goodwood Cup, John Gosden’s superstar stayer was the 8-13 favourite to reverse the form in his prep race for next month’s big race back over the course and distance.

In what appeared a slowly-run affair, Mickael Barzalona set his own fractions in front aboard Anthony Van Dyck, with Stradivarius his closest pursuer throughout in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

The Italian was the first of the two to draw his whip – and Stradivarius responded to close the gap.

However, 3-1 Anthony Van Dyck refused to bend in front and repelled the late surge of the market leader in determined style.

Stradivarius was narrowly beaten in France
Stradivarius was narrowly beaten in France (Dan Abraham/PA)

But Gosden was far from disappointed by Stradivarius’ performance – and confirmed the Arc as his next target.

He said: “It was a very typical French trial – they didn’t go a great pace.

“In these races you can either make your own pace, run a pacemaker or just follow – I’ve known them go even slower than they did today, but they did go pretty steady.

“I was happy with the way he finished the race – his last furlong was his best furlong. In that respect he’s run a good trial for the Arc and that’s where he’ll be going.

“He’s travelled over there now and behaved himself pretty well. I’m happy with the run as a trial.”

Stradivarius is a best-priced 16-1 for the Arc, with the O’Brien-trianed Love the marginal favourite ahead of Gosden’s brilliant mare Enable, who will be bidding to win the great race for a third time.

Mogul comes good to claim Group One glory in Grand Prix de Paris

Investec Derby hero Serpentine had to settle for fourth as his stablemate Mogul claimed top honours in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp.

Serpentine was a surprise winner of the premier Classic at Epsom under an enterprising front-running ride from Emmet McNamara.

Ridden more patiently on this occasion by Christophe Soumillon, the Galileo colt appeared in a good position rounding the home turn, but ultimately failed to pick up sufficiently, although there was promise in his return.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds Mogul – and he was the chosen mount of Ryan Moore in the Derby, where he finished sixth, despite disappointing at Royal Ascot on his previous start.

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Another son of Galileo, he opened his account for the campaign in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood, before finishing third behind Pyledriver in last month’s Great Voltigeur at York.

Held up for a late run by Pierre-Charles Boudot, Mogul was nearer last than first at the top of the straight, but made stylish headway against the far rail before extending clear in impressive style.

Speaking at the Curragh, O’Brien said: “We’re delighted with him (Mogul). We always felt that he was only coming (to hand) and I kept saying it.

“He was starting to show so much speed I kind of thought maybe we were going the wrong way and we should be going back to a mile and a quarter. I said to Pierre-Charles today ‘ride him for speed, take your time on him and drop him on the line’.

“He’s obviously a fast horse as he’s able to quicken. I thought we were going too far today over a mile and a half.

“He’s entered in Australia, (or) he can go to for the Champion Stakes at Ascot. He could go to America and Hong Kong, so there’s a lot of options for him.”

Serpentine finished fourth in the Grand Prix de Paris
Serpentine finished fourth in the Grand Prix de Paris (Bill Selwyn/PA)

Of Serpentine, he added: “It was his first run back (after a break) and Christophe was very happy with him.

“He had a good break, which we wanted to give him. I was thinking of starting him today and going back for the Arc, but we’ll see how he is.

“I was very happy with how happy Christophe was with him.”

In Swoop and Gold Trip finished second and third, with the British pair of Highland Chief and English King behind Serpentine in fifth and sixth respectively.

2020 Moyglare Stud Stakes Trends

Staged at the Curragh racecourse, the Moyglare Stud Stakes is a Group One run over a distance of 7f.

The race is for 2 year-old fillies and has been won by leading Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien a staggering 9 times, including in 2019 with his classy filly Love, who later went onto land the 2020 Epsom Oaks - while the UK-based trainers have won 3 of the last 8 renewals.

We look back at past winners and gives you all the key stats ahead of the 2020 running – this year staged on Sunday 13th September.

 

Recent Moyglare Stud Stakes Winners

2019 – Love (6/1)
2018 – Skitter Scatter (7/2 fav)
2017 – Happily (13/2)
2016 – Intricately (25/1)
2015 – Minding (15/2)
2014 – Cursory Glance (11/8 fav)
2013 – Rizeena (9/2)
2012 – Sky Lantern (7/1)
2011 – Maybe (8/13 fav)
2010 – Misty For Me (10/1)
2009 – Termagant (16/1)
2008 – Again (6/4 fav)
2007 – Saoirse Abu (13/2)
2006 – Miss Beatrix (14/1)
2005 – Rumplestiltskin (2/7 fav)
2004 – Chelsea Rose (9/1)
2003 – Necklace (5/4 fav)
2002 – Mail The Desert (8/1)

Moyglare Stud Key Trends

17/18 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
17/18 – Had won over 6f or 7f before
17/18 – Raced within the last 4 weeks
15/18 – Won between 1-2 times before
15/18 – Returned 10/1 or shorter in the betting
14/18 – Irish-trained
13/18 – Finished 1st or 2nd last time out
13/18 – Placed favourites
12/18 – Ran at the Curragh last time out
11/18 – Drawn in stall 7 or higher
11/18 – Had won over 7f before
10/18 – Had won a Group race before
10/18– Came from outside the top three in the betting
9/18 – Had won at the Curragh before
7/18 – Won last time out
7/18 – Trained by Aidan O’Brien
6/18 – Winning favourites
3/18 – Ridden by Seamie Heffernan
7 of the last 10 winners were foaled in March or earlier

Magical thwarts Ghaiyyath in Irish Champion epic

Magical got the better of Ghaiyyath in a pulsating finish to the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Seamie Heffernan, the five-year-old mare was turning around Juddmonte International form with Ghaiyyath, as the pair went head to head from the off.

As usual, William Buick set out to make all on the Charlie Appleby-trained 8-13 favourite – but the distress signals were starting to emerge at the top of the straight as Magical moved upsides, while Japan switched to the inside rail to throw down his challenge.

To his credit, Ghaiyyath kept fighting, but Magical (9-2) found an extra gear in the final half-furlong to pull clear at the line, scoring by three-quarters of a length as she repeated her victory from 12 months ago, becoming just the second back-to-back winner after O’Brien’s Dylan Thomas in 2006 and 2007.

O’Brien said: “We were very happy after York, we saw what she was able to do. When she went by herself in York, she just lost interest a little bit and then the others came around her and she started staying on after the race was over.

“What she always wants is to eyeball a horse and battle. Seamie was happy to make the running today if William wanted to get a lead and if William was going to go on, Seamie was going to go with him to keep her interested and he gave her a brilliant ride.

“She’s a serious mare when you get into a battle with her and when you really get into a battle with her, that’s when you really see what she can do, as you saw there today.

Magical just proved too strong for Ghaiyyath
Magical just proved too strong for Ghaiyyath (PA)
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Magical was initially retired from racing at the end of last year after a setback ruled her out of a planned Breeders’ Cup run, but owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith reversed that decision and returned her to training in the spring – a move that has reaped rich dividends.

O’Brien said: “The lads made the call and all credit to them for doing it.

“She was booked to go to No Nay Never and we were just so delighted that they decided to give her another go. They said that hopefully No Nay Never will be there next year and hopefully she will be as well. She’s an amazing mare.

“I suppose we are learning about her all the time. If you get away from her she gets a bit lazy, but if you get into a fight with her very few will eyeball her.

“That’s what she did – she eyeballed the colt all the way.

“She’s a great filly. It wasn’t a big field, but they were all good horses in it. Armory (third-placed stablemate) ran an unbelievable race as well.

“It’s a massive race. Of all the European races, prestige-wise, this is one of the top, if not the top, because on ratings over a 10-year period, this nearly comes out on top of all the races.

“Every year all the high-rated horses turn up here. It has a perfect place in the calendar, perfect ground, perfect distance.”

O’Brien also houses 1000 Guineas and Oaks winner Love in his Ballydoyle yard, and she currently tops the betting for next month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp.

Magical could also be in the frame for that race – although the Prix de l’Opera is alternative option on the same day, with a trip to America another possible

O’Brien added: “She has the choice of the Arc or the fillies’ race on the same day. It will depend on what the lads want to do with Love.

“The Breeders’ Cup could also suit her really well.”

Charlie Appleby (right) with Ghaiyyath following his Juddmonte win at York last month
Charlie Appleby (right) with Ghaiyyath following his Juddmonte win at York last month (David Davies/PA)

Appleby was magnanimous in defeat, and is no rush to map out Ghaiyyath’s next outing.

He told www.godolphin.com: “I talked with William Buick afterwards, who said that it rode like a decent race and they have gone a good gallop. Turning in, Ghaiyyath was there with every chance but full credit to Magical, who is a multiple Group One winner.

“They have produced another good duel up the straight but she has come out on top this time.

“Ghaiyyath will have a short break now before we decide on our next target. We will make a call over the coming weeks and discuss everything before confirming where to go next with him.”

Mulrennan seeking Group One gold with Que Amoro

Paul Mulrennan is relishing the opportunity to bid for Group One glory aboard Que Amoro in the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.

The Michael Dods-trained filly is well fancied for the first of four top-level prizes on offer on the second afternoon of Irish Champions Weekend, having pushed star sprinter Battaash all the way in the Nunthorpe at York.

Que Amoro looked likely to sidestep this weekend’s five-furlong contest, but with a recent change to Covid-19 protocols meaning British-based jockeys are now allowed to ride without having to quarantine for two weeks, she was given the green light to travel to Ireland.

Mulrennan said: “I was delighted when the quarantine rules changed – I’m very much look forward to riding her on Sunday.

“She’s come out of York very well. It was a hell of a run in the Nunthorpe – I’ve not seen many horses get Battaash off the bridle like she did, so it was a great effort.

“If she can reproduce that sort of performance this weekend, I think she’s the one they’ve all got to beat.”

Que Amoro is one of seven British challengers in a field of 15 runners, with Simon and Ed Crisford’s A’Ali, Kevin Ryan’s Glass Slippers and the John Quinn-trained pair of Keep Busy and Liberty Beach also part of the raiding party.

The home team is headed by Denis Hogan’s Make A Challenge, who has won four of his six starts this season and is five from eight overall at the Curragh.

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The Moyglare Stud Stakes appears likely to be dominated by the O’Brien family, with Aidan and his two sons Joseph and Donnacha all saddling major contenders.

The hot favourite is Joseph O’Brien’s Pretty Gorgeous following her impressive display in the Debutante Stakes over the course and distance three weeks ago.

“I’m looking forward to running her – she’s a very exciting filly,” said the Piltown handler.

“She couldn’t have been any more impressive last time in very heavy going. Obviously she handled that, but she’s also won on better ground, so she’s versatile ground-wise.

“I’m really looking forward to the weekend for her.”

Pretty Gorgeous is reopposed by Donnacha O’Brien’s Debutante runner-up Shale and Aidan O’Brien’s Debutante third Mother Earth.

Donnacha O’Brien said: “It will be tough to beat Joseph’s filly, but I’m hoping that on nicer ground we can get a bit closer and possibly even put it up to her.”

Aidan O’Brien, who also runs recent Flame of Tara Stakes winner Divinely, said: “Mother Earth ran a nice race in the Debutante. We were feeling our way up to seven furlongs and didn’t want to boldly expose her. We were happy with the run and hope she might progress.

“Divinely is like her sister Found, who was able to compete at seven and was very comfortable when she stepped up to a mile – she’s very likeable in everything she does.”

Classic honours are up for grabs in the Comer Group Irish St Leger, for which Twilight Payment is the likely favourite for Joseph O’Brien, after landing both the Vintage Crop Stakes and the Curragh Cup over the course and distance this season.

O’Brien said: “He’s seven, but he ran a career-best last time on figures.

“He’ll probably need to do so again, but if he does, it puts him right in the mix. We’re excited about running him and we’re hopeful of a good performance.”

Aidan O’Brien saddles last year’s Irish Derby hero Sovereign, who was last seen chasing home Enable in the King George, as well as three-year-old filly Passion.

Dermot Weld’s defending champion Search For A Song, Jessica Harrington’s Barbados, the Willie Mullins-trained Micro Manage and Luke Comer’s Raa Atoll complete the home team, with Roger Varian’s Ebor winner Fujaira Prince flying the flag for Britain.

Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotting mare Magic Wand sets the standard on ratings in the Group Two Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes.

So far this season the daughter of Galileo has won the Lanwades Stud Stakes, placed fourth in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and finished fifth in the Nassau at Goodwood.

O’Brien said: “It’s a nice race to break her into the autumn – she’ll probably go on her travels after this.

“We’re not sure how far we can go. We think we can go to Hong Kong and America, but we have to do the quarantine beforehand. They would be the two big ones on her agenda.”

Jessica Harrington has a strong hand, with both One Voice and Cayenne Pepper bringing top-level form to the table.

Joseph O’Brien also fires a couple of bullets in Bolleville and Thunder Nights, and said of the latter: “She won at the Curragh last time, beating Albigna, and won very well.

“She’s a filly who has just improved and improved all season. We’re really looking forward to running her.”

Serpentine ready to prove merit of Derby victory

Impressive Investec Derby winner Serpentine finally gets the chance to prove his Classic success was no fluke in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris.

Aidan O’Brien’s Galileo colt turned up at Epsom an unconsidered outsider, having broken his maiden tag only seven days previously.

However, given a bold front-running ride by Emmet McNamara, he powered on to win by more five lengths from Khalifa Sat – and has not been seen in competitive action since.

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“We always thought he was a very smart middle-distance horse, and even though he only had one run at two – and the run looked very ordinary – we were very happy with his work at home,” said O’Brien.

“He was a horse that was very relentless in his work and would go an even, strong gallop and would not surrender – and that’s the way he’s always been.

“We had to give him a good break (after the Derby), and he’s done very well – physically he’s really rounded off since then. It will be a run to get him started back, and we’ll see where we go after that.

“Obviously a race like the Arc or something like that would be possible – but either way, we’re hoping we might have him for next year.”

Serpentine turns for home with a clear lead at Epsom
Serpentine turns for home with a clear lead at Epsom (George Selwyn/PA)

While the validity of the Derby form was questioned in the aftermath, O’Brien is adamant Serpentine was the winner on merit.

He added: “He’s a solid horse, and I wouldn’t be fooled by what anyone thinks about Epsom – whatever race he runs in, if he makes the running you just need to go and follow him, because he just doesn’t come back. He’s relentless, and that’s the way he is.

“I heard everyone saying about Epsom and him getting a clear lead and all that kind of stuff, and he did – but I don’t think there was anyone pulling or dragging too much to stay back off him, that’s the way he is.

“He’s solid, you don’t have to hide anything about him. He’s very happy to go a strong gallop – and if he’s not able to get to the front that will be all the better for him, because that means the gallop will be good and strong and he’ll probably even be better doing that rather than having to make his own running all the time.”

Serpentine is joined at ParisLongchamp on Sunday by a pair of stable companions in Nobel Prize and Mogul, while British hopes are carried by Ed Walker’s Derby fifth English King – the mount of Frankie Dettori – and Highland Chief, who was supplemented by Paul and Oliver Cole.

Ghaiyyath geared up for Irish Champion challenge

Ghaiyyath bids to confirm his superiority over defending champion Magical in a fascinating rematch for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The Charlie Appleby-trained Ghaiyyath has arguably been the star of the season so far – completing a hat-trick of Group One wins with dominant displays in the Coronation Cup, the Coral-Eclipse and the Juddmonte International.

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical was three lengths in arrears when runner-up on the Knavesmire, but gets the chance to exact her revenge on home soil and become only the second dual winner of the Champion Stakes after former Ballydoyle ace Dylan Thomas (2006 and 2007).

Speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview, Appleby said: “Previously he has taken time to come back to himself after his races, but as a five-year-old this year he’s very much the finished article.

“His performances are always very big – he’s never easy on himself even when he’s winning. He puts those big figures out there and in the past it’s taken its toll, but thankfully this year he’s taken each race very well.”

The Newmarket handler is keen to get this weekend’s assignment out of the way before deciding whether to allow Ghaiyyath to bid for glory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next month.

He added: “A decision on the Arc will be a wait and see. We purposefully took our time before deciding to definitely run in Ireland, we just took it day by day and we’ll regroup after it.”

William Buick and Ghaiyyath have formed a formidable partnership
William Buick and Ghaiyyath have formed a formidable partnership (David Davies/PA)
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Ghaiyyath’s regular partner William Buick is able to travel to Ireland for the ride following a recent change to Covid-19 protocols.

He said: “As far as I’m aware he’s in good shape.

“He’s running over the same trip he’s been running over the last twice in this country. It’s a good race for him.

“I don’t know whether the Arc is in the discussion or not. Let’s get this race out of the way and we’ll see.”

Magical won the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh prior to chasing home Ghaiyyath at York – and O’Brien feels she is capable of raising her game.

He said: “She doesn’t owe anybody anything. She’s raced against the best. We feel we haven’t really seen the best of her yet.

“Someday when everything will fall right she’ll be at the height of her powers and we’ll see.

“She’s a serious, high-rated, incredibly genuine mare. We keep tweaking things as we go along to see if we can get another little bit from her to get her to show everybody what she shows us at home every day.

“I don’t thing we’ve seen her very best yet, but it could come one of these days.”

Ryan Moore has sided with Japan
Ryan Moore has sided with Japan (Nigel French/PA)

O’Brien also saddles Japan – who was not far behind Ghaiyyath when third in the Eclipse, but disappointed on his latest outing in the King George – as well as outsider Armory. Interestingly, Ryan Moore has sided with him over Magical, the mount of Seamie Heffernan.

Of Japan, O’Brien said: “He came back from Ascot with very sore soles in his feet. We don’t know if it was sole pressure from the shoes or if he stood on something, but both front feet were very sore.

“He was lame for a few days after. Then we took the shoes off completely and we rode him bare foot for 10 days and he came back 100 per cent sound and his action came back 100 per cent and he’s shod now.

“He’s in full work and has been taking it very happily. He’s travelling well in his work and everything seems good, so it was a legitimate excuse.

“We look forward to seeing him run now – we’re very happy with his work.”

Sottsass bids to provide leading French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget with a second win in the race following the 2016 triumph of Almanzor, with Jessica Harrington’s Leo De Fury completing the sextet.

Sottsass will be ridden by Colin Keane, who said: “I’d say it will be a brilliant race to watch.

“Obviously Ghaiyyath was impressive the last day, Magical is the queen, she never runs a bad race and our horse I’d say has been trained with an autumn campaign in mind so you might not have seen the best of him yet.”

Muir full of hope, Pyledriver expected to go distance in St Leger

William Muir admits it will be a dream come true if Pyledriver can provide him with a first top-level success in the Pertemps St Leger.

The Harbour Watch colt was a 40-1 shot when runner-up on his three-year-old debut at Kempton in early June, since when he has won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York, with a luckless run in the Derby sandwiched in between.

Pyledriver disputes favouritism for the season’s final Classic – and his trainer is in confident mood.

“The horse had a quiet week to 10 days after York, but he’s back in his normal routine now and he’s as fit as a flea,” said Muir.

“You don’t dream about how good it would feel to win, you dream about all the things that could go wrong.

“If it comes off, what it would do for me and the yard would be immense.”

The one big question hanging over Pyledriver is whether his stamina will last out over Doncaster’s mile and three-quarters, in a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.

Muir added: “On the dam’s side of his pedigree he will stay, but he is by Harbour Watch, which is why everyone is asking the question.

“I think he’ll stay. If he’d gone another couple of furlongs at York, would anything have beaten him? I don’t think they would.

“I’m in such a good place because the owners have said ‘what’s the worst that can happen if he doesn’t stay? He’ll get beat and then we can come back in trip’. There’s no gun at my head and owners saying ‘if he gets beat you’re shot to pieces’.

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“He is in fantastic form and if he stays, it will take a very good one to beat him.”

Santiago is Aidan O'Brien's chief contender for the St Leger
Santiago is Aidan O’Brien’s chief contender for the St Leger (PA)

It is 19 years since Aidan O’Brien claimed his first St Leger success with 2001 hero Milan, since when he has added to his tally with Brian Boru (2003), Scorpion (2005), Leading Light (2013), Capri (2017) and Kew Gardens (2018).

The Ballydoyle trainer’s chief hope this time around is Santiago, winner of the Queen’s Vase and the Irish Derby before placing third behind star stayer Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup.

Reflecting on that most recent performance, O’Brien said: “It maybe didn’t work as we’d liked. We usually like to take our time on him and he just hit the gates on Ryan (Moore) and he couldn’t really get him back. He was just sitting in the second position and Ryan would have felt maybe he was a gear too high all the way.

“Because of that he went from travelling very well to having to drop him and ask him to go and race very quickly and he really didn’t get his breath to go again.

“It didn’t really work, but it didn’t do him any harm and he seems to be in good form. We had to give him a little bit of an easy time after it, because obviously when things don’t work or go smooth for a horse usually they have a harder race, but he seems to be in good form again.”

Frankie Dettori partners Santiago and rates Pyledriver as his chief threat.

He said: “Santiago is a Classic winner, he stayed two miles at Goodwood. In an open race, he’s a great ride.

“William Muir’s horse is the one to beat – without a doubt. You need class to stay – and he’s got class.”

O’Brien also saddles Dawn Patrol and Mythical, while his son Joseph is represented by a major contender in Galileo Chrome, who will be ridden Tom Marquand after regular pilot Shane Crosse returned a positive test for Covid-19 on Friday morning, before travelling from Ireland.

The son of Australia is three from three this season, but faces a step up in class.

O’Brien junior said: “Last time out he quickened up impressively, he showed a big turn of foot. It was quite a hot race, obviously not as hot as the St Leger, but it was quite hot and he couldn’t have been any more impressive.

“I think he goes there with a good each-way chance. He’s got to step up a little to win, but we’re hoping he’ll run very well.”

Hukum is a similarly progressive type for trainer Owen Burrows and owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, having impressed in winning the King George V Stakes at the Royal meeting and the Geoffrey Freer at Newbury so far this season.

The owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold, said: “We’re still learning about him, he’s lightly raced for the time of year, but he’s done everything well this season.

“Last year I thought he was going to be a lovely horse for this year but he was disappointing us in the spring, everyone told me he was showing nothing.

Hukum on his way to winning the Geoffrey Freer Stakes
Hukum on his way to winning the Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We went to Ascot to see where we were and obviously he won that well and it that turned a light on in his head. He’s done really well since.

“Hopefully he’ll run a very good race. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Leger, but I don’t think he’ll be far away.

“Owen has been at pains to say he’s not simply a stayer, but at the same time he stayed well enough at Newbury to make you think he won’t be beaten for stamina. He might not be good enough, but I’ll be surprised if it’s a lack of stamina that beats him.

“Hopefully next year we’ll be looking at races like the Hardwicke and the King George.”

Tyson Fury looked the part on his Doncaster debut
Tyson Fury looked the part on his Doncaster debut (Nigel Kirby/PA)

Tyson Fury was a winner on his debut at Doncaster in early July, but has not been seen in competitive action since.

There was talk his boxing namesake might be in attendance this weekend, but with the general public no longer permitted to attend following a change in protocols, that now appears unlikely.

Trainer Richard Spencer said: “It’s a tall ask, obviously, but his work has been good and he’s the only unbeaten horse in the race!

“I think Tyson will be watching at home, so fingers crossed the horse runs a nice race.”

Mark Johnston’s Subjectivist, the Andrew Balding-trained Berkshire Rocco, David Simcock’s Mohican Heights and Sunchart from Andrew Slattery’s yard complete the line-up after the Grand Prix de Paris-bound English King was, as expected, declared a non-runner.

2020 Irish Champion Stakes Trends

The Group One Irish Champion Stakes is staged at Leopardstown racecourse and run over a distance of 1m2f.

In recent years, the race has been dominated by trainer Aiden O’Brien – he’s won the race eight times since 2000, including twelve months ago with Magical. Can he make it nine in 2020?

Horse racing trends expert Andy Newton is on hand with all the key stats ahead of the 2020 renewal – this year run on Saturday 12th Sept 2020.

 

Irish Champion Stakes Recent Winners

2019 – Magical (11/10 fav)
2018 – Roaring Lion (8/11 fav)
2017 – Decorated Knight (25/1)
2016 – Almanzor (7/1)
2015 – Golden Horn (5/4 fav)
2014 – The Grey Gatsby (7/1)
2013 – The Fugue (4/1)
2012 – Snow Fairy (15/8)
2011 – So You Think (1/4 fav)
2010 – Cape Blanco (6/1)
2009 – Sea The Stars (4/6 fav)
2008 – New Approach (8/13 fav)
2007 – Dylan Thomas (8/15 fav)
2006 – Dylan Thomas (13/8 fav)
2005 – Oratorio (7/1)
2004 – Azamour (8/1)
2003 – High Chaparral (4/1)

 

Irish Champion Stakes Betting Trends

18/18 – Previous Group 1 winner
17/18 – Returned 8/1 or shorter in the betting
16/18 – Won 4 or more times before
16/18 – Had won over 1m2f before
15/18 – Aged 3 or 4 years-old
15/18 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
15/18 – Ran at York, Sandown or Ascot last time out
14/18 – Had 4 or more previous runs that season
13/18 – Rated 120+
13/18 – Placed favourites
10/18 – Trained in Ireland
10/18 – Aged 3 years-old
9/18 – Won last time out
8/18 – Winning favourites
7/18 – Previous course winners
7/18 – Trained by Aidan O’Brien
5/18 – Returned odds-on
3/18 – Trained by John Gosden (3 of the last 7)
2/18 – Won the Coral Eclipse last time out
2/18 – Trained by John Oxx
2/18 – Ridden by Seamie Heffernan
The average winning SP in the last 18 years is 4/1

 

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Song faces seven in defence of her Irish Leger title

Search For A Song is set to face seven rivals when she bids for back-to-back victories in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger at the Curragh on Sunday.

The Moyglare Stud Farm-owned filly provided trainer Dermot Weld with an eighth success in the final Classic of the Irish season 12 months ago, leaving him one short of the record set by the late Vincent O’Brien.

Search For A Song is winless in three starts this season, but did run with credit over an inadequate trip when third behind the top-class Magical in the Tattersalls Gold Cup on her latest appearance.

Twilight Payment is the likely favourite for Joseph O’Brien, after landing both the Vintage Crop Stakes and the Curragh Cup over the course and distance this season.

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Aidan O’Brien saddles last year’s Irish Derby hero Sovereign, who was last seen chasing home Enable in the King George, as well as three-year-old filly Passion.

Jessica Harrington’s Barbados, the Willie Mullins-trained Micro Manage and Luke Comer’s Raa Atoll complete the home team, with British hopes carried by Roger Varian’s Ebor winner Fujaira Prince.

The first of four Group Ones on day two of Longines Irish Champions Weekend is the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes, which has attracted 15 high-class sprinters.

Denis Hogan’s prolific five-year-old Make A Challenge faces an eight-strong British contingent which includes the Michael Dods-trained Que Amoro – runner-up to Battaash in the Nunthorpe at York last month – and Simon and Ed Crisford’s course and distance winner A’Ali.

Joseph O’Brien’s hugely impressive Debutante winner Pretty Gorgeous is a short-priced favourite for the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

She is reopposed by Donnacha O’Brien’s Debutante runner-up Shale and Aidan O’Brien’s Debutante third Mother Earth, while Ken Condon has both Teresa Mendoza and Thunder Beauty in a field of 13 juvenile fillies.

The Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes throws up a fascinating Anglo-Irish clash between Master Of The Seas and Battleground.

The unbeaten Master Of The Seas bids to provide Charlie Appleby with a third straight win in the seven-furlong contest, following the recent triumphs of Quorto and Pinatubo.

Aidan O’Brien has won the race on 11 occasions and is represented by his star juvenile colt of the campaign so far in Battleground – winner of the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Vintage at Goodwood this summer.

The pair are joined at the head of the betting by Harrington’s Phoenix Stakes victor Lucky Vega in what could well be the strongest two-year-old race of the season so far.

Group Two honours are up for grabs in the Blandford Stakes, which features O’Brien senior’s Magic Wand and Harrington’s pair of Cayenne Pepper and One Voice.

2020 Phoenix Stakes Trends

Run on Saturday 9th Aug 20120 at the Curragh racecourse, Ireland, the Phoenix Stakes is a Group One contest run over 6f and in recent times has been dominated by a certain Aidan O’Brien, who’s landed the prize a staggering 16 times since 1998!

We look back at past winners and highlight the key trends to apply to the race.

Recent Phoenix Stakes Winners

2019 - Siskin (10/11 fav)
2018 – Advertise (11/10 fav)
2017 – Sioux Nation (2/1)
2016 – Caravaggio (1/8 fav)
2015 – Air Force Blue (9/4)
2014 – Dick Whittington (6/1)
2013 – Sudirman (4/1)
2012 – Pedro The Great (10/1)
2011 – La Collina (33/1)
2010 – Zoffany (3/1)
2009 – Alfred Nobel (5/4 fav)
2008 – Mastercraftsman (4/1)
2007 – Saoirse Abu (25/1)
2006 – Holy Roman Emperor (13/8 jfav)
2005 – George Washington (8/13 fav)
2004 – Damson (8/11 fav)
2003 – One Cool Cat (11/8)
2002 – Spartacus (16/1)


Phoenix Stakes Key Trends

18/18 – Had won over 6 or 7f before
17/18 – Had run in a Group race before
17/18 – Won by Irish-based trainers
16/18 – Finished in the top two last time out
16/18 – Previous winners over 6f
14/18 – Had won at least two races before
14/18 – Placed favourites
13/18 – Had 3 or more previous runs that season
13/18 – Returned 4/1 or shorter in the betting
12/18 – Trained by Aidan O’Brien
12/18 – Had won a Group 2 or 3 before
12/18 – Winning distance of 1 length or less
11/18 – Had won at the Curragh before
10/18 – Won by either a March or April foal
10/18 – Ran at the Curragh last time out
7/18 – Winning favourites
7/18 – Won by a March foal
4/18 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
3/18 – Ran Leopardstown last time out
The average winning SP in the last 18 runnings is 13/2

 

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Monday Musings: Rapid Start Far From Flat

The two unbeaten favourites didn’t collect the first two Classics of the UK racing season as many, including the bookmakers, were expecting, writes Tony Stafford. Pinatubo was a slightly one-paced third as Kameko gave Andrew Balding a second UK Classic in the 2,000 Guineas, 17 years after Casual Look was his first in the Oaks. Yesterday, Love made it six 1,000 Guineas triumphs for Aidan O’Brien, four in the last six years, as the Roger Charlton filly Quadrilateral also had to be content with third place.

For quite a while in Saturday’s big event, staged behind closed doors of course, it looked as though O’Brien would be celebrating an 11th “2,000” – from back home in Ireland as he left on-course matters to be attended to by his accomplished satellite team. Wichita, turning around last October’s Dewhurst form both with Pinatubo and his lesser-fancied-on-the-day stable companion Arizona, went into what had looked a winning advantage under super-sub Frankie Dettori until close home when the Balding colt was produced fast, late and wide by Oisin Murphy.

The young Irishman might already be the champion jockey, but the first week of the new season, begun eight months after that initial coronation last autumn, suggests he has a new confidence and maturity built no doubt of his great winter success in Japan and elsewhere. A wide range of differing winning rides were showcased over the past few days and Messrs Dettori and Moore, Buick, Doyle and De Sousa clearly have an equal to contend with.

It was Dettori rather than Moore who rode Wichita, possibly because of the relative form in that Dewhurst when Wichita under Ryan got going too late. This time Arizona got his lines wrong and he had already been seen off when he seemed to get unbalanced in the last quarter-mile. Kameko will almost certainly turn up at Epsom now. Balding was keen to run Bangkok in the race last year despite that colt’s possible stamina deficiency. The way Kameko saw out the last uphill stages, he could indeed get the trip around Epsom a month from now.

The 2020 Guineas weekend follows closely the example of its immediate predecessor. Last year there was also a big team of O’Brien colts, including the winner Magna Grecia, and none was by their perennial Classic producer, Galileo. The following afternoon, the 14-1 winner Hermosa, was Galileo’s only representative in their quartet in the fillies’ race. This weekend, again there were four Ballydoyle colts in their race, and none by Galileo. Two, including Wichita, are sons of No Nay Never. As last year, there was a single daughter of Galileo in yesterday’s race, the winner Love. Her four and a quarter length margin must make it pretty much a formality that she will pitch up at Epsom next month.

Love was unusually O’Brien’s only representative yesterday which rather simplified Ryan Moore’s choice. It will surely be hard to prise her from him at Epsom whatever the other Coolmore-owned fillies show at The Curragh and elsewhere in the interim.

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With Irish racing resuming at Naas this afternoon, attention will be switching immediately to the Irish Classics next weekend. What with those races, which Ryan will sit out under the 14-day regulations, the Coolmore owners and their trainer will have a clear course to formulate their Derby team and Oaks back-up squad. It would appear that the good weather enjoyed in the UK after which so many big stables, notably Messrs Johnston, Gosden and Balding, have made a flying start on the resumption, has also been kind to Irish trainers.

I know that sometimes in the spring the grass gallops at Ballydoyle have barely been usable by the time of the first month of action. The delayed and truncated first phase should continue to be to the benefit of the more powerful yards and maiden races, just as those in the UK, are already looking like virtual group races, especially on the big tracks.

Aidan O’Brien has 11 runners on today’s opening card, including four in the second event for juveniles, where Lippizaner, who managed a run in one of the Irish Flat meetings squeezed in before the shutdown, is sure to be well fancied. A son of Uncle Mo, he was beaten half a length first time out and the experience, which is his alone in the field, should not be lost on him.

The shutdown has been a contributor to a denial of one of my annual pleasures, a leisurely look at the Horses in Training book which I normally buy during the Cheltenham Festival but forgot to search for at this year’s meeting. The usual fall-back option of Tindalls bookshop in Newmarket High Street has also been ruled out, and inexplicably I waited until last week before thinking to order it on-line.

There are some notable absentees from the book and it has become a growing practice for some of the bigger trainers to follow the example of Richard Fahey who for some years has left out his two-year-olds. John Gosden has joined him in that regard otherwise they both would have revealed teams comfortably beyond 250.

Charlie Appleby, William Haggas, Mark Johnston, Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding all have strings of more than 200 and all five have been quick off the mark, each taking advantage of a one-off new rule instigated by the BHA. In late May trainers wishing to nominate two-year-olds they believed might be suitable to run at Royal Ascot, which begins a week tomorrow, could nominate them and thereby get priority status to avoid elimination with the inevitable over-subscription in the early fixtures.

In all, 163 horses were nominated with Johnston leading the way with 11; Charlie Appleby and Fahey had eight each; Hannon and Archie Watson seven and Haggas five. All those teams have been fast away in all regards but notably with juveniles. The plan, aimed at giving Ascot candidates racecourse experience in the limited time available, has clearly achieved its objective.

Among the trainers with a single nominated juvenile, Hughie Morrison took the chance to run his colt Rooster at Newmarket. Beforehand he was regretting that he hadn’t realised he could have taken him to a track when lockdown rules could apparently have been “legally bent” if not actually transgressed. Rooster should improve on his close seventh behind a clutch of other Ascot-bound youngsters when he reappears.

When I spoke to Hughie before the 1,000 Guineas he was adamant that the 200-1 shot Romsey “would outrun those odds”. In the event Romsey was the only other “finisher” in the 15-horse field apart from Love and, in getting to the line a rapidly-closing fifth, she was only a length and a half behind Quadrilateral. So fast was she moving at that stage, she would surely have passed the favourite in another half furlong. The Racing Post “analysis” which said she “lacked the pace of some but kept on for a good showing” was indeed damning with faint praise. Hughie also could be pleased yesterday with a promising revival for Telecaster, a close third behind Lord North and Elarqam in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock despite getting very warm beforehand.

No doubt I’ll be returning to Horses in Training quite a lot in the coming weeks, but just as the long list of Galileo colts and fillies was dominant among the Ballydoyle juveniles for many years, the numerical power of Dubawi among Charlie Appleby’s team is now rivalling it. Last year, when I admit I didn’t really notice it, there were 40 Dubawi juveniles: this year the number has grown to an eye-opening 55. At the same time the yard has gone well past 200, reflecting his upward trajectory ever since taking over the main Godolphin job ten years ago. I’m sure Pinatubo has some more big wins in his locker.

I always look forward to seeing the team of Nicolas Clement, French Fifteen’s trainer, in the book, and he is there as usual with his middling-strength team. Nowadays much of what used to pass for free time for this greatly-admired man is taken up with his role as the head of the French trainers. He confessed that carrying out his duties over the weeks in lockdown and then the changes in the areas in France where racing could be allowed had been very demanding.

This weekend, Nicolas along with everyone in racing had a dreadful shock when his younger brother Christophe, who has been training with great success in the US for many years, suffered a terrible tragedy. On Saturday a Sallee company horsebox, transporting ten Clement horses from Florida to race in New York burst into flames on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing all ten animals. One report suggested that the horsebox had collided with a concrete stanchion. It added that the two drivers attempted to free the horses but were unable to do so.

At the top level, where both Clement brothers have been accustomed to operating on their respective sides of the pond, the rewards can be great. But as this incident graphically and starkly shows, there is often a downside for trainers and owners, though rarely one of quite this horrific finality.

- TS

Jon Shenton: Who to Layoff?

Under normal circumstances April and May is my favourite time of the year, both in personal “real-life” terms but also through the racing lens, writes Jon Shenton. Usually, as the flat season kicks into gear it is a period when I’d be at my most active in punting terms. This year there is a void, and I’ve as yet not wanted want to fill it with third tier US racing, or whatever other meagre scraps are on offer.

Before we begin, an uber-caveat: the date of the restart of the sport will go a long way to establishing whether data-driven angles have a strong role to play in this years’ flat campaign.

Sadly, it may be smart to keep certain angles in cold storage until the spring of 2021: a truncated campaign will quite likely manifest in all sorts of data anomalies for otherwise robust angles. Let me explain with a specific example.

Many of my favourite angles are early season specific. Several yards are typically fast out of the blocks and others have a more nonchalant approach to the first exchanges in the campaign, in result terms anyway. Avoiding some yards during the initial knockings of the turf season can be a prudent move. A case in point is Tim Easterby: the powerhouse yard has a colossal number of runners throughout the spring and summer months with performance notable by its variance over the course of the season as the below graph illustrates.

It’s not the most exciting data, illustrating only the yard’s win percentage. However, it clearly shows a seasonal variance: Easterby’s performance in April and May is moderate in comparison to the peak summer period. To give a feel for the scale, there are 642 total runners in April alone, so in horse racing terms the sample sizes are broader than most (the yard is also 0-from-29 in March).

Focusing on 2020, what happens now? It is pure speculation but for the sake of this article let’s assume the season starts in July. Ordinarily, this would be peak Tim territory assuming a standard racing calendar. The million dollar question is, would the yard be expected to drop straight into the usual July prolific form or will it build slowly like usual, allowing its animals to develop race fitness through visits to the track, peaking as a yard in September or later? Perhaps we will see neither and the yard will flatten their own curve.

It is very difficult to project with any confidence, especially when placed in the context of every other yard rethinking and rehashing their own usual blueprint, planning for and around a truncated season.

Arguably, all typical trainer patterns could be of limited relevance. I certainly wouldn’t back a usual Easterby July qualifier this year, at least until I had more evidence to show the yard had adapted to the revised topology.

However, we don’t give in that easily at geegeez. Yes, it is true that a data-driven gambler may have to tread carefully; but there is also such a thing as first mover advantage! By cutting through the noise more quickly than most, there may be opportunities to gain utility from the numbers as they happen. Within that, possessing a good understanding of the ‘norm’ is beneficial as it provides a head start in terms of knowing what to look for as racing awakens from its enforced hiatus.

One sensible starting point is to evaluate how trainers perform after a horse has had a long rest from racing. This year, most animals are going to be hitting the track after a sizeable hiatus when the sport re-commences. Knowing the trainers who perform well in these circumstances ought to be of use.

The table below (containing data from horseracebase) shows exactly this: it summarises trainer performance with horses returning after a break of 181 days or longer (UK flat turf races only, 2011-present, SP 20/1 or shorter). The SP cut-off is a personal choice and generally helps sort the wheat from the chaff in my opinion.

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The insight is sorted in A/E order (Actual vs. Expected, assessing performance vs. the expectation of the market, 1.00 being par, anything greater being outperformance against market expectation) and a minimum of 100 runs are required to qualify for the table. There are plenty of points to discuss but we will begin with my eye being drawn to the four yards marked in yellow.

These jump off the page, predominantly due to their impressive strike rates around one-in-four win to run ratio. They are also bona fide prime flat racing organisations where value can be hard to come by so merit closer scrutiny.

Given the profile of these yards, it is surprising that the market seems to ever-so-slightly underestimate their lay-off horses: time and again these guys fire in winners after an absence. The length of time off the track is far from detrimental to their chances; in fact, it may be a positive indicator of intent. However, we, as the general punting public still subconsciously prefer the reassurance of a recent run. In the case of the highlighted yards (and several of the others) it is a wise move trying to ignore the long elapsed time between runs.

Taking this concept further, the graph below illustrates the same trainers contained in the original data table above. The red line shows the A/E performance for the horses returning to the track after more than 180 days by trainer, whereas the blue bars shows the A/E for those who have a run during the last 180 days.

In basic terms, virtually all these trainers perform more profitably with lay-off animals than they do with more recent runners (using A/E as the measure). The only three that do not are Messrs Balding, Prescott and Ryan, but even then, the difference in results is virtually negligible.

The left-hand side of the graph indicates those where the variance between the lay-off horses and the race fit animals is most significant. Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien heads the list. There is some logic in this, at least theoretically. It is not beyond imagination to speculate that a horse travelling across the Irish Sea to the UK is ready for action and means business. Were it not it would be running closer to home, presumably.

However, to satisfy whether that is a fair assertion or not, a comparison with the yard’s Irish return-after-a-break horses should confirm if this is the case.

As can be seen, O’Brien’s travellers outperform their stay-at-home counterparts on every measure. Whilst it is probably not angle material it is certainly worth factoring into big race considerations, especially if the money is down (the record for horses 6/1 or bigger is just 2-from-45 within the UK dataset).

Another trainer highlighted in the table with a large differential between the performance of his lay-off and recent runners is Roger Varian. The Newmarket-based operation is one that, considering its scale and profile, I do not particularly follow or have many related opinions / angles.

However, in the context of his layoff runners there is an interesting edge to consider when runners are evaluated by age.

The table demonstrates that the winning performance level of Varian’s three-year-olds after a break is not as strong as his older horse returners. This could easily be a sample size issue, particularly as the place performance is very consistent. Regardless, the numbers of the four years and older brigade are highly noteworthy.

Taking those four-plus aged horses and evaluating their performance after an absence against the yard’s performance where a run has been more recent, the numbers grow in stature still further by comparison.

Effectively, the table above confirms that the absolute right time to back a Varian horse aged four or older is its first run after an absence.

I dare say that this is the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty of other interesting data-driven nuances in relation to all trainers in the table. A bit of homework for me – or you? – over the next week or two perhaps.

Again, 2020 may prove to be wholly different from recent history given these unique circumstances. Normally, much of the value in these yards horses after a break can be attributed to the likelihood that much of their competition would have had a recent outing: the beady eye of the market is often drawn to those who have provided recent evidence of their well-being rather than those who have been out of sight, out of mind.

This year, especially early in the season, most runners in each race will be racing on the back of a long break. It is conceivable that every yard and every owner will be desperate to get their charges out as early as possible to mitigate some of the economic damage received through the enforced absence.

Consequently, if the phasing of animals having their first run in a while is compressed into a short period of time as there isn’t the luxury of a long campaign, it could be easily argued that the market  will focus more towards the likes of O’Brien, Varian, Gosden and Haggas given their elevated status.

If the mooted Royal Ascot behind closed doors meeting does proceed, virtually every horse will be hitting the track after a long absence. Gosden, O’Brien et al runners could be like moths to a light for punters, even more so than usual, eroding potential value from the lay-off angle.

However, the bottom line is that these yards have proven performance after a lay-off in their locker. Plenty of others do not and those others will have to elevate their game and do something uncharacteristic to their norm to prevail.

Of course, it is conceivable that trainers who build a horse’s fitness through racing will adapt easily. Trainers are generally highly skilled practitioners and should be able to modify their approach to match the situation.

The yards listed in the table below are some of those for whom the first run is typically a sighter; whether things will be different in 2020, time will tell, but it seems prudent to be cautious until evidence to the contrary manifests itself.

It is certainly the case that the performance of runners from these yards after an absence is not meeting market expectation with unhealthy A/E numbers across the board. Again, the table is restricted to runners at 20/1 or shorter (SP), and 100 runners is required to qualify.

In broad terms, unless there is a compelling reason not to, it’s a straightforward decision to pass on entrants from these guys after a hiatus. Naturally, Easterby (Tim) is on here as intimated earlier. It is going to be fascinating to see whether these yards will still be content to play the long game once racing is back.

Personally, I’m not sure how to play things yet. The timing of the resumption will be key in shaping a strategy. With the deferral of four of the Classics it’s looking more and more likely that the resumption date will be mid-summer. Given that, my gut feel is that angle and data-driven wagering of this kind will be fraught with danger. However, where there is a market there will always be an opportunity to find an edge.

One thing is for sure: one of my starting points will be to man-mark the yards in this article when we get going again. By spotting the trainers who are ready to go, or otherwise, there should be plenty of chances to make up for lost time. Who knows, I may even be backing Tim Easterby horses after a prolonged absence. These are strange times, after all!

Stay safe.

- JS

Breeders’ Cup 2019: Five Takeaways

The 2019 Breeders' Cup returned to Santa Anita for the tenth time. Much of the preamble to the weekend was familiar, then, but this year there was a difference. A near palpable atmosphere of anxiety and introspection pervaded proceedings; and, in spite of forensic levels of veterinary scrutiny, BC36 was not to sail smoothly across its troubled waters. That story, amongst others, is recounted in these five takeways from the meeting.

1 JOSEPH & HIS AMASSING TECHNICOLOR PALMARES

Where were you in your career path when you were 26? For most of us mere mortals, college days were behind us and we were taking our first fledgling steps in a job or career. Joseph Patrick O'Brien, barely past the quarter century, has already summited a career in the saddle which began promisingly but perhaps little more with a piece of a three-way tie for the Irish Champion Apprentice title in 2010.

The following year, he enjoyed Classic success with Roderic O'Connor in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and rode another two UK or Irish Group 1 winners, the last of which was Camelot in the Racing Post Trophy. A fortnight after that Doncaster highlight, O'Brien raised his own bar by scoring aboard St Nicholas Abbey in a Churchill Downs edition of the the Breeders' Cup Turf at the age of 18.

2012 was Joseph's - and Camelot's - year as the pair won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the 2000 Guineas and Derby, before being cruelly denied victory in the St Leger by a horse trained by the subsequently disgraced Mahmood al Zarooni who admitted charges of using performance enhancing drugs on his horses.

That year, 2012, Joseph proved he could do quantity as well as quality as he won his first Irish Jockeys' Championship, an award he retained with a record score in 2013.

By 2016, still aged just 23 - twenty-three! - he swapped the saddle for the demands of training and, to nobody's surprise, hit the ground running, his first Group 1 win coming in the Moyglare Stud Stakes of the same year with Intricately. [It was rumoured that he had also trained Ivanovich Gorbatov to win the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle in March that year, but let's stick to published record].

As a trainer, in less than three years and at the age of 26, he already has an Irish Derby, a Melbourne Cup and now a Breeders' Cup win to his name. The game triumph of Iridessa - who bounced out of the stalls from box one and got a great position under Wayne Lordan - in the Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday was Europe's sole victory at the meeting, and made Joseph the youngest trainer to win a Breeders' Cup race.

Naturally, given his prior exploits aboard St Nick, he is also the youngest person to record a Breeders' Cup win as both a jockey and a trainer. The sole other member of that most exclusive of Breeders' Cup clubs is Freddie Head, the French horseman who won two multiple Miles with both Miesque (as a jockey, aged 40 and 41) and Goldikova (as a trainer, aged 61, 62 and 63). Chapeau to Freddie, but Joseph is emerging as an altogether different jus.

 

2 AIDAN OFER'BRIEN

While O'Brien Jr was further enhancing his CV, father Aidan was enduring what might legitimately be dubbed a minor crisis. To some that may sound preposterous, so allow a little context: this year, Aidan has trained 15 Group or Grade 1 winners, last year the international G1 tally was 14; but in 2017 it was 28, in 2016 it was 22 and in 2015 it was 17.

At such rarefied altitude and on such small sample sizes it is perfectly reasonable to account for the differential as the dreaded variance - statistical slings and arrows if you will. And that's probably right enough.

But, in the microcosm of the Breeders' Cup, Aidan has now gone 35 runners without a victory since Mendelssohn prevailed in the opening race at Del Mar, the Juvenile Turf, in 2017. Again, it's a small sample. And he was dealt the rummest of rum deals at the post position draw with almost all of his nine entries exiting a double digit stall.

But Bricks And Mortar won the Turf, with a troubled trip, from nine when Anthony van Dyck lost from five. In the same race, Mount Everest, presumed the pacemaker (which may be incorrect), fluffed the start and was never nearer than at the line. Uni won the Mile from stall 11 where Circus Maximus was drawn nine; Just Wonderful missed the kick and was never nearer than fifth in the Filly and Mare Turf from stall 11; Tango and Etoile, drawn eight and 14 respectively, finished eighth and tenth having both broken moderately and struggled to get track position; Arizona, drawn 12 in the Juvenile Turf, was slow at the gate and never nearer than his final position of fifth; Fort Myers ran respectably in seventh from 13 in the same race, though he too was no better than tenth as they passed the stands first time; and King Neptune actually broke alertly in the Juvenile Turf Sprint but wasn't persisted with for a position and entered the turn in seventh place before finishing eleventh.

What is the recurring theme? In fairness, there are two, and one of them is the draw, which is out of the hands of the trainer. The other is the number of times Aidan's horses - again, in fairness, most European horses - broke slowly and were simply in a borderline insurmountable position on a tight inner turf track which was riding like lightning. Even when the races were a little more tactical on the turf, a slow start meant as many as a dozen horses in a 4 x 3 or 3 x 4 phalanx ahead: it is very, very difficult to overcome a pedestrian beginning.

Aidan quite rightly says that he spends all year trying to get horses to settle and relax, and that is the way to win European races. But if a horse doesn't have early tactical toe in order to secure a position, it is almost game over in double-digit US fields. It has been suggested that perhaps he should use American jockeys who are more accustomed to pinging a horse from the gate but, firstly, it's not necessarily something a jockey can influence especially, and secondly, the local lads would generally need to take care not to spurn their bread and butter.

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While chatting with one New York punter the somewhat harsh soubriquet Aidan Ofer'Brien was coined, ofer meaning zero for, as in zero for 35 since Mendelssohn in 2017. It is fantastic, and likely extremely important, that Ballydoyle continue to send top division horses to the meeting - it would be an event lighter on entries, far less interesting from a European perspective, and less compelling as a wagering proposition, too, if he didn't - but if they are to be more than making up the numbers, gate speed 101 looks in order. Here's hoping the peerless trainer of his generation reverts to his longer-term type at Keeneland in 2020.

 

3 THE TRACKS

It doesn't matter where you are in the world, if your horse is unsuited to conditions it is unlikely to win. So let's discuss the tracks, the already mentioned in despatches turf course first.

It was lightning fast. They haven't had meaningful rain in LA for six months, a fact evidenced by the desperately unfortunate wildfires that are raging in the north of the state. Sure they've watered the course and continued to hydrate it. But the temperatures have been 30C+ for much of the past fortnight and before. The water table is non-existent. It was suggested by a Clockers' Corner wag that, when going to inspect the turf track in white shoes, the horseman in question returned with green soles. Well that's one way to make brown turf look green!

Of course that's almost certainly just bluster - as easy on the ear as it is - but the fact remains that if you don't have a horse that can handle Bath firm, you probably don't have a horse for the race when the Cup heads west.

Another point on the turf track, specifically in relation to the Juvenile Turf Sprint. In its inaugural running in 2017 (on the undercard), Declarationofpeace - for Aidan O'Brien, in the opening race on the Saturday - led home a Euro superfecta from 'our' only four entries. The winner had the best Euro form around a turn, and was slowly away in a race run too fast, the pace collapsing.

Last year, when none of the Euro entries had winning form around a turn, we did no better than third. This year, although Europe did even less well, the best finisher - fifth-placed Dr Simpson, a rank outsider on the US tote at close to 60/1 - was two from two on turning tracks, by seven lengths at Chester and then in a Group 3 against the boys. She is also a fast starter. Although she wasn't good enough to win, that's the sort of horse you want for this gig. If Dr Simpson's trainer, Tom Dascombe, had sent lightning breaker and turning track specialist Kachy across, he would have been seriously interesting in the Turf Sprint.

In bigger fields and at longer trips, it is often the 'best trip' - that is, the horse which gets least interference excluding front runners whose record is terrible, that wins. There is so much traffic and misfortune to factor into pricing these races up from a value perspective that they are almost a blanket 'no bet'. The sensible approach to hardier punters is to back an American horse with a British bookmaker and hope for a good trip. Races like the Mile are peppered with big-priced winners through their history, Tourist (US horse, 11/1 US tote, 33/1 UK books), Karakontie (French, 29/1 US tote, 16/1 UK books) and Court Vision (US, 64/1 US tote, 50/1 UK books) being three since only 2011 in that particular event.

The DIRT track had been harrowed very deep, and rode slow. The Classic was a truly run race and it was won in a time of 2:02.80. The previous Santa Anita Classic, in 2016, was won in a time of 2:00.11, and the Santa Anita Classic's before that in 1:59.88, 2:00.72, 2:00.11, 2:00.32 (Zenyatta, Pro-Ride), 1:59.27 (Raven's Pass, Pro-Ride), 1:59.88, 2:00.83, and 2:00.40.

Appreciative that this is labouring the point but, to spell it out, the 2019 Classic was two seconds - something like eight lengths - slower than the next slowest of seven Santa Anita dirt Classics, excluding the slightly quicker Pro-Ride surface which was controversially installed and even more controversially ripped up again in and around 2008/9.

And yet Vino Rosso was given a legit number for his win. Timeform US had him on 133, six spots higher than the next best winner at the meeting; Beyer had him at 111, a point behind Mitole (his closest pursuer on the Timeform numbers). That's by way of reaffirming the slowness of the track.

There were good reasons for that, which we'll get to. But what it meant in racing terms was that it was extremely difficult to win from off the pace. You still needed stamina and no little class to get the job done, but only one horse - Blue Prize - was able to win from some way off the pace across the seven dirt races.

The best parallel for British and Irish bettors is that the surface was something akin to Southwell: deep, with serious kickback, where early speed is sustained more often than not and very little comes from far back. This year's Breeders' Cup was, for a lot of dirt race entries, like coming from a fast track qualifier at Lingfield, Chelmsford or Kempton to Finals Day on the Rolleston beach.

It was a necessary step to harrow the course that deep but, in many racing ways, an unsatisfactory one.

 

4 WELFARE

Here's why it was necessary. California is a liberal state and a perfect example of the emerging anti-racing sentiment we are seeing in Britain and in other jurisdictions around the world, notably Scandinavia. There is a war raging between traditionalists and revisionists inside of racing. It's a lop-sided skirmish outside of the bubble.

Governor Gavin Newsom in September called racing at Santa Anita "a disgrace". Newsom wasn't pulling any punches in this New York Times article where he was quoted as saying,

“What happened last year was unacceptable, and all of the excuses be damned. We own that going into the next season, and we’re going to have to do something about it. I’ll tell you, talk about a sport whose time is up unless they reform. That’s horse racing. Incredible abuses to these precious animals and the willingness to just to spit these animals out and literally take their lives is a disgrace.”

That was in response to news that more than thirty horses had been put down as a result of injuries sustained either training or racing at the Arcadia track. Despite the trash talk style (notably, emotive language like "precious animals"), there is plenty of substance behind this soundbite, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic now tapping into an animal welfare zeitgeist among their constituents. Indeed, California's senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, is of the same view and has publicly expressed it.

That's obviously bad news for racing.

What is worse is that some of the reasons for fatalities may have been avoidable. I see three main factors as conspiring: a fashion for breeding precocity and speed at the expense of durability and stamina; over-training young horses whose limbs cannot yet sustain the level of work demanded of them; and the increasingly sophisticated use of medication to patch up injuries and/or supplement punishing training regimes.

Clearly I'm not a vet and I present the above as no more than conjecture - my take, if you like. I'd very much welcome an educated rebuffal of any or all from any reader qualified to do that.

For me there are two bottom lines on the racing welfare debate. Firstly, whilst fatalities are inevitable - a point racing has to defend explicitly and unequivocally - the current levels are very likely unsustainable. And not just in California, or even America as a whole.

Second, this is an extremely complex debate peppered with flexible morality codes. Anyone who feels vehemently one way or the other probably hasn't given the subject enough thought.

 

5 WHERE NEXT (LITERALLY) FOR BC?

It was in the aftermath of Governor Newsom's comments that extensive vetting was implemented ahead of this year's Breeders' Cup. That led to the high profile scratchings of Imperial Hint, Fleeting and Suedois among others, on veterinary advice. Last year at Churchill Downs, Polydream, favourite for the Mile at the time, was withdrawn under similar circumstances.

Thus, naturally but even more than ever, organisers were praying for an incident- and injury-free Breeders' Cup. They almost got it.

Going into the Classic, the final race of 14 across two absorbing days of pageantry and sport, horsemen and administrators alike would have been justifiably feeling like a job well done. Alas, for racing just now it seems, if it wasn't for bad luck it wouldn't have any luck at all.

The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky

The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky. But not in Santa Anita

In amongst the millionaires and the billionaires and the silent powers of horse racing exist an ownership group called the Mongolian Stable and their trainer, Enebish Ganbat. They love their racing, are passionate about it, and share their passion with anyone who feels similarly. In 2015 at Keeneland, they enjoyed their greatest day as Mongolian Saturday won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. He raced without Lasix, the near ubiquitous diuretic said to restrict the likelihood of a horse bleeding. He was the only horse in the field not to receive it.

These guys don't sit in a box quaffing Veuve; they are out in the cheap seats in full national dress posing for pictures and glad-handing anyone and everyone. They, and people like them, are what the sport needs.

In the Classic, they had sportingly supplemented Mongolian Groom, who had beaten Classic favourite McKinzie over the Santa Anita track in their respective final preps, and who it should be noted did run on Lasix.

Their horse broke well and was second throughout the first mile, a length off pace-setting War Of Will, with last day foe McKinzie right there as well. But disaster struck for Mongolian Groom, Mongolian Stable, Ganbat, the Breeders' Cup and American racing, as the horse suffered an injury to his left hind leg which could not be treated. Very sadly, he was taken into the horse ambulance and euthanized.

It was deeply distressing on so many counts, primarily for connections, whose love of the game and for their animals is more transparent than most top tier ownership collectives; and all the more so that the ramifications of this event, as another inquest will inevitably be held, will overshadow their own feelings of loss.

The next Breeders' Cup is in Keeneland, far from the madding Californian crowd, then nominally at Del Mar in 2021. But Del Mar is in Southern California, and Churchill Downs may again be on standby as it was reported to be earlier this year in case matters at Santa Anita became irreconcilable.

So yes, Keeneland and Del Mar have been officially unveiled for 2020 and 2021, but will the Breeders' Cup return to Santa Anita in 2022, as was widely expected? Indeed, in light of the political firestorm expected to play out in the state, the question may be whether the Breeders' Cup will ever return to Santa Anita.