Posts

Monday Musings: The Genius of Jim

It’s Sunday morning in the breakfast room of Glebe House, Coolcullen, Co Carlow, writes Tony Stafford. Ranged around the kitchen table are trainer Jim Bolger, wife Jackie, daughter Una Manning, grand-daughter Clare Manning, who runs the family’s Boherguy stud, and two jockeys. Stable jockey and the Bolgers’ son-in-law Kevin Manning has been a fixture here for decades but a young interloper is an honoured guest.

It’s the morning after Jim Bolger’s historic first victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas with Mac Swiney, but not just that, he also provided the short-head second, Poetic Flare, more than three lengths clear of the third, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh.

The interloper is young winning rider Rory Cleary, who edged out the main man in a thrilling private duel between two colts whose breeding had all been an act of JSB.

The atmosphere around the table is rather tenser, though, than you might have imagined after a long-awaited Classic success. Then Jim began.

“Now do you remember when we talked about the race yesterday morning I told you what I wanted you to do?” said Jim.  “Rory, I told you to make the running as Mac Swiney is our Derby horse so the better stayer and Kevin, you were to join him on the line. Obviously Poetic Flare, as the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner is more the miler of them and after failing to follow up in France last Sunday, we needed you to make amends here!”, said Jim.

“How could you get it so wrong? Rory, either you were just a little too forceful on the run to the line – you hit him eight times rather than the permitted seven after all and got that ban - or Kevin, you couldn’t keep Poetic Flare straight in the finish. That result cost us a second Classic winner in one day!” added the trainer.

Then I woke up!

The alchemist of Irish racing had just pulled two rabbits out of the same hat. Has ever a Classic been decided by a dead-heat where every being, human or equine – save Rory Cleary, and even he’d been fashioned in the manner of Aidan O’Brien, Tony McCoy, Willie Mullins and so many more, in the Bolger hothouse – had been so minutely sculpted by one man?

The fact it was not a dead-heat, and make no mistake neither horse deserved to lose, was the only issue that stopped this result from transcending reality into fiction.

To describe Bolger’s unique status during a lifetime as trainer, owner and breeder as the supremo of an Academy doesn’t go anywhere near to covering it. It’s been more like a multi-generational pattern of life based on hard work, honesty and intuitive talent. Forty years ago he talked of an ambition to own all the horses in his stable. Even that apparently over-blown dream has proved to be much less than the surreal actuality.

He not only does – in the name of his wife Jackie - own almost all the horses in the yard, but breeds the majority too. He is the breeder of both the Guineas winners and, much more improbably, their respective sires, Derby winner New Approach (Mac Swiney) and that horse’s son Dawn Approach, sire of Poetic Flame, not to mention Teofilo, Mac Swiney’s broodmare sire.

To breed one unbeaten champion two-year-old in a lifetime would be beyond the dreams of most stud owners. To breed three, all of which won the Dewhurst Stakes to clinch their European juvenile championships and ensure their reputation, is something beyond comprehension.

Much was said of his genius in identifying Galileo as a sire to bank on when he first went to Coolmore following that horse’s epic career under Aidan O’Brien including his impressive Derby win. At the time Derby winners weren’t the most fashionable for stud careers – often being packed off to Japan or indeed ending up as jumps stallions, but Galileo was the exception.

Teofilo emerged from that first crop, running five times – all at seven furlongs – and only twice winning by more than a neck, and even then never by as much as two lengths. In two of the three narrow victories he rallied at the finish to regain the lead, a characteristic of both Saturday’s main protagonists.

He could not have proved more justified in his patronage of Galileo, but even for Jim Bolger, it is impossible to be right all the time.

I remember one day at Arqana’s Saint-Cloud sales seeking a stallion to cover one of Raymond Tooth’s mares asking David O’Loughlin which of Coolmore’s new sires might fit. He kindly pointed me in the direction of another of their Derby winners, the Andre Fabre-trained Pour Moi. He said: “Jim Bolger’s sending a load of mares to him.”

So we sent Laughing Water to Pour Moi and her son, Waterproof, did win a hurdle race on New Year’s Day last year but nothing else. Coolmore meanwhile did not waste much time diverting Pour Moi to their successful NH division despite his producing a Derby winner from his first crop in the shape of Wings Of Eagles.

From a €20k starting point, Pour Moi is now serving his mares having been banished for the last two covering seasons to the Haras de Cercy in France at €3,000 a pop. That’s less than 1% of what Galileo still commands as he approaches the twilight of the greatest stallion career of all time. From his starting point of €30k he will stand in historical terms at least on a par with his own sire Sadler’s Wells and that great horse’s father, the inimitable Northern Dancer.

Just as Bolger identified Galileo’s potential so did John Magnier all those years ago when with the assistance of Robert Sangster’s financial clout and Magnier’s father-in-law Vincent O’Brien’s training skills, they descended on Keeneland in Kentucky to cherry-pick the best of the Northern Dancers.

Again here was a champion and a Derby winner, despite in his case being very small. He missed out on the Triple Crown, finishing only third in the Belmont Stakes following victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but once sent to stud, he produced the English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky, trained by Vincent O’Brien from only his second crop.

That event guaranteed the future success of Northern Dancer, standing at Windfields Farm in Maryland, near Washington DC, initially for $10,000. It also galvanised the O’Brien/Sangster/ Magnier certainty that Northern Dancer should be the sire to concentrate on.  As well as Sadler’s Wells, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner who did not contest the Derby, but became such a prepotent stallion winning 14 Champion Sire titles, 13 in succession, their shopping trips also brought back The Minstrel, one of the bravest winners of the Epsom Classic in memory.

If Jim Bolger was the biggest star on Irish 2,000 Guineas Day 2021, David O’Loughlin, or rather his wife Treasa, and also the wives of fellow Coolmore senior executives Tom Gaffney and Clem Murphy, won the Group 3 Marble Hill Stakes for two-year-olds with Castle Star, trained by Fozzy Stack.

Magnier has always encouraged his most valued employees to own, breed and above all cash in on the potential of horses and no doubt the trio (and their wives of course) will be hearing plenty of offers for this very stylish winner by Starspangledbanner, who has returned from the ignominy of infertility to a full part in the Coolmore story.

Last week I mentioned Sam Sangster, son of Sadler’s Wells and The Minstrel’s owner among many other Vincent O’Brien stars, for his own exploits with a filly called Beauty Stone. The daughter of Australia, originally a 475,000gns Godolphin buy, but a Sangster acquisition for barely 1% of that when culled from the Charlie Appleby team, made it four wins in a row at Goodwood on Saturday.

Running off 77, 15lb higher than when she started her winning run as recently as February at Kempton, the Tom Ward-trained filly battled on well to defeat 0-90 opposition. Black type could be next for Beauty Stone and no doubt young Mr Sangster will know how to handle the experience and also her future marketing which will involve rather more figures than those he paid for her. It’s all a matter of breeding as Jim Bolger will tell you. Nice kitchen by the way!

Punting Angles using Sires & Damsires: Part 1

After spending the past three years on geegeez almost exclusively looking at pace angles, I am branching out into a different ‘sphere’ today, namely sires / damsires, writes Dave Renham. The plan is to write a series of articles on this topic in an attempt to give geegeez punters an edge over the general betting fraternity.

First off, a quick 101: sires are the fathers of the respective horses, and they can have a significant influence on their offspring. Damsires are the fathers of the respective mothers of the horse – maternal grandfather, if you will – and these, too, can have a bearing, though it is generally considered that this further generation influence is less strong. In this series of articles we will examine whether this is true or not and, if it is, where we ought to focus our attention.

The cost of buying a racehorse can vary greatly, from thousands of pounds to millions. Age, equine conformation (physicality) and, most importantly, pedigree (horses’ lineage / ancestry) influence the price. Normally the better the pedigree the more expensive the horse.

Let me share a human example where lineage / ancestry seems to be having a strong influence. The young American golf sisters, Nelly and Jessica Korda, are taking the LPGA tour by storm. Their father is Petr Korda, a Grand Slam tennis champion in the 90s, while their mother is Regina Rajchrtova, a top 30 tennis player back in the same era. Good ‘stock’ certainly counts there.

Returning to racing, and for this first article I will be concentrating solely on sires. The data is taken from the period 1st January 2016 through to 31st December 2020 (five full years) and all profit/loss has been calculated to Industry Starting Price. For the vast majority of the article I have used the Geegeez Query Tool.

Firstly, let us look at the sires with the highest strike rates in all races during the period of study (minimum 400 runs). I am only including sires that are likely to have a significant number of runners this season:

 

As the table clearly shows, backing sires ‘blind’ is not a great option (duh). Just one sire, Farrh, has made a profit to SP with all his runners in the past five full seasons. Obviously we should be able to beat Starting Price returns in the real world, but it does show that we have to dig a lot deeper when analysing sires. And all those of us who like to get our hands dirty in the data say amen to that!

In order to try and profit from sire data, one sound strategy is to look at individual sires in more detail to try and spot patterns, strengths and weaknesses. I am going to look at a few in that context where I have unearthed some hopefully useful angles.

Teofilo

Teofilo, a son of Galileo, won at Group 1 level twice as a 2yo and was unbeaten in that first season racing (5 from 5). Unfortunately, he got injured and never raced again. However, he has been successful as a sire and has passed on some strong traits of which we should be aware.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he has a good record with 2yo runners, boasting a strike rate of 16.84% during the study period. However, we can break the data down further to give us interesting comparisons, as the graph below shows:

As can be seen, male juveniles comfortably outperform females, runners win more often at 7f or more than over shorter distances, and Teofilo-sired runners much prefer the turf to the sand. Combining those factors - male 2yos over 7f or more on the turf (2016-2020) - saw 65 runners qualify with 17 winning (SR 26.15%) for a very healthy profit of £66.53 (ROI +102.35).

No Nay Never

No Nay Never is a relatively new kid on the block with 2021 being only his fourth season as a sire. As a racehorse, No Nay Never was a Group 1 winning sprinter and hence it may come as no surprise that his progeny are showing a liking for shorter distances.

Horses sired by No Nay Never win about 3 times more often over 5-6f than they do when racing over a mile or further.

Casamento

Casamento proved as a two-year-old in 2010 he was one of the best colts of his generation when finishing second in the Group 1 National Stakes before going onto win the Group 2Beresford Stakes and finally in that year the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy over a mile. As a sire his runners are typically far better suited to longer distances: his runners are twice as likely to win at 1 mile 3 furlongs or more, as compared to sprint trips of 5f to 6f. The graph below shows this neatly:

Sadly, we'll not be seeing many more of Casamento's progeny as he passed away in February 2020.

Big Bad Bob

The sire Big Bad Bob caught my eye due to some relatively unusual findings. I noticed that his record as a sire was superior when racing left-handed compared to when racing right-handed. Famously Desert Orchid was far better going right-handed than left, and we often hear trainers allude to a directional preference, so I know certain horses do have this type of trait; maybe some sires do, too. Essentially, Big Bad Bob’s strike rate when racing left-handed (around at least one bend in a race) is 1.5 times greater than when racing right-handed.

In addition to this I analysed all of his runners in more detail and found that of those that raced left-handed, 41% of them managed to win at least one race going in that direction. For all his runners that raced right handed only 19% of these managed to win a race going that way round. Now these stats may have happened by chance, but 41% versus 19% is too big a gap for me to believe that it was entirely down to luck.

Big Bad Bob also displays a distance bias similar to Casamento. The bias is not quite as strong towards longer distances but it is still significant. Horses over racing at 1m 1f or more have by far the best record.

Swiss Spirit

Swiss Spirit is a relatively new sire with 2017 seeing his first runners on the racecourse. He was a decent sprinter when he raced winning at Group 3 level and twice finishing runner up in Group 2 events. It is interesting to note, though, that as a sire his sprinters have performed no better than his 7f to 1 mile runners. In fact, in strike rate terms they have been slightly inferior. However, there is one huge deviation that is extremely interesting. That is his record with male runners compared to female runners. I think this is best illustrated in a table rather than a graph:

As you can see there is a significant disparity in strike rates and naturally this impacts the profit/loss returns. Backing all male runners blind would have lost you just under 16p in the £ to SP compared with 59p in the £ if you backed all of his female runners. The A/E values show a strong correlation, too.

 

Dawn Approach

Dawn Approach was a top notch miler during his career and as a 3yo won the 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace Stakes. Unbeaten as a 2yo he ended up winning 8 of his 12 career starts.

Like Swiss Spirit, Dawn Approach sired his first crop of runners to race in 2017. Also like Swiss Spirit his male runners have to date outperformed his female runners by nearly double in terms of strike rate (male win SR% 11.76%; female win SR% 6.56%). However, it is the pace angle I find most interesting.

Below is a graph comparing the win strike rate of Dawn Approach against the strike rate of all sires when looking at different run styles: front runners (leaders); horses that track the pace (prominent); and horses that race mid-division or towards the back (Mid Div / Held Up).

The progeny of Dawn Approach have been very successful when taking an early lead, but really struggle when racing from off the pace (Mid Div / Held Up). To illustrate this further I have looked at all the horses that have taken an early lead and examined their record in more detail. 65 horses have led early in at least one race and 25 of them have gone on to win at least once (38.46%). Compare this to all horses that have showed the running style of racing off the pace. Of these horses, 112 displayed this running style at least once and only 13 managed to win when racing in this way (11.60%).

Horses do have preferred running styles due to a variety of factors (some don’t like crowding for example, while others seem to thrive when racing in a pack), and hence it could make sense that certain pace traits may be passed on by individual sires.

I hope this piece has whetted your appetite for this new phase of my geegeez research sharing. In my second article I will reveal another collection of interesting data and stats. In the meantime, if you're interested in doing your own digging, both the geegeez Query Tool and the Profiler tab within the racecards offer a treasure trove of insights and are very easy to use.

- DR

Bat Sh!t Crazy Bolger

Bat sh!t Crazy Jim Bolger

Bat sh!t Crazy Jim Bolger

Bat-S*!t-Crazy Bolger

Jim Bolger doesn’t like rules, writes Tony Keenan. Some of his more liberal stable staff might disagree with the code of abstinence that prevails around Coolcullen but in terms of training rules of time, space and distance, Bolger doesn’t care. The received wisdom with Group 1 horses is clear: find their distance and stick to it, campaign them sparingly, don’t travel them too much.  Bolger ignores all of these, treating his group horses like handicappers, mixing up their trips, racing them often, travelling abroad at will. If another trainer took the same approach, the racing world would question what sort of bat-crazy methods they’re using. With Bolger, we’ve seen it all before and have come to expect the unforeseen.

This season’s experiment is Pleascach. Already she has dropped back from a strong finishing win over ten furlongs to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas in which her trainer ran two pacemakers to bring her home. Her next trick will be a relative sleight of hand in the Ribblesdale before a planned David Blaine-esque feat taking on the colts in the Irish Derby. But she’s only following on from other Bolger horses that have broken the rules and won.

 

Alexander Goldrun

Only the brave, drug-addled or a hopelessly optimistic owner could have predicted Alexander Goldrun would win five Group 1’s at the end of her juvenile season. At two, she ran eight times, including five nurseries; she started off with a rating of 88 and won just one of those juvenile handicaps. Improvement came at three, though, where she was in the frame for three Group 1’s before returning from a French-style mid-summer break to win the Prix de l’Opera on Arc day.

It was her next run that would define her, however. Bolger took her to Sha Tin in December of that year to win the Hong Kong Cup, becoming the first – and as yet only – Irish-trained winner of that race; in fact, by my reckoning there had been just four Irish-trained runners in the race before her, the race first run in 1988. She was also the first three-year-old to win the Hong Kong Cup – Snow Fairy became the second in 2010 – and joined a roll of winners that includes Fantastic Light and Falbrav. Not bad for a filly once rated 88.

 

Dawn Approach

An unbeaten Champion Two-Year-Old who won the Coventry, National and Dewhurst, Dawn Approach was clearly not the average thoroughbred but nor was he unique. He returned at three with a five-length win in the 2,000 Guineas which led to him being sent off at 5/4 for the Derby, the decision to run influenced by factors like Godolphin buying him and Bolger having taken the Guineas route to Derby success with the sire, New Approach.

The trainer couldn’t get away with breaking this rule, his top-class miler running like what he was, pulling viciously with Kevin Manning in the early stages, allowed to lead six furlongs out and ultimately finishing a tailed off 33 lengths last. This may have been a rare time where Bolger second-guessed himself as he could have left the winner at home; his Irish Derby winner, Trading Leather, would later beat the Epsom form at the Curragh.

Dawn Approach seemed set for some time off after the Derby, if for nothing else than to teach him to settle properly and calm his nerves. But Bolger was having none of it. Seventeen days later, Dawn Approach runs in and wins the St. James’s Palace at Royal Ascot, beating his arch-rival Toronado in a race that didn’t go to plan as he suffered a heavy bump in the straight. Many questioned whether Dawn Approach had left his season behind at Epsom, but Bolger just kept him rolling.

 

Finsceal Beo

There were hints at two that Finsceal Beo could take racing and travelling well – she won the Boussac and the Rockfel, the second under a penalty, within a fortnight in the autumn of her juvenile season. This set up an ambitious plan at three; three Guineas, four weeks, the UK to France and back to Ireland. Taking the modern period into account, from 1979 to present, winning the first two races is doable if unusual. Miesque (1987), Ravinella (1988) and Special Duty (2010) completed the Newmarket/Longchamp double.

The English/Irish double, seemingly the more logical for horses trained in these islands, is much rarer, only Attraction in 2004 achieving that since 1979. Finsceal Beo of course did the double in 2007 and narrowly failed in winning all three, going down by a head in France, with the ground perhaps an excuse. What is most notable however is that defeat came in the middle leg, giving Bolger an obvious out not to run her at the Curragh. But he didn’t deviate from the plan and she landed her second Classic at home.

 

Light Heavy

Topping out a rating of 113, Light Heavy is hardly the most memorable Bolger horse but he is an unheralded cog in the headgear revolution that has happened in Irish racing. In 2012, he landed the Ballysax/Derrinstown double at Leopardstown; nothing unusual in that but he did it in cheekpieces. The aesthetics may not have been pleasing but they were effective.

Irish racing is hidebound and things like blinkers and cheekpieces were viewed in the traditional sense; rogues’ badges that you really don’t want your horses, especially the good ones, to wear if at all possible. This is backed up by the numbers though I do allow that the Irish authorities were quite slow to include this as part of their racecard information. Between 2003 and 2011, cheek-pieced runners in Irish group races were 3/124, a strikerate of 2.4%, and two of those winners were trained in the UK; Irish trainers simply didn’t want to use them.

Since 2012, the year Light Heavy won his double, their record is 14/113, a return of 12.3%; there have been almost as many runners in cheekpieces the last three and a bit years than there were in the previous ten. We have had a Derby winner (Ruler Of The World) race in them as well as an Ascot Gold winner (Leading Light). Aidan O’Brien uses them extensively and set the tone for the rest of the training community as befits his position as Champion Trainer. It was his old mentor Bolger who was the earliest of adopters though.

 

Lush Lashes

Lush Lashes ran only once at two – I don’t understand it either – but her three-year-old season more than compensated and was a thing of beauty in terms of endurance.  It is worth rehashing in full, race-by-race with her finishing position: Park Express – seventh; 1,000 Guineas – sixth; Musidora – won; Oaks – fifth; Coronation – won; Nassau – second (unlucky); Yorkshire Oaks – won; Matron – won; Prix De L’Opera – second; Hong Kong Cup – fourteenth. And the variation in furlongs (wins in bold): eight, eight, ten, twelve, eight, ten, twelve, eight, ten, ten.

It is one thing to experiment with a horse’s trip preferences early in their three-year-old season to find their optimum, quite another to continue doing it all season while bringing her back and forth from Britain and Ireland and later France and Hong Kong. Lush Lashes was the blueprint for the trip-versatile, frequent-running Bolger filly that would later be seen at a lower level with Banimpire (though there was nothing lower-level about her price tag as she sold for €2.3million in 2011 as a broodmare prospect) and hopefully Pleascach.

Long live bat sh!t crazy Bolger!