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Domesday Delight – Edmunds Festival First

Based just a stones-throw from the M1 near Newport Pagnell, Stuart Edmunds has been training horses for more than 30 years, and was assistant to the late Renee Robeson. Last Thursday at the Cheltenham Festival he had his proudest moment as a handler, when Domesday Book caused a 40/1 upset to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

With less than 30 horses at his disposal, this was an extraordinary success for the yard. The seven-year-old was previously trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, and was delivered with a storming late run by 25-year-old amateur Gina Andrews, to deny Pendra in a thrilling finish. The runner-up looked to have got the better of a prolonged duel as the pair turned for home. But Pendra’s stamina began to run-out from the last, and less than a length separated the pair at the line.

Edmunds could hardly believe his good fortune, and speaking after the win said: “It's unbelievable, it hasn't sunk in. I think it's as big a surprise to me as everyone else. He was recommended to me by a late friend. He ran okay at Leicester on his first run, and we thought the further the better, so we put him in this and told Gina to be forceful on him, and he just kept responding. I thought he was beat but she gave him a smack and he's always behind the bridle, the blinkers did their job. I came here thinking if he finished mid-division we'd be happy.”

For the young jockey, the result was a dream come true: “This has literally been my lifetime ambition, just to ride here never mind win. Stuart told me he'd never be on the bridle, but to be honest he was never off it until we turned in, so that was a pleasant surprise. He rallied well, but I thought I'd be second jumping the last, the loose horse helped - I'm delighted.”

Wolf Of Windlesham had been the star of the Fences Farm stable in recent times. A talented young hurdler, he’d won three of his four starts as a juvenile, including a Grade 2 at Cheltenham and a valuable handicap at Sandown last April. He was still going well, when coming down in the Greatwood Hurdle in November, though has not been sighted since finishing down the field at Ascot in December.

Edmunds has his team in good order, and Apasionado has become another yard favourite, having won three of his six starts since arriving from Ireland. A novice hurdler now rated in the mid-130s, he was a fast finishing runner-up at Kempton a few days back, and looks more than capable of going-in again before the season ends.

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The handler also has some decent mares in the yard, few better than the promising youngster Maria’s Benefit. A win and a second-place finish from her two bumper outings, she looked a nice prospect when winning cosily last time at Huntingdon. She has an attractive pedigree, being by Beneficial out of an Anshan mare. Her breeding gives hope that she’ll make into a smart staying hurdler in time.

Molly Childers is another with potential, though she’s struggling to get her head in front. Three seconds, and a hugely promising fifth in a listed event at Sandown last time, suggests she’ll be winning soon. She appeared to find the soft ground an issue in her latest run, but the daughter of Stowaway looks a nice sort.

Grey Warbler is another that looks sure to be in the winners’ enclosure soon enough. Runner-up in both her bumper starts, she possibly lacks gears, and is another that will probably need a trip when sent over hurdles. She also has a smart pedigree, being by Notnowcato, out of a Sir Harry Lewis mare.

A festival winner is sure to boost confidence throughout the yard, and Edmunds will be hopeful that the success will attract new owners, looking to put their trust in the small yet beautifully formed Buckinghamshire outfit.

Magnificent Martaline – A Leading French Stallion

The career of talented chaser Dynaste came to an end at the weekend, following a slightly disappointing run in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

The popular 11-year-old grey had been one of David Pipe’s stable stars for almost half a dozen years. The racecourse highlight came when winning the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2014. He followed that performance with a second-place finish in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree, and later that year was runner-up to Silviniaco Conti in the King George at Kempton.

Though an attractive looking grey, Dynaste could not compete in the looks department with his talented father Martaline. The truly gorgeous French stallion is virtually white from nose to tail. A strikingly powerful colt, he stands at Haras De Montaigu, a beautifully picturesque stud in North-West France.

A classy horse on the flat, Martaline was at his best as a four-year-old in 2003, when runner-up in the Group 2 Grand Prix De Chantilly before winning the Prix Maurice De Nieuil at Longchamp. That victory came at 1m6f, when he defeated an outstanding stayer in Westerner. He was victorious or placed in 12 of his 22 career starts. It’s also interesting to note, that his most disappointing performances came on heavy ground.

As a leading French National Hunt stallion in recent years, he has produced numerous talented jumpers for trainers on both sides of the English Channel.

Agrapart was a high-profile success for the French sire recently, when taking the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Trained by Nick Williams, the six-year-old clearly thrived in testing conditions, when getting up late to beat L’Ami Serge, with Cole Harden seven lengths back in third. He’s likely to head for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, though he looks a chaser in the making, and certainly has the action over hurdles to suggest that he’ll suit a fence.

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Another with a Cheltenham success to his name this season, is the Colin Tizzard trained Viconte Du Noyer. Owned by the Potts’, he’d previously been trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, and was winning the Grade 3 Betvictor Handicap Chase on his first run for the new yard. He failed to take to the Grand National fences next time at Aintree and then ran below par in testing ground at the Welsh National. His win at Cheltenham suggested there’s plenty more to come, so I wouldn’t be losing faith in this fella. Better ground may well be essential, and he’s worth a second luck with conditions to suit.

One from the bloodline that does enjoy Aintree’s National fences, is the Gordon Elliott trained Ucello Conti. He was fourth in the Becher Chase in December, having been sixth in the Grand National last April. It’s tough to say whether he truly stayed the trip that day on soft ground, but he’s likely to be back for another crack this year, and on a more attractive looking handicap mark.

Noel Meade also looks to have a talented chaser on his hands with the six-year-old grey gelding Disko. He seemed to appreciate better ground when running a cracker at Leopardstown over Christmas. His third-place finish in the Grade 1 three-mile novice chase was a personal best, and he’d be a live contender at Cheltenham in March, for either the JLT or the RSA. He’s not short of speed. Meade’s last Cheltenham Festival winner was another son of Martaline, with Very Wood landing the Albert Bartlett of 2014 at huge odds.

Another from the Martaline production line, who is rapidly going the right way, is Tim Vaughan’s hurdler, Theligny. Despite four victories and three second place finishes from his eight outings over hurdles, the six-year-old remains on a fair handicap mark. He was impressive at Newbury last time, when showing a terrific attitude in holding off the Rebecca Curtis trained Geordie Des Champs. That came at two and a half miles, and the target may well be the Martin Pipe Conditional at The Festival, with classy claimer Alan Johns likely to be on-board.

As an 18-year-old, Martaline continues to prove an extremely popular stallion. A strike-rate of 31% this season for his offspring, shows just how potent he is. It would be no surprise to see many more of his progeny travelling across the Channel in the coming years.

De Bromhead Fights Back

As Mullins and Elliott launch into a titanic struggle for Ireland’s trainers’ title, so Noel Meade and Henry de Bromhead set about leading the chasing pack.

I recently wrote of Meade’s impressive start to the latest campaign, and the yard’s outstanding form was confirmed with a treble at Punchestown on Saturday. De Bromhead’s place towards the top of charts, comes despite a seismic shock as the season began.

News broke in September that owners Alan and Ann Potts had ended their association with Henry de Bromhead, and had removed 13 horses from the Waterford trainer’s yard. An alliance that had brought huge success for almost a decade had finally come to an end.

The shining light of the union was of course Champion Chaser Sizing Europe. He won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2007, before victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle a couple of months later. Made favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, he looked the winner when cruising into contention, but faded rapidly in the latter stages. His trainer later reported that he’d suffered a back injury.

It was when switched to fences in 2009 that Sizing Europe’s career leapt to another level. He won the Arkle Chase as a novice and a year later took the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He went on to win six Grade 1s, including the Tingle Creek in 2011 and the Punchestown Champion Chase in 2012 and 2014. He was retired at the end of the 2015 campaign having won more than £1,300,000 in prize money.

But he was by no means the only Potts-De Bromhead success story. Sizing Australia took the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival, and twice won Punchestown’s equivalent. More recently, Shanahan’s Turn won the valuable and prestigious Galway Plate, and the talented Sizing John had captured a Grade 1 over hurdles before proving himself a top-class chaser when chasing home Douvan in the Arkle. Connections also produced the talented yet diminutive grey, Smashing, to win a pair of Grade 2s over fences.

Despite the pre-season blow, De Bromhead has knuckled down to the task of producing winners. And with a strike-rate of 18%, and 34 wins already on the board, he’s doing a terrific job.

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The Waterford handler has benefitted from the arrival of Gigginstown’s useful young chaser, Sub Lieutenant. His seasonal return at Limerick was eye-catching, and the seven-year-old may well prove competitive at the highest level this winter. He was third for Sandra Hughes in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown back in April, and looks to have a bright future.

De Bromhead already has a potential star chaser in the yard, with young novice Identity Thief. Another owned by Gigginstown, he looked a natural at Punchestown over the weekend, and is set to take high rank over the coming months.

The trainer will also be excited by the return of Sadler’s Risk, who romped to victory in a Grade 3 chase earlier in the month. The handicapper is sure to make life difficult for the talented eight-year-old, but he looks a staying chaser with plenty more to offer. Already a winner of the Munster National, the trainer is sure to have Aintree on his mind.

Another novice chaser worth keeping a close eye on, is recent Grade 3 winner Three Stars. More than handy over hurdles, the son of Westerner is already two from three over the larger obstacles. His breeding suggests a step-up in trip is on the cards, and he could prove a surprise package this winter and beyond.

De Bromhead also tasted success at Cheltenham last week, when Heron Heights led home stable companion Full Cry in the stayers’ novice chase. Showing a terrific attitude up the famous hill, he could be one for the four-miler back at Cheltenham in March. Decent ground appears to suit, so don’t be surprised if he disappoints in deep winter conditions.

Since taking over from his father in 1999, De Bromhead has continued to build a powerful team at his Waterford base. Success and failure go hand in hand in this unpredictable sport, and this latest chapter in his training career must have proved a testing time. Nevertheless, this talented trainer has plenty to be optimistic about, and looks set for another lucrative and successful campaign.

Please Sire – Can We Have Some Moore

Last Fence Drama at Sandown

Last Fence Drama at Sandown

Gary Moore’s current purple patch is testament to the highs and lows of our great sport.

Since sustaining a painful injury at his Sussex stables which saw him hospitalized for several days, the fortunes of the yard have turned dramatically, culminating in yet another treble at Sandown on Saturday, including victory in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek for stable star Sire De Grugy.

Travelling with far greater verve than when last seen at Exeter, and spring-heeled at his fences, the nine-year-old was sent to the lead at the Railway Fences and looked to have the race in safe keeping turning for home. However, Special Tiara renewed his challenge and at the final fence the two collided mid-air before Sire De Grugy pulled out more towards the finish.

The impact at the last was substantial and there’s certainly a strong case for the result having been reversed by the stewards. Ultimately the result stood and Gary Moore along with the exuberant connections were able to commence celebrations. The relieved trainer said: “He has put Devon behind him and one or two runs last season. Hopefully he can progress from today. When he jumped the ditch the first time he was positive at it. In my mind this ranks higher than winning the Champion Chase. Everybody seems to make Cheltenham the be all and end all, but I don't and to me this is as good as winning at Cheltenham.”

Henry De Bromhead, trainer of the runner-up, was rather less than impressed with the result, saying: “He should have won, obviously he was coming to win the race and the other horse took him out, it was as simple as that. I was delighted with his run, and we will decide where we go next when we get home.”

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That final fence drama should not detract from a wonderful performance from Moore’s fella. The ex-champion is certainly back to something like his best, though down the line may well find a certain Un De Sceaux plying his trade at a different level.

Back in third on Saturday was Vibrato Valtat. At a track he clearly enjoys, and with conditions appearing to be in his favour, he just came up short. Outpaced by Sire De Grugy he briefly closed turning in, but was then put in his place by the front two. At the age of six there is time for further improvement, but it’s likely he’s simply not quite good enough in this type of company.

Earlier on the card Moore had saddled the winner of the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, when Ar Mad caused something of an upset with an outstanding front running display. Wonderfully slick over his obstacles, he set strong fractions before staying on well to run out a 10 length winner. He has to go right handed, and his trainer was quick to dismiss the Cheltenham Festival as an end of season target.

A pair of Grade 1 victories and trebles on consecutive days at the Esher track was a truly exceptional performance from the Sussex handler and his team. Few would grudge one of racing’s most likeable families every bit of their well-earned success.

Mullins Says No To Un De Sceaux Sandown Show

Un De Sceaux misses Tingle Creek

Un De Sceaux misses Tingle Creek

Disappointing news arrived from Ireland yesterday with the withdrawal of Un De Sceaux from the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

Mullins announced on social media that his Arkle winner would not run at the weekend having been ‘a little flat in himself the last few days.’ He is now likely to run over Christmas in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown. The Champion Chase favourite had been a short price to win at Sandown, and his absence leaves the Paul Nicholls trained Vibrato Valtat as the new favourite.

Nicholls’ young chaser looked in tip-top shape when an impressive winner of the Haldon Gold Cup on his seasonal debut at Exeter. He comfortably beat Third Intention that day, though Tizzard’s fella has since been pulverised by Vautour and Ptit Zig, questioning the strength of that Exeter victory. However, Vibrato Valtat looks progressive and soft ground would certainly aid his chance of success. Nicholls has a sensational record in the race with seven victories in the last 10 years.

Another who looks likely to take his chance is Nicky Henderson’s talented chaser Simonsig. On the comeback trail after a lengthy spell on the side-lines, we all know how talented he was, though it was hard to judge the strength of his return, when just failing to overhaul Bobs Worth at Aintree. He did travel like a class act that day, and if he is back to anything like his best he will prove a threat on Saturday. However, it remains a huge ask to win the Tingle Creek having not jumped a fence in competition since March 2013.

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Sire De Grugy is said to have ‘turned a corner’ in recent weeks with Gary Moore expecting a far better performance than his lifeless effort at Exeter behind Vibrato. He’s three from three at Sandown over fences, including a win in this race back in 2013. Like Simonsig, it is hard to rule him out yet just as hard to summon any real confidence in a major performance.

Henry De Bromhead struck at Newcastle last weekend when his Identity Thief took the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. He’ll attempt another successful raid when sending Special Tiara in to battle, the eight-year-old having won the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at the track in April. The bold front-runner can be spectacular over his obstacles, and could take some catching if he’s on a going day. He won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last Christmas and clearly loves these jaunts across the Irish Sea.

The loss of Mullins’ star chaser is a blow, yet the race still remains competitive and intriguing. Several have a reputation to rebuild and others will look to take advantage in the absence of the division’s leading lights.

Charting the Irish Jumps Trainers

It might be a sign of age, writes Tony Keenan, but I find myself ever-more interested in the role of trainers in winning races. On my initial ventures into racing I thought that jockeys were the central figures but over time – and perhaps helped by Mick Kinane utterly blanking my attempts to heartily congratulate him after winning the Vintage Crop at Navan in 2006 – it is the role of the trainer, with all their strategic decisions that has fascinated me.

Whereas jockeys tend to be quite boring – Michelle Payne excepted – trainers, by dint of being the boss, can say many more interesting things when the notion takes them. This is not a slight on jockeys as much as a recognition of their role; they are amidst a ‘yes sir, no sir’ culture that leaves them in thrall to trainers and owners  and are, in the main, clamped from saying what they might like to.

With that in mind, let’s delve into some trainer numbers for the Irish national hunt scene in the hope of uncovering some angles, betting and otherwise. Let’s begin with getting a global sense of where trainers are going in terms of their careers, taking their winners from 2009/10 through to the end of last season as a starting point.

I’ve broken these winners into a pair of three-year pockets, taking the years from 2009/10 to 2011/12 and from 2012/13. By separating them out into three-year phases it allows a decent sample size while still being current and gives us a broad picture of what is going on with this cohort of  trainers, who is trending up and down, and who is going up and down on the spot. The trainers listed below are simply the top 25 in terms of winners trained in Ireland last season; there are only 23 below because neither Sandra Hughes nor Aidan O’Brien had been training jumpers in previous seasons.

 

Trainer Average Season Wins, 09/10 – 11/12 Average Season Wins, 12/13 – 14/15 Wins                                           Difference Percentage Improve/Decline
W. Mullins 130 188.3 58.3 44%
G. Elliott 42.7 67.3 24.6 57%
N. Meade 57.o 47 -10 -17%
H. De Bromhead 25.3 43 17.7 69%
T. Martin 26.7 36.3 9.6 36%
J. Harrington 32.3 31.3 -1 -3%
T. Mullins 12.3 13 -0.7 -5%
R. Tyner 12 22.3 10.3 85%
P. Nolan 27.7 20 -7.7 -27%
J. Hanlon 20.3 13.7 -6.6 -32%
L. Doyle 6 14.7 8.7 145%
M. Hourigan 18.3 17.3 -1 -5%
JJ Walsh 9.7 11.3 1.6 16%
J. Dreaper 4.7 7 2.3 48%
C. Bowe 9.3 9.3 0 -
P. Fahey 4.5 10 5.5 122%
D. Hogan 5.3 11 5.7 107%
C. Roche 16.3 12 -4.3 -26%
E. O’Grady 41.7 13.3 -28.4 -68%
E. Bolger 6.7 11.7 5 74%
C. Murphy 21.3 12.7 -8.6 -40%
C. Byrnes 22 15.7 -6.3 -28%
M. Morris 14.7 16.7 2 13%

In short, the big risers are: Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Henry De Bromhead, Robert Tyner, Liz Doyle, Peter Fahey and Denis Hogan. Heading the other way are: Noel Meade, Paul Nolan, Shark Hanlon, Christy Roche, Edward O’Grady, Colm Murphy and Charles Byrnes.

In the unlikely event there is to be a challenge to Willie Mullins as top trainer it will almost certainly come from the risers Elliott and/or De Bromhead and not the older brigade like Meade though I was surprised that Meade hadn’t fallen back as much as I thought. Edward O’Grady however has seen his winner totals fall of the edge of a cliff; his numbers have dropped each year since 2009/10 from 53 to 47 to 25 to 16 to 14 and 10 last year. Of those trainers on the up, Liz Doyle is one that stands out; her profile seems well behind her ability at this point which is somewhat surprising given her mother was a prominent Irish politician – maybe Michelle Payne has a point!

The total wins for all jumps trainers in Ireland since 2010 makes for interesting reading too but perhaps more notable are their records in different types of National Hunt race. Time and again it is seen that trainers are better with one type of horse than another and you can peruse the raw data for yourself. I have put the national average at the bottom though we need to allow that these are the top twenty trainers in the period covered and by definition are better than the norm.

Irish Jumps Trainers since 2010, by discipline

Trainer Total Wins Bumper SR% Hurdle SR% Chase SR%
W. Mullins 932 35.3 28.8 25.7
G. Elliott 363 23.8 12.3 16.7
N. Meade 274 19.7 16.1 11.7
H. De Bromhead 214 12.6 13.0 18.0
J. Harrington 196 10.4 12.4 13.0
T. Martin 188 16.1 12.6 13.4
E. O’Grady 134 13.9 12.5 8.3
P. Nolan 127 10.6 8.6 14.5
C. Byrnes 109 11.8 15.8 12.3
J. Hanlon 101 5.6 6.2 10.8
M. Hourigan 99 6.8 8.2 8.8
E. Doyle 98 12.2 8.4 13.5
R. Tyner 96 17.6 7.1 12.0
C. Murphy 90 9.3 11.0 14.3
M. Morris 88 8.3 7.6 11.4
C. Roche 81 17.2 9.4 9.3
P. Rothwell 74 4.6 3.0 6.0
J. Kiely 72 11.9 13.4 19.0
D. Weld 69 37.3 20.9 20.5
J. Walsh 69 5.3 10.0 7.7
National Average 8.3 7.6 9.3

 

I’ve knocked Willie Mullins’s record with chasers in the past and while that is probably justified in open and handicap chases, it’s worth pointing out that his strike rate over fences is still much the best of the top trainers. It remains below his strike rate over hurdles and particularly in bumpers and that is one of the uses of these figures; they allow one to compare trainers with themselves as well as with others. Regarding the Mullins chase stats, there’s every chance he simply blows them out of the water this season anyway; he’s spent the last half-decade doing just that with other historical numbers and has such reserves of talent in store that casting doubt on Closutton is often folly.

In terms of pure strike rate, Dermot Weld is the only trainer who approaches Mullins’s overall record though he seems to be moving away from jumpers at the moment. There is no surprise to see Henry De Bromhead’s returns improve as he sends his horses over fences though Edward O’Grady’s strike rate of 8.3% with chasers seems particularly poor: that might give backers of Kitten Rock for the Arkle and other novice events slight cause for concern.

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The only response I muster about Philip Rothwell’s strike rates is ‘ugh’ while John Kiely’s return with chasers was a pleasant surprise. He’s widely regarded as a bumper trainer whose horses tend not to progress over obstacles but a strike rate of 19% over fences is impressive.

You can’t think about Irish racing without considering UK racing, the two jurisdictions having a symbiotic relationship. Since 2010, there have been 3,939 Irish runners in the UK so that’s a pretty robust sample size. Here’s the overall record of Irish trainers in all UK races this decade:

 

Irish Trainers in UK Jumps Races since 2010

Trainer Wins Runs Strikerate Actual/Expected
G. Elliott 166 682 24.3 0.98
W. Mullins 44 333 13.2 0.91
J. Lambe 19 150 12.7 0.99
S. Crawford 18 96 18.8 1.06
T. Martin 16 132 12.2 0.89
J. Hanlon 13 131 9.9 0.70
M. McNiff 12 76 15.6 1.30
P. Gilligan 12 69 17.4 1.50
H. De Bromhead 10 76 13.2 1.13
C. McBratney 9 17 8.2 0.65

 

There’s something false about those numbers, though, with a perception that many of them are soft touches: victories for placement more than quality. The less valuable races in the UK are eminently winnable – since 2012, the average field size for races worth £10,000 or less is 8.4 runners whereas those worth more than £10,000 on average have 10.1 runners. Trainers like James Lambe and Stuart Crawford deserve credit for exploiting this weakness and extracting wins from their horses but stripping out the less valuable races presents a wildly different table:

Irish Trainers in UK Races since 2010 worth £10,000 or more

Trainer Wins Runs Strikerate Actual/Expected
W. Mullins 43 329 13.1 0.91
G. Elliott 20 171 11.7 1.02
H. De Bromhead 8 67 11.9 1.09
J. Harrington 6 46 13.0 1.12
J. Culloty 4 14 28.6 3.45
T. Martin 4 67 6.0 0.73
C. Byrnes 4 34 11.8 0.86
R. Sweeney 3 5 60.0 2.14
E. Bolger 3 37 8.1 0.55
D. Hughes 3 75 4.0% 0.62

 

It’s more a case of the usual suspects here; the top four all comfortably reside in the top five of overall winners in Ireland in the same period. The one exception is the oft-maligned Jim Culloty though I doubt I’m the only one to think that might be randomness!

- TK

5 Outrageously Bold Predictions for the Jumps

The nature of bold predictions is that they tend to be wrong, writes Tony Keenan. As Nate Silver points out in his excellent book ‘The Signal and the Noise’, the prognosticators who shout the loudest and make the wildest claims tend to miss the mark the furthest. With that in mind, I fully expect all five of these calls to be incorrect but selecting the most likely outcomes for the coming jumps campaign interests no one. Saying Faugheen will win the Champion Hurdle when he’s the shortest price of the Cheltenham favourites is simply boring for all that it may prove accurate.

 

  1. Bachasson won’t win a race before next summer

Bachasson is already as short as 10/1 for the Supreme after an unbeaten start over hurdles but expecting him to progress to Grade 1 level goes against the typical modus operandi of the Mullins yard; Willie simply doesn’t run his best horses during the summer. Looking at his 34 Cheltenham winners since 2003, only Wicklow Brave and Glens Melody could be described as having summer jumps backgrounds and that was in both their respective bumper seasons whereas their Festival wins came much later.

Furthermore, the best Mullins horses to run over the summer tend to be good rather than great. Looking back as far as 2010, the best horses I could find that ran over jumps for the trainer in the months of June, July and August were Diakali (officially rated 158), Blazing Tempo (155), Blackstairmountain (152) and Tarla (150). Bachasson has a rating of 147, likely inflated because he’s meeting inferior jumpers all summer, and that could be as good as he is.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were ten novice hurdlers in Clossutton that finish the season rated higher than him. There are the obvious former bumper horses like Bellshill and Yorkhill, not to mention the ones that have been bought from France and off the flat. In fact, it’s possible that two other novices that ran for the yard at Galway could be better than him, Long Dog and Gangster. On a line through Three Stars, who the former treated with contempt at Ballybrit, Long Dog is well ahead of Bachasson already.

 

  1. Paul Townend will ride more winners than Ruby Walsh (Ireland and Britain)

Since he started riding, Townend has only once ridden more winners in Ireland than Ruby and that was in 2010/11 when Walsh was injured and Townend was champion jockey. Their totals were close last season though, Walsh on 79 and Townend on 71, and with Willie Mullins’s numbers trending upwards the whole time, there is more than enough to go around.

In the three seasons between 2009/10 and 2011/12, Mullins averaged 545 runners a season across both countries but that figure has risen to an average of 647 in the three seasons since and he had 91 UK runners last season, up from a previous high of 68. Townend will be one of the chief beneficiaries of this expanded approach as he is likely to pick up many of the rides on big jumps Saturdays in England with Ruby staying at home for the Irish meetings. Also, Townend could acquire the ‘hired gun’ status while on these raids; he has already managed to link up to great effect with Rebecca Curtis.

Mullins has spent most the last few seasons keeping his best horses apart and we may – and I hope we have – reach a tipping point where they simply have to run against each other as there are only so many races to go around. That means more choices for Ruby and in turn more errors and as we saw at the most recent Punchestown Festival there are times when the retained rider’s choice gets beaten; there were six Mullins second or third strings that won at that fixture, including three Grade 1s.

Ruby is not getting any younger either and while he’s never shy about getting on a big winner – see his Australian jaunt this past summer – he’s more about the big days than the grind now, and he’s arguably a bit injury prone too. If anything this is as much punting angle as prediction as I believe there is little between Townend and Ruby in pure riding ability; but the market certainly doesn’t believe that and I want to be with Townend-ridden second strings this season.

 

  1. Don Cossack won’t win another race this season

Don Cossack joined some lofty company this past season, becoming just the tenth horse since 2004/5 to win three open Grade 1 chases and in so doing achieved a Timeform rating of 180 and was that company’s horse of the year. The other triple Grade 1 winners were Kauto Star (three times), Master Minded (twice), Kicking King, Moscow Flyer, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy while Dodging Bullets and Silviniaco Conti also joined the club this year.

The only horse to really repeat the success of his banner year was Kauto Star while the rest went 4 wins from 17 starts (just one of those wins was a Grade 1) the following season: not a great strike rate for top horses. Don Cossack is rising nine now and only Kauto Star and Moscow Flyer achieved three Grade 1 wins at his age or older. It is fair to say that I think we know at this stage that he is neither Kauto Star nor Moscow Flyer; I suspect he has reached his ceiling and the only way is down.

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Injury has tended to follow these chasing superstars in the season following their peak. Moscow Flyer was never the same again which was understandable given his age but Kicking King, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy all suffered setbacks soon after; repeated peak efforts take their toll.  Nor is Don Cossack trained by Paul Nicholls which is pretty much a requisite to make this list; of the twelve three-time Grade 1 winners, he has trained seven of them. Gordon Elliott is an excellent trainer in many ways but Nicholls is just on another plane with these top chasers.

 

  1. Henry de Bromhead will improve an ordinary hurdler into a Grade 1 novice chaser

This call may be not be bold at all as de Bromhead has already achieved the feat three times since 2010. An Cathaoir Mor went from 97-rated handicapper to 2010 Irish Arkle winner, Special Tiara had won just a maiden over hurdles before winning the Maghull in 2013 while Sizing Granite won the same Aintree race this year having been rated 130 over sticks.

In terms of purely improving horses for the switch from hurdles to fences, de Bromhead has claims to being the best trainer of chasers in Ireland. Of the 54 horses ‘our Henry’ has won a chase with since 2010, the average improvement, measured by peak official ratings over hurdles and fences, was 9.4lbs. 21 horses improved a stone or more and there were some spectacular jumps along with the three Grade 1 winners mentioned above; Grand Jesture improved 31lbs, Sizing Australia and Lord Ben 30lbs, Days Hotel 20lbs.

Sizing John is this season’s obvious top prospect for novice chases; already a Grade 1-winning novice hurdler and third in the Supreme, there’s a chance he improves into the stratosphere, perhaps even to Sizing Europe level. But he’s already rated 151 over hurdles and there are other lurkers in the yard. Two that might make the leap are Domesday Book and Alisier d’Irelande, neither of whom won anything more than a maiden over hurdles. De Bromhead has certainly been positive about both in recent stable tours and he’s one of the few trainers that really opens up for such pieces.

 

  1. Willie Mullins will win none of the open Grade 1 chases at the Festival

Judging by the ante-post markets for the Champion Chase, Ryanair and Gold Cup, Willie Mullins is expected to have one and a half winners of those championship races. That’s considering top prices only and horses priced 25/1 or shorter and while there is some overlap – Vautour is priced in all three markets for instance –the layers have the expectation that he wins at least one of those races in 2015.

That’s something that has never happened before though he has gone close in the Gold Cup repeatedly with five runners-up. Mullins’ lack of success in the top chases at the Festival remains the one gap in his domination of National Hunt racing and it is something he will be keen to address; but the numbers suggest that for all the top novice chasers Mullins has had, his conversion rate in getting them to transfer their ability to open company is below average.

Michael Williamson of Timeform (can be followed on Twitter @RacingMDWilly) put together some excellent figures recently on how well the top trainers do in improving classy novices into open company, taking Timeform ratings of 150 (novices) and 170 (open) as the parameters. By Williamson’s numbers, Mullins managed to ‘convert’ just two of his 16 novices rated 150 or higher into 17o horses, a conversion rate of 12.5% that is below the likes of Nicholls (32%) and Henderson (22%) and markedly so. Mullins clearly has the raw material here but the return is disappointing for someone widely regarded as the best around.

Jumping issues may be part of this. Mullins horses are known for lots of things, chiefly the ability to tank through races and still finish strongly, but sound jumping isn’t one of them. Again, I defer to Williamson’s work here as Mullins has a fall/unseat rate of 12% over fences in the last five years while Nicholls’ is only 8.3%. Neither Vautour nor Un De Sceaux, the shortest priced Mullins horse for the Gold Cup and Champion Chase, have been flawless in this regard either.

- Tony Keenan can be followed on twitter at @RacingTrends

Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale – Jump Racing’s Future Stars

Harold Kirk with Willie Mullins

Harold Kirk with Willie Mullins

While focus remains firmly on a thrilling Flat season, with the likes of Golden Horn, Gleneagles and Treve putting in dazzling displays, the world of National Hunt continues to turn and as such the Derby Sale at Tattersalls Ireland attracted plenty of attention last week.

Trade was certainly enthusiastic with day one seeing bloodstock agent Bobby O’Ryan purchasing the most expensive lot when stumping-up €170,000 for a son of Big Bad Bob. The three-year-old is a half-brother to Jonjo’s successful jumper Johns Spirit, and O’Ryan is clearly hoping for big things from him, saying: “He is a cracking horse, a lovely horse. He looks a real bumper type, which would be a bonus, and the sire is doing very well. He stays in Ireland.”

The sales attracted the usual suspects with cheque books at the ready, including Highflyer Bloodstock, Monbeg Stables, Noel Meade and a very active purchaser, Venetia Williams. She spent a cool €235,000 on five lots including €62,000 for a son of Beneficial out of the successful broodmare Roseallain. The stout looking dam’s side of the family includes Roselier and Le Moss, and has produced classy jumpers such as She Ranks Me and Cooldine.

Kevin Ross was another productive agent scooping two valuable lots. Famed for sourcing such stars as Imperial Commander, Macs Joy and more recently Shaneshill and Ballynagour, a gelding by the popular sire Stowaway was his most expensive purchase at €160,000. Out of a Supreme Leader mare, the youngster looks an exciting prospect. Anna Ross seemed pretty pleased with the day’s business, saying: “He is for an existing client and will stay in Ireland. I thought he was the nicest horse in the sale, a beautiful horse, very athletic and he has a good pedigree.”

A son of Yeats was a bargain in comparison at just €125,000. From another Supreme Leader mare, the classy sire is set to make quite an impact in the National Hunt sphere over the coming years. In all, Kevin Ross Bloodstock took nine lots totalling €715,000.

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Aiden Murphy was another spending big at the sales. €1,212,000 for 15 lots saw him top the purchasers table. Known for his association with leading trainers such as Philip Hobbs, Murphy also picked up a Yeats gelding, this one selling for €160,000, with the agent commenting: “He is a fabulous walker and the nicest Yeats in the sale.”

Top honours went to agent Harold Kirk when purchasing a son of Robin Des Champs for the highest price at the sales since 2011. A whopping €320,000 sealed the deal after a prolonged bidding war saw him go toe to toe with David Minton, Eddie O’Leary and Henry de Bromhead. Known as a successful buyer for Willie Mullins, Kirk appeared thrilled with his latest acquisition, saying: “He is a lovely horse, a proper model, the most similar horse I've seen to Sir Des Champs. Let's hope he has an engine to go with it.”

As temperatures soar and the dust settles after the thrills of Royal Ascot, thoughts of Cheltenham, Punchestown and Aintree are rightly far from our minds. However, for those at the business end there is no time to rest. Future stars of the sport are out there and the likes of Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson will be hoping to get their hands on them in the not too distant future.

For more details of the sales, head to the Tattersalls Ireland website at www.tattersalls.ie

Special Tiara – Stylish winner of Sandown’s Celebration Chase

Special Tiara

Upwardly Mobile Special Tiara

Sandown on Saturday was simply sensational. Tony McCoy received a truly wonderful send-off from a sell-out crowd.

The horse racing fraternity came together in a celebration of the greatest jockey of all-time. AP was understandably reduced to tears and reflected on the day speaking to At The Races saying: “It was very difficult to take it all in. The great racing public came out in force and I was thrilled by it all. I don't think I have ever cried before because of the sheer emotion of what a day was like."

But as well as saying a fond farewell to the jump racing legend, the Sandown public were treated to some quality racing. In particular Henry de Bromhead’s chaser Special Tiara continued on his steep upward curve and cemented his place as one of the leading two milers. He took the Celebration Chase in impressive fashion, in a decent time on the softer than anticipated ground, adding this Grade 1 victory to his Grade 2 success in the Desert Orchid Chase back in December.

A typically bold front-running display saw him pull clear two from home, but what impressed most was the way he maintained the run to the line on this stiffer track. He is definitely learning to settle better in his races as he gets older, which is allowing him to finish off a race to greater effect. To my eyes, this looked to be a career best performance.

His trainer was also impressed, saying: “He was brilliant. I was amazed how well he was going coming to the Pond fence. He seemed to come out of Noel's hands at the last and was full of running.”

At Cheltenham in the Champion Chase he had run with great credit finishing third to Dodging Bullets. He still looked a little too buzzy that day, and De Bromhead has the task of getting his eight-year-old to settle just slightly better in the ‘big one’. If he can, he would have every chance of picking up the major prize he won with stablemate Sizing Europe back in 2011, when coincidently, he was a maturing nine-year-old.

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Paddy Power reacted by cutting him to 16-1 (from 25) for next year's Betway Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Those odds look quite generous to me.

Saturday’s race was also notable for the return to form of Sprinter Sacre. Henderson’s superstar is clearly still some way short of his best, but in finishing second he ran with more zest, and probably came close to the form he showed in his seasonal opener behind Dodging Bullets. I’ve watched the race over again and again, and can’t help feeling that he still looked ‘bulky’. I wonder just how much Henderson got ‘stuck into him’ this season, maybe fearing a repeat of the career threatening injury of December 2013.

The trainer’s comments after the race appeared telling, when he said: “I have to be pleased with that as he looked fantastic and he ran his race. I think we had reason to come here to see how he did in his next race. I don't see any reason to stop and we can build on that. He made a bit of a noise at Cheltenham but made no noise today and there was no sign of blood. He travelled well and finished his race - that was a shoot.”

It’s possible that another summer on his back, and a rigorous pre-season with renewed confidence in his well-being, could see a fair bit of improvement from the former champion.

So as the Jumps season draws to a close, and racing adjusts to losing the Champ, fans have plenty to look forward too, when we gather to do it all again next winter.

Who will take on Sprinter Sacre?

sprintersacre3Who dares wins. The problem is, when it comes to Sprinter Sacre, few seem to dare. In some ways that isn’t too surprising. British Horseracing Authority classifications rate Sprinter Sacre on 188, 18 lbs ahead of the next best 2-mile chasers, Flemenstar and Sire de Grugy (169). Read more

Stat of the Day, 25th July 2013

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day, 25th July 2013

Our poor start to the week continued as National Poet was well beaten. In fairness, he never looked like getting terms an eventually finished way back in 5th place, some 12 lengths off the pace. The only bright spot was that we got 3/1 on a 2/1 favourite.

Across the sea today for a novice chase over 2m 3.5f, as 6 runners line up for the...

7.35 Limerick

Generally speaking, Henry de Bromhead is one of the best at getting his Irish runners to run well off the back of a break. Since the turn of 2011, he has run 125 horses in Ireland on the back of a break of 2 to 6 months, winning 29 of those races.That 23.2% strike rate has yielded level stakes profits of 27.2pts, an ROI of 21.8%.

Those general stats are quite broad and we can narrow them down further: of those 125 runners, 41 of them were reappearing after a break of 2 to 5 months at odds of  6/1 or under ie SotD odds! 15 of those 41 were winners with a further 10 making the frame. The win strike rate is excellent at 36.6% and the 44.24% ROI courtesy of 18.14pts profit isn't too shabby either.

The record from those 41 runners when narrowed down to the 17 who ran in chase events is 8 winners (47.06%) and 6 placed for a level stakes profit of 9.8pts: an ROI of over 57.5%.

Henry has one such runner this evening: Lord Ben.

Lord Ben was a revelation once sent chasing last season with a record reading 23223U. He obviously wasn't unduly affected by losing his rider in his last race of the season, as he bounced back to win on his seasonal reappearance back in April at Thurles, where he stayed on well to win despite feeling pressure from the pack.

He comes here suitably rested, having not raced since that Thurles victory, some 112 days ago. He'll look to grab an early lead and if uncontested at the head of affairs and allowed to steal a bit of a march on his rivals, he'll be hard to pass or beat, as his rivals at Thurles found to their cost. If he's wound up and ready for this one, I'd expect to just about get the trip and hold on to the lead.

In short, we've got a runner who has only failed to make the frame once in a chase ( he was in the top three when unseating his rider in that one failure) returning to the track after a break of nearly 4 months for a yard adept at getting fresh horses to run well on their return. Lord Ben will get some weight from Whats Happening and there are doubts over the jumping by The Real Article, so that makes the 7/2 BOG offered by Paddy Power for Lord Ben an attractive price to me. But, as always, I strongly suggest that you...

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Cooper faces summer on the sidelines

Bryan Cooper - out for four months

Bryan Cooper - out for four months

Young Irish jockey Bryan Cooper is having quite a year. The 20 year old burst into the consciousness of English racing fans with three victories at the Cheltenham Festival on Benefficient, Our Conor and Ted Veale. Read more

Stat of the Day, 27th January 2013

SotD : 26/01/13

SotD : 26/01/13

Stat of the Day, 27th January 2013

A quick look at the in-running comments from yesterday tells us the tale of the race. The first three home were 'held up', 'held up', and 'held up', while our lad, Outlaw Torn, 'led'. I was expecting him to sit in behind the speed, but instead he tried to make it... and in a race with pace, that will always be suicidal. No return on that investment then, and we roll on to today.

It's over the sea today for the...

1.25 Leopardstown

A very competitive race, for sure, but one that is skewed from a market perspective by the presence of an odds on favourite in Pont Alexandre. There's three places to go at and a chance to beat the jolly too, so I'm interested in the prospects of Sizing Gold.

Henry de Bromhead's 6yo has had five starts so far in his career, and finished 21221. The two most recent defeats were to smart graded horses in Seefood (reopposes today) and Don Cossack and, whilst he's stepping up in class this afternoon, he's taken on some good'uns already, including when seeing off Morning Assembly et al on his most recent run.

Andrew Lynch takes the ride, as he has done on all three of Sizing Gold's hurdle starts, and there are few better judges of pace than him. This looks his trip all right, and he's again expected to make the frame. With that in mind, 9/1 BOG with BetFred and Boylesports looks fair each way value.

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