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Social Discourse, 25th March 2019

Another week, another SD to keep you in the loop on all things racing via the occasionally wonderful medium of tweetie, writes William Kedjanyi. We kick off with a familiar gripe related to race clashes...

  1. Do The Splits

Oh, what a glorious Sunday to be an Irish racing fan. The flat was back at Naas and there was also a decent jumping card at Down Royal featuring the Ulster National. It was enough to stay in on even the sunniest of days, sit back, and watch… half the race on whatever device you chose.

The last sentence is a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that there was a spit screen for the big betting race of the day, the Irish Lincolnshire. Thankfully it was won in convincing style by Karawaan, so as not to provide much confusion over the finish but, of basically any race on the card – and there were eight – there couldn’t have been a less suitable contest with which to share the screen than a 20 runner handicap in bright sunlight.

Eight weeks ago, in this newsletter, the potential for British and Irish fixtures to clash, especially on Sundays, was raised after Racing TV’s very promising launch, and over the past eight weeks, there has been one recurring theme – that of the coverage of Irish racing.

Many subscribers have been rather frustrated, and following the decision to split screen the Irish Lincolnshire, that debate roared into life yet again.

https://twitter.com/jamesaknight/status/1109870351914319873

Double Trouble: The obvious solution is for a second channel for Racing TV. The issue, however, is running costs to do so that couldn’t be recouped, which is likely to win out.

Tune Off? It’s clear that Racing TV is going to have this issue for the rest of the season, and it will be a challenge for them during the spring and the autumn; One can coordinate the starts between courses, but when both codes are in play, it is a very common occurrence given the sheer amount of racing in the UK. As mentioned below, Racing TV’s unique selling point is the depth of analysis and quality of coverage it can bring for racing; and should that be compromised subscribers could find it hard to justify on top of other options.

Steady on: I am not suggesting that Racing TV has lost its edge – the team there is exceptional – but bar online platforms, clashes like this are an inevitability and the loser might well be Irish racing and it’s fans.

Update: Apparently the replays are still split screened, and with dead space:

 

 

  1. Who Da Man-ning ?!

One thing viewers couldn’t miss was a sensational start to the season for Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning, who combined for a 5,354-1 treble with 14/1, 16/1 and 20/1 winners.

Following wins for Western Dawn in the maiden and Solar Wave in a competitive handicap, Normandel clung on grimly to win a thrilling renewal of the Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes when getting the better of a three-way battle on what was a thrilling day’s racing.

 

It’s not the first time that the pair have started the season in fine form – they’ve got a strong record in the opening juvenile contest for example – and many punters will be sure to catch on rather sharpish.

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The most eye-catching effort of the day might have come from a Bolger runner that didn’t win; Feminista, who ran in the second colours of Jackie Bolger behind Value Chain (her first string, trained by Brendan Duke) made some decent late progress into third.

Looking ahead: Normandel was having just her second run for Jim Bolger, and this coming after failing to stay when tried over 1m4f, clearly a trip too far based on the previous form. She may be able to improve yet and we probably haven’t seen the best of her.

 

  1. Winx and you’ll miss her

Death, taxes, and Winx: Australia’s Equine phenomenon Winx has already put her name in history with her 32 wins, but like all good things, her career must come to an end.

Her farewell tour has taken in the Spring Carnival, and she gave a consummate performance in the George Ryder Stakes, always in control even when the three-year-old Brute kicked around the turn, and with her customary turn of foot, she managed to basically inhale that rival in one fell swoop before strolling to another win with cheers of "Winxy, Winxy, Winxy" accompanying her post-race parade.

https://twitter.com/7horseracing/status/1109306091530117120

Only accidents have been able to stop her for a while, and the heavy ground couldn’t get in the way of her latest success which came by an easy three and a quarter-lengths.

 

With only one race to go, it was a surprise to see the debate raging still over what she’s beaten.

 

By now, one of the great racehorses of recent history seems to scare off all opposition and whilst yours truly has always been a fan of debating the merits of the great horses of history, it feels like the time and the place to do that constructively with Winx has been and gone, and that perhaps we should enjoy the ride. Particularly with moments like this:

 

Don’t Worry: When she has her last race (April the 13th, in case you didn’t know), she’ll get top billing.

Food for Thought: “I said to someone [on Saturday] I would love to see her race a horse like Frankel, or whatever the greatest horse has been... I think she could beat whatever that horse may be. And I guess on their terms maybe they could beat her. But they wouldn’t be able to do it for as long as she has done. Had she taken on a Frankel or something early in her career, who knows. She might have beaten him but she wouldn’t be racing [now].” – Chris Waller speaking to Sydney Radio about the longevity of Winx’s career, and the route she's taken

 

  1. Elsewhere….

Godolphin took a remarkable 1-2-3 in the Golden Slipper, the most prestigious juvenile contest on the planet, as Kiamichi earned a first Slipper for trainer James Cummings (son of the legendary Bart), beating stablemate Microphone with the Blue Diamond Stakes winner, Lyre, in third.

 

Meanwhile, back in Ireland... Still Standing claimed his fifth victory from just eight career starts with a comprehensive success in the Devoy Stakes at Naas, giving Shane Foley a great start to life as Number 1 for Jessica Harrington. He beat Hazel Bay to second whilst Aidan O’Brien’s one-time Classic contender Amedeo Modigliani – who had been sidelined by injury since winning at the 2017 Galway Festival – needed the run and was a creditable third.

 

And on Saturday, Jonjo O’Neill Junior, fresh from success at the Cheltenham Festival, was in the headlines once again as he doubled up at Newbury on a valuable card courtesy of Annie Mc and Chic Name. Annie Mc was another notable success for him, taking the Grade 2 EBF & EBA Mares’ National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle Series Final in great style, bouncing back from a below-par run last time at Exeter to beat Sixty's Belle by eight lengths.

 

Further north, Sean Bowen took his strike rate at Kelso to nearly 50% with two fine and differing rides, the first a front-running success on Kupatana in the EBF/TBA Mares’ Novices’ Chase, before later bringing Winston C from the back of the field, having looked beaten, to gain a fighting success in the Bernhard Lighting Rig Handicap Hurdle.

 

  1. Noel One Better

The last word in this week’s column was always going to be reserved for a big mention for Noel Fehily, who ended his riding career in the best possible fashion on Saturday as Get In The Queue ran out a ready winner of the Goffs UK Spring Sale Bumper at Newbury.

That was the perfect end to a brilliant career notable for not only a sensitive and calculated style but also one laden with success at the highest level.

Arguably nowhere was Noel better than at the Cheltenham Festival, where he won the Champion Hurdle twice, firstly aboard Rock On Ruby in 2012, and then again with Buveur d'Air in 2017, although his best ride at the Festival was may have been on Special Tiara in the 2017 Champion Chase, when leading from pillar to post but with such measured efficiency that the charging Fox Norton could be held off in the dying strides.

 

Those were not his only winners at the Festival, however; a quick tactical brain and a deceptively strong finish saw him take wins on Silver Jaro (2008 County Hurdle), Unowhatimeanharry (2016 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle), and Summerville Boy (2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle), before his shock victory on Eglantine Du Seuil in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle earlier this month.

Fehily had always been known as one of the most talented riders in the weighing room, but being the main beneficiary of a long term Ruby Walsh injury as the jump season was kicking into gear in 2010 really saw his career take off.

Successes on Master Minded in the Amlin 1965 Chase and Silviniaco Conti in the Coral Hurdle began what would be a string of notable big race successes, with Fehily’s excellent sense of timing and deft handling proving a beautiful like for like match for Ruby Walsh, and a new star was born – one that the whole racing community has enjoyed and appreciated.

From all of us at geegeez.co.uk, wishing you a happy retirement, Noel, and best of luck in whatever comes next for you.

Monday Musings: Opening Day Far From Flat

The joy of Flat racing on turf – it’s here again, Naas yesterday stepping in for the opening Curragh fixture delayed in the manner of Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground, writes Tony Stafford. Both will be with us, shiny and welcoming soon enough.

Amid all the new and newish names on parade at Naas, especially among the trainers, quite a few old staples were to the fore, none more so than Jim Bolger, who revisited his former reputation as a fast starter with a treble from his 11 runners on the card.

As if in recognition of the Coolcullen stable’s instant discovery of form, they won at declining odds as the day went on, but none of Western Dawn (20-1), Solar Wind (16-1) or Normandel (14-1) could be reasonably described as “expected”, at least by the punters if not the trainer. That’s 5,354-1 for the treble if you were on, Jim.

The first two winners were Bolger home-breds running in wife Jackie’s colours. Normandel, at five, a mare owned by long-time Bolger ally, Ballylinch stud’s Jock O’Connor, was a fitting winner of the Listed Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes. This event commemorates one of Bolger’s best female performers during his long illustrious career since switching from car sales company accountant to major owner/trainer/breeder 43 years ago.

Many racing immortals set off on their road to success with Bolger, and every list begins with Aidan O’Brien and A P McCoy. Less well known is Brendan W Duke, but he was a valued staff member there for many years before leaving to train in Lambourn, where he was always a popular figure on racecourses especially around London.

His time as a small-time trainer was constrained by the financial crisis of the mid-2000’s as he found there were not quite so many UK-based Irishmen with the bundles of ready spare cash as had previously been the case.

So he went home to Ireland, eventually taking out a licence and training for a few friends. The Bolgers soon started to send him a number of their lesser lights to train. For the past few seasons, he has picked up a small number of races each year, usually three for the most part, but 2018 was a fallow season. He managed only one win in 56 runs from ten horses, six for Jackie Bolger.

The signs yesterday were better. In the opening juvenile maiden won in good style by Michael O’Callaghan’s Red Epaulette, Brendan’s Value Chain, carrying the first Bolger colours and starting at 9/1 finished almost two lengths ahead of Jim’s third-placed Dawn Approach filly, Feminista, a 7-1 shot, in a race he’d won a year earlier. The runner-up, by Garswood, must give him high hopes of imminent success.

Then in the concluding seven-furlong maiden, Duke was again in opposition to Bolger, and will have been delighted when his 33-1 newcomer Vocal Duke finished a creditable eighth, only a short-head behind the boss’s Son of Beauty. Both are geldings by Bolger’s own stallion Vocalised, whose progeny have been regular inmates at Brendan’s Curragh yard.

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Through all his vicissitudes, Brendan Duke has never been short of either enthusiasm or confidence. I remember talking to him less than a month into my Raymond Tooth Racing Manager job, in the days when there were plenty to manage, before Punjabi’s first of four consecutive runs at the Punchestown Festival in April 2007.

We agreed that maybe Punjabi’s Triumph Hurdle fourth and Aintree second behind Katchit entitled him to start favourite. But then Brendan appeared on the stage - from which a family of Slovakian string musicians had been entertaining the crowd - and told the crowd why he thought his Katies Tuitor was a good thing.

I’ve never actually studied that Kayf Tara gelding’s form before this morning, but I now see why he was hopeful. Easy wins at Kempton under Noel Fehilly and Sandown (Graham Lee) were decent pre-Christmas efforts. No wonder he was so proud of the horse - he bred him!

Katies Tuitor was a good fourth as Punjabi collected his first Grade 1, and the next two, the Irish Champion at the same venue a year later, and the Champion Hurdle in 2009 were the highlights of a great career.

Katies Tuitor didn’t do so badly either. Transferred at the end of that season to Charlie Mann, he won four more hurdle races, each time ridden by Fehily, who conceded on the event of his retirement with a farewell winner at Newbury on Saturday, that Mann had been his mentor.

After the Punchestown run, Katies Tuitor went three weeks later to Aintree and finished second as the 4-1 favourite to the 20-1 shot Lord Baskerville, trained by Charles Pogson. This was the 11th run and fourth win since Pogson had claimed Lord Baskerville out of Wilf Storey’s yard for six grand after a Hexham second in a selling handicap.

That annoyed Wilf, who reckoned that following 39 unsuccessful runs for him after my good friend and the horse’s original owner, Peter Ashmore, moved him on from the Michael Quinlan yard, he was primed to win. So it proved, Pogson collecting three-in-a-row straight off the bat.

I’ve often said how so many of my past activities have drifted away from my memory. I’d certainly forgotten that between February and 25th March 2004, I was the registered owner of the horse. So if you’re reading this Wilf, it is 15 years to the day that Mr Hutchinson took charge of him from me, so we ought to have a birthday drink! In all, Charles Pogson won six of 31 races with Lord Baskerville. I remember watching his promising debut at Doncaster on Derby Day 2003 from a box in the Epsom grandstand 20 minutes after Kris Kin’s big race triumph for Sir Michael Stoute.

Peter and his girlfriend Lorraine Botbol are horse-lovers extraordinaire. Peter had a beautiful horse with the Quinlans called Flashgun, who suffered injury as a three-year-old and had to retire. The vets were ready to put him down but Peter and Lorraine had other ideas. They have kept the son of Lemon Drop Kid for ten years and last week he finished fourth of 16 in his first dressage competition near Newmarket.

Both Peter and Lorraine are learning dressage riding – Peter rode along with sister Jacqueline at a riding school in Mill Hill, North London, in their teens, where Andrew Reid trained with some success years later – and they are precisely the sort of people that racing and equestrian sport should embrace.

Fehily’s retirement and his all-round-good-guy persona were the highlights of the weekend, but I enjoyed watching that day and Sunday on the box, other responsibilities keeping me from the racecourse. I hope I can make it for Sod’s Law in the Spring Mile (Lincoln consolation) at Doncaster on Saturday. He could well win.

I bet Racing TV are dreading having to make the sort of commentary decisions that followed the late off-time of the Irish Lincolnshire yesterday, caused by the re-shoeing of Bolger’s well-fancied Theobald, winner of his previous three at Dundalk.

The Irish boys on duty on course, already having seen a treble from the Co Carlow maestro, opined “it should not be a problem”. Sorry boys it was, Theobald finishing last of 20 behind ex – Sir Michael Stoute/ Hamdan Al Maktoum trainee, Karawaan, an easy first-time winner for Ger Lyons. Problem too for Tom Stanley, having to cut in on the 4.20 from Exeter to say: “Naas will finish first”, about the 4.10-scheduled first major handicap of the Irish season. It did, maybe by five seconds.

As the season draws on, there will be multiple times when a similar eventuality arises. Meanwhile Sky Sports Racing (At the Races to you maybe?) had to be content with a solo from France – good job they secured those rights – while Racing TV (ex-UK)  had to splice in Carlisle and jumping from Downpatrick, pretty much all long distance races, with Naas and Exeter.

Sky Sports Racing is lucky to have the highly-competent and ever-watchable Alex Hammond as their lead presenter and was not too badly fixed for French jumping yesterday with Laurent Berberin, Mick Fitzgerald and Mike Cattermole. Berberin is more Sacha Distel than Claud Charlet’s Inspector Clouseau. They were lucky, too, to have France’s best hurdler, the six-year-old mare De Bon Coeur, on show as she came back from a ten-month absence to stroll home in a Grade 3 hurdle, bringing her career tally to 12 victories from 14 starts.

Never mind, Sky Sports Racing had Bangor for the first time on Saturday; look forward to getting sister-track Chester from May and next Saturday will be able to supplement their Lincoln coverage with the return of jewel-in-the-crown, Ascot. Confused, with the Irish on Racing TV and Ascot on the other side? So am I!

- Tony Stafford

Bolger and the Bottom Line: Punting Angles

Of the top Irish flat trainers, Jim Bolger is the one I consistently get most wrong, writes Tony Keenan. This is not meant as a criticism of a man who has successfully been doing unusual and creative stuff with his horses for yonks now, something I covered here a few years back. Rather, it is an admission that I struggle to make betting sense of his runners, whether it be backing one of his that runs poorly having seemingly held an obvious form chance, or getting done by a big-priced rag in white and purple that I gave no chance to pre-race. This has happened so often that I have added a new word to my racing lexicon; events like this are now known as being ‘Jimmed’!

It’s easy to get annoyed by this, curse and moan, and put it down as one of those things but it is more productive to reflect on what you might be missing in your own betting that is causing consistent misjudgement one of the major stables in the country. So, with Jon Shenton’s recent pieces on Mark Johnston on this site in mind, I decided to see if there were any betting angles that might be able to make Bolger pay.

My first step however was to see if some of the Bolger winners were as unpredictable as they appeared on the surface. To do this I went back through every flat race run in Ireland from 2010 to September 23rd this year (all figures quoted from here refer to this period) in search of horses that won at a Betfair SP of 21.0 or greater, that figure my arbitrary number for a shock result, as least as defined by the market. Below are the results:

 

Trainer BSP 21.0 or greater runners BSP 21.0 or greater winners
Jim Bolger 1,341 51
Willie McCreery 782 29
Andrew Oliver 867 29
Kevin Prendergast 656 25
John Murphy 997 25
Michael Halford 1,126 24
Ger Lyons 716 24
Dermot Weld 733 21
David Marnane 685 20
Harry Rogers 653 19

 

Bolger not only tops the table but is 22 winners clear of the next highest total when only seven trainers managed 22 such winners at all. He admittedly had far more big-priced runners than other yards with Michael Halford the only other person breaking four figures in the period covered. Next, I had a look at how he compared to his peers in that timeframe, the rest of the top ten flat trainers in terms of winners trained since 2010, and what percentage of his winners were returned at a Betfair SP of 21.0 or bigger.

 

Trainer Total Winners BSP 21.0 or greater winners Percentage
Aidan O’Brien 1,016 18 1.8%
Dermot Weld 624 21 3.4%
Jim Bolger 535 51 9.5%
Ger Lyons 456 24 5.3%
Michael Halford 394 24 6.1%
Jessica Harrington 247 18 7.3%
John Oxx 237 11 4.6%
David Wachman 229 18 7.9%
Edward Lynam 210 17 8.1%
Willie McCreery 200 29 14.5%

 

In this case Bolger comes out second among the top ten on 9.5% with Willie McCreery miles clear on 14.5% though his best comparables (O’Brien, Weld and Lyons) have much lower rates. Lastly, I wanted to see at how ‘form-ful’ his horses were and to do this I got percentages of how many of his winners won on their prior start, were placed on their prior start (defined as running second, third or fourth regardless of field size) and were out of the frame.

 

Trainer Total Winners Won LTO Placed LTO Unplaced LTO
Aidan O’Brien 1,016 19.2% 43.3% 37.5%
Dermot Weld 624 20.8% 41.5% 37.7%
Jim Bolger 535 15.5% 40.0% 44.5%
Ger Lyons 456 14.3% 39.5% 46.2%
Michael Halford 394 13.2% 50.3% 36.5%
Jessica Harrington 247 18.6% 44.1% 37.3%
John Oxx 237 14.3% 46.0% 39.7%
David Wachman 229 11.8% 41.5% 46.7%
Edward Lynam 210 15.2% 45.7% 39.1%
Willie McCreery 200 13.5% 40.0% 46.5%

 

I’m not sure there is much in this. A lesser percentage of Bolger’s winners won last time than O’Brien or Weld, but he is in line with the rest; and, while does have a high enough figure of horses that win off an unplaced effort, it is hardly outlandish. So overall, there is a least a grain of truth in the idea that Bolger has more than his share of mad winners but some of it is likely my own bias too.

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One point to clarify is that the Bolger horses are not unpredictable because they run more often than those from other Irish yards, an argument that is sometimes made in relation to the Mark Johnston runners. Taking the 2017 Irish flat season as a whole, Bolger ran 125 individuals 549 times for an average of 4.4 runs per horse. Of the rest of last season’s top ten trainers, five had an average seasonal runs per horse of 4.0 or greater: John Feane with 6.3, Johnny Murtagh with 4.7, Ger Lyons with 4.2, and Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington with 4.1, so Bolger is only average in terms of how frequently he runs his horses. The figures from 2016 further support this view.

I’ve done some stuff on the records of trainers over different distances and with fillies and mares elsewhere on the website but there wasn’t much of note with Bolger in either piece. He has a broadly consistent strike rate across most trips though it drops a little over longer distances, while his record with fillies is a little less impressive compared to his returns with colts and geldings. One little niche angle is that he does do well with mares: female horses aged five or older. The sample here is small but they return a decent profit to level stakes with the reason perhaps being that the trainer is only persisting with them because he believes they can win races; well, either that or the betting public is wholly sick of them by that point in their careers and allows them to go off bigger than they should be!

 

Bolger with Mares since 2010

Winners Runners Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/ Expected
13 65 20.0% +31.08 23 35.4% 1.47

 

His record at the various Irish tracks since 2010 is more interesting, however, and probably more usable. Here they are ordered in terms of win strike rate.

 

Track Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/

Expected

Down Royal 50 12 24.0% +27.69 27 54.0% 1.28
Wexford 56 13 23.2% -12.50 27 48.2% 1.09
Leopardstown 734 114 15.5% +81.25 251 34.2% 1.08
Dundalk 548 76 13.9% -63.12 191 34.9% 0.89
Roscommon 139 19 13.7% +8.08 48 34.5% 0.99
Fairyhouse 111 15 13.5% -17.06 35 31.5% 0.94
Gowran 401 53 13.2% +46.40 142 35.4% 0.95
Naas 348 44 12.6% -79.30 99 28.5% 0.87
Listowel 104 13 12.5% -20.30 34 32.7% 0.84
Ballinrobe 27 3 11.1% +13.00 9 33.3% 0.58
Navan 290 31 10.7% -72.58 96 33.1% 0.77
Sligo 61 6 9.8% -33.75 20 32.8% 0.55
Cork 173 17 9.8% +67.75 59 34.1% 0.62
Tipperary 189 18 9.5% -94.30 60 31.8% 0.68
Limerick 109 10 9.2% -50.89 29 26.6% 0.65
Curragh 934 84 9.0% -346.03 252 27.0% 0.70
Clonmel 13 1 7.7% -10.75 3 23.1% 0.42
Killarney 94 5 5.3% -71.75 26 27.7% 0.35
Galway 106 4 3.8% -89.60 23 21.7% 0.29
Punchestown 9 0 0.0% -9.00 3 33.3% 0.00

 

The trainer does very well at Down Royal, a track where he has won four Ulster Derbies since 2014, but there isn’t that much flat racing there. The standout figure to my eye is Leopardstown where he has his third highest strike rate despite having a huge number of runners, second only to the Curragh overall. That is enough of a sample size to say it is the course he is aiming at above all others and it can be refined further when looking at his record at Leopardstown on Thursdays only. Now that may initially appear a completely random thing to focus on but that is the day when the track hosts their summer evening meetings which have long been a successful source of winners for Bolger.

 

Track Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/

Expected

Leopardstown – Thursday Only 330 67 20.3% +95.29 132 40.0% 1.19

 

Basically, everything gets an uptick here with Strike rate, level-stakes, place strike-rate and actual/expected all improving from his overall figures at Leopardstown. Going back to 2010, there have been 17 individual Thursday meetings where Bolger had two or more winners, including two trebles and two four-timers. I also think his Leopardstown record explains his dismal figures at both Killarney and Galway as both those tracks have their flat racing in the summer around the same time as the Leopardstown Thursday cards, with Bolger seemingly putting all his efforts and better horses into having winners at the Dublin venue.

Finally, let’s consider Bolger and handicaps. Since 2010, no Irish trainer has had more handicap winners than Bolger with 203: Michael Halford is next in with 198 and Ger Lyons third on 158. There was nothing significant in terms of the number of previous runs his winners had in handicaps but he does have a fair record with horses running back quickly in handicaps with that group coming pretty close to break-even at starting price from a reasonable sample size.

 

Days Since Last Run Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/

Expected

0-7 days 40 237 16.9% -18.92 88 37.1% 0.98
Everything Else 1,563 163 10.4% -248.29 466 29.8% 0.85

 

Another angle with the yard in handicaps is in races confined to apprentice riders; Bolger has always been happy to give young riders a start in the sport provided they are willing to graft. His 23 winners in such handicaps is an impressive total and importantly it has not come off the back of using a single hot apprentice the whole time; rather, that group of horses were ridden by nine different jockeys: Martin Harley, David Parkes, Dylan Robinson, Killian Hennessy, Ronan Whelan, Daniel Redmond, Gavin Ryan, Luke McAteer and Willie Byrne.

 

Race Type Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/

Expected

Apprentice Handicaps 155 23 14.8% +22.25 55 35.5% 1.21

 

So hopefully these are some angles that could profitable (or at least loss-limiting) with Jim Bolger for what is left of this flat season and looking ahead to 2019.

Possible Betting Angles:

  • Mares kept in training
  • Leopardstown Thursday meetings
  • Apprentice-only handicaps

Monday Musings: RIP Bryn Crossley

Bryn Crossley, who sadly passed away this week

Bryn Crossley, who sadly passed away last week

Somebody died a week ago, writes Tony Stafford. It is not often one can say this, but the accident of our meeting made a bigger impact on the second part of my life than anything else. That person was Bryn Crossley, who was only 59 when he passed away in Spain following two seizures, the second of which proved fatal.

The news was relayed to the media by another important person in my life (and for considerably longer than Bryn), former jockey and trainer Vince Smith, who trained Richie Boy, the last horse to win in what were then mine but are now David Armstrong’s red and white colours.

Back in 1981, Geoff Huffer invited me to look after the rides for Bryn, who had joined his stable at what are now the Cheveley Park Stud premises in Newmarket. Crossley had joined the previous year after a spell with Robert Armstrong and was a 5lb claimer who could do light weights.

Very few jockeys at the time had agents but one notable exception was John Reid who had been managed by Steve Taylor of the Sporting Life for some time and with considerable success. Steve and me had two similarities, age (I believe he’s a little younger) and a North London-ish accent, as well as the newspaper connection.

One advantage for both of us was early access to information as the Press Association, my previous employer, sent out racecards for four days hence at teatime every day. We needed to prepare them by marking them up at that stage for when the overnights came through three days later, merely “knocking-out” the overnight absentees before sending them down to be “hot-metal” printed.

Having offered to find rides for the young Mr Crossley, I was dead keen to look through the Racing Calendar, which in those days came through every Thursday from Weatherbys, as it does now, but with a number of differences. Firstly, they covered races three weeks ahead and all the entries were made at that stage.

All the horses were listed and you could see from a long way off where certain trainers might well want to run. For my first look for Bryn, I targeted a race at Doncaster on the opening Saturday of the season – no all-weather in those days – and it was a three-year-old handicap. I settled on a horse trained by Ben Hanbury, called Marking Time, and had the effrontery to ring Ben that night asking if Bryn, who could do 7st3lb, could ride it if it ran. Amazingly he said it would and he could, and three weeks later it did and Bryn gave it a highly-competent winning ride.

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That was the first of 45 wins in a season that would provide the cheerful young man from Prestatyn in North Wales the apprentice championship. The world should have been his oyster and after his wedding in November in Tunbridge Wells to Jaci, Monty Court wrote in the Sporting Life that he was a potential champion jockey. Sadly, that was not to be.

But merely the act of looking through that Racing Calendar and at that particular race was to have a much more telling effect on my life for the next decade at any rate.

The previous year I had got to know Sean Graham, the leading Irish bookmaker and, during a wonderful Sunday lunch at the Inn on the Park hotel at the bottom end of Park Lane and Piccadilly, he told me that he had entered an ownership venture with an up-and-coming Dublin-based trainer. Jim Bolger was the trainer and they had gone in 50-50 with ten horses. “He’s a very clever man and a brilliant trainer,” said Graham. “If you meet him, be sure to mention my name.”

Well at the foot of the handicap in which Marking Time was so well placed, there was another name, Lynconwise, trained J S Bolger, Ireland. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it had more than a stone less than the Hanbury horse.

Rapid investigation showed he had done very little for David Morley, but at the end of the 1980 season, transferred to Bolger, he appeared in two Irish maidens – we had the Irish form book at the Daily Telegraph, I doubt the English handicapper did – and was placed behind decent animals.

I took my life in my hands and called Jim Bolger. “Mr Bolger,” I started tentatively, “I was talking to Sean Graham and he said to mention his name if I talked to you. Well, I’ve been looking in the Racing Calendar and I think that if you were to bring your horse…” at which point I was interrupted.

“Before we go on, no names.” So obviously the old manual exchanges in Southern Ireland must have had a fair degree of leakage, enough to keep Bolger cautious. In the end we missed what was planned as a triple assault over Easter – Lynconwise had a setback, but he came for three runs over the Whitsun.

In the meanwhile I’d started speaking to Jim on a regular basis, and after his filly Condessa had run a highly-creditable race in the Lingfield Oaks Trial on Friday, I noticed later that evening that she was declared for York’s Musidora Stakes the following Tuesday. I called and asked where she was: “On the way to the ferry in Doug Francis’ wagon!” said Jim. I suggested she might be re-routed to York – “She can’t be out of the frame.” She went to York and beat the 1,000 Guineas winner Fairy Footsteps and Paul Kelleway’s good mare Madam Gay! We were pals for a while after that.

Lynconwise duly came over and went to Doncaster for a mile handicap on Whit Saturday. The weather was dreadful as I drove Bryn north from Newmarket, but as it often does, cleared ten miles from Sunny Donny. We were fourth and when Bolger called on our way back asking: “Should we bring him home?” I said “It’s pouring near Leicester, so it should be soft enough on Monday.”

Bryn was in the saddle and got down to 7st2lb – for the first of only two occasions, the other when runner-up on Harry Wragg’s three-year-old filly, Popaway, behind Lester and Popsi’s Joy in the Cesarewitch – and they careered home ten lengths clear in the bottomless ground, at 9-1!. The following day Mark Rimmer deputised as Bryn was ineligible to ride, and he won the apprentice handicap at the same track with almost equal ease under his penalty.

For the next decade, we had a great relationship with owners like Virginia Kraft Payson (St Jovite), Henryk de Kwiatkowski (owner of Danzig) and Paul Green coming Jim’s way. No doubt we would have stayed in close touch bar my capacity never to keep hold of any of the money that came into my possession, and the subsequent inability to clear a bank overdraft he had helped arrange for me.

The Bryn Crossley connection led to my contacting Huffer’s former secretary, Julia (“Tick”) Vergette, a couple of years later to enquire whether Fiefdom, which her father George trained, could be bought. He had lost his form and was miles behind in a selling hurdle over Easter immediately after my enquiry. After some negotiation with Tick, who was back home by then, I secured him for a song, sent him to Rod Simpson and he won twice after finishing fourth under Celia Radband in the Ladies race – then a non-handicap – at Ascot on King George Day.

Celia, a long-standing extra on Eastenders, recommended Fiefdom to her friends and fellow lady amateurs, Fiona and Stella Storey, as a potential jumper. This led to Wilf’s calling me one day asking if he could still be bought – another trainer had the chance but did not show with the money at the Telegraph office as arranged on the morning of his first win at Folkestone. Later, that trainer told all and sundry I’d reneged on the deal!

I told Wilf I’d be keeping him for now – he actually ran in the Ayr Gold Cup later that year, nice preparation for a jumper! – but that I would come back to him when ready. In the meantime, liking Wilf’s style and politeness, I sent him Santopadre after he was mucking about one morning on the Lambourn gallops. “Shoot him,” said Rod. He had won three times, all with plenty of office support, by the time I was ready to sell Fiefdom.

The price was reduced and later Wilf told me he had expected to receive a wreck as he’d been busy. In the end he was surprised to receive a fine, big horse, which could run off a lower jumps mark than his Flat rating rather than the more normal 40lb higher. First time he won by ten lengths from 10lb out of the handicap at Sedgefield under Kieren Teelan, well backed -  even by me - at 9-2! Afterwards the shrewd and sadly late Alan Amies said in Chaseform Note-Book – “a certainty on his recent Flat form”. Fiefdom went on to win three Ekbalco Hurdles and a host of other races for Wilf. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years since then.

As for Bryn, the catalyst for those two life-changing relationships, he and his new wife decided he didn’t need an agent – “waste of money” was the official reason – and he soon slipped into the mid-range of jockeys, despite winning the following year’s Lincoln on King’s Glory for Philip Mitchell. In all he rode 220 winners by the time he retired in 1993 to join the Godolphin work-riding team. His marriage didn’t last very long either, the first Mrs Crossley sadly soon transferring her allegiance elsewhere.

Irish Champions Weekend 2017: The Best Gets Better

Aidan O’Brien has had an unusual last couple of weeks, writes Tony Keenan. Rather than concentrating on preparations for Irish Champions Weekend, he’s been defending Ballydoyle work practices at the Labour Court and the decision there could yet have wide-reaching consequences for Irish racing. On the track however, it’s been business as usual for O’Brien with none of his rival Irish trainers causing anything like as many problems as the labour lawyers; so it seems sensible to expect a good number of winners for the trainer this coming weekend.

In truth, Irish Champions Weekend hasn’t been the best meeting for the yard since it took its current form in 2014. In that time, O’Brien has had nine winners in total with the other Irish trainers having 23, Dermot Weld doing best with six, and the now retired David Wachman next on three. UK-based trainers had 15 winners while Almanzor was the sole French success in last year’s Champion Stakes. Despite these historical figures I’m inclined to drink the Cool(-more) Aid and expect a massive weekend for Team Ballydoyle in light of what has been going on with the other main Irish trainers this season.

Excluding O’Brien, 2017 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for Irish trainers winning good flat races in the UK. Consider the following table which totals the record of non-APOB Irish trainers in UK races worth £10,000 or more since 2011:

 

Irish Trainers in UK Flat Races worth £10,000 or more (excluding Aidan O’Brien)

Year Runners Winners Strikerate
2017 (to date) 4 69 5.8%
2016 7 156 4.5%
2015 17 158 10.8%
2014 21 135 15.6%
2013 17 150 11.3%
2012 21 135 15.6%
2011 11 101 10.9%

 

This season is far from over of course but with roughly two months of it left it is going to be a struggle to beat even last year’s total of seven winners which itself was well down on previous years. Even the quality of the four winners has been below-par; two were handicap winners, The Tartan Spartan at Salisbury in April and Thomas Hobson at Royal Ascot, while the other two were Ken Condon-trained winners on soft ground, Elusive Beauty at Carlisle and Success Days at York, hardly the most competitive contests.

One could ask what this has to do with events at home but I would counter quite a lot. Irish trainers have long gone to England for better opportunities with their best flat horses but if you can’t win at home you are unlikely to start looking away for possible targets. Perhaps the most revealing figure above is greatly reduced number of runners in the better UK races, just 69 so far in 2017 with the previous five seasons all comfortably breaking three figures. Some major Irish trainers haven’t even been trying in the UK this year with Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger being notably absent with one and four runners respectively.

It has been an entirely different story with O’Brien. As you can see below, his tally of UK runners continues to grow. He looks certain to outstrip his previous highs in terms of runners with the winner total likely to follow and the last two seasons have basically seen a 35% increase in the number of horses he runs in England. O’Brien seems to have more good horses than ever before and he needs to find more good races in which to place them.

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Aidan O’Brien in UK Flat Races worth £10,000 or more

Year Runners Winners Strikerate
2017 (to date) 96 17 17.7%
2016 108 22 20.4%
2015 59 9 15.3%
2014 64 8 12.5%
2013 69 11 15.9%
2012 62 12 19.4%
2011 68 13 19.1%

 

This would be less of a concern to the other main Irish trainers were they succeeding in battening down the hatches at home, maintaining levels of success for upcoming seasons when better horses come along. This has not been the case however. Here we have a table of O’Brien’s record in Irish group races over the past five years and note how not only his percentage of runners in these races has grown but also how his percentage of winners has gone into the stratosphere in 2017.

 

Aidan O’Brien in Irish Group Races

Year Runners in Irish Group Races Total Runners % Runners in Irish Group Races Winners in Irish Group Races Total Group Races Contested % Wins in Group Races Contested
2017 (to date) 100 375 26.7% 23 50 46.0%
2016 117 484 24.2% 24 66 36.3%
2015 84 481 17.5% 20 65 30.7%
2014 112 474 23.6% 23 63 31.7%
2013 98 460 21.3% 22 62 35.5%

 

The evidence again points to him becoming more dominant in terms of runners and winners but the question is where this improvement has come from. An obvious answer is that it is a by-product of a down year for Dermot Weld and he has just picked up the races that would typically go to Rosewell; but a barely remarked upon point has been the retirement of David Wachman and the relocating of the horses he had in training as well as the ones that might have been destined for his yard.

I’m sure there were a few trainers with Coolmore associations – Fozzy Stack and Joseph O’Brien perhaps – that might have hoped for some of those runners but all of them seem to have finished up in Ballydoyle. Wachman may have had a nightmare time in his final season, finishing twenty-fourth overall in the championship and having only 118 runners, but this was by no means a small operation: the previous three years yielded 261 runners (sixth overall), 265 runners (ninth) and 293 runners (fourth) respectively. Nor was Wachman short on quality, training the likes of Legatissimo, Curvy and Again in recent seasons.

So a good-sized yard with well-bred horses was basically subsumed into Ballydoyle over the winter with Winter herself the obvious standard-bearer. O’Brien has had some strong crops of juvenile fillies in recent campaigns but this season’s might be the deepest which makes sense if he has gotten extra inmates from Wachman; that trainer was often given a sizable number of well-bred Coolmore fillies and had a good record with them. Despite his skill with such runners, it is hardly unrealistic to expect O’Brien to extract more from them: not only is he a better trainer than Wachman, he is a better trainer than anyone else too.

All of this could lead to a record-breaking year for O’Brien in terms of prizemoney won in Ireland. Below is a table of prizemoney earned by the big four Irish trainers of O’Brien, Bolger, Lyons and Weld over the past five seasons. I’ve included a figure for each yard for the current season along with a projected total that they might reach. The projected figure is simply a fast and loose calculation that pro-rates what they have done already across the rest of the season; in a typical Irish flat season running March to October/November, there will be roughly 940 races and we have had 720 to this point so we are just past the three-quarters point of the season.

 

Trainer 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 (to date) 2017 Projected
A. O’Brien 3,867k 4,878k 4,039k 5,190k 4,619k 6,077k
J. Bolger 2,204k 1,556k 1,790k 1,711k 1,217 1,601k
G. Lyons 737k 935k 1,579k 1,324k 1,148 1,510k
D. Weld 1,345k 2,232k 2,298k 2,886k 752k 989k

 

Obviously these projections are subject to error as trainers like Weld that have done poorly up to now may improve over the final two months of the season while others could regress. But what they do reveal is that a €6 million figure is very much in play for O’Brien which would be more than €800,000 ahead of his previous best. Some of that might be down to prizemoney inflation in a rising economy but not all of it can be put down to that.

The vagaries of training race-horses means that their form ebbs and flows but the increase in the number of O’Brien runners suggests there could be something more going on as he takes his career up another level. Certainly a look at the top 20 flat horses in Ireland per Horse Racing Ireland’s race administration website is a sobering experience for other trainers; O’Brien trains 17 of them with the other three – Jet Setting, Awtaad and Heartbreak City – either retired or deceased.

So where is Irish flat racing as we go into Champions Weekend 2017? Weld has had a down year and Jim Bolger has basically spent recent seasons flat-lining in terms of achievement. The interesting one – and the one who has hardly been mentioned yet – is Ger Lyons. As a younger man, he might be more ambitious than Weld or Bolger and there is a chance that he finishes second overall this season though how meaningful that achievement would be can be questioned as it would have come when the usual runner-up Weld was having a bad time.

The reality is however that there is a ceiling on what he can achieve as his yard is currently constituted. Subjectively, I view him as at least as good a trainer as Weld and Bolger in how he goes about his business but he needs a major patron that can take him to the next level. That opportunity has not presented itself yet but a winner or two over Irish Champions Weekend would hardly do him any harm though the going will not be easy with O’Brien in total control. That said, owners doing shocking things and moving horses wholesale from champion yards is not unfamiliar in Irish racing; it was just that sort of seemingly crazy move that breathed life into a long-dormant jumps trainers’ title this past winter.

- Tony Keenan

Grading the Irish Trainers: 2016 Edition

Grading the Trainers – Flat Season 2016

Readers who’ve come across previous editions of this piece will know the story by now as I evaluate the seasons of the top trainers, writes Tony Keenan. A quick reminder on some of the criteria: achievements are relative, big races matter more than bad ones, data is important. All numbers included cover the Irish flat turf season (though races outside the jurisdiction are covered too) and should be correct up to last Friday; any errors are mine alone. Let’s begin with the top ten (well, eleven) trainers by number of winners trained. The last column of the table is an interesting figure I found on Irishracing.com and is an individual winner/runner ratio; it gives the percentage of horses that the trainer ran in the year that won at least one race which seems a sensible baseline as a measure of keeping owners happy.

Irish Trainers Championship 2016

Trainer Wins Runners Strikerate P/L Actual/Expected Winners/Runners
A. O’Brien 114 550 20.7% -128.88 0.86 49%
D. Weld 83 425 19.5% -124.74 0.88 41%
J. Bolger 56 480 11.7% -123.86 0.79 34%
G. Lyons 53 325 16.3% -53.30 0.90 47%
M. Halford 31 342 9.1% -52.3 0.69 27%
W. McCreery 29 243 11.9% -52.3 0.97 29%
J. Murtagh 28 207 13.5% -9.00 1.02 41%
K. Prendergast 20 127 13.6% +31.95 1.03 35%
J. Harrington 20 247 8.1% -36.5 0.79 25%
A .Slattery 18 119 15.1% +14.83 1.26 42%
J. O’Brien 18 131 13.7% +7.35 1.01 52%

 

Aidan O’Brien – Grade A+ (2015 Grade: B)

The drive for twenty-five, Bobby Frankel’s record of Group 1 wins in a year, has dominated recent conversation about Aidan O’Brien’s season and it remains in play with the Breeders’ Cup and the big Asian races still to come. That such a tally is even possible rates this a season for the ages but perhaps the most notable achievement in 2016 has been O’Brien’s ability to re-invent his training methods; there was a time when the trainer would have balked at running a filly against colts in Group 1 class, much less keeping a four-year-old filly in training specifically for that purpose.

But adapting and changing is something O’Brien has always done well and having spotted that he lacked a top-class middle-distance colt he decided to slot Found and the three-year-old Minding into that role with plenty of success. O’Brien still tends towards ‘sales talk’ even when speaking of fillies, laughably describing Found as ‘the most genuine horse I’ve ever seen’, but when you cut through the bullshit you have to acknowledge his greatness. Without wishing to take away from Found’s win and O’Brien’s 1-2-3 in the Arc, it was a weak renewal, and whereas all she seems to do is finish second while all Minding does is win, regardless of trip or ground. It would be no surprise to see Minding prove herself better than Almanzor in 2017 as that Irish Champion Stakes looks tarnished by track bias.

There have been other success stories with Alice Springs proving the surprise O’Brien improver: she went from plateauing Group 2 type to three-time Group 1 winner. Nor is there any shortage of promise for next season with Churchill and friends too many to name portending more Group 1 success, not to mention another super-strong crop of fillies. Caravaggio, the star of the early juvenile campaign, seems almost forgotten at this point which is scarcely believable.

In terms of pure stallion-making, it hasn’t been the greatest O’Brien season with The Gurkha the only colt from the Ballydoyle classic generation that would have any notions of grandeur in the breeding sheds; taking him from maiden in April to dual Group 1 winner in July was improvement at the rate of light-speed and all the more impressive given his backdrop of colic. Air Force Blue was the season’s biggest disappointment, the Champion Two-Year-Old proving more Air Force Blew [Out], but an exam doesn’t need to be perfect to get an A. Talk of someone else taking the reins at Ballydoyle seems long-distant now.

 

Dermot Weld – Grade B+ (2015: C+)

If Dermot Weld could pause his season at the end of June, all would be right in the world of Rosewell. Harzand, with the help of the weather gods who rained on him as required, was a dual Derby winner with dreams of an Arc, while Tattersalls Gold Cup winner, Fascinating Rock, was on a break ahead of an autumn tilt at a pair of Champion Stakes and Found about to enhance his form. Neither of those horses won after June with Harzand bombing in both his subsequent starts, and news reaching us of his retirement to stud today; and, Fascinating Rock having only one more run.

The signs of a poor second half to the season were soon apparent with Weld losing his top trainer status at Galway to Willie Mullins. That is something many a flat handler would be sanguine about but Weld’s role as chief curator of his own legacy must have made it hard to bear. His strikerate pre- and post-June were markedly different: in the first four months, he was hitting at a rate of 22.8% but it has dropped to 17.1% since.

Weld enjoyed continued success in black type races with a better strikerate than Aidan O’Brien; the figures below include all Listed and Group winners during the Irish flat season up to last weekend and Zhukova proved a major improver, albeit disappointing on Champions Day at Ascot. That was a card that summed up the second part of Weld’s season with both his runners failing to operate on the ground and Fascinating Rock a subsequent non-runner because of the going.

 

Trainers in Irish Listed and Group Races 2016

Trainer Wins Runs Strikerate P/L Actual/Expected
A. O’Brien 36 170 21.2% -39.61 0.88
D. Weld 16 75 21.3% -23.35 0.94
J. Bolger 7 84 8.3% -38.31 0.68
M. Halford 6 28 21.4% -3.15 1.24
W. McCreery 4 34 11.8% -8.50 1.23
G. Lyons 4 43 9.3% +1.50 0.58
K. Prendergast 3 10 30.0% +1.13 2.19
A. Keatley 3 12 25.0% +7.25 2.14

 

Jim Bolger – Grade: C- (2015: B-)

Numerically, Bolger’s win totals are broadly in line with previous seasons; he had 64 and 61 winners in the 2014 and 2015 respectively and currently sits on 56 winners for 2016. The issue is more one of quality as he’s struggled in better races; as seen above his strikerate in Listed and Group races is 8.3%, the worst of the top eight trainers. He didn’t have a winner in the UK this term either and 2010 (and 2004 before that) was the last time that had happened.

Official ratings have Tribal Beat as the best Coolcullen horse of 2016 on 116, rather underwhelming looking at previous seasons, though four-time winners Stellar Mass and Ringside Humour alongside big improver Qatari Hunter (who rose from 74 to 107 in the ratings) were real stars. Tribal Beat only ran twice this campaign with Bolger on record as saying he was hard to train and absent stars proved a theme for the season: Pleascach, who ran seven times in 2015, only made her return over Arc weekend while the likes of Herald The Dawn, Smash Williams and Sanus Per Aquam all missed time having shown plenty the previous year. Keeping horses sound is of course a skill, one that Bolger tends to do very well in the main, his horses thriving on racing hard and often but it does seem to have been an issue this season.

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Ger Lyons – Grade B- (2015: B)

2016 could be described as a consolidation year for Ger Lyons which is a polite way of saying it was a neutral campaign, neither here nor there. Firstly, the good. Ardhoomey was well-trained all season, winning four times culminating at Group 2 level and rising 19lbs in the weights and all this against a backdrop of wind problems which Lyons had written plenty about in his blog; that blog is one of the more forward-thinking approaches in Irish racing and we probably know more of his horses than any other trainer. As with Bolger, his winner totals are broadly in line with previous seasons and he comes out very well on win/runner percentage, third amongst the top ten trainers behind only the two O’Briens.

It is hard to find a horse that Lyons has handled badly and there is a sense that he largely maximises what he has though the Frankel colt Lightening Fast (out of the yard’s Group 1 winner Lightening Pearl) failed to win in three starts which stood in contrast to how the freshman sire’s runners did in the UK. Endless Drama and Psychedelic Funk were also disappointing after promising starts to the season but might not have been much good in any case; the trainer has a slight tendency to overrate his horses. Finally his return in Listed and Group races was poor relative to previous years and other top ten trainers.

 

Mick Halford – Grade: C (2015: C-)

One often gets the sense with Halford that it’s a numbers game and his overall strikerate reflects this; at 9.1% it is second worst of the top eleven and his winners-to-runners percentage is poor too. There is too much reliance on Dundalk for a top five trainer; of his 44 winners since the start of 2016, 21 came on the all-weather. Ger Lyons was someone who used Dundalk in the early days but it was more a springboard to better things whereas Halford seems to have stagnated there.

As for 2016 highlights, a Royal Hunt Cup winner in Portage was massive for the yard and it’s a pity the horse has only had one run since. One area where Halford did prove selective was in Irish black-type races; he had 6 winners from 28 runners, good for fourth in that table, and in sharp contrast to his overall strikerate.

 

Willie McCreery – Grade: B+ (2015: A)

McCreery built on an excellent 2015 this season, again thriving in Premier Handicaps as seen below. While relatively few trainers can compete in Pattern races, many more can aspire to at least having a runner in a Premier Handicap and they remain one of the best proving grounds for trainer skill. McCreery finished joint-top in terms of winners trained in Premier Handicaps last year and to repeat the dose in 2016 was impressive.

 

Trainers in Premier Handicaps 2016

Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate P/L Actual/Expected
W. McCreery 3 18 16.7% +15.00 1.58
A. Slattery 3 12 25.0% +23.50 2.46
A. Martin 2 12 16.7% -1.67 1.43
G. Cromwell 2 9 15.6% +15.50 2.90
J. Bolger 2 22 9.1% -13.50 1.05
D. Weld 2 25 8.0% -17.00 0.52
W. Mullins 2 6 33.3% +10.00 2.82

 

One big feature of McCreery’s success this year has been the emergence of Billy Lee as a top class jockey, the rider doing very well to finish in the top five of the jockeys’ championship given neither of his previous main supporters, David Wachman and Tommy Stack, provided him with a winner.  Lee remains one to watch and the longer McCreery can hold on to him the better it will be for his horses. Not everything this year was plain sailing, particularly a mid-season slump when winners were hard to come by; while there remains a suspicion the trainer left a bit on the table with both Downforce and Aridity, but overall this was another strong campaign.

 

Johnny Murtagh – Grade B+ (2015: D)

After a promising start, Murtagh’s training career took a backward step last season, and the former jockey could be forgiven for wishing for a return to the saddle; it’s a lot easier riding them than being responsible for every aspect of their life. 2016 was more like it and the addition of the Ballygallon Stud horses certainly helped; recent Listed winner Hawke was the standout but the breeding operation provided five winners in total, a sizable number given the strength of the string.

Sister Blandina was well-trained and well-placed too, winning first on her travels at Bath in May off 52 and recently registering her fourth victory of the season off 81 at Navan. Duchess Andorra was a victory for perseverance, winning a Group 3 at Gowran Park on her twenty-second career start having taken ten runs to break her maiden for Joanna Morgan. As for disappointments, Eddystone Rock finished his campaign with the feeling of unfinished business; having beaten subsequent Listed winner Laganore easily conceding 8lbs, he missed an engagement in the English Cambridgeshire where he looked a major player.

 

Kevin Prendergast – Grade: B+

The octogenarian Curragh trainer enjoyed a mini-revival though it was all about one horse, Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, Awtaad. Unbeaten in four starts in Ireland, he couldn’t really translate that form in his runs abroad (a pattern with the trainer as a whole) but he gives the Shadwell operation a decent stallion prospect into the future as well a classy broodmare proposition: Awtaad was the first foal out of Asheerah and his half-sibling Aneen promised plenty in winning a Curragh maiden earlier this month. Aside from that family, Penny Pepper winning a Premier Handicap over Derby Weekend was about the highlight.

 

Jessica Harrington – Grade: B

I have to admit that Harrington’s season rather passed me by but on winner numbers it was a quietly good year; her strikerate and winners/runners ratio are not so good however. Bocca Baciata was the starlet, getting Group 1-placed behind Minding under a clever ride in the Pretty Polly, while she has a few half-decent two year olds going into next year including Khukri and the well-named Tinder. One thing worth pointing out is the seemingly horrendous value the owners of the former Mill House LLC seem to get on their purchases. Apart from Khukri (cost 130,000gns), the rest of their runners this season were largely forgettable and cost plenty: Grandee (110,000gns), Mulligatawny (135,000gns), Unyielding (150,000gns), John Honeyman (120,000gns), Barnacle Bill (€90,000), Aphonsus (175,000gns). The last-named was trained by John Oxx, the others by Harrington.

 

Andy Slattery – Grade: A+

Having never trained more than seven winners in a season, Slattery has had a sublime year with 18 wins and his Creggs Pipes rates up there with the most improved horses of the season; she went from down the field in a Cork handicap in May off 77 to Listed and Galway Mile winner, now rated 106. Slattery owned Galway in his own way, winning arguably the two big flat prizes of the week (Planchart won the only black type flat race of the week, the Corrib Stakes) and Sors was another fine advertisement for his skills with sprinters, winning thrice at the Curragh including the Rockingham from out of the handicap. Notably honest with the media, Slattery had such a fine year one could almost forgive him for failing to get a win out of Ucanchoose!

 

Joseph O’Brien – Grade: A+

I covered Joseph O’Brien earlier in the season and the only change since has been for the positive; Intricately has won the Group 1 Moyglare, which is working out well. O’Brien Jr. has the best winner/runner ratio of any of the top trainers, surpassing even his father, and that’s all the more impressive because he trains plenty of ordinary handicappers. Furthermore, his totals don’t reflect the full campaign as he had winners earlier in the season under his father’s name. Quite simply, a rookie season above all others.

 

Others of note:

It is amazing and a little sad that just a season removed from training Legatissimo and Curvy, David Wachman (2015: A) is retiring from training. 2016 was terrible with just one win before July but he leaves a legacy of being a fine trainer of fillies as well as some very promising two-year-olds: the likes of Rain Goddess, Winter, Intern, Rekindling and, lately, White Satin Dancer have shown plenty this season.

Michael O’Callaghan (2015: B+) had a decent year, punctuated with some spectacular gambles – Intrepid Prince at Galway and Holy Cat at Leopardstown spring to mind – but Adrian Keatley was the new trainer who really stood out. Not only did he send out the cheap purchase Jet Setting to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas but he got her back to form to win the Concorde Stakes in fine style under a Group 1 penalty. Furthermore, only Aidan O’Brien and Pat Shanahan trained more UK winners from the Irish training ranks this flat season with 9 wins from 38, a tidy strikerate of 23.7%.

Outside of the big names, Johnny Levins, Denis Hogan and Damien English did well around the margins. Joe McGrath winner, Tithonus, made massive improvements in 2016, building on a fine all-weather campaign to win four times and went close on the Racing Post Trophy undercard at Doncaster too. Tribal Path for English was the biggest improver of the year, starting the year on 53 and now rated 87; bizarrely he ran on the same Cork card in March that featured Jet Setting and Harzand!

- Tony Keenan

Grading The Trainers – Irish Flat Season 2015 Review

Racing is an unusual sport, the winners emerging throughout the season rather than solely at the end, and while there are a few cards left to be played over Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup, now is a fair time to take a broad view of the Irish flat campaign. The flat calendar comprises around 1,000 races and as of this weekend there are just 80 left to be run with the Pattern basically complete, there being only one group race remaining.

To grade trainers on what they achieve relative to each other is a pointless task; Aidan O’Brien would be an A almost every year with a sliding scale after him and you’d end up producing a slightly altered version of the trainers’ championship. But there is more at play here than mere numbers and different standards apply to different trainers, so sometimes the best barometer for a trainer is themselves and what they have previously achieved.

There are a few criteria at play in my analysis. Numbers matter but they’re not the only thing. Group races matter, especially Group 1’s and, further to that, the handling and placing of key horses is huge. Big meetings, particularly Galway, matter whereas Roscommon on a summer Monday barely registers. Premier handicaps matter as they’re often the best measure of a trainer who doesn’t have a host of blue bloods.

 

Aidan O’Brien – Grade: B

2015 has been a curate’s egg for O’Brien. His best horse Gleneagles exemplified this, going through the top three-year-old mile races unbeaten before drawing plenty of ire for a trio of high-profile defections from the Sussex, International and Irish Champion Stakes. His legacy remains up in the air and one wonders if he might even stay in training at four in a bid to get his ground.

O’Brien’s record in domestic Group races has continued to be strong:

Trainers in Irish Group Races – 2015

Trainer Runners Winners Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/
Expected
A O’Brien 80 20 25.0% +19.51 1.19
D Weld 42 10 23.8% -12.76 0.98
J Bolger 49 5 10.2% +15.11 0.67
G Lyons 27 4 14.8% -10.62 1.14
E Lynam 13 3 23.1% +5.50 1.37

 

A notable feature here – and one punters are likely thankful for – is the positive actual over expected return which is meaningful too as there is a decent sample size; that’s unusual given the typical profile of the yard’s runners and might have something to do with the jockey confusion during the year. Things started with Ryan Moore then Joseph stepped in with a healthy dose of Heffernan and O’Donoghue mixed through as weights dictated.

Of course O’Brien is not judged on pattern race winners but on Group 1s and particularly the Derby. In that regard, he failed in 2015. Despite seeming to have a strong hand going into the winter, ten lengths was the closest his main representative Giovanni Canaletto could get to the winner at Epsom and

the Curragh. Neither John F Kennedy nor Ol’ Man River came close to delivering on their potential, hardly running to better than 100 in seven combined starts.

Found too was a disappointment. The best of her generation at two when she beat Ervedya (a three-time Group 1 winner in 2015), she has managed just a single Group 3 win in a three-runner race this season, leaving the impression of unfulfilled potential. She certainly suffers by comparison with Ervedya though she did run with credit against the boys in the Irish Champion.

Perhaps the high point of O’Brien’s season was the second day of Irish Champions Weekend where he landed a big race treble with Minding, Air Force Blue and Order Of St George; and an underrated aspect of his 2015 was a marked uptick in his record with jumpers, particularly bumper horses. Since the start of the 2015/16 national hunt season, his runners have hit at 31%; regardless of who is training them, that’s an impressive strikerate.

It would be remiss not to mention the difficult circumstances O’Brien has faced this year with rumours circulating about his future at Ballydoyle, rumours he has dealt with in a dignified manner. Such speculation will always be part of this sort of position but to mention the likes of David O’Meara in the same breath is doing O’Brien a significant disservice; he has achieved too much for that. And with three juvenile Group 1s already in the bag and the chance of two more this weekend, it’s likely he’ll be achieving more of the same next year.

 

Dermot Weld – Grade: C+

Had this piece been written in late April, then Weld would have been a clear A+ but the road is long and he may have shot his bolt too early though in his defence the trainer did state he had a team of soft ground horses that needed to be out early.

But overall this has been a moderate season for Weld - Free Eagle just about rescuing it at Royal Ascot – and I have long thought that he doesn’t win enough Group 1s given the quality he has in his yard. The placing of high-profile horses is vital to rating a trainer and the call to run Free Eagle in the Arc was a poor one with the Champion Stakes, over a trip and track the horse excels at and against much weaker opposition, a better option.

Forgotten Rules has been campaigned no better. Despite Weld continually saying that he wouldn’t run him on fast ground, he pitches up in the Ascot Gold Cup and while that’s forgivable – it is Royal Ascot after all – the decision to run him ten days later in the Curragh Cup was one of the worst calls of the season given the cotton-wool treatment he’d had up to then. It looked a run borne out of frustration which rarely ends well. His subsequent effort in the Irish Leger is not as bad as it looks, his jockey giving him a bad ride, but has plenty on his plate to get back on track at BCD. Incidentally, that was one of the few poor rides Pat Smullen gave all season; he’s been an A+ though many of his big wins came for trainers other than Weld.

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Galway was disappointing for Weld. He may have won the top trainer prize but it was an award he scarcely merited as it was achieved more on his number of horses placed in ordinary races than on the quality of races he won. A few of the trainer’s better horses missed portions of the season, notably Zawraq and Mustajeeb, but keeping horses sound is a skill too.

 

Jim Bolger – Grade: B-

Godolphin must love Jim Bolger; he’s about their best trainer though the bar is not high there. Their Pleascach has been the standout horse at Coolcullen this season, given a typically aggressive Bolger campaign, and while the returns didn’t quite reach Lush Lashes level, winning the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Yorkshire Oaks in a strong year for three-year-old fillies is a decent haul.

Away from here though, it’s been an ordinary year for Bolger. Lucida was among the best of her generation but failed to win a Group 1 and there is an argument for jockey error playing its part in that, Kevin Manning not seen at his best in either of her final three starts. He moved prematurely into the teeth of a strong gallop in the 1,000 Guineas before not moving quick enough at Royal Ascot while he seemed to be unaware of the slow pace in the Falmouth.

Bolger’s juveniles have been disappointing too, not least because of his hyping of them early and it looks a case of confusing geese with swans. Round Two was described as ‘everything you would like in a racehorse’, Sanus Per Aquam was ‘the auld fella [Teofilo] reincarnated’, Herald The Dawn was ‘a very nice type of horse.’ High, even hollow, praise for a trio of Group 3 horses.

 

David Wachman – A

Perhaps the best test of a trainer is how they handle a really top class horse and if there has been a knock against David Wachman it’s that his stars have shone brightly but all too briefly. That was true of the likes of Damson, Again and Sudirman but certainly not of Legatissimo who has been expertly campaigned in 2015.

She promised a bit at two without screaming Group 1 winner but has been a revelation this season, starting out at a high level and progressing from it, her most impressive performances arguably her last two at Goodwood and Leopardstown. There’s a case to be made that she should have won five Group 1s on the trot, beaten by a short head in both the Oaks and the Pretty Polly, and her versatility over different trips is rare. That she achieved all this in a deep year for three-year-old fillies is even more meritorious and she might even have won a Group 1 against colts had she been given the chance; she goes to the Breeders’ Cup with a leading chance of ending her season on a high.

Curvy was another fine example of Wachman’s skill with fillies, improving from a mark of 72 to 111 now. Her form has tailed off a little but she has had a long season while Hint Of A Tint, for all that she blotted her copybook at Tipperary on Sunday, has been well-trained to win a pair of premier handicaps having previously been fragile. She was one of three Galway winners for the yard and that gets points too.

 

Ger Lyons – B

I’m biased with Ger Lyons, being a fan of both his training methods and straightforward interaction with the media, and 2015 was another steady year for him. Previously an outspoken critic of Galway, he landed two good handicap winners at the meeting this summer with Sacrificial and Waipu Cove, both of whom look up to Listed class at least. The former went close at Royal Ascot too, ‘winning’ his side in the Britannia, while he also had a good winner with Glass House over Irish Champions Weekend.

Ainippe, however, deserves pride of place. She’d looked an all-out speedball at two and unlikely to progress at three but she won a pair of Group 3s this season and capped it off with a third in the Matron Stakes. It was a brave call to supplement her for that race – the trip was further than she’d raced over before and the ground was on the slow side – but connections were rewarded with Group 1 black type and a hefty share of prize-money.

 

Michael Halford – C-

With Halford, it’s more quantity that quality so this looks another underwhelming season. He ties for the lead in handicap winners with Ger Lyons, and Hasanour was an early-season star but it takes a lot of volume to get to where he is and the lack of Pattern race success has to be a black mark.

It’s a long time since Casamento won the Racing Post Trophy, 2010 in fact, and the trainer hasn’t kicked on from there. Indeed, one could argue he’s gone backwards having managed only three group winners since Casamento, and is 0/17 in Irish Group races this year. And it’s not as if he doesn’t have the owners; numbering Godolphin and the Aga Khan among his patrons, he really should be doing better. Success at Dundalk and in Dubai is all well and good but those meetings are in their own bubbles, the action less competitive than the mid-summer turf, and more is expected.

 

Willie McCreery – A

2015 should have been a down year for Willie McCreery. His star mare Fiesolana had gone off to the paddocks and she contributed a lot over the past two seasons, winning four races in 2013 before landing the Group 1 Matron Stakes last year. That’s a major loss for any yard, much less one without power owners, but he has managed to thrive nonetheless, already having two more winners in the turf season than he had in all of last season.

His handicap record is notable; he is second only to Garvan Donnelly in terms of strikerate and actual over expected among those trainers with at least 25 handicap runners, outstripping many better known yards. He does even better in premier handicaps:

 

Trainers in Irish Premier Handicaps 2015

Trainer Runners Winners Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
W McCreery 16 4 25.0% +17.5 2.27
D Wachman 10 3 30.0% +21.0 1.99
M Halford 30 3 10.0% -8.0 1.00
A Oliver 2 9 22.2% +4.5 2.47

 

These are the most valuable handicaps of the Irish flat season and there have been 28 of them so far in 2015 with the average field size being 14 runners; they are not easy to win. Yet McCreery won four of them and with four different horses and while the likes of Fact Of Folklore and Shrill had upside going into their races, his other winners Tylery Wonder and Colour Blue looked plenty exposed.

 

Michael O’Callaghan – B+

O’Callaghan only began training in 2012 and with ten Irish flat winners this season he’s already more than doubled his previous win total. He has to prove he’s something other than a trainer of juveniles – since starting his career, his strikerate is 13.6% with the youngsters, 11.0% with everything else – but he’s certainly very good with two-year-olds and has a number of horses with significant potential next year like Blue De Vega and Moral High Ground.

The trainer (or connections) also deserves credit for one of the shrewdest bits of placing of the year with Now Or Never, the yard’s wide-margin Galway maiden winner on soft ground. After that win, she was doubly entered over trials meeting for Irish Champions Weekend in the Debutante and Futurity, the former confined to fillies on a Saturday, the second open to colts on a Sunday. Looking at the forecast for rain, O’Callaghan declared her for the Futurity which cut up badly and finished up being run on soft ground while the Debutante was a deep field and finished up being fought out by Ballydoyle and Minding, both Group 1 winners since. Now Or Never made the running in the slowly-run Futurity and got valuable black type for finishing second, connections rewarded for a brave and clever play.

 

Eddie Lynam – B-

It’s been a ‘meh’ season for Lynam for all that his number of winners has been broadly in line with previous totals but he was always going to struggle with the retirement of Slade Power. Winning a first turf race in Ireland with Sole Power rates as a high point and that it came over Irish Champions Weekend so much the better but the disappointing recent runs of Anthem Alexander have been a downer after so much early promise.

 

Johnny Murtagh – D

A great jockey does not a great trainer make as a look at the list of the top trainers in either code will tell you and, after Johnny Murtagh’s third season in the driving seat, the jury remains out on his training career. His Irish runners have hit at a rate of just 6% in 2015 and big winners have been thin on the ground despite the presence of some good owners that are willing to spend. The absence of Andrew Tinkler runners hasn’t helped but there are still plenty of expensive purchases in the yard.

Murtagh’s placing of his horses leaves a bit to be desired too. Running Stroll Patrol back four days after her Scurry win in a Naas Listed race seemed rushed; the first race was run at a strong gallop and she was a three-year-old against her elders so may have needed time to recover. The decision to take Kasbah to Wolverhampton for a £7,000 race only six days after she wasn’t even entered in a winnable Curragh premier handicap was a poor call too; she bolted up on the all-weather and would surely have gone close in the more valuable and higher profile Irish race. Murtagh doesn’t have that many highly rated horses in his yard – Kasbah is one of them – so it is important to maximise their potential and win the best races possible.

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

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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!

The Newmarket Backend Trainers with a 41.98% ROI

Roge is in blinding form right now...

Roge is in blinding form right now...

The Cambridgeshire meeting, running from today through until Saturday, forms part of a clutch of meetings at Newmarket between now and the end of the season. It may pay to note the quintet of trainers in this post, who have all historically punched well above their weight from September onwards at flat racing's HQ.

Charlie Appleby

Having only taken over from the disgraced Mahmood al Zarooni, himself a late season Newmarket demon, at the start of last season, Appleby has continued to pump out the winners in similar vein.

Indeed, in his first season last year, he ran twenty horses, winning with seven of them, for a return of 21.98 units at SP (26.4 BSP). It should be noted that the yard is in excellent fettle right now, and I have a fair fancy for one of theirs this afternoon (Billingsgate).

It might be pertinent to note that all seven of Appleby's winners in the sample were 2yo's, from fourteen of that age group to face the starter.

Appleby's Newmarket entries this week:

Today
2.00 Chorus Of Lies
4.50 Billingsgate

Friday
1.40 Zibelena
3.15 Outstrip
3.45 Penglai Pavilion

Saturday
2.00 Pulcinella
4.25 Serene Beauty

--

Jim Bolger

An Irish raider, Bolger loves to stake a claim for some of the big late season juvenile events, a tactic he's deployed to great effect for a generation. In the period in question - 2010+ - his record is three from eleven with a further two placed, for an SP profit of 14.8 points (BSP +18.83).

Bolger's score card was bolstered by 20/1 Parish Hall, but he also added Dawn Approach and Trading Leather to his win tally. Expect any of his winners here to be well above average. Note that Bolger also had placed horses at 14/1 and 33/1, and a third of six (so unplaced, just) also at 33/1. They don't come over for the break, it would appear.

Bolger's Newmarket entries this week:

Friday
2.40 Lucida

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--

Roger Charlton

The boss of Beckhampton has a tremendous record at Newmarket in late season over the past few years, with six winners and three placed from 29 runners. Those winners accrued 17.75 units of starting price profit (24.43 BSP), and hit at a rate of better than one in five.

Charlton has the likeable Captain Cat entered tomorrow, amongst others.

Charlton's Newmarket entries this week:

Tomorrow
3.15 Captain Cat
5.00 Border Legend

Saturday
5.35 High Church

--

John Gosden

No review of Newmarket trainers would be complete without an entry for Johnny G. He is a master of his craft, and he regularly demonstrates that at his local course. If there is a problem with following the yard blindly it is one of volume: Gosden runs a lot of horses at Newmarket late season.

In fact, since 2010, he's run 122 horses from September to the end of the season, hauling in 18 winners and a profit of 37.12 units at starting price (62.4 BSP). As that SP/BSP disparity implies, Gosden has scored with big priced horses. In fact, it might be surprising to discover that he's had four 20/1 winners in the sample, including Taghrooda last year.

And, for whatever reason - most likely coincidence - Gosden has scored with just two of his 54 horses priced between 9/2 and 12/1 in that time. With just three from 37 three-year-olds notching, they might be a group to cast an accusing eye upon.

Gosden's Newmarket entries this week:

Today
2.00 Tempus Temporis
2.00 Secateur
4.15 Flying Officer

Friday
1.40 Belle d'Or
2.10 Criteria
3.15 Wannabe Yours
3.45 Nabucco
4.25 Nota Cambiata
5.00 Gm Hopkins

Saturday
3.10 Tendu
3.50 Maverick Wave
3.50 Cornrow
4.25 Jazzi Top
4.25 Entertainment

--

Roger Varian

Roger Varian is the man of the late season so far, claiming the Group 1 St Leger and then nabbing the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes the next day. He's in flying form generally just now, and is included more on that basis than his overall profit of 6.33 (13.15 BSP) from 48 runners and eight winners.

It might be worth noting that Varian tends to only strike when expected at Newmarket at this time of year, as all of his winners have been priced 12/1 or shorter, eliminating eleven of the initial 48 superset.

Varian's Newmarket entries this week:

Today
2.00 Tawaasheeh

Friday
2.10 Familliarity
2.40 Tigrilla
3.45 Ayrad
5.00 Miguel Grau

Saturday
4.25 Skip And Jump
4.25 Bella Lulu

**

Collectively, that quintet of hot handlers has run 231 horses at Newmarket from September until the end of the season since 2010. They've bagged 42 pots between them (18.18% of two-in-eleven), and have recorded profit at starting price of 96.98 points, which ramps up to 144.2 points at Betfair Starting Price.

There's little doubt that this Fabulous Five will have winners this week, and continue to do so at HQ in the coming weeks. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest blindly backing their runners, but give all of them at least a second thought when poring through the Newmarket cards.

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. thanks a lot for all the interest in the writer/developer opportuntities. I'm not accepting any more applicants at this time.

Irish Racing Review: 14th August 2013

Galway Races

Galway Races

Irish Racing Review – August 14th, 2013

Jim Bolger has long had his own way of doing things – indeed it could be said that he rewrites the book on training racehorses, so much so punters find him hard to read – but last Sunday we saw what can go wrong when the Bolger method is applied too forcefully with both Dawn Approach and Scintillula disappointing after a number of quick runs.

There are few things better than watching a Bolger horse thrive through a series of wins in quick succession, with seemingly little need for rest, but – and I write this at the risk of overvaluing recent evidence – there are times when Bolger’s approach comes back and bites him in the backside, not that the ever righteous trainer would care to admit it!

Bolger campaigns group horses like handicappers, Scintillula having six runs in 52 days lately, and as a rule it’s best not to do this or at very least it is rare than a horse manages to maintain its form through a long period. In group races, horses are sternly tested; they frequently run fast with pacemakers often employed and are competing against stiff competition. It is unusual when such a horse holds it form throughout a series of these races, as Sea The Stars did, which makes such horses so memorable.

Certainly there is something admirable in the way Bolger campaigns his horses and I am all for this aggressive approach, racehorses are made to run and that is what they should do provided they are sound. But there is a limit and there are times when Bolger’s methods become more ridiculous than sublime and he gives them an extra run or two that sends them over the edge.

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Take some of his best horses of recent years as examples: Alexander Goldrun won just one of her last eleven starts, Finsceal Beo lost her last nine, Lush Lashes her last eight.

Clearly these comparisons with something like Dawn Approach are imperfect; the above trio are all fillies and few horses win their final start no more than any other start but all were multiple Group 1 winners that finished their careers on a down note and perhaps the trainer pushed things too far. When a horse starts to go wrong, the best thing is to give it a rest rather than push on as at this point injuries are more likely to occur or a previously sound temperament may go sour.

With Dawn Approach, it is possible that the trainer has already asked too much of the horse. It is mid-August and last year’s Champion Two-Year-Old has had five foreign trips with the prospect of more to come. He bounced back from a terrible run in the Derby though in hindsight he didn’t have a hard race but was then asked to back up quickly after a tough encounter in the Sussex.

He is now on a course of antibiotics following his Marois fifth and this isn’t the time of year to be meeting with a training setback with so many big races looming. It will be one of Jim Bolger’s greatest achievements if he can manage to get him back to Group 1-winning form from this.

None of this is to suggest that Bolger can change his methods; one is reminded of a comment a few years back when Peter Chapple-Hyam tried to take his focus away from getting two-year-old winners and concentrate on a more gradual approach. Instead of an increased number of three-year-old winners, Chapple-Hyam found himself with few winners at all so he reverted back to what he knew.

It is difficult for a leopard to change his spots but looking at the figures for the previous Bolger inmates that finished their careers on long losing runs, there is certainly betting value in opposing such horses in the latter part of their racing lives.

I got through the replays of the flat races for Galway in the past few days and as ever there were eye-catchers aplenty on the tricky Western track so here are five of the best.

Ravello Again was a most unlucky loser in the 3yo handicap over 7f on Monday, a race that already looks decent form. The finish was dominated by horses that raced on the pace but Ravello Again was held up; she got chopped off badly leaving the dip and lost at least 3 lengths, stayed on under an easy time in the straight, beaten little more than 3 lengths, and this on her first run since February so there should be improvement to come.

The trainer’s daughter was aboard Zip Wire in the 1m4f amateur riders maiden on Wednesday and she was little assistance from the saddle; allowed the race to get away from her leaving the dip despite having plenty of horse under her, the gelding stayed on well in the finish and should be winning a maiden soon, his previous form working out well.

Friday’s feature, the Guinness Handicap over 1m4f was fought out by a pair that shaped better than the form. A really likeable effort from the winner Curley Bill, very keen early held up off slow pace, took a couple of false steps early on, sweeping move around outer coming out of dip, really quickening up well and finding enough in closing stages, won’t be getting much of a rise for this.

The second Bayan lost position coming down the hill, finding himself nearer last than first, had to come through traffic then wide in straight, conceded first run to winner, found loads, looks on fair mark.

Considering the time of year, the 1m4f maiden for fillies on Saturday was a strong contest and it resulted in an impressive win from Exotic; came from last, raced wide, smart turn-of-foot, not easy for debutants to win here and beat the right horses, the ones open to progress.

Trainer Stats: 26th Mar 2013

Jim BolgerAndy Newton’s got a trainer operating at a 75% strike-rate to look out for this week, plus five other ‘red-hot’ yards....... Read more

Curragh Trends on Sunday

As a bonus this Sunday, Andy Newton looks at the Curragh card from a trends and stats angle....... Read more

TV Trends – Sat 15th October

Crystal Capella

Can Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Capella win the Champions Fillies & Mares’ Stakes for a third time this Saturday? – Andy Newton gives you all the big race trends & stats from Saturday’s LIVE TV races. Read more

TV Trends – Sat 8th Oct

Newmarket

Don't Forget the Draw Change at Newmarket This Year......

The Betfred Cesarewitch takes centre stage this Saturday, but did you know 70% of the last 10 winners were aged 5 or older? This trend whittles the 36 runner field down to 18! Andy Newton wades through all eight LIVE C4 races this weekend....... Read more