Posts

Monday Musings: Tritonic to be the Spring King?

I was speaking to Micky Hammond a couple of weeks ago and he declared: “Winter has finished!”. I thought maybe he was rather precipitous as there were still great drifts of snow around much of the North of England and points further on, but he must have had divine inspiration from somewhere, writes Tony Stafford.

Often the Kempton Saturday meeting in late February has offered better ground than anywhere else for ages and as such provided a nice lead-in for Cheltenham Festival runners. February 27 2021 proved no exception.

Through this most depressing of winters, denied visits to the racecourse and resigned to watching horses slogging through the mud day after day on television, Kempton’s jumps track always provides the kindest of surfaces. No wonder Nicky Henderson opposed plans for its closure so vigorously.

On Saturday the three-mile handicap chase, which has had many identities, but was staged under the Close Brothers banner this year, was run in five minutes 51 seconds, one second FASTER than standard time.

Clondaw Castle was the meritorious winner. Trained by Tom George and ridden by Jonathan Burke, he led home a field of 17. Runner-up Erick Le Rouge, a 33-1 shot, had been successful on similarly fast ground at the corresponding meeting two years ago in a handicap hurdle while on that same card, Southfield Spirit, a faller when favourite for the Close Brothers, won the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle for Paul Nicholls.

Micky must have been slightly irritated at the accuracy of his prediction as he chose the same weekend for the return to hurdling of stable star Cornerstone Lad in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell yesterday. The ground had dried out appreciably there too and Cornerstone Lad, a proper mud-lark, was pulled up.

I always loved the late February meeting at Kempton which used to be a two-day affair on the Friday and Saturday. I know my memory plays tricks these days but I definitely remember one year (not sure which one) when at least half a dozen of the Kempton winners (and possibly a couple more) went on to success at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Adonis Hurdle will always be a favourite and its annual arrival unfailingly reminds me of the 2007 renewal which led to a 14-year connection with Raymond Tooth. Sadly Raymond’s association with racing has for now been curtailed but I will always be grateful to Punjabi and to Derek Hatter and Brod Munro-Wilson whose input that day hastened the union.

Few winners of the race, which in 2007 and 2008 provided Nicky Henderson with the 2009 and 2010 (Binocular) Champion Hurdle winners, were more impressive than Saturday’s ten-length Adonis victor Tritonic, a fifth Adonis score for Alan King, equalling Henderson’s tally.

Tritonic, a 99-rated Flat racer, had been more workmanlike than spectacular in the Ascot mud five weeks earlier when a strong-finishing one-length victor from the Gary Moore-trained Casa Loupi. That horse, a far inferior performer on the level but still a tough campaigner, was again the main rival on Saturday.

Coming to the last flight it appeared that there would probably be only a slightly wider margin between them but once over the obstacle, Tritonic took off and sprinted away up the run-in in the manner of a Goshen in an easing-down ten-length exhibition.

Cheltenham has a habit of fooling us with its ground and many times I’ve been in a less than successful going prediction business, certainly not in the Hammond league anyway. At various Cheltenham preview nights I’ve suggested it will be impossible for it to be anything but soft and it often wasn’t. I don’t think it matters for Tritonic, who is down to 7-2 for the juvenile championship.

I feel I have to change my Triumph allegiance, with French Aseel showing no sign of a second run having transferred into the Willie Mullins team. Gordon Elliott still has a strong grip on the race with 2-1 shot Zanahiyr and third-best Quilixios (6-1) but he is making all the wrong headlines after the picture of him talking on the phone while sitting on a dead horse on his gallop started doing the rounds. Both the Irish authorities and the BHA are understandably on the Elliott case.

In these more sensitive times in terms of animal welfare it is little wonder that social media has been so much on this matter. I’ve been told that the belated release of the grotesque image many months after it was captured last summer is because of the ire of a scorned former paramour of the trainer! Whatever the truth of that, it’s a great story. As Mr Bolger instructed when I first contacted him back in the 1980’s: “No names!”

In those days in Ireland you never knew who was listening in. Nowadays there’s always someone taking a picture and it has an ever-ready target audience. No doubt in no time at all there will be a million “likes” of which 999,000 of them will be utter “dislikes”.

Anyway, I digress. Tritonic is a reminder of Alan King’s talent as a jumps trainer which to some extent has been slightly eroded in the public understanding because of his equal facility on the Flat. Considering he doesn’t have easy access to the top pedigrees but instead needs to develop his own talent, that success is even more meritorious.

Tritonic was a case in point. Bred by Kirsten Rausing, he was originally sold as a foal at Tatts December sale for 14,000gns to Tony O’Callaghan’s Tally Ho Stud. Eighteen months later at the lesser of the two Tatts Breeze-ups, with the benefit of the Tally Ho expertise, he realised almost a 300% increase at 55k.

He might not have seemed the obvious “breezer” in pedigree terms. He was by the German Derby winner – by 11 lengths! – Sea The Moon who won four of five career starts with his only defeat coming as a 2-1 on shot in his last run in the Grosser Preis von Baden. The four-year-old winner there, Ivanhowe, was later a multiple Group 1 winner in Australia.

King didn’t waste any time with his May purchase. Tritonic had his first start in July as an unconsidered 50-1 outsider for a Haydock 7f novice race and, bar taking a false step in the closing stages, could have been even nearer than fourth place, less than a length behind the winner.

He built on that with wins at Ffos Las in August and Newbury in September and was only a 6-1 chance when fifth to Max Vega in the Group 3 Zetland Stakes over 10 furlongs at Newmarket in October. Placed in four of his five attempts – including first time out at Royal Ascot – in good-class handicaps as a three-year-old, he had the benefit of experience without being over-raced. So when the trainer turned Tritonic to hurdling he already looked the finished article.

With two Triumph Hurdle winners, Penzance and Katchit - who as a five-year-old followed up in the Champion Hurdle - to his credit, King certainly knows what’s needed and, after welcoming his winner on Saturday, there was only one race on his mind.

Another of the Kempton winners that interests me is Cape Gentleman who travelled over from Ireland to win the Dovecote Hurdle in determined style after a tussle with the Dan Skelton-trained Calico, a decent horse in Germany before making an easy winning UK debut at Ludlow.

Cape Gentleman started out in the Nicolas Clement stable after being sourced as a yearling at Arqana’s Deauville sale by the trainer and his sales associate Tina Rau for €20k. After three runs and one win he was back at the company’s Saint-Cloud venue where Emmet Mullins bought him for €80k on behalf of owner Margaret O’Rourke.

It’s uncanny that Tritonic and Cape Gentleman had such similar increases in value between sales and are rated 1lb apart on the Flat: second time out for Mullins in the Irish Cesarewitch at The Curragh last September Cape Gentleman showed tremendous stamina and determination to win by a couple of lengths in a field of 20 after which his mark was increased from 85 to 100.

First time over hurdles he won well at Punchestown but then, in Grade 1 company over two and three-quarter miles at Leopardstown’s Dublin Festival three weeks ago, he was pulled up. That he could recover from those exertions and put in such a good performance within such a short time and back at two miles is testimony both to the horse’s constitution and his trainer’s skill.

Cape Gentleman has two Cheltenham engagements and is a 25-1 chance for both. With the run guarantee in many places, I reckon there will be worse each-way shots at considerably shorter odds on the day. Just two weeks to go.

I’d actually been asked to go to a friend’s house to do an on-the-day hosting of one of the days at the Festival for some of his pals who play for a Premier League team and love their racing. That was great at any rate until spoil-sport Mrs S pointed out that it was still illegal – and no doubt one of the lads would live stream the event, ensuring big fines all round. I had regretfully to decline.

- TS

Mighty Gurkha battles to Kempton victory

Mighty Gurkha showed all his battling qualities to prevail in the Unibet 3 Uniboosts A Day Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park.

The latest fast-track qualifier for All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield on Good Friday looked a well-contested affair, despite just the five starters – and that is how it played out.

Hollie Doyle and the Archie Watson-trained Mighty Gurkha (11-4) led from the outset, but were headed by Zamaani before fighting back for a neck success over the 13-8 favourite. The previously-unbeaten Bravado was another length and a half away in third.

A delighted Doyle told Racing TV: “It was an excellent performance. He pinged the gates and I managed to get an easy enough lead for the first half of the race. Jack (Mitchell, on Zamaani) took me on early enough and we got into a bit of a battle.

“I got headed and felt like I was beat a furlong out, but he stuck his neck out and ran very well to the line.

“I felt he was giving me his all and that I’d take a bit of beating once I got that position and controlled it – he showed a great attitude to get his head back in front.”

Victory for Mighty Gurkha was the second leg of a quick double for Doyle, who also struck on Twilight Madness (3-1) for Simon Hodgson.

King George will be run behind closed doors

Kempton’s Ladbrokes Christmas Festival will be staged behind closed doors following the latest announcement from the Government on areas of England which are to move to the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

While nearby London moved to Tier 3 earlier this week, with the Sunbury track being in Surrey – at that time in Tier 2 – a crowd of up to 2,000, albeit not racegoers from the capital itself, was still set to attend the showpiece fixture which features the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

However, the announcement to the House of Commons by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday that Surrey will now join Tier 3 means no crowd will be permitted.

A spokesperson for the track’s owners, Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “We know that racing fans will be disappointed to be missing out on some thrilling live action over the Christmas period, especially having only just been allowed to return to our venues in very limited numbers.

Clan Des Obeaux won last year's King George in front of packed grandstands
Clan Des Obeaux won last year’s King George in front of packed grandstands (Steven Paston/PA)

“However, we recognise we must all play our part in tackling this pandemic and look forward to welcoming racegoers back to our courses as soon as we’re able to do so.”

Ascot’s pre-Christmas fixture this weekend has also been affected by the latest developments.

A statement from the track read: “The Government confirmed today that the local authority in which Ascot is situated (Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead) will formally move into Tier 3 of Covid restrictions at midnight on Friday, December 18 which automatically means that the public cannot be admitted to Ascot on Saturday, December 19, day two of the December Racing Weekend.

Crowds will be absent from Ascot this weekend
Crowds will be absent from Ascot this weekend (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Ascot has consulted with Public Health England and its Safety Advisory Group, and the advice received is that it should not to be open to the public tomorrow, Friday, December 18, day one of the December Racing Weekend. Therefore, Ascot will not be admitting the public for Friday’s racing.

“Cases in the south of England have risen over 40% in the last week and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is now in a very high-risk area.

“Ascot is sorry that that it has to deliver this news to people looking forward to coming racing this weekend.”

Newbury’s Challow Hurdle card on December 29 is another which will be without racegoers over the festive period, as will the Tolworth Hurdle fixture at Sandown on January 2.

Newbury is another track forced to move behind closed doors
Newbury is another track forced to move behind closed doors (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Newbury tweeted: “Following the recent Government update regarding West Berkshire moving into Tier 3 from Saturday 19 December from 00.01hrs, communications will be issued to all those with a ticket or hospitality booking for MansionBet Challow Hurdle Day on Tuesday 29 December 2020.”

Sandown wrote: “Following the news that @Sandownpark is in a Tier 3 area of England, we are unable to welcome spectators to the racecourse.

“We will be in touch with anyone who has already purchased a ticket for a fixture now affected, and a refund will be automatically processed.

“We look forward to welcoming racegoers again when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”

Hereford racecourse is now in Tier 1 one of coronavirus restrictions
Hereford racecourse is now in Tier 1 one of coronavirus restrictions (Tim Goode/PA)

A total of 15 tracks with winter fixtures will continue to have crowds under the current restrictions, including Cheltenham, who race next on New Year’s Day.

All of those courses are in Tier 2, with the exception of Hereford which has moved into a Tier 1 area and will now be allowed as many as 4,000 spectators at its next meeting, which is scheduled for January 2.

No courses that were in Tier 3 have moved to a lower tier.

Punting Angles: Kempton Park

Kempton Park is dripping in racing heritage, having staged its first event more than 140 years ago, writes Jon Shenton.  However, it is the polytrack racing that has been the most prominent fixture from 2006, and that will form the content for today’s piece. There are plenty of data to get stuck in to, hardly surprising considering the number of fixtures at the venue.

The course map reminds us that Kempton is the only right-handed all-weather track in the UK, and it also highlights the existence of two racing loops. Only the five-furlong and 1m 2f trips use the inner ring, the other distances all charting the outer course.

As a supplementary starter, if you want a real expert opinion on the track, David Probert’s blog was published on geegeez a few months ago and contains some very useful first-hand snippets from a rider’s perspective.  It certainly sets the scene nicely for this article if you have time.

https://www.geegeez.co.uk/catching-up-with-david-probert/

Kempton AW Trainers: Richard Fahey

As usual, let us first delve into the performance of trainers at the track. Before getting into the positive angles it’s worth noting a high-profile and generally prolific yard that appears to a have a few challenges at the Sunbury circuit.

The above data represent the powerhouse Richard Fahey team at Kempton from 2012 onwards. A strike rate of less than 4% is not fantastic by any measure and such runners should perhaps be given second thoughts prior to investment. That said, earlier in 2019 George Bowen was a Class 2 winner from just three runners this year.

Kempton AW Trainers: General

Moving into positive territory, below are the best performing trainers (still active) at the track since the same 2012 date.

To qualify for the table, 75 runners are required with minimum at SP’s of 20/1 or less and a bar of an A/E of over 1.10 needs to be overcome.

Frankly, the list is quite underwhelming in terms of potential angle development. All are probably worthy of further analysis, but nothing really jumps off the page.

Kempton AW Trainers: Rae Guest

However, for some reason it feels impolite to move on without at least a cursory glance at the top of the list. So, with that in mind, an evaluation of Rae Guest’s numbers is in order.

I find that a key factor to always consider when analysing all-weather data is the time of year. I’m now into my fourth annual wagering cycle and am getting a better feel for performance variation and seasonality impact within my portfolio. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles all-weather punting is my staple diet and where most of my effort is centred.

However, being brutally honest, my all-weather angles generally under-perform over the summer months. It may be usual variance but each summer I watch my bank (from AW) glide downwards to then power up over the the winter. It makes sense, the majority of AW racing occurs through the colder months with many yards gearing around the season, or potentially focussing their efforts elsewhere during the summer months.

The Rae Guest info does show some of the hallmarks of that fallow summer performance. The below table illustrates the yard results at Kempton for May to August (inclusive)

Granted, not a huge number of runners, but not the best record either. It seems logical to check this record by opening the data to the yard’s performance across all AW tracks over the same period to see if there is a general downturn or if it’s course specific.

It’s a slightly better record, but still somewhat underwhelming as a collective.  The companion data (from the other months) across the artificial tracks may be of interest and is as follows:

That’s a pretty impressive record relating to over 300 runners and indicates the Guest yard is generally one to track on the artificial surfaces.

Delving deeper, here is a view of performance by race class.

The data above show a 1-from-18 record in Class 1 to 3. That’s most likely a representation of the materials available to the yard in terms of equine talent rather than any training limitation. It might be argued that Class 4 races are marginal from a betting perspective, too, with a strike rate of 11.6% and an A/E of 0.72 but for now, at least, they remain included.

There is also something very interesting when splitting out Guest runners by gender as the numbers below illustrate:

Taking the not specified gender (I assume missing data) out of the equation over 80% of the horses competing for Guest are female. This is quite unusual and even more interesting is that these female animals are outperforming their male counterparts, at least in market terms (A/E 1.30 vs. 0.98).  It must be noted that strike rates and IV are broadly similar.

In general terms, fillies and mares underperform on the artificial surfaces compared to colts and geldings. Strike rates for females are approx. 12.5% vs 14.2% for the male runners with A/E measuring 0.85 vs 0.88 since 2012, that’s an evaluation of 145,000 runners. Therefore, the Rae Guest yard seems to buck the trend and consequently there could be value in backing his fillies as a result. Perusing their website for horses currently in training, the majority are fillies so perhaps it is as simple as specialising in the development and training of the fairer sex. Nevertheless, it is worth noting all the same.

Suggestion: Back Female Rae Guest All Weather runners from September through to April in Class 4-7 races at an SP of 20/1 or less

 

Draw at Kempton

To search for clues in terms of which race distances to drill down into, the table below contains a summary of all distances up to a mile and a half using the Draw Analyser tool from the Gold toolkit.

Essentially the numbers demonstrate by race distance the average IV3 number (Impact Value of a stall and its nearest adjacent stalls) for each draw. It’s not perfect, but it does offer solid indications regarding where to look more closely, as well as giving a good reference table for general study. A summary of the key findings are:

  • The low draw bias looks most acute on the inner-course 5-furlong trip
  • Inside/low draws also appear to be beneficial for other distances up to 7-furlongs
  • Races at a mile and above show a slight accent to favouring more mid-range draws, with perhaps the most pronounced being for the mile and a quarter (10f) trip around the inner loop.

On the back of that it seems prudent that a detailed analysis of the two inner-course trips would be the most sensible use of word count.

Kempton 5 Furlong Draw and Pace

Firstly, a point of order: with all races at Kempton a low draw is closest to the inside rail and all data from here on relates to Standard and Standard/Slow going using actual stall position (not card number), that is taking out non-runners.

Over the minimum, at least half of the burn-up takes place around the inner course bend, so a low draw can mean travelling a shorter distance than the competition because claiming a spot close to the rail should be a simpler task.

The above table shows the numbers in more detail by specific field sizes (the column RN means number of runners). It’s in the usual format for regular readers. If you’re new to it then the left-hand section shows the IV3 number for each stall position by number of runners; the right-hand table shows performance in relation to early track position, i.e. pace, for the same field sizes.

Firstly, draw. The green colours are largely concentrated in the lower stall numbers, confirming the reasonable bias towards these positions. Interestingly, the greater the number of runners the more pronounced the bias appears to be. Incidentally, the maximum number of entrants over the five-furlong distance is twelve; however, the volume of races with a full field is very small so I’ve ignored them within this analysis.

The pace data is very interesting. In very basic terms, the horse that gets to the front early has at least twice the chance of emerging victorious: early speed is a huge advantage.

Given what we know about the five-furlong course topology, we’d expect to see that. If an animal can get to the front around the tight inner course loop it’s going to be in pole position, given the almost constant turning nature of the trip.

Early pace is undoubtedly a great asset, a low draw is also a great asset. So, combining both, surely must be a licence to print money? Well, yes and no, it’s not quite as simple as that. Why? Because it’s widely understood that a low draw is advantageous on the Kempton polytrack, so it’s probable that stall position is factored into available prices.

To establish the effect of the draw on value, the below table contains the equivalent A/E information for the race set ups covered in the IV3 table. As a quick reminder, A/E is an index of market value where 1 is neither good nor poor value, and a number above or below is good or poor respectively. The further away from 1, the better or worse things are.

The numbers do arguably ratify that the market has stall position covered in its starting prices.  The average (AVG) data confirms that A/E performance, whilst marginally better in the lower draws isn’t market busting by any means with averages for stalls 1-3 around the 1.00 mark: eking out a profit from picking low drawn runners may be a long-term challenge despite the clear higher propensity for providing winners, at least at industry SP.

If draw doesn’t necessarily give the edge that is craved, perhaps pace can. To try and get under the skin of the impact of pace by stall position, Gold’s Query Tool can assist.

The next table is using the tool data purely with the purpose of analysing only front runners by field size and starting gate. The reason for doing this is to try to understand if there is any commercial advantage in identifying these leaders by stall position.

The filters used in QT are:

Distance:            5-furlongs

Course:               Kempton

Race date:          1/1/2012 or later

Pace score:        4 (which is used to designate the early speed/lead horse)

The data is split by number of runners and again shows the A/E (performance against market expectation).

Initially, it appears that it’s a stiff ask to win from the widest draws even if the horse is an early speed merchant.  There is the most sizeable of sizeable caveats here though: the data samples are miniscule in places (so, for example, horses in stalls 9 and 10 in field sizes of 10-11 have only led in six races at this distance, with no leaders from stall 11).

These numbers confirm that front runners beat the market under all conditions apart from the aforementioned widest of the wide (the zero in stall 4, field sizes 6-7 is simply a quirk of a small data set). The numbers do, however, indicate greater value in the mid to wide gates, particularly in bigger fields. Small samples notwithstanding, this is worth due consideration.

To illustrate this point as a final check, here is the raw data from the Draw Analyser tool for races of 9-11 runners. The data contained within the blue dotted line illustrate the fate of the early pace (led) horse by draw position, split into thirds.  Win% across low/med/high is consistent at 22-25%, IV is marginally better in the lower drawn animals, emphasising they are more likely winners. But A/E is comfortably at its strongest in the higher drawn leaders at 1.81.

Looking for speed first, draw second and not self-talking myself out of a value play because of a wide stall is the main lesson I’ve taken from this info. Very similar to the last article on Chelmsford in that respect.

Suggestion: Try to identify the early leader in five-furlong races at Kempton

 

Kempton 1m2f Draw and Pace

Before wrapping up, a quick overview of the Kempton mile-and-a-quarter landscape is in order. A reminder that, if anything, there was a mid-to-high draw bias indicated in the initial numbers which piqued interest levels, and also keep in mind that this range also uses the tighter inner loop with the shorter finishing straight.

Below is the now standard format for assessing the pace and draw data.

The data seem to illustrate a reasonably fair and flat draw profile, apart from perhaps the outer stalls in large fields where it seems there may be too much to do.

The lowest gate numbers become increasingly difficult when the number of runners increases to 11 or greater. That is probably when horses are starved of room in the larger herd when forced/taken back during the early stages.

There is no doubt that a mid to “quite” high draw is no bad thing over this course and distance which is a mild surprise given the tight nature of the inner loop. However, in relative terms there is ample time from the starting position to the first bend, and up the back straight, for most horses / jockeys to find a position and avoid a wide trip.

These mid-range draws seem to offer greater flexibility in the run, giving lead animals the chance to get out in front, while hold up horses have less propensity for being trapped at the business end of the race.

Again, early pace is advantageous, as it is in most circumstances. However, the benefit isn’t quite as marked as some of the other trips or courses analysed in this series. In fact, the Hold-Up and Mid Div numbers hold up (!) relatively well considering there will likely be plenty of also-rans contained therein.

Using the draw analyser summary for the 11-14 field sizes (where low draws seem to underperform), the blue dotted box shows the challenge faced by a held-up low drawn horse.  Ridden for luck appears to be generally unlucky in this case. Any horse that is generally slowly away or repeatedly held back at the start should be treated with the utmost caution over this trip if its stall number is low.

Yet again, though, there appears to be some value to be gained from high-drawn leaders if they can be discovered (red dotted line). The prominent high-drawn animals don’t perform too badly either in market terms.

Hopefully the above ruminations will assist during the upcoming winter nights when poring over the Kempton form.

 - JS