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Social Discourse: 7th May 2019

It was a week with just about everything that racing can give, writes William Kedjanyi. But there's really just one place to start for this Special Edition of Social Discourse. To the land of the Free and The Home of The Brave, because where else would we go?

 

  1. Maximum Disqualification

It all looked so simple. The winner of the Kentucky Derby was Maximum Security, who was always on the front end and then kicked on down the straight, having received a canny ride from Luis Saez to become another unbeaten horse to win the Derby, in the process providing a first victory in the great race for stalwart racing supporters, Gary and Mary West.

 

 

And then the objection came.

 

 

Recap: You may know this by now, but one more time for fun: as the field made their way around the final turn, Maximum Security stepped out, nearly bringing down War Of Will, and ended the chances of the retreating Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress, who were squeezed and stopped respectively.

Country House, coming widest of all and passing horses, was forced to go even wider, but wasn’t stopped in his momentum like the others. Down the straight, Maximum Security kicked on, and the Derby was won – or so we thought.

The stewards were on the scene, and so were the tweets.

 

20 minutes passed, with stewards looking at five separate angles, although it felt like an hour given the tension involved.

 

And then, the announcement.

 

By now, what had seemed like a – by Kentucky Derby standards - relatively normal renewal was engraved in the history books when the PA at Churchill Downs announced that, for the first time in the race’s history, the winner had been disqualified.

 

People had opinions:

https://twitter.com/MattBisogno/status/1124815446686011392

 

The technical stuff: The ruling that made the difference: “a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey.”

 

People Had More Opinions:

  

The Right Call?

Most observers – from what yours truly was able to see - were firmly against the decision, but a couple of voices do think it was the right call. Indeed, some of them even shared their thoughts with us:

“Personally, I had backed the 1 horse, War Of Will.  He was coming with his run and got smashed by Maximum Security – it effectively stopped him and another horse - then he veered back down and bumped Code of Honor, and then went back into War Of Will, who knocked into Country house. CH has suffered the least out of the horses. But in American racing every day of the week that gets stood down. In the UK some will agree or disagree that the result would have stood. In France, he would be placed behind the affected horses. Was he the best horse in the race? Probably, but you wouldn’t know for sure, and given that he then drifts across the lanes down the track to finish as well? In my opinion, he cost one horse a place minimum. It was hard to watch the winner get taken down, but I said he’d lose it as he crossed the line. Universal rules needed? Maybe.”

Mick Doonan (@tensovs2kg)

 

“I was going to stay quiet about this but have been getting a few texts and messages so might as well jump into the fire ... I think the Kentucky Derby DQ was the right call. While I think it should have been DQ'ed on a steward's inquiry instead of a rider objection, the sport is in a pivotal spot right now. Leaving a horse up when he made a dangerous move like that just because it was the Derby would have sent the wrong message in a time when our message/sport is already being questioned.

I do however think Country House is the luckiest creature alive right now. He wasn't impacted by the whole thing but did get the win because of it. That's the definition of lucky - but he also put himself in a spot to finish second (and ultimately get promoted) so luck and talent both played a part.”

Melissa Bauer-Herzog 

 

They weren’t the only ones who did actually agree with the call, either: 

Of course, one person who is notoriously short on opinions is the quiet and easy-going US president, Donald Trump. Naturally he had a take on this, and of course, he made a typo in his first tweet, which he had to delete (we've all been there) 

 

 

 

Winners Closer to Home

The result wasn't a shock to everyone, though. Our very own editor had flagged the chance of Country House as a late runner tied into the (absent ante-post favourite) Omaha Beach / Improbable (favourite on the day) form - Country House had run 3rd from an impossible position behind them on a sloppy track in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, a key prep for Churchill Downs.

 

Taking The Ball and Going Home 

Gary West – remember him? – told NBC’s Today Show that:

  • Firstly, he’d appeal the decision:
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  • Secondly (see above), Maximum Security wouldn’t be going to the Preakness, with the Triple Crown off the line: “When you’re not going for the Triple Crown, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to wheel the horse back in two weeks,” West said to the AP

 

Don’t Forget: In a race where the early speed was strong but Luis Saez and others cannily cooled it down the back straight, a number of horses ran very well from behind. Tacticus, the more fancied Bill Mott runner, did a fine job to be the first of the held up horses, passing four horses in the final furlong. The future is bright for him.

Don’t give up on Game Winner, who was bodyslammed leaving the gate and ended up second last around the first turn, sat more than five lengths off the back. He made two big moves, the first to catch up to the field, and then the second to come widest of all round the third turn, and he then closed almost as well as Tacticus to finish sixth (placed fifth). He’s still got a big future.

Master Fencer was even further behind, having also been affected by the barging match at the stalls, and he took a long time to get going but when he closed he was lethal, with his final quarter-mile split of 24.31 seconds is the fastest by any horse in a Kentucky Derby since Animal Kingdom’s sub-24 final quarter in 2011.

 

  1. Luck of the Draw

In case you’d forgotten, there were four other Classics that took place over the weekend, and the feature event of Saturday afternoon – the 2,000 Guineas – went the way of Aidan O’Brien yet again as Magna Grecia ran out a comprehensive winner from King Of Change and Skardu.

Except visually, that wasn’t the case at all, as Magna Grecia was two and a half lengths clear of King Of Change and Shine So Bright, with the three having dominated the Guineas as a lone trio down by the near side from the very start.

 

 

Shine So Bright, who had previously won The Free Handicap, made the running at a brisk pace, ensuring Magna Grecia and King Of Change had a good tow, but with 16 going down the middle and only three down the near side, it’s fair to assume that most people would have been happier to have their horse in the bigger group. But that was not how it turned out.

Let’s just say that plenty of people noticed what was up.

https://twitter.com/HawkWing2002/status/1124685448515923977

Meanwhile, In The Centre: In all of this, it should not be forgotten that there were a number of excellent runs. Skardu actually won the race down the middle, just beating Madhmoon to the post for third and fourth respectively. Ten Sovereigns, who was heavily backed into 9/4 favourite, was in front of them with half a furlong to go, but was just run out of things late on – he’s set to go sprinting again, a tremendously exciting prospect as the Middle Park winner is likely to prove tough to beat amongst the speedsters.

Great Scot, the subject of a number of tips – yours truly included – during the week, came out just a touch too keen, and probably ran better than a position of 9th suggested. He might want a drop back in trip whilst Kick On, the Feilden Stakes winner, will go well at ten furlongs and further.

Onwards: Advertise disappointed when running no sort of race but he’s already got his passport stamped for Paris, with the French Guineas next.

 

  1. The Walsh Memories

8,692 days.

Over 2,500 winners.

Over 200 Grade 1 winners.

11 Cheltenham Festival Jockeys’ Titles.

59 Festival winners.

Seven Punchestown Gold Cups.

Six Punchestown Champion Hurdles.

Five Supreme Novices’ Hurdles.

Four Ryanair Chases.

Three Arkles.

Two Grand Nationals.

One Ruby Walsh.

 

After taking yet another Grade 1 victory, aboard Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup, Walsh bowed out right at the top, and tributes from the jumping world flowed on in. Readers of this newsletter will have a huge amount of Walsh memories – I mean who doesn’t? And I've shared some of the best here.

 

  1. The Town Like No Other

All last week at Punchestown there were more Grade 1’s than there were pints of Guinness to be drunk (OK, maybe not quite), and a number of highlights.

On Saturday, Fusil Raffles took the Four-Year-Old Champion Hurdle, atoning for the cut he picked up in the Adonis.

 

Benie Des Dieux put a dramatic fall at Cheltenham behind her to lead home a whitewash for Willie Mullins in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle

 

On Friday, Buveur D’Air bounced back when storming to success in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle

 

Colin Tizzard ended his season on a high when Reserve Tank won the Grade 1 Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle, jumping the last well to get the better of Sams Profile, as Ballymore Hurdle winner City Island disappointed

 

The extremely exciting Chacun Pour Soi dominated an extremely exciting renewal of the Ryanair Chase and had Willie Mullins as excited as we’ve seen it. A lot of excitement!

https://twitter.com/ODDSbibleRacing/status/1124007989529186305

 

Harry Fry’s Unknowhatimeanharry rolled back the years to win the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, beating Bacardys and Bapaume in a thrilling finish

https://twitter.com/TimeformLive/status/1123991235415375877

 

Colreevy came back to the Festival for the second time as a Bumper horse, giving Willie Mullins yet another Punchestown Champion Bumper, beating off three Gigginstown horses in the process

 

Minella Indo gave Rachael Blackmore another big winner as he doubled up on his Albert Bartlett win in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, beating Allaho and Carefully Selected

https://twitter.com/GoRacing/status/1123629311968333824

 

Delta Work handed a big compliment to his RSA conquerors as he sauntered home in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, smashing Discorama and A Plus Tard

 

Un de Secaux also rolled back the years to get the better of Min by four lengths in an emotional Champion Chase

 

Klassical Dream confirmed his Supreme Novices’ form with Felix Desjy, winning the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle with ease

https://twitter.com/TimeformLive/status/1123248865807826944

 

And, of course, Kemboy gave Ruby Walsh a fantastic second off in the battle of Willie Mullins’ Grade 1 chasers in the Punchestown Gold Cup, claiming the scalp of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo

 

  1. Elsewhere

Phew! It was a busy week... Elsewhere, Aidan O’Brien completed his fourth Guineas double – taking both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in the same year – with Hermosa’s all the way victory over Lady Kaya in the 1,000 Guineas complementing Magna Grecia's triumph the previous day. The daughter of Galileo, who was one of four Ballydoyle runners in the field, fought hardest to repel fellow Irish raider, Lady Kaya, and the fast-finishing Roger Varian-trained Qabala

https://twitter.com/TheJockeyClub/status/1125049372369137665

 

The Kentucky Oaks was won by Serengeti Empress, who grabbed the early lead and wasn’t for passing despite a spirited late challenge from Liora, as a number of favoured contenders disappointed

 

On the same card, Newspaperofrecord, the extremely impressive winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filles Turf, suffered a shock defeat in the Edgewood Stakes after setting extremely strong fractions and then being run down by Concrete Rose

 

The picture for the Oaks (the British version) is developing quickly, following not only Hermosa’s win but also Maqsad’s domination of the Pretty Polly Stakes, smashing the Fillies Mile fourth, Shambolic

 

Communique received a brilliant ride from Silvestre de Sousa to get the better of Defoe when springing an upset in the Jockey Club Stakes

Mabs Cross made a brilliant return in the Palace House Stakes, defying a penalty to get the better of Equilateral by a neck, with Sergei Prokofiev a running on fourth

 

Calyx maintained his unbeaten record with a superb return in the Commonwealth Cup Trial Stakes at Ascot, and he will now go for the Commonwealth Cup itself at Royal Ascot

 

Dee Ex Bee made an impressive debut as a stayer when he ran out a ready winner of the Sagaro Stakes, earning himself quotes as short as 12/1 for the Gold Cup at the Royal meeting

https://twitter.com/ODDSbibleRacing/status/1123602342924959744?s=20

 

Ventura Rebel shocked odds-on favourite Lady Pauline in the Royal Ascot Two-Year-Old Trial Conditions Stakes at Ascot, outstaying the American raider to make it two from two.

 

Magical is now unbeaten in two this term after taking the Mooresbridge Stakes, beating Flag of Honour again (also 1-2 in the Alleged Stakes).

 

On the same card, Ickworth was an impressive winner of the the First Flier Stakes, sprinting away from the 2/5 favourite and previous Dundalk winner, King Neptune

 

Shelir came with a wet sail to take the Tetrarch Stakes, retaining her own unbeaten record in the process, and might be headed to the Irish 2,000 Guineas

 

Happen came from last to first to steal the Athasi Stakes on the line, with Ryan Moore in inspired form to get her home by a neck from Dan’s Dream; she will now head to the Irish 1,000 Guineas

 

And that's us up to date on what was a stellar week of action on both sides of the globe and on both sides of the codes. Stay tuned for more of the same next week. For now, though, this is William Kedjanyi going for a long lie down...

- WK

2018/19 Jumps Season: Four Things to Note

The National Hunt season, official or ‘proper’, has a number of starting points but the Morgiana card at Punchestown seems to represent as good a beginning as any, writes Tony Keenan. This year, however, things may not get going until we receive a substantial blast of rain and, with some forecasts suggesting that may be coming this week, now seems a reasonable time to set the scene for four story lines set to unravel over the next five and a half months.

  1. Rachael Blackmore, Record Breaker

Rachael Blackmore is already a record breaker: her 56 winners thus far in 2018/19 are far ahead of the previous best tally in a season by a female rider, Nina Carberry’s 39 winners in 2009/10. That is comparing apples and oranges, however, as Carberry was an amateur and limited in terms of the number of rides she could take, though that brought some advantages too: she generally only took a mount when it had at least some chance of success.

Blackmore hasn’t always had that luxury and as recently as last season was taking rides wherever she could find them. Consider the final table in the jockeys’ championship from last season with the added column of number of trainers ridden for:

 

Jockey Winners Rides Yards ridden for
D. Russell 119 588 56
P. Townend 83 419 65
J. Kennedy 63 325 26
R. Walsh 61 214 22
S. Flanagan 59 514 84
P. Mullins 54 155 22
M. Walsh 51 378 56
A. Lynch 39 591 104
R. Power 38 307 42
Danny Mullins 35 431 94
R. Blackmore 34 375 88

 

There are a few points of interest here.

First, Andrew Lynch continues to be one of the hardest working riders in racing, breaking three figures in terms of different stables ridden for, while at the other end of the spectrum, neither Ruby Walsh nor Patrick Mullins take many outside rides, relatively speaking. Jack Kennedy also rode for a surprisingly small number of other yards. But Blackmore is right up there in terms of yards ridden for, third overall to Lynch and Danny Mullins of the top 11.

That shows willingness to graft but her endgame is to reach a stage where she doesn’t have to do that so much and instead gets on better horses for the top yards; with Gigginstown giving her plenty of opportunities already and a link-up with Willie Mullins too, that point may not be far away.

Winning the jockeys’ title will be difficult but it is not the 100/1 chance that Paddy Power rated her back at the end of August, that company now having her at 9/2. A more realistic aim in the short-term might be a Grade 1 and/or Cheltenham Festival winner. Nina Carberry was the first female jump jockey to win a Grade 1 in the UK and Ireland when taking the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in 2006, a feat she repeated in 2007. Lizzie Kelly was the first woman to win a Grade 1 chase  in the UK and Ireland when Tea For Two won the 2015 Kauto Star Novice Chase and the same horse gave her another in the 2017 Aintree Bowl. Since then, Bryony Frost won the same Kempton race on Black Corton last season.

Carberry and Katie Walsh, two of the Irish jockeys Blackmore is commonly compared with, have seven and three Festival winners respectively. The first of Carberry’s wins came in the 2005 Fred Winter with the remaining six coming against amateur competition (four wins in the Cross Country, two in the Foxhunter), something Blackmore is restricted from. Meanwhile, Walsh won both County Hurdle and a Champion Bumper, races that might be just up Blackmore’s street given the numbers Willie Mullins tends to throw at them.

 

  1. Ruby at the last, part two

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Ruby Walsh coming off horses at the final obstacle is becoming a thing again but part of that is the narrative: of the ten mounts he has fallen or unseated from in 2018, only two were at the last but they were in consecutive races at Naas recently. That eight of those ten rides were sent off favourite means his spills inevitably attract more attention than any other rider but what is clear is that Walsh has fallen or unseated off a far greater percentage of his mounts this year than previously. The figures below take in his rides in all National Hunt races in the UK and Ireland by calendar year.

 

Year Falls/Unseats Mounts Fall/Unseat Rate
2011 25 472 5.3%
2012 29 583 4.9%
2013 28 537 5.2%
2014 13 249 5.2%
2015 18 430 4.1%
2016 20 385 5.2%
2017 19 366 5.2%
2018 10 69 14.5%

 

A large part of this is just messing around with numbers; this season’s figures represent a small sample size and it is highly unlikely that he finishes 2018 with such a high rate though there isn’t much of the year left. What is interesting is that his fall/unseat rate is so consistent throughout his career, and even looking back as far as 2003 he only once went over 5.9% for a full year.

Over that period it is also notable that not once between the years of 2003 and 2009 did he take fewer than 700 rides; since than he has only gone over 500 mounts twice. Part of that is injury, part of it is reduced workload after he left Paul Nicholls in 2013, and part of it is also choice.

If the past few weeks are anything to go by, those choices are going to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the winter. Already we have seen Walsh opt not to ride the beginners’ chases over the weekend of November 10th and 11th nor did he ride Kemboy or Camelia De Cotte over fences at Clonmel last Thursday. He also bypassed possible mounts in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase on Sunday, one of which included the winner Some Neck, ahead of Faugheen running the Morgiana Hurdle.

All of this might help Walsh’s longevity but one thing the past few weeks have shown us is that it is difficult to predict when a chaser might fall; even the best jumper, or what might have appeared the best jumper, can fall as was the case with Footpad. There is such a degree of randomness in fallers that not even one of the greatest jumps jockeys may be able to predict them.

 

  1. Festivals, festivals, everywhere

2018 will be remembered as a year without a spring - where winter, with the help of Storm Emma, stretched out through April and then everything turned balmy in May. That meant that all of the spring festivals were run on soft ground and we also had a new meeting, the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, to kick the whole thing off.

Such festival races, often run at a strong gallop, take plenty out of horses and there was a trainers’ title on the line too, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott taking each other on with more frequency than might typically have been the case as the battleground moved from Leopardstown to Cheltenham then back to Fairyhouse and Punchestown.

I made it 24 horses that took in all three of Cheltenham, Fairyhouse and Punchestown with the list as follows: Getabird, Sharjah*, Pietralunga, High School Days, Invitation Only*, Al Boum Photo*, Dounikos*, Shattered Love, The Storyteller*, Blow By Blow, Outlander*, Tycoon Prince*, Josies Orders, Cut The Mustard, Dawn Shadow, Squouateur*, Bleu Berry, Scarpeta, Duc Des Genievres*, Real Steel*, Barra*, Let’s Dance, Augusta Kate and C’est Jersey. [The ones with an asterisk also ran at Leopardstown so may have had an extra-hard time of things].

Of those 24 horses, 13 were trained by Mullins, eight by Elliott and three by others which, to my mind, is clear evidence of Mullins being affected by Elliott: five seasons ago, when his title was not under threat, there is no way Mullins would have run his horses so frequently. It will be fascinating to see how this cohort of horses does in 2018/19 and while in some ways it was entirely natural for them to run in these races, it may not have been beneficial that they ran in all of them.

Each will need to be judged on a horse-by-horse basis and while the likes of Sharjah were able to bounce back and win not only a Galway Hurdle but a Morgiana, others tailed off completely. Dounikos, for instance, was pulled up at Cheltenham, Fairyhouse and Punchestown while Scarpeta ran a really promising race in the Neptune but didn’t build on it at all afterwards and finished up his season getting beaten at 2/5 on the flat.

 

  1. Mullins, Elliott and the rest

The emergence of Mullins and Elliott as super-trainers has been felt in every aspect of the Irish national hunt scene but nothing has been altered more than the graded race landscape. Consider where we were in 2010/11. That season, there were 99 graded non-handicaps jumps races run in Ireland. Willie Mullins had 88 runners and Noel Meade was next with 44 out of a total of 717 runners, their combined percentage coming out at 18.4%. 148 different trainers had runners while 40 had a graded winner.

Compare that to the last three seasons:

 

Season Total Runners Mullins and Elliott Runners Mullins/ Elliott

Percentage of Runners

Individual Yards with a Runner Individual Yards with a Winner
2015/16 615 223 36.2% 106 28
2016/17 683 291 42.6% 110 18
2017/18 712 366 51.4% 90 13

 

Last season may prove an aberration in terms of number of yards that managed a graded winner as already in 2018/19, 12 different yards have won such a race, among them some unexpected names like Iain Jardine, Colin Kidd, Aidan Howard and Gavin Cromwell. Gordon Elliott, surprisingly, has only won one graded race to this point in the season, the Lismullen Hurdle with Apple’s Jade.

There was a time when a win or two in such a race would sustain a smaller yard for the season but now they are struggling to even manage a runner; we are in a very different place to 2015/16, much less 2010/11.

- Tony Keenan

Jump Jockeys: How Are The Mighty Fallen?

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

- Samuel, 1:25

Perhaps more so than the terrific performances at Cheltenham this past weekend, or the death of National Hunt benefactor Alan Potts, jump racing's headlines have been hogged in recent days not by horses or owners, nor even trainers; but, rather, by the riders.

First Paddy Brennan was sensationally 'jocked off' Cue Card, sweetheart of so many fans of the winter game, after a tumble too many; then Sam Twiston-Davies broke his elbow in a fall at Sandown before, this past Saturday, Ruby Walsh broke his leg in what was, remarkably, his third fall of the afternoon.

It is of course the very essence of the National Hunt jockeys' existence to face down danger between ten and twenty - and as many as 32 - times per race. In that context, falls are a natural by-product of race outcomes. But what is a reasonable rate for a rider to become separated from his or her equine partner?

Let the data speak.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The Five Year Macro Data

Below are the faller rates for the last five years in UK/Irish chases by a number of the top jockeys, one notably since retired. To be clear, this is for steeplechase falls and unseats (FU's) only, and the table is sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 1552 88 5.67%
S Twiston-Davies 1484 93 6.27%
N Fehily 1003 59 5.88%
P Brennan 999 56 5.61%
D Russell 800 57 7.13%
B Geraghty 740 40 5.41%
AP McCoy 724 41 5.66%
R Walsh 651 53 8.14%
J Kennedy 258 24 9.30%

 

To add more global context to this subset of superstars, the average fall/unseat rate in the last 10,000 starters in UK and Irish chases has been 6.59%. Solely in Irish chases, the last 10,000 starters there fell or unseated at a rate of 7.84%, presumably because of the heavier turf on which they predominantly race (a subject for another, wetter, day). It may then be fair to say that anything lower than that is outperforming the average, and anything higher than that is under-performing against the average.

But not all chase rides are 'average'. The likes of Ruby Walsh and Jack Kennedy are more frequently engaged in the kind of skirmishes for victory which may demand firing a horse at the last, or an earlier fence, in a more aggressive fashion than, say, a rider popping round for fourth place.

If that is to mitigate, the disparities in the table cannot be so simply swept from view.

We can see i the table that, on a large number of rides, many of them with winning chances, Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily have all kept their fall/unseat rate below 6.5%. So too have Paddy Brennan, Barry Geraghty, and the now retired Tony McCoy.

But across the Irish Sea, look at Davy Russell, who leads the Irish jumps championship this term, and his hitherto closest pursuer, Ruby Walsh. Note also Jack Kennedy, number one jockey at Gordon Elliott's powerfully ascendant yard.

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Russell's tumble rate of 7.13% is on the high side compared with Britain, but not wildly out of kilter with the pan-national average and in the green zone against his domestic peer group. The same cannot be said of Jack and Ruby. Although the former is young and arguably still learning his trade - arguably because he's had many more rides than plenty of jockeys five years his senior - the latter especially looks a surprisingly precarious pilot. Now, before the hate mail starts, obviously I recognise that Ruby Walsh is one of the great jockeys of our time and that this is but one barometer of a jockey's ability.

But, all the same, if I want to bet at a short price - and his rides are almost exclusively offered at prohibitive odds - I need to know that I have to factor a higher than average likelihood of my selection not passing the post in a chase with the rider on its back. With Jack Kennedy, he's almost 20% more likely to be dumped on the turf than the Irish average.

Let me be clear again: this is not about Ruby or Jack or anyone else. I'm far too selfish for that. No, this is about me as a punter knowing what I'm up against. About being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The One Year Snapshot

Five years is a long time and it makes for some statistically significant (in the context of racing's generally small samples at least) inferences. But how do we compare jockeys with themselves? One way is to look at a snapshot - a subset - of the overall dataset. For punting purposes, the most current subset seems the most sensible. Below then are the last twelve months for the same jockey grouping, again sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 301 20 6.64%
S Twiston-Davies 300 16 5.33%
D Russell 210 9 4.29%
N Fehily 206 12 5.83%
P Brennan 182 7 3.85%
R Walsh 124 13 10.48%
J Kennedy 123 12 9.76%
B Geraghty 105 9 8.57%
AP McCoy NA NA NA

 

Whilst even more care needs to be taken not to make bold claims on the basis of flimsy sample sizes, there remain elephants in the room.

First, let's look at Paddy Brennan, recently relieved of his supporting role atop the gorgeous Cue Card. His 3.85% fall/unseat rate in the past year is comfortably the lowest in the group and almost 1.5 times better than his five year average. Was he thus unlucky to lose such a coveted ride? That depends entirely on whether you're a macro sort of guy or you have the nuanced eye to make decisions based on the specifics of a handful of rides. I certainly don't consider myself qualified in the latter context and can see arguments for and against the rider switch.

The British Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, has seen his tumble rate increase in the past twelve months, though possibly not materially. It has crept above the 10,000 runner average of 6.59% by a tiny margin: Johnson's renewed appetite to forage for every ride will have introduced a greater element of quantity over quality to his diet and the variance may perhaps be explained in such a way.

Noel Fehily has been remarkably consistent while Sam Twiston-Davies, who amazingly (to me at least, he seems to have been around for a long time) has only just turned 25, has retained his partnerships on a notably more frequent basis according to the most recent evidence. Tough luck then to break his elbow earlier this month; he actually rode in a subsequent race, attesting to the no-safety-net trapeze swing between heroism and stupidity that many in the weighing room unquestioningly fling themselves.

Meanwhile, Ireland's champion jockey-elect, Davy Russell, is 27 winners clear of his nearest challenger if one excludes the sidelined Walsh from calculations. Russell is approaching veteran status, though still in his late thirties, and has courted controversy this year in the manner with which he attempted to correct a recalcitrant mount. That episode deserves no more than a footnote in a piece the focus of which is elsewhere, and it will indeed be a shame if a man shunned by his major employer less than four years ago does not receive the praise he deserves if/when winning the jockeys' championship. Fair play to him.

To the elephant or, more precisely, the trio of elephants, in the room. Barry Geraghty first. He is one of the best jockeys I've seen and, in his time at Nicky Henderson's, was a man never to be dismissed. But, since taking the green and gold coin of Team JP, misfortune has followed him like a very bad smell. Since last July, he has broken both arms, in separate incidents; cracked a rib and collapsed a lung on another occasion; and recently (late August) fractured a shoulder blade. You have to be tough to be a jump jockey - far tougher than to look at numbers and write words about the subject - but my admiration starts to wane when riders persist in the face of mounting fragility.

It's no more my place to suggest to a rider about when to retire as it is for a rider to enquire on the number of winners I've ridden. So I won't. All I'll say is that I imagine the partners and families of jump jockeys rejoice the news of their loved one's cessation of getting legged up in a similar vein to that of the partners and families of professional boxers on hearing of gloves being hung for the final time. And I sincerely hope BJG has a long, uninterrupted and fruitful spell between now and whenever he pursues alternative employment.

Yet still we've to address the figureheads of Closutton and Cullentra, Ruby and Jack. In the last twelve months, Kennedy has come unstuck a dozen times from 123 chase starts. That's as near to ten per cent, and as near to 25% above the Irish average, as doesn't matter. Walsh has fallen or unseated once more than Kennedy, from one more ride, in the same period, a ratio above 10% and almost 33% greater than the norm.

It seems churlish to kick a man when he's down - Ruby faces a race against time to be back for the Cheltenham Festival and, like all fans of the sport, I hope he makes it - so I'll let those data speak for themselves. All I will add is that, to my eye - and keep in mind I've never ridden a winner - Ruby takes too many chances with fatigued animals late in races. Mounting (or, cynically, dismounting) evidence seems to support that.

The pressure in the Elliott and Mullins camps must be enormous, not just from the trainers, but from owners, other jockeys in the yard and, increasingly, the omnipresence of (social) media. Much of the latter is unworthy of attention, but when you're accustomed to being told how good you are, the sharper brickbats probably leave a weal.

 

Final Thoughts

There is an inherent selection bias in the tables above. Each of the jockeys therein has earned his place by being at the top of his peer group; such elevation comes only from taking chances when they're presented, and occasionally fashioning them when they may not absolutely be there.

As sports gigs go, riding 600kg animals over five foot fences (apologies for mixed metric-phors) around fifteen times per race on average is down there with the worst of 'em. It would never be for a wuss like me. Although not big on machismo either, I have a robust respect for these turf-eating gladiators as a collective.

But when the wallet comes out, they are individuals. And I want to know which individuals will support my bottom line, in the same way that these jocks want to know which horses will provide the winners to propel them up the championship table. It's every man (and woman) for themselves. Nobody is more or less selfish than the next, either in the punting or riding ranks; and nor should they be.

To that end, the frailties of otherwise tremendous jockeys with enormous (and, in the main, well deserved and hard earned) reputations are power to the contrarian punters' elbow.

Ruby has won aboard 30% of the chasers he's ridden in the last five years. That's open water clear of the next best (McCoy 22%, Daryl Jacob and Noel Fehily 20%, Sam T-D and Paddy B 19%, Richard Johnson 18%). But, from a punting perspective, his negative ROI of 18.86% at SP during that time is surpassed by absolutely nobody in his Premier League peer group. Some of that, of course, relates to his stable's form with chasers, most of it to the over-exposure of the Mullins/Walsh/Ricci PR machine; that's neither here nor there in terms of wagering.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, the unfashionable Paddy Brennan not only wins at a 19% clip, he's also secured a profit of almost 60 points at SP in the same time frame, regardless of the Cue Card fallout.

Backing horses is not a beauty contest, nor is it about fashion. On the contrary, the value lies wherever the spotlight doesn't. And, even in the halogen glare of the media beam, punting pearls are left for those with peripheral vision. Always be asking questions, take nothing on trust. The data is here. Use it. It rarely lies.

I genuinely hope Ruby gets back in time for the Festival, and I further hope he has a fantastic time of it. But I'll not be touching his chase mounts there, or pretty much anywhere else. That's unlikely to trouble him, of course. Devil take the hindmost!

Matt

2017 Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey Betting Guide

The ‘Top Jockey’ betting at the Cheltenham Festival is always a fascinating market and provides punters with another sub-plot to keep them interested over the four-days of top-notch National Hunt action.

No Barry Geraghty this year after the JP McManus-retained pilot has been ruled out through injury, but with top jockeys like Ruby Walsh, Richard Johnson, Noel Fehily, Aidan Coleman, Bryan Cooper, Nico de Boinville, Sam Twiston-Davies and Mark Walsh then racegoers will be hunting through the entries trying to plot which of the leading jockeys have the best rides.

In recent year’s Ruby Walsh has dominated this market – ridding the most winners over the four days 8 times in the last 9 seasons, including in 2016, and 10 times in all. His association with the powerful Willie Mullins team, that fired in another seven Festival winners in 2016, makes him the clear favourite again in the 2017 Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey betting market and with that in mind it’s easy to see why the ‘silver fox’ pilot, who has ridden a total of 52 Cheltenham Festival winners, is already odds-on to take his Cheltenham Top Jockey Title haul to 11.

Walsh will have the pick of all the main Mullins horses over the Festival – like Douvan, Vroum Mag, Limini, Un de Scueax and Yorkhill, while he’s sure to also get the leg-up on plenty of spares if Mullins doesn’t have a runner in the race.

So, Ruby is a worthy favourite?

With no Barry Geragthy – who looked to have a cracking array of horses for his boss, JP McManus, to pick from – this will certainly help Ruby’s cause as most of Geragthy’s rides will now be spread out to a handful of other top jockeys. JP’s second retained rider – Mark Walsh – has naturally come in for support in the betting after it was confirmed that he’ll be riding leading Champion Hurdle hope – Yanworth – plus former Ryanair winner, Uxizandre.

However, those looking for other options away from Ruby Walsh, might sway towards Noel Fehily. This likeable jockey looks likely to pick up some more of Geraghty’s spares in the form of Unowhatimeanharry (Stayers Hurdle) and Buveur D’Air (Champion Hurdle), while he’s also on the well-touted Neon Wolf, who heads the Neptune Investment Hurdle betting.

Of the rest, top Irish jockey Bryan Cooper, who will ride the main Giggintown Stud horses, is interesting with such a large number of decent horses to pick from. His best chances look like coming from Petit Mouchoir, Apples Jade, Empire Of Dirt and Death Duty.

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With the festival over four days then it really is numbers game, and without stating the obvious a mixture of 2 or 3 bankers in your locker, plus rides in almost all the available races (don’t forget there are a few amateur or conditional races) is the perfect cocktail to being the top jock at Cheltenham.

Did you know? Back in the 1990’s former champion jockeys Richard Dunwoody and Peter Scudamore landed the top jockey title with only 2 wins! But, don’t forget the festival was held over 3 days back then! 

Another name to mention is Sam Twiston-Davies, who will ride the best of the Paul Nicholls runners, but although it will be a shock if Nicholls isn’t picking up a few races, he doesn’t seem to have any real banker material this year so it’s hard to see Twiston-Davies challenging for the top jockey title.

Aidan Coleman might be a better outsider – he’s likely to ride a lot of the Jonjo O’Neill and Venetia Williams horses, plus he’s already been confirmed for My Tent Or Yours (Champion Hurdle) and Minella Rocco (Gold Cup).

Nico de Boinville is worth a mention too – he looks sure to go in with Altior in the Arkle Chase so that should get him off the mark on Day One, and with the powerful Nicky Henderson team behind him too then he’s another that might be worth a small cover bet against Ruby.

The champion jockey – Richard Johnson – is another that is sure to get on the score sheet, but a bit like Twiston-Davies he’s bound to have plenty of rides, but with no real bankers then he might be scrapping around a bit, and even at a double-figure price it’s hard to get too excited.

So – yes – there are a few cases to be made for taking on Ruby Walsh, with Noel Fehily, Bryan Cooper and Nico de Boinville looking the best alternatives, but really it’s hard to get away from the ‘Silver Fox’. Okay, no Annie Power, Faugheen or Vautour this year, but he’s still got more so-called ‘bankers than any of the other top jocks and that’s good enough for us.

Finally, the last thing to note when it comes to this market is don’t forget that seconds, thirds and even fourth-placed finishes can help land a jockey this prize. In the event of a tie (winners) then the amount of seconds, and then thirds will be taken into account!

Best Bet: RUBY WALSH
Danger: Noel Fehily

 

Recent Cheltenham Festival ‘Top Jockey’ Hall Of Fame

2016: Ruby Walsh (5)
2015: Ruby Walsh (4)
2014: Ruby Walsh (3)
2013: Ruby Walsh (4)
2012: Barry Geraghty (5)
2011: Ruby Walsh (5)
2010: Ruby Walsh (3)
2009: Ruby Walsh (7)
2008: Ruby Walsh (3)
2007: Robert Thornton (4)
2006: Ruby Walsh (3)
2005: Graham Lee (3)
2004: Ruby Walsh (3)
2003: Barry Geraghty (5)
2002: Richard Johnson (2)
2001: Meeting Abandoned
2000: Mick Fitzgerald (4)
1999: Mick Fitzgerald (4)
1998: Tony McCoy (5)
1997: Tony McCoy (3)

 

Leading Current Jockeys At The Festival

Ruby Walsh (52)
Barry Geraghty (34)
Richard Johnson (20)
Davy Russell (17)
Tom Scudamore (9)
Ms Nina Carberry (7)
Sam Twiston-Davies (7)
Paddy Brennan (6)
Bryan Cooper (6)
Mr Jamie Codd (5)
Nico de Boinville (4)
Andrew Lynch (4)
Paul Townend (4)
Sam Waley-Cohen (4)

Willie Mullings: 5 Festival Reflections

The ratio of post-Festival reviews to preview nights is likely in line with the ratio of sense to nonsense spoken at said preview evenings though I do include myself in that having attended three such events this year, writes Tony Keenan. Reflecting on the meeting, it is hard to get away from Team Mullins who generated most of the big stories on and off the track but that is the nature of the national hunt scene now so I apologise in advance for such a Closutton-centric piece.

 

  1. Making the right decision?

When Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh reflect on their Festival and more specifically on how they placed their horses in their respective races, I am sure they will believe played their cards at the correct time. They kept some of their main talents apart and went mob-handed in other races which maximised their chances of having winners; for them this was the right decision.

But there is more than one right decision and it depends on your perspective; owners have a different point-of-view and may want their horses kept apart or perhaps would prefer to go all-in and have multiple runners in the championship races rather than the less prestigious ones. There is the right decision for racing too and this will always be to have the best horses competing against each other, something that palpably hasn’t happened in the Mullins era with the likes of Quevega kept to her own sex and Ruby pointed out quickly after the Champion Hurdle that Annie Power and Faugheen would never race against each other.

This is not to crab Mullins; rather he is working within the parameters racing has set him where an inflated graded race programme and a four-day Festival have allowed him to keep his best horses apart; and, if anything, this will be exacerbated in the future with a five-day Festival as inevitable as it is regrettable. With avoidance of competition, there is a cost however and that is Mullins’ continued failure to win an open Grade 1 chase at the Festival. One could argue the Ryanair has that status but it’s in name only and most racing people rightly look down on the Thursday race with even the sponsor only grudgingly running his best horses in it. Mullins may have been looking on regretfully as Gordon Elliott got the Gold Cup parade through Summerhill last Saturday while Bagnalstown was notably quiet.

 

  1. Is Ruby Walsh the smartest man in racing?

When you look at the placing of the Mullins horses at Cheltenham, not just this year but previous years too, it is hard not to see Ruby Walsh’s hand behind them; he is the one who seems to get what he wants regardless of ownership concerns and perhaps even those of the trainer – it’s worth pointing out that, unlike Willie Mullins, Ruby has multiple Gold Cup and Champion Chase wins on his CV. That’s not good for the competitive side of the sport as Ruby has commented often about his desire to win as many of these big races as possible but there is something admirable in it.

In contrast to almost every jockey through history, Ruby has got player power; in a way he reminds me of basketball’s LeBron James who not only pulls the strings on the court for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA but does the same with the team’s management too. And though sporting and racing heritage may say this is wrong, it isn’t if Ruby’s is the biggest brain in the room and there’s every chance it might be. Unlike Willie Mullins, who claims not even to watch replays of his horses race, Ruby has an intimate knowledge of both his own mounts and, importantly, the opposition.

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He and Willie have a tremendous record with horses switching races; Yorkhill, Black Hercules and Vautour all won last week while Shaneshill ran very well and in the past the likes of Fiveforthree and Champagne Fever have done similar. These are high-risk decisions that will draw flak if they fail but they have the confidence to carry them out. Every owner wants Ruby on their horses and is willing to compromise their own interests to have this but it is not only for his obvious physical gifts at race time but also his highly intelligent, perhaps even genius, input into where they should run.

 

  1. Vautour-gate

The handling of the decision to switch Vautour to the Ryanair was horrendous and left a sour taste. Clearly every owner has the right to run their horses where they wish – though even that is questionable for owners in the Mullins yard – but there is a responsibility to inform the people about a public horse like Vautour, an animal I believe to be the most talented in training. This is not some 70-rated handicapper switching from a Kempton handicap on Wednesday to a similar race at Wolverhampton on Friday but rather the Gold Cup favourite or second favourite changing target at the last possible moment.

Punters’ money is not the issue here either as the majority of bets struck on Vautour would have been with the non-runner no-bet proviso, though bettors who played in the Ryanair Chase market in the belief that he wouldn’t run would argue otherwise. This is an information issue and punters lost out in terms of how they were treated – with contempt in case you were wondering – rather than financially.

Rich Ricci has taken most of the heat for this decision and the reason is obvious; no one is going to take the side of multi-millionaire fat cat banker with a hand in the financial crisis against two of racing’s heroes. But the truth is likely that Willie and Ruby made the Vautour call and decided to tell nobody about it: their ability to face down a wealthy owner like Ricci shows the power they have within their own fiefdom.

Of course, both Ruby and Willie could argue that they ride and train for owners and not punters. If I need to explain to you that they ride for both you’re probably reading the wrong website – punters fund racing and so on – and Ruby would do well to remember that the vast majority of those people who he’s waving his whip at as he crosses the line at Cheltenham are punters, as would Willie and other trainers recognise that their owners were or are gamblers on some level. You can’t have the adulation with at least a little of the scorn.

 

  1. What’s the point in betting Mullins horses ante-post?

I’m as bad a judge as there is of where Mullins horses might run at the Festival; this past meeting I managed to back Long Dog, Shaneshill, Bellshill and Black Hercules (twice) for the wrong races. Betting these horses ante-post is as difficult as it is pointless and the risk/reward ratio seems well out of sync with what it might be with other yards; even when you find yourself on at a big price early that horse may switch late on as so many of them did this year.

Prior to the Festival, I wrote an article about how well the short-priced Mullins horses do at the meeting and that continued in 2016; of the seven Closutton horses sent off 3/1 or shorter, five won which is incredible. The sensible thing here is simply to back them on the morning of the race when the firms are pushing them out to attract business or if you must play early then wait for the non-runner, no-bet concession and play the few that have multiple targets in more than one race.

Another point worth making is that whoever is punting the Mullins horses ‘knows’ how good they are. In other circumstances, I am very sceptical of ‘them’ backing a horse but with this firm the record is there and it also makes sense that they would know where their horses stand relative to one another; not only do they have many of the best horses but they also make extensive use of schooling races. Take Yorkhill in the Neptune as an example. He had good form coming into the race but not so much that he should have been as short as he was relative to talented stablemates like A Toi Phil and Thomas Hobson but not only did he justify the support he did it in some style.

 

  1. A changing betting landscape?

I lost money betting on Cheltenham which, contrary to what some of the layers might tell you, was not impossible! Punters looking for something at a double figure price and hoping that one or two of those horses would win had a rough meeting as a lot of the shorties won and I was probably guilty of overthinking my betting over the four days.

Rather than years past when the bankers were overbet, the opposite was true in 2016 and there are a few reasons for this. The brilliance of Willie and Ruby plays a big part as does the relative weakness of some of the big English trainers, notably Paul Nicholls. The four-day Festival is a contributing factor too as it has weakened some of the races.

But more than that, there has been a cultural shift in betting where it is dominated by the idea of value. We’ve become conditioned to oppose the front of the market and this message is reinforced no matter where you turn in the racing media. Seemingly every racing page and broadcast mentions the jolly being too short while favourite backers are derided by those who know better. That clearly does a disservice to the true idea of value, the sense that a 1/10 shot can be overpriced if it ‘should’ be 1/25, but for most of us raised on the Pricewise concept it means double-figure odds.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far the other way and this is only being reinforced by how the bookmakers operate during Cheltenham week. Not only are they betting to nigh-on unprofitable over-rounds but they also offer over-broke place books and a host of money back offers as well as fancied horses being pushed out. It seems they were almost intent in losing last week – a Cheltenham sprat to a long-term mug mackerel, perhaps – and hitting the front end of the market might be the best way to exploit this next year.

- Tony Keenan

p.s. if you enjoyed this post, here are five more takeaways from Cheltenham worth noting.

Ruby Victorious on Autumn Stars

THOUSAND STARS LANDS THE GRAND PRIX D'AUTOMNE AT AUTEUIL (48 Heures de l'Obstacle Day 1 Review)

Auteuil staged its two-day autumn racing festival this weekend in a blaze of unseasonably hot weather. The meeting, aptly named 48 Heures d’Obstacle (48 hours of jumping racing) boasts four grade 1 events, an impressive 2.5 million euro in prize money and reunites the cream of French racing talent over the sticks.

Saturday’s showcase was the Grade 1 Grand Prix d'Automne. Run over three miles it drew an international field including previous winner REVE DE SIVOLA from Nick William’s stable and the Willie Mullins trained course specialist THOUSAND STARS, twice the winner of the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (French champion hurdle) in 2011 and 2012. David Pipe sent over Broadway Buffalo with Katie Walsh in the saddle.

The French challenge was headed by the Robert Collet trained SAINT FERMIN who started favourite after a comfortable win in Prix Carmarthen (Grade 3) here back in October where he had six of the day’s rivals behind him including second favourite ROLL ON HAS, trained by Jean-Paul Gallorini.

A steady pace was set by front running REVE DE SIVOLA, closely followed by stable companion AUBUSSON with Lizzie Kelly in the irons. Ruby Walsh on THOUSAND STARS was content to sit off the pace with favourite, SAINT FERMIN, who had been a little difficult at the start, settled in rear and travelling smoothly.

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The race began in earnest rounding the final turn where Kelly was the first to make her move on AUBUSSON, kicking two lengths clear of REVE DE SIVOLA whose jockey, James Reveley, was now hard at work to maintain his position. Approaching the last, AUBUSSON still held the advantage but the Jean-Paul Gallorini pair ROLL ON HAS and HIPPOMANE were running on strongly either side of the leader whilst SAINT FERMIN, under Kevin Nabet, loomed up on the outside and looked to be going best of all. In behind, THOUSAND STARS was travelling well but still had three lengths to make up on the leaders.

Over the last, it was four in a line but SAINT FERMIN misjudged his stride, landed on the hurdle and crashed out of the race. Meanwhile, AUBUSSON and HIPPOMANE had kicked on with ROLL ON HAS a length down. THOUSAND STARS now found his turbo and Ruby threw all he had at him. Fifty metres from the line he still had two lengths to find but was gaining ground hand over fist. Up front, Kelly was getting the better of her battle with David Cottin on HIPPOMANE but it was ultimately to no avail as THOUSAND STARS came between the two horses to put his nose in front right on the line.

After the race, Walsh was full of praise for the old horse saying, “He ran a great race here in the Champion Hurdle back in June and we kept him in training all summer but there were no races for him over an adequate trip.  He’s been running over two miles to keep him fit and this was always the target. He travelled really well and he was just brilliant today.”

At the ripe old age of eleven, THOUSAND STARS became the thirteenth horse to win both major hurdling events at this famous track and joins the likes of Questarabad and Zaiyad who managed the double in 2007 and 2009 respectively.

Of the beaten horses, Lizzy Kelly was obviously disappointed not to have landed the spoils on AUBUSSON but was thrilled with his performance saying “Today has reinforced our confidence in him and I'm happy with the ride that I gave him.” He went off an unconsidered 45/1 on the Pari-mutuel and yet ran a blinder. SAINT FERMIN, sadly, did not get up from his heavy fall at the last.

Punch Nantais with Bertrand Lestrade aboard

Punch Nantais with Bertrand Lestrade aboard

Also on the card, two Graded events for the younger generation. The French send their horses over les obstacles at the tender age of three and the Prix Congress (Grade 2, Chase, 2m2f) represents the most prestigious prize in that discipline.

The Guillaume Macaire pair PUNCH NANTAIS ridden by Bertrand Lestrade and BUDDY BANKS with Arnaud Duchene in the saddle dominated the race with the former and least fancied of the two just getting the better of his stable companion in a great tussle up the long Auteuil run in. There was just a head in it on the line and although delighted, Macaire felt that the second, BUDDY BANKS, may be the better horse suggesting that had they got to the front sooner, the result would have been different.

TRIANA DU BERLAIS wins the Prix Bournosienne (Grade 3)

TRIANA DU BERLAIS wins the Prix Bournosienne (Grade 3)

The Grade 3 Prix Bournosienne (2m2f) is another three year old event but reserved for fillies over hurdles. Guillaume Macaire once again provided the favourite, this time in the form of CARESSE D’ESTRUVAL, unbeaten in her last three starts. She had already beaten second favourite TRIANA DU BERLAIS in the prep race for this event in October. However, she could do nothing against her main rival as TRIANA DU BERLAIS led from start to finish, landing the spoils in good style.

- Nigel Howard

5 Outrageously Bold Predictions for the Jumps

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

- Tony Keenan can be followed on twitter at @RacingTrends

Stat of the Day, 15th February 2014

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day, 15th February 2014

A total of three non-runners yesterday saw our advised 9/2 bet on Louis Vee, finally settled at 3.15/1 after the obligatory Rule 4 deductions. Nevertheless, this was still a cracking price, as our selection won pretty comfortably in the end at measly odds of just 11/10 SP.

Netting almost three times the SP profit once again highlights the need to use the BOG bookies and the 3.15pts are most welcome, as we look to continue our recent upturn in form.

Saturdays are generally tough to call, but we think we've a decent chance of securing our hat-trick in the...

4.10 Gowran Park:

Where I'm backing Willie Mullins' 4 yr old debutante Florishwell Dete at 9/4 BOG with Stan James.

It's not often you can find a track where you can back all Willie Mullins' runners blindly and still show a profit. Just like the other powerhouses of the sport, we tend to see a high number of winners and plenty of prize money, but not generally such high strike rates nor profit percentages.

However, since the start of 2012, if you'd backed every one of his 71 runners here at Gowran Park, you'd have bagged yourself 25 winners already, a strike rate of some 35.2% and if you'd placed £10 on each of them, you'd be sitting on £905.20 profit a return on your stakes of almost 127.5%. There aren't many places where you can get returns like that from such a high-profile trainer.

Now, Willie has actually got seven runners competing on this heavy ground today, so we should expect at least two or three winners from them. All I need to do is get the right one!

Well, the ground is in his favour here: since the start of 2012, his runners have performed very well in INH races on heavy ground, as a record of 64 winners from 224 races (28.6%) will testify. Backing all of them would have seen a profit of 57.4pts to date, an ROI of 25.6% with three winners from nine here at Gowran Park.

This of course, doesn't explain fully why I'm siding with Florishwell Dete, who makes her debut for the yard today after a couple of minor races in France, winning over 11.5f last time out.

The Mullins team has a good record with horses turning out for them for the first time, providing they've not been overworked in the past. In the same time frame as above (ie since the turn of 2012), Mr Mullins has given a first outing to 123 horses, with a massive 56 (45.5% SR) of them returned as winners, generating level stakes profits of 37.6pts (+30.6% ROI) in the process.

From these 123 newcomers, we can also see that their record on soft or heavy ground reads 27 winners from 56 (48.2% SR) for 28.8pts profit (+51.4% ROI).

The last piece of reinforcement for the selection comes from retained jockey Ruby Walsh himself. Ruby doesn't ride here as often as other tracks, but an 11/34 (32.6% SR) for 16.5pts (+48.5% SR) record in recent years would suggest he knows his way around the place and he was given the choice of the two Mullins' runners in this race and he chose the debutante.

Ruby's a far better judge of a horse than I'll ever be, so I'm more than happy to back Florishwell Dete at 9/4 BOG today. That's with Stan James, as she's already dropping as low as 13/8 in places, as you'll see when you...

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Stat of the Day, 14th December 2013

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day, 14th December 2013

Magika was a nice 3/1 winner yesterday for us, despite going off at half that price on course, further highlighting the value of the early BOG prices. Martin Harley gave another account of himself at Wolverhampton last night with a well-timed ride.

He sat patiently in behind the leaders and when he asked the horse to go and win the race, she quickened readily and was comfortable in the end.

A change of tack/class today as we tackle the...

3.35 Cheltenham:

Ruby Walsh is the man to watch this afternoon, as his record at Cheltenham is amongst the best there is.

In the last 10 years he had ridden 125 winners from 579 attempts, a strike rate of 21.6%. You could have backed every single horse Ruby has ridden here and still shown a profit of 76.1pts, a return of 13.14%.

13.14% is a little lower than the usual sought out by SotD, but when it's over so many races, it just has to be respected. If we further draw down on those 579 runners, we see that 311 of them were sent off at odds between evens and 6/1 for a strike rate of 27.65%, courtesy of 86 winners. So, 53.7% of the runners provided 68.8% of the winners.

The 86/311 record has generated 73.6pts profit or 23.65% ROI. So, the general advice is to back ALL Ruby's mounts priced between evens and 6/1.

Ruby has made a change of direction of late and now spends the bulk of his riding time back in Ireland and is more of an infrequent sight at UK racecourses, so we need to kep an eye out for him popping up. He rode well at this December meeting last year with 4 winners from 8 and of the six priced between Evens and 6/1, he finished 1212P1.

He comes over for just one ride today and that itself sparks my interest, as it's a long way to come to ride a loser! The horse in question is the 3/1 shot Glen's Melody, who comes here with an excellent record of 8 wins and 3 places from her 11 starts, including back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the spring of this year, before coasting to victory on her seasonal reappearance four weeks ago.

It's not the easiest race she'll encounter, but she's a decent sort in good form, ridden by a jockey who excels at the track and as such, I'm more than happy to place a 1pt win bet on Glen's Melody at 3/1 BOG with BetVictor (reinvesting some of yesterday's winnings!), but that price is on offer in several other places, so the advice would be to...

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Sat TV Trends: 27th April 2013

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