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Four Racing/Betting Books You Should Read

I love both reading and betting so combining the two is time well spent, writes Tony Keenan. More than any other subject, I tend to reread books on racing/betting in the hope that 0n the second or third run-through I will get more out of them. Below are four of my favourite books on the subject and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below or on Twitter @RacingTrends; I’m always on the lookout for the next good one.

 

‘A Fine Place to Daydream’ – Bill Barich

Racing people and writers often exist in a bubble where ways of thinking become ingrained; sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to draw interesting stuff from insiders because they look at things in a different way. Recent interviews on Newstalk with racing figures like Davy Russell and Willie Mullins support this view and Bill Barich is another example.

Barich is an American writer with an interest in the turf if not an obsession and his account of the 2003/4 National Hunt season in Ireland shows what a fresh set of eyes can do for a topic. After landing in the country with his new partner Imelda, the author is drawn into the jumping scene and moves through all the big meetings from October to March, starting at Down Royal for their November meeting onto the Open at Cheltenham and Leopardstown at Christmas, the Thyestes and back to Leopardstown before ultimately finishing up at the Festival.

The book is populated with great characters: Moscow Flyer and Jessica Harrington, Beef Or Salmon and Michael Hourigan, the nascent perennial Champion Trainer Willie Mullins, Tom Costello, Father Breen, Noel O’Brien. In truth, it is all pure nostalgia at this point; written in 2005, before the 12-month Cheltenham news cycle and the arrival of super-trainers, I love – if time permits – to reread it before the Festival if only for the sheer romance of it all.

 

‘Beyer on Speed’ – Andrew Beyer

You should read anything by Beyer and despite the fact that he hasn’t written a book since 1993, his four efforts – ‘Picking Winners’, ‘My $50,000 Year at the Races’, ‘The Winning Horseplayer’ and ‘Beyer on Speed’ – remain relevant. There is a confidence that borders on arrogance in Beyer’s writing style as he moves from one uncompromising account to another and none of jockeys, trainers or the integrity of the sport are spared. But that self-belief comes from being a long-term winning bettor and basically inventing the modern speed-figure so all is forgiven.

His approach to betting is a mix of objectivity and subjectivity and if you don’t learn something you are probably reading it wrong. Beyer gets across the aspirational side of gambling and the idea that the pursuit of profit is a worthwhile use of your time is never far from his pages. ‘Beyer on Speed’ is my favourite of his canon at present as I’m using times more and more in my betting, but they are all excellent.

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‘The Undoing Project’ – Michael Lewis

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahnemann (with more than a nod to the deceased Amos Tversky) is apparently a bible of sorts to many modern professional punters; it might be a must-read but it can be a struggle. If you want to take an easier approach then Lewis’s biography of the two men is a more palatable version and covers many of the main ideas in their fields of behavioural economics and prospect theory.

The opening two chapters barely mention the two Israeli economists however as the focus is on Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets basketball franchise. This is familiar ground for Lewis, author of ‘Moneyball’, and he looks at what mistakes Morey tries to avoid making when evaluating talent which are very similar to the ones we should steer clear of when betting. For instance, Morey has banned comparisons of young prospects to players of the same race by scouts in his organisation which can be applied to racing; all too often we lazily compare horses to other horses that have run in same colours or are with the same trainer. There is also a hilarious description (and a warning against judging too much by appearance) when he tells of how some scouts vastly misjudged the talent level of All-Star Marc Gasol because he had ‘man boobs’ and just didn’t look like a basketball player!

We’re more aware of thinking biases than ever now with ‘recency bias this’ and ‘confirmation bias that’ thrown around everywhere but that doesn’t mean we are a whole lot better at avoiding them. Constant refresher courses on the subject are needed and Lewis’s book is an excellent one.

 

‘Tony10’ – Tony O’Reilly and Declan Lynch

Aside from its subject matter, ‘Tony10’ is a brilliantly written book from outset when Lynch describes O’Reilly’s upbringing in Carlow and how the town revels in its own nondescript nature. After that, it has a three-part structure: O’Reilly’s early life in the provincial town, a period of what could only be described as intense degenerate gambling and finally the time spent in jail and life afterwards. You simply cannot stop reading the middle section as it captures a life spiralling out of control with the ratcheting up of stakes, the betting on obscure sports, the nights spent punting on the computer as O’Reilly’s wife and new-born slept in the next room.

It is a masterpiece of ‘show, don’t tell’ as the reader is allowed to draw their own conclusions about what unfolds in the narrative and while most of this is utterly foreign to people who take gambling seriously and are trying to win, it is an important reminder to be wary of the compulsive streak within most of us. And even if we don’t have such a trait, perhaps we should watch out for it in others.

Lynch himself has been on an interesting journey with gambling, starting out with his 2009 book ‘Free Money: A Gambler’s Quest’, essentially a diary of his own punting, through ‘The Ponzi Man’, a 2016 novel about a pathological gambler whose pyramid scheme has come tumbling down, and now to this. He has become polemical in his anti-gambling stance and while that might be too much at times, there is an argument that Irish society with its outdated gambling laws needed to be given a shake.

Rereading books like these is great fun but it does point to something else: there haven’t been too many good racing/betting books penned in the recent past. I enjoyed Paul Jones’s ‘From Soba to Moldova’ though for more experienced punters it may be considered more refresher course than anything else, carried by the author’s inimitable style. Things have changed so much in the modern betting landscape (or that horrible word ‘space’) with statistical models, account restrictions, automated betting and rapidly moving prices among the issues that deserve a fuller treatment. There is interesting material being covered on YouTube and podcasts with Simon Nott’s interview series and the ‘Business of Betting’ with Jake Williams standing out but there is definitely space for a book or two as well; consider that that the challenge laid down!

- Tony Keenan

p.s. which one (or two) books would you add to this list? And, importantly, why? Leave a comment to help build the bibliography!

Grading the Trainers: Irish National Hunt Season 2017/18

Whatever your thoughts on the overall health or otherwise of the Irish jumps scene, the 2017/18 season will go down as a memorable one: Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott slugging it out from one big meeting to the next, though the culmination at Punchestown was ultimately underwhelming, writes Tony Keenan. Prior to this season, no trainer had reached €5 million in domestic prizemoney but both broke that total, Mullins with €5,968,275 and Elliott on €5,158,751. They are worthy of their top grades but how about the rest?

Willie Mullins – Grade: A (Last season: B+)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Mullins’s season was how much he changed his approach; where once he had been quite risk-averse in terms of campaigning, often putting the strongest horses in the weakest races, he now has to run them more often and in races that may be less suitable. Elliott is the reason for this and it was his sustained challenge for a first title that forced the champion to find another gear. Consider his winners, runners and prizemoney totals over the past four seasons:

 

Season Winners Runners Strikerate Prizemoney
2017/18 212 797 27% €5,968,275
2016/17 180 571 32% €4,580,200
2015/16 185 557 33% €4,489,105
2014/15 187 554 34% €4,225,253

 

In the three seasons prior to the last one, there was a comfort level with how Mullins was operating judging on the above figures though the 2016/17 totals took some getting in light of not having the Gigginstown horses. More of basically everything did mean a lower winner-to-runner ratio than previously however, falling from 59% in each of the last two seasons to 54%.

 

Season Individual Winners Individual Runners Strikerate
2017/18 131 243 54%
2016/17 109 184 59%
2015/16 121 191 59%
2014/15 109 179 61%

 

To go from 184 to 243 individual runners is a massive jump but he was still well-clear in terms of winner/runner ratio among all trainers with a meaningful sample. The table below shows the top ten with a minimum of 20 individual horses being the cut-off point.

 

Trainer Winner/Runner Ratio
W. Mullins 54%
C. Byrnes 46%
P. Dempsey 40%
G. Elliott 40%
J. O’Brien 40%
A. Fleming 36%
N. Meade 36%
H. De Bromhead 33%
J. Harrington 29%
D. McLaughlin 28%

 

Punchestown, as ever, was a triumph for Mullins and he would have broken the €6 million figure but for Paul Townend/Al Boum Photo-gate. It seems early to consider what might happen next season but he has started this new season quite strongly in terms of number of runners and will be keen to be well-clear should a late-autumn, early-winter lull kick in as it did last season. His hunger for retaining the title shows no sign of abating though perhaps winning a championship chase at Cheltenham could be even higher on the pecking order, Footpad looking his main hope in that regard.

Best Bit(s): A close run thing between Un De Sceaux and Faugheen. Memories of an ultra-keen hurdler seem long ago with Un De Sceaux and the ten-year-old who took in hard races at both Cheltenham and Fairyhouse was perhaps never better than when winning the Champion Chase at Punchestown; he isn’t as classy as a peak Douvan but has been much more durable. Following 665 days off, Faugheen won the Morgiana before bouncing at Christmas but the bounce-back is always the hardest part; it took three starts to get him back to Grade 1-winning level and while he wasn’t as good as the old Faugheen, he was probably up to the standard set in the Morgiana in November.

Worst Bit: The ‘where will he run next’ act with Yorkhill almost became a parody this season as the four-time Grade 1 winner never got within 30lbs of his best and landed the unique four-timer of going from a three-mile chase to a two-mile chase to a two-mile hurdle to a three-mile hurdle.

 

Gordon Elliott – Grade: A (last season: A-)

Only the most recency-biased critic would say Elliott had anything other than a magnificent season, recording the second highest winner total in Irish jumps history, winning two Grand Nationals and becoming the top trainer at Cheltenham for the second year running. The raw numbers of his season-on-season improvement are worth repeating:

 

Season Winners Prizemoney
2017/18 210 €5,158,755
2016/17 193 €4,380,705
2015/16 123 €2,568,750
2014/15 92 €1,546,070

 

This really was a case of losing nothing in defeat and while again priced as the outsider for next year’s championship, it sounds as if Michael O’Leary is going to double down on trying to help him win a title. I have no idea what he spent on new horses in the last year as those figures are only partly in the public domain but one gets the sense that whatever that number was, the next number will be bigger. Elliott is getting very reliant on Gigginstown at this point and below are the top 15 prizemoney horses for both he and Mullins in Ireland this past season; where 12 of the Elliott horses are owned by Gigginstown, Mullins has 12 different owners represented. With that in mind, it is hard to consider him an underdog of any type despite how he is sometimes represented.

 

Elliott – Top 15 Horses Mullins – Top 15 Horses
General Principle Un De Sceaux
Potters Point Faugheen
Apple’s Jade Bellshill
A Toi Phil Footpad
Outlander Next Destination
Doctor Phoenix Isleofhopendreams
Monbeg Notorious Meri Devie
Shattered Love Patricks Park
Folsom Blue Min
Mengli Khan Total Recall
Samcro Kemboy
Hardline Coquin Mans
Diamond Cauchois Rathvinden
Dortmund Park Djakadam
Dinaria Des Obeaux Al Boum Photo

 

What Elliott really needs to win a championship is more horses that can win open Grade 1 races; in 2017/18 he won three such races with Outlander, Mick Jazz and Apple’s Jade where Mullins won eight. Not only are these contests valuable during the season but they are the key to ‘winning Punchestown’ where each of the four big races are worth €275,000. The source of these horses isn’t obvious however; Samcro looks like he could be one but only if he stays hurdling (the prizemoney in novice chases is largely insignificant in the grand scheme) and possibly the two best Gigginstown horses – at least in terms of ratings – are in other yards, Road To Respect and Balko Des Flos. That pair respectively won €163,450 and €189,050 in Irish prizemoney last season which wouldn’t have been enough to bridge the ultimate gap of €809,524 but it would certainly have made things more interesting.

Best Bit: Doctor Phoenix cost £10,000 last May and was the value buy of the season, winning a Dan Moore and a Naas Grade 3, and he could well have beaten Un De Sceaux at Easter as he was trading odds-on before falling two out. Rising from a mark of 137 to 156, his prizemoney was maximised along the way which isn’t bad for a horse that used to have a Timeform squiggle.

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Worst Bit: Everything went to plan for Death Duty in the early part of the season as he won three times but the decision to run him over 2m1f at Christmas on yielding ground worked out badly. Taking on Footpad there looked an early shot in the championship rather than what was best for the horse in the long term and it came at a high cost.

 

Joseph O’Brien – Grade: B (Last season: no grade)

O’Brien is a different type of trainer to the Big Two, reliant more on JP McManus and being a dual-purpose yard in the truest sense, but the leap he took in prizemoney this past season is almost Elliott-like.

 

Season Winners Runners Prizemoney Champ. Position
2017/18 67 473 €1,419,319 3rd
2016/17 38 269 €710,244 5th

 

He basically doubled his prizemoney total but it needs pointing out that he had 48 winners by the end of October and managed only five domestic winners from January on; like so many, he was a bit player in the Mullins-Elliott drama of the winter season proper. Against that however is the fact that he had two big-priced Grade 1 winners at the Dublin Racing Festival in Edwulf and Tower Bridge and there are plenty of good prospects for the future here in the likes of Early Doors, Speak Easy, Rhinestone and Us And Them.

Best Bit: Rekindling is by far the high point during the period covered but, seeing as this should be jumps only, basically bringing Edwulf back from the dead to win an Irish Gold Cup was the other big achievement.

Worst Bit: The campaigning of Tigris River. Since he won the Galway Hurdle, he has been beaten: 22ls, 16ls, 27ls, 26ls, pulled up and 110ls. Last time at Punchestown was better and perhaps it’s all about the ground with him but a novel idea might be to run him less frequently on going that doesn’t suit. In any case, the handicapper hasn’t cut him much slack, still 4lbs higher than his Galway win.

 

Henry De Bromhead – Grade: B (Last season: B)

Despite seeming to go missing for various chunks of the season, overall it was a decent campaign for De Bromhead; he was good through the summer, had a quiet November, bounced back in December especially at Christmas before having a quiet end to the season at home. He did however win a Galway Plate with Balko Des Flos and manage to upgrade him into a Ryanair winner and became one of only two other Irish trainers along with Pat Kelly to have a Festival winner. Monalee too was good if unfortunate, falling twice in Grade 1s, while Ellie Mac winning the first race of the Leopardstown Christmas meeting was one of the more heart-warming stories of the season.

Best Bit: He may have been found a bad race at Aintree but getting Identity Thief back to a high level over three miles was an impressive achievement given how he’d looked gone at the game when reverting to hurdles in the spring of 2017.

Worst Bit: The blame for the campaigning of Petit Mouchoir this spring has to be laid somewhere though perhaps this isn’t the right spot; someone was responsible for riding tactics in the Arkle which looked overly-aggressive even if the horse can be very free. The decision to run him at both Aintree and Punchestown was a poor one in light of the hard races he had already had along with an injury and it is only sensible to wonder what mark this will have left.

 

Jessica Harrington – Grade: C (Last season: A+)

The most notable feature of Harrington’s season was a marked drop off in strikerate; the figures here refer to runners in both Ireland and the UK over jumps.

 

Season Strikerate
2017/18 9.1%
2016/17 13.9%
2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16 combined 15.1%

 

I had initially suspected that last season – when she seemed to win every big race in sight from the turn of the year – was an aberration in terms of win rates but having combined the three seasons previous it is this past season that was different in the negative sense; 2016/17 had just been Harrington maintaining her previous standards albeit in better races. It didn’t help of course that she was without Sizing John from Christmas, staying chasers being the most fragile cohort of the fragile body of horses that are jumpers, but at least he had been maximised the previous season.

Best Bit(s): Supasundae danced every dance and to a degree made his own luck this past season; the trainer spotted a vulnerable Faugheen over two miles in January and her likeable hurdler duly ran to his level and won while things also fell his way at Punchestown. Forge Meadow also deserves a mention for an excellent middle part of the season; a hot mare that can lose it in the preliminaries, Harrington did well to get her back to form after three poor runs to start the season.

Worst Bit: Sizing John thrived on racing in 2016/17 but the decision to back him up at Leopardstown 18 days after winning the John Durkan is one connections might like to take back. Whether it played any part in the ‘hairline non-displaced fracture’ that ended his season is unknown but there was no real upside to running him over Christmas when he was already proven in such races. Supasundae may have revelled in such a campaign but he is a hurdler not a staying chaser.

 

Noel Meade – Grade: C (Last season: B+)

Meade now occupies a weird underdog position in Irish jumps racing which is strange for an eight-time champion trainer; the coverage of Bel Ami De Sivola’s win at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting reflected this as the RTE commentators seemed thrilled that he had managed a winner on the big stage even in a handicap. He managed only one runner at Cheltenham Festival in Road To Respect and in truth his season seemed to revolve around that horse.

Best Bit: Road To Respect winning at Christmas. Things didn’t go right for him after that win with the ground against him in the Gold Cup and his jumping not up to scratch at Punchestown but a Grade 1 win was a decent yield overall.

Worst Bit: His Down Royal return was very promising but Disko failing to make the track despite repeated assurances that he would be in the next big staying chase was disappointing.

 

The Rest

It very much is ‘the rest’ at this point and Pat Kelly probably deserves main billing; he has the best horse not trained in the top six yards with Presenting Percy who remarkably is 1lb away from being the best both over hurdles (rated 156) and fences (rated 165), Anibale Fly rated ahead of him for chases. There’s no doubt who’d be favourite for a race between that pair however and he deserves extra credit for taking a completely unorthodox route to the RSA and winning with bags in hand.

Charles Byrnes was one of the big risers from 2016/17 to 2017/18, going from nineteenth up to seventh, and having the second best winner/runner ratio. He won the Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown with Off You Go and bumpers were a big part of his season, winning seven such races from a total of 29 runners. Byrnes is a good trainer but almost certainly a better punter, not only knowing what he has but also getting a good gauge on the opposition. Consider his bumper winners below and the make-up of the fields they took on:

 

Winner Opening Show Starting Price Mullins Runners Elliott Runners
Balliniska Band 11/4 11/8 0 0
Balliniska Band 6/4 7/4 0 1
Minnies Secret 9/4 6/4 0 1
Mary B 9/4 5/4 0 1
Van Humboldt 11/10 8/13 0 1
Alpine Cobra 6/1 6/1 2 1
Thosedaysaregone 5/1 9/2 1 1

 

The opening show here refers to the on-course market but it is notable that he managed to find five bumpers all season where there were no Mullins runners and landed a late punt in four of them. He is clearly more concerned about runners coming from Closutton than Cullentra!

Another big riser was Denis Hogan, going from twenty-third in 2016/17 up to eighth this past season. He didn’t do it with particularly good horses either which is to his credit, Youcantcallherthat a standout with five wins but the likes of Eiri Na Casca winning thrice was a victory for good placing more than anything. Some better stock is coming into the yard, not least the siblings Moskovite and Moyhenna, though a recent win for Inis Meain remains elusive.

Philip Dempsey had a decent winner/runner ratio and good period between September and November when he had 11 winners while Alan Fleming maintained a high strikerate though lacked a really good horse. The whole Barry Connell operation remains a rather inscrutable one, willing to spend plenty on good prospects but not so keen on using the major trainers to handle them.

- Tony Keenan

Irish Jump Racing: Do We Have A Problem?

For whatever reason, the Irish Grand National seems to bring the competitiveness issue in Irish jumps racing into sharp focus, writes Tony Keenan. Perhaps it is the long-held view, correct or incorrect, that the National is a lottery race where everything has a chance; in the early part of this decade, there were wins for Bluesea Cracker at 25/1, Lion Na Bearnai at 33/1 and Liberty Counsel at 50/1. Those three horses have more in common than their prices though as all were trained at small yards by James Motherway, Thomas Gibney and Dot Love. In the seasons since their big wins, those trainers have averaged 3.4, 1.6 and 3.4 winners per campaign so we really are talking about smaller operations.

There was some representation from similar stables in this year’s race; Forever Gold for Edward Cawley, Call It Magic for Ross O’Sullivan, Killaro Boy for Adrian Murray and Westerner Point for Eoghan O’Grady and I wouldn’t argue with anyone looking to stretch that out to John Ryan’s Kilcarry Bridge or Pat Kelly’s Mall Dini. Still, the story of the National, pre-race at least, was Gordon Elliott’s record number of runners, 13 in all, eight owned by Gigginstown who also had two more runners with other trainers.

The Elliott/Mullins duopoly is often said to have made life difficult for small trainers and when possible measures to redress this imbalance are discussed – if indeed they are necessary – it is always in the context of improving the lot of the small trainer. This may misrepresent the reality however as it is the middle-rank trainers who have really suffered during the rise of the ‘Big Two’ with the minor yards still getting by to a degree. Consider the snapshot of three seasons from the last decade, the 2006/7, 2011/12 and 2016/17 campaigns. In those years, the number of total races was 1,377, 1,399 and 1,422 respectively so the totals are broadly similar. In them I have broken down trainers by winner totals to see the distribution of winners across the size of each yard.

 

Winner Totals 2006/7 2011/12 2016/17
100 plus 1 1 2
50 to 99 1 1 2
20 to 49 11 10 2
6 to 19 41 46 41
1 to 5 211 222 202

 

As you can see, the small trainers are holding their own in terms of getting a handful of winners; whether they are getting into the better races with their one good horse is another issue however. It is those in the middle, trainers having between 20 and 49 winners that have been wiped out. In 2006/7 that group comprised Jessica Harrington, Charlie Swan, Paul Nolan, Dessie Hughes, Tom Taaffe, Tony Martin, Edward O’Grady, Michael O’Brien, Joe Crowley, Dusty Sheehy and Michael Hourigan. Only Harrington is any sort of force now. The top trainers were much more compressed back then and while Noel Meade did break the 100-winner mark it was with 102 winners. As an aside, I can’t have any comparisons between Meade winning eight trainers’ championships and what is going on now; that 102 winners was his highest ever total with 86 his next best and this was a time when he struggled massively for Cheltenham winners.

Back in in 2006/7, Willie Mullins has 79 winners but by 2011/12 that number was up to 138 while Meade had dropped back to 59. Elliott, meanwhile, had 40 winners. But five years later, things had shifted again with Elliott and Mullins having 193 and 180 winners, followed by Henry De Bromhead on 68, Meade on 57, Harrington on 48 and Joseph O’Brien with no one else breaking 20 winners. The gap between the best and the rest is going to widen further this season with Elliott having already broken 200 winners and Mullins certain to do so. There will be more trainers breaking into the middle tier of 20 winners-plus this season albeit at the lower end.

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Some observations on all this. For betting purposes, Elliott versus Mullins is eminently preferable to Mullins bossing everyone as was the case five years ago. Back then, he was running his horses sparingly and often in the most uncompetitive races which was boring. It is fascinating that Elliott has made Mullins dance to his tune this season, forcing the champion into running his horses much more frequently than previously, a pattern that was especially noticeable at the Dublin Racing Festival and Fairyhouse just gone. When the season comes to a close, Mullins’ average runs per season will be well up.

If the championship leaves Closutton this season – rated more likely than not by current odds – it could well be because he failed to be aggressive enough in campaigning his horses in the early part of the jumps season proper, the months of October, November and December; he eventually followed Elliott’s lead, but not soon enough. Seeing good horses run more frequently and in more competitive races is obviously a positive though a balance needs to be struck with not running them into the ground, literally in this current season. One wonders what sort of racing we will have at Punchestown after both Cheltenham and Fairyhouse were held on testing turf.

It also needs pointing out that while both Mullins and Elliott train for some massive concerns, they also handle horses from single-horse owners. This is cherry-picking but consider the Irish National just gone; the runner-up Isleofhopendreams runs in the colours of the Kilbroney Racing Partnership and seems to be their only horse while the official fourth Folsom Blue is the only horse to run this season for the Core Partnership, allowing that their most high-profile partner Gary O’Brien has shares in some others. How do you crab such owners for wanting their horses in the best yards, allowing that there is the chance they could be lost in the mix?

The role of big ownership is much more interesting to consider. This season, Gigginstown have had horses run for six trainers: Elliott, De Bromhead, Meade, Joseph O’Brien, Mouse Morris and Edward Hales. Last season, that number was nine. In 2015/16 it was 12, in 2014/15 it was 16 and it peaked back in 2013/14 at 17. The pattern is of contracting their roster of trainers each season and while it is possible they will give an opportunity to some up-and-comer in the near-future, it seems at least as likely further consolidation will occur; I can certainly foresee a point when Elliott trains all their horses. With the achievements of Road To Respect and Balko Des Flos this past season, Meade and De Bromhead have done enough to be kept on but it is hard to be believe that a conversation about sending everything to Gordon hasn’t been had by the O’Learys.

Of the other major owners, the likes of Rich Ricci, Graham Wylie and the Sullivan operation are all single trainer setups with Mullins the handler in question. Ann and Alan Potts Limited have used five Irish trainers this season – Harrington, Jim Dreaper, Liam Burke, Jimmy Mangan and Mouse Morris – though the future of their racing interests remains in question. All of this make JP McManus look like racing’s benevolent fund which is not something I thought I would ever write; this season he has had horses run for 49 (yes, 49!) separate Irish yards.

One does wonder however about the effect this is having on attracting new owners to the sport. While watching racing from Fairyhouse on Sunday I was struck by a representative from Tattersalls Ireland saying that “national hunt racing is traditionally about opportunity for everyone” which rings a little hollow at the moment. I can’t speak for any owner as they will all have their own views but I do wonder about the attractiveness of the sport to the person who wants to spend a reasonable few quid – let’s say small six-figures on a horse – and send it to their local mid-tier trainer. That ownership space seems to be gone now though those people obviously have the option of sending it to Mullins or Elliott.

Ownership is not the only concern however; employment might also be an issue. Both Mullins and especially Elliott seem to have a raft of assistant trainers and staff, many of them evidently excellent at their jobs. Is the increased employment they provide enough to make up for the other trainers slowing down? And if it is, there is also a pressure on racing staff to move away from their homes closer to the power-bases in Carlow and Meath though perhaps that is just a fact of life in any profession. I am completely unqualified to answer these questions but it would be interesting to get the views of those involved.

The rise of Mullins and Elliott is evidence of capitalism/meritocracy in full flow but there is a complicating factor in all this; racing in Ireland is heavily subsidised by the state with almost €64 million going into the coffers for 2017. Rural employment and approximately 18,000 jobs are frequently trotted out as the justifications for this funding. That employment seems to be becoming less available however with the total national hunt trainers in Ireland down to 93 in 2017, the lowest total since 2008, and a recent course for new trainers cancelled due to lack of interest. When asked about this in February, HRI boss Brian Kavanagh said that their “emphasis [was] on quality” and that Ireland was “a very, very competitive market and ultimately that’s no bad thing.” Perhaps I am soft but those comments seemed a little harsh; HRI might need to do more than just let things take their course.

I don’t have any solutions to this, if indeed solutions are needed. The fantasist in me imagines a weird sort of draft system where smaller trainers get access to top equine talent and what fun that would be. Could you imagine: ‘with the first pick of the 2017/18 draft, Garrett Power selects…. SAMCRO!’ But this is Ireland, not America, where the ‘sure, it will be grand’ attitude prevails. Perhaps it will and racing is always changing as we see from the tables above; maybe Michael O’Leary will decide over the summer that he prefers football and wants to see Westmeath United in the Champions’ League!

- Tony Keenan

In The Numbers: Mullins versus Elliott (Part Two)

There are 1.525 million reasons to be excited about the Dublin Racing Festival and the Irish jumps trainers are certainly pumped for next weekend judged by their public comments, writes Tony Keenan.

The marketing/propaganda for this meeting has been heavy if understandable though it hasn’t been enough to attract much in the way of a UK challenge. Still, on the domestic front, no trainers will be focussed more on the fixture than Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, the pair having five of the eight Grade 1 favourites at the time of writing, though that may change when the five-day declarations come out.

With Fairyhouse and Punchestown (those meetings have €1.496 million and €3.074 million in prizemoney respectively) to come, the Dublin Racing Festival won’t decide the trainers’ championship, but it still looks set to play a big part.

Let’s begin with the championship betting market to start to get the story so far. Paddy Power has been offering odds on this since the end of Punchestown 2017 with the key price moves listed below (and thanks to them for supplying this information).

 

Willie Mullins Date Gordon Elliott
2/7 30/4/17 5/2
1/12 25/9/17 6/1
1/3 26/11/17 9/4
8/15 3/12/17 6/4
10/11 29/12/17 (morning) 1/1
6/4 29/12/17 (evening) 8/15
15/8 27/1/18 2/5

 

So Mullins went through the summer smoking hot, winning the top trainer prize at Galway amongst other things, and looked to have his hands on the trophy at the end of September. From there Elliott gradually got back into things – the importance of the months of October and November will be discussed later – with a major odds shift after his Hatton’s Grace Day Grade 1 treble when he was cut into 6/4. The last day of the Christmas Festival was huge too with Faugheen injured, seemingly done for the season, and Elliott beating him with Mick Jazz. Since then last season’s runner-up continued to shorten with Monbeg Notorious doing his bit in the Thyestes last Thursday.

It’s worth looking at the current prizemoney table at this point and bear in mind that all figures in this article are correct up to Saturday, January 27th. The final standings in 2016/17 were Mullins €4,580,200 and Elliott €4,380,705 though with the usual prizemoney inflation it could take a bigger figure to win this season.

Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Win Prizemoney Total Prizemoney
G. Elliott 151 854 17.7% €2,188,775 €3,149,113
W. Mullins 146 470 31.0% €1,859,600 €2,551,830

 

This is pretty standard stuff in terms of trainer methodologies, Elliott using quantity, Mullins using quality, the former dominating number of runners, the latter much better in strikerate. One interesting point is their average prizemoney per win with (win prizemoney divided by winners) with Elliott on €14,495 and Mullins on €12,736. The perception would be that the figures would be the other way though some might believe this is a product of Elliott winning lots of valuable handicaps; he has won some of those races but as we will see it is actually his record in graded races that is inflating his high average prizemoney figure.

So Elliott is €597,283 clear at this point and it is worth returning to how far he led by at various points last season; he was around half a million ahead after the 2016 Troytown at Navan (a card where he had six winners), roughly €300,000 clear after Christmas the same year. His current total shows how much better he is doing relative to last season and it is worth considering when he did the damage, looking at both campaigns month-by-month below, the figures referring to winners then runners.

 

W. Mullins Month G. Elliott
15/40 May 10/102
7/28 June 9/71
16/43 July 11/76
22/72 August 16/93
17/48 September 11/62
9/35 October 21/77
18/47 November 33/133
24/100 December 26/158
18/57 January 15/83

 

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I thought Mullins would break every record around after his summer season, even suggesting the first 200-winner Irish jumps season was likely, but that was well off. The key period here was October/November with Elliott having 54 winners to 27 for Mullins and at that point the champion simply couldn’t compete with the volume of his younger rival. This stage of the season is a traditional changeover point with summer horses wrapping up and winter horses getting going but Mullins seems to have been slow getting them to the track. That may not be a bad thing for their careers overall – not rushing a horse to do something before it is ready makes sense – but it could prove costly for the 2017/18 championship. I do think though that Elliott is a trainer that always looks for a reason to run whereas Mullins tends the other way.

Elliott’s November win total of 33 was actually his most ever in a calendar month with 31 his next best in the same month the previous year. For context, Mullins’s best two months all-time are 44 winners in December 2016 and 34 in November 2014, the former an outlier among outliers. I mentioned above that Mullins has found it hard to compete with Elliott’s sheer numbers but again this needs context. There is an excellent feature on IrishRacing.com where they list the number of individual horses each trainer has run in a season.

Mullins is on 194 individual runners for 2017/18 when his most ever was 195 in 2013/14 (his totals the last three seasons were 184, 191 and 177). So as of the end of January, Mullins has already run basically as many individual horses as ever before and the season still has three months to go. It hasn’t so much been a case that Mullins hasn’t had enough horses to run but rather he hasn’t gotten them to the track often enough to rack up prizemoney; consider his total runs of 470 against Elliott’s 854. In Elliott’s case, he has run 272, 195 and 141 individual horses over the last three seasons and is at 263 for the current season.

It is also worth considering the luck factor in terms of how trainers are doing over the season as a whole. When doing some work on the Cheltenham Festival last year, I came up with a couple of methods of seeing which trainers were lucky or unlucky based on the number of seconds and placed horses they were having. It is a simple calculation where total seconds are subtracted from total winners to see if there are major discrepancies and also looking at the ratio of winners to placed horses (all runners finishing second, third or fourth) with the idea being that the further the ratio is below 3.00 the more fortunate a trainer has been as this 3.00 would the expected figure with there being three places for every winner in a race.

 

Trainer Winners Seconds Difference Total Places (2nd, 3rd and 4th) Winners to Places Ratio
G. Elliott 151 134 -17 321 2.13
W. Mullins 146 85 -61 178 1.22

 

These figures would suggest that Elliott’s numbers are more sustainable that those of Mullins. Mullins has a big differential between his total of winners and runners-up while his winner/place ratio is also particularly low. Moving beyond pure numbers for a moment, it also worth looking at the each trainer’s top ten horses in terms of prizemoney won.

 

Willie Mullins Gordon Elliott
1. Rathvinden 1. Potters Point
2. Fabulous Saga 2. Apple’s Jade
3. Next Destination 3. Shattered Love
4. Lagostovegas 4. Outlander
5. Robin Des Foret 5. A Toi Phil
6. Footpad 6. Mengli Khan
7. Total Recall 7. Doctor Phoenix
8. Whiskey Sour 8. Death Duty
9. Shaneshill 9. Monbeg Notorious
10. Mystic Theatre 10. Dinaria Des Obeaux

 

Of the Mullins ten, seven ran during the summer: Rathvinden, Fabulous Saga, Lagostovegas, Robin Des Foret, Whiskey Sour, Shaneshill and Mystic Theatre. Some of those have continued to run well during the winter, others have barely run at all but it is hardly an outlandish argument to suggest that you can’t win a trainers’ championship with summer horses. There are a few reasons for this: most of the summer horses will have had their run of form at this point and are now higher in the handicap competing against better horses on softer ground but most importantly they are typically not good enough to win graded races when the winter horses come out. Elliott, on the other hand, has only one summer horse in his top ten (Potters Point) and you have to go to number 16 on his top prizemoney horses to find his next summer jumper which is Morgan.

There is a perception that Elliott is more of a handicap trainer than one for graded races but in 2017/18 this has not proved entirely true if we look at the record of each trainer in different types of races.

 

W. Mullins Race Type G. Elliott
8/80 Handicaps 37/281
24/86 Graded/Listed 24/89
56/161 Maidens 52/295
32/79 Bumpers 19/90
26/64 Other 19/99

 

Elliott does have the edge in handicaps which is unsurprising though it is worth pointing out that he was won only five of the valuable handicaps to four won by Mullins (by valuable handicaps I mean those worth more than the equivalent of £20,000 to the winner which basically means our graded handicaps). It is their very similar record in non-handicaps that stands out with Elliott actually leading in terms of winners. He is also ahead in terms of Grade 1 victories with a total of seven to Mullins’s four. That is particularly impressive as Elliott’s Irish Grade 1 totals over last five seasons are, working backwards: 7, 4, 3, 2, 2. In that same period, Mullins has figures of 14, 20, 21, 15 and 19 so he is well behind where he might typically be at this point of the season. The one area where Mullins does hold sway is in bumpers which I’ll return to in wrapping up.

So is there any way back for Mullins in 2017/18? It seems unlikely based on what we have seen above. I think he would need to hit every marker with his stars to have any chance; Faugheen would need to win Champion Hurdles at Leopardstown and Punchestown, Yorkhill would need to get his head right, Douvan would need to come back to his best, Djakadam would need to find an extra couple of pounds to take him from perennial placer to Gold Cup winner. Perhaps one or even two of these scenarios will unfold but it is a big price that everything will come together.

2018/19 might be more interesting however. As referenced above, Mullins has a distinct advantage in the bumper division this season and that edge may only bear fruit in seasons to come. The departure of Gigginstown obviously hurt Mullins last season and it took a lot of ready-made horses from the yard. Mullins surely went about replacing those horses quickly but the problem is that in most cases you aren’t replacing like for like; instead, a mature horse like Apple’s Jade was being replaced by a young bumper horse that needs time. So what we might call a Gigginstown gap year may have developed.

Mullins has come back strong with his bumper horses this season and one of the most interesting things about them is their ownership profile. Of his 32 bumper winners, there have been 26 individual horses, some of them winning more than once, and 24 different owners. Supreme Racing had three of the group, Rich Ricci had only one while there was not a Graham Wylie horse among them. By my research – which could be wrong as I was simply using the ownership statistics on the Racing Post website – 13 of them were new to the yard.

There were a lot of syndicates and partnerships, a few single person owners, but not many that seem likely to reach double figures in terms of horses in training. This seems a massive change in the ownership profile at Closutton which was once dominated by the triumvirate of Gigginstown, Ricci and Wylie but now seems to have many more smaller interests involved. What this means for Mullins I don’t know and how many more horses these people are willing to put in training will depend on their own financial circumstances though they have certainly made the sort of start that might encourage them to go in again.

- Tony Keenan

Tony Keenan: Making Racing Better in 2018

When I interviewed Ian Marmion last month, he put forward the view that racing may not have a betting product to sell punters from Monday to Friday, writes Tony Keenan. In Ireland, racing doesn’t even try to offer this at least at this point of the year when the best meetings are concentrated towards the weekend with moderate fare midweek and an all-weather card on Friday. Still, it’s disappointing for the sport as Marmion is as pro-racing as you’ll get in the bookmaking business but perhaps we have to deal with the new reality that racing is now a Festival and big day sport with day-to-day stuff being ever more marginalised.

Certainly that seems to be the idea around the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival next month but the sport’s popularity does abide as you can see from attendances at the recent Christmas meeting at Leopardstown; the challenge is getting those people following and betting on the sport in the weeks between Christmas and the next big event. The Irish racing authorities have not shown much initiative in that regard with entitlement often their default mode; that sense of ‘what are you doing for me?’ could fill an article in itself but suffice it to say that their central political objective at the moment is increasing betting tax (to be paid for by the punter, the people who you want to bet on your sport) at a time when only between 12-15% of Irish betting turnover is bet on Irish racing.

It is easy to get defeatist about all this but perhaps it is better to look for ways in which the sport could improve interest levels and in turn betting volume. In my mind, there are two standout changes that need to be made in the short-term: improving the quality of in-race viewing for TV viewers and the provision of sectional times at all tracks. The former is one for the masses, the latter more for the hard-core.

Both of these things will take money – what doesn’t? – but prizemoney is due to rise again in 2018, by €2.2 million, and one wonders if those funds might be better spent elsewhere; this is not to say that prizemoney is unimportant, on the contrary it is a tool to improve and maintain integrity, but one sometimes wonders if it is the only issue that HRI thinks matters.

Picture the scene: you’re at Leopardstown for one of their summer Thursday meetings, the evening sun is setting and there are a bunch of two-year-old fillies going to the start for a maiden. Among them are jockeys in Magnier navy, Godolphin blue and Abdullah green, pink and white, trained by O’Brien, Bolger and Weld, and there may be a 1,000 Guineas winner in amongst them. For those on the track, this is a rich visual experience with even a touch of romance to it but the problem is it doesn’t look like that at home on TV.

Instead, you have to watch the action in standard definition which will never capture the essence of the race. Sports coverage now – and I’m talking purely in terms of picture quality – needs to be of a certain standard and racing doesn’t meet it; viewers coming from other sports expect higher definition and they aren’t getting it. There was a time when we were delighted just to be able to watch every race on what is basically a free-to-air channel in AtTheRaces but there has been enough back-slapping about this and it is time to progress the raw visuals of the sport. This will cost money, likely quite a bit of money, but it would be well-spent and it should be a priority for AtTheRaces, HRI, SIS and the various tracks to work on this.

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Another area of the Irish racing televisual experience that could be improved are the camera angles. My wife jokes that I spend an awful lot of time looking at horses’ arses but little does she know that is literally true when watching coverage from most Irish tracks!

It would be bad enough if we had to put up with bad angles at provincial tracks like Tramore and Sligo alone but it is also the case when watching action from premier jumps courses like Leopardstown, Punchestown and Fairyhouse. You simply cannot gauge what is happening in the race properly when they go past the stands at Leopardstown with the way the angles are currently set up.

I admit to a complete bias towards all things time-related in racing as sectionals and time-figures are my thing, at least at the moment, as I think they provide an edge. I’m less interested in information on wind operations and horse weights but as a punter you should never be against more data. Racing is a sport that is simply made for new data points with so many novel areas that are yet to be explored. To paraphrase a commenter on a recent article on this site (Scott Ferguson), more data would lead to more systems and analysis techniques which should lead to a broader spread of bets and risk being diversified.

It was disappointing to see the reaction of a number of racing people to the decision that wind operations should be declared as their responses seemed to be self-serving, perhaps wanting the information for themselves, perhaps not wanting their star stallion prospect to be tarnished by having to declare a wind problem, perhaps simply not wanting the hassle of having to do more administration. Then there were those who argued that punters wanted the silver bullet of a wind operation declaration to solve all their betting woes, as if bettors are simply looking for a letter that points to a winner; the reality is that all information points are only part of the puzzle with the challenge becoming one of analysis more than anything.

To return to the main point, it is important to remember that sectional times were promised at all Irish tracks from January 2017 onwards and over a year on we have barely heard a thing about them. HRI could argue that there has been no clamour for them but people are not known to argue for something they don’t understand and it is only by instituting them that the understanding will come. Furthermore, this would not be a laborious process and does not necessarily need extensive GPS technology. Timeform do them manually (albeit not furlong-by-furlong) and while that may bring in some human error, staffers can get up to speed quite quickly, doing a full meeting in less than an hour, and the Irish racing calendar is hardly an arduous one. That might be a job for an intern or a new entrant at HRI though it could shine some unwanted light on rail movements that seem to appear without any details of how they affect race distances.

Anyway, those are my two, not unrealistic, hopes for Irish racing in 2018; what about yours? Leave a comment below with your own thoughts.

- Tony Keenan                                                  Follow Tony on twitter at @racingtrends

Tony Keenan: The Bookmakers’ Perspective

The bookmaker-punter divide is one where the boundaries are permeable with many people playing both sides, writes Tony Keenan. Ian Marmion is one such example: Ian has worked with a number of the big betting companies as well as punting professionally for a time; and, along with some friends, he has a few horses in training, not least Ch’Tibello with Dan Skelton.

Much of what I write for Geegeez tends to be punter-centric but it is worth remembering that there are multiple sides to any story. With that in mind, Ian was kind enough to give me his thoughts on the state of the betting industry at present as well as on how racing interacts with it.

 

Let’s start with some biography Ian, what’s your background and how long have you been working in the betting industry?

I suppose I was always a keen punter and got into the industry with various jobs like a cashier and betting shop manager.  I then worked in the raceroom at Paddy Power before moving to Victor Chandler where I progressed through the company, coming back to start operations in Ireland in 2005 when we go some pitches and shops. I thought I was home for good but one day I was over in Gibraltar for a meeting and having been very critical of the firm’s trading policy (which I felt was antiquated) I was asked by Victor to sort it out!

In truth, I was a mug punter up to that point, though I was strong numerically and had a good eye for product. We had a lot of high-stakers and lead accounts, which is very different to how that firm operates now, and I was able to educate myself on how to win. We were aggressive punters in the market and I was following others’ opinions but learning plenty. Over a period of years it got to a point where I was making more money punting than working and having had a tempestuous relationship with Victor I thought I was good enough to give it a go full-time.

I reckoned my bets were coming from about 30% what I got in Chandler’s, 40% other contacts I had made along the way and 30% my own opinion though I probably got that pie wrong! It started badly as I had two consecutive losing months for the first time in a long while but it soon turned around and I was at it full-time for five years.

My skill was getting money on, that’s what I was good at. I was doing business for warm punters with about 10 lads in shops. They’d be ready to go at 10 in the morning, know what shops to do at 10.15, get the message what to bet at 10.30 and have everything done by 11. Getting on is as important a skill as picking winners.

 

You’ve since come back into the betting industry proper; what was your reasoning for stepping back from the punting and joining BetStars as trading director with their sportsbook?

There were a few different reasons. With the punting, I was getting a bit sick of it and some of the developments in the game weren’t helping. It was certainly harder to get on with overnight pricing killing a lot of what we did in the shops in the morning, and the machine [Betfair] was definitely getting more of a grip on Irish racing. Where once we were getting twelve monkeys [£500 at 12/1] at half-ten in the morning, now it was three hundred at 7s. With BetStars, PokerStars were launching a sportsbook and it was going to be based in Dublin; I thought if I turn this down I’m never going back to Ireland and I’m here three years in which time the punting has taken a back-seat.

 

The elephant in the room is account restrictions so we may as well deal with that. When I talk to punters, rightly or wrongly, it’s the only issue they want to discuss. Now maybe there’s some selection bias there as I talk a bit to people who have an idea what they’re doing but restrictions are happening. What are your thoughts on them, both from a work perspective and personally?

With BetStars, we are a new sportsbook so we’re trying to attract customers and inevitably you attract sharp business first. Our horse racing runs profit to 4% return after Best Odds Guaranteed, 7% before BOG which is reasonable and we’ve restricted about 6% of customers this year. Recreational customers have a typical profile. They bet in or around your average stake, they play a good mix of singles and multiples, they tend to do multiples early and singles off the show and they tend to play on higher grade racing. As a new entrant we get a lot of customers that fall outside this typical profile. We don’t have many punters who bet in or around our average stake of €xx [redacted] who we have to restrict. Typically there will be a blatant reason to restrict them and more often than not that blatant reason will be they are arbers.

I’ve been both sides of the fences and for many reasons – cost and technology for example – undoubtedly the quality of trader is not what it once was. There is a part of it where ‘arbers’ is just an excuse where a trader doesn’t want to make a difficult decision, playing lads that aren’t inside the model. That said, I don’t think this is a problem for the tenner and score punter in shops and even online but outside of that, there’s a nervousness and good punters do get caught up due to lack of skills in trading rooms. However, bookmakers have no obligation to feed money to pros or non-recreationals, arbers or bonus abusers.

When I’m looking at it, there are a couple of reasons I wanted to bet a punter. Firstly, when I had a fair chance of beating him and secondly if he told me something I didn’t know myself and that includes bets to a reasonable size.  I didn’t want followers or people just following the machine; you’re not going to beat them and they’re not offering you anything. You can have some winning accounts but you don’t need to pay everyone for the mark.

As for the punting side, a friend says to me that people who can’t get on don’t work hard enough. If you’re that serious and hard-working about it, you’ll get around it. There aren’t as many recreationals as we know it left and, while everybody always criticises bookmakers in saying that they won’t lay without looking at the machine, nobody ever says that the same is true for punters who won’t strike a bet if it is bigger on the machine. We’ve reached a point where nearly every single bet we strike is borderline with the machine price, which is basically borderline zero margin price.

 

Let’s go into a little bit more detail on some of these things. Line tracking seems to be the new term for arbing and people at it are copping plenty of flak. Is there much of this going on and can it be done with computer programs?

Punters can do this robotically with programs like OddsMonkey which flag up arbs and automatically places the bets for you. [I ask at this point doesn’t this business stand out a mile.] The biggest industry that has grown up around it is the show arbers, playing off show not earlies. There’s a significant time lag on show and machine prices, where you might have someone backing a horse at 5/2 that is 3.4 on the machine and that business can look square.

I actually think it’s impossible to lose betting show arbs on the front two or three in market with best odds guaranteed as the bookies are betting overbroke. And that’s a scourge for the ordinary punter that people don’t really think about. Recreational punters have to lose to enable some of that money to be distributed to the winners.

 

Some people have suggested that a minimum bet or lay-to-lose guarantee could be a way to go. How would the maths of that stack up?

We have to ask ourselves if can we sustain a minimum bet guarantee without altering the experience of the ordinary punter and I don’t think we can. If minimum bet guarantees came in then best odds guaranteed would have to go and margins would have to increase. Ordinary punters have never had it so good and the fact is that most punters never reach a limit. Increasing margins might well satisfy people who aren’t the typical punter but you would have to remove concessions too. Maybe those who are better than the market would be better off but the ordinary punter won’t be.

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You’ve mentioned overnight prices earlier. What are your thoughts on them?

They’re the single biggest tool in the bookmakers’ armoury at present as they’re getting to 10am when they typically increase limits and open shops and have prices right for two-eighths of nothing. No one is getting on to any size bar a few VIPs who are big long-term losers and in effect they adjust after every bet and keep adjusting until they get it right. The firms don’t win on overnights and even pre-10am bets and are actually happy to lose as when the limits are upped they are more confident about their prices. Remember, the vast majority still play on the show with the breakdown being roughly 70% show, 30% earlies.

 

On the subject of punters beating you are there any cardinal sins that they can avoid or that make them stand out? And if you don’t like their business, do you think there would be any point in having a yellow card-type system where they are warned about how they are operating?

Customers who consistently beat the Betfair SP are impossible to beat long-term. They are buying something for a dollar and selling it for a dollar ten. Followers who are price sensitive and just follow warm money either because it drops under on the machine or because they work in a trading room offer no long term value. Customers who abuse antiquated systems like traditional each way terms or Rule 4 are no good to you either.  On the subject of bad each-way, a lot of that is a problem with the system and the rule 4 model is broken too, completely out of date. If I had my way, I’d get rid of each-way terms and have separate win and place books. There would be a correlation between the win book and the place book but there would also be changes depending on the make-up of the race. The each-way system is too entrenched though and another thing we’d be better with is decimal pricing as 6/4 to 13/8 is too big of jump, what about 2.55 or 2.6?

I don’t mind anyone having the conversation about how they are betting. We don’t do this well as an industry and this is where the skill deficit is coming into play. You should be good enough as a trader to look at an overall basket of goods to see he’s getting the better of me overnight but not overall. So I can’t let him win the lot overnight but you can have more on the show. The problem is when you get restricted with most of the firms, BetStars included, it doesn’t matter what you want to bet on, whether it is the Gold Cup or a seller at Lingfield, which makes no sense.

Technology has contributed to this in a big way. More and more firms don’t have a call centre and make hard and fast rules about limits to be applied online. A few have an over-ask tool that allows you to request bigger bets but it’s generally not afforded to non-recreationals.

 

In the past year or so, regulation has become a much bigger deal in the UK. How do you think the industry is responding to this?

Responsible gambling has become a massive part of our industry though I do think it’s important to say that being a high staker and being a problem gambler are different things. For some people, big stakes are normal. There are plenty of important developments going on in UK at the moment including staking limits on FOBTs, the Gambling Commission and firms being held accountable for responsible gaming.

As an industry we’ve been let get away with too much for too long. I had a boss who used to say ‘never feel sorry for them [punters]’ but in this day and age that’s not acceptable.  Gambling is 24/7, and punters have access to so many opportunities to feed an addiction. I know it sounds hypocritical of me to say I’m anti-FOBTs when I get my living from people losing money but I’m not a fan of them. They prey on a demographic that shouldn’t be preyed on. There’s a counter-argument that they can go online and do it just as easily but I’m not so sure they can as you need debit cards and access to funds in a bank account.

I remember reading an article about FOBTs where a manager in a William Hill shop said ‘I’ve never seen anyone play them happily’ and that about sums it up for me. Obviously they are an incredible money-making machine with over half of Ladbrokes’ profit from them and you saw the impact of reducing the stake limit had for the GVC bid for Ladbrokes Coral. Personally, I’d much prefer to see 1,000 punters lose a tenner than one lad lose €10,000 as it’s just more sustainable. Stuart Kenny [one of the founders of Paddy Power] was an absolute visionary in this regard as he wanted the punter to go away thinking he got value for his few quid, it was something he intrinsically believed and it was him who came up with money back specials and such like.

 

Racing remains a big part of your life, Ian, and you have a number of horses in training, not least Ch’Tibello with Dan Skelton. I always thought it was a little unusual that you opted to have your horses trained in the UK rather than at home in Ireland, allowing that Skelton is excellent. What are the reasons for that?

There are two reasons. When we got into them, we were abroad and it didn’t matter while latterly, it’s too hard to win a race over here. Dan has trained about 105 winners this season for 40 different owners but with the stranglehold the pair of boys [Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott] have over here, Ch’Tibello would struggle in graded races so there is a better chance of him winning one in the UK.

The punting opportunities are better too. It’s impossible to get on in the mornings in Ireland but you have half a chance of getting on in the UK. We landed a small touch with one last January and got to back him at midday when he was still 25/1 which would never happen in Ireland.

I was at Fairyhouse for Bar-One day earlier this month and there was a great crowd and atmosphere but it was like Jebel Ali with the same colours going around race after race. Maybe I’m being negative but I can’t see us winning graded races over here; though it must be said that what Elliott has achieved is incredible and we all should have stood up and noticed when he won the Grand National way back.

 

What do you think racing is doing right at the moment and where do you think it could improve?

For one, we’ve so much more wrong with the game than the declaration of wind ops. I think racing and betting are one and the same and we need to look at changing the demographic of who is going racing. In Ireland, we’re not too bad at it but in the UK you have silly stuff where they won’t let you into the owners and trainers without a tie. I would abolish enclosures and some of the entrance prices in the UK are ludicrous.

From a betting point-of-view, integrity is still an issue. With Douvan and the Tingle Creek, Altior and Nicky Henderson it is more transparency than integrity. Racing is competing for the betting euro with sports that have 24/7 transparency or at least the perception of such, football being the main example. If that is their expectation then it’s important that we try to emulate that. The ordinary guy in the street thinks racing is crooked to start with, which he doesn’t think that about a football game, and racing needs to work against that notion. The younger trainers are much better at this but we need to reach a level of transparency where when an owner tells a trainer to stop a horse, the trainer tells him to eff off.

The bad racing during the week has integrity issues. Battle-hardened punters know how to factor that into equations and to use it in the decision-making process but if we’re trying to attract an ordinary guy to spend his leisure pound on us, it’s never going to happen. Maybe racing just doesn’t have a product that it can sell to a punter Monday to Friday. Football is the one that is targeting the betting pound more than any other with the good stuff spread out over the week, group races most days in racing parlance, where we’ll have dross Monday to Friday.

I don’t know if this is practical but perhaps we should have a more concentrated programme, less racing but better racing. Some of the issue is horses rated 45 on the flat that are simply useless; what are they even running for, they shouldn’t be able to get into races. If they were not able to get into them, they’d as soon not be bred and the industry would be better off in the long-term after a period of pain.

 

I know you’re not a fan of the bookmaking firms using trainers and jockeys to provide content through blogs, and your horses with Dan Skelton don’t run under the Ladbrokes sponsorship that his yard has. What’s your thinking here?

I don’t think from a transparency point of view that bookies should be sponsoring trainers and jockeys. For the ordinary guy in the street who don’t forget thinks racing is bent anyway, this looks terrible; how many guys told you Ruby jumped off Annie Power? Optics is the big word at the minute. Nor do I buy the content argument that they are providing material that engages people in racing; if that were so, why aren’t they doing it for Geegeez or the Sporting Life or for free? It’s for money.

The firms are doing this for marketing first and foremost, you are associating your brand with something premium which is always a plus. Bwin did this well with Juventus and Real Madrid a while back and people believe in you instantly when you associate your brand with another premium brand. I don’t take any of them seriously as I don’t believe you’re ever being told anything significant.

 

Let’s wrap up with a final question: Where do you see the industry going in the future? I listened to a podcast recently with Marco Blume of Pinnacle where he said e-sports were their sixth biggest market which I couldn’t believe. Is this the case and what else is coming down the line?

I think the e-sports stuff is a lot of spin. I don’t believe in them as a fixed-odds betting product, it’s like badminton in terms of turnover. Pinnacle might be trying to popularise it, Marco Blume has a background in that area, and to be fair the age of your typical e-sports punter is lower than that of football, 27 and 40 in our case. It makes sense trying to make a go of it in that regard but I don’t buy it. Mind you I didn’t think cash-out would work so I’ve not exactly got a strong pedigree in this area!

There are massive changes coming in football around how markets are done and presented. The whole Request-A-Bet stuff will be automated and we need to remember that football betting looks the way it does because that’s how a football coupon looked in a shop 40 years ago. We still tell punters what they want to bet on but in 6 months’ time punters will tell you what they want to bet on. They will be able to drag in what they like to bet on. The maths isn’t the most difficult aspect of this, it’s the tech that is the hard part with issues of how you present it and do it quickly.

We are all trying to convert betting into gaming where the punter can circulate his money, bet on next corner, throw-in or goal. Nobody has got this right yet but it’s coming.  The thing is when a punter has a bet on the win-draw-win in football, he is dead for 2 hours. I’m not sure how this would work with racing, perhaps with punters who miss the off or are waiting for a bet to settle or have had a faller in a race and want plough back in again. This appeals to the young demographic who want things quickly. We are a world that doesn’t read anything anymore and is so used to 140 characters, and punters are naturally the same.

The views expressed above are the personal opinions of Ian Marmion and not necessarily representative of The Stars Group.

Tony Keenan (twitter: @racingtrends) was talking to Ian Marmion (twitter: @marmobet), sports book trading director for BetStars

Tony Keenan: The Perception Of Deception

Every sport has stereotypes they would prefer not to have, writes Tony Keenan. Track and field athletes are dopers, footballers are grossly overpaid and horse racing is bent. One can flip these sorts of views around however. The World Athletics Championships at London 2017 were relatively clean by modern standards, the suppressed times and overall unpredictability of results suggesting anti-doping is working to some degree. There is a strong case that rather than footballers being overpaid, their wages are in line with market value and related to massive TV deals, sponsorship and such like. Racing, well we’ll come to that.

There can be little doubt that the general public’s view of racing is a low one. In a recent study by Portland Communications entitled the UK Sports Integrity Index 2017, a survey was carried out on 2,110 people on their views on the most and least trusted sports. Participants were asked to place each sport in terms of four categories: fixing of events, use of performance enhancing drugs, financial corruption and cover-up stories/scandals. Racing came out eleventh of 12 overall sports with only football behind and the sport’s position in each of the categories surveyed were:  fixing (last), PEDs (eighth), financial corruption (second-last) and cover-ups (tenth).

The issue with the general public is that their views are often based on limited knowledge. Racing has a history of being tied to chicanery with the centrality of betting to the sport a massive factor and we probably don’t help ourselves in this regard by lionizing some of the coups that have gone on over time. It’s difficult if not impossible to change these sorts of perceptions in the mainstream as people have neither the time nor the interest to engage with what racing is really like.

I’m less interested in their entrenched opinions than I am in those of the betting public, a group who have at worst a passing knowledge of racing and often possess a passion for the sport. Yet if you ask these people about their views on the integrity of racing – and Irish racing in particular – you often get a particularly negative response. Searching ‘Irish racing’ in Twitter throws up more than its share of vitriol to its participants with the likes of Aidan O’Brien, Ryan Moore, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh routinely described in terms of the lowest cheats. It’s the same should you visit your local betting shop. A large part of me says such people are morons looking to blame someone else for a losing bet but we do risk going the full ostrich here; these are the customers with the betting euro and pound and what they think of the sport does matter, not least because they can choose to bet on something else.

It is important to state now that I believe Irish racing to be straight, by and large; it is a betting product I have faith in and I can’t remember the last time I had a bet in a race and thought there was something rotten about it. I qualify that by saying I do most of my betting and viewing on the middle to upper reaches of the sport but I would be happy to say it has a lot less skulduggery than is widely perceived. Irish racing is regarded as a world leader by many of those who participate in it but there is a huge disconnect between this view and the broader perception of the sport among those that like a bet.

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Looking at the broad picture of what punters bet on, it is worth pointing out that Irish racing is a relatively low turnover sport for most operators, particularly those in the online sphere. Certainly it is less popular with bettors than UK racing –the obvious point that there is much more UK racing needs to be made – while other sports are also on the rise with the younger demographic, racing being hard to grasp initially relative to other more straightforward sports. It was interesting to read recently that Horse Racing Ireland wanted betting tax increased in Ireland but they should be careful what they wish for and hope that their return from the tax is not pro-rated to the amount actually bet on the Irish racing; were that to be the case they could be in for a rude awakening.

This possible lack of faith in Irish racing does not just come from punters however. Paddy Power, the largest of the Irish bookmakers, recently cut back appreciably on their laying of Irish overnight prices in their shops. They now bet only the better class racing where once they would have offered the full menu of the next day’s racing and while many punters will say that overnights are only a cheap way of getting their cards marked, it is worth pointing out that they continue to lay more UK races overnight. It could be argued that this is more to do with the type of business you attract – the person who is betting the previous evening likely has some degree of homework done – than what they are actually betting on but the contrast between their approaches to racing from the two jurisdictions is pointed.

Educating the punters you have on your sport is important to altering this perception of deception and the ultimate responsibility for this has to rest with the governing bodies and authorities. One simple way of improving attitudes would be to get the stewards to ask more questions about horses that perform dismally. Often there are very sensible reasons for underperformance from jockey error to physical issues yet one only hears about these reasons after the horse has bounced back to form next time. The Turf Club website provides these reasons in the post-race reports section of their website but it is all too limited; often you will look at a meeting where only one or two excuses were provided for the whole cohort of horses across a seven-race card. More questions should be asked not only on the day but after the event – often something will come to light in the days that follow – and these responses need to be published in every horse’s form to improve the transparency of the sport.

Prize-money is another important consideration though not at the upper levels. Whether the Irish Champion Stakes is worth €1.25 million or €1 million matters not a jot to the integrity of the race; it is Ireland’s best flat race and everyone wants to win it for the prestige and stallion fees. Race values do matter in the bottom grade and you ideally want a situation where an owner that wins a race, no matter how lowly, will be able to cover training fees for a period of months rather than the winning trip to the races costing them money.

Some will say that such efforts are pointless as you are never going to change people’s views towards a sport because they are too deeply entrenched. While I tend to agree with this in relation to the general public and acknowledge that some will be attracted to racing in the hope of getting the inside scoop on a horse, such complacency can be dangerous. The popularity of sports wane and flow and what obsessed people 20 years ago can now be an irrelevance. Competition for the betting pound and euro is stiff and it is getting stiffer with bookmakers often not helping racing to even maintain its position and the arrival of events such as e-sports as well as ever more markets doesn’t make things easy for racing. How a sport looks from the outside, especially to those a little closer to the centre, will continue to matter.

- Tony Keenan

Irish View: Half Term Report

The Irish Derby marks a rough halfway point in the turf season so now is a good time to take the temperature of what has unfolded thus far, writes Tony Keenan. Rather than simply go through 2017 on an event-by-event basis, I’m going to look at the top six trainers in Ireland presently and belatedly refer to an article I wrote on seasonal trainers back in May to put some data on the narrative and attempt to project forward into the rest of the campaign.

In that original piece – linked here – I looked at the 6,538 flat races run between 2010 and 2016 and divided the season in quarters: Spring (March and April), Early Summer (May and June), High Summer (July and August) and Autumn (September, October and the odd race in the November). I then went into which trainers did well in which part of the season. These numbers are reproduced below for the current top six trainers along with a brief look at the overall pattern of their typical season before considering what this might mean for 2017.

Before that however are the current standings in the trainers’ championship as of July 3rd:

 

Overall Table

Trainer Wins Runs Strikerate Prizemoney
A. O’Brien 47 233 20.2% €2,857,438
J. Bolger 34 255 13.3% €832,165
G. Lyons 27 163 16.6% €699,253
J. Harrington 23 136 16.9% €485,273
D. Weld 18 152 11.8% €349,160
W. McCreery 17 123 13.8% €342,648

 

In some ways the table is quite similar to the one that we saw at the end of 2016, in others it is very different. Aidan O’Brien was/is on top in both but the 2016 runner-up Dermot Weld – having had €2,886,538 in total prize last year, much of it Harzand-generated – is languishing in fifth. Bolger and Lyons are knocking around the same spots as last year albeit with better strikerates as is Willie McCreery. Jessica Harrington has taken things up a level or three though, her 23 winners this season already ahead of the 21 she had last year.

 

Aidan O’Brien

Timeframe Overall Spring Early Summer High Summer Autumn
2010 – 2016 21.0% 21.0% 22.2% 22.9% 17.6%
2017 20.2% 19.2% 19.9% ? ?

 

The Pattern: O’Brien wins races, and lots of them, at every stage of the year. His strikerate drops in the Autumn but the same applies to almost all yards; field sizes tend to be bigger as trainers attempt to get runs into their horses before season end.

 

Aidan O’Brien keeps winning and the world keeps turning. Despite seven winners over the Irish Derby meeting including the main event, it was a disappointing weekend for Ballydoyle with news of injuries to Wings Of Eagles, Minding and Somehow, the last name fatally. Indeed, the whole plan of keeping older fillies in training has turned out badly in 2017; not only is Minding’s racing career in doubt but neither Seventh Heaven nor Alice Springs, Group 1 winners at three, have been seen lately and nor is there any sign of them returning.

Yet 2017 has still been an excellent campaign up to this point. Churchill excepted, Royal Ascot was a triumph and one that looks even better when placed alongside the broad failure of other Irish flat trainers to have winners or even runners at the meeting. Caravaggio, Winter and Highland Reel all won their Group 1s and gave notice that they will be doing more of the same through the summer though the pack may need to be shuffled a little regarding future targets, Winter one that could be going up in trip in the absence of Minding.

O’Brien even managed to get a good winner out of the morass of last year’s Derby with Idaho in the Hardwicke though extracting the same from US Army Ranger has proved beyond even him. The early two-year-old returns with the fillies have been good – September stands out here while Clemmie was good over the weekend – but the colts have been a little flat thus far with Murillo about the pick. Gustav Klimt, Amedeo Modigliani and others yet unraced may have more to add here though.

 

Jim Bolger

Timeframe Overall Spring Early Summer High Summer Autumn
2010 – 2016 12.1% 12.7% 12.8% 14.0% 8.9%
2017 13.3% 10.6% 15.3% ? ?

 

The Pattern: Bolger gets his horses fit and runs them often so it is no surprise that his strikerate drops off at the end of the year; his peak time is High Summer before a trough in the Autumn.

 

Relatively speaking, 2017 started slowly for Jim Bolger, his 2017 Spring strikerate of 10.6% below his seven-season average of 12.7%. Things have changed and changed utterly in the last two months, to such a degree that he is operating at a healthy 13.3% return for the season. As ever, it is the robust nature of his horses that are carrying him; already in 2017 he has had ten horses win twice with the likes of Club Wexford, Clongowes, New Direction and Pirolo among those that are taking their racing well. That said, horses don’t have much choice in Coolcullen!

Turret Rocks and Glamorous Approach are decent standard bearers among the older horses but the real hope for Bolger is with his juveniles and it is a crop that should help cement his position in second place for 2017. His five two-year-old winners have him joint-third in terms of juvenile winners behind O’Brien and Harrington and none is more exciting than Railway Stakes second, Verbal Dexterity who coped surprisingly well with the drop back to six furlongs over the weekend and is sure to be much better over a trip.

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Ger Lyons

Timeframe Overall Spring Early Summer High Summer Autumn
2010 – 2016 14.9% 11.8% 15.9% 16.1% 13.2%
2017 16.6% 23.9% 13.2% ? ?

 

The Pattern: Lyons tends to train his horses to improve for a run in the Spring before operating at a consistent level for the rest of the year; in some ways, he is the metronome of Irish racing, his strikerates at different race distances backing this up.

 

The early part of 2017 was anything but typical for Lyons when placed alongside his records back to 2010. Unlike in previous years, he hit the ground running this time with a double on opening day at Naas including a win in the Lincoln. His strikerate through this Spring was more than double what it had been across the previous Springs. This may however have come at a cost as his Early Summer returns have been down on previous years.

It is possible Royal Ascot played a part in this. Lyons had a right good go at the meeting, running five of his better horses, but all bar Treasuring in the Queen Mary underwhelmed. That said, his two winners over Derby weekend were bettered only by Aidan O’Brien and were more than Weld, Bolger or Harrington; Joe Murphy was the other trainer to have more than one winner across the three days.

The problem with Lyons progressing to the next level – and by the next level I mean consistently competing in Group 1s – is that his operation as currently constituted remains a selling yard. The type of horse he buys at the sales have an ability cap when placed alongside the blue bloods and there is always the chance that a good prospect will be sold on to jurisdictions like Hong Kong as was the case with Doctor Geoff earlier in the season.

 

Jessica Harrington

Timeframe Overall Spring Early Summer High Summer Autumn
2010 – 2016 10.6% 14.0% 10.9% 11.8% 7.6%
2017 16.9% 29.4% 13.1% ? ?

 

The Pattern: As one might expect with a national hunt trainer aiming horses at spring festivals like Cheltenham and Punchestown, Harrington tends to have her horses ready early on; her historic strikerate is never better than in Spring. Those numbers tend to tail off as the year goes on with a massive drop in Autumn.

 

That Jessica Harrington would have a big 2017 flat campaign was hardly surprising; her horses were flying at the backend of the jumps season proper with a new gallop seemingly playing a big part in her improvement. Even so, the scale of her returns in the early part of this season have been hard to grasp, a strikerate of 29.4% much the best among any yard with a meaningful number of runners. As things stand, she has had 23 winners in Ireland this year and it looks like a formality that her previous best of 28 in 2011 will be left behind.

The two-year-olds have been the real flagbearers and as referenced already she is second to O’Brien in juvenile winners trained. Both her Royal Ascot favourites, Brother Bear and Alpha Centauri, were beaten but there were strong positives to be drawn from both; Brother Bear looked to find the ground too fast when hanging in the finish of the Coventry while Alpha Centauri is one for further judged on her run in the Albany. The National and Moyglare remain on the cards for both.

 

Dermot Weld

Timeframe Overall Spring Early Summer High Summer Autumn
2010 – 2016 17.6% 21.5% 17.4% 18.4% 15.2%
2017 11.8% 14.6% 9.7% ? ?

 

The Pattern: Weld starts hot in Spring, very hot in fact, and then peaks again in High Summer; Galway of course is central to this July/August period. Autumn traditionally sees a dropping-off but not a seismic one by any means.

 

Unlike in previous years, Weld started cold in 2017 and it has stayed that way; his Spring strikerate was below his previous averages but it could be argued that his Early Summer numbers are even worse. Derby Weekend did not go well; Three Kingdoms offered some relief, as much as a 33/1 winner of a handicap can, but he went into Sunday’s card with a number of well-fancied runners and the best any of them could manage was fourth, both Zhukova and The Grey Gatsby filling that spot.

Zhukova is his best horse at the moment but she has clear limitations both in terms of ground and ability; it looks as if she was extremely well-placed to win a Group 1 at Belmont Park, a point made by her rider Pat Smullen since, and the trainer’s subsequent view that she might contend for an Arc were more fantastical that fanciful. It’s worth remembering that her single best piece of form might be beating US Army Ranger, a greatly devalued stock now.

It is hard to see a way back for Weld this year looking at his strikerates in previous years; it would be going against the grain to believe he can resuscitate his season and that could have a massive influence on the dynamics, market and otherwise, of Galway. The reasons for the down year here seem clear; his horses were sick earlier in the year and he simply doesn’t have the quality in 2017 which is something that can happen to any yard away from Ballydoyle. Eziyra and Making Light seem about his best three-year-olds and both have clear ceilings around Group 3 level.

One interesting knock-on effect in all this has been an opening up of the jockeys’ championship. Paddy Power rated this such a foregone conclusion at the start of the season that they had a market without Pat Smullen and who could blame them based on previous events. But every season takes on its own story and Smullen is only fifth in that table now with just seven winners separating the top six of Manning, Keane, Lee, Hayes, Smullen and Foley. Interesting times indeed and quite a few of those riders will be dreaming of winning a first title.

 

Willie McCreery

Timeframe Overall Spring Early Summer High Summer Autumn
2010 – 2016 10.2% 9.0% 9.8% 11.4% 9.7%
2017 13.8% 9.3% 16.7% ? ?

 

The Pattern: Broad consistency has been the story with McCreery, his strikerates operating within similar parameters throughout the year.

 

McCreery got the full treatment from me last year so I won’t add much more now beyond to say that he has continued to improve and does well making his living around the periphery of the top trainers in good handicaps, lesser pattern events and conditions races. His overall strikerate has been better in 2017 than ever before and he benefits from having Billy Lee as his stable jockey; Lee is the most improved jockey around in the last three or four years and a major asset to any yard.

 

- Tony Keenan

Irish View: the Curragh Letting Racing Fans Down

A glance at the Curragh’s website reveals that the track does a good line in marketing-speak, with phrases like ‘home of world class horse racing’, ‘on hallowed ground’ and ‘where champions are made’ popping from the page, writes Tony Keenan. And, strictly speaking, those slogans are correct; the racing out on the course remains excellent with the recent Guineas weekend another example as both Newmarket winners Churchill and Winter backed up their wins in the first classics of the season. Perhaps the more egalitarian in us could crab the competitiveness at the very top-end with the Coolmore-Ballydoyle axis dominating but that is essentially a minor quibble.

Exclusivity has long been a part of the Curragh, both on the track and off it, and in itself that is not necessarily a bad thing; such an approach is the USP of Royal Ascot and it clearly works there. Irish racegoers – and Irish people in general – however are less inclined towards such attitudes even with the economy in bounce-back mode and if you are going to offer an exclusive product, you damn well want to make sure the customer is getting something special. This patently isn’t the case with the Curragh at the moment and hasn’t been for years.

A quick synopsis of the current state of play: due to rebuilding works, the Curragh continues to race in 2017 and 2018 with temporary facilities in place and a maximum capacity of 6,000 which includes the typical 1,000 bodies on track in a professional capacity like jockeys, stewards, catering staff and so on. Of the four days’ racing so far at the track in 2017, I’ve been there twice and it’s been dry on both occasions so my perspective isn’t tarnished by bad weather; in its current state, it would be a very unpleasant place to watch racing if there is rain. The configuration of the facilities is very tight with a small stand that is close to the racing surface but with no elevation which makes viewing difficult. This has not been helped by an altering of camera angles, likely due to positions in some of the formerly permanent structures being removed, which make it hard to see what is going on at a track where the layout doesn’t make viewing easy to start with. All in all, it’s a pretty poor customer experience.

Not that you’d know that from the comments of decision makers in Irish racing. CEO of the Curragh Racecourse Limited, Derek McGrath, has asked racegoers to come out and support the track at this time but racegoers could rightly ask what the course is doing for them. McGrath at least has the excuse of not being part of the previous regime at the Curragh, but the place has been badly-run for years. I’ve been there when they’ve run out of food in the restaurant, when there is barely a member of staff working the bar, even when a portion of the roof fell in due to a leak in the stands. Only so much of this can be put down to having outdated facilities.

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HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh has talked about the Curragh racing on as ‘short term pain’ but more than that it is unnecessary pain as there is a ready-made solution 55 kilometres up the N7 and around the M50 at Leopardstown. One of his main justifications for the track remaining open in this period was the integrity of the programme; the Curragh had races that simply couldn’t be run elsewhere, least of all Leopardstown with its turning sprint track. This just rings hollow. 2017 has seen more fiddling with the Irish programme book than in any season in my memory with races that were run at one track being moved all over the place and event distances being altered. Leopardstown is a track that successfully hosts what is unequivocally the best race of the Irish flat season every year in the Irish Champion Stakes and the idea that the Curragh’s straight track is somehow fairer is a fallacy; the course has produced many unlucky losers over the years.

It’s worth considering the overall attendance figures at the Curragh in recent years too. Despite having the best flat racing in the country, the course ranked only seventh in average attendance last year behind Galway, Listowel, Punchestown, Leopardstown, Kilbeggan and Limerick. You can make every excuse for this – the weather, clashes with other sporting events like GAA and mid-summer soccer tournaments, the Irish preference for national hunt over flat – but ultimately these are excuses. There remains an appetite for a day at the races with Irish people, and not just a day of racing and drinking, and the Curragh has many advantages too: it has top-quality racing which can hardly be a negative, it gets to race during the summer and a lot of their meetings are on a Sunday, the traditional day of race-going in Ireland. With its open aspect, bad weather can seem to be magnified at the Curragh but its effect on attendances at the track is overstated; conditions contrasted hugely over the two days of Guineas weekend this year with Saturday a washout and Sunday balmy by comparison but the difference in turnout was minimal with 2,500 the first day and 2,800 the second.

I could be accused of covering this story all too late but it’s worth remembering that news of the 6,000 attendance cap was released in February and it is only now that we have been able to see the facilities in action after four meetings. There has been plenty of comment to the effect that people need to tolerate it now but while the ‘just put up with it’ attitude can serve you well in life, it’s also the kind of thinking that prevents change for the better from happening. Of course, the 6,000 person limit is only likely to be broken twice in the year at the Curragh – on Irish Derby day and on the second day of Irish Champions Weekend, cards that attracted crowds of 18,244 and 9,255 respectively in 2016. But that’s still over 15,000 people who attended last year that can’t come this year and that’s the sort of thing that engenders plenty of bad will; those customers will surely find something else to do instead. Again, Leopardstown could provide the solution having comfortably had crowds in excess of 17,000 at the second day of their Christmas Festival the last two years and in cold weather too.

All of this makes me angry, perhaps irrationally so, and it is only a racecourse after all. Regardless of temporary facilities, I’m still going to attend the Curragh this year and next – though probably not when it rains – as I enjoy live sport and none more than racing. I also look forward to the new Curragh in 2019 where you will likely be able to kick football through the halls on quieter days but that has its benefits too. This two-year interlude does the course no favours however and reflects an attitude that the racegoer doesn’t really matter to them.

- Tony Keenan

Irish Angle: A Trainer for Every Season

The vagaries of trainer form, those often-elusive shifts in the wellbeing of a yard’s horses, have never done anything for me as a punting angle, on Irish racing at least. With a limited programme book relative to the UK, the sample sizes are just too small be to be meaningful and fleeting veins of form seem to be constantly beyond a bettor’s grasp; it is only with hindsight that we can recognise a good or bad period. What looks like a pattern is often just noise and certainly the perception of a trainer going badly would not put me off a bet.

But what if we could broaden the sample a little and try to predict when a stable will go in or out of form? Discussions of trainer form tend to be limited to what the trainer is doing in the current moment or the weeks previous but what if we look back at how they did at the same time of the season in the previous years? At least this way we have a much greater number of races to evaluate and we can see if form at different parts of the calendar is repeatable from season to season.

For the purposes of this article, I used the excellent HorseRaceBase database [though this research can now be done using Geegeez' own Query Tool (£) - Ed.] to look at Irish flat races run with the traditional flat season from 2010 to 2016, a total of 6,538 races. I divided the season into four sections: Spring (March and April), Early Summer (May and June), High Summer (July and August) and Autumn (September, October and the odd race in the November). Not all seasons are equal however as the distribution of races far from even:

 

Stage of Season Number of Races Percentage of Races
Spring 804 12.3%
Early Summer 1,951 29.8%
High Summer 2,179 33.3%
Autumn 1,604 24.6%

 

I’m going to present the top ten trainers from each point of the season with all the usual measures with overall strikerate used as the key figure before going deeper on a trainer or two that could be worth following within that period.

 

Spring

Trainer Wins Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
D. Weld 88 21.4% -56.82 0.96
A. O’Brien 91 20.9% -74.77 0.83
F. Stack 38 20.4% -7.06 1.11
J. Oxx 27 17.3% -12.59 0.90
J. Harrington 21 14.0% -8.66 1.10
K. Prendergast 29 12.9% -72.19 0.83
J. Bolger 66 12.7% -75.93 0.85
P. Deegan 28 12.6% +67.96 0.98
G. Lyons 28 11.8% +10.16 0.92
K. Condon 14 10.3% -19.67 1.07

 

The early months of the flat season present an interesting challenge for trainers and there are pros and cons to having their horses ready from the start. Some of your opposition will be playing the long game and aiming to peak their horses later on in the year and if you can try to acquire soft ground types there are some relatively uncompetitive races out there. However, there simply aren’t very many of those races, March and April making up just 12.3% of the overall total, and even if you train a big winner you will be in competition with national hunt racing for column inches. A hot start in the first two months might feel great at the time but there is an opportunity cost here; it could be a long, lean summer if a trainer goes for everything early as their horses become badly handicapped and/or suffer a loss of form.

Two trainers that have long proved willing to pay that cost are Fozzy Stack and Paul Deegan. Obviously Stack has only recently taking out the licence in his own right but by all accounts things are basically as was in his Golden yard from when his father held the license. He wasn’t hanging about again in 2017 with seven winners in the first two months of the season and that’s something that has been a long-standing pattern with this operation; taking the season in four stages listed above, strikerate goes from 20.4% in spring to 15.9% and 16.1% in the two summer phases before dropping to 10% in autumn.

Paul Deegan’s horses are never better than early in the season, his average strikerate of 8.3% rising to 12.6% in the March and April period. The summer stages are rough on him though with May/June returns of 6.7% and 5.2% in July/August before a rebound of sorts at the backend with his autumn strikerate back up to 10% flat. Perhaps his horses take time to overcome their early exertions or it could be a case that the ground is most suitable at the start and finish of the season.

 

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Early Summer

Trainer Wins Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
A. O’Brien 215 22.2% -122.81 0.89
D. Weld 143 17.4% -192.88 0.87
J. Oxx 68 16.9% -119.95 0.80
G. Lyons 106 15.9% -22.34 0.99
C. O’Brien 27 12.9% -6.11 1.07
J. Bolger 123 12.8% -161.62 0.86
F. Stack 36 11.7% -78.21 0.77
K. Prendergast 54 11.2% -175.69 0.73
E. Lynam 39 11.1% -96.87 0.88
J. Harrington 49 10.9% -154.00 0.81

 

Summer races, be they in the early or late high season, are by definition easier to win as they simply attract smaller field sizes; the average strikerates for all horses in this period is typically around 9% whereas that number drops towards the end of the campaign as trainers rush to run their horses before the turf seasons dwindles to nothing.

One trainer to make the most of these opportunities is Charles O’Brien and it was a surprise to see him rank fifth overall in strikerate at this time of the year as his general rates of return are mediocre; this is a trainer who has had just one Group race winner since 2011. But come May and June his horses appear to find form and it isn’t just the result of one or two fluky good years; in the past seven seasons, he has managed an actual over expected of 1.0 or greater five times. Though without a winner thus far in 2017, he could be about to hit form.

 

High Summer 

Trainer Wins Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
A. O’Brien 247 22.9% -235.56 0.91
W. Mullins 29 21.3% -30.60 0.87
D. Weld 165 18.4% -255.95 0.86
A. Slattery 22 17.9% +26.33 1.60
J. Oxx 72 17.2% -91.68 0.81
G. Lyons 96 16.1% -113.91 0.94
J. Bolger 121 14.0% -202.06 0.87
E. Lynam 54 13.7% +37.87 0.95
J. Murtagh 30 13.6% -23.59 0.90
D. Hogan 19 13.6% -3.22 1.09

 

Rightly or wrongly, high summer in Irish racing means one thing: Galway. It is thus no surprise to see trainers that do well at this meeting, like Willie Mullins and Denis Hogan, in the overall top ten for this time of year. The racing at Galway is very competitive with races there frequently over-subscribed but if you have your string in good order aiming at that meeting then the knock-on effect is that they will win at the many other fixtures that are on around this time.

Mullins is a high strikerate trainer by any definition of the term as we saw this past national hunt season when he retained his title despite having appreciably fewer runners than Gordon Elliott. Of his 29 winners in the period covered, seven of those came at Galway where he was top trainer last year, finally ending the reign of Dermot Weld. And remember, this doesn’t include his winners under national hunt rules! Hogan, incidentally, trained five Galway winners from his total of 19.

Andy Slattery is another trainer that does well at this period of the season but while he did have two winners at Galway in 2016 it seems more a by-product of his star horses peaking at this stage of year. Ucanchoose won six times in the months of July and August while An Saighduir won five times; both of those appear on the downgrade now but Creggs Pipes (three wins) and Sors (two wins) might fill the breach. It needs pointing out that Slattery seems to be suffering a hangover (or natural regression if you prefer) from last year’s excellent campaign and is without a winner in 2017.

 

Autumn

Trainer Wins Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
A. O’Brien 191 17.8% -307.69 0.88
D. Weld 125 15.2% -185.97 0.85
G. Lyons 68 11.7% +11.69 1.00
M. Halford 81 10.7% -196.25 0.89
J. Oxx 40 10.4% -163.00 0.69
K. Condon 26 10.4% -52.93 0.91
E. Lynam 40 10.3% -128.76 0.85
P. Deegan 34 10.2% -42.47 0.97
F. Stack 23 10.0% -60.92 0.83
W. McCreery 38 9.7% -48.62 0.90

 

Almost every trainer sees their strikerate drop off at the end of the season for one simple reason; races are harder to win as the field sizes balloon. As mentioned above, Deegan is someone who sees a bounce-back while the Stack’s 10% return at this time may not be as bad as it seems; the point of comparison here probably shouldn’t be his earlier numbers but those of other trainers around him.

The reason for races being more competitive at this time of year is clear and can be seen best by placing the national hunt and flat seasons alongside one another. When the jumps season concludes, jumps racing just carries on; after Punchestown, there’s another meeting two days later and there are plenty of classy races through the summer at tracks like Killarney and Galway. When the flat stops, it stops and trainers are left with the sole option of the all-weather; to Dundalk or a winter break, you might say.

Readers may have noticed I have avoided referring to the major yards throughout this article; it was intentional as I want to return to those bigger yards next time where I will also look at what if anything all this might mean in the current campaign.

- Tony Keenan

Tony Keenan: Three Hot Takes

I appreciate these are much more cold cuts than hot takes but I’ve been away for a while and there has been plenty going on in Irish racing, on and off the track, that is worthy of comment, writes Tony Keenan.

 

Drugs in Racing?

Back on April 2nd, John Mooney of The Times reported on a case involving vet Tim Brennan who had been found to have some unauthorised animal medication in his possession during a routine inspection by an investigations unit of the Department of Agriculture and the Turf Club at the yard of Willie Mullins.

Mooney, and basically everyone else who has reported on the story since, was at pains to point out that Mullins is in no way implicated in this. Much of what I have read since suggests this is the case and it could be nothing more than some over-zealous animal product legislation by our authorities. But still: here we have a vet who at the very least is willing to bend the rules and also has some relationship with Ireland’s Champion Trainer. I don’t think you have to be a conspiracy theorist – and racing has plenty of those, you need only visit your local betting office – to feel a more thorough explanation is needed.

People are very sceptical of sport in the modern era and with good reason. The curtain has been pulled back on many seemingly immense achievements in areas like track and field and cycling but in these sports it often obvious that athletes are pushing the boundaries of credibility; there is only so fast a human can run ten kilometres in, only so quick they can cycle up Mont Ventoux.

Seemingly impossible performances are much less obvious in racing. Track records aren’t really a thing and few would have any awareness of them aside from the most obvious examples like the Grand National. These records are often not held by the best horses, but rather those that encountered the ideal circumstances of pace, ground and perhaps wind assistance. Then there’s the obvious point that you are dealing with animals and not humans which adds further complicating factors: a horse cannot tell you it feels like pushing it harder in this session or could do with a rest, try as horsemen might to ascertain this.

Were the Brennan case to present itself in another sport, especially one where the public are already sceptical, I suspect there would be an attitude, rightly or wrongly, of guilt by association. This seems not to have been the case with Mullins and Brennan and I’m unsure whether this reflects well or badly on racing. The responsibility should fall to those involved – allowing that the case is ongoing – to offer some sort of explanation as to what unfolded; to says ‘everything is fine here, nothing to see, move along’ is not enough and while those sentiments may be true we’d all like to know why. Racing should seek to answer these questions as the last thing you want is a sport tarnished with drug innuendo when you’ve got enough effort issues already.

 

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Rule 212

For the first time in my memory – perhaps ever – Irish racing has put the punter in a position of prominence with the Turf Club’s new non-trier directive, Rule 212. The wording of this ruling mentions the appearance of rides to ‘a reasonable and informed member of the racing public’, the fictive man in the stands if you like, allowing that now that man is more likely to be sitting at home watching on AtTheRaces with the facility to pause and rewind any race he wishes. That in itself is an important point as the ability to rewatch a race does allow for the development of more informed opinions.

As a punter, I find it hard to be against this rule in any way; it would be akin to turkeys voting for Christmas. All the stuff about the importance of punters and how they fund racing apply here but in Ireland it is a little more complicated than that as racing’s finances are greatly assisted by a healthy government subsidy each year provided by the taxpayer. If anything, this should make the authorities stricter in their desire to have a well-policed sport; it should not be set up for a coterie of elites but rather for the good of the general public who want a straight game.

And yet I did struggle with this new rule upon first introduction because I have been conditioned by watching Irish racing over the years and come to tolerate what are known as educational rides. I initially felt the rule change was over-zealous but, having thought about it further, it has to be better than the alternative when the stewards are basically turning a blind eye to horses not trying to achieve their best finishing position providing they were early in their career. It seems as if jockeys and trainers are getting it too judging by some of the comments made by the likes of Robbie Power and Johnny Murtagh since the rule has been brought in.

Horsemen will argue that forceful rides early in a horse’s career could set it back and prevent it from fulfilling its potential. I’m sceptical about this for a few reasons. Firstly, no sensible punter – the people who the rule apparently caters for – is demanding that a horse be beaten up on debut; they should however be given a ride where the intention is to win if this is possible. The idea that horses come to the track clueless as to what is expected there isn’t acceptable; trainers can and should be able to educate them at home to a certain standard and show it what racing is about. In any case, if a horse’s future is going to be so utterly compromised by a vigorous ride I would question if it was ever going to amount to much. If a horseman can explain why this might be the case I would appreciate it but my inclination is to doubt it and view such arguments as excuses.

 

Gigginstown and the Irish National

This is nowhere near as important as the issues dealt with above but I have to admit to finding the Irish National with its 13 Gigginstown-owned runners a pretty unedifying spectacle, allowing that there is basically nothing that can be done about it and any capping of the number of runners an owner can have would be anti-competitive. Perhaps it’s just my desire for sportsmanship rather than gamesmanship that would have preferred to see a greater spread of runners and I suspect Michael O’Leary took a certain joy in running all his horses if only to cock a snook at some racing people. The owner has made a billion euro business out of not doing what he was told and has to be the least "racing" person ever in the sense that he doesn’t abide by the traditions and expected norms of the sport.

But O’Leary is not deaf to welfare concerns – he seemingly blamed the allotted weight for the death of his Hear The Echo in the 2009 Grand National – and there might be some questions to answer on that front. He declared a few horses patently unsuitable for the race in the likes of The Game Changer (a horse who had failed to last out the Grand Annual trip on his previous start) but more worrying than that was the decision to run all five of his Aintree National horses again at Fairyhouse nine days later. He wasn’t the only one to do this – Henry De Bromhead ran Stellar Notion in both races – but it all seemed a bit one-size-fits-all, something passengers on O’Leary’s airline will be well used to!

The Grand National at Aintree is routinely described as one of the toughest races of the season and while modifications to the conditions have made it easier, it is still beyond four miles and not every horse will recover from that in little over a week. Only one of the Gigginstown horses completed the Aintree course but both Rogue Angel and Wounded Warrior went deep into the race and all five had to travel across the Irish Sea and back.

All of this does have a punting application, one I wish I had spotted beforehand. The multiple Gigginstown runners weakened the race considerably as quite a few had little form chance at least judged by the market; when I looked at the betting the day before, 10 of their runners were in the back 12 of the betting with only 2 in the front 12. Granted normal luck-in-running, not always a given in a National, this considerably improved the chances of the other runners as the race had artificial rather than real depth to it. The front end of the betting was quite solid – the favourite won with a pair of fancied runners chasing him home – and it is something that we should be looking out for in the future.

- Tony Keenan

Reviewing the Festival: 5 Things

2017 was a weird Festival, writes Tony Keenan. It began with Gordon Elliott winning novice races with Labaik and Tiger Roll, the former one refusal away from a lengthy ban on his previous start, the latter landing a National Hunt Chase run over nearly twice as far as his previous major win in the Triumph Hurdle. It ended with Paul Nicholls seemingly ecstatic at breaking his duck for the week in the Foxhunter with Pacha Du Polder, a far cry from his previous multiple Grade 1-winning Festivals. In between we had Willie Mullins draw a blank on Tuesday and Wednesday, his yard apparently out of form and his gallops all wrong, only for him to storm back with six winners across the final two days.

There are always things to be learned from these major meetings and while it’s important not to overreact to the evidence of just four days, there were certainly a few takeaways.

 

  1. Relative Sanity in the Betting Markets

By the standards of recent Cheltenhams, the offer culture among the big bookmakers wasn’t as prevalent; there was nothing close to the each-way five places offered by William Hill back in the 2013 Supreme. There were extra places on offer in obvious races like the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final and County Hurdle but not so much in the shoulder races; judging on the Pricewise tables from the Racing Post, there were just two firms that offered extended place terms in the Foxhunter as opposed to six in 2016.

The extra place concession is fine as a once-off – Coral going six places in the Coral Cup, say – but in the main it’s a losing proposition for bookmakers, where they are putting the maths in favour of the punter and conceding that they are willing to lose money in the race, all things being equal.

There were also reduced terms in the graded races from a long way out: where once these races were all a quarter the odds a place, now the universal terms seem to be a fifth. That’s clearly a negative for punters looking to bet each-way and find a solid horse to hit the frame and while there were a number of races during the week that set up well as ‘bad each-way’ events like the Arkle, Champion Chase and JLT, they would have been all the more appealing if it were a quarter the odds a place. Furthermore, there didn’t seem to be the wild push to be a standout top price everything on the odds comparison sites that there had been previously. The likes of Native River and Cue Card may have drifted on the morning of the Gold Cup to their biggest price in a few weeks, but that was more due to support for Djakadam than their weakness, and nor did price pushes on the Supreme favourites Ballyandy and Melon come to pass.

It’s difficult to say what the reasons for this might be. Last year’s results when one favourite after another went in clearly played their part; the firms didn’t get away with overly-generous offers then and may have learned from it. On the whole, this is good for racing as it is hardly ideal that the sport’s banner meeting be used as a loss leader for other betting products; the firms would be unlikely to do the same for a major football tournament. Hopefully such a sensible approach will continue next year.

 

  1. Competitive Irish Scene leads to Green-wash?

Michael O’Leary talked a whole lot of rubbish in the run-up to Cheltenham and it continued last week with his comments about the Irish/English rivalry and his dismissal of Martin Pipe winner Champagne Classic as ‘probably the worst horse I have.’ It seems he is just as successful at winding racing people up as he is with government ministers! Those at the top of Irish racing might want to drop him a little thank you card for his contribution to the record week for Irish trainers at the meeting however as his decision to move his horses from Willie Mullins (along with some rotten injury luck for that trainer) could well have played a part in Irish trainers doing so well.

It’s been the most competitive Irish national hunt season since the Mullins hegemony began but while the betting beforehand suggested Ireland would struggle at the meeting – Ireland were priced up at a general 7/2 for the BetBright Cup having been more like 7/4 last year – the opposite proved to be case. Gordon Elliott basically continued to do what he’s been doing at home all season while both Henry De Bromhead and Noel Meade backed up excellent home campaigns with Festival winners. Jessica Harrington had been quietly having a good run in Ireland all season but there was nothing quiet about her Festival where she had three winners. There was certainly a sense of what might have been with Willie Mullins however; to manage six winners off the back of the season he’s had was a deeply impressive effort.

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  1. Slipping Standards in Championship Races, Handicaps more Competitive than ever

The rash of injuries among the top jumpers lowered the standard of the championship races and while these races were a spectacle – the Festival always is – it is doubtful that Buveur D’Air, Special Tiara, Nichols Canyon and Sizing John will echo down the halls of history in the same manner of Istabraq, Big Buck’s or Best Mate. I’m biased but Sizing John might prove about the best of those as he’s just a different horse this season, his sole defeat coming to Douvan when conceding fitness to that one on his first run of 2016/17, and I wonder if he might even give a healthy version of that horse something to think about over a strongly-run twenty furlongs now.

The handicaps were a different story entirely, proving ultra-competitive and over-subscribed in a season where races like the Betfair Hurdle and Imperial Cup struggled to attract decent fields. Unsurprisingly, they took plenty of winning with horses like Un Temps Pour Tout (Racing Post Rating of 164 in winning), Supasundae (RPR 155), Presenting Percy (RPR 155) and Arctic Fire (RPR 160) all looking like they could make an impact at Grade 1 level sooner rather than later.

 

  1. Riding their Luck

I wrote about luck, good and bad, in this space prior to the meeting and it’s worth briefly revisiting those figures for trainers over this year’s meeting.

 

Trainer Winners Seconds Places (2nd, 3rd and 4th) Places to Winners Ratio Sub-2.0 Trades
G. Elliott 6 3 7 1.16 0
W. Mullins 6 2 7 1.15 4
N. Henderson 3 6 13 4.33 2
J. Harrington 3 0 0 0.00 0
H. De Bromhead 1 2 4 4.00 0
P. Hobbs 1 1 2 2.00 1
N. Meade 1 0 2 2.00 0
J. O’Neill 0 2 2 0.00 0
H. Fry 0 1 3 0.00 2
A. King 0 0 4 0.00 0

 

Jessica Harrington looks to have benefitted from the perfect storm of things falling right though it would be hard to say that any of Supasundae, Sizing John and Rock The World were anything other than deserving winners and she did have Champion Bumper fancy Someday ruled out on the morning of the race. Her close friend Nicky Henderson was the unlucky one in terms of places to winners ratio, allowing that one of his seconds (Whisper) came in a race he won anyway. The in-running trades point to Harry Fry being a bit unlucky too.

 

  1. Excuse Obvious ‘Excuse Horses’

Plenty of us will have backed a horse that will have run terribly last week [I didn’t back many who didn’t run terribly – Ed.] and in the main Cheltenham is one of those unique tracks where you can probably forgive a bad run. There were a number of horses that stood out as obvious ‘excuse horses’ with bona fide reasons for not being able to run to form and if you liked them going into the meeting, it could be worth sticking with them for the rest of the spring.

That list includes but is not limited to: Ballyandy (troubled trip), Bacardys (badly hampered), Bon Papa (lost his action), Automated (found to be lame), Mister Miyagi (troubled trip), Douvan (injured) Linger (lame), Flying Angel (badly hampered), Potters Legend (jumped like his feet were tied together), Ex Patriot (got loose beforehand), and Constantine Bay (run stopped at a crucial time).

I’m not saying I like all these horses to win in the near-term – in fact I don’t – but they all had very legitimate reasons for not running to their best. I won’t do all the hard work for you however so get reviewing those replays and start trawling through the BHA post-race reports, painful though they may be!

- Tony Keenan

Cheltenham Festival: The Role of Luck

When the Festival concludes next Friday, praise will be variously doled to the talent involved, writes Tony Keenan. Horses, trainers, jockeys, maybe even stable staff, will get credit for their efforts in victory. Much of it will be deserved but the one thing unlikely to be mentioned is luck.

Part of this is simply our thinking biases; humans operate under the illusion of control, overestimating the role we play in outcomes. Another aspect is that luck is hard to quantify in racing; we can all recall specific examples of luck in action, when a horse fell when seemingly going best or failed to get a clear run when travelling strongly or simply a narrow defeat, but gauging trainers who are the victims of variance over time is more difficult. Surely not all of them are equally lucky, especially at the Cheltenham Festival where there are only 28 races, a very small sample size.

Data analysts or sabremetricians have sought to quantify this in other sports, specifically those based in the US. Pythagorean expectation, the formula that estimates how many games a team should have won based on their scoring, have proven a better predictor of future success than past win-loss records in sports in baseball, basketball and American football. These theories have crossed into European soccer too with numbers on shots, shot quality and expected goals now playing a part in some sensible conversations on the sport.

Translating this into racing isn’t easy but it seemed worth a try going back as far as the 2010 Festival.

Rather than taking just one criterion, I decided to use three to see if the same trainers were unlucky across the different metrics. Firstly, the old favourite expected winners -the number of winners a trainer should have had judged on market prices - to see who was lucky and unlucky, overachieving and underachieving. From there, I took the number of seconds and placed runs relative to winners to uncover who was getting close without winning.

Finally, I looked at the in-running markets from Betfair for all the races since 2010 to see how many odds-on in-running trades trainers had, as sometimes the place results may not tell the whole truth, for instance when a horse that looked set to be involved in the finish fell close home. I used 2.0 as my cut-off point as an odds-on trade reflects a view held by someone (rightly or wrongly) that a horse was more likely than not to win a race at a given point.

 

Cheltenham Festival: Trainer Performance Based on Market Expectation

Trainer Actual Wins Expected Wins Difference Actual/Expected
W. Mullins 33 29.5 +3.5 1.12
N. Henderson 21 21.8 -0.8 0.96
P. Nicholls 15 18.0 -3.0 0.83
D. Pipe 11 9.9 +1.1 1.11
JJ. O’Neill 10 6.2 +3.8 1.61
G. Elliott 8 5.3 +2.7 1.51
N. Twiston-Davies 7 5.2 +1.8 1.35
P. Hobbs 7 6.6 +0.4 1.06
C. Tizzard 5 3.3 +1.7 1.51
R. Curtis 4 1.6 +2.4 2.50
T. Martin 4 1.7 +2.3 2.35
D. McCain 4 3.5 +0.5 1.14
A. King 4 6.5 -2.5 0.61
J. Culloty 3 0.3 +2.7 10.00
E. Bolger 3 3.1 -0.1 0.97
H. De Bromhead 3 2.4 +0.6 1.25

 

It seems scarcely credible but these figures suggest the Festival markets still hasn’t totally caught up with Willie Mullins; he is outperforming expectations despite breaking records at the meeting.

Perhaps this year, when the yard has had so much bad luck ahead of the meeting, will finally see his runners overbet. Paul Nicholls could be Mullins of five years in the future; after a period of being top trainer at the meeting (he won it five times between 2004 and 2009), he now has one of the poorer records among the top trainers, with only Alan King having a lower actual/expected figure.

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This is the top group of trainers in terms of winners sent out at the meeting, however, and unsurprisingly most are doing better and/or are luckier than the betting suggests. That could well simply reflect their skill and the quality of their horses but one obvious conclusion is that there must be an awful lot of smaller yards really struggling for a winner who have negative figures.

Gordon Elliott and Jonjo O’Neill are two that stand out in terms of luck though with Elliott it seems likely the market will take full cognisance of the level he is currently operating at; whereas in past seasons, he was slightly under-the-radar, now he is a presumptive Champion Trainer with the favourite or second favourite in seemingly every handicap at the meeting. O’Neill is a different case and his results might be down to how his stable performs through the winter; it seems that every March, his runners come into the Festival under a cloud and the markets have to have them at bigger prices as a result.

Alan King is one of the unluckiest big trainers – a point we’ll return to later – while Jim Culloty is the luckiest and it’s not even close. His actual over expected ratio is off the charts but this looks a case of pure randomness rather than skill; everything else we have seen in his training career thus far says he is not this good and, realistically, no trainer could maintain such figures. Trusting those figures and betting his horses at the Festival would be to fall prey to an extreme form of survivorship bias.

 

Cheltenham Festival: Seconds and Places

Trainer Wins Seconds Difference Places (2nd, 3rd and 4th) Winners to Places Ratio
W. Mullins 33 22 +11 69 2.09
N. Henderson 21 21 0 57 2.71
P. Nicholls 15 19 -4 43 2.87
D. Pipe 11 9 +2 24 2.18
JJ. O’Neill 10 8 +2 15 1.50
G. Elliott 8 7 +1 22 2.75
N. Twiston-Davies 7 6 +1 14 2.00
P. Hobbs 7 2 +5 18 2.58
C. Tizzard 5 2 +3 8 1.60
R. Curtis 4 0 +4 3 0.75
T. Martin 4 1 +3 5 1.25
D. McCain 4 5 -1 8 2.00
A. King 4 6 -2 25 6.25
J. Culloty 3 0 +3 0 0.00
E. Bolger 3 2 +1 5 1.67
H. De Bromhead 3 4 -1 10 3.33
D. Weld 2 3 -1 4 2.oo
M. Morris 1 5 -4 7 7.00
N. Meade 1 2 -1 9 9.00
E. Lavelle 1 3 -2 5 5.00
M. Keighley 0 3 -3 5 0.00
T. George 0 3 -3 8 0.00
N. Williams 0 1 -1 11 0.00

 

In terms of simple winners to seconds difference, Mullins comes off best again. Philip Hobbs is next in with five more winners than runners-up while Rebecca Curtis could well be called "the milk-woman" in that she always delivers with not a single runner-up and only three places to go against her four winners. The unlucky trainers in this regard are Paul Nicholls, Mouse Morris, Martin Keighley and Tom George.

Winners to place ratio is simply places divided by winners; the places here don’t include winners. By my reckoning, a ratio of above 3.00 suggests bad luck while below suggests good luck; there are 3 places available in each race with only one win. Alan King’s misfortune is the one that jumps out here with an amazing 25 places to four winners for a ratio of 6.25 which is more than double what would typically be expected. Both Mouse Morris and Noel Meade have higher ratios but King’s comes from a bigger sample size. Nick Williams, too, has had a lot of horses run well without winning and is still waiting for a first Festival winner.

 

Cheltenham Festival: In-running Trades

Trainer Sub-2.0 Trades Winners Difference
W. Mullins 20 33 +13
N. Henderson 19 21 +2
P. Nicholls 17 15 -2
D. Pipe 11 11 0
G. Elliott 10 8 -2
JJ. O’Neill 6 10 +3
A. King 6 4 -1
N. Twiston-Davies 4 7 +3
E. Bolger 4 3 -1
T. George 4 0 -4
M. Keighley 4 0 -4
N. Williams 3 0 -3
D. McCain 3 4 +1
M. Morris 3 1 -2

 

These in-running histories would surely make for grim reading for many a punter though perhaps not as much as they do for Paul Nicholls; in back-to-back renewals of the Gold Cup in 2010 and 2011 he watched both Kauto Star and Denman trade odds-on in-running before getting beaten. That’s rough.

Nicky Henderson – 2011 Supreme with both Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre – was only other trainer that happened to in the period covered. These Betfair numbers basically back up a lot of what we’ve seen already: Willie Mullins, Jonjo O’Neill and Nigel Twiston-Davies have been lucky; Tom George, Martin Keighley and Nick Williams have not.

So who should we be looking at for some regression, positive or negative, next week?

Overall, Willie Mullins, Rebecca Curtis and Jonjo O’Neill might see their winners drop while Tom George, Martin Keighley, Noel Meade and Alan King could be heading the other way. That of course depends on whether you think they were lucky or good and as they always say, it’s better to be the former than the latter!

- Tony Keenan

Trending Towards Cheltenham

Trends can be a dirty word at this time of year. Cheltenham is peak ten-year-patterns season and believers will be trotting out lines about five-year-olds and the Champion Hurdle as the sample size boys argue back with doubts about the statistical significance of such numbers, writes Tony Keenan. I’d tend towards the latter group more than the former, allowing that these amateur ‘statisticians’ do stumble upon the odd interesting angle.

The patterns I’m interested in here however are more general ones about the Irish national hunt season and given we’ve had 1,154 races run in the 2016/17 campaign (as of Monday February 2oth) that seems a fair sample size. There has been some strange stuff going on this season, at least when compared with the ones that went before, and it is worth considering how these might impact events at Cheltenham in three weeks.

 

Willie Mullins – The Nightmare Season

"Nightmare" might be a little strong when comparing the Mullins campaign to most other yards in the country but that’s not really the point; for years now, the only real comparison for Mullins has been himself. Using those standards, 2016/17 has been disappointing even allowing that the reasons for the disimprovement are mainly obvious: the loss of the Gigginstown horses and a run of injury misfortune that the yard had previously avoided.

No yard can sustain those sorts of losses and hope to compete at or near the same level as previously. This though is not fully reflected in the ante-post markets for the Festival where Mullins is a top price of 8/13 to be the leading trainer at the meeting as well as having the first or second favourite in 13 of the 28 races at present. Cards on the table time: I think this is crazy and punters adopting the Mullins strategy to the meeting – where you find the short-priced Closutton horse and back it – seem destined to lose this year.

Let’s consider the type of horse Mullins tends to win with at the meeting by price, going back as far as the 2010 Festival:

Starting Price Wins Runs Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Actual/Expected
3/1 or shorter 21 34 61.2% 30 88.2% 1.41
10/3 or longer 12 242 5.0% 56 23.1% 0.62

 

That Mullins wins with short-priced horses is up there with "dog bites man" in terms of newsworthiness but the ruthless efficiency with which his bankers run well is striking; only 4 of the 34 horses priced 3/1 or shorter in this period failed to hit the frame. Basically, Mullins wins with the horses the formbook flags up and – in the main – a lot of his bigger priced runners are overbet due to his reputation.

It’s been a broadly similar story on the home front this season too. Of the 147 winners he’s had in 2016/17, only two were returned at 11/2 or bigger. His ability as a target trainer was in full evidence this Christmas when he had 22 winners across the two Irish meetings at Leopardstown and Limerick but again their SP returns were striking; the biggest price was 9/2, the next two were 3/1 and 7/4 with 13 of them sent off at odds-on.

The problem for Mullins going into Cheltenham is he simply doesn’t have that many of this type of horse. There is no Faugheen, Annie Power, Vautour or Min, all of whom would likely have been short prices for their respective targets and his number of sub-3/1 runners is likely to be well down on the eight there have been in each of the past two Festivals. As things stands, Mullins looks to have four such types this year – Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag (if she runs in the Mares), Yorkhill (again, if he runs in the JLT) and Airlie Beach – with the slight possibility that Melon, Un De Sceaux and Carter McKay could shorter further.

The shortage of bankers also has negative knock-on effects for the overall Mullins challenge. There was a time when Mullins could redirect some of his second-tier types into handicaps instead of running them in graded races as he already had a strong fancy for the latter race – an example would be Arctic Fire running in the 2014 County Hurdle when the trainer won the same year’s Supreme with Vautour – but that may not be the case in 2017. Something like Royal Caviar might have gone to the Grand Annual if Min had been fit for the Arkle but he will now likely go to the novice race; the replacement level talent simply isn’t there now.

Perhaps Mullins will surprise us all with another big Festival but the evidence of this season and comparison points with seasons past suggest otherwise. The trainer’s winners line for the meeting is set at 5.5 currently (it was 7.5 in 2016) and while the under is a chalky 4/6, it should win. The 8/13 about him being top trainer is tight too – the top trainer at this year’s meeting could easily win with just four or five winners – while a knock-on effect is Ruby Walsh’s price of 8/11 for top jockey being under the odds, too, as he is unlikely to ride for anyone else at the meeting.

 

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The Henry and Noel Show

Gordon Elliott has understandably garnered the bulk of the attention in this season’s narrative but one shouldn’t forget the rise of Henry de Bromhead and the resurgence of Noel Meade. Both yards have made life difficult for Mullins though their strong campaigns have come in different ways. De Bromhead is having a career season when compared with his 5-year numbers:

 

Henry de Bromhead Last Five Seasons

Season Wins Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E
2016/17 62 355 17.5% -38.41 0.96
2015/16 48 296 16.2% -49.25 0.92
2014/15 49 325 15.1% -68.75 0.88
2013/14 48 315 15.2% -98.77 0.89
2012/13 32 220 14.6% -87.02 0.75

 

The basic winners/runners figures stand out here; with his numbers having levelled off in the three previous seasons, they have sky-rocketed in 2016/17 to such a point that before the end of February he has already left his previous best behind. An improved strikerate shouldn’t be forgotten though and it would have been hard to foresee this at the end of the summer when Alan Potts removed the remainder of his horses from the yard. It is the increased support of Gigginstown that has brought this improvement about: where de Bromhead was a minor part of that operation prior to the current season, he has essentially become their second trainer after Gordon Elliott with a long distance back to the third.

As I write, Gigginstown have supplied 19 winners and 82 runners for de Bromhead but the trainer has certainly played his part too, improving a number of horses that came from other yards. Sub Lieutenant has risen 18lbs in the ratings, Petit Mouchoir 15lbs and Valseur Lido 6lbs while he has also drawn improvement from Roger Brookhouse horses like Champagne West (12lbs), Stellar Notion (12lbs) and Some Plan (hard to judge as has switched from chasing but has won thrice including the Irish Arkle).

It should be pointed out that similar has happened with some of the Potts horses leaving de Bromhead, Viconte Du Noyer looking a different horse for Colin Tizzard and Sizing John developing into a Gold Cup contender for Jessica Harrington. Potts has been a whipping boy for his perceived disloyalty to de Bromhead but it’s hard to argue that the split hasn’t worked out for both of them and looking at these results perhaps the whole trainer loyalty angle is overdone.

Where de Bromhead has thrived with horses he has acquired from other yards, Meade has worked well with what he already had in his stable; he did get some Gigginstown switchers but by and large they have been disappointing.

 

Noel Meade Last Five Seasons

Season Wins Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E
2016/17 48 288 16.7% -59.07 0.92
2015/16 30 220 13.6% -81.54 0.91
2014/15 50 344 14.5% -112.98 0.83
2013/14 45 367 12.3% -143.71 0.73
2012/13 47 344 13.7% -135.68 0.71

 

Meade seems certain to have his best season in the last five and it will likely be his best since 2008/9 when he had 62 winners from 486 runners. Like de Bromhead, he has had a much improved strikerate this season and his big successes – Coral Hurdle winner Ice Cold Soul and Flogas Novice Chase victor Disko – were with Gigginstown horses that were already in the yard. His other class horse has been Snow Falcon and like the aforementioned pair he’s a horse that had suffered injury problems in the past; Meade has been excellent this year in keeping his stock sound which has been an issue in seasons past.

Both trainers will be very hopeful of Festival winners and they could hardly be going into the meeting in better order. Petit Mouchoir is the obvious de Bromhead fancy for the Champion Hurdle having won the two key Irish trials (albeit from the same horses in underwhelming renewals) while Champagne West is an outsider with a chance in the Gold Cup after putting up a big figure in the Thyestes. Meade’s Cheltenham woes have been well-covered at this stage but he has two live chances in the novice chases with Disko and the strong-staying A Genie In Abottle.

 

Handicap Kings

Gordon Elliott has been the story of the Irish handicap scene this winter, his series of wins in valuable chases unparalleled in my memory, and not surprisingly comes in at the top of the table of handicap winners in 2016/17:

 

Trainer Wins Runners Strikerate Level Stakes Places Place SR% A/E
G. Elliott 28 305 9.2% -48.75 86 28.2% 0.75
T. Mullins 14 62 22.6% +27.38 34 54.8% 1.46
J. Hanlon 12 101 11.9% +31.50 32 31.7% 1.21
W. Mullins 11 66 16.7% -17.61 23 34.9% 1.16
C. Byrnes 10 52 19.2% -13.12 18 34.6% 1.09
J. Ryan 9 87 10.3% -30.34 21 42.5% 0.89
E. McNamara 9 41 22.0% +49.50 14 34.2% 2.15

 

It’s difficult to know if this is a positive or negative for Elliott’s chances of having handicap winners at Cheltenham: on one hand his horses are going into the meeting in good form but on the other they could find themselves too high in the weights. Chief BHA handicapper, Phil Smith, has tended not to treat the Elliott runners as well as some of those from other Irish yards but the trainer has still managed four Festival handicap winners since 2011 including two last year. One thing we can be sure of is that he will be mob-handed in these races; already this season in Ireland, he has had 305 handicap runners, with Denis Hogan next in with 117 followed by John Hanlon's 101.

Hanlon, aka, "The Shark", has had a quietly strong season in 2016/17 (which is about the only thing that is quiet about him) but his horses simply don’t have high enough marks to get into the Festival races. Tom Mullins’s runners do, however, and he’s been having a brilliant time across the board in terms of winners, strikerate, places and place strikerate. It’s not as if he doesn’t have some pedigree at Cheltenham either, with two handicap winners from eight runners: Alderwood in both cases as he took the County Hurdle and Grand Annual in successive years.

Mullins’s chief patron is of course one John P McManus, not averse to having a Cheltenham winner, and he looks to have three possible runners in Scoir Mear, Oscar Knight and That’s A Wrap. The last two are particularly interesting, Oscar Knight one that looks well-treated if getting his jumping together while That’s A Wrap is a horse that could thrive in a strongly-run race.

- Tony Keenan

Mullins vs Elliott: More Numbers!

Gordon is threatening Willie's hitherto monopoly

Gordon is threatening Willie's hitherto monopoly

Gordon Elliott was interviewed on AtTheRaces recently and in the midst of his conversation with Gary O’Brien the topic of the possibility of his winning the Irish Trainers Championship came up, writes Tony Keenan. ‘Absolutely no chance’ was his answer, a political response no doubt, and one that plenty of our politicians with their limited understanding of probability would be proud of.

The betting markets say otherwise with Elliott an 11/10 shot and Willie Mullins at 4/6, and the pretender surely knows them - or at least has people around him who can tell him. Taking out the over-round, those odds express the view that Mullins has a 56% chance of retaining his title while Elliott has a 44% of winning a first one.

Let’s consider where the respective trainers are in the current season. As of Tuesday, January 24th, Elliott has €2,857,825 in prize-money while Mullins has €2,543,063. Henry De Bromhead is also having a big season and will shatter his previous highs in prize money and winners but for the moment we are concerned with the big two. It’s worth considering what has been needed to win the title in the last few years and how both Mullins and Elliott have done in those campaigns.

 

Mullins Prize money Season Elliott Prize money
€4,489, 105 2015/16 €2,568,750
€4,225,253 2014/15 €1,546,070
€3,908,059 2013/14 €1,134,160
€2,997,713 2012/13 €1,042,995

 

Elliott has been runner-up in each to the last four seasons though his challenge never got closer than the €1,920,355 he was behind last time; it was hardly a meaningful competition with the result a foregone conclusion. But already he has surpassed his 2015/16 figure which has in turn taken some available prize-money away from Mullins; the lofty €4 million figures Mullins won the in the past two seasons may not now be necessary to claim the prize.

Both trainers have their respective strengths and weaknesses, races they do well in and races they struggle in, though struggle is a relative term when you are talking about this level of domination.

 

Elliott and Mullins by Race Type, 2016/17 Season

Mullins Race Type Elliott
10/60 Handicaps 27/280
26/76 Graded/Listed Races 16/76
50/118 Maidens 50/304
17/44 Bumpers 28/97
22/54 Other 20/98
125/352 Total 141/855

 

The sheer scope of the Elliott operation is what stands out; he has had more than double the number of runners that Mullins has had. What is perhaps more amazing is the number of individual horses he has run, 235 and counting as I write. Even in the midst of the Mullins hegemony in the past five years, he never had more than 195 individual runners in a season (that came in 2013/14) while there is a distinct possibility that Elliott goes over 300 for the campaign, a previously unthinkable figure.

One area where Mullins has been notably quiet this season has been handicaps and while he won two feature races at Galway with Clondaw Warrior and Westerner Lady in the summer, his last handicap winner came on the 17th of October at Roscommon with Dreambaby. It’s not so much a case that Mullins has been doing badly in handicaps – his strikerate of 16.7% is well ahead of Elliott’s 9.6% - but rather that he hasn’t been trying particularly hard.

For instance, he took potentially well-treated novices like Haymount and Bellow Mome out of Sunday’s Leopardstown Chase at the five-day stage, a race which Elliott won with a similar type in A Toi Phil. His method of training – his horses are aimed at winning maidens and going on from there – is hardly conducive to landing handicaps and while he will likely run such horses in handicap company as the season goes on, particularly at Punchestown, there is a chance that the bird will have flown. Elliott, of course, is having an A-plus season in valuable handicap chases, winning the Galway Plate, the Kerry and Munster Nationals, the Troytown, Paddy Power, and Dan Moore along with the Leopardstown Chase.

How Mullins responds to the Elliott challenge will be interesting. Will he adapt, or stick to proven methods? Adapting is not as easy as it seems with many trainers over the years trying and failing to change what they are good at, but then Mullins is not your typical trainer. It’s actually less interesting to consider what Elliott will do as the answer seems simple: he will run his horses out, again and again, as he has done throughout his career.

Certainly when it comes to races at the end of the season, he seems the one that is more likely to engage in pot-hunting, giving a horse an extra run that it otherwise may not have had, though Mullins did do some of that last year when trying to win the UK trainers' championship.

Another area where Mullins has pulled back markedly is with his runners this season in the UK. In fact, Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek was his sole runner. That’s a big shift from the last two seasons as you can see below.

I’ve included both the Mullins and Elliott runners in each campaign from the start of the season through to the end of January. Elliott’s numbers have continued to rise whereas Mullins’s have fallen off a cliff – apparently the owner wanted Vroum Vroum Mag to run at Kempton on December 26th but was overruled – though the former’s may need a little context as he is inclined to have runners at the UK gaff tracks that would struggle to win in Ireland. That said, the likes of Apple’s Jade, Balthazar D’Allier and Ucello Conti ran in the UK before the turn of the year.

 

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Mullins and Elliott – UK Raiders by Season (to end of January)

Mullins Season Elliott
1/1 2016/17 23/128
9/36 2015/16 24/102
3/20 2014/15 29/83

 

This places Cheltenham in a really unusual spot in 2017. It could be a case that a big Cheltenham for one of the pair proves detrimental to their chances of winning at home and it’s rather like the football fan that has to choose between winning a Premier League and a European Cup. Sensible arguments can be made for both though Elliott having won a Gold Cup but not a trainers' championship might be worth considering.

We’ve been told that Mullins has filled all the boxes that were left empty by the Gigginstown departures but he won’t have replaced like with like; the new inmates will have been younger horses that generally don’t compete in the really valuable races as they take time to mature out of bumpers and novice races. The loss of a horse like Vautour would be tough on any yard but where Mullins had reinforcements previously there is not quite the depth among the experienced horses now.

Elliott on the other hand got a number of ‘ready-made’ horses from Mullins (amongst other trainers) and he has done well with Apple’s Jade, Outlander and Don Poli. Also, Elliott was quite shrewd in some of his purchases in the horses-in-training sales. He acquired Mick Jazz (£27,000), Ned Stark (£70,000), Turn Over Sivola (£15,000) and Rightdownthemiddle (£35,000) before the season proper and they’re horses with the sort of lofty marks that get them into the valuable races; they won’t all turn out well but it would hardly be shocking if one landed a big prize this season and that could be the winning and losing of the championship.

Those big prizes will be the key to deciding the prize. As of Tuesday January 24th there is a little over €10 million of prizemoney remaining in the season and the breakdown by race type follows. It’s best to consider the ‘big 25’ as there are 25 such races left that are worth at least €100,000.

They comprise the Irish Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup at Leopardstown, the two Grade 1s at Fairyhouse, all the Grade 1s at Punchestown and seven handicaps, two over hurdles and five over fences. All but one of those handicap chases are over trips of three miles plus with the Irish National the jewel in a crown with a massive prize fund of €500,000. It has been Elliott who has dominated these races all season - though neither has won an Irish National as yet - Bless The Wings going close for Elliott last year.

 

Remaining Prizemoney

Race Type Races Left Prizemoney Percentage
Maiden Hurdles 64 €819,500 8.02%
Conditions Hurdles 20 €358,500 3.51%
Graded Hurdles 29 €2,000,500 19.62%
Handicap Hurdles 71 €1,538,500 15.05%
Beginners Chases 22 €311,000 3.04%
Novice Chases 6 €105,000 1.03%
Graded Novice Chases 12 €773,500 7.57%
Conditions Chases 10 €199,500 1.95%
Graded Chases 12 €975,000 9.54%
Handicap Chases 50 €1,997,000 19.54%
Hunter Chases 14 €189,000 1.85%
Bumpers 53 €948,500 9.28%

 

As this stage, I find making a prediction on the outcome of this race impossible. I’ve vacillated on it all season; when the Gigginstown horses initially left Mullins I thought it was great for Elliott but would hardly signal the end of the Mullins domination. Then there was Elliott’s six-timer on Troytown day which swung things in his favour before Mullins went on the rampage over Christmas.

In January however, he has cooled off again as Elliott has won big handicap chases on back-to-back weekends. Compared with the uncompetitive seasons we’ve had recently, it’s been fascinating viewing and one that could well go down to the last day of Punchestown.

Sit back and enjoy!

- Tony Keenan