Things have cooled off a little for Connor King of late, just one winner in the last ten days, but he’s been one of the stories of the Irish flat season so far, his four-timer at Cork earlier in the month the standout moment. Yet one has to ask is it all too much, too soon?
Thinking of the jockey himself and his long-term development, it is hard to believe that burning through his claim so quickly is ideal, and while the fast-track to the top sounds great in theory – some piss-taking bookmakers have even offered odds on him being Champion Jockey by 2015 – Irish racing is littered with top apprentices that won a ton of races when claiming but failed to make the grade in time.
The reason for this is obvious: there simply isn’t enough work to go around. There are only so many top jobs available with the likes of O’Brien, Bolger and Weld and all have incumbents that are hard to displace for one reason or another and the stable King is based with – David Wachman – is unlikely to offer an opening any time soon with the excellent and relatively young Wayne Lordan in situ and Billy Lee getting his share of rides too.
One has to wonder too at Wachman’s role in the King phenomenon too and question why he hasn’t sought to manage his young talent’s claim a little better by restricting him to fewer outside rides and thereby retaining the allowance more for his own runners. Not only would this have benefitted Wachman – three or five pounds are always helpful in a handicap and maidens– but it could prevent King from being rushed up the ranks.
Certainly this is something one could never see Jim Bolger doing and few would question his record of producing top jockeys; he has restricted Ronan Whelan’s career thus far by preventing him from taking some rides which should prove beneficial in the long run. Bolger may be hard on his horses as I wrote about last week but rarely is he so on his jockeys, giving them plenty of time to develop. Kevin Prendergast is another that tends to bring his young riders along slowly and has a fine resume of success in that sphere.
Of course there are counter-arguments to all this: opportunity should be grasped when it presents itself; King is tall and could struggle to maintain his weight so may not be long for a flat career. That said, surely a claim would be useful over jumps too if that is the way he goes?
The worth or otherwise of the Coventry form has been well-debated in the Twitter-sphere in the past weeks and I’m firmly in the camp that says it was a weak race. The ratings boys have pointed out that the horses to run from the race have bettered their Royal Ascot figures on subsequent starts and that we shouldn’t judge a race simply by the number of winners that emerge from it.
Certainly, they are right on the latter point though not the former, as the improvement shown by the Coventry horses has been minimal, especially when one considers it is the premier 2yo race at that point of the season and should be filled with lightly raced types that thrive through the summer and better their early ratings significantly.
This has palpably not been the case with the first five home in the race – the only meaningful representatives of the form (as the margins of defeat were large) to run since – have lost all of their next starts and ratings punters have perhaps been guilty of over-thinking the whole race, trying to be clever when no great insight was needed.
The fact is that the betting market is overrating the Ascot form as the first five horses have been at odds of 2/5f, 11/4, 9/4f, 11/10f, 1/2f, 7/1, 20/1, 9/4, 8/1 and 92/1. In terms of betting, little else matters and while the ‘winners emerging from the race’ angle is all too simplistic as a rule, this is a line of form that should continue to be opposed.
Perhaps the most interesting entry of the week ahead is Coventry winner War Command in the Group 2 Futurity Stakes at the Curragh on Saturday, a race the Kingmambo colt would have to carry a penalty in. A decision to run him there would be unusual though hardly unprecedented for Aidan O’Brien; he ran Henrythenavigator in the same race after a Phoenix Stakes disappointment in 2007 and that hardly dented his long-term prospects, winning four times at Group 1 level afterwards.
Yet it hardly suggests the world of confidence in War Command from the yard and things could be getting decidedly edgy at Ballydoyle with a host of Group 1 races on the horizon. They have won just one domestic Group 1 this year and just three such races in the UK and the two-year-old picture for colts that looked so rosy going into Royal Ascot is murkier now; War Command and Coach House have disappointed, Stubbs hasn’t run since and Sir John Hawkins has gone the wrong way temperamentally.
The likes of Indian Maharaja, Oklahoma City and Wilshire Boulevard are decent types but look more like Group 2/3 horses at this point and the most exciting Irish juvenile colts appear housed in other yards, Sudirman, Big Time, Exogenesis and latterly and notably Free Eagle.
It appears as if O’Brien will be reliant on some backend types for his classic wins next year and that is hardly the ideal position to be in.