The Irish Outsider – October 23rd 2013
The start of the jumps game proper means stable tour season and I’ve written often on the subject of trainer talk before; basically, one needs to avoid being too credulous when reading what they say as such views tend to be too heavily reflected by the market.
A dose of healthy scepticism is required as the ratio of quality to quantity tends to markedly favour the latter and this is something to bear in the mind given the stock of blandishments – ‘he’s schooled well’, ‘looks stronger after a summer at grass’, ‘going nicely at home’ – that are likely to be arriving think and fast in the coming weeks.
Some trainers are naturally more forthcoming than others while attitudes to hype and understatement can soon be gauged; Champion Trainer Willie Mullins tends towards pessimism while someone like Henry De Bromhead is often quite honest in his appraisals, stating openly whether he thinks a horse has improved or not.
Noel Meade however, who started of the Racing Post’s stable tour series last Tuesday, is perhaps the most interesting of all, blending a strange mix of hype and self-flagellation, self-belief and doubt, all while wearing his heart on his sleeve.
I suspect Noel Meade is a fine man, though that is based on nothing more than his media interviews down the years, hardly the best measure of a person. That said, the fact that he has repeatedly taken the errant Paul Carberry back into the fold, regardless of misdemeanour, when a seemingly steadier, and certainly no less capable, alternative in the shape of Davy Condon is available.
As a trainer though, I don’t particularly rate him; he’s a capable handler with limitations, though many of these are well-known and can be exploited by punters. Many of Meade’s traits as a trainer were evident in his stable tour. He is a garrulous character, open with the media unlike some of his contemporaries, though that leads to a reputation somewhat in advance of his achievements, at least in recent years.
His comments about his horses are peppered with lines about how he misplaced this animal or gave that one an unnecessary extra run. The likes of Ange Balafre and Road To Riches are both mentioned in relation to races they shouldn’t have run in while Meade seems unable to forgive himself for running Pandorama in the 2011 Gold Cup, the fast ground there likely having ruined the career of the top-class mud-lark.
There is a feeling with Meade however that he doesn’t really learn from his mistakes; his nature is to be incautious and run horses when they’re ready, often without a sense of a broader plan. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this in itself, many National Hunt trainers tending too much towards the ‘cotton-wool’ approach, but when he regrets it afterwards the obvious solution seems to be not to do it next time.
Yet he will most likely do it again and even mentions it in the stable tour, saying that Muirhead will have one more run despite disappointing in the Munster National and having had plenty of racing for a veteran.
A high proportion of Meade’s horses also tend to get injured; the likes of Ipsos De Berlais, Ned Buntline, Sword Of Destiny, Monksland and On Your Eoin had sick-notes last term while he talked about having a bad time with the likes of Corbally Ghost and Perfect Smile.
Of course, there is every possibility that roughly the same proportion of horses are being injured in every yard – Meade only seems to have more because he has always had big numbers though perhaps not so much in recent years – and the only difference is that he is being open about how bad the situation really is with his horses.
Meade is also an excitable fellow, prone to hype. He spoke of his strong team of novice hurdlers with particular praise going to Apache Stronghold though if he is the best, or even near the best, he has, it might be time to worry; that horse made quite heavy weather of beating a Willie Mullins novice Clonard Lad at Punchestown last Wednesday who had won just one of his previous six starts and it would be no surprise if Mullins had fifteen better than him at home.
He raved about Ned Buntline as a novice chaser too but that one has plenty to prove coming back off an injury and while Mullins can afford to lose the likes of Pont Alexandre and Un Atout and still compete in the top novice chases, Meade simply cannot.
Then there is his seeming inability to keep horses in form in the second half of the season, the precipitous drop-off in form that seems to happen at the turn of every year. There may be some numbers guy who can prove how he’s actually not too bad based on the actual over expected numbers but to my untrained eye his winners are infrequent later in the season which of course is when the crucible of jumps racing the Cheltenham Festival happens.
Yet despite all this, Meade continues to hold plenty of sway with the big owners. Gigginstown send him a good share of horses as does JP McManus. He even commented in the stable tour how he told JP to buy Waxies Dargle after the horse beat one of his (Harvey Logan) first time up that he couldn’t see bested; talk isn’t that cheap.
A couple of other thoughts on racing events in the past week:
In light of times and post-race jockey comments, there can be little doubt that Ascot overstated the ‘good’ part of their ground for Champions’ Day. Putting out the idea that the going wasn’t too bad may have gotten them a few more runners than a more accurate description would have but it unlikely have garnered any goodwill for the course.
Given the conditions, it was no surprise that Irish horses went well in the main though not Dawn Approach; there was a possibility that he was over-the-top for the season but it may have been two bigger reasons, the ground and simply not being good enough.
Irish racing did quite well out of the 2013 Budget, receiving only minimal cuts to public funding, not that you’d know it given the public utterances from the chief executives of Horse Racing Ireland and the Turf Club, though one would hardly expect anything else. Comparing the funding rates to what was allocated in 2008 is fallacious as it’s a different world now, akin to comparing the great value a house-buyer is getting for a property now versus 2008.
The breeding side did quite well out of the budget with no VAT increase on bloodstock, despite the EU demanding same, the Irish rate of 4.8% looking very lenient alongside the French figure of 19.5%. Looking for further investment at a time like this, with pensioners hit hard by the budget and a winter of discontent looming, is optimistic in the extreme even allowing the fact that racing is net contributor to the economy.