The Irish Outsider

The Irish Outsider : October 23rd 2013

The Irish Outsider

The Irish Outsider

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.

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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.

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11 replies
  1. JM says:

    Very interesting read…..in fact a breath of fresh air to be advised that trainers are mortals…

  2. KS says:

    Noel Meade horses don’t perform in the second half of the season and a man lands on the moon.

    Also it was the owner’s, and not Meade’s decision to run Pandorama in the Gold Cup back in 2011.

    Incidentally Apache Stronghold, which was his horse to follow in his stable tour, won despite you cribbing the performance. The punters that buy the racing papers for these stable tours collected!!

    Moreover he had a 121 horse back in fourth beaten 4 lengths which isn’t too shabby for a horse making his hurdles debut.

    Easy to knock him post race, expect you will be laying him for your balance next time out in Navan….

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Strong view, Kevin. Any driver for your opinion juggernaut?

      Tony has a most valid general point, which is that info in the public domain dilutes the value, whereas doing your own digging keeps the value hidden. Fair enough, irrespective of a single horse from a single stable?

      Matt

  3. KS says:

    Hi Matt

    That isn’t his agenda at all in my view, it is to find fault with Noel Meade’s campaigning of a number of horses last season and his lack of success at the bigger meetings such as Cheltenham.

    Perhaps Meade is fully aware of the phenomenon that is Mullins who has changed the dynamic that is Irish racing, and is happy to campaign his better horses in the early half of the season when there isn’t such a concerted effort on Mullins behalf.

    As a result performance is always going to be difficult to sustain from Christmas onwards. Nevertheless there are plenty of decent Graded events to be won here and owners like Gigginstown and JP are happy to support him in his plight.

    I have no problem with the contrarian view but much of the author’s piece seems to be a subjective attack on Noel Meade on a number of levels, viz his forthrightness, his questionable choice of stable jockey, his recommendation of a horse to an owner, or his inability to keep his horses sound which I have no doubt is on a par with any of those of his colleagues.

    Of course there is a changing of the guard in jumps racing in Ireland, but the success of Willie Mullins is unprecedented and prior to his arrival Meade was champion jumps trainer over here for a number of years – testament to his training abilties that he has been able to stay at the top table for so long.

    And btw I have no affiliation to the Meade yard or any yard in general.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Kevin

      Thanks for coming back on this, and some fair points you raise.

      As you say, Tony’s take is to try to beat the market, and if he feels – or, far better, can evidence – that there is a bias towards a weakness (be it jockey, trainer, whatever), then that’s both good reading and good punting fodder.

      As an editor, I want writers with opinions. I expect them to be right more often than wrong, but as an opinion piece, it is necessarily subjective in some regards and, naturally, will elicit opposing views such as your own.

      I welcome both in the spirit of a decent pub conversation, only without the beer. And without the pub. Alas. 😉

      Thanks again for your further thoughts,
      Matt

  4. KS says:

    Thanks Matt – that’s fair enough what you’re looking for as an editor also.
    Keep up the good work
    Kevin

  5. Tony Keenan
    Tony Keenan says:

    Hi Kevin,

    You raise some fair points above, particularly about the owner of Pandorama wanting to run him in the Gold Cup and the Meade’s possible inability to keep horses sound (though if you read above you will see I said this is possibly more about him being open about what happens with his horses than any real difference with other yards) but I have to take issue with some of your arguments.

    The very fact the owner of the said horse wanted to run at Cheltenham tells a lot about the nature of the jumps season; the Festival is the be all and end all. I’m not saying that’s right, in fact I think it’s wrong, but it’s the testing ground of the NH year and a trainer, especially one with Meade’s reputation and number of expensive horses, that fails to have winners there is underachieving in the eyes of most.

    This piece is not intended as a character assassination of Meade, rather pointing out the holes in his training methods. Too much of the racing media are engaged in viewing everything to do with trainers positively but as a punter you can’t do that; forming a negative opinion is an excellent way into a race, the only difference here being that I’m putting it down on paper.

    I totally stand by my comment that Carberry is a poor choice of stable jockey; I regard as this ‘great horseman’ stuff as nonsense. He claims, in his autobiography, to never even study form or predict how a race will be run and I find that unacceptable from one of the so-called top jockeys in the weigh-room. It wouldn’t put me off backing him – to be so narrow-minded would be a mistake – but the mythology of him being a ‘natural’ means he’s overrated.

    With regard to Apache Stronghold, my main point was not to knock the horse (his Punchestown bumper form being particularly strong), more to point out that if he’s the pick of Meade’s novices and struggling to beat one of Mullins’ C-team first up, it suggests that the entire team isn’t great which is the opposite of how the trainer describes them. As to laying him for my bank, I dislike sweeping comments like that; I have no idea what will be running against him or what price he will be as well as divers other things about the race. In fact, I might even back him depending on what runs! Thunder And Roses would not be the way to rate him however as he isn’t worth his mark IMO.

    As a person, Noel Meade comes across as totally genuine and I have the greatest respect for the fact that he can talk so openly about his horses in a stable tour; it is something few of his profession do. It was allowed us to get a better insight into how his yard operates and has spurred the original article. As Matt says, if nothing else, it has got us talking.

  6. SeattleDancer says:

    One of the problems with writing “anecdotally” is that it is a foundation of sand. It would not be difficult to prove or disprove Meade’s apparent failure post-Christmas with some simple statistics. Anecdotally, Meade is a disaster from January onwards and his Cheltenham record is truly appalling. Also, given the number of horses he has over-hyped in years gone by, his record in major races is poor. His numbers seem to be down significantly and without the support of the afore-mentioned “big two” his fortunes would be disastrous.

    I also read your piece on your Arc experience Tony and perhaps Olympic Glory and Ruler Of The World didn’t quite deserve the negative reviews given subsequent events.

    And finally on the subject of opinion fora: it is essential that these are conducted in a spirit of goodwill regardless of the robustness of debate. One only has too look at the current shenanigans on the Betfair Irish Forum to see where rudeness and bad manners leads.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Quite right, SeattleDancer. Most racing forums (fora?) are havens of ignorance and rudeness. Geegeez doesn’t tolerate that in its comments, but it does welcome this type of healthy debate. Keep it coming!

      Matt

  7. KS says:

    Hi Tony

    Thanks for the reply.

    Re the Stable Tour, I felt it was unfair to single one man out as regards talking up the prospects of his horses for the coming season when all and sundry could be accused of this.

    I agree with you as regards the limitations of PC in the upstairs department but imv Condon is only now becoming the jockey he promised to be all those years back, and his elevation to number one jockey is probably imminent given the recurring nature of PC’s injuries.

    As regards the form of Apache Stronghold, he landed on the first hurdle and was coming up against horses with proven hurdle ability fit from the summer on the fastest ground he has encountered to date. I thought Condon wasn’t overly harsh on him to get him in front.

    What I was taking issue with was your insinuation that narrowly beating Clonard Lad was the limit of his ability. I have no doubt he will show an improved performance in terms of RPR the next day and that Thunder & Roses will also be competitve off his mark given an ease in the ground!!

    But doctors differ and all that..

    Best of luck.

  8. Tony Keenan
    Tony Keenan says:

    Kevin,

    Point certainly taken re: singling our one man. Doubt LTO will be the limit of Apache Stronghold given his bumper form but time will disclose all with him. Good to have some sensible debate either.

    Seattle Dancer,

    Monster effort from Ruler Of The World last weekend, trip against and held up in race that suited pace-setters, also race came as afterthought; have totally revised my opinion of him, should be a big player at middle distances next year. As to Olympic Glory, not sure I was ever negative on him; actually I’ve been on about him for a while and put him up for the Guineas earlier one; he didn’t run over Arc Weekend?

    Good point with anecdotal evidence; oh that I had the time to run the numbers through the mill.

    Tony.

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