Alpha Centauri and Colm O'Donoghue win the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. 22/6/2018 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

Tony Keenan: Training by Gender

About two years ago I wrote about the main Irish flat trainers and how successful or otherwise they were with horses over various trips; it has taken some time, too long in fact, but I now want to follow up and look at the records of those handlers with different genders, writes Tony Keenan. With this in mind, I looked at all Irish flat races between 2012 and 2017, turf and all-weather, which took in 6,727 races and 72,409 runners in all. The average field size for these races was 10.76 runners making the average strikerate 9.29%. Below is a breakdown of all those races, first by simple gender, and then by more specific horse type.

 

Gender

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Actual/Expected

Impact Value

Male 4,195 41,867 10.02% 0.82 1.08
Female 2,532 30,542 8.29% 0.77 0.89

 

Horse Type

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Actual/Expected

Impact Value

Colt 1,388 9,620 14.43% 0.85 1.55
Horse 48 355 13.52% 0.87 1.45
Gelding 2,759 31,892 8.65% 0.81 0.93
Filly 2,1111 24,929 8.47% 0.77 0.91
Mare 421 5,613 7.50% 0.78 0.81

 

A few universal truths emerge from this. Male horses make up a bigger proportion of the fields during this time, 58% versus 42% for females, and they win more often too. Keep this in mind later on when looking at the records of different trainers; a trainer may have a lower strikerate with fillies and mares than they have with colts, horses or geldings but it could still be better when compared to the overall horse population.

During this article, the focus will be on the top ten Irish trainers between 2012 and 2017 in terms of total winners trained; I’ve taken out David Wachman because he has since retired which leaves Aidan O’Brien, Dermot Weld, Jim Bolger, Ger Lyons, Michael Halford, Eddie Lynam, Willie McCreery, Jessica Harrington, John Oxx and Kevin Prendergast. Below are their respective records with fillies and mares in the period covered and the order is taken from their total winners in that time.

 

Trainer

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Actual/Expected

A. O’Brien 187 1,236 15.13% 0.80
D. Weld 233 1,159 20.10% 0.90
J. Bolger 167 1,616 10.33% 0.76
G. Lyons 81 452 17.92% 1.05
M. Halford 96 887 10.82% 0.77
E. Lynam 78 643 12.87% 0.89
W. McCreery 125 1,122 11.14% 0.92
J. Harrington 68 817 8.32% 0.73
J. Oxx 66 523 12.62% 0.76
K. Prendergast 55 568 9.68% 0.78

 

The first thing that jumps out is that Aidan O’Brien isn’t the best at something in Irish flat racing, Dermot Weld is clearly superior in terms of strikerate and winners trained. Ger Lyons is next in strikerate though with relatively few female runners in that time: despite training the fourth highest total winners in this time, he ran the fewest fillies with the next trainer (John Oxx) having 71 more. Willie McCreery is the opposite, running the fourth most fillies and mares in this time and having one of the better actual over expected figures. Of the top ten, Jessica Harrington comes out worst in strikerate, her figure of 8.32% only marginally better than the national average of 8.29% when you would expect the main trainers to be comfortably beating that.

Next let’s compare those strikerates with both their overall records and how they do with male runners.

 

Trainer

Overall Strikerate

Male Strikerate

Female Strikerate

A. O’Brien 21.28% 25.06% 15.13%
D. Weld 17.18% 14.68% 20.10%
J. Bolger 12.32% 14.38% 10.33%
G. Lyons 17.23% 17.02% 17.92%
M. Halford 12.44% 13.36% 10.82%
E. Lynam 11.78% 11.43% 12.87%
W. McCreery 10.27% 7.54% 11.14%
J. Harrington 9.70% 11.30% 8.32%
J. Oxx 13.42% 14.35% 12.62%
K. Prendergast 9.62% 9.56% 9.68%
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The expectation here based on the overall horse population is that trainers should do better with colts and geldings so it is the yards that deviate from the norm that are most interesting. That Weld has a much better record with females than males was surprising though the McCreery figures were much more expected; my anecdotal sense looking at his runners was that he did well with fillies and mares. Ger Lyons is a really unusual case in that his strikerate is consistent across the board but that was also the case when looking at distance in the previous article. Bolger, along with Harrington, doesn’t do as well when compared with their record with males.

To wrap up looking at the top ten trainers as a whole, let’s consider how their stables are broken down in terms of male and female runners. The overall population is 58% male and 42% female in this time so they are the base rates to work off and perhaps also bear in mind whether trainers with good/poor strikerates are training too many or too few fillies and mares.

 

Trainer

% of Males

% of Females

A. O’Brien 61.9% 38.1%
D. Weld 53.9% 46.1%
J. Bolger 49.1% 50.9%
G. Lyons 76.9% 23.1%
M. Halford 63.9% 36.1%
E. Lynam 50.7% 49.3%
W. McCreery 24.2% 75.8%
J. Harrington 46.1% 53.9%
J. Oxx 46.0% 54.0%
K. Prendergast 50.8% 49.2%

 

Some of these trainers seem to have things spot-on; Willie McCreery’s yard is predominately female and while some of this may be self-fulfilling it does make sense. Dermot Weld has more than normal percentage of fillies and mares but it does look as if a few of these trainers might be leaning too much towards females, notably Jim Bolger and Jessica Harrington.

But it’s Ger Lyons that is the really strange one. Despite having the second-best strikerate with fillies and mares, his yard is heavily stacked towards males; unlike Bolger and Harrington, he probably isn’t training enough fillies.

The trainer says this is because his has traditionally been a selling yard and without black type it is difficult to sell fillies. Furthermore, Hong Kong – where a number of his horses have been exported to – have no real interest in fillies. That said, he has been buying more fillies in the last two years and in 2017 he had 22 winners from 115 female runners, whereas his previous highs were 13 winners (2013 and 2015) and 80 runners (also 2013).

Lyons has had Group race success with fillies this year courtesy of Who’s Steph and Lightening Quick, and that is reflected in his overall record with different genders in the better races. Furthermore, his sole Group 1 winner to date was the filly Lightening Pearl. Below is his record in UK and Irish Group and Listed races between 2012 and 2017 by gender.

 

Gender

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Level Stakes

Actual/Expected

Male 21 198 10.6% -75.15 0.67
Female 13 94 13.8% -26.14 0.98

 

Weld however remains the best with fillies and mares and has had nearly twice as many female than male Group and Listed winners in UK and Ireland between 2012 and 2017, 70 versus 36. Those looking for a punting angle might consider linking this back to the training for distance article; Weld is not a trainer of sprinters but does well over longer trips. Below is his record over varying distances with female runners in the period covered.

 

Distance

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Level Stakes

Actual/Expected

5f – 6½f 15 158 9.49% -79.52 0.58
7f – 8½f 101 532 18.99% -108.50 0.88
9f plus 121 485 24.95% -26.96 1.01

 

In the period covered, McCreery has managed only one male Pattern winner as against 14 female winners of such races; his best horse to date, Fiesolana, came around the start of this time and may have helped in bringing more fillies and mares in. In terms of betting on his fillies and mares, age is something to consider as seen in the table below. One word of warning however: the massive level-stakes profit is due to some big-priced winners including 66/1, 25/1 and 16/1 (three times). Still, his strikerate is markedly better with the older ones.

 

Age

Winners

Runners

Strikerate

Level Stakes

Actual/Expected

2yos 25 255 9.80% -84.77 0.86
3yos 49 517 9.48% -161.82 0.76
4yos plus 53 376 14.1% +77.24 1.17

 

The red herring in the whole group however is Jessica Harrington, her overall strikerate with fillies and mares the worst of the top ten trainers. This is despite her best flat horse to date, Alpha Centauri, being a filly and this could be a case where the numbers cannot be trusted. If we look at her 18 Listed and Group winners between 2012 and 2017, we see that 11 were by fillies and mares and that includes the talented pair Bocca Baciata and Jack Naylor. Maybe she is good with the better fillies but not so much with the ones down the pecking order.

This is only one way of measuring a trainer’s success with fillies and mares and there are obviously other methods of doing it, getting black type for a high proportion of their female runners something that springs to mind. Still, we are working off a reasonable sample size of six years racing, and it raises some interesting questions, not least about whether or not trainers sell themselves as being good with fillies. I suspect Willie McCreery already does and Ger Lyons should do it a bit more.

- Tony Keenan

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