Trainers Report January
January is a funny month in terms of the jumps calendar, with some of the big yards taking things particularly easy at a time when racing is either under threat from the weather, or the ground is particularly testing, writes Rory Delargy.
Running class horses now with the big spring festivals looming on the horizon is a dangerous business, with a punishing race taking time to get over. On the other hand, there are plenty who also need to gain much-needed experience if they are to deliver the goods on the big stage, so a total hiatus is not ideal either. The figures discussed below are for the 4-week period up to and including Wednesday 20th January, so do include the tail end of December.
Runs 57 Wins 11 IV 1.67 A/E 1.20
It’s well established that Venetia Williams tends to thrive when the mud is flying, and while that is due in part to weight of numbers rather than an exceptionally high strike rate, she does certainly have something in her regime which bears fruit at times when endurance is at a premium. Unlike November, when she had plenty of winners after a lengthy absence but few with race fitness on their side, things have settled down now, and Venetia’s team are pretty much all running to form.
What is notable is that in the last four weeks she has had eleven wins from 57 runners over obstacles for a modest profit; and, moreover, of a dozen to have started at 3/1 or shorter, only one has finished out of the first three. There aren’t any fat profits to be had this year (so far), but the picture painted is one of a healthy yard producing consistent results, and now that the pattern has been established, it should continue until such times as the spring arrives and brings with it warm sunshine to dry the turf. That may be some time!
The worry with the stable is that with the horses providing the returns in the past few weeks now in the lap of the handicapper, the immediate future may be bleak for followers, and it seems best to stick with those making their seasonal returns, particularly those handicappers who may have gone off the boil last season.
Runs 39 Wins 5 IV 1.0 A/E 0.62
We looked at the modest performance of the Nicholls yard last month and asked whether his mantle might be in danger of slipping, although the conclusion was that the stable’s current strength was insufficient to compete at the usual high level. That is partly due to injuries to key horses as well as underperformance from some of the top chasers, with Nicholls rerouting big guns Silviniaco Conti, Saphir du Rheu and Ptit Zig to hurdles after the trio disappointed to varying degrees in their big tests over fences.
The fact that some talented chasers have either been sidelined (Dodging Bullets) or have failed to go on as expected is a worry, but we covered that in detail last month, and Nicholls has always shown his ability to produce something special from his youngsters, so there are bound to be bright spots in the months ahead.
Worth noting is that Nicholls has a strong team of young horses being prepared for a spring campaign, and I’d recommend looking at Harry Derham’s blog if you haven’t already done so – as well as unraced hurdlers such as Whispering Storm (fifth in a bumper for Adrian Maguire), there is also an update on Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins, who could be yet another for Nicholls in the World Hurdle having had his chasing career delayed by sinus issues.
It’s been a stop-start season for the Ditcheat team, and the figures still don’t read well if taken over the last month. On the other hand, five winners from just eighteen runners over obstacles in January puts a fair bit of gloss on the overall figures, and February promises to be a rewarding month for the novices in particular, as a patient approach combines with a period when maiden hurdles are less competitive on the whole.
Runs 35 Wins 11 IV 2.44 A/E 1.38
Minehead-based Hobbs has benefited particularly from the patronage of Grahame and Diana Whateley, whose two-tone blue colours have been sported by the likes of Menorah, Captain Chris and Wishfull Thinking in recent seasons, and they have had a dozen horses in action this season for their main trainer, in addition to a few others with Anabel Murphy and Oliver Sherwood. For his part, Hobbs has garnered eleven wins from those he trains for the Whateleys, and it looks a relationship sure to endure.
Numerically speaking, Hobbs is the season’s leading trainer, ahead of John Ferguson, and he sits second in the prizemoney table behind Paul Nicholls. He’s not been sitting on his laurels of late, either, with eleven winners from 35 runners in the last four weeks at a healthy strike rate of more than 31%. The yard’s rate of conversion is regularly around this mark, and Hobbs is rightly lauded as a shrewd placer of his horses.
Despite that, he can still produce winners at a considerably better rate than the market expects. Many of his best horses will be forced into top competition in the months ahead, which will see his tally suffer, but he should be followed over the next month or so while competition is thinner on the ground.
Runs 29 Wins 11 IV 2.95 A/E 1.33
It’s no surprise to see Nicky Henderson providing the highest strike rate of those sending out more than a dozen runners since the festive period, and the Seven Barrows handler is all about domination, boasting some of the wealthiest owners in the land, and able to cherry pick when and if his stars run. As a result, he’s no more than twelfth if the table was viewed in terms of number of runners, but the selective approach puts him joint top in terms of winners.
The highlight was probably the victory of Sprinter Sacre at Kempton, but he’s paraded a number of other Cheltenham contenders, with Altior, Polly Peachum, Ma Filleule, L’ami Serge and Vaniteux all strutting their stuff. That’s helped to bolster the strike rate, and while he does have a reputation for being frugal with his chasers, those jumping fences are hitting the mark more often than not. Unlike one or two excelling in the winter mud, Henderson’s record doesn’t tail off when the ground dries up, so he needs to be taken seriously whatever the weather brings.
Runs 29 Wins 2 IV 0.54 A/E 0.41
If there’s one trainer who has not enjoyed the holiday season, it’s Dan Skelton. He had a tremendous time of things in November, saddling eighteen winners from 81 runners to prove he was a growing force; but it’s possible that getting his team ready earlier than some of the big guns enabled him to steal a march.
Since then, the strike-rate has plummeted. Indeed, he’s had eleven horses sent off at 7/2 or shorter, but only one has emerged triumphant, and that as much as anything is a reason to tread carefully, for all his future prospects continue to look bright in the longer term.
**The data used above is for the period 26/12/2015 to 20/01/2016, and is for races over hurdles and fences only**