Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan looks at the contenders for the Champion Apprentice Title as well as having an update for the main event.

  • Wednesday 02 October
  • Blog
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A Tale Of Two Apprentices

Away from Colin Keane versus Donnacha O’Brien (more of that anon), there is another jockeys’ championship going on now between the apprentices Andrew Slattery and Oisin Orr, the former leading by a single winner at the time of writing, 37 to 36.

Slattery looks value for that lead and perhaps more given he has ridden 39 seconds to 25 for Orr and has won over €230,000 more than him in total prizemoney and the two have had contrasting paths to their title battle, Orr more experienced on the track with over 1,100 rides having taken his first mount in October 2014, Slattery only have his first ride in public three years later but with over 700 rides in that relatively short period.

Orr started 2019 with three pounds of an allowance and that was gone by May 29th but he is still entitled to compete for the title because he had a claim at the outset of the season whereas Slattery began the year with the seven pounds allowance which is now down to five.

Both have ridden extensively for Dermot Weld this year and it will be interesting to see how he apportions his mounts in the final month of the season as those decisions have the potential to decide the race but I must admit to finding Slattery a fascinating case.

In a recent interview, his father recently described him as having ‘no interest…[in racing]…until about four years ago’ which can be read as either good or bad; his potential may be sky-high as a relative late starter or perhaps he will always be a little lukewarm on the sport which could limit his development.

Regardless of any speculation on his future, he has had an excellent 2019, particularly in handicaps where he has ridden 27 winners, behind only Colin Keane in that regard, with trainer clearly viewing his claim as particularly valuable in such races.

That has led to him burning through his claim relatively quickly and it is not unreasonable to question if those winners come at the cost of experience; one never likes to get too caught up with the apprentice rider of the moment as history is littered with examples of young jockeys who lost their allowance and were soon struggling for rides, sometimes forced to move to the UK as a result.

Perhaps Slattery will prove an exception and Weld has already given him chances in better races, opting to keep him on Kastasa after three handicaps wins when she went up in grade to the listed Loughbrown Stakes on Saturday at the Curragh.

That was a pressure ride for Slattery on the 11/8 shot, especially as he’d only had nine rides in listed or group races previously, none sent off shorter than 12/1 and eight of them coming aboard perpetual sprint race outside Rapid Reaction.

It could be argued that Kastasa only had to turn up on Saturday, her main market rival Capri a shadow of himself these days, but that one was still in first-time blinkers and had Seamie Heffernan up and Slattery could be forgiven for getting a little edgy as the front-runner built a decent lead five furlongs out.

He was going on overly strong pace though – Capri had a 94% finishing speed, a particularly low figure for the Curragh round track, and one that justified a 20 pounds sectional upgrade – and Slattery bided his time and let the leader come back to him, finishing out a ready winner.

The future is likely bright not only for Slattery but for his mount as Kastasa could hardly be in better hands for a filly that will be kept in training next year, Weld having an excellent record with fillies and mares aged four and up.

Since 2010, his record with such runners in listed and group races in the UK and Ireland is an impressive 49 winners from 183 runners for a strikerate of 26.8% with 81 places, a level-stakes profit of 11.62 point and an actual over expected of 1.12.

In that period, Weld won a listed or group race with 34 different three-year-old fillies but only 19 of them raced the following year, the trainer seemingly quite selective about what he keeps in training, but there were some success stories among that group, notably Emulous, Sapphire, Pale Mimosa, Zhukova, Shamreen and Eziyra.

Interestingly, 2019 was the only year this decade where Weld failed to win a listed or group race with an older filly or mare, Yulong Gold Fairy (since moved to Jim Bolger) his leading light such as she was in this division, but things should to be much different in 2020 with Kastasa, Tarnawa and Search For A Song all likely to stay in training.

Keane vs O'Brein

The senior jockeys’ championship rolled on this week with Colin Keane maintaining a slender two winner lead as of Tuesday evening and having wondered what Ger Lyons might still have to run on this site last week, I think we got our answer over the last few days: quite a bit.

His Pablo Diablo, though gelded ahead of debut, put in an impressive effort at the Curragh on Sunday, posting a good time-figure and sectional to win the seven-furlong maiden despite meeting trouble in running, looking like he could compete at a higher grade.

The Killavullan Stakes might be the race for him at a time when Keane will be looking for every good ride he can get though it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if he were a suitable type for the Hong Kong market.

In the past week or so, Lyons has had a couple of others shape well in maidens, Estepona Sun and Persian Queen among them, and they may also be able to give his stable jockey a winner before season end while the trainer has also been astute in placing his better horses in winnable races.

Blue Uluru was an example at Dundalk last Friday night as she was back on the track quickly after a disappointing effort at Ayr though there was a sting in the tail as Keane picked up a one-day ban for that ride.

Brunelle was another who looked to have been found an easy opportunity in the auction race at the Curragh on Sunday and while he ultimately didn’t take his chance as the ground turned heavy, it showed a willingness from the trainer to give his rider an edge in his title bid.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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