Unlucky trainers holding more silver and bronze than gold
In any season, there will be trainers having good years, bad years and okay years, and knowing which is which can seem straightforward; one need only look at tallies of winners and prize money. But, what about those unlucky trainers who are going better than outward shows suggest?
We punters can be a fickle group – just show us the winners – but one basic, and hopefully useful, way of finding trainers who are better than their current form is to look at their number of winners relative to second and third places, allowing that such placings are not always equal.
A runner-up could be beaten eight lengths and never had a chance while a third place finisher could have been done on the line by two short-heads. The type of race matters too. Many yards will rightly view a placed effort in a maiden as a good thing provided it doesn’t become a habit, as it allows an immature horse a second or third crack against similarly immature horses, all aiding its education. A placed run in a handicap may not be viewed as positively, as it typically forces a horse up in the weights and sometimes up in grade.
Yet taking a decent sample size – and as of last Sunday we are 604 races deep into the official Irish Flat season and just past halfway in terms of races to be run – these things should even out a little.
My basic premise is that most trainers should have roughly the same amount of winners as seconds and thirds in a given season granted an average amount of luck; history shows the very best yards defy this year-on-year, often having more winners than places, but I am less concerned with them here than the more medium-sized operations.
Fozzy Stack, for instance, had 13 winners/10 seconds/14 thirds in 2020, while Willie McCreery had 11 winners/13 seconds/9 thirds; they seem neither lucky nor unlucky. We are looking instead for those trainers who have big discrepancies between winners and placed horses and whose fortune may be due a turn.
Johnny Murtagh was an extreme example of this last season. During the whole campaign, he went 22 winners/35 seconds/36 thirds so was probably due some of the success he has enjoyed in 2020, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
For the first half of 2019 through to the end of July, he was 6 winners/21 seconds/16 thirds, while from there to the end he was 16 winners/14 seconds/20 thirds. So, moving things forward, who might be this season’s second-half trainers?
Halford to run hot in second half of 2020?
Michael Halford is one name that jumps out with 8 winners/18 seconds/13 thirds so far in 2020. He won three Premier Handicaps this season but would likely trade that for more success in Black Type events given the importance of such races to probably his main patron, the Aga Khan.
His Sinawann won the Group 3 Amethyst Stakes at Leopardstown in July, but other than that it has been frustration at Listed level and better with eight runners-up and thirds in such races.
Noel Meade is another name to note with 5 winners/9 seconds/10 thirds. Helvic Dream has been the chief source with three in the frame finishes, but handicap placings were the main story of his season. Prior to Layfayette and Jeff Kidder winning such races in recent weeks, Meade had 10 horses finish second or third in these races.
Jack Davison is having a strange year, sitting twentieth in the trainers’ table (based on prize money), despite only training one winner to go with 11 seconds and five thirds. The young trainer could be forgiven for thinking it is déjà vu all over again, as his 2019 went 6 winners/13 seconds/13 thirds, though it needs pointing out some of his horses like Miacomet and Glow Worm do seem place merchants.
The last name to mention is Andy Slattery, who is 1 winner/6 seconds/7 thirds. Unlike Davison who saw the same horses hit the frame over and again, Slattery had 11 different runners make the frame without winning. The last time he failed to break double figures in total winners in an Irish season was 2014, so he will be hoping for a better second half.
Irish Champions’ Weekend one to savour despite missing crowds and raiders
Now in its seventh year, Irish Champions’ Weekend is the best Flat meeting of the season, and even in a behind closed doors format, it remains something to look forward to the weekend after next.
The crowds will be missed at Leopardstown and the Curragh, but so too might horses from other jurisdictions, with many of the defining moments of the weekend being provided by raiders - be it Almanzor and Golden Horn winning the Champion Stakes in 2015 and 2016 respectively, or Pinatubo blowing the National Stakes apart last year.
It is hard not to wonder, however, if there is much appetite for horses travelling this year? Ireland’s COVID protocols mean that stable staff from yards outside the country would have to self-isolate for a fortnight when arriving here, but in practice it means trainers handing over their prized horses to Irish stable staff, something not all are keen on doing.
Olly Murphy commented on this before Hunters Call ran at Galway, saying ‘it seems very complicated in getting a horse over there, and who can travel with him, and that's going to be the big issue.’ In the end, the draw of prize money and prestige was too much and he did travel and run well in the Hurdle, but this is a gelded hurdler (albeit not without his quirks) we are talking about, not a highly-strung colt that might ideally want a familiar face for reassurance.
Per the database Horse Race Base, there were only 21 UK-trained horses to run in Ireland this year – and eight were in the Ballyhane and its consolation race – so it seems logical to worry about what next week's declarations will bring for the meeting.
The likes of Ghaiyyath, Sottsass and Kameko have been mentioned at various points for the feature race, and the dream is they will all turn up, but there is chance some of the main races devolve into the O’Briens taking each other on.
Those races are not without interest, but are hardly the easiest sell to the racing public, while some of the other big home-trained names like Love and Siskin do not have obvious targets at the meeting. Let’s hope next Tuesday sees some exotic names among the entries.