Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan reviews last weekend's trials at Leopardstown and reflects on what exactly Dermot Weld's bright start could mean.

  • Wednesday 10 April
  • Blog
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Most eyes were on Aintree this past Saturday but classic trial season got underway at Leopardstown and all three of the relevant races were interesting for one reason or another.

The 2,000 Guineas Trial was more about the underwhelming return of Madhmoon than Never No More’s win and while not everything set up perfectly for the Kevin Prendergast runner – he had a penalty, was racing on slower ground than he’d encountered before and was over a trip short of his best – there was an expectation that he might be good enough to overcome those challenges.

All the vibes around his return had been positive and he was strong in the market but ultimately hadn’t the gears to go with Never No More inside the final furlong, the winner shaping slightly better than the result as he had to switched out of a pocket halfway up the straight. He picked up well from there and connections mentioned the French 2,000 Guineas afterwards but the mile would be a doubt.

He showed plenty of pace here and had been racing over five furlongs in the October of his two-year-old season which would be unusual for a Guineas horse so something like the Jersey Stakes might be closer to his optimum.

The 1,000 Guineas Trial might prove the most informative event on the card in the long-term though as often is the case in this race it is the beaten fillies that are most interesting; in the last five years, Legatissimo, Alice Spring and Winter have been defeated here.

Lady Kaya was brilliant on the day and it may be no coincidence that her two best runs, visually at least, have come when allowed to go from the front rather than be restrained. She did have the element of surprise to utilise those tactics here having been held up to one degree or another in her three previous starts while the low draw helped too.

There is also a strong possibility she was fitter than some of her main rivals and circumstances are unlikely to be as conducive for making all in her upcoming races; those are likely to be in Group 1 class where Ballydoyle will have multiple runners, one or two or three of whom may be intent on spoiling a talented front-runner.

Happen was the surprise package of the race and is one to be positive about. Having her first start outside maidens, she got in amongst a trio of Group 1 fillies, doing best of those held up and having to weave her way through under a considerate ride.

She is not entered in either Guineas (her sole entries at the moment are the Athasi and the Irish Oaks) but looked the filly to take from it along with Iridessa who had everything wrong. Ground and trip looked against her while she also had a penalty and a wide draw with Joseph O’Brien notably negative out her fitness pre-race. To finish third under another nursing ride was a positive return especially as her trainer will be working back from the classics with her.

Visually Broome swept his rivals away (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in the Ballysax Stakes winning by eight lengths and returning a Timeform rating of 122 and a time-figure of 120; for context, Too Darn Hot had a form rating of 127 and a peak time-figure of 116 at the end of 2018. Despite those ratings, I’m not sure that Broome is near that league yet though the ante-post markets are treating this as a big step forward.

Things went right for him here, Guaranteed setting an overly-strong early gallop and pressed throughout by Sovereign which meant that every horse in the field went too hard and raced inefficiently to one degree or another, Broome much less so than others.

Form like this doesn’t always work out as most races are run differently, overly-strong gallops are the exception rather than the rule, and those involved often have hard races. Broome was relatively exposed at two with five runs and even allowing for him having improved I doubt he is the Derby winner.


The fickleness of early-season stable form was in full evidence at Leopardstown on Saturday, Aidan O’Brien apparently out of form beforehand but emerging with a treble and a number of placed horses.

With Irish racing, the sample size for trainer form is a small one – in 2018 there were over four times as many flat races in the UK as in Ireland – and drawing firm conclusions can be risky. Stable form seems more important in UK racing.

There is however one early pattern that may be significant. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, Dermot Weld had some of his best overall seasons since the nineties and they were driven by really strong starts. Consider his record in Irish flat races in the months of March and April over the past six seasons below (figures are correct up to Tuesday evening):

Season Winners Runners Strike rate
2014 22 54 40.7%
2015 16 59 27.1%
2016 16 65 24.6%
2017 7 48 14.6%
2018 6 38 15.8%
2019 7 34 20.5%

His 2017 and 2018 campaigns were nowhere near as good and this could perhaps be divined from his early returns in those years. His horses were sick in 2017 and may well have suffered a hangover of sorts in 2018 while he also commented early last year that his numbers were down.

Signs have been somewhat more positive this year; it is only early April and he is already at seven winners with a higher strikerate than either of the last two seasons.

The Irish flat racing scene has not stood still in those two years however as Aidan O’Brien has gotten bigger than ever while Joseph O’Brien has popped as a meaningful player in the best races. Weld may be getting back to previous levels but the challenge is different – and more difficult – now. Interesting times ahead.

Tony Keenan’s next review column will be on Wednesday 24th April.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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