Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Nearing the season's mid-point our Irish expert Tony Keenan reflects on which Irish trainers are doing well and extracts some pointers from last month's barrier trials at Naas.

  • Wednesday 10 July
  • Blog
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This past week was a low-key one in Irish racing and as we approach the half-way point of the flat turf season, it is a good time to take stock of the campaign and look at what yards have been going well and not so well.

Stable form can be ephemeral, as soon as you think you have spotted a trainer in from they are out of it, and it can be even more difficult in Ireland as there are simply fewer races and thus a smaller sample size; in a typical year, there will be five times as many flat races in the UK than Ireland.

It might be better then not to look at a week or a fortnight or even a month to see if a trainer is in or out of form (or most, in most cases, somewhere in between) and take a broader sweep of their season as a whole; we are nearing the 500-race point of a season that typically runs to 1000-plus races.

Pure winners and/or win strikerate is a rather bald method of assessing these things and I have used two alternatives instead; actual winners over expected winners because it takes in the betting market and place strikerate because it gives a bigger sample size, there typically being three times as many placed horses a winners.

Rather than compare trainers with each other – because invariably the descends into Aidan O’Brien having better numbers than anyone else – I compared them to themselves, looking at their 2019 numbers versus what they have done in the three previous seasons, trying to find cases where both actual over expected and place strikerate figures might tell us something. The figures include races up to Limerick on Sunday just gone.

It would be pointless to go through every yard here as for many it is just a case of business as usual or close to it; the big yards like Joseph O’Brien, Dermot Weld, Ger Lyons and Jim Bolger all broadly fit this profile in 2019.

Jessica Harrington is the exception of the major trainers however. Her 2019 actual/expected is 0.97 (versus a previous three-year average of 0.74) while her place strikerate is 36.7% (versus a previous three-year average of 29.4%).

That she is having a raft of winners, particularly with her juvenile fillies, is obvious but what may not be as obvious is the growth of her yard this season. In 2016 she ran 75 individual flat horses, good for sixth overall amongst Irish trainers, while in 2017 and 2018 that number was 87 (fifth overall) and 105 (sixth overall).

As of last weekend that number for 2019 is 90 which puts her third overall behind only the two O’Briens and it is notable how often of late she has had multiple runners in maidens, almost Ballydoyle-esque, as her numbers continue to grow.

Michael Halford is another trainer having a good 2019, his actual over expected 0.83 (versus 0.75) and his place strikerate 38.8% (as against 29.1%), the latter representing a sizable difference.

In seasons past, his stable has suffered a Dundalk hangover after many winners on the all-weather over the winter but not so this year. His two-year-olds have been notably forward while his record at the major Curragh meeting has been impressive.

Over Guineas weekend, his runners ran to figures of:91231722 while across the three days of the Derby festival, they were:41324306 which is something to bear in mind with the Oaks meeting later this month.

Despite losing probably his best horse in Encapsulation, Noel Meade continues in form with an actual/expected of 1.49 (versus 0.86) and a place strikerate of 42% (versus 30.1%). Dinard Rose brought up a pair of successes this past week while the likes of Jerandme and De Name Escapes Me had have been seen to good effect switching codes.

A trainer of mainly handicappers like Damien English is always hostage to his horses becoming badly-treated so a bad season can follow on the heels of a good one, but 2019 has been good thus far with an actual over expected of 1.11 and a place strikerate of 38.4% versus previous averages of 0.89 and 18.1%.

Restocking the yard with the likes of Twenty Minutes and Stanhope has helped but he has also gotten wins out of hardy perennials Geological and Mokhalad.

Of the yards underperforming their previous figures, Aidan O’Brien is one that stands out, at home at least. With his Irish runners this season, his actual over expected is 0.77 and place strikerate is 39.8% compared to 0.92 and 46.8%.

O’Brien had a strange 2018 when his stable contracted a virus but he still managed a record year in terms of winners in Ireland though his returns in the UK were not as strong compared to previous years.

That pattern has reversed somewhat this year; he has done better in the UK in the Derby and at Royal Ascot notably but this has left the door open for other trainers at home. It seems you can’t fight on every front.

Perhaps the starkest example of a trainer having a down year is Johnny Murtagh, actual over expected of 0.49 and place strikerate of 29.6% versus three-year averages of 0.99 and 31%.

His placed runners have been broadly similar, particularly in the last fortnight when seven of his 18 runners have made the frame, but the winners just haven’t been there. They do seem in better form now though and perhaps positive regression is coming.


Cool Vixen became the third horse to emerge from the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing barrier trials at Naas on June 5th and win a maiden at the same track last Saturday, joining stablemate Windracer and Michael Halford’s Roman Turbo, while quite a few others from the day have made the frame too.

Replays to these trials are available on the ITM website ( and visually the races look like the qualifying rounds for Olympic sprint events, the competitors trying to ‘win’ as easily as possible.

We don’t know the weights for these trials and the runners obviously came there in varying states of readiness but reviewing them even belatedly at this stage threw up a horse or two of interest.

The first trial was over five furlongs for two-year-olds and Tinnahalla, then trained by Adrian McGuinness and now with Jamie Osbourne, came home in front with the third Drasario finishing in the same position in a Limerick maiden since.

Runner-up Smart Project shaped well for Kieran Cotter who has done well with a small team of juveniles this year. He was keen early, notably green and failed to handle the bend (all the trials were on the round track) and given an easy time in the finish.

In as much as these trials have form, the contest won by Cool Vixen looks the strongest; the winner has won since, the fourth One Voice was second in a decent Leopardstown conditions race while the fourth Taggalo came fourth to Windracer at the Curragh.

Jessica Harrington ran four in this batch and perhaps Chasing The Dawn is the one to take from it now. The time was ordinary relative to some of the other trials but she made up some good late ground and her breeding suggests she would prefer a test of stamina, her dam being related to jumpers.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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