Hugh Taylor recently had a look at UK-based yards that do well with horses off a break with a view finding trainers to note when racing finally returns and every runner will have been absent for a while.
I thought the exercise was worth doing for Irish flat racing too while acknowledging that one of the essential differences between Irish and UK racing is volume; the average flat turf season in Ireland these days has roughly 880 races whereas in the UK that figure is more like 3,850. There were a handful of names on Hugh’s list I had never heard of, such is the depth of the sport in the UK.
With that in mind, I looked at both win and place records of trainers for the five official flat seasons between 2015 and 2019, taking in turf races only and leaving out Dundalk. As Hugh had done, I compared their base strikerates with how they did with runners returning from a absence of 100 days or more, a situation that is likely to apply to the vast majority of runners when racing returns.
Of the major Irish yards, it is Dermot Weld whose numbers take the biggest jump when returning from an absence; his overall win and place strikerates of 16.4% and 37.9% improve to 21% and 44.1% respectively. There is an important caveat however: this is largely in the market, taking a small lost of 4.13 points to starting price and an actual over expected of 0.92. His level-stakes return to Betfair SP is 220.48 but that is explained by Three Kingdoms returning at 219/1 at the Curragh in July 2017.
His record in the early months of the season (March through May) is better than later on, 41 winners (25.3%) from 162 runners with 75 places (46.3%) for a profit of 35.04 points to SP (81.38 points to Betfair SP), actual over expected of 0.97. It is hard to know if that will translate to the initial part of this season as the circumstances like ground and the approach of other trainers might well be different.
Long a trainer of classy stayers, Weld also does better with horses over middle-distances and further off a break; his runners returning from 100 days or more and racing over a mile and half and further are 17/53 (32.1%) and 27 places (50.9%) for a profit to SP of 42.04 points and an actual over expected of 1.13.
Willie Mullins is obvious positive but also worth mentioning. Overall, he has the highest strikerate of any trainer in Irish flat races with a meaningful number of runners over the last five years and it improves off a break, his base rates of 23% (win) and 43.7% (place) rising to 27% (win) and 56.8% (place).
Interestingly, his record with returners is better in handicaps than non-handicaps; he’s 8/27 (29.6%) with 15 places in such races for a level-stakes profit of 35.5 points (41.52 to Betfair SP) and an actual over expected of 1.82.
Paddy Twomey is another high strikerate trainer overall albeit from a smaller number of runners. Off a break, his win strikerate goes from 26.7% to 43.8% while his place return improves from 57.4% to 62.5%. Unlike Mullins, he is better in non-handicaps with 5 winners from 9 runners in such races.
Of the smaller trainers, Pat Martin stands out. His overall strikerates over the period covered are 6.9% (win) and 25.3% (place) but they improve to 12.9% (win) and 35.5% (place) when returning from a break of 100 days or more.
They look even better when focussing on his runners over trips shorter than a mile. Those horses are 4/20 with 9 places for a level-stakes profit of 39 points (63.29 points to Betfair SP) and an actual/expected of 2.52. Only six of those 20 runners were sent off single-figure prices and the four winners were different horses.
Edward O’Grady is also worth a mention from a small sample size. His base strikerates jump from 7.8% (win) and 30.1% (place) to 30.8% (win) and 38.5% (place) after a 100-day plus absence with a profit to SP of 35.5 points (Betfair SP 86.59 points) and an actual/expected of 3.57.
Alongside the positives, it is also worth mentioning the negatives given quite a few Irish yards train their runners to improve – often appreciably – for the their first run of the season.
The industry leader Aidan O’Brien is one; his base strikerates are 20.8% (win) and 44.5% (place) but drop to 16.5% (win) and 40% (place) when returning from a break of 100 days or more.
There are plenty of other significant examples included in the table below.
Denis Hogan and Adrian McGuinness are two names that stand out, seemingly training their horses to come on for their seasonal debut, and it is worth pointing out that their strikerates when running horses back within 30 days having first come off a 100-day plus absence regress right back to their normal returns.
There is no certainty that these past records will play out in 2020 with all sorts of corona-factors to be considered when racing returns. For instance, what will be the impact of pressing pause on racing for a period of weeks, even months? How will a condensed and altered programme look? What changes will trainers made to adapt to these new circumstances? I don’t know the answer to those questions but having an idea of what trainers typically do – and don’t do – well off a break might be some use.