Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan highlights a couple of trainers doing well, and has a selection for the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown early next month.

  • Wednesday 16 January
  • Blog
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Last week I covered some of the horses that have done well on good ground during the mild weather but they aren’t the only ones: what about the trainers? There has been plenty complaining about the lack of rain but some yards have thrived during this period, notably Henry De Bromhead and Joseph O’Brien.

This is hardly surprising as both have done well during the ‘summer jumps’ season recently. In the five seasons prior to 2018/19, De Bromhead had a win strike rate of 17.9% of between the months of May and October which dropped to 12.0% from November to April. With O’Brien, the difference was even starker, winning with 17.6% of his runners in ‘summer’, 10.1% in ‘winter.’

De Bromhead followed a similar pattern in the early part of the current campaign, winning at an 18.1% clip between May and October 2018 but he has managed to maintain a solid 16.7% return since. Indeed, this has already been a career-best season, his 80 winners being well clear of his previous best of 68 in 2016/17 and the ground may have played a part in allowing him to extend his typically strong summer returns.

It is not the only reason however. Despite having more horses than ever – he has had 134 individual runners this season when the previous high was 124 in 2016/17 – he is also maintaining a better strike rate than before. His novices, both over fences and hurdles, look a strong group with 55 of his 80 winners coming in such races which is good news for the future of the yard.

The challenge for De Bromhead will be whether or not he can improve these horses enough to compete at listed and graded level, his three winners from 43 runners in those races a little underwhelming when everything else has been going to plan. But in terms of raw winner totals, this has been an excellent season and the only person happier than the trainer might be Rachael Blackmore who will need them all in her bid to become Champion Jockey.

If the trajectory of De Bromhead’s season has been broadly similar to previous ones, Joseph O’Brien’s has seen a shift. Between May and October this season, he had a strike rate of 11.4% but that has jumped to 18.9% since. Amazingly, he has had more winners in the past two and half months than the six previous, 32 as against 31.

Like De Bromhead, he has run more horses than ever before, the exact same number actually, 134. But more than that, it has simply taken time for O’Brien’s national hunt horses to grow up. He has only been training jumps (officially) for three seasons and the horses that can compete in the best national hunt races don’t come readymade as they do on the flat. Already on 63 winners for the season, he is certain to improve plenty on his 2017/18 tally of 67.


The first batch of the Leopardstown Christmas form got an airing over the weekend and some of it didn’t come out smelling too sweetly. There were signs that the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle won by Rocky Blue would be questionable form on the day with the overall time ordinary and the race messy with fallers and hampering.

This view was backed up at Fairyhouse on Saturday when two prominent representatives from it (La Sorelita and Got Trumped) let the form down behind a pair of once-raced hurdlers in Surin and Gardens Of Babylon. The latter is a stablemate of Triumph Hurdle favourite Sir Erec and it looks like the maiden hurdle he won from Tiger Tap Tap is the Christmas form to focus on.

Speaking of messy races, the Paddy Power ‘Live Stream All Irish Racing On Our App’ Beginners Chase won by Paloma Blue is another one. Again the time-figure was poor and both the third (Impact Factor) and the fourth (Mitchouka) let the form down at Fairyhouse. Perhaps Paloma Blue is a slow learner over fences – he took a while to hit peak over hurdles – but he will need to step up substantially to win a graded race on this evidence.

There was better news for Klassical Dream who won the Tote Pays Dividends Maiden Hurdle on December 26th as the fourth from that race Vision D’Honneur running out an easy winner at Punchestown on Sunday. With Quick Grabim ruled out for the season, it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if Klassical Dream emerge as the Mullins first string for the Supreme and it is surprising to see Vision D’Honneur a shorter price for that race at the moment.


Both the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and Unibet Irish Gold Cup entries were released last week with 24 of the 43 initial names in the former trained in Ireland. 18 of those are also entered at Leopardstown on Sunday February 3rd but there has to be a chance that quite a few of the shorter-priced runners don’t show up.

No one has a clue what is going on with Presenting Percy but it seems unlikely connections would want to pitch him in here first time out against race-fit horses while Kemboy may go straight to the Festival. Monalee is one that could run over a shorter trip in his Cheltenham prep with the Ryanair apparently his target while good ground may rule out of the likes of Al Boum Photo.

Consequently, BELLSHILL looks overpriced. He may never be a Cheltenham horse but Leopardstown seemed to suit him just fine over this course-and-distance at Christmas when he travelled as well as anything bar the winner despite conceding race fitness to all his rivals. Road To Respect met significant trouble that day but Bellshill’s lack of a run was as a big a negative and he proved he can win at this level at Punchestown last April.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Leopardstown 15:35, 3 February 2019

Finished 1 of 4 @ 2/1

led, mistake 7th, headed 9th, disputed briefly again next, disputed lead 3 out, headed entering straight, pushed along in 2nd approaching last, ridden at last, improved to dispute lead close home, led last strides

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