Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Tony looks back at the Oaks meeting, while revealing his fancy for next week's Galway Plate.

  • Wednesday 22 July
  • Blog
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EVEN SO - HER IMPROVEMENT ENOUGH TO LAND OAKS

So, another big behind-closed-doors weekend at the Curragh, and another Classic win for Ger Lyons. Perhaps the most impressive facet of Even So’s Irish Oaks win was that Lyons managed to do a Ballydoyle-type job with a Coolmore filly, drawing improvement from one that had already raced five times.

In truth, Even So was one of the first fillies I put a line through for Saturday’s race, not because of any major flaw in her make-up, but rather in the expectation that the one she had just beaten at Naas, Laburnum, had a few disadvantages then and would progress past her in the manner of many an Aidan O’Brien filly before. How wrong I was.

Even So’s improvement has been gradual as she has gone up in trip, with memories of an odds-on defeat to Lemista in March well-erased by now. She was a facile winner too, doing well to come from behind in a race that placed emphasis on speed - the overall time was only 1.17 seconds quicker than the following Ladies Derby where the winner carried a stone more. Even So was notably fast late on however, with her final three furlongs surpassed only by Laws Of Indices earlier on the card.

One interesting feature of the Oaks was the market around the Ballydoyle Epsom runners, as it spoke strongly in favour of Passion, and against Ennistymon. Both had gotten inefficient rides on the Downs, Passion forcing an overly-strong gallop, and Ennistymon making a mid-race move. But, it was a case of it putting something into the former and taking something out of the latter.

Passion met some trouble and might well have finished second without it, but was never beating the winner, while the under-performance of Ennistymon weakened a race that was already missing Love and fillies from outside the country. She looks like one that could do with a break now, but that is far from certain given her trainer.

The highest-rated horse on the card was Romanised and he put in a perfect return in the Minstrel Stakes, defying market weakness on ground that was on the slow side, despite typically needing his first run. The form is nothing to get carried away with – Lancaster House seems overrated on his mark of 110 – but Romanised is now set up for a tilt at the top mile prizes. There was a time when his Irish 2,000 Guineas success looked a fluke, but his last six runs have been those of a consistent, top-class performer, and he may yet be underrated.

His trainer Ken Condon completed a Group 2 double on the card via Laws Of Indices in the Railway, his success much less expected given an SP of 66/1. There seemed no fluke about it, and he impressed not only with how he travelled through the race, but also with what he found when challenged late by Lucky Vega. Indeed, having mastered the ones on the far side over a furlong out, he seemed to idle a bit before the late challenger came at him on the stands’ side, but he pulled out more as the pair went clear, being well on top at the line.

BALLYDOYLE JUVENILES BELOW-PAR

A bit like the Airlie Stud Stakes for fillies the following day, this race hardly brought clarity to the two-year-old scene, with perhaps the most surprising part the disappointing efforts of the fancied Ballydoyle pair Merchants Quay and Mother Earth. Both came into their respective races on the back of good wins but neither improved much, if at all, and reinforced the early sense that the O’Brien juveniles – at this point at least – are not reaching their usual high standards. That could change in a fortnight, but perhaps the novel circumstances of this season have had their impact and it has left room at the top table for other trainers. Condon and Fozzy Stack took their opportunities this weekend, as Jessica Harrington and Ger Lyons have been doing all season, but perhaps the best two- year-old on show over the two days was trained by Jim Bolger.

Mac Swiney won the opening race of the meeting, a seven-furlong maiden, from Wembley and Colour Sergeant, and it appears conceivable that all three stepped up markedly on their debut efforts. The times of the race, overall and sectional, were excellent; Mac Swiney was only 1.08 seconds slower than the top-class Romanised (carried 5lb more) later on the card, but was 0.36 seconds quicker than him over the closing three furlongs.

The trainer’s representative Una Manning commented afterwards that “ Mac Swiney's his Derby horse”, and while Bolger can be prone to hype on occasions, in this case it seems justified - the victory came in a maiden Bolger has a habit of targeting with his best horses, winning it with Teofilo, New Approach, Heliostatic and Guaranteed since 2003.

BIG YEAR FOR BIG PRICES

Dani's Boy winning at 50/1 at Ballinrobe on Monday evening was yet another massive-priced winner in an Irish Flat season that has been full of them; already in 2020 on the level, there were seven winners that returned at 50/1 or greater, whereas in 2019 there were three across the whole season - in 2018 there were only two, and in 2017 four.

In the absence of on-course bookmakers, starting price has changed to an industry return, taking, according to HRI racing services manager Pat Brennan, “as wide a sample as possible” from the various betting companies. And outwardly at least, this seems to have worked in favour of the punter. Looking at the first 100 Flat races run in Ireland since racing returned, the average overround per runner was 1.5%, whereas for the first 100 Flat races last year it was 2.1%.

But it may not be quite so simple as that, as the reduced overround seems to be coming from the bigger-priced runners being pushed out rather than at the front end of the market. Punters that play at bigger prices, or those who have benefitted from an inflated best odds guaranteed return, may be delighted with this, but for the majority it is business as usual.

The reality for most on-course bookmakers in Ireland is that the vast majority of their turnover, perhaps as much as 80-90%, will come on the front three in the betting, and there is no real incentive to do much with the 20/1 shot that is the eleventh pick of the market as there is no money for it; that horse is now returning 33/1 plus with the industry SP.

It might be interesting to look at the comparative overrounds of on-course and industry starting prices on the fancied runners alone to see is the percentages remain similar, though it could be argued that the entire SP argument is moot; who wants to bet at a price when you don’t know what your return will be?

GALVIN WELL-TREATED FOR GALWAY PLATE

The weights for the feature National Hunt races at the Galway Festival, which gets underway on 27 July, were released on Monday, and while the Galway Hurdle looks tough to sort out at this stage with its multiple Mullins entries and a possible Charles Byrnes plot or two, there is a horse that stands out in the Tote-sponsored Galway Plate.

GALVIN is already favourite for the race, but looks one that could go off shorter. A classy novice hurdler in 2018/19, his entire novice chase campaign was based around getting to the novice handicap chase at Cheltenham, and like several Gordon Elliott handicappers at the meeting, arrived with a few pounds in hand. He ultimately finished second to Imperial Aura, but they pulled clear and he shaped well, getting baulked at the first and coming from further back than ideal.

While the lockdown meant that form remains largely untested, I suspect the winner (who brought strong form lines into the race) would have proven himself in Grade 1 novice chases subsequently. The time of the race was also excellent, including late when they were faster than the Arkle horses earlier on the card over the closing fences, and Galvin continues to look well-treated off a 6lb higher mark, while a recent prep win is another bonus. With only five runs over fences, his jumping is a little worry in this big field, but he coped with it well at Cheltenham.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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