Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

As the juvenile scene hots up, Tony looks at which trainers are in the groove this season, while nominating several eyecatchers from last weekend.

  • Wednesday 26 August
  • Blog
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Juvenile scene hotting up but Ballydoyle lagging behind

 The Irish juvenile scene has started to move through the gears in recent weeks since Lucky Vega won the Phoenix Stakes, and there was plenty going on in the division at both the Curragh and Naas over the weekend.

A shortened season meant some unusual changes to the programme book, but nothing is more unusual than the poor overall record of Aidan O’Brien’s two-year-olds thus far; there were 13 Listed and Group races for juveniles in Ireland to date, with Ballydoyle winning just two, to go with six places, while neither winner – Mother Earth and Military Style – set the pulse racing.

It is the low win and place strike-rates that stand out as much as anything, allowing that the Ballydoyle horses often beat each other in these races, and it remains a similar story with their runners in the UK with the notable exception of Battleground.

History suggests this could change quickly, however, especially with weekend maiden winners like High Definition and St Mark’s Basilica waiting in the wings, but perhaps the rush to have Royal Ascot two-year-olds ready possibly set O’Brien back a bit, and thus opened the door for rival trainers.

It was Joseph and Donnacha O’Brien who fought out the finish of the Debutante Stakes on Saturday, though fought out is being kind to Shale, as Pretty Gorgeous comfortably reversed Silver Flash form. There were a few elements at play that allowed her to get the ground back.

Pretty Gorgeous debuted over a mile at Bellewstown in early July, so the increased emphasis on stamina on soft ground helped her, while it did seem difficult to come from off the pace when they met at Leopardstown - Shane Crosse perhaps guilty of not asking for his effort soon enough on a filly that stays further.

Shale also had the extra run on Pretty Gorgeous going into the Silver Flash, and that likely mattered with Pretty Gorgeous again looking in need of the experience here, though it is worth pointing out that while the Joseph O’Brien juveniles have typically always needed their first run, that pattern has not been quite so marked this year. The table below suggests at least a slight change in M.O.:

Joseph O’Brien Juveniles First Time Out

Year(s) Winners Runners Strike-rate Places Place Strike-rate Actual/ Expected
2016 – 2019 9 175 5.1% 33 18.9% 0.53
2020 6 35 17.1% 11 31.4% 1.44

It is also worth making a brief mention of the sixth home, Miramis, who had been flagged here as an interesting filly from the recent Dundalk barrier trials. She was in deep here and had not learned much from her previous racecourse outing, slowly away and not travelling at all early but soon coming back on the bridle and going as well as the winner to the two furlong pole; trading at 9/1 in-running having been sent off at big price, before understandably fading. I am not altogether convinced she is straightforward, but there is certainly ability there, and given she ran in a six-furlong barrier trial it is likely this trip was beyond her on the ground.

The first takeaway from the Futurity Stakes was how the Tyros Stakes form was turned on its head; Mac Swiney had been only ninth in that, albeit seemingly never going well and looked after by Kevin Manning, but still comprehensively reversing form with both Van Gogh and Southern Cape. That Leopardstown form may not be trustworthy, the winner slowing up notably late and the ones in behind in a heap.

Soft ground seems by far the most likely reason for Mac Swiney improving (won his maiden on yielding), though Una Manning did comment afterwards that ‘he did it well on ground he wouldn’t really appreciate.’ I am not buying that one, though, as this is a horse they might be keen to sell and likely don’t want him pigeon-holed as a mud-lark.

Cadillac on right track to National Stakes

The going may well have been an issue with the runner-up Cadillac, however, and while he was taken out of the Tyros late when the ground dried out, it is possible he is one that just doesn’t want extremes, with his trainer commenting before this run that it could be too soft for him.

His SP of 4/5 would suggest this was a disappointing run, but he was conceding experience to the one that beat him and two directly behind, having one start to their three beforehand, while he had also missed his intended prep. It was less than ideal that Shane Foley had to wait for a gap two furlongs out and then switch to the rail, so it would be no surprise if Cadillac proved the pick of these in the National Stakes.

There were no Black Type races for juveniles at Naas on Sunday, but the Ballyhane Stakes looked up to the standard of a Listed race at least, perhaps even a Group 3. A Ballydoyle-trained winner wasn’t really in keeping with the spirit of the race, and Chief Little Hawk raced in the right place too, possibly suited by delaying his challenge until after the runner-up Monaasib made his move from two furlongs out.

Like the other races on Naas' Straight Track during the day, the stands’ side proved the place to be, with riders shunning the far side rail from early on in the card. Against that backdrop, the seventh Measure Of Magic ran a huge race from stall three, trading at 1/6 in-running before fading over a trip that stretches her.

Her previous form with Miss Amulet and Frenetic has worked out particularly well, and while she didn’t match that level here, track position and trip were all against her. It is also worth mentioning Amber Kite, who did not have things go her way. The drop to six furlongs did not seem ideal for her, but she travelled well near the front rank to halfway before getting shuffled back badly as Monaasib made his move. Colin Keane was quick to accept defeat before perhaps remembering there was prize money for every position (!!), and she ran on well late in the manner of one that can do better over further.


Stack's runners improving for first run

It was an accepted truth of Irish Flat racing that Tommy Stack would have his horses ready early in the year - his runners on Lincoln day in particular worth a second look - but his son Fozzy has not always taken that approach and especially not in this most unusual season.

Chris Hayes, who rides plenty for the yard, commented that Stack's were taking a longer term approach this season, and Notoriously Risky who finished second in the Silver Ballyhane on Sunday having been well beaten on debut, was yet another horse from the yard that improved massively from debut. Incidentally, Hayes gave her a fine ride to negate her bad draw and come stands’ side.

Below is the record of the Stack-trained runners on their first and second starts this season, taking in only runs since racing restarted:

Tommy Stack's runners on their first and second starts this season

Run Winners Runners Strike-rate Places Place Strike-rate Actual/ Expected
First 2 33 6.1% 9 27.3% 0.66
Second 5 28 17.8% 11 39.3% 1.49

Dolce Notte, Wichita Woman and Piece Of Paradise are all horses from the yard that shaped well on their sole start this season, so improvement might be expected next time, while it is notable how well some of their horses progressed run-to-run, particularly the juveniles Aloha Star and Bubbles On Ice.

One filly who did take a jump from here first to second start was Sloane Peterson, winning second time at Cork despite the trip being against her, and it is worth mentioning she was taken out of the Ballyhane due to the ground. That was a surprise given all the prize money on offer, but it still tells us not only what going she wants, but also that connections think a bit of her to mind her in such a way.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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