Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan looks at last weekend's action from the Curragh and reflects on some future targets

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CURRAGH REFLECTIONS

The main players from both Irish Guineas have been ably covered elsewhere on the site by Declan Rix and Kevin Blake but some of the sub-headlines from the opening classics are worth addressing too.

Paddy Twomey was one of those with big-priced runners in the frame in both races and we are already at a point where he can no longer be described as an underrated trainer; that he had a stable tour on these pages last week, is as sure a sign as any of making it.

The trainer seems to have his own approach, commenting in a recent Irish Field interview that ‘I like to do things right and on my terms. I don’t like to be told what the horses should be doing or when they run.’ That sounds like something Willie Mullins would say if he weren’t so polite and how Twomey manages balancing his own desires and the expectations of owners in the future will be a something to watch.

Twomey is a rare trainer outside of the major yards who operates with a high strike rate and winners to runner ratio but the market tends to be quick to recognise these things so it remains to be seen if his runners become overbet this season as his team grows in number.

Winning with well-backed horses had been a feature of his career thus far but this has always been a selling yard too and that facet could become an even bigger part of things now. Decrypt, who to date had raced in the trainer’s own colours, looks one with a ‘For Sale’ sign attached after his third in the 2,000 Guineas.

Like some of the other runners from small yards in the race, it was being used as a shop window and he not only took his form up a level having only won a maiden and conditions race beforehand but shaped better than the result in so doing.

Decrypt raced keenly early and got shuffled back but travelled as well as anything and may not have been suited by making his challenge towards the centre of the track, the rail and a prominent position seemingly favoured in mile races over at the fixture. There should be improvement to come too as it was only his second run since last June.

He holds an entry in the St. James’s Palace at Royal Ascot but one wonders if he might make an appearance at the Goffs London Sales before that meeting. It seems that attaching the word ‘boutique’ to anything these days means buyers have to pay over the odds for what they are getting and that is certainly the case here.

For example, Shine So Bright cost £375,000 at the sale last year having won just a maiden beforehand and was sent off a 33/1 shot for the Coventry the following day with many of the other entries looking similarly pricey.

I Am Superman is another horse from the 2,000 Guineas who likely increased his value, getting back on track after a disappointing effort in the Tetrarch when pulling off a shoe, and given that he too runs in his trainer’s colours could be for sale.

Foxtrot Liv filled the same position as Decrypt in the 1,000 Guineas and also increased her value but it looked as if things went right for her. It was a messy race in behind with a few of the fancied runners unable to get out of each other’s way and the first three were on the pace throughout.

The one to catch the eye was Richard O’Brien’s Dean Street Doll in fifth. Given an extreme hold-up ride, she did avoid most of the trouble but had to come from a long way back but managed to close in the third-fastest final three-furlong split in the field. Colin Keane was unable to open up on her until quite late and all this came on ground that was faster than ideal.


LYONS EYES THE PHOENIX STAKES

In last week’s review I mentioned that the Curragh has been by far the best of the Irish tracks for producing Royal Ascot horses and it is reasonable to think a two-year-old winner for that meeting may have emerged from last weekend.

Arizona and Siskin are the obvious ones but it was interesting to note how lukewarm Ger Lyons was on that idea for the latter post-race, the trainer commenting: ‘Our initial plan is to stay here for the Railway Stakes but I’ll have to talk it over with the owners. The important thing with him is to try and aim at a Group 1 and not leave it in Ascot. My plan would be to stay at home and hopefully have a Phoenix Stakes horse.’

Lyons’ diffidence about Royal Ascot seems born out of experience. He went to Royal Ascot in 2017 with five runners and high hopes but none managed to finish in the money and he said on his blog afterwards that ‘basically my horses that went to Ascot weren’t good enough.’

That seemed to cool his enthusiasm for sending horses to the UK full stop as last year he had just five runners there with only one in a group race.

His proposed plan to stay at home makes sense because the Phoenix Stakes is often easier to win than the Coventry despite being a Group 1 and is also worth more prizemoney; in 2018, it was valued at €250,ooo where the Coventry was at £85,065.

Per Timeform, the average form rating needed to win a Coventry over the last five years was 112.6 whereas the Phoenix was 111.6. The average field sizes are wildly different too, the Coventry's 18.2 runners, against the Phoenix's 6.2 runners so the chances of trouble and/or draws biases are much less likely.

Prepping in the Railway Stakes is also logical as Aidan O’Brien tends to send his b-team juveniles there along with ones that may be backing up quickly from Royal Ascot.

Lyons has been looking for a second Group 1 winner to add to Lightening Pearl’s win in the 2011 Cheveley Park for a while now but it is harsh to use top-level wins as the only metric of success.

Khalid Abdullah, who owns Siskin, came on board with Lyons because of his broad body of work, not just Group 1 wins, and even at this early stage the partnership has been fruitful.

Of the 12 Juddmonte horses to run for Lyons to date, eight have won a race, a 66% winner to runner ratio. In the Irish flat season 2018/19, Aidan O’Brien did best of the big yards by that figure with a 60% overall return with Joseph O’Brien next best on 47% so a two-thirds hit-rate is notable.

INVESTEC DERBY HOPEFUL

Most of the Ballydoyle runners in Saturday’s Investec Derby look about the right place or shorter than they should be now and while Aidan O’Brien is long odds-on to win the race for a seventh time, it is the only other Irish-trained runner MADHMOON who looks overpriced at this point.

His classic campaign has been a little underwhelming to date but that might be down to his racing over shorter trips than ideal; this is a horse that was making his debut over a mile last August and it seems likely that he would need at least 10 furlongs as a three-year-old.

It certainly looked that way in the 2,000 Guineas as he stayed on well having been one of the first off the bridle, not ideally suited by being drawn one and racing away from the winner and runner-up, his jockey Chris Hayes recently making the point that he raced alongside a few that were unproven at a mile and thus unlikely to be ridden forcefully, preventing him from getting a tow into the race.

His time-figures are not quite as good as some in the field but those with higher figures have gotten to race over ten furlongs and further whereas he has not while Simon Rowlands in his excellent Derby preview on the site has him right in the sweet spot of ideal cadence for the race, giving every hope he will last the distance.

It is hard to forget how easily he beat Broome at Leopardstown last September – that one has an obvious chance but may prefer softer ground, now three from three with cut and failing to win in four starts on faster – and while his rider’s lack of experience of the track is a concern, he is the type to have done his homework.


Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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