Kevin Blake

On Wednesday September 18, the use of Irish Barrier Trials were thrust into the spotlight when a number of well-backed horses won and ran well at Naas. Here, Kevin Blake delves deeper into the use and coming of age of Irish Barrier Trials.

  • Thursday 19 September
  • Blog
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There were a series of results on Wednesday’s card at Naas that are likely to be remembered as the events that brought about the rise of a new tool for form analysts in Irish racing.

The six-furlong maiden was won by the Gerry Keane-trained Eloy D’Amerval who had been backed from 66/1 to 11/2. The runner-up in that race was the Michael O’Callaghan-trained Johan Zoffani who had been backed from as big as 14/1 into 6/1.

Later on the card, the Jessica Harrington-trained Valeria Messalina won the seven-furlong maiden by a nose having been backed from 33/1 into 9/1. The runner-up was the Michael O’Callaghan-trained Now The King, who had been backed from 20/1 into 11/2.

What all of those horses have in common, other than the fact that they were all making their debuts, is that they had all performed notably well in barrier trials held at Naas on September 3rd.

Eloy D’Amerval, Johan Zoffani and Valeria Messalina had all won their trials in impressive style, whereas Now The King had shaped with plenty of promise in finishing second to Eloy D’Amerval having missed the kick by at least eight lengths.

The results at Naas seemed to very much bring the barrier trials to widespread attention. However, like most overnight successes, they are anything but a new innovation and a great amount of work has been put in behind the scenes over a long period of time to get the barrier trials to this stage in Ireland.

For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, barrier trials are essentially simulated Flat races that take place on a racecourse and are started from stalls. However, while they may look like races, they are not run under the Rules of Racing and the weights carried by the riders are not recorded or published.

While they are very common in other racing nations, the concept has been slower to be embraced in Britain and Ireland.

In the case of Ireland, barrier trials were first run in their current form at Dundalk on May 2nd, 2018. They were organised by Jeremy Greene of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and the stated goal of them was to offer a shop window to service the significant market for unraced two-year-olds in Asian markets.

With a view to this, high-definition videos and full results of the trials have been made publicly available on the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing website soon after they are run and are pushed out via the ITM social media channels.

In this regard, the barrier trials have proven to be a success, with multiple horses having been sold to Hong Kong after performing well in trials since their inception.

As well as offering a shop window for horses to be advertised for sale, the trials also offer an opportunity for trainers to trial their horses in a very race-relevant setting to further their education and conditioning.

They also offer form analysts a chance to get a public look at unraced horses before they made their debuts, allowing them to make a far more informed assessment of them when they make their official debuts than they otherwise would.

While they have seemingly only come to much wider attention following the results at Naas on September 18, the barrier trials have been producing subsequent winners since they started back in May 2018.

The first was the Jessica Harrington-trained Dandys Ocean who won a maiden at the Curragh less than a week after running in a trial at Dundalk. Harrington provided another early success story for the trials when Indigo Balance (now known as Yulong Yuheng) made a winning debut at Curragh later that month having won a trial at Dundalk.

In both cases, the fact that they had shown up very well in barrier trials was highlighted both in the post-race quotes from connections and in the racing press. The trials themselves and various pieces of news surrounding them have also been well publicised in the racing press in the last 18 months, including on multiple occasions on the Final Furlong Podcast.

Most recently,’s own Tony Keenan wrote a detailed analysis of the latest series of barrier trials which pinpointed both Valeria Messalina and Now The King as horses to keep a close eye out for based on their trial performances.

Yet, based on the reaction on social media yesterday, it seems that all this had passed by many form analysts and racing enthusiasts. It had also clearly passed by many odds compilers too given they have consistently chalked up barrier trial graduates at prices that clearly showed they were unaware of the existence of the trials.

There isn’t really any excuse for this, particularly in the case of racing professionals such as odds compilers. The information has been well publicised in the public domain for almost 18 months at this stage and anyone that wasn’t aware of it only has themselves to blame.

As for the punters on social media that got their pantaloons in a twist about the publicising of the fact that the bookmakers seemed to be unaware of the trials, they should be thankful that it remained their little hiding-in-plain-sight angle for as long as it did in a day and age where very little publicly-available information remains widely unexploited for long.

Now, before everyone gets overly excited, barrier trials are not as easy a road to riches for the form analyst as the results highlighted above suggest. The Kieran Cotter-trained Smart Project was arguably the most visually-impressive winner on the card of barrier trials on September 3rd and he was sent off at 5/1 (backed from an early price of 33/1) for the five-furlong maiden at Naas on Wednesday.

Unfortunately, having become upset in the stalls after the horse next door reared and got hung up in the gates, he showed early speed before weakening notably.

Likewise, the Cormac Farrell-trained Kingslayer looked a smart prospect when beating subsequent Group 3 winner Roman Turbo by a wide margin a barrier trial at Naas on June 5th, but that promise has yet to be transferred to a race with him remaining a maiden after four starts.

In common with any other style of form study, barrier trials are not a blunt instrument. The thought that simply backing the winner of each one when they make their debut will be profitable is ill-advised.

Those that look a little deeper for those that shape better than the bare result in defeat or assess the performances using hand-timed sectionals are likely to benefit even more than those that take no more than a superficial view of the form. As is always the case in form analysis, the more you put in, the more you get out.

Now that the trials are coming to the attention of more form students, the question of whether the weights the horses carry should be published is likely to be raised as this would undoubtedly add more colour to the picture in terms of weighing up what has transpired.

Personally, I could see great value in this and suggested as much to the organisers after the very first trials in May 2018, but there are currently no plans for this information to be recorded/published.

The buyers in Asian markets are accustomed to weights not being published in trials, as is the practice in barrier trials in Australia, and have not requested such information.

At the minute, there are no plans to run any more barrier trials this year due to Irish Thoroughbred Marketing focusing on the sale season. However, the results at Naas on Wednesday seem sure to raise the profile of Irish barrier trials to all-new levels. Whenever the next card of them is run, they are likely to have a lot more eyes on them than has been the case in the last 18 months.

Kevin Blake
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