Things We Learned » Mullins still has strength in-depth
Mullins still has strength in-depth
Willie Mullins provided a list of horses for the assembled media on his media day on Monday, with horses’ names and numbers that corresponded to the numbers on their saddlecloths.
It was lucky that he did, because most of the horses looked fairly similar, mostly brownish, long faces, you know the type, except for Douvan, who looked, well, like Douvan. And Bunk Off Early, who looked grey, and Carter McKay, who also looked grey, albeit a different shade (of grey). And Carter McKay was the one with Patrick Mullins on him.
So what did we learn? We learned that Willie Mullins still has massive strength in-depth in his Cheltenham team. Number one was Djakadam, number two was Douvan (you know that they had to have had a fight at the back of the stables over who would be one and who would be two), number three was Un De Sceaux, number five was Royal Caviar, number six was Bellshill. Number four was Yorkhill, but Yorkhill was late. He got there and into formation just before they went out. When you are as talented as Yorkhill, you be as late as you like as long as you get there.
Limini was number nine, Vroum Vroum Mag was 11, Shaneshill was 13, Let’s Dance was 15, Melon was 16, Carter McKay was 33. And the cameramen were all in a spin.
If the ball had hopped a little more kindly this season, you would have added Faugheen and Annie Power and Min and Vautour and Avant Tout to the list, and if you really wanted to twist reality into best-possible-scenario-lity you could have added Killultagh Vic and Petit Mouchoir and Outlander and Arctic Fire and Don Poli and Valseur Lido and Apple’s Jade and you would have needed more sheets and more saddlecloths and more cameras.
Even so, the fact remains that, at current ante post odds, of the 14 Grade 1 races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins is responsible for six of the ante post favourites (Melon, Vroum Vroum Mag, Douvan, Carter McKay, Yorkhill and Un De Sceaux), as well as the favourite and second favourite for the Grade 2 mares’ novices’ hurdle in Let’s Dance and Airlie Beach, and six other horses who are either second favourite or third favourite. It is correct that he is odds-on to be leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth year in a row.
Handicap ratings again
These are the peaks for handicap ratings talk, the publication of the Grand National weights and the publication of the Cheltenham Festival weights. We had the former this year, now we have the latter. It’s a biannual event at this stage.
As mentioned previously, it could all be alleviated if the BHA just published the ratings that they keep of Irish horses on a regular basis. The underlying problem is that Irish trainers do not know what weight their horses will have in Britain until these junctures, when their BHA ratings are published. That does not make sense. Irish trainers have to plan with a blindfold on.
For example, if Pat Kelly had known that Presenting Percy was going to be rated 6lb higher in Britain than he is in Ireland, he may not have run him at Fairyhouse on Saturday. He may have taken his chance that he would get into the race. Philip Reynolds’ horse got a 10lb hike from the Irish handicapper for winning on Saturday, but the British handicapper gave him another 6lb, which means that, if he goes ahead and runs in the Pertemps Final, he will have to race off a mark of 146.
As Mouse Morris pointed out on Wednesday, his plan was to run Baily Cloud in the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase, his official rating of 140 would have got him in under the ceiling of 140. But he is rated 143 in Britain, so he is not eligible.
Incidentally, on the Close Brothers Chase, Zamdy Man is allowed to run in the race even though he has an official mark now of 142. That is because the qualification date for the race is 1st February, at which stage Zamdy Man was rated 140. That’s fair.
However, General Principle was expunged from the race because he was rated too highly, 144, so 4lb above the 140 threshold. He must have been rated too highly by the BHA on 1st February as well. On 1st February, before he split Bachasson and Mall Dini in a beginners’ chase at Gowran Park, he was rated 135 in Ireland. The BHA have him just 4lb higher than his Irish mark now, but they must have had him at least 6lb higher than his Irish rating on 1st February. Who knew?
One final point before we leave handicap ratings. A point that has been universally made in the last few weeks is this: that, as the strike rate of Irish horses in British handicaps is better than the strike rate of British horses in British handicaps (11% versus 10%), then that must mean that Irish horses are well-handicapped in Britain.
It is an erroneous conclusion. It does not take into account the fact that there is a selection bias here, that the Irish handicappers who race in handicaps in Britain is not a representative sample of Irish handicappers in general. That the horses who make the journey from Ireland to Britain, by definition, have a better chance of being competitive than the horses who do not travel. (If they were to travel, of course.) And that the Irish trainers who target handicaps in Britain are very good at targeting handicaps in Britain.
In the same way, the top British-based trainers are very good at targeting handicaps in Britain. Paul Nicholls’ strike rate in British handicaps in the last five years, for example, is 14%, Nicky Henderson’s in 14%, Jonjo O’Neill’s is 14%, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ is 14%, Philip Hobbs’ is 15%, Dan Skelton’s is 16%, Tom George’s is 16%, Neil Mulholland’s is 18%. All far higher than both the British average and the Irish average. Does that mean that these trainers’ horses are leniently handicapped, or just that they are better at this than most?
Thought for the week
It is not going to be easy, getting used to life without the Hennessy Gold Cup. When you have had 60 years of something, it was always going to be difficult to get used to something else. Not many things last forever, but no racing sponsorship lasted as long as Hennessy’s, and it’s never easy when the sponsor’s name is the race’s name.
It’s the Ladbrokes Trophy now. Time to move on. Hopefully the new sponsors are settling in for the long haul.
Overheard at the races
Punter 1: I was told that one of Willie Mullins’ is working the place down. I can’t tell you what it’s called, but I can tell you that it’s named after a fruit.
Punter 2: Is it Lemoni?
© The Irish Field, 4th March 2017