Things We Learned » Curragh draw

Curragh draw

My grandfather had three golden betting rules: back the outsider in photo finishes at the Phoenix Park, back the top weight in three-year-old handicaps and only back those drawn close to stands rail on the straight track at The Curragh.  He would probably have had to re-visit the last one after last Sunday.

By the middle of July last season, there had been nine races run over five or six furlongs with 16 or more runners at The Curragh that term, and a remarkable seven of them had been won by a horse who was drawn no more than three off the stands rail.  Things may be different this season.

We don’t have much evidence, one day’s racing provides but a small sample size, but early indications are that we should tread warily with the tried and tested draw assumptions.  It looked like as-you-were when Dawn Approach won the curtain-raiser to the 2012 turf Flat season from stall six of eight, having raced nearest the stands rail from well outside the furlong pole.

However, three of the first four home in the 30-runner six-furlong maiden were drawn on the far side, in stalls two, four and six, and Royal Visit can probably be marked up a fair bit for finishing third from stall 29 on her racecourse debut.  Also, the two horses who came wide into the home straight in the Irish Lincolnshire, Northern Rocked and Font Of Wisdom, forsaking ground in order that they could race on what is traditionally the fastest part of the track, finished third last and last of 18.

It may be that the traditional near-side advantage has been negated, or even reversed.  It is too early to know for certain, but it may be worthwhile tentatively marking up Dawn Approach and Royal Visit.  They both may have performed better than the bare form of their respective races suggests.

March of O’Brien

I wouldn’t go worrying too much about the fact that Aidan O’Brien has had just one winner from 18 runners this turf season thus far.  If precedent is any guide – and it usually is – the yard is not out of sorts, it is just gradually cranking through the gears.

There shouldn’t be any surprise in the phenomenon any more.  The past is the best guide that we have to the future.  In March last season, Aidan O’Brien sent out just two winners from 16 runners in Ireland.  In March 2010, he sent out 26 runners and no winners, in March 2009 he sent out just one winner from seven runners.  Yet he came home alone in the trainers’ championship in each of those three seasons, both in terms of number of winners and prize money won.

There have been several nice performances in defeat from Ballydoyle representatives so far, like those from Ishvana and Twirl at The Curragh on Sunday, and from Furner’s Green and Betterbetterbetter at Leopardstown on Wednesday, as well as Robin Hood’s pillar-to-post victory.  Panic not – the season is but a young pup.

Joseph tops

Another thing that has become apparent quite quickly this season is the pecking order of the Ballydoyle jockeys.  Unlike last season, when Ryan Moore rode the big horses when he was available, and Joseph O’Brien, Seamie Heffernan and Colm O’Donoghue shared the juicy morsels when he wasn’t, it appears that O’Brien The Younger has taken up the box seat this term.

Joseph rode five of the seven Ballydoyle horses at The Curragh on Sunday, standing down for just Twirl and Homecoming Queen, both of whom shouldered a mere 8st 9lb in the Park Express Stakes.  On Wednesday at Leopardstown, he rode the shortest-priced Ballydoyle horse in the five races in which the stable was represented, and he rode Great Ruler at Limerick on Thursday.  This afternoon, he is off to Meydan to ride St Nicholas Abbey, Await The Dawn and So You Think on Dubai World Cup day. Of the three Aidan O’Brien-trained horses that he doesn’t ride, Daddy Long Legs and Wrote are both weighted too lightly, while Treasure Beach runs in the Dubai Sheema Classic, in which Joseph rides St Nicholas Abbey.

It is hardly a surprising development.  As well as being the trainer’s son, there has never been any doubt about Joseph’s talent as a rider, about his judgement of pace, his tactical awareness or his strength in a finish.  His one area of weakness is that he doesn’t have the huge depth of experience that the very top flat riders do, but he is quickly setting about addressing that one.

He proved last year on Roderic O’Connor in the Irish Guineas and on Camelot in the Racing Post Trophy that he had a head for the important races.  Then, just in case there was any doubt about his ability to handle the pressures that are part of his chosen profession, he gave St Nicholas Abbey an exemplary ride on one of the biggest stages in the world of thoroughbred racing to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf, becoming the youngest rider ever to land a Breeders’ Cup heat in the process.

The raising of the weights across the board for Irish flat racing this season – Joseph put up 1lb overweight on Ahimsa to ride at 9st 1lb on Sunday – will undoubtedly help the youngster this term, and he could be the one to challenge the demi-decade of Smullen/Murtagh dominance of the flat jockeys’ championship.

Sharestan … and on

The handicapper has rewarded Sharestan with an 11lb hike for his victory in Sunday’s Irish Lincoln, but that may not be sufficient to halt his progression.

This was just the third time that the John Oxx-trained colt had raced, he recorded the fastest comparative time of the day by a fair way, and he has huge scope for progression.  Also, given the manner in which he galloped all the way to the line, getting stronger as the race developed, and given his breeding – his dam is a winner over 10 furlongs from the family of Derby winner Shahrastani – he should progress further for stepping up again in trip.  He is an exciting prospect.

National value

It is a brave man who would have an ante post bet in a wide open-looking Ladbrokes Irish Grand National at this stage.  With 69 entries, and the top 19 in the market priced up at 115% even at very best prices (the top 19 in the Aintree Grand National market, by comparison, with just 59 entries at present, are priced up at 98%), it may take a little while for the value to emerge.

© The Irish Field, 31st March 2012