Things We Learned » Trends schmrends

Trends schmrends

On His Own confounded the trends with his superb victory in the Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on Thursday.

Eight of the previous 10 Thyestes winners had been younger than 10. (On His Own is 10.) Only one of the previous 10 winners carried more than 10st 10lb to victory. (On His Own carried 11st 7lb.) Only two were rated higher than 129. (On His Own raced off a mark of 142.) All of the previous 10 winners had had a run between Christmas and the Thyestes. (On His Own hadn’t run after he had finished sixth behind Chance Du Roy in the Becher Chase at Aintree in early December.)

On His Own is trained by Willie Mullins. At least he hit one trend.

There have been five dual Thyestes Chase winners in the past, but the three most recent dual winners, Wylde Hide, Bob Treacy and Preists Leap, won their second Thyestes off marks of 118, 132 and 135 respectively. To win the race as easily as On His Own did off a mark of 142 was a massive performance, possibly a career-best.

The Aintree Grand National is the obvious target now for Graham Wylie’s horse. That’s where Thyestes winners go. There is a feeling doing the rounds that Aintree is not the place for him, mind you, which is understandable, given that he has not run well there in either of his last two visits. However, it was interesting to hear Willie say after the race that there were possible excuses for those two runs.

On his first visit to Aintree, however, for the 2012 Grand National, On His Own was running a big race when he came down at Becher’s Brook second time. He had been messed around a little early in the race, but he had jumped the fences superbly, and he had manoeuvred himself into a really good position just behind the leaders when he got in a bit tight to Becher’s, which is exactly what you do not want to be doing at the fence with still the most formidable drop on the landing side.

The Presenting gelding was only eight in 2012. No eight-year-old has won the National since Bindaree in 2002. As a 10-year-old now, he is much better equipped for the rigours of the National than he was as younger horse. He raced off a rating of 148 on both his previous runs in the Grand National and, after winning the Thyestes off a mark of 142, he should be close enough to that mark this year. A mark of that magnitude would be more than manageable now as a 10-year-old.

Importantly, he appeared to win the Thyestes with plenty in hand. He always travelled well and, but for putting in a short one at the fourth last fence, there were never too many worries. He did go to his right over the last two fences, but you never really thought that any one of his chasing rivals was going to catch him. He pricked his ears on the run-in and went away to post an impressive victory. He is in the form of his life on this evidence.

Nine of the last 13 renewals of the National (including the last four) have been won by horses aged 10 or more. So we’re back to trends again.

Slow learning

Speaking of the Thyestes and Willie Mullins, another of the Mullins quartet in Thursday’s race, Balnaslow, ran a big race to finish fourth.

The Gigginstown House horse had plenty of elements against him in Thursday’s race. Not only was he unproven over the distance (he is a point-to-point winner, but he raced over three miles twice under Rules, both times over hurdles, finishing sixth once and being pulled up once) and racing on ground that was probably softer than ideal, but he also raced towards the rear of the field through the early stages of the race.

It is usually an advantage to be prominent in the Thyestes, it can be difficult to make up ground from the rear on soft ground at Gowran Park, and that proved to be the case again on Thursday. On His Own led all the way, while the second and third horses, Los Amigos and Oscars Business, raced in the first six throughout. Balnaslow was the only horse who raced in rear to finish in the first four.

He did move up threateningly just behind the leaders as they left the back straight, and he travelled nicely into the home straight for Bryan Cooper, but he did appear to get tired over the final two fences. He actually landed over the last in second place, but he jumped it like a tired horse, landed with a slight momentum-halting shudder, and he lost two places between there and the line.

By Presenting, he could be a different horse now back on better ground in the spring. He is only seven and this was just his fifth chase. He still has lots of scope for progression and, as long as the handicapper isn’t too hard on him, which he shouldn’t be, there could be a big three-mile handicap chase in him on better ground in the next few months.

Doyle demands attention

When trainers strike form, it usually pays to pay attention.

Take Liz Doyle, for example. The Wexford trainer went from the end of July to the end of December with just two winners. In fairness, she did not have that many runners, just 20 National Hunt runners and six on the flat in four months from August to November, and the horses were not running poorly. Even so, you don’t want to be going five months with just two winners too often.

Then January kicked in and things turned around. Before Elzamay ran at Dundalk last night, Doyle had four winners from 14 runners so far in 2014. Three of her last six runners have won, at odds of 13/2, 14/1 and 33/1, and two have finished third. If you had €1 on every one of her runners in January, you would be showing a net profit of €57.50.

Interestingly, it is at this time of year that Liz Doyle appears to excel. In January last year, she had three winners from eight runners. In the three months from January to March last year, she had seven winners from 47 runners for a level stakes profit of €40.25. In the three months from January to March in 2012, she had four winners from 13 runners in Ireland for a strike rate of over 30% and a level stakes profit of €14.50.

Stable star Le Vent D’Antan could only finish third in his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday, but he should come on appreciably for that, his first run over hurdles, just his third race ever and his first since the Cheltenham Bumper last March. He remains an interesting novice hurdler, and anything that Liz Doyle runs these days is worthy of a second glance.

Ruby dash is off

It was good of Doncaster to move today’s Grade 2 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle forward from 2.40 to 2.05 in order to give Ruby Walsh the chance to be able to ride Annie Power in the race before high-tailing it to Cheltenham to ride Boston Bob against old ally Big Buck’s in the Cleeve Hurdle.

They couldn’t have put it on any earlier, as to have done so would have moved it to a time that would have been outside Channel 4’s coverage. (The Taste doesn’t finish until 1.30.) And the Cleeve Hurdle is the last race on Channel 4’s programme (Come Dine With Me starts at 4.00 – it’s all about food on Channel 4 these days), so Cheltenham could not have pushed that race back any more without losing terrestrial coverage. Even so, even between the first Channel 4 race today and the last, there still isn’t enough time for Ruby to get from Doncaster to Cheltenham. The only solution would have been to move the Sky Bet meeting to Worcester, or to move the Cleeve Hurdle meeting to Market Rasen. Maybe next year.

Targets focus

There appears to be a plan of sorts taking shape now with Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham team.

Here are the clues. Annie Power is running in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle today at Doncaster over two miles, not in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham over three, so does that mean that she is more likely to run in the Champion Hurdle than the World Hurdle?

Boston Bob is running in the Cleeve Hurdle, not in the Argento Chase, so does that mean that he is more likely for the World Hurdle than the Gold Cup? Felix Yonger is the main Mullins representative in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Chase tomorrow, so does that mean that he is the Mullins number one for the Arkle?

Maybe. Just maybe.

© The Irish Field, 25th January 2014