Things We Learned » History beckons

History beckons

It is remarkable to think that, when Aidan O’Brien sent out Australia to win the Derby last year, he became the first trainer in the history of the most historic race of them all to send out the winner three times in a row.

It’s a long history too, stretching back to that alleged coin-flip between the 12th Earl of Derby and Lord Bunbury. You wonder if that coin was a half-brother to the one that Jonjo O’Neill flipped to determine whether AP McCoy would ride Don’t Push It or Can’t Buy Time in the 2010 Grand National. You also wonder, if the coin-flip had gone the other way, would a fleeting sponsor have managed to change the name of the Derby to the Fleeting Sponsor Cup for a year or two. Anyway, we digress.

Fred Darling came close. He sent out Bois Roussel to win the Derby in 1938, and he sent out Pont l’Eveque to win it in 1940 and Owen Tudor to win it in 1941. But it wasn’t three in a row, and that was the closest that any trainer had come in the 232 years that preceded the Camelot-Ruler Of The World-Australia rat-tat-tat. It puts the magnitude of O’Brien’s achievement into context.

This year, the general feeling has been that the champion trainer has been in a race against time to get his Derby team together. Talk of stepping Gleneagles up in trip and of supplementing Found was spawned from the general sense that Team Ballydoyle were not where Team Ballydoyle wanted to be.

That said, Giovanni Canaletto had been talked of as the main hope early in the spring. He had that hold-up that ruled him out of the Chester Vase, but he got back on the racecourse in the Gallinule two weeks ago, and he didn’t perform badly at all. The fact that neither Gleneagles nor Found has joined the team, and the fact that Ryan Moore rides Ruler Of The World’s brother, in preference to the Chester Vase winner and the Lingfield Derby Trial winner, tells you that the Galileo colt might be close now.

Dash draw

Lots has been made about the draw in this afternoon’s Investec (aren’t they all?) Corporate Banking Dash. It is true, when you are hurtling down the fastest five-furlong strip in the world of racing, it will be an advantage if you can race close to the stands rail, where the camber is at its least severe. Why do you think there is a perennial convergence towards the near side?

However, the advantage conferred by a high draw may not be as significant as conventional wisdom dictates. Conventional wisdom in this instance is probably influenced by recency bias, as conventional wisdom tends to be, with the first five home in last year’s renewal of the Dash emerging, respectively, from stalls 14, 17, 12, 13 and 15. In a 19-runner field, that is well beyond happenstance.

However, Stone Of Folca won the 2012 renewal from stall two, and Smoothtalkinrascal finished second in the 2013 renewal from stall one. Indeed, before last year, four of the previous nine renewals had been won by horses drawn 10 or lower, and, of the 45 places available in the first five in those nine renewals, 20 of them were filled by horses who emerged from one of the lowest 10 boxes. So don’t despair if the horse you want to back is drawn low. It may be that the market has over-compensated, that the perceived disadvantage of a low draw is not as great as the actual disadvantage.

Derby draw

On the contrary, the draw in the Derby may be more important than is generally accepted by the market. The uphill run from the stalls and the right turn after a furlong and a half means that, if you are drawn low and you want to gain a position, you have to use up some of your horse very early. By contrast, if you are drawn high you could be shuffled back at that turn, and you could be wider than ideal or further back than ideal when you do start to turn left-handed.

Here are the stall numbers of the first five home in the Derby in the last 10 years:

12-2-11-3-8 (16 runners)

10-5-11-9-1 (12)

5-3-7-6-4 (9)

7-12-13-6-3 (13)

8-6-11-12-4 (12)

4-10-2-9-7 (12)

3-14-10-13-16 (16)

14-8-2-17-9 (17)

10-11-18-5-8 (18)

5-12-4-13-3 (13)

Findings? No Derby winner has emerged from stalls one or two in the last decade. Actually, only one horse drawn on the inside rail – Ocovango, who finished fifth in 2013 – and only three horses drawn one off the inside rail managed to finish in the first five in that time. That’s four places out of 50. That’s an 8% return from a representation of 14.5%.

The outside boxes have fared better. No horse drawn in either of the two outside boxes has won the Derby in the last 10 years, but 10 have managed to finish in the first five and six in the first three.

Even so, it is the middle that dominates. Three of the last 10 winners emerged from the centre stall and three more were drawn no more than two and a half stalls away from the centre. Even in the 2012 renewal, when there were just nine runners, the winner Camelot emerged from stall five, right in the middle, while the four horses who emerged from the four stalls around him chased him home.

Conclusions? The middle is really where you want to be. And if you can’t have a middle draw, you want to be higher rather than lower.

Jockey roundabout

Strange the way life works out. Rewind a couple of years: Frankie Dettori is first jockey for Godolphin, William Buick is first jockey for John Gosden.

Now look. Gosden had two runners in the Dante, Godolphin had none. Dettori had the choice between Jack Hobbs and Golden Horn, he chose Jack Hobbs, who was sent off the 2/1 favourite. Buick rode the second string, Golden Horn. Golden Horn won, Jack Hobbs finished second.

Both horses are set to line up in this afternoon’s Derby. Godolphin have now bought into Jack Hobbs, which means that one of their riders – William Buick, as it happens – will ride him. That means that Dettori will switch to Golden Horn, who happens to be favourite. Wonder how this one ends.

Thought for Investec Derby day

Zebras rarely get the chance to come on for the run.

© The Irish Field, 6th June 2015