Things We Learned » Percentage call is to aim high

Percentage call is to aim high

Until this year, there have been five big-field handicaps run on the straight course at Royal Ascot: the Royal Hunt Cup, the Sandringham, the Britannia, the Buckingham Palace and the Wokingham. Big fields have assembled for some of the other races on the straight track, like the King’s Stand and the Diamond Jubilee and the Coventry Stakes, but they are not handicaps, all runners are not handicapped to dead-heat in theory, so they may not be as accurate a guide as to the advantages or disadvantages conferred by a high or low draw as the handicaps.

Last year, when the meeting was run on good to firm ground, the first 10 home in each of the straight-track handicaps emerged from the following stalls respectively:

Hunt Cup (8f, Wednesday): 33, 14, 23, 29, 16, 25, 28, 22, 18, 19 (28 runners)
Sandringham (8f, Wednesday): 22, 18, 24, 20, 8, 19, 23, 1, 6, 10 (24)
Britannia (8f, Thursday): 26, 20, 12, 30, 24, 8, 5, 25, 1, 15 (30)
Buckingham Palace (7f, Friday): 29, 21, 25, 30, 17, 18, 23, 28, 13, 3, 14 (28)
Wokingham (6f, Saturday): 27, 18, 12, 25, 20, 29, 31, 14, 2, 23 (28)

In 2013, when the meeting was also run on good to firm ground, the first 10 home in each race emerged from the following stalls:

Hunt Cup (Wednesday): 6, 2, 10, 7, 12, 19, 4, 21, 1, 9 (28 runners)
Sandringham (Wednesday): 3, 5, 2, 22, 14, 26, 16, 9, 15, 18 (26)
Britannia (Thursday): 15, 12, 24, 30, 20, 16, 33, 25, 10, 14 (27)
Buckingham Palace (Friday): 32, 30, 24, 15, 26, 25, 14, 23, 12, 10 (27)
Wokingham (Saturday): 22, 18, 15, 29, 19, 21, 30, 31, 24, 27 (26)

In 2012, the ground was different. It was officially described as good on Wednesday, good to soft on Thursday, soft on Friday and good for the Wokingham on Saturday. The first 10 home in each race emerged from the following stalls:

Hunt Cup (Wednesday): 33, 18, 21, 13, 10, 1, 29, 7, 28, 26 (30 runners)
Sandringham (Wednesday): 18, 17, 4, 12, 7, 5, 14, 3, 11, 16 (17)
Britannia (Thursday): 6, 7, 17, 3, 8, 2, 5, 20, 22, 11 (29)
Buckingham Palace (Friday): 11, 23, 32, 25, 28, 18, 2, 9, 19, 3 (23)
Wokingham (Saturday): 15, 23, 16, 6, 11, 9, 24, 18, 14, 4, 21 (28)

In all three years, the high numbers have generally held sway, with three notable exceptions: the two races on the Wednesday in 2013 and the Britannia in 2012, when the low numbers dominated. The Britannia in 2012 is easily attributable to easy ground. Interestingly, in the 2012 Buckingham Palace the following day, which was run on soft ground, the high numbers did not dominate as much as they have on faster ground.

The 2013 Hunt Cup was a strange race. Just seven of the 28 runners raced on the far side, they were well ahead of the stands side group at half way, and between them they filled the first four places and seven of the first 10. In the 2013 Sandringham, the field congregated towards the centre, but the fillies who raced towards the far side of the group always held an advantage and the first four home finished clear.

With the exception of those three races, high numbers have dominated. Not one of the other 12 winners was drawn in single figures, and just one was drawn lower than 15.

Last year the advantage that high-drawn horses seemed to have was at its highest. Remarkably, all five winners of the big straight-track handicaps were drawn 22 or higher, this in races with between 24 and 30 runners.

Just seven of the 50 top-10 places were filled by horses with a single-figure draw last year, and no horse drawn lower than 12 managed to reach the top four in any of the five races. Indeed, of the 20 places available in the top four, 15 were filled by horses drawn 20 or higher. That is a return of 75% from a representation of just 31%. The percentage call on the straight track at Ascot this week, both in the handicaps and in the non-handicaps, is to err on the side of high numbers.

Satisfactory Derby result

Golden Horn’s win in the Investec Derby was a good result for the race. Actually, insofar as races can have ‘good’ results, victory for the John Gosden-trained colt was probably the best result that the race could have had.

Anthony Oppenheimer’s horse was the highest-rated horse going into the race, he was the Dante winner, the winner of the strongest trial, and he was ridden by Frankie Dettori, who is always liable to do a flying dismount from the racing pages and land in mainstream. That’s all good-for-the-race stuff.

Also, he was the first British-trained Derby winner since Workforce won it in 2010, and he was just the second since Dettori won it first and last on Authorized in 2007. It probably wouldn’t have been great for the race if we had gone on another year or two without a British victory in their own Derby.

There was lots to take out of the race. The winner stayed the trip all right, but he might be even better back at 10 furlongs. The Eclipse is a good target for him now. Runner-up Jack Hobbs looks like a galloper who will be well suited to The Curragh, and he will be a big addition to the Irish Derby.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Giovanni Canaletto did well to get as close as he did, given his rushed preparation, his youth and his relative lack of experience, but the horse to take out of the race may be his stable companion Kilimanjaro.

Joseph O’Brien settled the High Chaparral colt out the back of the field through the early stages of the race, last of the 12 runners. Second last as they passed the three-furlong pole, his rider took him to the outside and asked him for his effort. His progress from there was gradual rather than instant. Ninth passing the two-furlong pole, he stayed on all the way to the line to finish sixth.

The Ballydoyle colts stayed on well to land the Lingfield Derby Trial over a mile and a half last month, and he is by a Derby winner out of a Dalakhani mare who won over a mile. His galloping style should be better-suited to The Curragh than it was to Epsom. He will be an interesting Irish Derby contender, and he will also be of interest if he is aimed at the St Leger at Doncaster, where the long home straight should suit him well.

Irish 1000 Guineas form gets stronger

The suspicion at the time was that this year’s renewal of the Irish 1000 Guineas was a strong one, with last year’s Prix Marcel Boussac winner chasing home this year’s eight-length Blue Wind Stakes winner and the Newmarket Guineas fourth back in eighth place, and that suspicion is now proving to be well-founded.

Surprise Epsom Oaks winner Qualify, a staying-on 10th at The Curragh, obviously gave the form a massive boost last Friday, while Irish Guineas sixth Tamadhor ran out a nice winner of a decent all-aged conditions’ race at Fairyhouse on Wednesday. The winner Pleascach could run in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot on Thursday, while runner-up Found could run in the Coronation Stakes on Friday. The Irish Guineas form could look even stronger by the end of the week.

Smullen could have a big week

Pat Smullen had a Royal Ascot to remember last year, a Wednesday to remember, an hour to remember. He rode the Dermot Weld-trained colt Mustajeeb in the opener on the second day of the Royal meeting, the Jersey Stakes, driving Sheikh Hamdan’s horse home by a length from the same owner’s Muwaary. Then, 35 minutes later, he went out on the Eddie Lynam-trained Anthem Alexander in the Queen Mary, and got her home by a neck from Tiggy Wiggy.

Not that Smullen was a stranger to success at Royal Ascot before last year. He won the Ribblesdale Stakes in 2002 on Irresistible Jewel, then returned 10 years later to win the same race on the Moyglare Stud mare’s daughter Princess Highway. Smullen also won the Wolferton Handicap in 2003 on In Times Eye and, of course, there was that memorable duel that he had with Johnny Murtagh on Age Of Aquarius in the 2010 Gold Cup, when he got Rite Of Passage home by a neck in a thriller, the two Irish horses clear.

All going well, Smullen will again be teaming up with last year’s successful duo, but in different races: Mustajeeb in the Diamond Jubilee and Anthem Alexander in the Commonwealth Cup, both stepping up to Group 1 level. He also has ante post favourite Free Eagle for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and, as long as the ground is safe, another ante post favourite in Forgotten Rules for the Gold Cup.

Add G Force in the King’s Stand, Digeanta in the Ascot Stakes, Bragging in the Duke of Cambridge, and others. It could be a good week.

26 tracks in 24 hours

It takes most jockeys half a career-time to ride at all 26 Irish racecourses, but Peter O’Reilly is endeavouring to do it in 24 hours. He is starting with Downpatrick and he is ending with Dundalk, and there is a helicopter ride between Thurles and Kilbeggan involved. Get out a map of Irish racecourses and try joining the dots, numbering the racecourses. See how close you get to the actual route.

He has got nature on his side, mind you, by doing it on 21st June, the longest 24 hours on the calendar, so to speak. It’s all in an effort to raise funds for the Irish Injured Jockeys’ Fund (, so it is an endeavour that is well worthwhile.

© The Irish Field, 13th June 2015