Things We Learned » Trainers’ championship

Trainers’ championship

So, it has come down to this, Nicholls v Mullins (you put Nicholls first because he’s at home), the final hurrah, the last day of the season with pots of prize money up for grabs, showdown at the OK Corral.  (Only it’s not Corral, it’s Bet365, you’re getting today mixed up with Eclipse day.)

After 364 days of racing, from Aintree and Ascot through Cheltenham to Taunton and Warwick, after both men have accumulated more than £2 million in prize money, here we are on the final morning of the final day of the season, with mere (relative) pounds and pennies between them.

It looked like it was all over after Aintree when Mullins swept the boards, with Apple’s Jade and Annie Power and Bacardys and Yorkhill and Douvan and Ivan Grozny, while Nicholls had winners at Taunton.  Then Vicente won the Scottish Grand National at Ayr last Saturday, and it was game on again.

And it is a strange game this one.  Nicholls ran six horses in the Aintree Grand National, including the 12/1 third favourite Silviniaco Conti.  He had six of the 39 runners, that’s over 15% of the runners, and his best-placed finisher was Unionist, who netted £1,000 for finishing 10th.   He had one runner in the Scottish National, one of the 28, just three and a half per cent of the runners, and he wins it.  The £119,595 that Vicente netted was obviously crucial, bolstered by three other winners for Nicholls on Scottish National day.

Pivotal moments in the last 364 days in the trainers’ championship?  Vautour’s fall in the Melling Chase at Aintree for starters.  He was a 1/5 shot and the race was worth £112,788 to the winner.  If Vautour had stood up, it would be Mullins who would be 50 grand ahead going into today, not Nicholls.

Voix Du Reve’s fall at the final flight in the Fred Winter Hurdle.  We don’t know where he would have finished, but he probably would have gone close to winning, and his fall (and Campeador’s) allowed Nicholls fill the first two places in the race with Diego Du Charmil and Romain De Senam.  We didn’t really think about it at the time but, with over 42 grand to the winner, 16 for the second and eight for the third, that was a possible swing of £77,398.

There will probably be other pivotal moments today.

Re-match the highlight of a brilliant week

Once again, despite the fact that one front may be slightly weakened because Willie Mullins is challenging on several fronts, the Punchestown Festival is shaping up to be a cracking week.

Potential highlight of the week?  The Bibby Financial Services Ireland (this is the third year of it, so we should be used to it by now) Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday, the re-match between Don Cossack (he’s at home) and Cue Card.

Oh there are scores all right.  Don Cossack fell in the King George that Cue Card won when he might/probably would have won it had he stood up, Cue Card fell in the Gold Cup that Don Cossack won when he might have won it had he stood up.

This is not a decider though.  Gordon Elliott’s horse had Cue Card 26 lengths behind him in second place when he won the Melling Chase at Aintree last year, and he had him 15 lengths behind him in fourth place when he won the Punchestown Gold Cup last year.

Cue Card is a different horse this year after his wind operation, but it’s a home game for Don Cossack, he can travel by road to the venue, not by boat.  Also, the Gigginstown horse hasn’t been to Aintree and back this year, whereas Cue Card has.  It’s advantage Cossack.

Fast starts

You sense that Aidan O’Brien has made a fast start to the season, that his horses are more forward at this time this year than they usually are, and that is backed up by the statistics.

With one week still to go in April, O’Brien has had 18 winners from 54 runners in Ireland.  That’s a strike rate of 33%, for a net level-stakes profit of €33.29.  Last April, for the entire month, he had 11 winners from 53 runners (21%) for a level-stakes loss of €8.46, while in 2014 he had nine winners from 43 runners (21%) for a level-stakes loss of €12.13.  Indeed, this is the only April in the last five years in which the champion trainer has shown a level-stakes profit.

Other trainers have had impressive Aprils so far.  Johnny Levins had no winners from 16 runners in April last year, but this year, he has built on his good start to the calendar year, bagging two wins – Mr Right at The Curragh and Shukhov at Dundalk – from just nine runs this month for a level-stakes profit of €5.90.

Damian English has got the season off to a flyer, Bluesbreaker’s win at Tipperary on Thursday evening his third winner of the month and his seventh of the calendar year for a level-stakes profit of €47.25 for 2016, while Jet Setting’s win in the Group 3 1000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown two weeks ago is an obvious highlight of the season so far for Adrian Keatley, who is two for 15 in April for a level-stakes profit of €8.50.  And Bangor trainer Clare Louise Cannon has sent out Coreczka to win three times now at Dundalk, giving her three wins from just four runs in March and April for a level-stakes profit of €16.00.

Advantage at Navan

There appeared to be a really significant advantage to be gained from racing on the far rail up the home straight at Navan on Sunday.

Charlies Missile made just about all the running and raced against the rail in the opening six-furlong handicap and Hyzenthlay raced flush against the far rail the whole way in the juvenile fillies’ maiden.  Pretty Perfect made all, leading into the home straight in the Salsabil Stakes, never leaving the far rail, as did Spader in the 10-furlong handicap.

It was a similar story in the Heritage Stakes, with Lily’s Rainbow making just about all the running, leading into the home straight and sticking like a limpet to the far rail.  Misty Millie took over early in the one-mile fillies’ maiden and led just about all the way, while The Gurkha broke smartly from stall one in the three-year-olds’ maiden and made all.  Also, Next Bend was never far off the pace in the last and took it up early in the home straight before going on to win well.

The net result is that horses who did well while racing away from the far rail probably ran significantly better than the bare form of their respective runs suggest.  Horses who might be worth noting for the future on this basis include Ducky Mallon from the opener, Oh Grace and Cuff from the juvenile fillies’ maiden, Elusive Approach from the one-mile fillies’ maiden, Aasheq from the three-year-olds’ maiden (it may pay to retain the faith), and Prussian Eagle – the biggest eye-catcher of the day – and Elm Grove in the one-mile-five-furlong handicap.

Johnson tops

Richard Johnson will finally get his hands on the jockeys’ championship trophy at Sandown this afternoon.  Or he will get his hands on the new one.  The old one has been de-commissioned because somebody won it 20 times.  (Brazil only had to win theirs three times.)

Looking back now, it is strange to think that, at the start of the season, there was not that much in the betting between Johnson and Sam Twiston-Davies and Tom Scudamore.  With one day to go, Johnson has 233 winners this season, Twiston-Davies has 126 and Scudamore has 85.

Johnson’s coronation may be over-shadowed a little on the day by the Nicholls/Mullins tête-à-tête for the trainers’ title, but there will not be a more popular winner today.


© The Irish Field, 23rd April 2016