Things We Learned » Irresistible forces and immovable objects

Irresistible forces and immovable objects

Irresistible force and immovable object, call it what you will, but the separation of Willie Mullins and Gigginstown House on Wednesday was seismic, as the tectonic plates of National Hunt racing shifted.

While the reverberations are far-reaching and not fully quantifiable as yet, it looks like the reasons are fairly straightforward.  The champion National Hunt trainer has his training methodology, his way of doing things.  Whatever the minutiae of that methodology are, you can be sure that every effort is made to maximise the rate and the scale of success – the rate and the scale of said success tells you as much – and the cost of that effort is not low. 

So the champion trainer increases his fees this year for the first time in 10 years. 

The champion National Hunt owners also have their methodology.  Again, as with the champion trainer, the rate and the scale of the success that they have tells you that the methodology works.  The champion trainer’s increased fee is more than the champion owners are willing to pay.  Something has to yield if the state of equilibrium is to be maintained.

Both parties stand firm, nobody gives, nobody blinks.  It the end, given that neither party yields and that something has to, it is the relationship that gives way.  And so the plates move.

Neither party is a winner here.  Gigginstown House lose out because they no longer have their horses trained or sourced by the perennial champion trainer.  Willie Mullins loses out because he loses 60 horses. 

A 60-horse loss is not insignificant, no matter who the trainer is, no matter how strong or how successful.  And as well as the actual loss of the horses, there is also the fact that Mullins and his team have spent the time and the effort necessary to acquire the horses, to put the team together.  There is no National Hunt trainer in the country who is as well-equipped to deal with such a setback as Willie Mullins is, but it is still a setback.

The winners, of course, are Gordon Elliott, Noel Meade, Henry de Bromhead, Mouse Morris and Joseph O’Brien, the trainers among whom the 60 horses will reportedly be dispersed.  All five are top class trainers, all proven at the highest level of National Hunt racing.  From an objective perspective, it will be interesting to observe the impact of the move as the 2016/17 National Hunt season takes shape.


Do not despair if you are drawn high

There has been lots of talk about the draw for tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  Feelings during the week seemed to range from a low draw being an advantage to a high draw being a disaster.  But it may be the case that neither is correct.

An analysis of the last 22 runnings of the Prix du Jockey Club – run, like the Arc tomorrow for the first time – at Chantilly makes for interesting reading. 

There have been 11 renewals of the Prix du Jockey Club since the distance was reduced from a mile and a half to 10 and a half furlongs.  In those 11 renewals, the first four home were drawn as follows, with the ground and the total number of stalls each year included:

2015 (soft ground): 7, 16, 13, 11 (of 17 stalls)

2014 (good to soft): 13, 9, 1, 10 (of 14)

2013 (good to soft): 10, 3, 9, 1 (of 19)

2012 (good to soft): 16, 3, 1, 5 (of 20)

2011 (soft): 10, 2, 1, 4 (of 16)

2010 (soft): 20, 10, 18, 13 (of 22)

2009 (good): 4, 3, 13, 15 (of 17)

2008 (soft): 4, 17, 11, 5 (of 20)

2007 (good to soft): 5, 9, 1, 14 (of 20)

2006 (good): 7, 12, 13, 9 (of 15)

2005 (good): 13, 5, 15, 3 (of 17)

In the 11 renewals that were run before the distance of the race was reduced, the last 11 renewals run over a mile and a half, the first four home were drawn as follows, with the ground and the total number of stalls also included:

2004 (good to soft): 10, 8, 1, 2 (of 15)

2003 (good): 4, 3, 5, 2 (of 7)

2002 (good): 11, 13, 9, 6 (of 15)

2001 (good): 2, 10, 1, 7 (of 14)

2000 (very soft): 14, 13, 11, 10 (of 14)

1999 (soft): 4, 2, 1, 5 (of 8)

1998 (good): 12, 5, 4, 13 (of 13)

1997 (good): 2, 13, 9, 1 (of 14)

1996 (firm): 8, 10, 12, 9 (of 15)

1995 (good): 11, 12, 9, 10 (of 11)

1994 (good to soft): 10, 1, 14, 12 (of 15)

Main conclusion from these results?  An outside draw is not as disadvantageous over a mile and a half at Chantilly as it is over 10 and a half furlongs.  Indeed, an outside draw may even be an advantage over a mile and a half. 

You can conduct some very rudimentary manipulation of the data above to give you an objective measure of draw advantage/disadvantage.  If you take the stall numbers above and make them a percentage of the total number of stalls available in each race, for example, and if you give a weighting to finishing position, say four-10ths for first, three-10ths for second, two-tenths for third, one-tenth for fourth, and record the sum for each race as a percentage of the total score that is available (as determined by the number of stalls), then you can get a draw weighting for each race run.

For the 11 renewals run over 10 and a half furlongs, you get an average figure of 36.97%, which suggests that the low numbers have a fair advantage, which is as you might have expected.  However, for the last 11 renewals of the Prix du Jockey Club run over a mile and a half, over tomorrow’s Arc de Triomphe course and distance, the average figure is 51.15%, almost right in the middle, the high side of the mid-point, which suggests that there is no advantage to be gleaned from a low draw. 

Physically, it makes sense that a high draw would be at least less of a disadvantage over 12 furlongs at Chantilly than it is over 10 and a half.  Have a look at the layout of Chantilly.  The 10-and-a-half-furlong race is all right-handed, you race in a straight line for about three and a half furlongs before you reach the road crossing and turn right for the first time.

The 12-furlong start is a little different, it is back on the home straight, but facing the other direction.  You turn a little to your left first, before you straighten up and get ready for your first right turn. 

It’s a little like the 12-furlong start at Epsom, only in reverse.  At Epsom, you turn to your right, then get ready for the left-handed rollercoaster.  Epsom is also different in that you are climbing all the while through the first two furlongs as you are taking that right turn.  And at Epsom it is a well-known fact that, statistically, an inside draw is actually a disadvantage in the Derby, probably because of that right-handed turn as you race uphill. 

Significantly, over 10 furlongs at Epsom, statistically, it is an advantage to be drawn middle to low.  But over a mile and a half at Epsom, it is an advantage to be drawn middle to high.  It could be a similar situation at Chantilly.  It is set up similarly physically.

Breaking Chantilly down by ground, if you take just the three renewals of the Jockey Club run over 10 and a half furlongs on good ground, which is probably the type of ground that they will have tomorrow, the draw average percentage goes up to 44.82%, which suggests that – admittedly from a very small sample – there is hardly any advantage to be gleaned from a low draw.

Interestingly – with no appreciable rain north of Paris these days – for the last seven renewals of the Jockey Club run over a mile and a half on good ground or faster, the average percentage for the draw moves up to 57.54%, which suggests that there may actually be an advantage to a high draw over a mile and a half on good ground.

These are small sample sizes admittedly, but they are relevant.  So if your horse is drawn high in the Arc tomorrow, do not despair.  Indeed, the high-drawn horses may be over-priced at worst, and advantaged at best.

20 years is a long time

It is difficult to believe that Frankie Dettori’s Magnificent Seven was 20 years ago this week.  Difficult, that is, until you check the other results on the day. 

At Haydock on 28th September 1996, the late Alec Stewart trained the winner of the 10-furlong handicap, while the late Henry Cecil had a double, both horses ridden by Willie Ryan, and Muis Roberts rode the winner of the five-furlong handicap.

Anabatic, trained by the late Michael O’Brien, won the two-and-a-half-mile conditions’ chase at Listowel on the day, while the Declan Gillespie-trained Classic Express won the one-mile handicap, and the four-year-old Theatreworld won the qualified riders’ race under Barry Cash for a young trainer named Aidan O’Brien.  Theatreworld came home 12 lengths clear of Mystical City, who was ridden by Ruby Walsh (claiming 5lb). 

Vinnie impressive

Vintage Vinnie was impressive in winning the feature race at Market Rasen last Saturday, the listed two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase.

In front from flagfall and always prominent, Rebecca Curtis’ horse travelled and jumped well throughout, and he kept on well for Jonathan Moore to come nicely clear of Presenting Arms.

These things are easy in hindsight (and fair play if you copped it with foresight), but Vintage Vinnie was a well-handicapped horse on Saturday on his old form.  Winner on his chasing debut at Worcester last September, he fell at the third last fence when still travelling well in a three-mile novices’ chase at Cheltenham’s October meeting last season, after which he was given a rating of 141.  He was racing off a mark of 129 on Saturday.

Of course, he had to have put in some poor performances in the interim, given that the handicapper dropped him to that mark, and he did.  Beaten by Thomas Brown at Doncaster in January, he was pulled up in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March, and he was pulled up again on his final run last season in a three-mile handicap chase at Newbury.

But Rebecca Curtis had a season to forget last year.  Her horses were in and out of form all season, and mostly out.  Encouragingly, the early signs this season are positive.

Vintage Vinnie was winning for the second time in September on Saturday– he easily landed a novices’ hurdle at Worcester earlier in the month – which brought Curtis’ tally for the month up to that point to two wins from three runs.  And she has had just two runners since Vintage Vinnie’s win, Cornish Warrior, who ran well in the bumper at Market Rasen on Saturday, and Master Ally, who finished second in a handicap hurdle at Bangor on Wednesday.

Given her travails last season, it is possible that the Pembrokeshire trainer has several well-handicapped horses now under her care.  It could pay to follow the yard’s horses now, at least through the early part of the season.


Thought for the week

‘The JT McNamara Ladbrokes Munster National’

Sounds great.

© The Irish Field, 1st October 2016