Things We Learned » British Champions Day

British Champions Day 

British Champions Day staged another top class day of flat racing, the third in the European triumvirate: Irish Champions Weekend, Arc de Triomphe weekend/day, British Champions Day. 

Just shows you, the three can co-exist perfectly harmoniously.  Three weeks between Irish Champions Weekend and Arc weekend, two weeks between Arc weekend and British Champions Day.  Ideally there would be three, but two is okay, given the restrictiveness of the calendar.

You can do them all.  Found was second in the Irish Champion Stakes before winning that historic Arc, then finished second in the British Champion Stakes.  

Or you can do two of the three.  Almanzor won the Irish Champion Stakes and the British Champion Stakes.  Minding finished third in the Irish Champion Stakes and won the QE2.  Quest For More won the Prix du Cadran and finished second in the Long Distance Cup.  Speedy Boarding won the Prix de l’Opera and finished second in the Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes.  And they are still surely searching for a snappier title for the Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes.

The ground helped the day, that’s for sure.  An unseasonably mild and dry October meant that the ground at Ascot on Saturday was as good or better than it had been all year, and it was significantly faster than it was at the Royal meeting at the height of summer.  

The contingency plan to move to the inside track was a good contingency plan to have, and the fact that both Ryan Moore and Pat Smullen expressed themselves happy with how the track rode when they trialled it means that it is a contingency plan that Ascot can keep up their sleeve for the future.  

The fact that the inside track was good to firm, firm in places in the days leading up to the meeting means that it is possible that you could produce decent flat racing ground on it in the future in the middle of an October with average rainfall.  You just have to move the picnic tables. 


The best-laid plans grounded 

The fact that the ground was faster than you would have expected in the middle of October meant that hopes for soft ground horses had to be diluted.  The times on the day say that the ground was faster than good, with The Tin Man, Journey and Minding all clocking times that were faster than standard.  

So plans that connections had from early in the season to target soft ground horses at this day, when you could have legitimately expected easy ground, came unstuck. 

Quiet Reflection and Librisa Breeze were probably disadvantaged by the ground in the Sprint, Litigant and Forgotten Rules in the Long Distance Cup, Zhukova in the Fillies’ & Mares’ race, Awtaad and Jet Setting in the QE2, My Dream Boat in the Champion Stakes, and others.  And Fascinating Rock was scratched from the Champion Stakes.


Rail advantage 

It is not satisfactory that there was probably a significant advantage to be gained from racing on the far side on the straight track at Ascot on Saturday. 

The advantage seemed to be at play in all three races run on the straight track. Minding and Ribchester may have been the best two horses in the race anyway, but their superiority may have been accentuated by the fact that they raced on the far side in the QE2.  They had it between them from a long way out. 

The Tin Man raced on the far side in the Sprint from stall three, a race in which the first nine home raced from the lowest nine stalls, while the action was all on the far side in the concluding Balmoral Handicap, with the winner, Yuften, in a 19-runner handicap, emerging from stall one.

Notebook horses?  Brando did really well on the near side in the Sprint.  Kevin Ryan’s horse, the Ayr Gold Cup winner, will be interesting in Group 1 sprints next season. 

Queen’s Trust did well to finish as close as she did in third place, coming from the rear in the Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes, a race in which prominently-ridden fillies filled four of the first five places.  The Cheveley Park filly hasn’t won since she won her maiden at Kempton 13 months and six runs ago, but she is surely at least a Group winner in-waiting, and she is possibly a Group 1 winner in-waiting.

Lightning Spear could also be a Group 1 winner in-waiting.  David Simcock’s horse did really well to finish third in the QE2, given that he raced towards the near side from flagfall.  He was the only non-member of the Classic generation who finished in the first six.  Next year could be his year.


Crowley a worthy champion 

It was a supreme effort by Jim Crowley in the end, to get to the final day of the British season – or, at least, the final day of the Jockeys’ Championship season – last Saturday and lift the title.  It was fitting that he was crowned at Ascot, beside his birthplace, and it would have been even more fitting for the former National Hunt rider if racing on the last day had been staged on the hurdles track. 

Crowley has morphed into a top flat rider and, with the support of a broad spectrum of trainers – mainly Hugo Palmer and Amanda Perrett, but he rode winners for 61 individual trainers during the campaign – and the confidence that success engenders, and the wind of agent Tony Hind behind him, he sailed to victory by a margin of 16 winners.  You could have got 66/1 about him winning the championship at the start of the season, and you could have got over 200/1 on Betfair, but you would also have got fair odds about him winning by 16 just two weeks ago. 

He had exactly the same number of rides as the rival who pushed him all the way to the wire, Silvestre de Sousa, a fine champion himself in 2015, but Crowley’s extra 16 winners gave him a strike rate of 19% as opposed to de Sousa’s 17%.  A strike rate of 19% was as high as, or higher than, any other rider who finished in the top eight.  Ryan Moore was ninth, but had a strike rate of 21%.  Frankie Dettori also had a strike rate of 21%.  It didn’t get any higher than 21%.

If you had backed all Crowley’s rides to level stakes at SP, you would have shown a net profit of £31.91 for every £1 that you bet.  That is impressive, given that he had 759 of them.  Only two other riders in the top 20 – Pat Cosgrave (+£55.84) and Richard Kingscote (+£80.02) – showed a net profit. 

This means that the average odds of Crowley’s winners was 5.34, or almost 9/2, whereas the average odds of de Sousa’s winners was 4.87, between 7/2 and 4/1.  The average SP of Ryan Moore’s winners was lowest, at 3.4, not even 5/2.

Interestingly, if the jockeys’ championship was decided on prize money won, as the trainers’ and owners’ championships are, the table would have had a very different look.  Unsurprisingly, Ryan Moore would have claimed another title, he was miles clear.  Frankie Dettori, would have been second, Andrea Atzeni would have been third, William Buick would have been fourth.  Crowley and de Sousa would have finished 10th and ninth respectively.

But it isn’t, and Jim Crowley is a worthy champion.  He is another new champion.  That’s seven different champion jockeys in Britain in the last 10 years, which is very different to how it used to be.  Sir Gordon Richards won 25 of the 27 championships between 1927 and 1953, Doug Smith, Scobie Breasley and Lester Piggott between them won every title between 1954 and 1971, and Piggott, Willie Carson or Pat Eddery won every championship except one between 1964 and 1983.  Even more recently, Eddery, Steve Cauthen, Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon won every title except two between 1984 and 2004.  There were just 10 different champion jockeys between 1964 and 2004. 

It is much less complicated in Ireland.  Reigning champ Pat Smullen is on track for another title, his ninth in total and his third in a row.  Smullen also leads on the other vital statistics too, he is well clear in terms of prize money won, and his strike rate of 19% is 4% higher than any other rider who has had 100 rides or more.


Qewy on track

Qewy put himself into the picture for the Melbourne Cup at 4.00am on Tuesday 1st November (remember to set your alarm clock and stop a nation) when he won the Geelong Cup at Geelong in the small hours of Wednesday morning.

Remember Qewy?  He’s the horse who won the Listed Heritage Stakes for John Oxx and Declan McDonogh at Leopardstown in April 2014.  Then he joined John Ferguson and he bolted up in a good novices’ hurdle at Newbury on Betfair Hurdle day the following year, and he went novice chasing last season, a project that didn’t really work out too well in the end after a promising start.

Then he went back to the flat, traded the Bloomfields black for the Godolphin blue, moved to Charlie Appleby’s and just failed by a neck to run down the Jarlath Fahey-trained Jennies Jewel in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot this year, before going down by a similar margin to Elidor in the Summer Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.  Then he went to Australia.

He is still a big outsider for the Cup, possibly because he is six, possibly because he is British-trained.  But Geelong Cup winners have a better recent record in the Melbourne Cup than the winners of any other trial, with two horses, Dunaden and Americain, doing the double in the last 10 years.  Qewy looks interesting at 33/1.

And the other Godolphin horse in the Geelong Cup, Oceanographer, should not be dismissed either at an even bigger price if he takes his chance on 1st November.  The son of Sea The Stars did well to get as close as he did, finishing off his race well from the back to finish a close-up third behind Qewy and the Matt Cumani-trained Grey Lion, who had the pace between them from flagfall.



© The Irish Field, 22nd October 2016