Things We Learned » Good or bad Derby?

Good or bad Derby?

Good Derby or bad Derby this year? In truth, we don’t really know. Not yet. We don’t have sufficient evidence.

Perhaps the fact that we are only getting to know the three-year-old colts at this stage of the season lends itself to the perennial decrying of the quality of the Derby field. The Derby runners are not household names, not like the Derby winners of yesteryear. But the reality is that, these horses are still adolescents and, generally, they can’t really have done much more than they have already done.

Okay, so we probably won’t have the Guineas winner in the Derby, and perhaps that is instrumental in the determination of the perception of the quality of the Derby field. But we have the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial 1-2-3, we have the Chester Vase 1-2-3, we have the Dee Stakes winner, we have the Dante winner (or we will have the Dante winner after he is supplemented), we have the Dante second, we have the Dante fourth.

Name another Derby pointer. Lingfield, the Lingfield Derby Trial. We have the winner of that too. We have the Epsom Derby Trial winner, and the second, who is also the Dante winner, the one who needs to be supplemented. We have the Ballysax Stakes winner (as well as the Ballysax second, third and fourth, who are also, collectively and respectively, the Derrinstown first, second and third) who also masquerades as the Dante fourth (see above).

We have the Prix Greffulhe second and the Guineas sixth who probably needs further than the Guineas trip, and we have a once-raced colt who won his maiden by 10 lengths and who could be anything. But sure, at this stage, couldn’t they all?

Clouds surprise

Strange that Many Clouds was rated the best staying chaser in training last season. Strange that he was rated higher than Sizing John.

Not that Many Clouds was not a top-class staying chaser. Of course he was. And not that his untimely demise in the immediate aftermath of what were probably his finest six and a half minutes was not up there with the saddest equine stories of recent times. It was. It was desperate to lose him. But was he really 2lb superior to Sizing John?

Many Clouds’ rating is obviously based on his defeat of Thistlecrack in his final race, in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January. That was, of course, a top-class performance, but it may not have been quite as good as we thought then. Thistlecrack was the new black at the time, but his form does not look as solid now as it did then.

There are collateral lines of form. Smad Place finished third in the Cotswold Chase, 17 lengths behind Many Clouds. Smad Place finished eighth in Sizing John’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, 27 lengths behind the winner. And Smad Place is a solid experienced staying chaser, he is a good yardstick.

Minella Rocco probably would have finished second behind Many Clouds in the Betfred Lotto Chase at Aintree in December, he probably would have finished close enough to Oliver Sherwood’s horse, he was about three lengths behind him when he fell at the final fence, admittedly in receipt of 5lb. And Minella Rocco got close to Sizing John in the Gold Cup, he rallied up the hill to take second place, beaten almost three lengths by the winner.

But it is easy to argue that Minella Rocco improved from Aintree in December to Cheltenham in March. He was having his first run of the season over fences – and just the seventh of his life – at Aintree, and he was only six years old. At Cheltenham, he was a more mature and a more experienced chaser.

Native River was another short head behind Minella Rocco in third place in the Gold Cup. Native River went into the Gold Cup with a rating of 168, and Sizing John beat him by almost three lengths. That alone could merit a rating that is higher than the 169 that Sizing John has been awarded. Also, Native River beat Le Mercurey at Newbury in February by almost exactly the same distance as the distance by which Many Clouds beat him at Aintree.

Sizing John ran in four races over two and a half miles or further last season, and he won all four: the Grade 3 Kinloch Brae Chase, followed by the Irish Gold Cup, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup. Many Clouds ran twice, he won that chase at Aintree, a listed chase, and he won the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase.

We miss Many Clouds, it is sad that he is not with us any more. He was a stalwart, a rare Grand National winner who probably improved later in his career, after he had won the National. But even his trainer Oliver Sherwood was reportedly surprised when he was told that his hero was highest-rated.

Regrettably it can’t happen now, but in a hypothetical match between Many Clouds and Sizing John, in which Many Clouds conceded 2lb to Jessica Harrington’s horse, how do you think they would bet?

British jockeys’ championship co©uld be fascinating

You can understand why Silvestre de Sousa is odds-on to win the British jockeys’ championship again, to reclaim the title that Jim Crowley wrestled out of his grasp last season.

De Sousa has burst out of the gates again this season, just as he did in the last two seasons. At the time of writing (close of play on Wednesday), he has ridden more horses than any other rider since the championship started, and he has ridden more winners than any other rider. As well as that, his strike rate of 22% is impressive, and his level-stakes profit figure of £30.21 is second only to Daniel Tudhope (who rode the 20/1 Westow Stakes winner Fashion Queen and the 20/1 Lincoln winner Bravery and the 25/1 Infinity Tyres Handicap winner Al Qahwa) among those riders who have had 40 or more rides this season, which includes the top 15 riders.

De Sousa is a top rider for whom the championship is an expressed objective, and his stats are impressive. In 2015 when he won the championship, his total number of rides of 734 was 53% higher than the total number of rides that championship runner-up William Buick had, and his total number of wins of 132 was 37% higher. Also, he had a level-stakes profit of £43.76 that season, he was one of just two riders in the top 15 riders who showed a level-stakes profit.

He didn’t win the championship last season, but he still had an impressive year. Coincidentally, he and Jim Crowley had exactly the same number of rides, 759, which was 59% more than third-placed Andrea Atzeni had. And continuing the coincidence theme, De Sousa rode exactly the same number of winners in 2016 as he had ridden in 2015, 132. While that fell 16 short of Crowley’s remarkable total of 148, he was 44 clear of Atzeni. He rode 50% more winners than the championship third did.

That said, this year’s championship may be more open than the betting suggests. Jim Crowley’s situation may have changed, but his desire to win the championship hasn’t, and nor have his stats. Crowley will probably have more rides in May this year than he had in May last year, and there is no reason why his position as first rider to Sheikh Hamdan should diminish his chance of winning the championship. Indeed, his new job, allied to the fact that he is the reigning champ, could enhance it.

And the early-season stats say that Crowley can win it again. The average SP of his 13 winners so far is 4.53, which suggests that, this season so far, he has been riding horses with better chances than the horses that de Sousa – whose winners have had an average SP of 6.29 – has been riding. Roll those figures forward to mid-October, pro-rata-ed by the numbers of rides that each rider has had this season so far, and Crowley comes out ahead.

Of course, it is not as simple as that, this is a small sample size and the season has its undulations. Also, there is a chance that Crowley’s commitment to the Sheikh Hamdan horses will de-rail a championship bid. But these figures are not bad as approximations.

A championship bid is probably not a priority for Ryan Moore, which is a pity. His commitment to Aidan O’Brien means that he will obviously be riding lots in Ireland and abroad. That said, he has already been riding lots in Ireland and abroad this season, and his 14 wins from 65 rides in Britain sees him sit second in the table, just four behind de Sousa. With an average winners’ SP of 3.25, if you extrapolate the figures, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, all things behind equal, if Moore put his mind to it, he would probably win the championship.

Nice performance

Naughty Or Nice took another step forward when she won the Listed Yeats Stakes at Navan on Saturday.

John Oxx’s filly stayed on well to win her maiden over nine and a half furlongs at Gowran Park at the end of April on her racecourse debut, when she got the better of Bean Feasa, who enhanced the form of that run when she won the Derrinstown 1000 Guineas Trial, and Jim Bolger’s filly could enhance it further when she lines up in the Irish 1000 Guineas tomorrow.

Stepped up significantly in trip to a mile and five furlongs on Saturday, Naughty Or Nice again stayed on well up the hill at Navan. She only got home by a head in the end from Grandee, who did well to get as close as he did, but rider Declan McDonogh said that she was just idling, that she probably had more in hand than the bare winning margin. That stacks up with her trainer’s assertion earlier in the season that she was lazy at home.

This race could be a good stepping stone to the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, which will be run over a mile and six furlongs this year, not the traditional two miles, and that could be a good target for Grandee. Naughty Or Nice does not hold and entry in that staying contest, but she does hold an entry in the Ribblesdale Stakes, a race that Oxx won with Sahara Slew in 2001, and that could be a good Royal Ascot target for the Newtown Anner Stud filly. And she could be an Irish Oaks filly this year.

For Oxx, who excelled through the early part of his career with staying fillies, it is good to see him with another potentially top class one.

Drive on

The 8.20 at Southwell on Wednesday was the Car Bodyship At Vertu Volkswagen Mansfield Handicap Hurdle, and it was won by Icanmotor, who just got the better of Powderonthebonnet, the pair of them clear. The exacta paid £10.60 and the petrol heads had a field day.

© The Irish Field, 27th May 2017