Things We Learned » Sovereign may be under-rated

Sovereign may be under-rated

Common consensus seems to be that Sovereign was not the best horse in the Irish Derby. That Padraig Beggy set efficient fractions, and that he got an easy lead.

He may well have got an easy lead, but don’t discount the possibility that the winner was the best horse in the race on the day anyway.  Sovereign finished eight and a half lengths clear of Norway, last year’s Zetland Stakes winner who had the ideal tow, just behind the winner, and who was half the price of his stable companion going into the race. And Anthony Van Dyck was probably going as fast as he wanted to go through the early throes.

Also, Sovereign beat Anthony Van Dyck by six lengths.  It isn’t that he scrambled home by a fast-diminishing neck.

As well as that, the Galileo colt was racing over a mile and a half for just the second time in his life, and for the first time since he ran in the Epsom Derby, when he missed the break and had to use up a lot of early energy to get to the front from his low draw.  Second in the Ballysax Stakes and third in the Derrinstown, it was always likely that he would improve for stepping up to a mile and a half.

The consensus is reflected in the markets.  Sovereign is around twice the price of Anthony Van Dyck for both the King George and the St Leger.  His stable companion may exact his revenge the next time they meet, but it is not certain that he will, and the disparity in their respective odds looks big.  From a betting perspective, it may be that the winner is the one to take out of this year’s Irish Derby. 

Momentum was lost

From the perspective of atmosphere, Sovereign’s win in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby knocked the stuffing out of the day.  Victory for the favourite, Anthony Van Dyck, or for his well-fancied stable companion Broome, would have continued the momentum.  Madhmoon would have sent the day into the stratosphere.

And there was momentum.  There was a good buzz around the place, there was a good atmosphere, a sense of occasion.  And the results had been good for the gallery.  Buffer Zone and Speak In Colours and Buckhurst were winning favourites, and Basic Law was well fancied and well backed. 

Then Siskin came along and did what he did in the Railway Stakes.  There was a real hum about the place after Siskin.  As well as the fact that many had backed the winner, there was a feeling that we had seen something special.

Of course, it isn’t all about betting, but when the crowds have backed the winners, the crowds’ spirits can soar and the day can take flight. 

Then Sovereign won the Irish Derby, unforeseen and unfancied and unbacked by most, and the sense of anticipation was replaced by a sense of incredulity.

It wasn’t Sovereign’s fault, or Padraig Beggy’s fault, or Aidan O’Brien’s fault.  They did their job, they won the Irish Derby.  But for the thrust of the day, it wasn’t the result you wanted.

It wasn’t The Curragh’s fault either.  There was nothing that The Curragh could have done about a 33/1 winner of the Irish Derby, or about a GAA match that clashed. (And, in fairness, they tried.)

But the queues.  For bars and toilets and coffee.  You probably missed a race or two if you really needed to go.  (Or if you really wanted a coffee.)  And that was with over 11,000 people there.  The queues would have been twice as long if there had been 20,000.  (Or 22,000.)  It is important that the queues issue is resolved now.

Get people to go

You need to get people to go to The Curragh, or to go back to The Curragh.  Get the racecourse on people’s radars, get the racedays in people’s calendars. 

Give them a good experience and get them racing back.

So, why not free in?  We have been here before.  There is a significant potential upside to allowing people in for nothing.  The goodwill that it would engender.  The enhanced atmosphere that the increased numbers would generate.

The attendance on Thursday of Irish Derby weekend was 2,859.  The opportunity cost of free admission on the Thursday evening would not have been prohibitive. 

Free in on Irish Oaks day?  It would be a big leap, but why not?  Or for some or all of the August Fridays.  Tell the county, tell the country. It would be a good story.  Funnel into Irish St Leger day in September, the second day of Irish Champions Weekend. Put it down as a marketing cost. 

There is a window here, there is a strong message that can be sent here, now, while The Curragh is still new.  Next year it won’t be (so) new. 

Sectionals would tell a more accurate story

It is a pity that we still don’t have sectional timing.  The sectionals of the Irish Derby would surely have told an interesting story. 

You can do your own rough estimates, of course.  There is a good camera angle now for the purposes of stopwatch clicking – a side-on view – at The Curragh when the runners pass the three-furlong marker on the round course on the run around into the home straight.  You can see the point at which the horses pass the marker pole, and you can (try to) click your stopwatch at that point.

According to that fairly rudimentary measuring tool, Sovereign’s speed from the three-furlong pole to the winning line was just over 105% of his overall speed.  So faster than his overall speed.  That all ties in with the notion that he was given an efficient ride.

That said, a furlong-by-furlong assessment for each horse in the race would be very interesting.  Not just from a betting perspective, with an eye on the future.  (And there is a sense that, if sectional timing information is widely available, then the people who use it to give them a betting edge might have to go and try to dig up a new edge.)  But more for telling the story of a race.

In an age in which we can instantaneously tell the speed of a serve or a bowl, and track the arc of a golf ball, and in which we can know exactly how many metres a football player has covered during the course of a game, surely we should be able to monitor the speed of a racehorse.

Thought for the week

No horses abused at The Curragh at the weekend, and no whip bans.  No horses abused at Royal Ascot two weeks ago, and 11 whip bans. 


© The Irish Field, 6th July 2019