Quarter Season Review: Taking the Temperature of the Flat Season
It depends who you listen to of course, writes Tony Keenan, but general murmurings suggest it has been a tepid start to the flat season, its first two months prompting more mehs than yeahs.
There might be some gender bias at play there as while we lack a great white colt just yet – Gleneagles has staked early claims to that status while the Derby and/or Royal Ascot could throw something up – we might have a golden crop of Irish fillies that have yet to receive the credit they deserve.
There were signs of this last year as Irish juveniles won races like the May Hill, Rockfel, Fillies’ Mile and Prix Marcel Boussac, but Timeform’s end-of-season ratings suggested little out of the ordinary. Of their top 100 juveniles, eight were fillies trained in Ireland which was in line with previous seasons, there being seven, six and eight such fillies in each of 2013, 2012 and 2011. Not exactly the signpost of something out of the ordinary, then.
Let’s take a quick run-through of those eight top fillies from last year and their Timeform ratings:
- Anthem Alexander – 116p
- Found – 115p
- Lucida – 112
- Raydara – 110p
- Together Forever – 108
- Agnes Stewart – 107
- Jack Naylor – 104
- Qualify – 104
Their achievements so far as three-year-olds have been impressive. Anthem Alexander won more than the margin suggests at Naas on Monday, ridden with the next day in mind and goes to the Commonwealth Cup with a leading chance. Found has been a shade disappointing but only in the sense that she was a winter Guineas favourite that failed to land a classic, arguably unlucky in the Curragh equivalent. Lucida was a close second at Newmarket. Raydara was eleventh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on her seasonal debut but was found to be in season. Together Forever emerged the best filly at the weights in the Musidora while her immediate victim in the Fillies’ Mile Agnes Stewart hasn’t run since. Jack Naylor was a huge sectional eye-catcher on her Curragh return while Qualify has been a disaster.
But as substantial as those achievements have been, it’s the fillies that didn’t make the list that really jump out, namely Legatissimo and Pleascach, the 1,000 Guineas winners that won no more than maidens last year. This is the depth of the crop and one of the most interesting features is how the ten top fillies (the eight listed above plus the two classic winners) are spread across a variety of trainers; Aidan O’Brien has three, Jim Bolger and Eddie Lynam two, one each for Jessica Harrington (who also has Bocca Baciata), David Wachman and Mick Halford.
This means that these fillies must clash which is good for racing. This is no Willie Mullins situation where his top mares like Quevega and Annie Power swerve tough competition to retain unbeaten records at odds that turn punters off. Instead these fillies take each other on and likely will continue to do so through 2015 which will provide more watchable racing and I fully expect them to dominate the older generation of mares.
Already this season we have had Lucida vs. Legatissimo in the English Guineas and Found vs. Pleascach vs. Jack Naylor vs. Raydara in the Irish Guineas amongst others with the prospect of Legatissimo vs. Jack Naylor vs. Together Forever in the Oaks to come. Perming the Irish fillies in forecasts and tricasts for that race may not be a bad idea.
And so to the Irish – essentially the Ballydoyle – colts; do I really have to write about this lot? In fairness to Gleneagles, he has been everything hoped for and more, putting up a big figure at Newmarket before overcoming adversity up the Curragh. Highland Reel was better last time but everything else has been a mess.
At the end of 2014, Aidan O’Brien had ten colts rated 110 or higher by Timeform and an absolute stranglehold on the Epsom Derby judging by betting markets, the bar set high even by his standards. Now he has a pair of workmanlike trial winners in Hans Holbein and Kilimanjaro along with Giovanni Canaletto, a horse that seems more hype and head carriage than anything else.
After a series of disappointing trial results, there were rumours that Gleneagles and/or Found could go for the Derby, the Coolmore partners seemingly driven by Federico Tesio’s famous words about the Epsom winning posts or similar such thinking. An outbreak of sanity eventually took hold and in the words of the song, they knew when to ‘fold ‘em.’
There was little point in risking a speedy miler in a race that could ruin him and Gleneagles can do plenty to burnish his stallion prospects around the trip he competes over now while the filly Found, for all that she comes from a hot crop, simply didn’t do enough on her last start to suggest she was up to winning a Derby. Though money has come recently for Giovanni Canaletto that seems more to do with Ryan Moore taking the ride than any meaningful chance he has in the race and O’Brien seems to have written off the Derby for 2015. Unless some freak renewal occurs – not impossible but unlikely – this year’s Derby looks set to be a Leger trialling ground for Ballydoyle. Given the context, that seems eminently sensible.
I had planned on concluding with this piece by mentioning a few trainers that have started the season on the cold list but the last two weeks have been kind to Eddie Lynam (four winners since May 22nd including a double at Naas on Monday) and Andy Oliver (a pair of winners in the last seven days); the form of the Lynam yard is particularly notable with Royal Ascot on the horizon.
It might instead be worth pointing out a trainer that is not so much on the cold list – he is having winners – but who on the decline, one that may be terminal, and this is something that makes me sad as it is John Oxx. Oxx has had six winners this current flat season – four maidens and two handicaps – and only one of those came at a track (Leopardstown) that could be described as a premier venue; the others came at Navan, Limerick, Fairyhouse and Sligo (twice).
He has had just one runner in a Listed or Group race in 2015 and looking at the numbers since the start of 2013 that isn’t the greatest surprise: from that year through to present, he is 4/62 in Listed and Group races in Ireland, a strikerate of 6.4%, having been 98/612 (strikerate of 16%) in the previous decade. The move of the Aga Khan horses away from Oxx – arguably through no fault of his own – has had a massive effect on the trainer’s numbers and while there were rumours of the green and red silks being back at Curraghbeg, there have been no such signs lately, the last Oxx/Aga Khan runner being Kadayma at Dundalk last November. Sad times indeed.
– Tony Keenan