It might be a sign of age, writes Tony Keenan, but I find myself ever-more interested in the role of trainers in winning races. On my initial ventures into racing I thought that jockeys were the central figures but over time – and perhaps helped by Mick Kinane utterly blanking my attempts to heartily congratulate him after winning the Vintage Crop at Navan in 2006 – it is the role of the trainer, with all their strategic decisions that has fascinated me.
Whereas jockeys tend to be quite boring – Michelle Payne excepted – trainers, by dint of being the boss, can say many more interesting things when the notion takes them. This is not a slight on jockeys as much as a recognition of their role; they are amidst a ‘yes sir, no sir’ culture that leaves them in thrall to trainers and owners and are, in the main, clamped from saying what they might like to.
With that in mind, let’s delve into some trainer numbers for the Irish national hunt scene in the hope of uncovering some angles, betting and otherwise. Let’s begin with getting a global sense of where trainers are going in terms of their careers, taking their winners from 2009/10 through to the end of last season as a starting point.
I’ve broken these winners into a pair of three-year pockets, taking the years from 2009/10 to 2011/12 and from 2012/13. By separating them out into three-year phases it allows a decent sample size while still being current and gives us a broad picture of what is going on with this cohort of trainers, who is trending up and down, and who is going up and down on the spot. The trainers listed below are simply the top 25 in terms of winners trained in Ireland last season; there are only 23 below because neither Sandra Hughes nor Aidan O’Brien had been training jumpers in previous seasons.
|Trainer||Average Season Wins, 09/10 – 11/12||Average Season Wins, 12/13 – 14/15||Wins Difference||Percentage Improve/Decline|
|H. De Bromhead||25.3||43||17.7||69%|
In short, the big risers are: Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Henry De Bromhead, Robert Tyner, Liz Doyle, Peter Fahey and Denis Hogan. Heading the other way are: Noel Meade, Paul Nolan, Shark Hanlon, Christy Roche, Edward O’Grady, Colm Murphy and Charles Byrnes.
In the unlikely event there is to be a challenge to Willie Mullins as top trainer it will almost certainly come from the risers Elliott and/or De Bromhead and not the older brigade like Meade though I was surprised that Meade hadn’t fallen back as much as I thought. Edward O’Grady however has seen his winner totals fall of the edge of a cliff; his numbers have dropped each year since 2009/10 from 53 to 47 to 25 to 16 to 14 and 10 last year. Of those trainers on the up, Liz Doyle is one that stands out; her profile seems well behind her ability at this point which is somewhat surprising given her mother was a prominent Irish politician – maybe Michelle Payne has a point!
The total wins for all jumps trainers in Ireland since 2010 makes for interesting reading too but perhaps more notable are their records in different types of National Hunt race. Time and again it is seen that trainers are better with one type of horse than another and you can peruse the raw data for yourself. I have put the national average at the bottom though we need to allow that these are the top twenty trainers in the period covered and by definition are better than the norm.
Irish Jumps Trainers since 2010, by discipline
|Trainer||Total Wins||Bumper SR%||Hurdle SR%||Chase SR%|
|H. De Bromhead||214||12.6||13.0||18.0|
I’ve knocked Willie Mullins’s record with chasers in the past and while that is probably justified in open and handicap chases, it’s worth pointing out that his strike rate over fences is still much the best of the top trainers. It remains below his strike rate over hurdles and particularly in bumpers and that is one of the uses of these figures; they allow one to compare trainers with themselves as well as with others. Regarding the Mullins chase stats, there’s every chance he simply blows them out of the water this season anyway; he’s spent the last half-decade doing just that with other historical numbers and has such reserves of talent in store that casting doubt on Closutton is often folly.
In terms of pure strike rate, Dermot Weld is the only trainer who approaches Mullins’s overall record though he seems to be moving away from jumpers at the moment. There is no surprise to see Henry De Bromhead’s returns improve as he sends his horses over fences though Edward O’Grady’s strike rate of 8.3% with chasers seems particularly poor: that might give backers of Kitten Rock for the Arkle and other novice events slight cause for concern.
The only response I muster about Philip Rothwell’s strike rates is ‘ugh’ while John Kiely’s return with chasers was a pleasant surprise. He’s widely regarded as a bumper trainer whose horses tend not to progress over obstacles but a strike rate of 19% over fences is impressive.
You can’t think about Irish racing without considering UK racing, the two jurisdictions having a symbiotic relationship. Since 2010, there have been 3,939 Irish runners in the UK so that’s a pretty robust sample size. Here’s the overall record of Irish trainers in all UK races this decade:
Irish Trainers in UK Jumps Races since 2010
|H. De Bromhead||10||76||13.2||1.13|
There’s something false about those numbers, though, with a perception that many of them are soft touches: victories for placement more than quality. The less valuable races in the UK are eminently winnable – since 2012, the average field size for races worth £10,000 or less is 8.4 runners whereas those worth more than £10,000 on average have 10.1 runners. Trainers like James Lambe and Stuart Crawford deserve credit for exploiting this weakness and extracting wins from their horses but stripping out the less valuable races presents a wildly different table:
Irish Trainers in UK Races since 2010 worth £10,000 or more
|H. De Bromhead||8||67||11.9||1.09|
It’s more a case of the usual suspects here; the top four all comfortably reside in the top five of overall winners in Ireland in the same period. The one exception is the oft-maligned Jim Culloty though I doubt I’m the only one to think that might be randomness!