When to focus on the Irish at Royal Ascot

There is a case to be made that Royal Ascot is a better meeting than Cheltenham and that’s more to do with what we don’t have in the lead-up to the event, writes Tony Keenan. Think about it: Royal Ascot has none of Willie Mullins messing around with late switchers, a wide-margin Wolverhampton maiden winner in January is never put in at 25/1 for the Coventry in June and of course there are very few preview nights.

That said, I’ve often wondered what a Royal Ascot preview night would look like: certainly it would be more Moet than pints of Guinness, with a mangled translation of a Japanese trainer interview or two, mixed through with in-jokes about the size of the Wesley Ward juveniles and the sectionalista at the back shouting ‘but he came home from the front in a 111% finish, the form is false!’

Another thing largely absent from Royal Ascot is patriotism around the fortunes of trainers and horses and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone getting excited about flag-waving for Ireland next week with the exception of the odd Aidan O’Brien fanboy and breeding luvvees.

But this is very much a meeting to get excited about, not only as a racing fan but as an Irish punter following our form, as there is a positive expectation in backing our horses at the fixture since 2010 as can seen below:


Irish-trained horses at Royal Ascot

Year Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
2015 8 50 16.0% +0.03 1.01
2014 8 63 12.7% -14.09 1.14
2013 8 62 12.9% +11.83 1.15
2012 8 47 17.0% +41.55 1.19
2011 6 35 17.1% -6.45 1.04
2010 4 46 8.7% -10.00 0.81
Totals 42 303 13.9% +22.87 1.07


Irish runners not only returned a level-stakes profit over the last six years but also a decent actual over expected figure which reflects well on our flat racing scene. Where Irish national hunt racing is quite lop-sided, flat racing is not only strong but deep with a number of good trainers behind Aidan O’Brien, including his son.

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Irish-trained horses have yet to break the eight-winner mark for Royal Ascot week, achieved in each of the last four years, along with the same number back in 2008. Perhaps this year will see a breakthrough because, at the time of writing, Irish trainers are responsible for 11 favourites for Ascot races, though allowance must be made for the weakness of some of those markets.

Rather than focus only on the records of the different Irish trainers at the Royal meeting, I decided to broaden out the sample size to include their runners in all valuable UK races since 2010. By valuable I mean Class 1 or 2 races worth £30,000 or more to the winner as these are exactly the types of races run next week; all the Group and Listed races are Class 1’s while the handicaps and conditions races are Class 2’s.


Irish Trainers in Valuable UK Races since 2010

Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
A. O’Brien 72 464 15.5% -25.85 0.85
E. Lynam 13 53 24.5% +110.25 1.64
D. Weld 10 42 23.8% +35.50 1.50
J. Bolger 9 70 12.9% -19.07 0.76
D. Wachman 6 44 13.6% -14.34 0.98
W. Mullins 5 36 13.9% -4.5 0.94
D. Marnane 3 27 11.1% +39.00 1.60


Both Eddie Lynam and Dermot Weld come out very well on these numbers and it is hardly a surprise to see that all bar one of Lynam’s winners came at a trip short of a mile. Weld of course improved on an already strong showing in winning the Derby last Saturday and the best thing about him is that he will remember every one of his winners in the UK in the decades long before these statistics were taken!

Willie Mullins has a fair overall record but it is worth pointing out that his figures look so much better when we consider Royal Ascot alone; since 2010, he is 4/13 here with an actual over expected of 1.88 so it is clearly one he targets more than the other flat festivals.

Almost all of the racing at Royal Ascot is confined to the different age groups. The introduction of the Commonwealth Cup last year has only served to accentuate these divisions and while good handicaps like the Hunt Cup, Duke of Edinburgh and the Wokingham are open to three-year-olds, none took their chance in any of those races last year.


Irish-trained runners by age group

Age Group Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
2yo 7 61 11.5% -4.75 0.77
3yo 16 120 13.3% -3.97 1.03
4yo plus 19 122 15.6% +31.59 1.29


As you can see, Irish runners at the meeting tend to do better the older they get and our two-year-olds actually perform worst of all as a group; that said, there has been at least one Irish-trained juvenile winner every year since 2011. Moving on to distances, you can see the records of Irish horses over the various trips below:


Irish-trained runners by distance

Distance Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/Expected
5–6f 11 80 13.8% +33.75 1.11
7-8f 13 115 11.3% -9.39 1.04
10-12f 7 49 14.2% -12.03 0.80
16f plus 11 59 18.6% +10.54 1.31


Here we see Irish runners doing best over extremes of trip. Our sprinters had an out of the blue resurgence (perhaps resurgence is too strong as they were rarely any good previously!) over the last few years through the likes of Sole Power, Gordon Lord Byron and Slade Power; but those horses are either on the wane or retired now and there are no obvious replacements. The King’s Stand has only one Irish entry while our shortest-priced runner in the Diamond Jubilee is 25/1.

It is over the staying trips however that the Irish really excel, in races like the Ascot Stakes, the Queen’s Vase, the Queen Alexandra and, of course, the Ascot Gold Cup. This makes Order Of St George look solid in the week’s feature and he could go off a very short price. Not only does he have form that is superior to all his rivals but it also seems like he will get some of the rain he loves. Furthermore, his stable has an outstanding record in the race, winning it six times since 2006 and they probably should have won it last year with Kingfisher who had a troubled passage.

Tony Keenan

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