Figuring Out Galway Festival 2016
by Tony Keenan
[This article was first published this time last year. Data within the trainer section has been refreshed to include results from the 2015 Galway Festival]
€300,000 is the big number at Ballybrit again this week. That’s the value of the Galway Hurdle, the richest jumps races ever run in Ireland, worth more prize money than the Lexus and Hennessy Steeplechases combined. The Hurdle is in its 51st year of being sponsored by Guinness though their largesse is not one-sided; brand owners Diageo will get an absolute touch over race week, their products ubiquitous at the track; but at least they are giving a little back.
TOP TRAINERS AT THE GALWAY FESTIVAL
Prize money figures only interest punters so much and we’re much more concerned with the sort of numbers that might convey an edge over the seven days, so let’s start with trainers. Below is the table of the top trainers at the Galway Races (i.e. the seven days of the festival) over the past five years, in strike rate order:
|Trainer||Runs||Wins||Win %||P / L||A / E|
|Weld, D K||187||51||27.27||-33.76||0.9|
|Love, Mrs D A||16||4||25||2.75||2.4|
|Kiely, John E||25||6||24||25.5||1.79|
|Martin, A J||91||21||23.08||35.6||1.52|
|Mullins, W P||109||21||19.27||-25.87||1.01|
|Hogan, Denis Gerard||29||5||17.24||13.75||1.62|
|OBrien, A P||93||14||15.05||-45.51||0.74|
A couple of things on the figures themselves: firstly, they obviously suffer from a sample size issue, there being roughly 50 races per festival. However, it’s a unique week where history tends to repeat and the emphasis here is on what has happened recently, taking in only the last five years. Actual over expected is a ratio figure where the market expectation is weighed against real-life winners; anything over 1.00 is a positive here.
It’s the Dermot Weld Festival clearly as he aims his team at the week, despite protestations to the contrary in the lead-up to the event. I’ve included Aidan O’Brien and, to a lesser degree, Willie Mullins not because they have good Galway strikerates – they don’t – but as a point of comparison to Weld; while they will have winners next week, their runners as a whole are overbet and they don’t target the meeting. Tread carefully.
Of more interest are the number of smaller trainers that make the top ten, particularly the likes of John Kiely, Tom Mullins, and Denis Hogan. Tony Martin isn’t a small trainer but his 2014 race week is worth reprising here; he didn’t win the top trainer award but probably deserved to as 15 of his 18 runners finished in the first five with six winners, five of those in the fiendishly tough handicaps the track host and three in feature races.
In 2015, Martin matched his overall five year strike rate of 23%, but the ‘Martin Factor’ has been more accurately assimilated into the markets, his P/L for the last two years being a ‘mere’ +10.7. Indeed, 2015 was actually a loss-making year for Martin, albeit only to the tune of half a point, largely as a consequence of running 34 horses, compared with 18 in 2014 and 20 in 2013.
The records of trainers in the most valuable races are also worth noting; for valuable races I have taken those worth £25,000 or more.
|Trainer||Runs||Wins||Win %||P / L||A/E|
|Martin, A J||24||5||20.83||17||1.78|
|Weld, D K||36||5||13.89||-5.09||0.74|
|Mullins, W P||50||5||10||-19.5||1.14|
Martin has the standout record here while Weld’s is decent, but loss-making, rather than better; the vast majority of his Galway wins come in maiden and conditions events rather than handicaps. Willie Mullins has a notably poor record as do some of the other big name trainers not included in this table: Gordon Elliott is 0/29 (6 places), Jessica Harrington 1/19 (4 places) and Aidan O’Brien 0/20 (2 places). Elliott had been having a summer for the ages in 2015 but he still had a shocker at Ballybrit; likewise Harrington, who did at least get off the mark.
DRAW BIAS AT THE GALWAY FESTIVAL
A few ideas that will likely be bandied about next week are the importance of a low draw and course form. It’s logical that horses close to the rail are favoured on a tight track but the bias is more pronounced over some trips than others. Looking at the numbers for all handicaps run at the track in the past five years, I found that low numbers did best over 7f; of the 159 horses drawn in stalls one through five, 23 won with a level-stakes profit of 15.86 points; the expected winners were 19.6 so the actual over expected was 1.17. As to the course specialists angle, this might be overdone.
Defining a course specialist as horse that has won at least twice at the track – that’s certainly fair at Galway as they host relatively little racing – I found that such animals were hitting at a rate of 12.4% during Festival races which isn’t much higher than the national average of 11.9%. In terms of individual tracks, Galway sat right around the middle.
One of the most unusual features of race week, and one that doesn’t happen at most other racing festivals, is the quick return. Horses can run earlier in the week and again later on, often switching codes. My numbers suggest there is no angle with the number of days a horse has had off in between, those coming back after a night off having exactly the same strikerate as those that ran on the Monday and didn’t appear again until Sunday, 17% in both cases. More interesting are the initial finishing positions of horses making their second (or even third) start of the week:
|Finishing Position||Wins/Runs||Strikerate||Level Stakes||Actual/Expected|
|1st through 4th||47/199||23.62%||+80.74||1.32|
|All other positions||19/297||6.39%||-120.20||0.78|
The message here is simple: trying to build on a good run works, retrieval missions don’t. The market actually seems to underrate such horses, perhaps believing the initial hard race has taken something out of them. 31 individual trainers have had winners this way with Weld (four winners), Harry Rogers, Paul Gilligan and Shark Hanlon (three apiece) doing best.
The hard race argument does however seem to apply depending on what sort of race a horse is coming from and going into. There are four options here: flat to flat, flat to national hunt, national hunt to national hunt, national hunt to flat.
|Race to Race||Wins/Runs||Strikerate||Level Stakes|
|Flat to Flat||29/230||12.61%||+16.36|
|Flat to Jumps||19/77||24.68%||+6.68|
|Jumps to Jumps||15/154||9.74%||-43.25|
|Jumps to Flat||3/25||8.57%||-19.25|
The numbers suggest something logical – that a jumps race takes more out of a horse than a flat race – but it is good to have the data to back this up.
So in synopsis: keep an eye on smaller trainers; don’t worry too much about course form; look for horses that ran well earlier in the week; oppose horses that reappear after running over jumps. And, go easy on the Guinness.