Irish Champions Weekend: The British Are Coming

Irish Champions Weekend is rapidly becoming my favourite meeting of the year which is quite an achievement given its relative infancy and the place the likes of Galway and Cheltenham hold in my heart, writes Tony Keenan. As I’ve written before, the success of the weekend is dependent on the participation of the runners from overseas, and this year it seems likely we will have a few French runners with Almanzor and Qemah intended for the Champion and Matron Stakes respectively.

With the exception of the latter race, French raiders have been as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth lately, at least since John Hammond tried to win our Lincoln with Estrela Brage in 2008 only for the handicapper to lump him up 9lbs between declaration stage on Friday and post time; needless to say, there are no French entries in the handicaps for Irish Champions Weekend!

In the main, however, runners from outside Ireland over the weekend means UK-trained horses; and, having covered their record in Irish Group 1 races last year (you can read that article here), I decided I would dig deeper into their overall figures in the sorts of races that comprise Irish Champions Weekend specifically.

With the exception of the strangely anomalous maiden that opens the Leopardstown card on Saturday there are basically three types of races over the weekend: Group 1’s (of which there are five), lesser Group races (five) and valuable handicaps (four).

Defining a valuable handicap as one worth more than the equivalent of £25,000 to the winner, below is the record of UK runners by race type in Ireland since 2010 (all stats in this article refer to that timeframe).

A few readers – well one, in truth! – requested that I include some Impact Value numbers along with the usual actual over expected; for those that need a reminder, Impact Value is a figure that allows you to assess whether horses that meet specific criteria win more or less often than all horses meeting the criteria. In the first entry below, the Impact Value of UK horses in Irish Group 1’’s shows that they win 50% more often than randomness expected.


UK Runners in Ireland by Race Type (2010 – present)

Race Type Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E IV
Group 1s 29 162 17.9% -20.90 0.99 1.50
Lesser Group Races 41 274 15.0% -52.98 0.82 1.10
Valuable Handicaps 18 203 8.9% -41.25 0.87 1.49


As we discovered last year, the raiders do well in the Group 1’s though the broad point about this needs to be made; raiders always do better than the home team, be they UK horses running in Ireland or the other way around. Trainer intent is perhaps the key here: you are not going to ship a horse abroad unless there is at least some expectation of success.

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I did try to crunch the numbers on how Irish horses were doing in the UK and vice versa in each of the seasons since 2010 but they didn’t reveal much of a relationship. In 2016, Irish runners are scoring in the UK at a rate of 61/382 (strikerate 16.0%, level-stakes loss of 57.96 points, A/E 0.98) while those coming the other way are 13/115 (strikerate 11.3%, level-stakes loss of 5.59 points, A/E 0.71).

The record of UK runners in valuable handicaps is half that of those in Group 1’s in terms of strikerate, but their Impact Value is comparable and it’s worth bearing in mind that the handicaps would have much larger field sizes.

The raiders do particularly well if we only look at sprint handicaps, defined as races between five and seven furlongs. Since 2010, they are 15/110 for a strikerate of 13.6%, a level-stakes profit of 33.75 points and an actual over expected of 1.34.

Their record is so striking that it can hardly be just a product of UK trainers being better with sprinters and there could be a handicapping issue at play here; just as Irish handicap hurdlers have their mark increased when running in UK races, perhaps UK sprinters need an extra penalty.


UK Runners in Ireland by Distance (2010 – present)

Race Distance Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E IV
Sprints 67 441 13.2% +13.19 0.97 1.42
Mile 41 377 10.9% -181.02 0.75 1.21
Middle Distance 39 220 17.7% -32.39 1.02 1.89
Stayers 9 75 12.0% -26.97 0.95 1.31


Unsurprisingly, the raiders do well over the speed distances and while there was a brief renaissance of Irish sprinters (perhaps renaissance is the wrong word as there were few great Irish sprinters to start with!) earlier this decade through the likes of Sole Power, Slade Power, Gordon Lord Byron and Maarek, nothing has really stepped into the breach created by their retirements and/or regression.

UK horses clearly do very well at middle-distances and are decent with stayers though, as seen in my last article about trainers and trip preferences, they have to face off with the better Irish jumps trainers in those races. Their record at a mile is poor, astonishingly so in fact, and is their worst trip by a distance of ground. There is another pattern that stands out, with age, two-year-olds doing notably poorly relative to the other age groups:


UK Runners in Ireland by Age (2010 – present)

Age Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E IV
2yos 17 169 10.1% -68.46 0.67 1.00
3yos 35 209 16.8% -43.13 0.98 1.68
4yos and older 104 735 14.2% -115.2 0.95 1.69


As for the record of various trainers, the table is below:


UK Runners in Ireland by Trainer (2010 – present)

Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E
M Johnston 16 67 24.9% -1.03 1.05
K Ryan 9 70 12.9% -5.00 0.79
D Nicholls 8 24 33.3% +5.66 1.32
J Gosden 7 10 70.0% +9.21 2.08
B Ellison 6 40 15.0% +5.35 1.32
R Charlton 6 15 40.0% +4.53 1.40
M Channon 5 34 14.7% +14.71 1.20
Sir M Prescott 4 18 27.8% -6.32 1.05
R Fahey 4 68 5.88% -47.75 0.43
Sir M Stoute 4 11 36.7% +3.50 1.56


Mark Johnston tops the table in terms of raw number of winners but he and especially Kevin Ryan are volume trainers in terms of their Irish raiders, whereas John Gosden is more selective and his numbers are off the scale. Not only has he a 70% success rate but all ten of his runners came in Group 1 contests; he had only three runners last season but they produced Derby and Champion Stakes winners. At the time of writing, Gosden has four entries over the weekend with Persuasive in the Matron Stakes possibly the pick.

Roger Charlton is another with impressive Irish figures and he has already had a Group race winner at Leopardstown this year, courtesy of Decorated Knight. That one isn’t entered up and nor will Time Test take his chance in the Champion Stakes though Fair Eva may try to get back on track in the Moyglare. Of the rest, Brian Ellison deserves praise; his strikerate doesn’t match up with some of the more high-profile trainers but his runners tend to ply their trade in tougher races, all six of his winners coming in handicaps.

Of the 493 initial entries for the handicaps and Group races over Irish Champion Weekend, 142 are trained in UK. That’s a figure of 28.8% and if they win at a purely random rate there should be four UK-trained winners over the two days. However, these numbers suggest taking the over on that number and likely by quite a bit!

Tony Keenan

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