According to David Redvers, racing and bloodstock manager for Qatar Racing, the reason for the split between his bosses and Ger Lyons was a ‘difference of opinion’, writes Tony Keenan.
We may never get the full story of why Lyons is no longer training for Qatar Racing though the usual reasons for owners and trainers parting company all spring to mind: finances, disagreements over the campaigning of horses, personality clashes, and so on. In any case, neither racehorse trainers nor multi-millionaire owners are known for their meekness, and if racing history has shown us nothing else it is that these break-ups are almost inevitable.
That said, the news came as a surprise early last week. Lyons gave Pearl Bloodstock, the early iteration of Sheikh Fahad al Thani’s racing interests, their first winner, courtesy of Wade Giles, eight years ago and no trainer in the UK or Ireland has had more runners for them since 2010. Pearl Bloodstock came into being that year and has since been largely subsumed by Qatar Racing, which started in 2012, to the point where they currently have 15 and 94 horses in training respectively. While we can’t know why this separation happened we can make some sort of judgement on the results Lyons achieved for his owners in the period between 2010 and today.
Qatar Racing has a huge cast in terms of the different UK-based trainers they employ but it was interesting to note that, with the exception of Lightning Fast who goes to Johnny Murtagh, the rest of the outgoing Lyons horses were to be split between Andrew Balding, David Simcock and Ralph Beckett, a trio Redvers described as ‘our core group of trainers.’ Lyons had been the core Irish-based trainer up until last week so they are perhaps the best people to compare him with to see whether he was successful or not with the Qatar runners. One could, I suppose, put him alongside Aidan O’Brien but in many ways that is a pointless exercise as every trainer in the world suffers in comparison to O’Brien (though Lyons did have a better winner to runner ratio than the champion in Ireland last year and that is my starting point here).
Winner to runner ratio looks at each horse a trainer ran in an individual domestic season to see if they managed a win; if a trainer ran 30 individual horses and 10 of them won then their ratio would be 33%. In Ireland last season on the flat, only five trainers with at least 50 total runners had winners to runners ratios of 45% or more: Richard O’Brien, Lyons, Aidan O’Brien, Willie Mullins and Adrian McGuinness. With this in mind, I looked at the winner to runner ratio of Lyons, Balding, Simcock and Beckett with all their Qatar/Pearl horses. Remember however that the totals are not individual horses but individual horses with individual seasons; a horse like Lightening Pearl say would appear in two season totals as she raced in both 2011 and 2012. These numbers go from 2010 through to 2017.
|Trainer||Winners||Runners||Winner to Runner Ratio|
The message here is clear; Lyons (from twice as many runners) has a similar ratio to Balding with the pair clear of Simcock and Beckett. An obvious knock against Lyons and possible reason why Qatar Racing may have wanted to look elsewhere was his lack of Group 1 winners; to date, his sole top level winner was Lightening Pearl in the 2011 Cheveley Park. Below are the comparative records of the four trainers at Group 1 level in the UK and Ireland since 2010 which includes all their runners, not just those for Qatar/Pearl.
Simcock and Beckett come out best here but these are really small sample sizes. It is also worth pointing out that Qatar Racing are hardly serial Group 1 winners across their whole team of trainers; per their website, they (Qatar/Pearl) have had 15 Group 1 winners worldwide since coming into being in 2010. Six of those were in the UK or Ireland – Simple Verse (twice), Elm Park, Just The Judge, Lightening Pearl and Charm Spirit – with the last-named not running in their colours at the time. It might be better to look at their overall record in other Listed and Group races too; these races with their black-type are important for any burgeoning racing/bloodstock concern and alongside that offer a much bigger sample size. These figures include all Group 2, Group 3 and Listed races in the UK and Ireland since 2010.
Lyons has the best strikerate here with a reasonable gap back to the other three though it could perhaps be argued that the Irish races are softer than the UK ones. In general, the story of Lyons’ career thus far has been quite a few very good horses without a great one and that does seem to be the case when we look at his top 10 horses owned by Qatar/Pearl, with Racing Post Ratings (RPR) used to measure their ability. Alongside them are the top 10 Qatar/Pearl horses trained in the UK and hopefully it is complete as they have owned a number of animals in partnership with other owners and breeders.
|UK-trained top 10 with peak RPR||Lyons-trained top 10 with peak RPR|
|Strong Suit (126)||Cappella Sansevero (112)|
|Lightening Spear (122)||Brendan Bracken (112)|
|Arod (121)||Wades Giles (111)|
|Roaring Lion (118)||Lightening Pearl (111)|
|Spirit Quartz (118)||Chemical Charge (111)|
|Trade Storm (118)||Cannonball (108)|
|Simple Verse (118)||Queen Catrine (106)|
|Pearl Secret (117)||Magnolia Beach (106)|
|Pallasator (116)||Ainippe (106)|
|Hot Streak (116)||Sacrificial (105)|
Not even the best Lyons horse would have made it into the top 10 in the UK but obviously that group of horses comes from the entire UK operation which encompasses a large number of animals. The numbers bunched around the 110 mark for Lyons does back up the lots of very good horses/few great horses theory. Again it is worth pointing out that Qatar/Pearl hasn’t actually had the array of top-notchers one might expect with just three breaking the 120 RPR figure.
It’s often said in sport that winning heals all ills; no matter how badly players and management are getting on, if the team is winning then most if not all is forgiven. This isn’t always the case in racing however as we saw with Michael O’Leary and Willie Mullins back in 2016; Gigginstown were winning plenty of races with their horses in Closutton but the decision to leave was still made. It looks to be a similar case with Qatar/Pearl and Lyons as looking at the numbers above it is hard to argue that the trainer wasn’t making a good job of things; whatever the reason for the splits, it probably wasn’t results.
This may have been coming for a while, though, as it was surprising to read that Qatar/Pearl only had eight horses in training with Lyons this season which was down on the 16 individual runners he had for them in each of the three previous seasons. So while no yard wants to lose an owner like this, the loss may not be felt quite as keenly as it initially appears and in any case Lyons has added some high profile new patrons in Khalid Abdullah and George Strawbridge. In sum, I think he’s going to be alright.
– Tony Keenan