Bolger and the Bottom Line: Punting Angles

Of the top Irish flat trainers, Jim Bolger is the one I consistently get most wrong, writes Tony Keenan. This is not meant as a criticism of a man who has successfully been doing unusual and creative stuff with his horses for yonks now, something I covered here a few years back. Rather, it is an admission that I struggle to make betting sense of his runners, whether it be backing one of his that runs poorly having seemingly held an obvious form chance, or getting done by a big-priced rag in white and purple that I gave no chance to pre-race. This has happened so often that I have added a new word to my racing lexicon; events like this are now known as being ‘Jimmed’!

It’s easy to get annoyed by this, curse and moan, and put it down as one of those things but it is more productive to reflect on what you might be missing in your own betting that is causing consistent misjudgement one of the major stables in the country. So, with Jon Shenton’s recent pieces on Mark Johnston on this site in mind, I decided to see if there were any betting angles that might be able to make Bolger pay.

My first step however was to see if some of the Bolger winners were as unpredictable as they appeared on the surface. To do this I went back through every flat race run in Ireland from 2010 to September 23rd this year (all figures quoted from here refer to this period) in search of horses that won at a Betfair SP of 21.0 or greater, that figure my arbitrary number for a shock result, as least as defined by the market. Below are the results:


Trainer BSP 21.0 or greater runners BSP 21.0 or greater winners
Jim Bolger 1,341 51
Willie McCreery 782 29
Andrew Oliver 867 29
Kevin Prendergast 656 25
John Murphy 997 25
Michael Halford 1,126 24
Ger Lyons 716 24
Dermot Weld 733 21
David Marnane 685 20
Harry Rogers 653 19


Bolger not only tops the table but is 22 winners clear of the next highest total when only seven trainers managed 22 such winners at all. He admittedly had far more big-priced runners than other yards with Michael Halford the only other person breaking four figures in the period covered. Next, I had a look at how he compared to his peers in that timeframe, the rest of the top ten flat trainers in terms of winners trained since 2010, and what percentage of his winners were returned at a Betfair SP of 21.0 or bigger.


Trainer Total Winners BSP 21.0 or greater winners Percentage
Aidan O’Brien 1,016 18 1.8%
Dermot Weld 624 21 3.4%
Jim Bolger 535 51 9.5%
Ger Lyons 456 24 5.3%
Michael Halford 394 24 6.1%
Jessica Harrington 247 18 7.3%
John Oxx 237 11 4.6%
David Wachman 229 18 7.9%
Edward Lynam 210 17 8.1%
Willie McCreery 200 29 14.5%


In this case Bolger comes out second among the top ten on 9.5% with Willie McCreery miles clear on 14.5% though his best comparables (O’Brien, Weld and Lyons) have much lower rates. Lastly, I wanted to see at how ‘form-ful’ his horses were and to do this I got percentages of how many of his winners won on their prior start, were placed on their prior start (defined as running second, third or fourth regardless of field size) and were out of the frame.


Trainer Total Winners Won LTO Placed LTO Unplaced LTO
Aidan O’Brien 1,016 19.2% 43.3% 37.5%
Dermot Weld 624 20.8% 41.5% 37.7%
Jim Bolger 535 15.5% 40.0% 44.5%
Ger Lyons 456 14.3% 39.5% 46.2%
Michael Halford 394 13.2% 50.3% 36.5%
Jessica Harrington 247 18.6% 44.1% 37.3%
John Oxx 237 14.3% 46.0% 39.7%
David Wachman 229 11.8% 41.5% 46.7%
Edward Lynam 210 15.2% 45.7% 39.1%
Willie McCreery 200 13.5% 40.0% 46.5%


I’m not sure there is much in this. A lesser percentage of Bolger’s winners won last time than O’Brien or Weld, but he is in line with the rest; and, while does have a high enough figure of horses that win off an unplaced effort, it is hardly outlandish. So overall, there is a least a grain of truth in the idea that Bolger has more than his share of mad winners but some of it is likely my own bias too.

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One point to clarify is that the Bolger horses are not unpredictable because they run more often than those from other Irish yards, an argument that is sometimes made in relation to the Mark Johnston runners. Taking the 2017 Irish flat season as a whole, Bolger ran 125 individuals 549 times for an average of 4.4 runs per horse. Of the rest of last season’s top ten trainers, five had an average seasonal runs per horse of 4.0 or greater: John Feane with 6.3, Johnny Murtagh with 4.7, Ger Lyons with 4.2, and Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington with 4.1, so Bolger is only average in terms of how frequently he runs his horses. The figures from 2016 further support this view.

I’ve done some stuff on the records of trainers over different distances and with fillies and mares elsewhere on the website but there wasn’t much of note with Bolger in either piece. He has a broadly consistent strike rate across most trips though it drops a little over longer distances, while his record with fillies is a little less impressive compared to his returns with colts and geldings. One little niche angle is that he does do well with mares: female horses aged five or older. The sample here is small but they return a decent profit to level stakes with the reason perhaps being that the trainer is only persisting with them because he believes they can win races; well, either that or the betting public is wholly sick of them by that point in their careers and allows them to go off bigger than they should be!


Bolger with Mares since 2010

Winners Runners Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/ Expected
13 65 20.0% +31.08 23 35.4% 1.47


His record at the various Irish tracks since 2010 is more interesting, however, and probably more usable. Here they are ordered in terms of win strike rate.


Track Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/


Down Royal 50 12 24.0% +27.69 27 54.0% 1.28
Wexford 56 13 23.2% -12.50 27 48.2% 1.09
Leopardstown 734 114 15.5% +81.25 251 34.2% 1.08
Dundalk 548 76 13.9% -63.12 191 34.9% 0.89
Roscommon 139 19 13.7% +8.08 48 34.5% 0.99
Fairyhouse 111 15 13.5% -17.06 35 31.5% 0.94
Gowran 401 53 13.2% +46.40 142 35.4% 0.95
Naas 348 44 12.6% -79.30 99 28.5% 0.87
Listowel 104 13 12.5% -20.30 34 32.7% 0.84
Ballinrobe 27 3 11.1% +13.00 9 33.3% 0.58
Navan 290 31 10.7% -72.58 96 33.1% 0.77
Sligo 61 6 9.8% -33.75 20 32.8% 0.55
Cork 173 17 9.8% +67.75 59 34.1% 0.62
Tipperary 189 18 9.5% -94.30 60 31.8% 0.68
Limerick 109 10 9.2% -50.89 29 26.6% 0.65
Curragh 934 84 9.0% -346.03 252 27.0% 0.70
Clonmel 13 1 7.7% -10.75 3 23.1% 0.42
Killarney 94 5 5.3% -71.75 26 27.7% 0.35
Galway 106 4 3.8% -89.60 23 21.7% 0.29
Punchestown 9 0 0.0% -9.00 3 33.3% 0.00


The trainer does very well at Down Royal, a track where he has won four Ulster Derbies since 2014, but there isn’t that much flat racing there. The standout figure to my eye is Leopardstown where he has his third highest strike rate despite having a huge number of runners, second only to the Curragh overall. That is enough of a sample size to say it is the course he is aiming at above all others and it can be refined further when looking at his record at Leopardstown on Thursdays only. Now that may initially appear a completely random thing to focus on but that is the day when the track hosts their summer evening meetings which have long been a successful source of winners for Bolger.


Track Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/


Leopardstown – Thursday Only 330 67 20.3% +95.29 132 40.0% 1.19


Basically, everything gets an uptick here with Strike rate, level-stakes, place strike-rate and actual/expected all improving from his overall figures at Leopardstown. Going back to 2010, there have been 17 individual Thursday meetings where Bolger had two or more winners, including two trebles and two four-timers. I also think his Leopardstown record explains his dismal figures at both Killarney and Galway as both those tracks have their flat racing in the summer around the same time as the Leopardstown Thursday cards, with Bolger seemingly putting all his efforts and better horses into having winners at the Dublin venue.

Finally, let’s consider Bolger and handicaps. Since 2010, no Irish trainer has had more handicap winners than Bolger with 203: Michael Halford is next in with 198 and Ger Lyons third on 158. There was nothing significant in terms of the number of previous runs his winners had in handicaps but he does have a fair record with horses running back quickly in handicaps with that group coming pretty close to break-even at starting price from a reasonable sample size.


Days Since Last Run Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/


0-7 days 40 237 16.9% -18.92 88 37.1% 0.98
Everything Else 1,563 163 10.4% -248.29 466 29.8% 0.85


Another angle with the yard in handicaps is in races confined to apprentice riders; Bolger has always been happy to give young riders a start in the sport provided they are willing to graft. His 23 winners in such handicaps is an impressive total and importantly it has not come off the back of using a single hot apprentice the whole time; rather, that group of horses were ridden by nine different jockeys: Martin Harley, David Parkes, Dylan Robinson, Killian Hennessy, Ronan Whelan, Daniel Redmond, Gavin Ryan, Luke McAteer and Willie Byrne.


Race Type Runners Wins Strike rate Level-Stakes Places Place Strike rate Actual/


Apprentice Handicaps 155 23 14.8% +22.25 55 35.5% 1.21


So hopefully these are some angles that could profitable (or at least loss-limiting) with Jim Bolger for what is left of this flat season and looking ahead to 2019.

Possible Betting Angles:

  • Mares kept in training
  • Leopardstown Thursday meetings
  • Apprentice-only handicaps
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