Eye Spy in Early Season

Article 12_003_1
21st January, 2012

1. Introduction

The 2yo Season during the Turf Season in Britain represents a 'Closed System'. Around 3,000 juveniles will run each season although the first hints showed up in 2011 that the recession and the decrease in foals produced may be reducing that number. Those horses are from a notably in-bred form of the equine in the Thoroughbred and produced by a relatively small number of stallions. The horses are acquired by owners and trainers in two basic ways and the first of these is by the owners breeding them from their own broodmares. The rest of the horses will be made available at the sales and trainers and agents will pick out similar types each year, the ones that they like. Which mean that trainers start each season with roughly the same group of inmates. They will then put them through the same preparation and training they have been using forever.

There are now around 1,070 juvenile races each season. The lengthy bidding processes for courses to gain meetings and the fact they put on mostly the same races each meeting annually means the same series of races is available year after year. The same obstacle course to be run by the same participants prepared by the same handlers, in seeming perpetuity.

Which means that someone following the season closely will have repeated feelings of deja-vu as the season unfolds. You will have seen most of this before, with subtle tweaks, and will be able to fit the horses into a smallish set of containers, appropriately labelled. Given that, let us pinch an idea for childrens' books, mis-spell it and come up with a few examples of the expected repetition to look for in the coming season. The starting point is an 'Eye Spy' list for the early weeks of the season, say through to early May. Two more articles to follow after that to highlight items to look for in Mid-Season and then in the latter stages.

Tradition says there should be some scoring system reflecting how rare the items are. In this exercise most of the things to spot are pretty likely to occur so a flat scoring system of 10 points for likely ones and 1 point for those that just have to happen. For example, award yourself 1 point if you see an interview with Bill Turner, in print or on TV, just before the season starts talking about the Brocklesby. But, deduct a point if you actually read or watch it although you can have the point back if the interview reminds us that he once rode his zebra down to the local Pub. Perhaps 20 points available if the interview acknowledges, which it will not, that Turner is a marginal figure in juvenile racing of little importance. Ten points for each flaw in his training and placing methods it covers, which it will not. 1,000 points on offer if it mentions him playing the Ronnie Corbett "...I know my place.." role in the satirical sketch about the British Class system which Bill escaped from.

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2. Early Eye-Spy 10

2.1 Evans' Multiple Winners for the Season

Rather than easing into the season tracking this first section ought to mean a fast start. David Evans has developed a successful routine with cheap horses in a manner that Bill Turner has always avoided, or is incapable of. Mr Evans has a batch of 2yos ready to go from the start of the season. He will probably be into double figures of individual runners by very early April.

This first batch will often include the best 2yos he has and they will compete well first time out. Because Mr Evans is so good at keeping horses motivated as racehorses many of these will run a lot of times during the season. This means that he competes strongly for having the best record of producing horses capable of winning multiple races during the season amongst all trainers. This regular batching means that it is an interesting task picking out the good ones from the early flurry and trying to make a profit backing his FTO winners.

A second task is to split his early competitive ones into three basic types. Firstly, better class types (say OR84+) who will win second time out and may develop in later season to compete well in Listed races. Try to make a profit backing this small set in their next races after the debut. The second group are the Seller class horses (say OR60s) who will manage multiple wins by persistence through a busy season and not by winning consecutive outings. These may win FTO in low class races but can also be anonymous in better ones. In between these two groups are his small set of OR70s handicappers who will compete well FTO but may takes 2-3 races to win. But they will also be busy through the year and will hit seams of better form and find races to win and some will find real improvement in later season.

To give a feel for this here is a summary of his multiple winners in 2009-11 :-

FTO winners for the stable many years ago used to be 20/1 and 33/1 but hints in recent seasons that the SPs are getting shorter for the better ones. How well the early batch compete FTO and develop often a good indication of what better quality the stable has. 5 points for finding each FTO winner in advance and 10 points for making a profit on selectively backing some of his first 20 runners (or just count your money). Retrospective 5 points for being able to spot each of his multiple winners and another 5 points for being able to split them into one of the 3 types before the end of April. Oh, and 10 points if an Evans rabbit is spotted winning a 'proper' race in early season by accident. The sort of horse that will not compete to an OR45 level as an older horse but blunders into a soft race (e.g. Little Libretto).

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2.2 Channon's odd patches of FTO wins

Mick Channon is an important trainer in 2yo racing and always figures in the Top 5 by number of runners and can get to second place behind Hannon, whom he spent time with learning the trade, some seasons. Like many trainers influenced by Hannon the debut runners are normally for education and the bulk of the FTO wins will be better quality types doing it on ability rather than highly tuned readiness. As a general rule you could ignore all of Channon's debut runners each season with little danger. In a typical year for him you would lose 40-50 having a 1 bet on all of his 70-90 debut runners. Occasionally he has a long priced debut win & this lifts him into a profit in a good year for FTO successes. A 50/1 winner with one he owned did the job in 2005 and a 40/1 surprise in 2011 did it again. But still a solid loss overall and those long priced winners that might help seem to really come out-of-the-blue with little by way of hints to the real ability.

However, the trainer has a very consistent record and methods and this helps a punter to refine the 'avoid everything' approach to his debut runners. The first item to help in assessment is that he tends to get FTO wins for a small set of friends and associates and will always try to get debut wins for major Arab owners in the stable. The second is that in early season he has three definite times when he will normally get FTO wins.

The first of these is on the all-weather in the first 10-14 days of the season and probably within the first 10 races of the year. In 2011 the example was Majestic Rose at Kempton on April 7th and a classic type given she is Jaber Abdullah owned. Mr Abdullah would perhaps rank as the most important owner to Channon and the bulk of the FTO wins are with horses he owns. 2010 saw a second place and a couple of fourths with his early AW runners but 2009 was more typical with Leleyf winning the third race of the year at Lingfield. The ones before that were Thunder Bay at Lingfield in 2007 and Hephaestus at the same course in 2006. His two very early season successes in 2005 were on the turf and were much better types than any on that list of AW debut winners. That is perhaps a real indicator in that the early AW winners were lesser quality and perhaps OR60s in the long view and will only win again in later season through persistence in low quality races. The two turf types in 2005 included one that won at Listed level abroad and ran in Dubai early in his 3yo year and the other was still running in handicaps at the Dubai Carnival several years later.

The second regular patch of debut wins will occur in 'mid' May. Probably depending upon the weather and how forward his string is this could start from May 10th to May 25th although the number of successes will be small and tend to be batched. 2011 was the usual with two FTO wins in the period with Arnold Lane on the 16th and Betty Fontaine on the 20th. These May wins can often include some of the best he has and this assists the FTO wins. In 2010 he did not seem to have much quality early and the May FTO patch only produced Fork Handles on the 21st. 2009 was a blank and perhaps he did not have anything of the right type. But that followed an overly typical 2008 where he had three debut winners from May 12th to the 16th and then another with a filly that won at Group 2 level on May 29th. This 'leaking' of a better class filly into late May or early June is worth watching for. In 2010 he had a June 10th debut win at Hamilton for Ahmed Al Maktoum (a classic combination of course & owner for Channon) with a filly that won at Group level. Check the record back to 2005 and examples each year including three in three days of the May period in 2006 and all ran in Group races later.

There is a third period to look for but this is less regular than the others in later April. The 7 seasons between 2005 to 2011 have produced 3 blank years. The seven FTO winners in these years include six packed into the tight spell of April 19th to the 26th and one real exception on April 13th. 5 of the 7 debut wins have been better class horses for major Arab owners with four for Jaber Abdullah & one for Marwan Koukash. The second of those owners new to the yard in 2011 and just the sort of owner that Channon will target getting FTO successes for. All the examples of FTO wins in this period 2002-4 were for Sheikh Mohammed before the Godolphin banner ownership kicked in. The other two wins were for syndicate owners by precocious horses capable of competing at Listed level before the advantage their relatively advanced physical development dissipated.

In summary, 5 points for the very early AW winner in the south and 10 points if he ever finds Wolverhampton. 4 points for each 'April Week' debut win for an Arab owner and 5 for a syndicate. 10 points if the Arab owned winner if it is at the Newmarket Craven meeting like the exceptional Flashy Wings was for Mr Abdullah in 2005. 3 points for each FTO win in the mid-May spell.

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2.3 Fahey's 5f & early FTOs Profits

A relatively simple story in this section and the underlying message is that the improvement in the numbers and performance of the Richard Fahey 2yos continues to develop. Because the forward push is still there the Market has still not caught up with reality despite adjusting it's sights over the years. Go back to the 2002-4 period and the Fahey yard had between 8 & 26 runners and struggled to produce average Strike Rates. In those three years he produced a single debut winner when Bolton Hall won over 5f in June of the 2004 season. That summary feels very surprising when you consider where the stable has got to by early 2012. In 2011 he was up to 78 juvenile representatives, a comfortably above average Strike Rate and 10 debut wins during the season to back up the 17 he had in 2010.

It has been steady development in the intervening years and the results with FTO runners has improved in parallel. The debut wins used to start in late May but these days can be from the first week of the season and he now has two Brocklesby winners to his name. Go back to 1998-2003 period and his few Doncaster runners would be flopping about in midfield or further back. Some of this change has been caused by him changing his training approach with the early 2yos but it also reflects the increased quality he now has amongst his string of 2yos.

If you look at his Profit & Loss returns for debut runners in recent years a couple of points stand out :-

Which means a simple task to put all of that together. Back all of the 5f debuts for the stable and back everything from March to May FTO. The SPs are unlikely to be long but as long as he has been able to buy a solid group of yearlings the FTO wins will come at a good enough Strike Rate.

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2.4 First Season Sires

The start of the new season is made more interesting, if it needs to be, by the chance to see the first runners for the newly represented stallions. The 'First Season Sires' (FSS). Their newness often imparting an expectation and that they cannot live up to. Even with successful established sires we know what they can do so that edge is not there. With established sires even having proved they can produce above average quality over many years will not stop the amount they are used dwindling away. The crowd being drawn to the newer models even though they may be not much better than useless.

Many studs with FSS will have put incentives in place to try to ensure early runners. Some forms of "Breeders' Prize" for the first batch of winners for example. Especially with a stallion targeted at producing precocious sprint types. Trainers & owners may well prepare 2yos by the FSS to be ready early to try for the prizes. So, points available for spotting the batches of early runners for the FSS and extra points for each winner.

But, this can often mean that the usable examples for a FSS are front-loaded into their earliest representatives. This creates a false impression about how well they are doing which may well last without being properly updated as the season develops and gets busier. This is not an immediate problem for the Stud with the FSS because there will still be mares around for a month or two whose owners have to decide which stallion to send them to. This sort of advertising in early season can be very effective.

But, to ensure proper checking and retaining a clear head points will be available for spotting the first two FSS where the initial debuts are strong, perhaps as little as 2-3 individuals, and then quickly tails off. The lesser types being more typical of the average type for the sire and he will probably have a good sized tail of moderate and plain poor ones. The 'Debut Run' listings on this site are Colour Coded so perhaps a brief Amber patch with the early runners followed by uninterrupted reds. Or the rating Estimates dropping by 10-20 points after the early start.

The need to make an impact will mean that FSS representatives will often make up a disproportionately high percentage of runners in early season. As a sideshow there will be 10 points available for any race where half or more of the runners are by first season sires. In a smaller field on the all-weather in early season this can often occur. 5 points for any example of a sire with three runners in a race or where two FSS are both doubly represented. 5 points per runner for any FSS with multiple runners in the Brocklesby and 5 for each Lily Agnes runner. If a FSS representative manages to win one of the Listed events before Royal Ascot then a further 10 points.

A game to play in early is also to spot the 'Least likely early season 5f pedigree' presented to us. Perhaps by a sire who didn't win at 2yo or managed only a success in an 8f maiden on soft going in November on their way to being best at 12 furlongs. On the dam side extra points for a dam who began her career in a National Hunt Flat race (a 'bumper') and also if she failed to win there and proved too slow for that. An extra two points for each runner she had produced who never ran at 2yo and the flat and another point for each career maiden or NH winner. Perhaps a bit more for steeplechase only or Point-to-Point victories.

A good point to look at the FSS we will see in 2012 and perhaps pick out one which might qualify for the 'Least Likely' title early. An interesting example to follow is probably Sixties Icon who was unraced as a 2yo, took time to get going from his 10f debut at 3yo but later won Group races over 12f & 14.6f (St. Leger). Perhaps a FSS who has been targeted at the National Hunt market and unlikely to get any early runners at 5f. But, and this is a real big BUT, Sixties Icon stands at Mick Channon's Norman Court Stud in part for his owner Susan Roy. Channon would vie with Richard Hannon as the prime examples of trainers who will try a horse with any pedigree over 5f if they think it is ready. Channon has been said in the past in his typically bluff manner "..I train the horse not the pedigree...". And well done Mick for an example of a trainer breaking out of the shackles of tradition within racing.

A look at Channon's website in January showed he had 15 juveniles by Sixties Icon in training with him out of all kinds of mares. In that set-up you would have to make Sixties Icon the favourite in the 'Least Likely' category. Consider an example like Imperial Dancer who raced for Channon then has stood at Norman Court. He gained his most important wins over 10-12f as a 4-6yo but how did is career start? Racing over 5f for Channon from March 25th onwards and winning at the minimum distance amongst his 13 runs at 2yo. Mick had tried hard to get an early 5f win with an Imperial Dancer but failed then Bill Turner pipped him to it last year with The Dancing Lord's success on April 4th. Followed 3 days later by Channon's win with Majestic Rose.

As the other side to this it is worth thinking about which of the FSS will have the strong start over 5f and award points for spotting the best total of wins by end April and end of May to keep us checking & thinking. Looking at the FSS for 2012 the overall impression of it being Coolmore heavy and Godolphin light. A good number of sires with brief 2yo careers or none at all and another solid batch with 7-8f records and not 5f early ones. A small number of more sprinter types but all with holes in their profiles.

In 2011 the end April leaders were Dark Angel on 6 and Dutch Art on 5 and both were group winning 2yos over 5f or 6f. The 2012 crop includes Henrythenavigator & Captain Marvelous but neither were as convincing as 2yos as the 2011 pair. HTN was actually an 8-10f 3yo type that Coolmore occasionally try to win the Coventry Stakes with to boost the stallion's overall profile. Look at the record of similar sires they have run in the Coventry and Rock Of Gibraltar & Holy Roman Emperor have not proved to be precocious sires. Add in that HTN stands in the USA and has fewer European runners and how likely is he to make a fast start. You could also say he is priced as a stallion to get premium stock so the owners of his 2yos are not going to be the sort who press for early runners. But, quite likely that if he does have one out in April for a major owner it will prove to be a very good one.

Captain Marvelous is the 'Dark Angel' equivalent in some ways being the Barry Hills' trained 2yo that made it's debut at Newmarket in April, won over 5f, then improved in later season to win a Group race over 6f. A suspect Group 2 in Germany in this case after winning a Nursery. But, Captain Marvelous has not received the quantity and quality of mares that Dark Angel did so will he have the numbers to represent him even if he can produce good enough ones?

But a difficult choice overall so 10 points for correctly identifying the leader with 5f wins by end April and 20 points for the leader at end May. In 2011 the order was the same with Dark Angel on 11 and Dutch Art on 10. To make the point about fast starts and tailing off the Dark Angel total of wins at season end was only 18 after getting to 11 before 200 of the 1,075 races during the season had been run.

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2.5 Listed Events at 5f

May sees the start of the Class 1 events for the season and these are made up of the Group races which are part of the British Pattern and the Listed events which are the level below. The races classified as level 1 for juveniles begin with a number of 5f events in May. The total has changed in the last 10 years from 2 to 4 in 2005, then down to 3 in 2008 and was down to 2 in 2011. The two left in 2011 being 50% different from the pair we started out with. 100 points if you can find anyone who can explain why any of the changes occurred, what larger plan they were part of and who controlled it.

The established May events back in 2002 were both run in late May and one or the other might leak into June depending upon how Easter and the Calendar fell. These were the Hilary Needler Trophy for fillies at Beverley and the National Stakes at Sandown open to both genders. In 2005 two new 5f Events were magicked up in early and mid May with the Aubigny Stakes at Goodwood for both sexes and the Marygate Stakes at York for fillies. The Aubigny Stakes lasted three years before disappearing and why was it ever invented? The Marygate has survived but has helped to kill off the Hilary Needler. 50 points for any new bit of pointless magicianary in 2012.

A couple of things to watch out for to try to get the work of the Pattern Race Committee better known. Each year the British Horseracing Authority publishes a book called the "British Flat Pattern & Listed Races 20nn" early in the Flat season. This details all the Group and Listed events for the season and explains at length how decisions are made about changes. In 2011 they ran a very simple competition on their website to get a free copy and were somewhat less than knocked over by the response. 5 points for getting a copy to build your knowledge and another 5 if you get it as a prize. The title of the book answers the question about whether Listed races are within 'The Pattern', by the way.

Also, 10 points for each Pundit seen that can explain how the Committee works and using what formulas. Pundits, like Lydia Hislop who have served on the committee are excluded. 25 points if we all have to sit through Peter Naughton misrepresenting every single possible fact about why the Hilary Needler was downgraded, and how it might upgrade again, when he presents the program from that evening Meeting. 20 points for every mention of the Listed races being "Pattern Races" and 30 for each, ridiculous, use of the phrase "Top Class" to refer to a Listed event, especially one for 2yos in May.

Why would May be an issue? In 2012 we shall try to spot which side of the Over/Under level of 450 the number of 2yos that have made their debuts up to the time that the first Listed race is run. Given the likely decrease in 2yo runners overall given the economic condition the 'Under' would be favourite. This is less than a sixth of the 2yos that have run and too small a pool of horses to really need a high class race which will be mis-sold by Pundits, Bloodstock Sales and so on for many years to come.

To make the point a bit further 5 points for being able to spot a 'Type A' early Listed race after it is run this year and 10 for a 'Type B'. The 'A' type is the empty race which proves to be barely a good OR70s to OR80s nursery handicap and as much will be clear well before the end of the season. The second type will have one, two on rare occasions, better types in who will make some mark in the later season 5f Group evens and might even do ok at 6f.

The difference between the types will be indistinguishable listening to Pundits who will talk up any Class 1 race unquestioningly. Horses are always 'stepping up in class' going to those races and 'the stable must have thought something of them to run in a Listed race..' they will say. 5 points for each citing of those examples spotted. Mindlessly using the 'Class' label of the race at '1' as an excuse not to have to think about the real quality on show. The BHA book is very useful at this point because it gives the ratings given to the last three fields for every races. Even through the myopic eyes of a handicapper bound by the 'Race Standardisation' outlook they manage to find solid variation between years.

Type B events are usually saved by Richard Hannon or another larger stable who have a precocious type with a bit more scope to develop than usual. These races often produce results which look ludicrous in hindsight with a winner, or perhaps a placed horse, who went on to win at Group level at 2yo having two horses who were struggling in claimers at 3yo as their placed horses.

And finally, a minor point to look out for with the National Stakes at Sandown. 5 points for a 'Type A'  5f race shape and 10 points for a 'Type B'. The Race Pace being the key to the Type and the second one will be recognisable by the winner being in the last pair through halfway and being unable to keep up.

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2.6 Charlie boy - just like Dad?

The sub-section title refers to Charlie Hills who finally took over the stable licence from his father Barry during the 2011 season. Now, Barry's was one of the bigger stables who took 2yo racing seriously and competed, in smaller numbers, from early season. The way Barry hung on into his seventies while fighting serious illness might not suggest he had a lot of faith in his lad but perhaps he was keeping involved to give himself a target to aim for. A good question is whether Charlie has any new ideas of his own to apply or whether the stable will carry on using the same template?

Barry Hills had some interesting wrinkles in his early season approach and trying to spot those continuing in 2012 under the new man should be enlightening. Given his Doncaster association, going back to the late 1960s, Barry occasionally had runners ready for the Brocklesby and they would typically be OR80s maiden winner and then nursery types. They would finish 3rd or 4th looking promising. They would then disappear for a while and turn up in maidens later and get beaten and would need time to develop to win after that. The 'Classic' path, worth top points, would be one going to the maiden at the Chester May Meeting on the second run. The bullet points below list his last few runners in the Brocklesby :-

A clear 'Type' to be looking out for amongst the early runners, if that is what Charlie is going to do. Worth checking the other early runners if he does not have a Brocklesby representative. For example, in 2011 Sea Odyssey was probably the equivalent horse if you check his record. 3rd on his April 4th debut, beaten as joint favourite STO in the Chester maiden, finally won a maiden and a nursery (5-6TO) from late July into August and ended up on OR81. Bingo.

The second wrinkle to look for is where Charlie starts the Listed or Group Class ones he has ready in early season. Depending upon type these often show the same stable trait of notable improvement in late season after ordinary mid-season promise following the early start. With the better males Barry had dropped into a habit of using the maiden or novice at the Newmarket Craven Meeting in Mid-April as the kickoff point. For example, Red Clubs (placed in 2005), Captain Marvelous (placed in 2006), Dark Angel (2nd in 2007) & Ouqba (2nd in 2008).

All very neat and then the Newmarket meeting became a two day only affair in 2009 and they dropped the males' maiden. Where did Barry take his better ones after that? On tour seemingly with Red Jazz winning FTO at Windsor in early April in 2009. In 2010 he did not seem to have the right type and the ones he started at Newmarket and Newbury in mid-April were moderate ability. His best class males were in his first batch of 6f debuts towards mid-May with Rerouted (7f development Group winner in later season) and Face The Problem (developed well in later season when dropped back to 5f). In 2011 it was a long wait to see that Letsgoroundagain was the one after a staying on effort over 5f to 4th at Newbury in mid-April. He was the typical late season developer and eventually won a Listed race over 8f in October.

So, Windsor, Newbury or perhaps the Newmarket novice for the 'Dark Angel' this year? Will it be a development type over 7-8f rather then the 5-6s sprinter? Different points for different spots.

Turn to his better females and the story was typically a little different. The ones he started at Newmarket in mid April tended not to be his best. Perhaps he has the fillies that bit further behind in training than the males so that the Craven meeting was a touch too early. Look through his record and the better sprint females, if he had them, would start off in the last week in April or in the first 7-10 days of May and could be at lesser tracks. Go back to 2002 and French Group winner Never A Doubt began at Salisbury on May 5th and in 2003 older Group 1 winner La Cucaracha won FTO at Leicester on April 26th. Seeming to lack the right type for a while the next one was in 2007 with Janina winning FTO at Haydock on April 28th then another break until May 9-10th in 2011 brought FTO wins for Angels Will Fall & Sajwah at Windsor & Warwick.

Patchy but still a regular enough type. 10 points for variety if he starts his best filly at Newmarket and another 10 if she wins. If that happens she may well be very good. 5 points for each spot of a Listed quality, or better, filly who wins FTO at a lesser course in the usual 2 week period.

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2.7 Start of the 6f Races

The 6f races used to start in mid-May but have drifted earlier and started at Goodwood (a serial offender in ignoring early boundaries) in 2011 on May 5th and a total of 10 at the distance by May 15th. The longer races mark a real change to the season and the first reason is that many trainers see 6f as the minimum worthwhile to be racing at. Therefore a wider cast of trainers will be represented from then on.

Mid-May also marks an interesting point in the season because the first Group races will be run in just over a month's time at Royal Ascot. If a major owner or an old school trainer has a ready 2yo that might be able to go there then they need to run it well before to give it experience. The majority of trainer's will want to leave at least 14 days between runs and many will not take a maiden to a Group race which may mean two runs before Ascot unless it wins on debut. So, from Mid-May on the chances of a strong debut from a, physically better built type than most zippy 5f runners, 2yo with longer term Group prospects increases notably.

A number of regular places to look for interesting spots in this time period and let us start with a well known one. The 6f maiden at Newbury around the 20th of May is targeted by a range of trainers to start better 6f 2yos out. The most notable of these is Richard Hannon and he has run some of his absolute best there in recent seasons. The maiden often divides in two because of the number of trainers queueing up to get juveniles started now the 'real racing' has begun. Hannon has won a division of the Newbury maiden in recent years with Canford Cliffs & Strong Suit and both came with 'my Best prospect' stamped on them by Hannon. Hard to argue that he was anything but 100% accurate. In 2011 he ran three and less hype about Trumpet Major and he managed not to win but finished the year with a Group success at 7f. What will Hannon give us in 2012?

The 2011 edition of the Newbury maiden was not the best overall but did have the Coventry third just behind Trumpet Major. It also had an unusual John Gosden representative with a STO runner who had started at 6f. The trainer has very few 5f runners although they tend to winners of some sort. His early 6f runners tend to split into two types. The majority are not better types and many will be season non-winners or struggle to win and end up in nurseries. They will typically compete poorly on debut and often look very inexperienced. Occasionally he will have some better types ready earlier and the Newbury maiden has seen some of them on debut including his last May FTO win at 6f with To Sender in 2005. Overall, watch out for the Gosden 6f debuts in May and points for successfully avoiding any bogus short prices on debut through reputation. The classier ones will tend to make the first 4-5 places FTO rather than bomb out so points for tracking the real solid types. Oh, and watch out for his 6f debuts in earlyish June because that is when the better ones who can win FTO will tend to start out and often including the best he has.

Lots of other items to watch for at this important time of the year but to pull out one more example we could turn to the York 6f Maiden which takes place at the Dante meeting a few days before the Newbury race. Another maiden with a mixed field because of it's early position but often containing better types including juvenile Group winners. The 2011 edition only contained maiden winners but did have a lot of 'regulars' to pull out for spots. In this year's edition watch out for :-

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2.8 First Group Winners Debuts

Some of the items to spot may need some time to unfold before it becomes clear whether they were correct or not. Up to the end of April typically just over 200 horses will have made their debuts out of a final total approaching 3,000. Many of these will be early types with no scope to develop and are already competing to the highest relative level they ever will in their careers. But do any of these early starters go on to be Group winners? The following bullet points summarise the Group winners to debut before the end of April in the last three years.

5 of the 7 were Group winners at 5f with Best Terms also winning over 6f at Group level and Habaayib & Misheer early mid-Season Group winners at 6f. Neither of the last pair ever won another race after their 6f Group wins in late June & early July of their 2yo seasons.

3 of the 7 were Richard Hannon trained with a representative in each year and all won on debut. Two started out at Windsor and one in earlier season at Folkestone. He has also used Kempton in early season to start Group winning 2yos. One was a filly making a Ripon debut win for Tim Easterby. Not in the race he normally starts his best sprint filly in (he won that event in 2011 with Queen's Revenge FTO) but he nearly always starts the best he has in the Ripon April races.

The Newmarket Craven Meeting used to be a good place to look but with the meeting down to two days from three and the males' maiden ditched the productiveness has been less. The Hills' team looking elsewhere to start their better ones, covered above, has compounded that.

So, 3 points for a Tim Easterby Ripon debut winner in April, by a filly and 5 for a male. 10 points for being able to spot the early season Hannon debut winner who goes on to 5f Group success. Who will be the Monsieur Chevalier and which one the Magic City. 10 points for being able to spot the precocious 5-6f Group winner from less predictable sources. The three in the bullet points above you would split into 'Unusually Early Debut for major Arab Owner' and 'Best of the Fretwell early types' and probably McMahon trained & note Temple Meads made a May 2nd debut for the same connections in 2010.

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2.9 Godophin's Slow Start

Other articles this year will make the point that following Godolphin juveniles in many forms can be profitable. But, there is one area where each year it seems that avoiding them is the correct approach. This can be characterised as a 'Slow Start' to the season and Godolphin seem to start a number of lesser types, by their standards, and these can be unready to compete on debut.

With Zarooni joining Suroor in 2010 as a joint Godolphin trainer he also seemed to be responsible for more of the juveniles. These included a lot of the stock bred by the Maktoums and close to two-thirds of his runners were owner breds. The new set-up still seems to be developing and will probably cause a variation in the number of early runners but both stables show signs of the 'Slow Start' trait. The following bullet points summarise the starts in 2010 and 2011 :-

A fairly clear story in terms of needing to warm-up the stable runners into the season with the two trainers a combined 0-27 on May runs in the two seasons. Hard to imagine there are many, if any other, categories where the Godolphin Strike Rate is 0-27. Mostly true that their better types are not among the earlier runners although Zarooni started some better ones early in 2011 but they still needed at least one run to get straight, mentally as much as physically.

Points available for avoiding any hype about the early Godolphin runners, spotting when the better ones among the earliest debuts are ready to produce the set of second outing wins and for waiting it out until the FTO wins are due and then supporting the batches of better type kick-offs.

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2.10 Ragbags of Bogusness

And finally, a selection of bogus bits of analysis, other Pundit flotsam, and other oddities which will probably be visible during the early season.

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3. Next Time

The second Eye Spy article in the trilogy will cover the three months of June through to August and the high summer. A set of major meetings with Group races through the period with Royal Ascot in late June, Newmarket in early July, Goodwood later that month then York in August. A lot of other landmarks with the 7f races starting in late June and the 8f races in early August with the different shape of race that brings and another expansion in the range of sires and trainers represented. One of the most interesting landmarks is the commencement of the Nursery handicaps in early July. This starts with the 'Phoney War' period when the BHA handicapper refuses to let anyone know what his figures are then berates other people who try to fill the gaps he has unnecessarily left. Another ten areas to look out for during the mid season in the next part.

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