Eye Spy in Mid Season
7th February, 2012
The British 2yo Season on the turf runs, usually, from late March through to early November. Slowly building in number of races and with longer distances feeding in through the months. A final total around 1,075 races although only a short time ago the overall number was 40-80 lower. But, a recognisable course of races to run in and with the vast majority of races run in the same form each year. Approaching 3,000 individual 2yos will runs representing a smallish set of trainers and sires. A long tail within the sets of those with only a handful of runners and the bulk of the juveniles representing a core of 40-50 handlers and stallions. A 'Closed System' where recognisable landmarks and occurrences will happen in many years.
Part one of this 'Eye Spy' trilogy covered the early season through to the end of May highlighting a number of things to watch for over that period. The same happenings and patterns unfolding this year as before. Hopefully, otherwise the first Part will have already been proved wrong to various degrees. This Part will cover the three months June to August and will detail 10 more areas to watch for in 2012. The season really gets going during this period with a range of important landmarks in the season's development. What to look for along the way? The following sections suggest a few to check for ranging from large meetings through to details of how trainers operate.
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The Royal Meeting cover five days in late June and has a total of six juvenile events, four Group races and two at Listed level. Three of the races are at 5f of two Group events (the Norfolk Stakes open to males & females and the Queen Mary Stakes for fillies' only) and the Listed Windsor Castle stakes for both genders. Similarly at 6f there are now two 6f events with the Coventry Stakes open to both genders and the Albany Stakes (invented in 2002 as the "Fillies' Coventry") confined to females. Finally at 7f there is the Listed level Chesham Stakes for both genders but confined to horses by sires that won over at least 10 furlongs. The qualification used to be 12f but is drifting downwards in distance covered.
The Royal Ascot meeting looms over the early part of the flat season in a manner which echoes the way the Cheltenham Festival towers over the whole National Hunt season. The big difference is that Royal Ascot is positioned less than halfway into the flat season so is really just an early summer highlight rather than consuming the whole season in the way Cheltenham does. On the juvenile front the Royal Ascot races will be somewhere in the range of the 200th to 220th 2yo races of the year and the first ones at Group level and. That is out of a total of over 1,000 races and 35 Group level events. The large majority of the unfolding story is still to be written.
The status and impact of collecting lots of winning juveniles together at Royal Ascot means that the problem is often cutting through the hype and euphoria to divine the true quality and long-term significance of the events. The first item to watch for will be that feeling that starts roughly two weeks after Royal Ascot as a nagging feeling on "Oh no, it's happened again..". Some of the midfield finishers have run again in Novice & Conditions races and been beaten as has the maiden who seemed to run pretty well. Then those up the front at Royal Ascot get comfortably beaten in the next round of Group events and the nagging feeling has proved correct. The hype and hoopla of Royal Ascot has lead to the Group races being over-valued in quality terms, again. Not with every race but a good number. The sort of points you want to try to avoid collecting.
Rather than a detailed summary of the Meeting here are a few items to watch for as the five days unfold and a little bit of what to track shortly afterwards.
The most striking impact over the last few years has been the performance style of the raiders from the USA, mostly trained by Wesley Ward. Go back to 2009 and the first 2yo race of the Meeting saw Canford Cliffs run away with Richard Hughes and the Coventry and his career proved that was no fluke. The careers of the others behind aside from his runner-up who was held well back proved they were solid handicappers, at best, to re-make the point about assessing the quality. The Windsor Castle was later in the day and the Ward runner Strike The Tiger at 33/1. That horse broke best and was two lengths clear in early race and never stopped.
The Ward runner the next day in the Queen Mary was taken more seriously after that and started at 13/2 and did exactly the same as Strike The Tiger. Win the start from the stalls and get into a clear lead and never get challenged. His three other runners that year all finished well back with two leading their fields. The SPs went 100/30, 11/4 and 16/1 (drift from 8/1) as the initial, somewhat scary, impact worked through and the ability of Ward to identify what quality he thought the horses were became clear.
His five runners in 2010 to 2011 have all failed to place although he has had a winner at Folkestone prior to Royal Ascot. At least two things seemed to have changed in those years. Firstly, some British trainers and jockeys seemed to have reacted to counteract the 'Run Style' and were challenging the Ward horses for the lead in early race. This would mean they might be over-racing and not finishing the races off. The going in those two years compounded the effect by being softer than the fast ground back in 2009. Ward withdrew his last runner in 2011 because of the softer ground.
Hopefully, we will have USA raiders in 2012 to watch for and firmer going to allow their forcing Run Styles to compete well. Perhaps the Market will have forgotten about them a bit after the last two years and a 'surprise' win at a good price in the Windsor Castle might come along. Points for that and for each USA horse 1 length plus clear after one furlong. 5 points for each pre-Ascot win in Britain and 5 if you can find the videos of the early wins in France. As a subsidiary worth tracking a point about Americans knowing how to get horses to start efficiently and Europeans less so. 5 points for every European runner at the Breeders' Cup that mucks up the break and ends up flopping around at the back and limiting their options in trying to win. Only 1 point for each Aiden O'Brien horse that does that, on reflection, since he does not seem to have a different option.
Another regular to watch out for is the Wandering draw bias both in reality and in it's media coverage. 10 points on offer if the traditional 'preferred' strip still holds good in 2012. This is towards the Stands' Side but probably 10-15 lanes away from the rail. 50 enjoyable points if a jockey, say Spencer, hauls his mount back by ten lengths from a draw well wide beyond centre track and crosses to this strip behind the field. Another 50 if the trainer, say Channon, nearly explodes and berates the jockey for his antics.
10 points for each time the bias is touted as having moved because a winners has won in Centre track. 20 points if the leader hangs right throughout and drags their field with them to finish on the far side. Proving, or not proving, depending upon your viewpoint that there is no bias and "..they can win from anywhere..". 10 points for each use noted of the last construction and the same for each "..there is not a draw bias it is the where the pace is that matters.." spotted. 50 points if you manage to spot the 'conveyor belt' lined with 'Magic Carpet' just this side of centre track and the implausible final distances it produces.
20 points for any juvenile winner that belts down the Stands' Rail on it's own. The same for each mention by the Clerk of the Course or media type that the "..ground is chewed up.." after all the the racing as the bias and the jockeys move around in late meeting.
Harking back to the introduction above but be especially alive to the Over-rated Chesham Stakes effect. The fact that is is a very early 7f event in the season and the qualification rules mean that it can often be a soft race. The extended distance often means horses struggling to finish the race off. This can mix in the lesser plodders with the better or just solid quality types by the finish. As a general rule take a downside view of the form and be very wary of the relative finishing places. 10 points for each horse. that you avoid, that makes the first 8 places in the Chesham as a maiden and then gets beaten in a maiden at a lesser course later.
To finish a couple of items from the 'Oddities list' and you are likely to have your own. On the flippant side 5 points for each sighting of a trainer or owner in the 'Too big Topper'. 5 points if they just let the hat rim drop down to eye level or below. 10 points if they use the 'ear catch' approach to hold the Top Hat up and end up with their ear points bent at right angles. Back with the racing then 20 points for spotting that a lottery has produced the 'Coventry Deep Closer' who finishes third but is not very good. Here is a good example and a reminder how empty the Royal Ascot races can actually be. Go back to 2002 and the 33/1 shot in a volunteer third was Kawagino. He never won on the flat but had a solid career over hurdles and fences including flashes of the same fringe quality at major NH festivals.
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An important part of the interest in 2yo racing for many people is the fascination of seeing untried horses compete. The enjoyment of trying to estimate how lightly raced horses will develop and how trainers work in this environment. But, for many people the lack of 'Form' to read is an appalling situation and leaves them feeling adrift in a choppy sea. Ten points for being able to name the TV Pundit who is the most vocal in the 'lost' feeling with maiden races. But help is coming to save them.
By early July in each season in recent years we will have seen more than 1,100 juveniles runs and they will have accumulated around 2,500 outings. This equates to around 35% of the horses that will run during the turf season and 25% of the total outings. This is deemed to be 'enough' interworking form for the official handicapper to frame races based on that evidence. The juvenile handicaps are termed Nurseries and they have started on July 1st in 2010 at Redcar and July 5th in 2011 at Pontefract. There has been a big increase in the number of Nurseries in the period 2009-11 and the anti-maiden types will have up to 200 to look forward to. An alternative view is that you did not get into 2yo racing to spend all your time wading through collateral form and 50 points for any media person espousing that view.
The first item to watch for with the start of the nurseries is the 'Phoney War' period which lasts for two to three weeks. When the Nurseries start the British Horseracing Authority's (BHA's) 2yo handicapper Matthew Tester refuses to show his working and does not publish the Handicap Ratings that the horses are running off. He wants time to see how the nursery form develops and fix any issues before he unwraps his figures. Which means 50 points for spotting the BHA's own website racecards using other people's estimated OR figures for the early nurseries, unacknowledged. There may be some 'Authority' in the background who decides these early unofficial figures but most publishers, B2yoR included, seem to draw on the 'Racing Post' estimates. The 'Post' handicapper Simon Turner being a pretty realistic handicapper in comparison to the general standard.
The BHA handicappers are hugely sensitive to finishing distances and celebrate hugely close finishes and worry over wide margin wins. Whether the way the race developed because of the pace never seems to get factored in though. So, for grim fascination reasons lets us hope for a few wide margin wins in the early nurseries and 10 points for each. Another 50 points for seeing Mr. Tester interviewed and moaning that the 'Estimates' being used are too high. High marks for the complete lack of self awareness that he is calling out people who are filling a gap he has unnecessarily left and his own employers are having to find alternatives. 10 points for the interview where Mr. Tester says he is happy and will now publish his own figures. 1 point if the population median figure he has landed on is between OR69-71.
Mr. Tester also likes to keep the OR range nicely packaged up so 1 point for each horse rated OR90 or above that competes in a Nursery. 20 points if 2012 proves to be a year when the few runners in that range manage to produce a win or two and perhaps even a profit. At the other end minus 1 point for every horse rated under OR50 that manages to win a nursery. Why do we do this to ourselves?
To end a couple of trainers to track with their nurseries runners who get regular winners and produced a profit following all their representatives in 2010 & 2011. Mark Brisbourne gets just the odd winner each year but they tend to develop with racing and he often produces a couple of nursery wins with the development types. Because he is an unfashionable yard with cheap stock they are usually at value prices. Ed Dunlop seems a different type and a below average record with 2yos overall. He seems to get nursery wins a bit later in the season with late August leaking into September the prime time. Unlike Brisbourne these seem to be well bred or relatively expensive types that he has finally managed to get running competitively. Whether they start off from usable OR marks because he has struggled to get them to show their ability or has been limiting what has been shown earlier is a good issue to ponder.
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It's midsummer, say July & August, and the regular Friday & Saturday meetings at the Newmarket July Course. Funny how a few trees, better weather and moving half a mile removes the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, or on the Russian Steppes that the Rowley course often has. 16 runners in the maiden on the Friday night and lots of the right trainers, strong pedigrees and tall purchase prices. What are the chances of this field making dodging around the packed 'Madness' crowd more bearable? A few thoughts.
Before worrying about quality what are the chances of the field producing a few prospects to follow as likely juvenile winners? Easy to get a bit carried away looking at the race just on paper. But how many 2yo winners usually emerge? Here are the 2010 & 2011 figures for maiden race runners at the July Course :-
A slightly surprising result and worth bearing in mind when just reading the positives before a race. The average 15 runner maiden will produce 4-5 season winners including the horse that actually wins the event. In a really solid race you will be looking for just 4 other subsequent winners in the field and there will be several where there will just be one to spot. Interesting to note that when the fields get smaller there is often not that much change in the subsequent winner totals. Which tells you that many races are stuffed with some types of horses just having a run whatever their billing. Some will be obvious lesser types from small Newmarket stables running at a course they can walk to and save the travel costs. But, a lot of the ones, including those with strong credentials on paper, are doing something similar. On the Paddock Review 10 points for every runner from a smaller stable that is a usable size but proves moderate or worse. 20 points for being able to compare it to the better ones in the field and see what is 'wrong'.
A standard 10 points for any of the maidens which produce at least 3 winners and 50 for one that produces 6 (which none of them did in 2010-11). Leaving aside the Paddock clues are there any hints in where the horses finish to help identify the future winners? Are they always in the first half of the finishers, for example. Let us split the results into types by where the winners came from. The broad brush descriptions are :-
2010 & 2011 seemed different quality years overall and here are the July to August maidens split into the broad categories (with some race number references from 2011 as examples) :-
Strong paces will help produce the 'Front' oriented positions and put enough internal pressure into the race to drop the lesser types. Real quality will also help because even with an average pace the truly better types will still usually find a way to bumble through even if they are inexperienced to some degree. But, the message is that the 1 up to 4 later winners you are looking to spot in each race might be spread through the field. 10 points each for being able to separate the maidens into the broad groups above soon after they are run using the clues available. Race Pace, quality, trainer, video review and so on. 20 points for being able to correctly place the Changeover Point in a 'Packed Front' race. Finally, 30 points for each 'Ruck' runner spotted who proves to be the development winner types.
What about high quality in the Maidens? Here are the Group & Listed winners which came from the July & August maidens in 2010 & 2011 :-
A couple of points to note out of the bullet points above. The first is that a season is a small sample size and the results can vary hugely between years. The second is that all but one of the Group winners managed to win first time, except for Theyskens' Theory who blew out on her Newmarket debut, unless they were beaten by another Group level winner. High quality typically will get horses to the front even if they are a bit green and underdone. 10 points for each real high quality one amongst the from of the maidens in 2012. Minus 5 points if they win an Italian race. Worth looking at the result of the Frankel maiden and watching the replay to see how two top class horses separate themselves from an ordinary field otherwise.
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The first part of this trilogy noted how slow Godolphin can be to get going each year. Unless Mr. Zarooni has changed things notably in 2012 you would hope that expectation has not proved that different from reality. Godolphin has less quality juveniles each year then you would expect given their purchasing power and the size of their breeding operation. But, those they do have must start out somewhere each season and a good question is whether they are batched into set periods? The answer is that to a large extent is "Yes".
The story is still developing with Zarooni getting many more of the 2yos in 2011 and seeming to change his preparation. He is wrestling with the 'Hot-Housing-but-regressing-quickly-from-debut' issue that the Sheikh Mohammed trainers have to try to balance. But, the first place to look is for a small batch of useful fillies in late June and probably in the week after Royal Ascot. Not every year and not with both trainers but if they happen to have the right types available.
In 2010 it was the bin Suroor arm that produced two supported debuts for fillies on June 25th with Tanfeer winning at Doncaster and Ragsah beaten into second at Newmarket. Godolphin front-man Simon Crisford said in 2011 that they try to identify the better 2yos at home and target starting them at the best tracks. Presumably Tanfeer went to Doncaster because the sentimentally important Ragsah had taken up the Newmarket slot. Only kidding, Doncaster, or perhaps not given the Gulag it turns into at the St. Leger meeting unless your primary interest is drinking alcohol. Both fillies had goes in Group races and Ragsah placed without every looking a strong contender.
In 2011 in was Zarooni's turn and Discourse won on debut at Newmarket on June 24th as the 16/1 second string on the way to winning a Group race and looking a real talent. The first string filly she defeated in Gamilati also went on to Group success. The next day Pimpernel won first time at Lingfield and developed through nurseries to win a Listed race on her seventh outing. So the trainer can develop a horse with racing if they have not been overcooked too early.
The lesson being to keep alert for some better types later in the week after Royal Ascot and taking note of those that win or run very well first time. They might well be some of the better ones they have, fillies to date, and worth tracking.
The second, very minor to date, place to look is the Newmarket July Meeting in early month. In the seasons 2010-11 they have started just a few this Meeting and with mostly moderate debut efforts and not much real quality. Assuming more of the same probably worth 10 points each for their maiden runners at the meeting that are still maidens after three goes.
Which brings us to the primary period for looking for debut wins and the majority of the high class quality then will have. In the Suroor case the period starts in very late July and goes through to 'mid' August. This sounds like a long time period but usually encompasses a small number of debuts. The following bullet points summarise his efforts in 2010-11.
The message being that Mr Suroor has his better ones ready by mid-July and will batch up a set of strong debuts into August and will produce a lot of FTO successes. This will also be a good place to look for the runners he has that will make an impact at Listed level or higher. He also adheres to the 'Start the good ones at better Courses' rule.
In his first season in 2010 Mr. Zarooni seemed to match this template well with 6 debuts between July 23rd to August 6th producing 4 debuts wins including Grade 1 winner Biondetti (Newmarket) and Listed level Blue Bunting (Newmarket, multiple Group 1 winner at 3yo). 2011 saw a large increase in runners and the Late-July to August period got fuller and harder to unpick. Remove the debuts at lesser courses helps clarify matters but the real issue is the large number of races at Newmarket where he had multiple runners. Ignoring those who were nominally second or third strings was not a fruitful strategy. Pick through it and between July 27th & Aug 26th he had 17 debuts in total but exclude the gaff tracks and you get only eight races involved at Newmarket or York. He won 5 of those eight races with one string or another and they included Group winner Lyric Of Light, Group placers Rakasa & Minidress along with conditions winner Kinglet. Which amounted to the best he had apart from Gamilati & Discourse who had made earlier debuts.
The previous section on Newmarket July course maidens gave a good structure to be able to judge these debuts by the Godolphin runners. Points to be applied as per the descriptions there.
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A simple story in this section and two trainers who are regularly profitable to follow with their debut runners in June to August. A smaller stable first with Anne Duffield's yard which has produced profits in this period in each of the last four seasons and another one back in 2005. The stable has settled into a pattern of getting a small set of 5-6f debut wins and the bulk of these in these three months. The reasons for the debut wins seem to be a mix of some of the better types they have but also some lesser types finding some weak Northern events. The second of those reasons capable of bamboozling the Market and bigger Northern Stables consistently.
Mrs. Duffield seems to prepare the horses well for debut and once the stable is into form they can compete well. Often they will be well enough schooled to lose no ground, or a minimal amount, at the start. The Market shows odd hints that it knows which are the better ones and they can get to the 8/1 to 14/1 range. But, wins can come from longer SPs and a good example was Tro Nesa in 2010 who won on debut at 40/1. He proved an OR70ish nursery type which was good enough for his first time win with the only other winner the field produced a slow learner who got blocked late on.
In summary, interesting to follow the debuts in these three months and seeing whether the profits continue. A lot of moderate and poor ones to sit through who will never win but the usable should pop up at value prices. Points on offer for coming up with testable theories about how to spot the usable ones from the garbage without access to paddock information.
The other stable to track is that of Ralph Beckett who has had a couple of changes of location over his career. Some variation in numbers of runners in recent years but he has continued to produce good results and a trainer to take seriously. One area he has always done well with is in having his horses ready for debut once the stable is fully into form. The Market takes him more seriously now so the longer priced winners are rare but still enough in the 8/1 to 11/1 range to produce profits in the right set-up.
Look at his record between June and August and he has shown a profit with his debut runners in 6 of the last 7 years. The returns have been less good in recent seasons and that is a niggle but still a trainer to follow. He will hopefully now be more settled in his Andover yard and get going earlier in the year. Worth noting that the wins can come at any distance. Th ebest points available for being able to spot when he has solid quality runners in soft races and at value prices and just 1 point for the obviously supported FTO win attempts.
A couple of other trainers who have solid records in the three month period are Gary Moore & John Gosden. The second of those is considered in more detail in the next section. Mr. Moore does not have a strong record with juveniles but does get his horses mostly fit for debut. This means that if the ability is there he can get strong first time runs. He also has improved the funding of his stable in recent years so there are more likely to be the surprise quality types in his string. 10 points for any debut wins he gets in the period although minus 5 points if they are expensive breeze-up purchases for the art loving Greens. But, 10 points bonus if that type win at a major course first time at a long Starting Price.
This is also a good place to say 'Goodbye' to trainer Peter Winkworth with him having announced his retirement at the end of the 2011 season. He would have been a star contender for this section but for that and a regularly profitable trainer to follow with debuts. Here is a quote from Mr. Winkworth's website where he detailed his retirement reasons and covers some interesting points :- ".. With, for the past five years to date, 69 winners, 72 seconds, 61 thirds & 71 fourths from 665 runs & more than £1/2 million in prize money won the Team can be justifiably proud. And a level £1 bet on EVERY such runner would have yielded over £100 profit! This arose because a number of our winners, particularly in flat maidens, were at very long odds, thus disproving some opinion that we are a betting yard. Indeed one of the many skills of the excellent Anton Pearson, and his dedicated and professional Team, has been to have horses ready to run for their life on first outing; as a result many of our horses were subsequently over-handicapped & we did less well in this sphere.
Oh, and 20 points for anyone who can update the situation with where Anton Pearson is working now.
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The 7f races starts in early June and began on the 9th in 2011. This means that there had only been 8 events runs at the distance by the time the Chesham Stakes took place at Royal Ascot. Through the whole season races at the distance make up just over one quarter of the races run.
Worth checking out a couple of trainers that see the 7f+ races as most important and have the right raw material to compete in races over these distances. A couple have notably strong records with all their debut runners at the distance. John Gosden has produced a profit backing all of his 7f debuts in each of the last 6 seasons from 2006 onwards. A mixture of returns but his best profits in 2011 and the FTO wins began early. Three debut wins at 7f before the end of June and a newcomer winning at 6.5f on June 9th who presumably might have been another. Some of his best horses and batched up in a relatively close period as he regularly does with his good ones.
That was an unusually quick and early start in 2011 but his record shows that this sort of batch over 7f will materialise sometime in mid-season and a rare season where it takes as long as August to come along. But, points for sitting it out and then reacting when the right mix of quality types appear in quick order. Worth keeping it in mind for later season as well because he will find a few debut 7f winners then and they will be at longer prices.
The other trainer to watch for is Mark Johnston who produced strong profits in the four seasons 2005-8 then went quiet in 2009-10 and his stable does not seem to have been on best form with juveniles recently. But, a better 2011 and a smnall profit despite a so-so year overall. Similarities to Gosden with a fast start in 2011 and three debut winners by June 21st with his first three runners at 7f. Not always that well grouped but he does batch up sets of stronger debuts so that wins for newcomers come in bunches close together.
A trainer you feel should be coming back to better form soon after some lesser years and one where the same traits with horses over longer distances will show up when he does. Another task of tracking the June to August debuts over 7f and points for spotting the right groups of horses for the right owners.
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The other big mid-season meeting which spreads over five days is at Goodwood in late July. The big difference between this meeting and Royal Ascot is the presence of Maiden & Nurseries races. There are only three Group races at Goodwood with the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes over 5f which used to be for fillies but was opened up to both genders, the 6f Group 2 Richmond Stakes for the males and the 7f Group 2 Vintage Stakes for both sexes although fillies rarely run. These are supported by six other events split as maidens over 6f & 7f for each gender and two open nurseries over 6f and 7f.
Another big difference to Ascot is that the 7f races are run around a bend and a peculiar one it is. Over 7f it is an uphill run to the turn and downhill and cambering away to the left away from it. The run to the bend is relatively short and gives the jockeys the problem of trying get a good position for it. If you are drawn wide you can go forward and might end up hung wide but drop back and you end up behind a heap of runners on a straight that can be difficult to make ground on. Even drawn on the inside you have to go forward and will at times get cut up by the wide draws forcing past you. The bend is not well shaped and 10 points for each instance of the horses getting unbalanced and rolling wide out of it. The bend at Ayr was reshaped because of the problems it causes and you wonder what would happen at Goodwood if that bend was not on a slow uphill.
Nine juvenile races at each five day meeting and the major point to note is how trainer Richard Hannon targets the meeting and brings his best horses, in top condition, for the race. This reached a ridiculous high in 2010 when he had 14 runners across the 9 races, won 7 of them including all three Group races and had a further 3 places. Jockey Hughes, with the right horses to ride, was able to deliver many of the winners to lead almost on the line and they looked unstoppable. Just the 3 wins and 4 places in 2011 but he was successful in 2 of three Group events as he had been in 2009. Given the background it should be 10 points for any Group winner at the meeting not trained by Hannon. 10 Points for any Hannon winner that manages to start at longer than 6/1 and perhaps a surprise type in one of the nurseries.
A couple of Yorkshire based trainers target Goodwood strongly although both had a quiet couple of years in 2010-11. Perhaps the right time to look out for a return to success for David Nicholls & Mark Johnston. The first of those produced at least 1 juvenile winner at the meeting in each of the 5 seasons from 2005 to 2009. They were a mix of his best Listed level sprinters like Strike Up The Band & Mister Manannan and nursery types who developed well from unpromising earlier starts, including in at selling level. The last point of horses developing well from seller beginnings for him is another item to try to spot during the season. 10 points for each Nicholls winner supported.
Mark Johnston has lots of runners at the course and had 1 win in 2004, 2 in 2005 and 1 each in 2008-9. 3 of those 5 wins were by horses capable of winning at Group level including a maiden win by Jukebox Jury. He has still had lots of runners in 2010-11 with a total of 9 at the meeting in 2011. But, they produced only two second places as he also had in 2010. He still brought all the best horses he had but they proved not to be good enough. Look at his record and the two years 2010-11 were poor by his standards with less runners and the lowest returns since 2003. Overall, he now seems too reliant on whatever owner breds Sheikh Mohammed's son has to send to him to provide what quality he has. 20 points overall if Johnston can get back to 15% and better season strikes rates along with better returns in the positive categories. If he manages that then the 10 points per Glorious Goodwood win should bring a return this year.
25 points for a first Richard Fahey winner at the Glorious Meeting to round off the Yorkshire trainer thoughts. His stable has grown notably in recent years along with great success in many areas. But, you can find holes in the apparent blanket positive returns. Picking the right types to bring to Goodwood is still something he has to master. He has probably never had a 2yo winner at the course despite increasing numbers of tries in 2009-11. He declared 6 juveniles for the meeting in both 2010 & 2011 and has a single place to show for it. Perhaps the preparation is not properly timed because he has brought some of the best he had and they have not performed strongly. 10 points for each win he has. Oh, and 50 points in 2012 if we find out what the tremendous hype about Warcrown in 2011 was about when Fahey seemed to suggest he was close to the best he had ever trained. Well beaten on debut as 2/1 favourite in a maiden at the Glorious meeting and no better next time.
Look back through the results of the Group races at the meeting and it leaves a feeling of a large imbalance. Mostly moderate runners with limited longer term significance including many of the winners and placed horses. Keep that thought in your mind and you could paint a negative picture of the meeting's better races. But, a sprinkling of Group 1 winners mixed in with the relative non-entities mean a marketing type would have no problem producing a positive spin message. Here is a list of the Group or Grade 1/2 winners to run in the 2yo events at the meeting 2007-10 :-
There is not a cast of solid lesser Group types backing up the stars in that list. Boom or Bust in quality terms. Perhaps that is what the underlying quality distribution will produce. 20 points for each Group 1 or 2 win in 2012 for the 2011 winners. Hannon's Harbour Watch the highest rated British 2yo on the International ratings and a solid prospect. See how Requinto and Chandlery develop. In 2012 say, 20 points for each non Hannon or Godolphin winner, and the same for a wide margin win by a Hannon representative which he says he thinks is a Group 1 type. 30 points if this thought is presented by Hannon with the phrase "..we always thought he was alright...". 10 points for being able to spot the empty versions.
A few Run Style and bias points to watch for. On the straight course 10 points for each unresolved discussion of whether there ia an advantage of running close to the rail. 20 points for spotting when the bias has flipped over because the ground next to the rail is chewed up. 10 points if this is premature because of the effects of the seas frets (10 points per day and 50 for an abandonment) has moistened the going. 20 points if no-one notices until the Clerk Of The Course wearily reminds everyone before the racing on Saturday. 50 points if the Clerk explains why he puts the rails onto the straight from the round course out at right angles as it moves during the meeting.
10 points for each Random Deep Closer win at the meeting. Most races follow the normal rules of Run Styles on firmer going and winners come from the first 6 through halfway in the normal percentage split. But, even in slower races a winner from out-the-back will come through and win. 20 points for each winner 8th or further back at halfway and the main reason seems to be that they really are superior horses to follow in future. 1 point for each "..bad luck in running..." excuse as the jockeys try to find imaginary gaps on either rail in the last furlong.
A few miscellaneous items to finish with. 10 points for every jockey dumped by their horse on the sharp right bend or short downhill run off area after the line. Minus 1 point for every mention of 'Panama Hats' but the points back for each one twinned with a standard City business suit rig out. Minus 1 point for each bit of puffery about "... the most beautiful course in the world .." as the unthinking drop into 'Large Abstract Claims' mode. Ohm and 50 points for each example of Goodwood towering over Royal Ascot in it's belief it can treat customers how it likes because they are 'Glorious' and set on high. Like announcing that it is acceptable for men to collapse due to sunstroke if the temperatures top 35 degrees Celcius. So long as they keep their jacket and tie on.
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The midsummer and Newbury, a good or bad thing? In theory a top class racecourse but it does a lot of things wrong to balance out the positives. To name a few, start with the shabby setting, acres of broken, elderly tarmac surrounding a huge variety of buildings including a set which are presumably Army pre-fabs of some sort. Two, newer, large stands which are both spectacularly ugly and bear zero relation to each other.
One a brick and white-PVC conservatory confection on multi-floors including a large conservatory for any Royals in attendance, which is rarely, to use. Then a metal Box with vast open areas to hold the serious drinkers they bus in from all along the M4 corridor. Minus ten points for every Coach with the location as..., on the back. Perhaps not best to go there. Oh, and the cheapo cow-trough, conveyor belt, urinals in the Box that were never properly fitted to the walls. Makes you nostalgic for the Armitage Shanks quality enamel fittings with a date like "1921" on that you will find in some Northern course 'Heritage' stands (10 points each). They will still be holding together when the Box has fallen down. This piecemeal development reaching a nadir with the electrocution of two horses in the Parade Ring in 2011 from an undocumented 'unused' electricity feed. Too serious to include in the Eye-Spy.
50 points this season if Newbury manage to cover any of the last 5-6f of the races on their straight course with more than one camera. The cheapest courses in the country can do better. What is the excuse? 100 points if they ever got rid of the extra sets of rail and strip on the straight course which moves everyone further away from the action and clutters up the pictures on the coverage from the low orbit satellite mounted camera they use.
The two Group races they run have mixed records and the Mill Reef Stakes goes through patches where you wonder what it was for. The last four winners have all gone on to run in the Group 1 Middle Park to retrieve the reputation. 50 points if the Mill Reef winner wins the Middle Park. But, what is the Horris Hill for? Too late in the season, usually bad ground and not a stepping stone to anything. A Listed race surely but you presume Newbury can manage a strong lobby. But, perhaps time to stop and think about some positives. Forcing yourself to forget so you won't feel worse.
The proximity to Lambourn, the training centres along the Ridgeway and down to the South coast, allied to the reputation it holds on to, means that the maiden events can be strong. Even the Newmarket handlers will send better types to the course. Only two Group winners have started at the course in July & August in the last two seasons though. 20 points for each one that debuts there in 2012.
Another big positive for the course is that if you want to see the horses they make that a pleasant task. A very good pre-parade ring and the horses get there early because of the long walk from the stabling area. Good access to the saddling area and a usable Parade Ring if too large to be ideal. The exact opposite of a course like Nottingham who seem to take their primary mission to be to ensure none of the paying public get any chance to see the horses before the race. 100 points if they ever re-open the access to the pre-parade ring to how it once was.
Another big plus is that the course take races at 5f seriously, 5f and a bit admittedly. The St Hugh's Stakes for fillies in midsummer is a very good thing and stands as a real target for that gender. But the real highlight for 2yo afficianadoes is the Supersprint in late July. An unapologetic 5f blast for the precocious 2yos with a few others mixed in. A long history and a good prize to produce a big field and strong competition. Add to that a wide range of weights depending upon sales price and gender and often a fascinating puzzle to solve. Also a fascinating race from the Paddock Review side with the big field taking in a variety of types, and at a time of the year when the early, nippy ones lacking scope stand out against those with a bit more of something else. A good place to learn about what separates the 70s, 80s, 90s and so on.
A miscellaneous list of spying spots for the race and drawing heavily on Hannon for the obvious reason he targets the race so heavily. 20 points for each and start with the 'Hurricane Alan Award' for the non-5f Hannon 2yo that is here to try to win some money. Get outpaced early then plug on and finish 5th before proving high class at 7f+. On the Draw Bias front there is the 'Presto Vento Award' for belting down the Stands' rail alone and unnoticed to win and save a punter's day. Conversely there is the 'Lady Livius Award' for running down the far rail unmolested to win at 100/1 and surprise the life out of everyone, Hannon included.
Then there is the 'Monsieur Chevalier/Temple Meads Class Tells Award' where the bigger colt finds a way to win and overcome the difficulties in running. The alternative is the 'Jargelle Small Zippy Filly Award' for the weight differential proving enough to see off any bulkier colts. There is also the 'Kickstart Two Careers Award' for a small stable using the race to build themselves up and drag a minor sire along with them. Sponsored by Rod Millman for Makbul. Two final ones with the 'Elhamri Small Colt Wins Anyway Award' in memory of the perplexed Paddock reviewer. The last one we should hope to avoid but you can never tell what this course will bring next with the 'No Race because Newbury & the M4 is Underwater Award', remembering 2007 and all that.
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Towards the end of mid-season the longer distance races start and normally in early August. In 2011 the first 8f race was a maiden at Southwell on August 2nd. The 8.6f races at Wolverhampton began in late August and races at 9f and up to 10f were underway by early September. There will be around 150 races at 8f or longer by season end and 155 of the total number.
Apart from the extra distance and the physical demands that infers the races can also involve other complications. At Wolverhampton you have the first races around two bends and a track like Lingfield's AW is mostly turning. Beverley is particularly tricky. A fast stretch down a steep hill to a sharp right bend in a dip then a climb back up the hill. All difficulties which might make you want to treat 8f+ racing differently. But, a look through the results suggests that although with some variations the races play out in a similar manner.
A big part of this is the overall 'Maiden Race Rule', of course, whereby the smaller set of competitive horses form up at the front early and the rest get well back. The 'Two Races' become obvious in some events. Go back 10 years and the percentage of debut winners at 8f was notably below the levels at 5f to 7f. Trainers either not pressing for FTO wins or being unable to prepare them to be fully fit to last out 8f. But, it is instructive to see how that difference has been eroded and the percentages of debut wins at 8f is now at comparable levels. The figures with debuts beyond 8f are still at the same low levels so 8f seems to have flipped over into a 'business as usual' preparation with the shorter distances. Developments in artificial surfaces for training at home? New trainers with different approaches? All parts of the story.
What about Run Styles? Surely those longer distance races mean there is more time for horses to close from the back? The figures do not suggest that and two obvious reasons present themselves. One is the 'Two Races' format of many races and those in the ruck through halfway will mostly be made up of non-competitive horses for the day. The other is that jockeys probably tend towards slower paces in longer races because they are aware that their horses need to last the full race distance out. The trainers will not want a 'pace war' with everything raced out with two furlongs to go and then having to still finish the race off. A lot of the longer distance races turn into 2f sprints at the finish after a 6f jog. The percentage of fizzy and pressing horses may well be lower, in addition.
Take the 2005 season as an example and 79 of the 130 races at 8f or more were won by horses in the first three through halfway including 25 front runners. Just over 60% of races won by the first three early on and going on 20% of front-runners making all. The number of winners that came from further back than midfield behind the front three barely got to 10%. All in line with figures for races at shorter trips.
Are there trainers that dominate over 8f? A look at those trainers who have had most winners each season in the 8f distance group shows some real specialists and perhaps help to explain the improvement in debut wins at the distance. During the period 2005 to 2011 there have been 11 instances of trainers having 10 or more winners at 8f in a season. No surprise in seeing that Mark Johnston was responsible for 4 of those although he did not reach that level in 2010 nor 2011 in poor seasons for him. By weight of numbers Richard Hannon used to get just below 10 wins most seasons but his ramping up of numbers in 2010-11 has lifted him to seasons with 16 & 14 runners. Partly just down to increased numbers but perhaps he is buying some different types at the sales now his spending power is relatively higher.
John Gosden appears twice in the eleven and his stable has the horses much more ready by later in the season. Which means three trainers are responsible for 8 of the top 11 totals and the other three are split between the Godolphin trainers of Suroor & Zarooni. Suroor out up the largest figure with 24 in 2009 and Zarooni jumped up to second best overall with 17 in 2011 as he took on more of the Godolphin 2yos. Zarooni also produced 6 of the FTO successes at 8f in 2011 showing the thorough Godolphin preparation at home goes across the distance range.
Look below the 10 wins each season level in the list and the same five trainers block out most of the records down to five wins per view with only Mick Channon getting a look in with two years at 9 & 7 wins. A distance range where a small number of trainers dominate more and the FTO wins also produced primarily by this group supported by a few other 'Old School' types. Michael Bell, Ralph Beckett & Michael Stoute as examples and Jeremy Noseda. Is he 'Old School' or 'Nouveau Riche'?
The sires involved change more regularly but which ones stand out in the same sort of listings? Difficult to say and the low number of runners is always an issue with supposed sire biases. Another problem is the increase in 8f races in recent seasons sees most of the higher figures (all but one only on the 5 to 7 wins range) from recent years. Perhaps more interesting to split the sires represented into two types starting with those that only get wins at 7f+ and the longer distances are better. Street Cry produced the best record of any sire since 2005 with 9 wins in 2011 and something has changed in his record & representatives in 2010-11. 20 points for being able to spot what has brought on the change.
Montjeu has 3 of the top 14 returns and his only wins at less than 7f go back to 2004 when Hannon & Suroor failed to observe the 7f+ rules now set in concrete for him. Similar stories have developed for Galileo & Nayef although 4-5 wins in a season is their peak.
The second type are the sires who get wins across all distances from 5f up and still have higher totals at 8f. Royal Applause used to be seen as a precocious sprint 2yo type but then produced 5 wins in 2011 and 10 points if that proves to be more than an oddity. An interesting first season by Sir Percy in 2011 with win at all distances but a good return of 5 at 8f. How will his record develop in what will almost inevitably be a lesser 2012? 10 points if he gets within two of the five total.
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And finally, a further selection of bogus bits of analysis, other Pundit flotsam, and other oddities which will probably be visible during the middle of the season.
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The third Eye Spy article in the trilogy will cover the thee months September through to November and the close of the season. Not a season winding down though and this period includes the set of Group 1 events that are considered to be the 'Championship Races' of the juvenile Pattern events. These were re-ordered in 2011 and good questions would be whether they are too late in the year and whether running on huge, draw affected, straight courses are ideal.
This period also sees a range of 'Sales Races' with large purses built up by qualification and entrance fees. The Auction Houses compete strongly in this area with these races increasing in number and proving popular over the last decade. In line with this the period also sees a range of the major yearling Sales and that is an area that is worthy of coverage.
Add in watching for trainers who can produce real performance development from their horses in later season, the changes caused by the ground often softening and a range of other items and plenty to hold the interest through to November Handicap day at Doncaster.
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