If the number of Irish-trained winners at Royal Ascot is a reliable gauge of where our flat game is at – and I’m not so sure it is, suffering as it does from small sample size – then 8 victories last week suggests good health. There was a good spread of winners across six trainers – Aidan O’Brien, Willie Mullins, Jim Bolger, David Wachman, Dermot Weld and David Marnane – which was encouraging, much more so that our Willie Mullins-dominated portfolio at the most recentCheltenham. Mullins deserves credit for sending out Simenon to win twice at the meeting but he essentially won a pair of glorified bumpers and for me the standout training performance of the week belonged to Marnane.
The Bansha handler sent just two runners to the meeting:Dandy Boy won a 28-runner Wokingham at a BSP of 70 while Jamesie was second of 23 runners at a BSP of 28 in the Buckingham Palace, those pair of sprint handicaps for older horses generally reckoned to be the most competitive races over the 5 days. But it is the backstory of both horses that really tells you about Marnane’s achievement; Jamesie cost £11,000 and had looked very exposed before his Royal run, beaten in all 5 tries off marks in the 90s in handicaps and running off 92 last week while Dandy Boy had cost 20,000gns and has won just once in two years, appearing to have lost his way of late. Yet Marnane managed to get both to peak for the biggest flat meeting of the year and the only thing he could be knocked on was for taking so long to figure out 6f was Dandy Boy’s best trip!
Not only that, but Marnane has made a habit of doing this. From 27 runners in England in the last 5 years, he has had 5 winners and most of those runners have come in the hottest of races. He won the 2009 Portland with Santo Padre before repeating the dose last year with Nocturnal Affair as well as landing the 2010 Victoria Cup with Dandy Boy. In these most difficult races to win, Marnane has a strikerate that is the envy of many a top trainer and he is achieving it all with cheap horses.
When judging a trainer, context is vital. To me, the best test of a trainer is to judge what he does relative to his material and a bit like school league tables, the bare results can be very misleading. Aidan O’Brien is clearly a very good trainer but has every advantage in terms of getting a host of big money purchases and valuable home-breds whereas Marnane is overachieving relative to his stock. There’s every chance that Marnane wouldn’t be able to have success with a better class of horse as they may not suit his methods but all the evidence suggests that some big owner should take a chance on him.
The hype bandwagon that seems to attend So You Thinkkicked in again last week with Aidan O’Brien’s mea culpa following the 6yo’s win in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes last Wednesday and he is surely the most talked about 125 (ok, maybe he’s a 127) horse in the history of the sport. O’Brien variously described his training of the ex-Australian horse as a ‘dog’s dinner’ and a ‘muck up’ but the most informative comment amidst all this post-race self-flagellation was the trainer’s admission that So You Think’s future European targets would be governed by commercial concerns, basically meaning how best to maximise his stallion returns for Coolmore.
Focusing on that comment, it’s hard to get away from the thought that all the apologising in the world to the Australian public for messing up ‘their horse’ was nothing more than sales talk or stallion hype and any right-thinking person would find it hard to believe that So You Think is any better in 2012 than 2011. Beating the limited Carlton House and the unlucky Farhh was no better than the form of any of his wins last year and everything points to him being the equal of the 2011 version. Certainly, he deserves no more mares or higher stud fees on the basis of this performance than any of his previous outings and if breeders want to praise him for anything then it is his durability, running 10 times in Group 1s across three continents in the last 13 months and only once finishing out of the frame.
This weekend sees the first running of the Irish Derby on a Saturday evening and one thing the Curragh can’t be accused of is playing it down, the buzz surrounding the card having been whirling for weeks now. The evening experiment with the Punchestown Festival has worked a treat to my eyes and it will be interesting if this can do the same. The presence or absence of Camelot will sure play its part and the ground is likely to have a big say in that; he may not be risked on deep ground (currently yielding to soft) as they were worried about soft ground before the Guineas. It’s clearly the right race to run him in in terms of his development but a stroll around at odds of around1.25 could be very different to a slog on soft as the ground can become very testing up the Curragh and connections could rightly ask what is to be gained by running him in such conditions.
Ballydoyle will have a strong hand even if Camelot swerves the race with Imperial Monarch an obvious one and he is likely to be suited by some dig having won on barely raceable ground at Sandown earlier in the year. I thought he looked a bit kinky that day and was probably suited by racing away from the main field and his bad luck in running at Chantilly might be overdone by the market. Speaking Of Which and Light Heavy are players if Camelot doesn’t show up but both appear better on faster ground and I would find it hard to pass up backing Akeed Mofeed if he takes his chance; he has yet to run in 2012 but in terms of ability he looked right up there amongst our 2yos of last year and the twelve furlongs should be ideal.