I’m a huge admirer of the unrelenting excellence of the Ballydoyle/Coolmore operation. However recent races have led to serious questions about their use of team tactics. Ballydoyle are arguably pursuing tactics that are against the spirit of the sport. Pacemakers have an acceptable and valuable role in the sport, however we are witnessing tactics that seem more akin to the use of ‘domestiques’ in cycling and that is objectionable.
The BHA’s rules on team tactics are as follows: 46: ASSISTING ANOTHER HORSE IN A RACE A Jockey must not ride in such a way which is intended to, or does, give an advantage to or is in the interests of a horse which: -shares one or more Owners in common with; or -is from the same stable or team as the horse they are riding in the Race. A Trainer is also responsible for any breach of Rule (F)46 by a Jockey riding one of their horses, except where they can demonstrate that they instructed the Jockey to treat every other horse in the Race equally. Nothing in these Rules prohibits pure pace making.
Watch the ride on 50-1 shot Royal Dornach (see video below) and you have to wonder, was he more interested in riding his own race or in inconveniencing Threat?
This incident follows closely on the Irish 2000 Guineas where 6 of the 11 runners were Ballydoyle trained. Thankfully Siskin and Colin Keane were good enough to extract themselves from a phlanx of Ballydoyle runners and the best horse won on the day. However as Ger Lyons said “we were up against a football team”.
Nobody expects Ballydoyle’s jockeys to adopt an ‘after you’ approach to their rivals, but they are sullying their reputation with this behaviour. Given their power in the industry the media give them a relatively easy time.
It is time for the British and Irish stewards to get serious about this issue.
Aidan O’ Brien totally dominated the Guineas weekend at the Curragh. He won three Group 1’s, two Group 3’s and a Listed race. Many racing people would argue that such success is only to be expected given the quality of the horses stabled at Ballydoyle. The argument goes that good horses make good trainers and AP O’Briens success is 95% down to Coolmore firepower and 5% down to Aidan O’Brien not making a mess of them.
A look at the pedigrees of his Group 1 winners seems to back up that theory. Henrythenavigator is a son of Kingmambo out of Sequoyah a Moyglare Stakes winning Sadler’s Wells mare, so it is a tip top pedigree. Henry didnt go to the sales but I’m sure his reserve would have been at least €500,000. Halfway to Heaven is by Pivotal out of the very speedy Cassandra Go who won a Kings Stand. She cost €450000 so again nothing shabby about that pedigree. Duke of Marmalade is from the last crop of Danehill and is out of a Kingmambo mare tracing to Lassie Dear, the family of Wolfhound and Lemon Drop Kid. Again he was never sold but a reserve of at least €400000 would have seemed reasonable.
His Group 3 Greenlands winner Astronomer Royal is the last of the Danzigs so he had rarity value to go with his pedigree and his two year old winner Heart Shaped is a Storm Cat filly who is a half sister to AP Valentine. Based on those pedigrees it would seem fair to argue that any of the top ten trainers in Ireland or Britain could have expected similar glory from such impeccable pedigrees.
But there was one other winner that weekend, a gelding called Hebridean running in the colours of Ann Marie O’Brien. He is by Bach out of Delphinium by Dr Massini and his full pedigree is shown below. He passed through the ring at Tattersalls Ireland on the 3rd November 2006 and was bought back for €15000. Bach was an admirably tough horse trained by Aidan O’Brien who ran 22 times and won a soft Group 2 when winning the Royal Whip but whose best run was probably finishing 3rd in a Breeders Cup Mile to Val Royal. He was sent straight to Coolmore’s NH division where he competes with Hebrideans broodmare sire Dr Massini. Dr Massini was trained by Michael Stoute and after winning his first two starts he was made favourite for the 1996 Irish Derby. Unfortunately for Mick Kinane, he opted to ride him that day and missed out on partnering Zagreb. He won once at 4 and then started showing temperament and refused to race on his next start. At five he was transferred to Aidan O’Brien and he was the subject of a major gamble in the Irish Lincoln. However the money was lost as he practically pulled himself up. His career ended in ignominy when he refused to race at Listowel. Despite his temperament and his lack of group wins he still got a spot at NH stud and has taken his chance well. Delphinium the dam of Hebridean is by a sprinter in Tumble Wind and she was trained by Joe Crowley, Aidan O’ Briens father in law. She only ran at two and she never raced beyond 7 furlongs. She never gave the judge much trouble and in her four races her best finishing position was 6th of 12 at Limerick.
When people talk about overproduction and the need to cull some moderate mares they probably had the likes of Delphinium in mind. I suspect Hebridean was bred in the hope (and not even the expectation) of winning a bumper. It was his breeders family connections that saw him stabled with his betters in Ballydoyle and he must be one of the worst bred horses to ever occupy a stable there. However as Ryan Price is reputed to have said ‘my horses can’t read pedigrees and I don’t train pedigrees, I train horses’. Hebridean doesn’t seem to know his place as he keeps improving and further success seems likely.
His success illustrates two points. One is the vagaries of breeding and the dangers of being too dogmatic about pedigrees. The second is that Aidan O’ Brien is truly a training genius. There can be no arguments in this instance about buying success in the sales ring. This success is 100% down to Aidan O’Brien and is achieved despite of and not because of Hebridean’s pedigree.