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Sovereign (Irish Derby Reaction) Shock or Sure Thing?

This weekend the Curragh saw a so called surprise winner in Sovereign for Aidan O’Brien at the Irish Derby on Saturday. Was this really such an upset? Was it really a shock? At the time I was really surprised because I had tipped Anthony Van Dyck who had been a warm favourite for the race. On paper he was the right favourite he had won the Epsom Derby, undefeated as a three-year-old and the number one Ballydoyle jockey Ryan Moore booked. Apart from Madhmoon and Broome I really didn’t think anything else could be involved in the race. The eventual winner Sovereign was the complete outsider and was 66-1 earlier in the day.  Looking at the race beforehand he appeared to be a pacemaker for his stablemates.  However in recent times at the Curragh front runners have a terrific record at the track which was highlighted in the Irish Guineas meeting with Phoenix of Spain and Hermosa. Despite this it’s easy to forget he had been running in Group Races and he had a pedigree to compete at the highest level.

However forgetting the front running factor, I think Sovereign’s win is part of a deeper picture of Aidan O’Brien runners at the Classic Meetings in England and Ireland. The bookmakers will often look at the entries and put Ryan Moore’s choice at the top of the betting making it a short favourite. If we look at the chart below we will see Aidan O’Brien classic winners since the start of 2017 and the statistics make for interesting reading.

Ryan Moore is Ballydoyle’s number one jockey and he gets the first pick of the many runners Aidan O’Brien runs in the classics. Since 2017, Ryan Moore has ridden 8/17 of Aidan O’Brien classic winners with at a rate of 47%. That is a healthy strike rate but since 2018 Ryan Moore has only ridden 3/9 of O’Briens’s classic winners and other jockey such as Donnacha O’Brien, Wayne Lordan, Seamie Heffernan and Padraig Beggy has all enjoyed success.  It appears that since 2018 a lot of Aidan O’Brien horses have been closely matched throughout the season and they do not know who are their top horses are until later on in the season. Also the SPs of some of winners such as Wings of Eagles in 2017 and Sovereign at the weekend show that Ryan Moore’s mount will take up a lot of the betting market.  Ryan has often chosen the horse that had the best previous form going into the race but because of the wealth of talent at Aidan O’Brien’s disposal his other runners can often improve leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to the breeding as many of O’Brien’s classic runners are sired by Galileo’s who progeny can rapidly improve race after race.


So what does this mean? Personally I think Ryan Moore hasn’t been at his best this year which could play a factor in some of these big races. However the likes of Donnacha O’Brien winning the Irish Jockeys Championship last year and the experience of Seamie Heffernan and Wayne Lordan highlights that O’Brien has several good jockeys at his disposal. When it comes to looking at the betting in future possibly for the 2020 Guineas and Derby it should be worth considering all his runners and not ignoring them simply because of the price. I think when it comes towards the St. Ledgers we tend to know the ability of the O’Brien and therefore there shouldn’t be a big priced winner. After Japan’s Royal Ascot win and Sovereign’s surprise it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months to which 3-Year-Old will come out on top.

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©2020 by Christopher Loader.