8th January 2021
Do you remember, just a few years ago, when we had a over 100 runners without a winner? James Willoughby, when discussing the situation on TV, said something along the lines of “there is no such thing as ‘yard form'” and that prompted us to engage James to look statistically at various aspects of our business. Of course, there are factors which can affect the form of a trainer’s team as a whole but, in reality, they are pretty unusual and, in 35 years of closely monitoring the cyclical fluctuations in our form and investigating the deep ‘troughs’ there have only been a couple of times that we have found a clear common factor affecting a significant number of horses. Early in my career I recognised that these apparent fluctuations in yard form were almost never related to an infectious agent and that the age old excuse, ‘the virus’, didn’t exist. I think that recognition has played a big part in our success.
Yesterday, I was asked by the Racing Post about our current excellent run and why it might be that we are knocking in the winners since the New Year. In reality, the same applies as when you are having a bad run: it isn’t something that we are doing differently and it isn’t down to an absence of infections amongst the horses. If it was down to something we were doing differently or something which we could affect, of course, we would do it all the time.
Ironically, it is less than three weeks since an owner of ours said to me, ‘you won’t like me saying this, but your horses aren’t running very well at the moment’. It was a day or two after we had had a treble and I can’t really understand where he had got that impression but it just shows you that the public impression of yard form is rarely backed by hard evidence.
In monitoring the form of the yard I tend to concentrate on the percentage of placed horses as, simply due to the greater numbers, it is a more reliable indicator. As a rough rule of thumb, I say that if we are having 50% placed, we are ‘flying’, 33% is good, and anything under 25% triggers investigation. In the last fortnight we are well over 50% but, of course, it is a fairly small sample and James might tell us that it isn’t statistically significant.
Can we maintain it? That is the most important question and the reality is that, beyond doing what we always do and have done for many years, we can’t change the fact that there will be peaks and troughs in the number of winners. We just have to ride out the troughs and try to ensure that they don’t result in loss of customers and/or horses and create a downward spiral. I said to the Racing Post that, in the current circumstances, with owners cutting back and number of horses down in our yard and, perhaps, across the industry, it is more important than ever to get winners but, if we are already doing our best every day, we can’t do any better. All we can do is to ensure that it is business as usual and that we are leaving no stone unturned. The same applies when trying to maintain a good run or recovering from a poor run.
This makes it sound like whether or not we have winners or not is all down to luck and it certainly isn’t. We can’t change the fact that there will be weekly or monthly fluctuations in the number of winners but it is how we deal with the poor runs that can set us apart. If you blame it on ‘the virus’ and shut down then you are ensuring that you will not be winning for, at least, the period of the shut down. One certainty in racing is that a horse can’t win if you don’t run it. It can’t get beaten either and it seems that some owners and trainers prefer that method of dealing with a run of losers but not this one.
When faced with a challenge, whether it is a run of losers or some threat to the business such as we are now experiencing due to Covid-19, we must rise to that challenge with attention to detail on which horses we run, where we run them, and every other little detail that makes a difference between winners and losers. Not long ago, when faced with cut backs by a major owner and a shift in the type of horses in our yard, we made a conscious decision to ‘hit the boards running’ at the start of the flat season. We had more two-year-olds ready and we aimed to run those that were going best first rather than test the water with a second division. It resulted in us winning the first three two-year-old races one year and the first four the next. It showed what can be done to combat a downturn.
I can’t say that there has been any shift in policy that has resulted in seven winners in the first seven days of 2021 but I am wise to the threat of owners’ cutbacks this year and will be doing everything possible to ensure that we ride out any storm.