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  1. #701
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    Royal Ascot 2020 | Handicappers Blog
    24 Jun 20

    North lords it over rivals in Prince of Wales’s Stakes
    Lord North completed his journey from high-class handicapper to Group 1 winner with a convincing success in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes in a race where the figures stack up quite nicely, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill

    The rain came twenty-four hours too late for runner-up Addeybb and it was no great surprise to see him run a little below his current mark of 122, but the relativity between Barney Roy (pre-race 116) in third and Bangkok (114) in fifth gives a solid foundation on which to base the level of the race, suggesting that Lord North improved 8 lb on his pre-race figure of 116 to a new mark of 124.

    That doesn’t quite match the 127 performances of the previous two winners, Crystal Ocean and Poet’s Word, but betters what the likes of Highland Reel (122, 2017), My Dream Boat (120, 2016) and Free Eagle (123, 2015) achieved, whilst matching the winning efforts of The Fugue (2014), Al Kazeem (2013) and So You Think (2012).

    Such was the authority of his success and his current rate of improvement, I for one will be disappointed if he doesn’t step up again in the future.

    In what was a memorable Royal meeting for John Gosden, Palace Pier took himself to the top of the three-year-old mile category with success in Saturday’s St James’s Palace Stakes. Again, this is a race that looks relatively easy to rate at present with Pinatubo (second) and Wichita (third) running very close to their 2000 Guineas form. On that occasion I had Wichita running to 118 and Pinatubo 116. In the St James’s Palace I have both running to 118, which means Palace Pier improved from 109 to 120 in winning his fourth race from as many starts.

    That level is at the top end of recent St James’s Palace winners with 120 being bettered only by Galileo Gold’s 121 (2016) in the previous five renewals, and first 3 performances of 120/118/118 being the best since that same contest’s 121/118/117 during the same period.

    Whilst he has run with a good deal of credit in both the 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace, it is clear Pinatubo is not showing the same level of form or dominance he displayed as a 2yo. As a result, I have dropped him to a new mark of 120 this week.

    The success of Alpine Star thirty-five minutes earlier in the Coronation Stakes is possibly more difficult to rate with the same confidence. Without any doubt she deserves to be considered the best three-year-old filly over a mile in Europe at present, having beat Quadrilateral and Cloak of Spirits further on Saturday than Love did in the 1000 Guineas, but at what level is slightly harder to decide.

    I have pencilled in a performance of 119 for Jessie Harrington’s filly but she could easily be at least 2 lb higher using any of the next four horses home as a guide. My doubts stem from the fact that runner-up Sharing had travelled from her native America for the race, whilst Alpine Star was also by far the freshest filly in the line-up as all of the other GB/Irish-trained fillies had run within the previous 13 days – not ideal for Group 1 fillies. My colleague in Ireland, Garry O’Gorman, also has doubts at this stage and has published at 117. Hopefully time will tell us how good she is.

    Circus Maximus was one of last season’s leading three-year-old milers and he carried on where he left off with a hard fought victory in the Queen Anne. I had doubts over the apparent improved form (113) shown by Marie’s Diamond when winning at Newmarket previously but he proved it to be no fluke by finishing third here with a heap of 113/114 horses just behind him. As such, I have him reproducing his 113 and have Circus Maximus running to 120, with the progressive filly Terebellum running her best race yet (116) in splitting them.

    The handicaps at Royal Ascot are always fiercely competitive and the results last week were largely satisfactory – with one exception!! I am always a little nervous about the Britannia handicap every year as it brings together a group of relatively unexposed three-year-olds and you never quite know what is lurking in the field. This year it was Khaloosy who sauntered home from a horse already due to go up 7 lb from the mark he ran off – as a result I have raised Roger Varian’s colt 17 lb to a new mark of 111 and he must surely head into Pattern race company now?

    Gold Cup hat-trick for Stradivarius

    Star stayer Stradivarius was simply majestic in landing his third Gold Cup in a row, matching the achievement of Sagaro who also landed a hat-trick of wins in the race in the mid-seventies, writes Matthew Tester

    Stradivarius had always given the impression that he only pulls out what is needed to win. Before this year’s Gold Cup he had won twelve Group races and eleven them had been by less than two lengths. Indeed, his two previous Gold Cup wins had been gained by a length or less. On soft ground that was thought not to be ideal, we were just hoping that nothing went wrong. But something went gloriously right as Stradivarius truly stamped his superiority this time around with a ten-length success.

    Frankie had two long looks behind when rounding the bend into the straight, just making sure that nothing was going to catch them napping. Stradivarius strode up to the leader Nayef Road, strode clear of Nayef Road and that was the only horse at the finish who was within eighteen lengths of Stradivarius. It was a WOW moment that lit up this new season.

    Nayef Road had finished third in last year’s St Leger and had already shown his well-being at the start of this campaign with a career-best performance when winning the Sagaro Stakes earlier in the month. Eight lengths behind him was Cross Counter, a solid 118 performer at his best. The other five beaten horses were each rated between 110 and 116 before the race. There is no reason to think that Nayef Road has run anything other than a blinder.

    Stradivarius now gets a rating of 125. To put that in perspective, the World Thoroughbred Rankings have Yeats at a peak of 122 during a career in which he won an unprecedented four Gold Cups. Fingers crossed that Stradivarius returns to the Royal Meeting in similar form in 2021 when he bids to match that feat.

    Third time lucky for Battaash

    Battaash’s convincing success in the King’s Stand was the headline performance from the three Group 1 sprints at the meeting, writes Chris Nash

    Battaash didn’t have anything of Blue Point’s calibre to worry about in this year’s King’s Stand (runner-up to that rival in both 2018 and 2019) and he confirmed his status as the leading 5f horse around at present in winning by two and a quarter lengths. He pinged out of the stalls, was immediately hard on the bridle and proceeded to make all. Battaash won well and was much the best on the day without having to be at his dazzling best.

    I have him running a figure of 120+, which is a little below his career high of 126 achieved in the Nunthorpe last year. That figure is backed up by the race standards and is also supported by the placed horses – Equilateral (112), Liberty Beach (109) and Tis Marvellous (109). He will almost certainly head to Goodwood next to attempt to win the King George Stakes for the fourth consecutive year. He will have to carry a penalty in that Group 2 contest but the speed favouring track suits him perfectly.

    The 6f Commonwealth Cup for three-year-olds was won by Golden Horde, who passed the post one and a half lengths clear of the American-trained Kimari, with a further two and a half lengths back to Ventura Rebel in third. The margins between them at the line would suggest that the winner could be smart and I have rated it a career best for him at 118. That has Kimari running to 111, which is also a personal best for her, and Ventura Rebel at 107. The latter has run to that level previously and helps support my assessment of the race, as do historical standards which suggest a figure of 118-119 for the winner.

    Golden Horde is lightly raced and showing progressive form, and may well be tasked with taking on the older sprinters in the July Cup next time out.

    In that race he may meet several of the protagonists from the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. In a tight finish, Hello Youmzain hung on by a head to beat Dream of Dreams, with Sceptical just a neck further back in third. The first three arrived at Royal Ascot rated 118, 117 and 116 and would appear to have run to the pound with each other. Further confirmation of that was provided by the next two home, Khaadem and Speak In Colours, who were rated 114 and 110 respectively and have run very close to those figures as well. Rarely does form work out with such close alignment to the pre-race ratings.

    Hello Youmzain won the Sprint Cup at Haydock last year and that will likely be a target again this time around, but connections suggested that he may well take his chance in the July Cup first.

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  4. #702
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    Handicappers Blog | Red letter day for Teal and Fallon
    14 Jul 20

    Saturday was a memorable day for trainer Roger Teal and Cieren Fallon as Oxted’s win in the Darley July Cup gave both the trainer and jockey a first success at Group 1 level. Chris Nash assesses the performance…

    The July Cup saw a clash of the two 6f Group 1 winners from Royal Ascot three weeks earlier – Golden Horde had won the Commonwealth Cup for three-year-olds and Hello Youmzain the Diamond Jubilee, and both had been given official ratings of 118 after those victories. They headed the market at 2/1 and 9/2 respectively but neither of them could match the performance of Oxted, who was having his first run at the highest level having skipped the Royal Meeting following his reappearance success in the Abernant

    Oxted raced handy, led around two furlongs out and got home strongly to record a taking performance and confirm himself a highly progressive sprinter. The Irish-trained Sceptical followed the winner home at a distance of one and a quarter lengths and there was a further neck back to Golden Horde in third, with Khaadem and Hello Youmzain the next two home.

    The last ten winners of the July Cup were given figures between 117 and 122 and applying race standards to this renewal suggests a figure in the range of 119-120 for the winner. I went with 120 for Oxted, not only because this form has a really solid look to it but also because he recorded a highly respectable time on what was officially good ground (good to soft in places). The last five renewals of this race had all been run on good to firm ground and his time of 69.59 secs is quicker than that achieved by U S Navy Flag (2018), Harry Angel (2017) and Limato (2016). Oxted had improved on each of his previous three starts (105, 109 & 112) and clearly did so again here. While another substantial step forward next time is probably unlikely, it is still possible that we haven’t yet seen the very best of him given his overall profile.

    This assessment of the race has Sceptical running to his pre-race Irish rating of 116 and then figures of 115 for Golden Horde, 111 for Khaadem and 108 for Hello Youmzain. Those three all ran a bit below their pre-race ratings, but the trio had all run well at Royal Ascot so I left them unchanged after this race at 118, 114 and 118 respectively.

    Ghaiyyath eclipses Enable

    The 2020 Coral-Eclipse looked a strong race on paper beforehand and so it proved with Ghaiyyath once again showing that when he’s good, he’s very good, with the highest rated performance in the world so far this year, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill

    In fact, from a handicapping perspective it is an easy race to rate with all bar runner-up Enable (pre-race 128), running either to or very close to their pre-race ratings. Irish challenger Japan (third) stepped up on his reappearance effort at Royal Ascot and returned to the 122 level he achieved in both the Juddmonte International and Arc last season, suggesting that stablemate Magic Wand (fourth) improved a pound on her pre-race 115. Japanese mare Deirdre (fifth) was a pound off her best of 115 and Regal Reality (sixth) performed to his current mark of 116. All of this leads to a winning figure of 127 for Ghaiyyath, which puts him 2lb clear of Stradivarius at the top of the current list of the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.

    Connections were expecting Enable to need the run and in running to 119, I have her 3 lb below her winning performance in the race last year and 9 lb off her current rating of 128.

    Back down at a mile, a new star appeared on the stage in the shape of Mohaather, who made up for his luckless run in the Queen Anne with a convincing success in the Betfred Summer Mile at Ascot on Saturday. For me, the key to the race is the performance of fifth-placed Urban Icon who held a decent position throughout and has never been better than 109 in ten previous starts. As such, I have Mohaather running to 120 and putting himself alongside Circus Maximus and Palace Pier at the head of the European milers at present.

    It would be possible to rate the performance higher but to my mind there are a few question marks over those closest to him – runner-up San Donato was having his first run for 14 months and ran just 2 lb off his current rating of 114, Duke of Hazzard (third) was missing the blinkers that had galvanized him last year and was coming off a poor reappearance in the Queen Anne, whilst Lord Glitters (fourth) has now failed to reproduce
    his Queen Anne winning form of last year in five subsequent starts.

    I am happy with Mohaather on 120 for the moment and he will be a worthy contender for the top mile prizes during the late summer and autumn.

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    Chrome shows his metal in thrilling St Leger
    15 Sep 20

    The Pertemps St Leger shows that tiny margins and moments make huge differences. After three minutes of battle, less than a quarter of a second separated the first four horses over the line, writes Matthew Tester

    Galileo Chrome gets a rating of 117 for winning a thrilling finish, the same rating given to Logician for winning last year. He is undefeated in four races in 2020, has improved with every run and looks well up to standard for a St Leger winner.

    Berkshire Rocco earned a career-high 116 for finishing second. He got his revenge on Santiago (fourth here) who had beaten him in the Queens Vase, the pair of them that day more than eight lengths clear of the field. The Queen’s Vase has thrown up in recent years winners such as Stradivarius and Kew Gardens and has overall proved a wonderful nursery for top class horses since its distance was clipped in 2017 from 2m to 1m6f.

    The eye-catcher of the race was Pyledriver who retains the 119 rating that he earned in the Great Voltigeur over two and a half furlongs shorter. There he beat Berkshire Rocco as well as Mogul, an impressive winner of the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on Sunday.

    Pyledriver missed out here by only about one fifth of a second but even so it was his courage that kept him in the fight as his stamina was stretched to its limit. He had every chance a furlong out but then became a bit wayward under pressure, a clear sign that Pyledriver was tiring as his stamina waned. He is still rated as the best horse in the St Leger according to his 12f form.

    Stamina was also an issue for others down the field, including Hukum in fifth. His impressive win in the Geoffrey Free last month was over a furlong less and on ground with more give in it. I am still confident that there is more improvement to come from Hukum. We have him running to 112 in the Leger but his 114 handicap mark (achieved at Newbury) remains unchanged.

    Champagne Stakes success for exciting Chindit

    It seems to have taken an age for the two-year-old season to get going following this year’s delayed start but the autumn Group 1 races are shaping up nicely now. Not only have top-level races already been staged in France and Ireland, including two on the weekend just gone, but Doncaster’s St Leger meeting saw a couple of British-trained juveniles who need factoring into the equation for top honours in the coming weeks, writes Graeme Smith

    The market for the Bet365 Champagne Stakes was dominated by two of the year’s most exciting colts and, along with the Irish challenger State of Rest, the pair enhanced their standing as the front three drew some seven and a half lengths clear of the field. Both Chindit and Albasheer came there travelling beautifully with two furlongs to run, and while the more battle-hardened of the pair emerged victorious both colts look exciting prospects.

    Chindit already had a listed success to his name from the Pat Eddery at Ascot, and the strength of that form gave me confidence in the principals’ efforts in the Champagne being as good as they seemed. Chindit’s rating increased by 8 lb to 115, and I gave the Pat Eddery a further retrospective rise. Albasheer has quickly proved himself smart and his opening mark is 112. That’s quite an achievement considering he barely turned a hair and probably didn’t learn much when winning at Doncaster in July on his only previous appearance.

    I have State of Rest also improving to a mark of 112, though his official rating is a matter for the Irish handicapper. Incidentally, he looked more of a galloper than the first two to me and an increased test of stamina and/or more positive tactics may see him improve further.

    The May Hill Stakes saw John Gosden roll the big dice with Indigo Girl just eleven days on from one of the most captivating debuts of the entire season and the sister to the Group 1 winner Journey found it well within her capabilities. Journey had looked potentially quirky early in her career and it was noticeable that Indigo Girl hung left and appeared to idle once in front, though that could easily just be greenness at this stage.

    She’s well worth her place in the Fillies’ Mile. Incidentally, she currently figures on 107 and the median winning rating from the last five Fillies’ Miles sits at 114. The Marcel Boussac was also mooted, and while the 2018 renewal won by Lily’s Candle proved notably weak, the median winning rating for that race sits at 114 too.

    Mention of the Bet365 Flying Scotsman all but guarantees repeated airings of the Frankel video, and while it’s hard to imagine any of this year’s crop scaling those heights it had the look of a deep listed race – two of the eleven had been placed in pattern company within the last month and New Mandate and Laneqash drew away in an excellent time.

    This was a significant leap forward from New Mandate’s nursery success, acknowledging he’d appeared to have something in reserve that day, and at 108 he’s on the cusp of pattern-winning standard now – 110 has been enough to win the Somerville Tattersall Stakes in three of the last five years. He was notably brave as Laneqash (107) repeatedly hung into his path.

    I’m A Believer

    Elsewhere on the juvenile scene at Doncaster, the Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes saw a close-fought finish between horses at opposite ends of the market, with Nigel Tinkler’s Ubettabelieveit narrowly prevailing over warm favourite Sacred, writes Adam Barnes

    A key feature of this contest was the field racing in two distinct groups, with Ubettabelieveit racing in the larger centre group, while Sacred had just two others for company on the near side. While the tight finish makes it difficult to argue that there was a definite bias as such, the visual impression was that Sacred wasn’t helped by having to make her move largely isolated, in contrast to the winner who enjoyed a nice trail into the final furlong in his larger group. Such was the closeness of the finish, the way the race panned out possibly made the difference on the day.

    Such speculation aside, this was still clearly an improved performance from Ubettabelieveit, who appreciated the return to the minimum trip after racing too keenly over 6f on his previous outing. He’s now 3-3 when encountering 5f on a sound surface.

    In terms of the level of the race, Ubettabelieveit is now rated 108 (up from 101), which is towards the lower end of the range pointed to by historical standards. It’s worth noting that the time of the race was distinctly moderate, though that was at least partly due to the early pace being slower than par. The proximity of rank-outsider Burning Cash in fourth also raises a slight question mark over the form, though he’s given full credit for this much-improved effort for now, with his rating leaping from 80 to 103. Although Sacred didn’t quite match the form of her Lowther Stakes second, she remains on 108.

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