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Thread: The thoughts of the handicappers.

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    And their Gold Cup thoughts...

    NATIVE RIVER AND MIGHT BITE SHOW THEMSELVES TO BE QUALITY GOLD CUP HORSES | Head of Handicapping Blog
    20 Mar 18


    In my twenty years in charge of jump handicapping at the BHA I have been fortunate to witness some outstanding achievements at the Cheltenham Festival. Big Buck’s winning four consecutive Stayers’ Hurdles, Best Mate winning three consecutive Gold Cups, Kauto Star regaining the Gold Cup after losing it to Denman the previous year, A P McCoy carrying Synchronised to victory in 2012.

    I am struggling to remember a race which left me as breathless as the 2018 Timico Gold Cup. It is very rare in any 3 mile+ chase for the horses who jump the first fence in first and second place to still be there at the last fence and then at the finishing post. Has it ever happened in the Gold Cup before?
    Having watched the replay a number of times I still think Might Bite is going to win at the second last. He would have been a very decent winner of the race, equal in my view to Coneygree (172) in 2015. The final uphill furlong on soft ground with heavy patches found him out but it was still his best ever performance.

    Anibale Fly showed himself to be the most thorough stayer of the Irish trained 3 mile chasers by keeping on to be a fast finishing third. Before the race I had Road To Respect on 168 and Andrew Shaw the new Irish Handicapper had him a pound lower. I have to agree now that he was right and I have dropped him to that figure although I only have him performing to 165 at Cheltenham. As a result Anibale Fly is raised to 168, which puts him 9lbs. well in for the Randox Health Grand National.

    The effect of having a performance figure of 168 for Anibale Fly is to put Native River on 176. Only Denman, Imperial Commander, Long Run, Bobs Worth and Kauto Star x 2 have been higher in my time in the job. It puts him just ahead of Kicking King (175) and Best Mate (175) who in my view was unlucky not to be rated higher as he only ever faced opposition either past their best or inferior to Might Bite.

    Another link with Best Mate is how few (2) times this year’s winner has run in the season. Best Mate twice only ran on three occasions in the season when he won his Gold Cups but has there ever been a year when the winner was only having his second run?

    Returning to the Randox Health Grand National there are now five horses that are technically well in. Anibale Fly (+9), Bellshill (+7), Shantou Flyer (+5) Rathvinden (+4) and Tiger Roll (+2).

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    Looking through the new ratings last week it was easy to what kind of thought processes the handicapper was going through in arriving at his marks but I took a much more conservative line.

    “Take out Might Bite and this could be a good handicap.” This pre-race summary is the overriding context of my low ratings for this race. It was a wonderful spectacle at the time because the commentary made it sound like the two protagonists were serving up a savage pace. It seemed like we were witnessing one of the all-time great Gold Cups. In fact, it was anything but, although the winner’s new OR of 176 makes it look good. I won’t be at all surprised if in time we see that mark drop again.

    Native River is a thoroughly admirable beast but he was rather beaten up here by Johnson in his determination to see off Might Bite on whom de Boinville showed commendable restraint when it was clear his partner had no answer to the heavy ground up the hill. This exaggerated the winner’s margin of victory as well as the third’s closing effort.

    I can see where the handicapper gets his 176 for the winner from. Road To Respect and Djakadam have run relatively close to their marks and makes that possible. We also know Might Bite is top class. However, I’ve watched the race a few times now. The front two got to dictate their own pace on virgin ground. I suspect this seduced the others into thinking they must be going fast and as a result they were held up off a moderate pace against better horses so were always going to struggle to get into it. Djakadam has proved more than once he doesn’t stay this trip. He’s less likely to have stayed in this ground. He was in the group just behind the pace and probably ran as well as could be expected but I can’t have him running to his good ground best here, which is what Native River’s 176 implies. Definitly Red maybe had a harder race than it looked last time or maybe just didn’t fancy another slog in a bog. Either way, he was never running his race. It wasn’t the pace that beat him. Anibale Fly in third is a good handicapper, nothing more. He’s probably a few pounds better than his pre-race 159 rating but he’s the one who, for me, is a key guide to the form. He’s as close to Native River as he should have been. Road To Respect didn’t stay but it looks like he’s been taken as one of the key guides, which would make Native River’s 176 logical. I can’t have that.

    Everything else was trying to come from poor positions off a moderate pace in ground being churned up ahead of them. Saphir Du Rheu probably got nearly the worst ride of the entire field. Not only was he held up but he was also kept wide, racing in the ground that had been badly churned up the previous day. Twiston-Davies was presumably riding to instructions as it was a carbon copy of the ride he gave the horse last year but that was on decent ground. I suspect the horse needs to see his fences and he was never going to be ridden in the pack so I also suspect Nicholls and Twiston-Davies had decided before the race they were just going to let him do what he could for a circuit before saving him for Aintree. It’s a ride I can understand but I cannot for the life of me understand the ride Edwulf got. I’m still angry about it.

    So all in all, I’m going low with the bare ratings but I half-expect to adjust them upwards by a pound or two in the coming months but I’ll be surprised if I end up getting them near the ORs.
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    The best AW Championship sprint winner yet

    Whilst this year’s renewal of the 6f Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship attracted the smallest field in its brief history, what it lacked in quantity was more than made up for in quality, says Stewart Copeland.

    Six of the eight runners had already achieved a level of form on a par with the average winning performance in the race, headed by Gifted Master on 112. He achieved that rating after being successful in the 6f listed Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield back in November.

    Plenty of action had unfolded on the all-weather sprint scene since that win and the best recent form was boasted by the revitalised Kachy, who was made favourite on the back of that. His latest success was in the 6f listed Cleves Stakes over course and distance in early February where he recorded a rating of 110, confirming he was back to the form that saw him finish second in the 2016 Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.


    However the spoils on the day were to go elsewhere, and it was the sole French challenger City Light who took the prize back across the Channel. Winner of a fast track qualifier at Chantilly in early March, City Light had shown himself better than ever with that win and more than confirmed that view here.

    Always travelling strongly just off the sound pace set by Gifted Master, he was produced to challenge over a furlong out and soon put the race to bed. He came home a length and a half clear of Kachy, with last year’s winner Kimberella, putting up a creditable defence, a further length and a quarter back in third.

    In assessing the race I have took the view that City Light has produced the highest winning performance we have seen so far in this race. I have credited him with a performance rating of 114 which betters the 112 achieved by Pretend in 2015. That means I have Kachy reproducing his 110. As for Gifted Master, he weakened out of contention in the straight and clearly failed to give his running back from his break. He ran to 98 but remains at 112 for now on the all-weather.

    The other sprint final on the card was confined to three year olds, the 6f 32 Red 3 Year Old All-Weather Championship Stakes. Although it may have lacked the strength in depth of the older horse race, it produced an exciting finish nevertheless.

    The race itself was a much more tactical affair with only a modest gallop until past halfway and several horses racing keenly. Analysis of the sectional times in this race compared to the older horse sprint race show how much quicker they were finishing in this race which effectively became a dash for home from 2f out.

    In such circumstances the place to be is often on or near the pace and the favourite, Corinthia Knight, was given an excellent ride. Tracking the leader throughout, his jockey kicked on approaching the straight for a decisive race winning move. Despite a host of challengers, he always looked like holding on for a half-length success from Lake Volta.

    As for the form of the race, the field finished largely in a heap so it’s difficult to take too positive a view of it. Corinthia Knight went in to the race rated 105 and did not need to improve on that. In fact I only have him running to 99 given the proximity of too many rivals in the low/mid 90s to justify any higher.

    One to note from the race is Breathless Times who was a strong finishing fourth after suffering none too clear a passage. Nothing produced a quicker final 2f sectional and it will be surprising if this lightly-raced colt doesn’t improve further on his current rating of 96 achieved here.

    Le All Weather

    Funny Kid in landing the Marathon in a most thrilling finish was another winner from across the channel. The third French-trained winner and by far the longest priced success on the card came in the Mile Championship when Lucky Team flew past five horses in the final furlong to win going away at 40/1.

    Pre-race, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, the William Haggas trained Second Thought looked to hold an outstanding chance of extending his unbeaten streak on the AW to seven as his rating of 109 put him 2lb clear of Arcanada and 6lb+ in front of the rest of the field. Even he couldn’t hold the sweeping run of the winner and went down by a length and a quarter. Arcanada finished last after setting a strong pace and the trainer could offer no explanation to the Stewards for the poor run.

    Given the proximity of the likes of Goring (3rd: pre-race 101 but on a roll having won his previous four), King Malpic (4th: 96) and Mr Scaramanga (5th: 101) it is hard to believe that Second Thought has run anywhere near 109 and I have settled on a performance of 104 for the time being, which suggests that Lucky Team has posted a career best of 107 in winning the race.

    This falls short of the last two winners of the race – Sovereign Debt (110) last year and Captain Joy (112) in 2016 – but rated better than Grey Mirage (103) in 2015 and on a par with Captain Cat’s 107 in the inaugural running in 2014.

    As far as domestic handicap marks are concerned Second Thought is brought down 2lb to 107 after a reassessment of his previous race and Goring is adjudged to have posted another personal best and goes to 104.

    A feature of the concluding Easter Classic (10f) was the strong early pace as Star Archer (pre-race 93) and Utmost (105) duelled in front being closely followed by Mr Owen (107) with all three ultimately paying the price for their early exertions.

    Victory Bond (105) travelled noticeably well in mid-division, was still on the bridle when delivering his challenge inside the final two furlongs and quickly put the contest to bed when quickening two lengths clear approaching the distance – always in full control after that despite being run down a little close home. He goes back up a pound to 106 for this success.

    It is hard to get him much higher given the close proximity of Abe Lincoln (3rd: pre-race 99 and beaten off 97 previous start) and the exposed Pactolus (beaten off 99 in handicap company previous 4 starts) in fourth.

    Top rated Master The World (108) was given a lot to do from rear and finished best of all but was never doing enough to catch the winner and went down by half a length, running to 103 on my figures. With Mr Owen (5th), Utmost (6th), Battle of Marathon (7th) and Petite Jack (8th) also all running below the level of their Winter Derby performances, we have dropped the level of that race by a pound so Master The World goes down a pound to 107.

    From a historical perspective Victory Bond’s performance is rated on a par with Grendisar in 2016 and superior to Grandeur (103) in the first running in 2014, but inferior to last year’s winner Convey (111) and Tryster (115) in 2015.

    Up at Newcastle Jeremy Noseda’s Gronkowski continued his progression with a fourth straight win in the Listed 32Red Burradon Stakes. He was little more than workmanlike but I have him improving another couple of pounds to a mark of 103 – touted as a possible Kentucky Derby candidate he is going to have to progress a fair bit more in my opinion to be a live candidate for that.

    Did you notice Nivvo?
    One of the less obvious problems of AW Champions Day, writes Matthew Tester, is what about Nivvo?

    This Irish-trained mare finished tenth in the Fillies & Mares final over 7f; but she was only 0.82 seconds behind the winner which means 5.1 lengths. The first six home were all rated in the 90s. Although Nivvo had won her last two starts she went into the race with an Irish rating of just 68.

    On my figures she ran to a mathematical 87. Racing Post thinks that it should be 89. But what do you do with the handicap mark?

    Experience says that she has probably not suddenly improved by that much; but to leave her on 68 would seem likely to gift her another handicap win. That would be unfair to whoever was opposing her in her next race.

    The Irish Handicapper has raised her by only two to 70. My choice would be to see her run once in effect under a penalty, up six off 74. Perhaps she was completely flattered and should stay on 68. Or perhaps she has continued on the upgrade and should go up by more than six. What would you have done?

    Hawkbill in control

    To call Charlie Appleby’s Hawkbill disappointing since winning the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown as a three year old would be a shade harsh, writes Adam Barnes; but he certainly had not progressed from the level achieved there prior to arriving in Dubai this winter. However, his win in the Group 2 City of Gold Stakes – when overcoming a notably wide trip (travelled 17 metres further than stablemate and runner-up Frontiersman according to Trakus data) – was quite taking.

    He duly stepped up on that form when belatedly doubling his Group 1 tally in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday albeit with the aid of the run of the race from the front. Hawkbill was able to set a steady early pace and control the tempo throughout. The likes of top-rated Cloth of Stars pulled far too hard to show his best form and Japanese challenger Rey De Oro was caught further back than ideal. He had little chance the way the race developed.

    That said, Hawkbill still quickened up well and was comfortably holding his nearest pursuers in the closing stages to score by three lengths. In terms of the ratings level of the race, historical standards point towards the low-mid 120s. There was enough depth to the race overall to go towards the top end of that range if desired but, given the winner’s profile coming in (rated 118) and the tactical nature of the race, I have been slightly cautious and called Hawkbill on 122 for now. It’ll be interesting to see if he can back up this performance in a more conventional contest.

    Turf of the rising sun

    With Japanese-trained runners having won three of the previous four editions of the Dubai Turf, writes Andrew Mealor, it was no surprise to see Japan well represented in the latest renewal with five of the fifteen runners. These included the last two winners, Real Steel and Vivlos.

    That pair ran with credit but had to play second fiddle to comfortable winner Benbatl who provided Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor with his sixth win in the race. Janoobi set a solid pace as he raced in a clear lead and Benbatl was perfectly placed at the head of the main group under Oisin Murphy. The pair went to the front under 2f out and the result was in little doubt from there. He came home three and a quarter lengths ahead of Vivlos (who had to do plenty of running from rear). Real Steel dead-heated with another of the Japanese runners, Deirdre, for third.

    Although well fancied, Benbatl still looks to have improved a fair bit on his previous form in winning so decisively. Race standards point to a rating in the 122/123 area, and I have gone for the higher of those figures because it ties in with the best recent form of Real Steel (116) and Deirdre (112). Vivlos couldn’t quite repeat the 117 she produced in the race last year but her performance figure of 113 still represents her best run since then.

    Although some remove from the 130 produced by 2014 winner Just A Way, a winning figure of 123 is more than respectable for a winner of this race and sits bang on the 10-year average. The Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot looks a logical next target. The average winning performance in that race over the past 10 years is 124 (123 for past five years), though Cracksman (130) may set a higher bar this year.

    One of the other Godolphin runners, Blair House, had beaten Benbatl into second when landing the Group 1 Jebel Hatta earlier in March. Benbatl didn’t get the run of things that day (stuck wide from a high draw), but this time it was Blair House (116) who found the race going against him. He was dropped in from a high draw and met some trouble when trying to close in the straight, his jockey also reporting that the gelding hung left throughout. The race also didn’t pan out ideally for the John Gosden-trained Monarchs Glen who didn’t settle in a wide position and was found to have been mildly lame. He was very progressive at the end of last year, posting a figure of 115 when winning the Group 3 Darley Stakes at Newmarket.

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    The Grand National Festival 2018 Handicappers Blog
    17 Apr 18


    The Grade 1 JLT Melling Chase was a tremendous race to watch as Politologue and Min battled out a thrilling finish, writes Mark Olley.

    Min has raced mainly over 2m with the exception of a three runner race at Gowran Park in November. The big question was would he stay 2m4f. He raced pretty keenly in the early stages but was still travelling ominously well when he went into the lead approaching the second last fence. You certainly could not say that he didn’t get home but he was just beaten by a stronger stayer in Politologue. Min’s rating stays unchanged while Politologue’s moves to 169 (+8).

    Politologue raced around 2m4f early in his novice chase career, but has been kept at 2m for the past year. He certainly seems more at home at tracks like Aintree, Ascot and Kempton and for whatever reason he has not really performed at Cheltenham. This was a career best run and his 169 rating matches that achieved by Fox Norton when winning this race last year. It is still some way adrift of the 188 achieved by the mighty Sprinter Sacre in 2013.

    Balko Des Flos who had looked so impressive when beating Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham dropped out tamely after making the running. This clearly wasn’t his form and it would be no surprise if that Ryanair effort had taken more out of him than anyone realised.

    The Grade 1 Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase was won by Finian’s Oscar.Victory for Colin Tizzard’s gelding looked unlikely as they entered the home straight but Robbie Power began to coax a run from him and as they jumped the last momentum was clearly on his side and he powered up the run-in to win going away. Pre-race this did not look the strongest renewal and Finian’s Oscar’s new rating of 154 (+3) is the lowest winning rating for some years.

    Rene’s Girl jumped superbly and looked like winning between the last two fences. She had previously been winning mares chases and this was a terrific effort stepped up into Grade 1 company. Her rating remains unchanged on 144 and is equivalent to a figure of 151 with her mares allowance added back on.

    Special mention must also go to Ultragold who won the Randox Health Topham Handicap for the second successive year. In between those victories Colin Tizzard’s heroic 10yo has also finished runner-up in the Grand Sefton Handicap and he clearly relishes the test of Aintree’s unique National fences.

    Santini the equal of Thistlecrack

    The best hurdling performance across the three days, writes Michael Harris, came in the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle on Saturday.
    Identity Thief was last seen when a staying on fourth in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, persuading connections to try a belated step up in trip here and that move has brought about a career best from the 8yo. Always travelling strongly off an even gallop, his stamina was put to the test by Wholestone, who has been very consistent all season in graded hurdles, but he battled on well to win by five lengths with the pair pulling clear.

    Wholestone was rated 161 pre-race, a figured he achieved over an intermediate trip at Cheltenham back in January. It is possible he is slightly better over that shorter trip and at Cheltenham, where his form figures read 12113123. I have him repeating the 158 he ran to in the Stayers Hurdle meaning that I have Identity Thief running to 163, 1lb behind Cheltenham winner Penhill (164). Hopefully we will see both of them at Punchestown in what would be an intriguing clash.

    Sam Spinner (down 1 to 163) was not at his most fluent in the jumping department and faded, but the form of his Ascot success earlier in the season was franked in the feature race on Thursday with L’Ami Serge emerging victorious in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.

    L’Ami Serge had been unsuited by a slow pace in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham but, in stark contrast to that race, a strong pace was set by Diakali which was perfect for the winner who is a strong traveller. He was produced late under a confident ride and had too much for Supasundae on this occasion, reversing form from Cheltenham. The runner-up was dropping back in trip here which looked a good move having not quite seen out his race at Cheltenham; but Clyne (up 1 to 153) looks a better guide to the form and this looks a marginal career best for him.

    With last year’s winner and dual Champion Hurdler Buveur d’Air missing the race, this looked a below average renewal and L’Ami Serge has been raised 1lb to 160, meaning he is the lowest-rated winner of the race since 2002. The most comparable performance in recent years would be with The New One who ran to 161 in the 2014 renewal.

    In the novice division, Santini bettered his Cheltenham form under a more prominent ride to win the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. It was a race in which most of the principles raced no worse than mid-division and so the run of Roksana (142) from off the pace can be given plenty of credit. She emerged from the chasing pack to throw down a challenge to Santini but he found plenty for pressure and won cosily. I have rated him 152 which makes him an above average winner for the race and equal to Thistlecrack when he won back in 2015. Santini has a very likeable attitude and looks set to be a leading novice chaser next season.


    The Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle produced an exciting finish and a very game winner in Black Op (152). He had chased home Samcro at Cheltenham and overcame a series of mistakes in the home straight here to hold off Lostintranslation (149) who was stepping up in trip and relished it. I have Black Op running a little below his Cheltenham form and performing to 150, which is 1lb lower than Finian’s Oscar in this race 12 months ago. Back in January, Black Op had gone down narrowly to Santini at Cheltenham after a late mistake arguably cost him the race. After their respective spring campaigns they are both now rated 152 and look the best of the British novice staying hurdlers this season. On The Blind Side (down 1 to 152) was top rated going into the race and was just losing his position when a mistake at the second last ended his chance. Given the strength of his Sandown win back in December he is well worth another chance. Western Ryder (145) also made a bad mistake at a crucial part of the race and he continues to shape like we have yet to see the best of him.

    A Dream winner

    This season’s Juvenile Hurdlers might not have been over blessed us on the numbers front but there do look to be some exciting horses going forward, writes David Dickinson. We Have A Dream had to miss Cheltenham but his return to action in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Anniversary Hurdle saw him run out a ready winner completing a five-timer in the process.

    Whilst stable companion Apple’s Shakira again ran like a horse who needs further than two miles, We Have A Dream showed a good turn of speed to win by seven lengths from the resurgent Gumball who had looked a star early in the season but rather lost his way over the winter months.

    As a race, this is hard to put a figure on but two horses who were involved in the juvenile handicap at the Festival, Nube Negra and Padleyourowncanoe, both seemed to again run well, at least until the latter made a bad mistake when upsides the leader three out. Take their running at face value and this has to be high class form and I have rated the winner running to 158. The debate will now be about whether had would have scored at Cheltenham had he been able to take his chance. Farclas, for winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle, earned a rating of 157.
    Lalor might have flopped in the Betfair Hurdle but he provided an emotional success for the Kayley Woollacott yard in the Grade 1 Betway Top Novice Hurdle.
    Any enthusiasm for his chance pre-race would have been more based around his Bumper success at the meeting last year than his previous exploits over hurdles; but this was not as hard a race to put a figure on as it first appeared.

    Mind’s Eye and Midnight Shadow both suggest that runner up, Vision des Flos, had reproduced his Cheltenham running. That would have Bedrock running to 145, only a pound more than when going close in the juvenile at the meeting last year. BHA handicappers are not allowed to take Bumper form into account for hurdle races (and as you can see I haven’t) but a check of last year’s Bumper does confirm that Lalor’s new rating of 149 is believable. The next five home in his Bumper that day are currently rated between 135 and 147 over the smaller obstacles.

    Mouchoir blown away

    The only 2m Grade 1 chase at the Aintree festival was the Doom Bar Maghull Novice Chase run on Saturday analysed by Chris Nash.
    With the leading 2m novice of the season (Footpad rated 166) absent it looked a good opportunity for Petit Mouchoir who had already chased him home a couple of times including in the Arkle at Cheltenham last time out.

    Petit Mouchoir arrived rated 157 and started as the odds-on favourite but was unable to cope with Diego Du Charmil who swept by him going to the last and won by two and a half lengths. A further six lengths away in third was Shantou Rock (arrived rated 148) and a neck behind him was Lady Buttons (arrived rated 140 but got the 7lbs mares allowance in this). The third and fourth look to provide a reasonable guide to the form. So this has Diego Du Charmil running to 157, Petit Mouchoir to 154, Shantou Rock to 148 and Lady Buttons to 141. The 157 figure for the winner fits in reasonably well with the race history and standards. The “average” winner over the last 5 years has been rated 160, but that includes Douvan who recorded a figure of 169 when winning in 2016 which obviously skews the average. Applying race standards to this renewal gives a figure for the winner between 157 and 159. It rates a career best for Diego Du Charmil and, being lightly raced, he is obviously open to further progression. It will be interesting to see what he can achieve in open company next season.
    It may be a classier race but staying is still the name of the game | Head of Handicapping Blog

    18 Apr 18


    A few years ago the BHA, in conjunction with Aintree, brought in a new qualification rule for the Randox Health Grand National. To qualify, a horse has to have finished in the first four in a chase over three miles or further. Non-stayers are a potential risk both to themselves and to other horses in the latter stages of the race.

    However to run well or win the race appears to require much greater stamina than running decently over a bare 3m. Over the last three years four races stand out as being important in the career of horses who run well in the Grand National. They are the National Hunt Chase and the Cross Country Races at Cheltenham, the Irish Grand National and the Betfred Classic at Warwick.

    Just look at this year’s first seven home:

    • Tiger Roll (winner) had won the National Hunt Chase over 4m and the Cross Country at Cheltenham over 3m 6f.
    • Pleasant Company (2nd) had been a staying on ninth in last year’s race after a momentum stopping error at the 25th fence which is Valentine’s Brook second time round.
    • Pleasant Company ridden by Ruby Walsh (L) leads Saint Are ridden by Davy Russesell over an early fence during The 2017 Randox Health Grand National
    • Bless The Wings (3rd) had won the Cross Country over 3m 6f and been second in the Irish National over 3m 5f.
    • Anibale Fly (4th) had been a staying on third in the Gold Cup over the stiff 3m 2.5f furlongs of Cheltenham.
    • Milansbar (5th) had won the Betfred Classic over 3m5f at Warwick and been second in the Midlands Grand National over 4m 2f.
    • Road To Riches (6th) had been 3rd in the Gold Cup in the past.
    • Gas Line Boy (7th) had been fifth in the Grand National last year.

    It was the similar last year:

    • One For Arthur (1st) had won the Betfred Classic at Warwick,
    • Cause of Causes (2nd) had won the National Hunt Chase and the Cross Country,
    • Saint Are (3rd) had previously been second in the race.
    • Blaklion (4th) had just been second in the Haydock Grand National Trial over 3m 4f.


    In 2016 it was very much the same story:

    • Rule The World (1st) had been second in the Irish Grand National.
    • The Last Samuri (2nd) had won the Grimthorpe at Doncaster over 3m 2f.
    • Vics Canvas (3rd) had been second in the Bet 365 Gold Cup at Sandown over 3m 5f.


    Classy and unexposed new kids on the block do not win the Grand National. Hennessy winners like Many Clouds, Ulster Grand National winners like Pineau de Re and horses beaten a head in the Scottish Grand National like Auroras Encore do.

    Of course it helped both Tiger Roll and Anibale Fly this year that they were technically “well in” for the race after performing to a higher level after the weights came out. Far more important was their proven stamina at further than 3m. After all the rain I was relieved that the winning distance this year was only a head but, for the second time, I just missed out on the much yearned for dead heat!

    Afterwards some people were complaining about the domination of Irish trained horses but, when I looked back, I was happy with the weights I allocated to them all two months ago. After-timing is a great fashion in British racing so I just hope that anyone who complained had availed themselves of the prices that were available for the first five back in February. You could get 40/1 Tiger Roll, Anibale Fly was 33/1 while Pleasant Company, Bless The Wings and Milansbar were all on 66/1.

    On Monday I consulted with my Irish counterpart Sandy Shaw and we both agreed that despite the close finish, to some extent Tiger Roll was getting a bit lonely out in front. As a result I have put the winner up 9lbs to 159 and the second up 7lbs. from 148 to 155 thus calling the head as 2lbs. compared to the traditional 1lb.

    The horse I was most proud about this year was actually Bless The Wings. He is clearly a much better Cross Country horse where I have him on 154 compared to his rating of 136 over regulation fences. I was in a dilemma back in February when I did the weights as 154 was clearly inappropriate whereas 136 would not get him into the race. In this one race I have special dispensation to differ from published ratings so I added a nominal 7lbs. penalty to his park rating and he ran off 143. He more than justified that decision.


    So remember next year when you are trying to find the winner, form at the bare minimum of 3m from a horse on the up will not be enough. You need a horse that stays further and has been around the block a little. Never under-estimate the Cheltenham
    Cross Country races. Tiger Roll, Cause of Causes, Silver Birch and Balthazar King are the proof as they are all intelligent, athletic horses. Size does NOT matter!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Perpetual View Post
    On Monday I consulted with my Irish counterpart Sandy Shaw
    Did they have a wee sing-song?

    I hope one isn't the other's Puppet on a String, rather that they go Hand in Glove with each other. All we need now is for the French handicapper to be called Monsieur Dupont...
    Last edited by Desert Orchid; 19th April 2018 at 11:50 AM.
    Two's company, three's allowed.

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    Newmarket QIPCO Guineas Festival | Handicappers Blog
    09 May 18

    Two huge steps forward


    Saxon Warrior gave Aidan O’Brien a ninth Qipco 2000 Guineas on Saturday and an incredible 300th Group/Grade 1 success and, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, this son of Japanese superstar Deep Impact looks certain to contribute further to that tally.

    Rated 2nd in last year’s European 2yo rankings with a mark of 119, behind only stable-companion U S Navy Flag (122), Saxon Warrior has improved on that with a performance of 121 by running out a convincing one and a half lengths winner at Newmarket. I am confident there is more to come once he steps up in trip.

    My level for the race included a surprise with Tip Two Win in second taking a huge step forward from his pre-race mark of 106 to a new figure of 117. This is the mark that is also attributed to third-placed Masar (pre-race 118). The fourth-placed Elarqam has improved 4lb from 112 to 116.

    I am happy at this stage that the figures stack up relatively neatly with the winner’s stable mate Gustav Klimt (6th) reproducing his current mark of 112, James Garfield (7th) being a pound below his Greenham winning performance of 112, which is backed up by Newbury 4th Raid (8th) reproducing his 108 and the front running Murillo (9th) performing to his pre-race level of 107.

    Despite Masar going into the race at 118 I have dropped him a pound to 117 which may seem a little strange for finishing 3rd in a Guineas. It should be pointed out that his impressive success in the Craven was difficult to evaluate with any degree of confidence and his figure of 118 was more of a short term “holding figure” until we saw him in a more competitive and reliable contest. I find it hard to believe that his Craven performance should be considered superior to his Guineas performance and therefore am now calling them both 117.

    From a historical perspective, a winning performance of 121 is well up to recent standards. Eight of the last eleven renewals have now seen winning performances rated between 120 and 122. In the nineteen runnings of the race since the turn of the century, twelve winning performances fall within that bracket. The last five winners have run either 120 or 121 with Saxon Warrior’s effort being considered a pound superior to those posted by Churchill (2017) and Galileo Gold (2016) and on a par with both Gleneagles (2015) and Night of Thunder (2014).

    In regard to Aidan O’Brien’s nine winners of the race, eight of them performed to a mark between 119 and 121 with the only exception being Footstepsinthesand (116) in 2005.

    Turning to the Qipco 1000 Guineas, winner Billesdon Brook may have gone off a 66-1 shot after nine previous starts in which she never exceeded a mark of 99 but there appears no obvious fluke to the performance. I have raised her to a new mark of 115 which leaves her a little shy of the marks recorded by Winter (116 in 2017), Minding (118 in 2016) and Legatissimo (116 in 2015) but superior to the winning efforts of Miss France (112 in 2014) and Sky Lantern (111 in 2013) in terms of recent history.

    The big question of course, is can she do it again?

    Defoe Scores Again

    The Jockey Club Stakes often turns out to be a small-field, tactical affair, and this year’s renewal was no exception; but it nevertheless produced a worthy and interesting winner, writes Adam Barnes.

    Count Octave took the field along at just a modest tempo and the complexion of the contest changed quite suddenly when James Doyle made a quick move on Red Verdon inside the final half mile. Defoe began to gradually lose his prominent position not long after but his astute jockey, Andrea Atzeni, was allowing his mount, on the drying ground and Rowley Mile undulations, to find his stride in his own time. The hot favourite duly began to motor as they passed the two furlong pole, reeling in the enterprisingly-ridden Red Verdon and coming away for a decisive success.

    Defoe came into the race on 115 and I have rated him as running to that figure again which is at the lower end of the range pointed to by historical standards for the race. I didn’t see fit to push the level any higher given not only the proximity of pre-race 107 Red Verdon (now 108), but also the question marks over the others, Count Octave likely needing more emphasis on stamina while Master The World and Khalidi had each not lived up to their handicap mark last time.

    Defoe may not have needed to strictly improve on the form of his stylish Group 3 John Porter Stakes win to land this Group 2. That he was able to run up to his best in adverse circumstances – neither the tactical nature of the race nor the drying ground necessarily ideal – means this can certainly be regarded as a reputation-enhancing performance. It increases the likelihood that he can be very competitive once stepped up to the highest level. It may not be long before he does that as his trainer, Roger Varian, mentioning the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh as a possible next target.

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    BHA handicappers have each nominated one to watch next season

    David Dickinson: Maria's Benefit
    Martin Greenwood: Topofthegame
    Phil Smith: Definitly Red
    Sandy Shaw: Laurina & Great Field
    Mark Olley: Benatar
    Chris Nash: Sceux Royal
    Michael Harris: Master Tommytuckers

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    That's some insight. Sandy Shaw seems to be a right judge.

    Last edited by Grasshopper; 15th May 2018 at 1:34 PM.
    "Beat the price and lose. It's what we do".

    SlimChance, March 2018

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    That's pretty apt. I'm pretty sure you reckon Great Field can win Eurovision after it wins the Champion Chase!

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    Investec Derby Festival | Handicappers Blog
    05 Jun 18

    Masterful Masar

    Saxon Warrior may not have succeeded in his attempt to complete the second leg of a possible Triple Crown bid, but the 2000 Guineas form still came to the fore in this year’s Investec Derby, writes Adam Barnes.

    Most people who say ‘the Guineas is the best trial for the Derby’ probably haven’t actually done the research to back up their assertion, and to be fair nor have I gone back in time to prove or disprove such a theory for this blog, but either way we can probably agree that this year’s 2000 Guineas did indeed turn out to be an informative Derby trial, with Saturday’s 1-2-4 at Epsom having been 3-5-1 at Newmarket.


    The Derby can sometimes be a messy affair, but thankfully this year was pretty clean, and the form looks solid. Aided by the strong pace, the leaders reaching the path where they turn into the straight (over three furlongs out) around 2 seconds quicker than all-the-way winner Dash of Spice in the following course-and-distance handicap, the first four home came from midfield or rear, with Masar (121, from 117) always going well and full value for his length-and-a-half victory. Dee Ex Bee (118, from 110) had every chance, while Roaring Lion (117; stays on his Dante rating of 118), up in trip with stamina to prove, looked to just run out of petrol late on having looked like being runner-up at one stage, and connections’ plan to drop back in trip looks logical. That comment also applies to Hazapour, who was keen early racing close to the strong pace and still cruising when challenging after three furlongs out, but he got tired when it mattered, looking a non-stayer and shaping a good deal better than the bare form.


    As for Saxon Warrior, some talked about the tricky draw in stall 1 and his slight stumble from it, others said he just ran flat, while I tend to largely agree with those who identified his apparent discomfort on the track, looking unbalanced and reluctant to really let himself go coming down the camber, after also not enjoying the clearest run prior to that. He remains a horse to be excited about for the season ahead, appealing as likely to put this behind him in due course.

    Masar’s new rating of 121 is informed by the solid time (around 30lb quicker than now 98-rated Dash of Spice in the handicap once weight carried/weight-for-age is accounted for, and a speed figure pushing towards 120 against other round-course races on the card), historical standards (five-year range of 119-122 pointed to by the shape of this year’s form), and the pre-race levels of most of the beaten horses, nothing from third down holding down the level decided on. That rating puts Masar higher than recent Derby winners such as Wings of Eagles and Ruler of the World, but a little way behind the likes of Golden Horn and Australia. It seems we may see him next in either the Irish Derby or back down in trip in the Eclipse at Sandown.

    A ‘Golden Highway’ Oaks?

    It’s probably fair to say this year’s Investec Oaks didn’t have the strongest feel to it beforehand, but post-race the form doesn’t look too shabby, the field coming home nicely strung out with the ‘right’ sort of horses filling the frame behind ready winner Forever Together, who built on her Chester promise in no uncertain terms.

    The race was run at a fair pace, though Bye Bye Baby didn’t go as hard as it might have seemed visually, reaching the path as they turn into the straight nearly 2.5 seconds slower than Salouen in the Coronation Cup, with Forever Together ultimately passing the post 1.9 seconds slower than Cracksman just over an hour earlier. Once the weight-for-age allowance for three-year-olds is taken into account there was little between the two times, though it needs bearing in mind that the ground was drying out all time.


    A key moment in the Oaks came early in the straight, when Donnacha O’Brien shrewdly made a move for the apparently favoured ‘Golden Highway’ stands rail – a conclusion hard to avoid as the card went on. In making that move O’Brien ensured that he and his mount spent most of the straight racing close to the rail, and just as crucially prevented William Buick and Wild Illusion, who was stepping up half a mile in trip, from doing so. Forever Together proved much the strongest in the closing stages and came home four-and-a-half lengths clear, though there’s certainly a possibility that things would have been closer in different circumstances.

    In terms of putting a number on Forever Together’s win, it might appear quite simple to look at the pre-race ratings of Wild Illusion (113), By Bye Baby (109) and Magic Wand (104) and come to a conclusion of around 119-120. However, with the impression that the winner enjoyed something of a tactical advantage over her rivals, the time relative to the Coronation Cup and other races nothing too special once drying conditions and the possible stands rail bias enjoyed by the winner are considered, as well as historical standards generally pointing towards a lower level (a range of 115-119 in the last five years, which an average/median of 117), I’ve rated Forever Together on 117 for now, which also happens to be in line with the 10-year average for an Oaks winner. That means I strictly have all the other horses in the first four performing slightly below their pre-race marks, though they arguably lose little or nothing in defeat given the circumstances. Hopefully we’ll see a rematch between the first two at some stage.

    Cracksman Not So Cracking

    What is to be done? A question posed by Chernyshevsky in 1863, Lenin in 1902, and also by horseracing handicappers when 130-rated Cracksman and 110-rated Salouen passed the post almost together in this year’s Investec Coronation Cup.

    Upon the completion of Friday’s contest most racing fans would most likely have concluded something along the lines of: laboured Cracksman clearly wasn’t at anything like his best; Salouen seems to have run the race of his life but was he flattered? Windstoss ran alright; the rest flopped. Same here, pretty much. But where, oh where does the handicapping answer lie?


    As touched on above, the Coronation Cup time – partly aided by the sound pace set by Salouen – reads relatively well against the likes of the Oaks (rated at 117) and the good ten-furlong handicap won by up-and-comer Ajman King (now rated 108), particularly given it was run on slightly softer ground than those races (drying conditions) and there was also a relative lack of ‘Golden Highway’ action close to the stands rail here. Though what little action there was in that regard may well have been decisive, the evidence that mounted through the afternoon increasingly making it look crucial that Dettori switched Cracksman to the rail for the final furlong, before finally getting on top of Salouen close home.

    Historical standards in the last five years point towards a range of 119-122 for this year’s winner. With the likes of Idaho and Hawkbill failing to fire, Cracksman clearly not himself (perhaps not in love with the track but, probably more crucially, also later reported to have banged his head in the stalls) and the overall muddling feel to the form, I came to a conclusion of 119 here for Cracksman (stays rated 130), with Salouen up 8lb to 118, those levels also happening to broadly tie in with what Windstoss achieved on his latest outing in Germany. Whether Salouen can repeat this level another time remains to be seen, though it’s worth remembering that this was only his second start as a four-year-old, and perhaps these new forcing tactics will prove the key to him, too.

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    That's what I like to see, a handicapper quoting Lenin, the man who gave the perfect advice to all readers of form:

    To accept anything on trust, to preclude critical application and development, is a grievous sin; and in order to apply and develop, “simple interpretation” is obviously not enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grey View Post
    That's what I like to see, a handicapper quoting Lenin, the man who gave the perfect advice to all readers of form:

    To accept anything on trust, to preclude critical application and development, is a grievous sin; and in order to apply and develop, “simple interpretation” is obviously not enough.
    clivex would be turning in his Ford Mondeo.
    Alba Gu Brath!

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    And then lambasting the useless t*ssers that service it

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    Royal Ascot 2018 | Handicappers blog
    26 Jun 18


    Head scratching for the Head of Handicapping
    The week started off with a real “head scratcher” with a shock result in the Queen Anne, writes Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

    In a race that normally gives a major clue as to who will be crowned the best older miler in Europe during any given year, this renewal saw the two lowest-rated horses in the race finish first and second. 33-1 shot Accidental Agent (1st: pre-race 109) edged out 20-1 shot Lord Glitters (2nd: 107) in a bunch finish.

    There is no obvious answer to putting a figure on the race with any confidence at this stage. Normal form analysis using previous performances provides a wide variance of figures ranging from 121 at the top end through to 108 at the bottom end so I had a good look at previous runnings of the race for guidance.

    Given the relatively low ratings of the first two home, plus the 112 rated Century Dream finishing less than a length behind in fourth my gut feeling is that this year’s renewal would be at the lower end in comparison with other years.

    In the previous five renewals the lowest winning performance figure was 117 recorded by Declaration of War in 2013, whilst the lowest recorded figures for those colts placed 2nd to 5th during the same period are 115 (2nd), 114 (3rd), 115 (x3 for 4th) and 110 (5th).

    Using these figures as a guide I have settled upon figures of 116-115-114-114-113 for this year’s race, suggesting the performances of Lord Glitters (2nd: 115), Lightning Spear (3rd: 114), Century Dream (4th: 114) and Yoshida (5th: 113) fit relatively neatly with those historical figures. It will now be fascinating to see if the form stands up in the top mile races in the second half of the season.

    If the Queen Anne produced a shock result for the betting public, the St James’s Palace made up for it with favourite Without Parole taking his career record to four wins from four runs with a workmanlike half-length success.

    This was a little easier to work out with both form analysis and recent levels of the race throwing up similar conclusions. I have Without Parole, tackling Group company for the first time, improving 10lb to a new mark of 119, whilst runner-up Gustav Klimt is also credited with a career best at 118. This puts Without Parole’s performance on a par with Barney Roy’s last year and slightly better than Gleneagles figure of 118 in 2015.

    French challenger Wootton was given a fair bit to do from rear and looks to have run a couple of pounds off his very best whilst Kings Shield (pre-race 107, performed to 108) and Gabr (108, performed to 107) give the race a solid look from a form perspective.

    Given his progressive profile I would fully expect Without Parole to improve again on this figure but he will need to if he is to get the better of impressive Coronation Stakes winner Alpha Centauri if ever they meet.

    In breaking the course record for her six lengths success I believe she posted the best Coronation winning performance since my personal records begin in 1999. Her figure of 122+ beats the 121 posted by Indian Ink in 2007 and the 119 recorded by Sky Lantern (2013), Ghanaati (2009), Lush Lashes (2008) and Crimplene in 2000.

    There is a distinct possibility she might be under rated at 122 given the nature of her performance but, with English 1000 Guineas winner Billesdon Brook (4th), O’Brien challenger Clemmie (5th: following up a disappointing effort in the Irish 1000 Guineas) and French challenger Coeur de Beaute (6th: possibly unsuited by quick ground) all failing to show their best, I would prefer to see her confirm the level either against the older fillies (possibly in the Falmouth) or against the colts later in the season before raising her any higher.


    The Coventry conundrum

    Calyx cemented his place as the best around at the moment in winning a memorable Coventry Stakes, writes Graeme Smith.

    The field split into two groups with Calyx racing on the opposite side to the next three finishers. All four had looked high-class prospects before the race so it is encouraging that they pulled well clear of the rest.

    It could easily be that Calyx deserves more credit than the bare winning margin of 3lb suggests having pulverised the group on his side by six and a half lengths. There is also a chance he was better placed close up than Advertise and Sergei Prokofiev, however, given the speed figure was a shade shy of the performance at 107. As such, I have trusted the bare result for now and hope to get a better handle on these horses as the summer rolls on.

    Calyx is the leader of the class at 113. It is no surprise he’s proved himself smart so early in his career as his wide-margin debut success at Newmarket ten days earlier had been most striking in terms of the closing sectional he clocked. 113 puts him around the average level for recent Coventry winners with Advertise (110 but not yet eligible for an official rating), Sergei Prokofiev (109) and Vange (106) all above average for their respective positions.

    The Norfolk attracted ten runners and Shang Shang Shang’s (102) narrow winning performance rates towards the lower end of recent winners even if you factor the fillies’ allowance back in for comparison against winning colts. That puts her on 105 for comparison which is the same figure that Soldier’s Call ran to in winning the Windsor Castle in more decisive fashion.

    With the first eleven finishers in the Queen Mary covered by little more than two and a half lengths, the figures of the principals were always going to be low. Signora Cabello is certainly tough and very likeable but her winning performance of 100 is the lowest I have on record for the Queen Mary. The next lowest since 1990 are the 102 performances from Gilded in 2006 and Langs Lash in 2008. That’s not to say some of those involved won’t do better another day, possibly at 6f+.

    The Albany was almost certainly the better of the fillies’ races. The margins involved meant Main Edition’s 106 performance still rates a little shy of the average but nothing like as below par as the Queen Mary.

    The emphasis looked to be firmly on stamina in the Chesham and race standards pointed to a winning performance of 106 from Arthur Kitt. That figure may well prove fluid, however, with very little 7f form having been available to factor in.

    With Ascot over the start of the nursery season is almost upon us. Entries for the first nursery close this Friday and the full list of two-year-old handicaps marks has now been published in the usual places.

    The Merchant and the Angel

    It’s not often the start of a race grabs as many headlines as the finish, writes Stewart Copeland, but that certainly felt the case in this year’s 6f Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

    Last season’s champion sprinter Harry Angel was sent off favourite to notch his first success at the Berkshire track on his fifth attempt but his race was over before it even started. Having got caught up in the stalls, he lost all chance with a very slow start and that was that. Let’s hope he fully recovers from this unfortunate episode and we get chance to see him again at his brilliant best.

    This year’s race attracted a truly global field – no less than five different countries were represented in the twelve strong field – and it was one of the Irish-trained contingent that prevailed in an exciting finish.

    Formerly trained in Australia, Merchant Navy had advertised his claims with success in the Group 2 Greenland Stakes at the Curragh last month posting a rating of 117. He prevailed by a fast diminishing short head from the French trained City Light – impressive winner of this year’s All Weather Sprint Championship at Lingfield – with Bound For Nowhere flying the flag for America a further three quarters of a length back in third.

    The responsibility for publishing rating on these horses rests with their respective countries rather than the BHA. Therefore in assessing the race I liaised with my Irish counterpart and also sought the views of fellow international colleagues around the world.

    We collectively took the view that Merchant Navy had run to a career best rating of 119, which is bang on the standard we’d expect for the Diamond Jubilee winner. That means City Light, who I had running to 115 at Lingfield, has improved his rating to 118. The third Bound For Nowhere reproduced his pre-race rating of 116 confirming the view he is much improved since we last saw him on these shores running fourth behind Caravaggio in last year’s Commonwealth Cup.

    Aside from Harry Angel, if there was another unlucky horse in the race it was The Tin Man, last year’s defending champion and again the pick of the British runners. He was just looking to improve his position when short of room 2f out, causing him to lose ground and momentum for a few strides. It is to his credit that he ran on strongly for fourth, finishing a neck behind Bound For Nowhere. But for that it is reasonable to suggest that he would have been at least third and may have even pushed the first two close.

    The other Group 1 I dealt with was the fourth running of the 6f Commonwealth Cup. The introduction of this race has been a resounding success and this year’s renewal produced the biggest field to date with twenty two runners.

    The race had a wide open look to it beforehand with the ratings being headed by Sands of Mali at 116, winner of last year’s Gimcrack at York and more recently the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock. He was denied by Eqtidaar and, arguably, by the draw. The field split with the majority coming down the centre and a smaller group coming down the stands’ side. At the two furlong pole it was clear the centre group held sway. Eqtidaar emerged from that pack to prevail and, despite drifting to his left throughout the final furlong, held on by half a length from Sands of Mali.

    Sands of Mali fared best of those in the smaller group and the overriding impression was that he was at a disadvantage being drawn away from the stronger pace in the centre.

    This renewal is some way below the heights achieved by Muhaarar and Caravaggio, 121 and 120 respectively, with Eqtidaar posting a rating of 114, up from his pre-race rating of 107. He is a lightly raced individual in the hands of a great trainer and there is every likelihood of more to come from this progressive individual.

    Proving a point

    The only 5f race for older horses at Royal Ascot was the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes, handled by Chris Nash.

    It was billed as a battle between Battaash and Lay Aurelia. We had been there before as last year’s Nunthorpe at York had an identical build up; and Marsha came and won the race. This time it was Blue Point who took the honours. The field raced in one group, the pace was honest and none of them found any serious trouble in running so it should prove to be reliable enough form. Battaash pinged the stalls and set the pace but had no answers when Blue Point swept by inside the final furlong.

    Blue Point has a decent record at Ascot but was largely untried at the 5f trip. This was his first Group 1 victory and I have rated it at 120 which is, unsurprisingly, a career best. In an historical context over the last ten years this only ranks behind the figure of 122 allotted to Lady Aurelia when she won this so decisively last year. In being beaten 1¾ lengths, Battaash ran a figure of 114 – he arrived rated 123 based on his win in the Abbaye last year. That form has taken several knocks since so I have lowered him to 122.

    That obviously has him higher than Blue Point but my faith in him being the best 5f horse in Europe remains. It is possible he might be at his very best on slightly softer ground. MABS CROSS was a further neck behind Battaash in third and ran a figure of 110 – that is a career best for her and her profile remains progressive. The next meeting for the main protagonists in this race might be at either Goodwood (in the Group 2 King George) or at York (in the Group 1 Nunthorpe) although both Blue Point and Battaash are entered in the July Cup at Newmarket over 6f next month.

    The Gold standard

    The Ascot Gold Cup was a fascinating and exciting race, says Matthew Tester, and there should be more to come from the winner. But there are also doubts about the race.

    Take nothing away from Stradivarius whose bravery in having a shoe ripped off a furlong from home but still out-battling Vazirabad was thrilling. But connections of Vazirabad said that the horse comes with one run and was not up for a fight. It was also his first race ever on faster than Good and the impression has been that they have been choosing their targets to avoid quick ground.

    Torcedor in third was only a head away and was rated 115 before the race, Stradivarius was 118 and Varizabad was 117.

    I have left the first two on their ratings and raised Torcedor a couple to 117. However, Stradivarius was the youngest, the least experienced and the most likely to improve. 118 under these circumstances suggests that there may be more to come and he is clearly the one they all have to beat in the staying races for the rest of the year.

    Wand turns the tables

    Mark Olley says that the pick of the mile and a half performances at Royal Ascot was Magic Wand in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes.

    Magic Wand was a decisive winner of the Cheshire Oaks at Chester in May beating the unlucky-in-running, and subsequent Oaks winner, Forever Together. That race was on Good ground and those positions were then reversed on Soft ground at Epsom.

    On fast ground for the first time at Royal Ascot, Magic Wand was a different proposition. She powered clear for an impressive four length win. She was always well placed under Ryan Moore and came well clear in the final furlong. I called the four length winning margin 7lb and have her running to a figure of 115. As she is trained in Ireland her Official Rating will be published there and will be 114 as they valued the winning distance at 6lb.

    From an historical perspective this is the highest winning performance in the Ribblesdale since Princess Highway (117) in 2012 and the second highest this century.

    Wild Illusion finished in front of Magic Wand in the Oaks. She ran another fine race here but had the positions decisively reversed on this quicker ground. We have Wild Illusion performing to 111 at Epsom and again at Ascot and that is now her new rating – down 2lb from the 113 she achieved when winning in France as a 2yo.

    Sun Maiden won a novice stakes at Salisbury by twelve lengths prior to Ascot. She came from further back in the race than the first two and this was a run full of promise. Her opening handicap rating is 106 and I cannot believe that we have seen the best of her yet.

    The Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday saw a fine win by Crystal Ocean. He was a class above his rivals, especially with Idaho disappointing, and did not have to run to his rating to win.

    I have him performing to 118 and his rating remains unchanged at 122. Red Verdon moves from 109 to 113. Although this figure has a degree of uncertainty to it, he was as high as 114 in 2016 and as this was only his second career start on quick ground so I have credited him with it for now.

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    The Irish handicapper has rated Latrobe 115 for his Irish Derby win, up from 103.
    That the first six horses finished within 5 lengths of each other seems fair enough.
    The ground was so lively that a shock result of sorts was expected a la Zagreb, Grey Swallow, Weavers Hall and the rest.
    Latrobe was Williams' Melbourne Cup horse for this year and his handicap rating makes that race a possible target still.
    Amazing how DeeEx Bee did not act on the going but such is life; his race was over after a furlong or two.
    Saxon Warrior needs to regroup or another painting may find a new home.

    War Front progeny absolutely love fast ground.
    While an awful lot of them need tongue ties the ones that don't can race on well into old age as Red Avenger showed yesterday.

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    There is a distinct possibility she might be under rated at 122 given the nature of her performance but, with English 1000 Guineas winner Billesdon Brook (4th), O’Brien challenger Clemmie (5th: following up a disappointing effort in the Irish 1000 Guineas) and French challenger Coeur de Beaute (6th: possibly unsuited by quick ground) all failing to show their best, I would prefer to see her confirm the level either against the older fillies (possibly in the Falmouth) or against the colts later in the season before raising her any higher.
    I'll be very surprised if these figures aren't seriously upgraded in the coming weeks. He doesn't mention the time of the race which was very fast of its own accord and compared with every other race of the week.

    Using my old standard times she comes out - before any consideration for wfa - 20lbs faster than Eqtidaar, 17lbs faster than Blue Point, 25lbs faster than Without Parole, 9lbs faster than Poet's Word, 13lbs faster than Expert Eye and 20lbs faster than Merchant Navy.

    Using the published RP Standards, the margins over the same hoses in the same order are 25lbs, 17lbs, 26lbs, 13lbs, 25lbs and 20lbs.

    The obvious anomaly there is the standard time for 7f. That's something I'll need to investigate.

    But the idea of so many opponents not running their race behind Alpha Centauri strikes me as laughable. The last time I recall a mistake being so obvious was when Mark Of Esteem got little credit for destroying a decent field for the 1996 Celebration Mile and was allowed to go off at 100/30 in the QEII next time out. It was only after Ascot that the assessors went back and upgraded the Goodwood race.

    If last week's race doesn't leave a mark on Alpha Centauri she will be unbeatable in any company.
    Last edited by Desert Orchid; 3rd July 2018 at 12:57 AM.
    Two's company, three's allowed.

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    July Festival 2018 | Handicappers Blog
    17 Jul 18


    U S Navy flies the flag



    Before the 6f Group 1 Darley July Cup at Newmarket – often the first significant clash of the year between the sprinting generations – the impression so far this season was that the older horses looked to hold the upper hand in the sprint division. However, it was a member of the younger generation dropping back in trip who came to the fore on the July Course, as Stewart Copeland explains.

    That horse was Ballydoyle’s U S Navy Flag, Europe’s leading juvenile last season when completing the Middle Park-Dewhurst double. He’d run with credit over 8f previously this year, including when second in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas, but the decision to drop him back in trip at Newmarket proved a masterstroke and he showed sprinting is truly his game.

    Bouncing out and soon cutting out the pace in the larger group down the centre, U S Navy Flag dictated the tempo throughout under a well-judged ride from Ryan Moore. He never looked in any real danger of being caught, despite a gallant challenge from Brando, who went one better than when third in the race the previous year.

    The responsibility for publishing U S Navy Flag’s new official rating lies with our Irish counterparts. After discussing the race with them we settled on a revised rating of 119, which is pretty much bang on the average for a winner of the July Cup. Though still a shade below U S Navy Flag’s peak juvenile figure of 122, his form is firmly heading back in the right direction now (his rating had actually dipped to 113 prior to the July Cup).

    The aforementioned Brando deserves plenty of credit for another excellent effort, even more so considering he was drawn in the smaller group near the stand rail. He had to edge across the track to lay down a challenge to U S Navy Flag, and that possibly took its toll as he weakened close home to finish a length and three quarters back. We have him running to a figure of 114, a shade below his career peak of 116. On this evidence though he has every chance of reproducing that level when attempting to defend his crown in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville next month.

    Warm favourite for the July Cup was Blue Point, the year’s highest rated sprinter on 120 following his impressive success in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot. He pulled far too hard early on off a relatively modest early gallop at Newmarket – a view backed up by no more than a respectable overall time for the race – and that surely told in the end. His connections cited that he ran too free and a drop back to 5f for the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York probably beckons for him. His rating remains unchanged.

    Star Performer

    Having lit up Royal Ascot with a runaway success in the Coronation Stakes, Alpha Centauri enhanced her standing with another dominant display in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes, writes BHA Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

    Rated 122 after Ascot, Alpha Centauri was the clear standout on form in the Falmouth and she had little trouble completing a Group 1 hat-trick, making just about all and stretching clear from 3f out.

    The Falmouth is tricky race to level with absolute confidence at the moment with the likes of Nyaleti (4th; pre-race 109), Threading (6th; 110) and Opal Tiara (7th; 110) obviously performing below their best, and the places behind Jessica Harrington’s filly were filled by outsider Altyn Orda (2nd; 108) and Clemmie (3rd), the latter having been some way off her 2yo figure of 115 in two previous starts this season.

    Historically the race stacks up from a form perspective, however, and I see no obvious reason at this stage why this year’s renewal should prove an exception. Looking at previous results and the level of performance required to make the frame, there hasn’t been a third place performance in the Falmouth lower than 110 since 2006 and I have taken this fact to provide a short-term guide to last week’s race. As such, I have Alpha Centauri performing to 121+, which is the best Falmouth winning performance since my records began in 1999, beating the brace of 119s recorded by Soviet Song in 2004 and 2005. Altyn Orda improved 4lb to 112 and Clemmie got much closer to her juvenile form with a figure of 110.

    I highlighted the process of looking at historical levels of races when assessing last month’s Queen Anne at Royal Ascot and the result of the Group 2 Summer Mile at Ascot on Saturday hopefully shows that I wasn’t too wide of the mark on that occasion.

    The first four in the Summer Mile had all contested the Queen Anne and it looks as though runner-up Lord Glitters has reproduced his figure of 115, which ties in neatly with his stable companion Suedois’ (short head behind in 3rd) recapturing the pick of his 2017 form. Both were bettered however by Beat The Bank who didn’t get the clearest of passages at the Royal meeting and had to sit and suffer again for a few strides up the straight on Saturday – the gap came however and I have him running to 116+, 2lb below his current mark (and best figure of last season) of 118.

    Pretty Impressive

    July week at Newmarket brought a real shake-up at the top of the juvenile tree, writes Graeme Smith.

    The first of three significant performances came from Advertise, who justified cramped odds in the Arqana July Stakes on the first day of the fixture. In a truly-run race Advertise was produced by Frankie Dettori to account for Konchek and Charming Kid by two lengths, and in the process became the latest horse to endorse the form of the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.

    The Coventry had been a muddling race, with the principals on opposite sides of the track, and under a more efficient ride this time Advertise improved on that performance in winning decisively. His rating rose from 110 to 112 as a result. Incidentally, the speed figure would have supported higher still.

    The balance of subsequent runs from those who took part in the Coventry suggested a collateral rise of 1lb was justified for that race. As such, Coventry winner Calyx has had his rating increased from 113 to 114. It’s worth remembering that Calyx thrashed those that raced on his side of the track by upwards of six and a half lengths, so it could well be that he was disadvantaged to some degree and is value for an even higher figure. Hopefully he’ll prove the point one way or another in the Morny at Deauville next month.

    Both Konchek and Charming Kid looked likely to improve for the step up from 5f pre-race and so it proved, with the pair now rated 106 and 105 respectively having been separated by a neck at the line after the latter had hampered the former.

    There’s always an element of feel when factoring subsequent improvement at a different trip into a prior race, but looking back at the Norfolk Land Force had also endorsed the form when winning a listed race in Ireland. Factoring in that Shang Shang Shang had been rated at the bottom end of Norfolk winners historically, I saw enough reason to increase the level of that race by 1lb – Shang Shang Shang is now judged to have run to 103 and Konchek is rated upsides her on his 6f form when her fillies allowance is factored in, with Charming Kid just behind.

    Day two of the Newmarket fixture saw the best performance by a two-year-old filly in Europe this season, and by some way too. Pretty Pollyanna’s Albany fifth came only a week on from her debut and from a wide draw, and she proved a completely different proposition in the Bet365 Duchess of Cambridge Stakes as she turned the form around with Main Edition and La Pelosa in no uncertain terms, running out a seven-length winner.

    Admittedly the waters were muddied by an ugly incident that cost several their chance, including the Albany 1-2, and that makes assessing the race tricky, but Pretty Pollyanna would have run out an impressive winner regardless.

    Historical standards weren’t much use given the exaggerated distances that trouble in running produced. The speed figure was helpful though – Pretty Pollyanna ran to a figure of 110 on the clock.

    Another line to the performance was that she beat the Albany fourth Angel’s Hideaway by seven lengths, which equates to 18lb at the poundage used. Whilst Angel’s Hideaway caused the interference she wasn’t adversely affected by it, and judging her as having reproduced the same 100 performance as at Ascot suggested a figure of 118 for Pretty Pollyanna. I split the difference between that and the speed figure and went with 114 in the hope that we get a more definitive guide to Pretty Pollyanna next time she runs.

    Incidentally, the best performances in the Duchess of Cambridge (or Cherry Hinton as it was previously known) this century are 119 from Attraction and 115 from Sander Camillo. There’s every chance Pretty Pollyanna’s performance is in the same ballpark as Sander Camillo’s but I’ve tempered things slightly for now given the circumstances that affected several of the opposing fillies.

    The final day of the Moet & Chandon July Festival saw the emergence of another promising talent in Quorto, although in truth his wide-margin win in the Bet365 Superlative wasn’t exactly a surprise given the impression he’d made on his debut three weeks previously.

    Sent off favourite, Quorto came away from a couple who were also having their first start in pattern company, with the pattern-proven Certain Lad much further back in fourth and Blown By Wind clearly not himself further back.

    It’s hard to know exactly what Quorto beat on the day but historical standards point towards 114 and that is where I have pitched him for now. His speed figure also supports that sort of level and on time alone the form could be higher still (as high as 118).

    Quorto is by Dubawi out of a mare who was placed in both the Oaks and Irish Oaks. It’s not hard to see him making into a genuine Group 1 horse himself, and it sounds as though the National Stakes at the Curragh could be his first top-level test.

    Wells Farhh Go delivers


    Three of the last four Bahrain Trophy winners have gone on to contest the St Leger and the latest victor, Wells Farhh Go, is expected to follow the same route. Matthew Tester looks at how those other winners have done and whether this year’s winner has what it takes to make in impact at Doncaster.

    Wells Farhh Go had raced keenly on his first two starts this year so at Newmarket connections decided to let him bowl along. He seemed relaxed in front and kept pulling out more as the challengers lined up, beating Loxley by two lengths. That earned him a rating of 112, which is a couple of pounds ahead of the best that Raheen House, Housesofparliament or Hartnell earned in the Bahrain Trophy before running in the St Leger. At Doncaster Housesofparliament was third, beaten under a length, though the other two each finished only seventh in their year.

    The bad news for Wells Farhh Go is that the Leger has not favoured front runners in recent years, though it remains to be seen whether Wells Farhh Go has to be ridden that way to produce his best. His next run in the Great Voltigeur at York may tell us more on that score.

    117 is a typical rating for winning a St Leger in recent years. Wells Farhh Go’s 112 is a career high and there may be more to come. His main rivals in the betting at present are Kew Gardens and Latrobe, who are both rated 115 on our figures. Both of those are very progressive so this may prove an above-average renewal.

    Do not rule out Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee either. His 118 performance at Epsom is eight pounds higher than he has been given for any of his other runs. However, everything about the Leger could be set up for him to produce a resurgent performance.

    In short, there will have to be another step up from Wells Farhh Go if he is to cope with those three colts.

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    Qatar Goodwood Festival Handicappers Blog


    Is Battaash the best sprinter in the world?

    The best performance of the Glorious Goodwood week was put up by Battaash in the Group 2 Qatar King George Stakes run over 5f on Friday says Chris Nash.

    He went into the race rated 122 and, even though he was carrying a 3lb penalty, he had 7lbs and upwards in hand of his rivals on the official figures. However, he beat them in dazzling fashion and did so with plenty more than those 7lbs in hand. He tanked along throughout, led around 2f out and had a gap on the field 1f out which he maintained to the line where he was 4 lengths clear of Take Cover with Muthmir a further ½ length back in 3rd.

    Take Cover arrived here rated 109 and has a tremendous record in this race having finished 4-1-2-1 in the previous four renewals running to figures of 111-112-110-113 and he gives this form some basis. It is similar with Muthmir who arrived rated 108 and has been running consistently, recently recording figures of 107-108-106 in his previous three starts. I think this form has a solid look to it.

    In winning by a comfortable 4 lengths carrying 3lbs more than all his rivals I have Battaash running to a figure of 127 which rates a career best and has him as the leading sprinter in the world this year. His next outing is likely to be at York later this month in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes. I am hoping that he can win the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint, something which no other British-trained horse has ever achieved.

    The highest profile 2yo race over 5f during the week was the Group 3 Markel Insurance Molecomb Stakes run on Wednesday. This also saw a commanding winner with Rumble Inthejungle travelling best throughout the race and coming home 2½ lengths clear of his rivals. Having had only two previous runs, he did not have an official rating but he had already run a figure of 100 when finishing 4th in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. This performance was another step up and I have given him a figure of 109 for this win.

    Life Of Riley finished second – he had placed in a Listed race on his previous run and arrived here rated 95. This was an improved effort and his mark will rise to 101. The form is given a solid look by the next two home as both Soldier’s Call (3rd) and Vintage Brut (4th) had previously won Listed races. Rumble Inthejungle has improved with every start so there is presumably still some potential for further improvement. He rates an exciting sprinting prospect.

    The £1m Stradivarius?

    The Qatar Goodwood Cup saw a rematch of Stradivarius and Torcedor between whom there was only ¾ of a length in the Ascot Gold Cup, writes Matthew Tester.

    This time there was only half a length between them with Stradivarius again the winner. But it is the third meeting that has everyone excited.

    If Stradivarius can win the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York later in the month then he will have earned a £1,000,000 bonus to go along with almost £700,000 in prize money from the three races. But there is a catch.

    This time Stradivarius will have to carry three pounds more than Torcedor. The other two races are Group 1s, the Lonsdale Cup is a Group 2 race and he will have a penalty. Normal handicapping practice says that Torcedor will turn the tables. Three pounds would normally slow a horse down by three lengths in those long distance races. But I am not so sure in this case it will work out that way.

    There is a real possibility that Stradivarius was only doing enough to win, that he would have pulled out extra had it been needed. I think that there is more to come. There will need to be as it will take a career best performance to win the million. My head says Torcedor, my heart says Stradivarius. The Lonsdale Cup is on August 24th and is not to be missed.

    Lightning strikes once

    Amongst the eight races I had to assess at Goodwood last week, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, it was the success of Lightning Spear in the Qatar Sussex Stakes that gave me the greatest pleasure.

    Despite several near misses in the top mile races in recent years, the seven year old did not have a Group 1 win on his CV until last Wednesday. He achieved it on his sixteenth run in the Group 1 company.

    The race did provide some food for thought from a handicapping perspective Lightning Spear has never run higher than 120 in twenty three previous starts. That was achieved when third behind Minding and Ribchester in the 2016 QE II at Ascot. In his ten subsequent starts his record is littered with performances ranging between 105 and 119 and with just one success – the 2017 Celebration Mile, also at Goodwood. It is entirely possible however, that he bettered that figure here, beating the likes of Expert Eye (2nd: pre-race 119), Gustav Klimt (4th: 118), Beat The Bank (5th: 118) and Without Parole (7th: 119) but, at this stage, I have my doubts.

    I think it fair to say that in winning his first Group 1 he has equalled anything he has done previously but find it a little hard to believe, given his previous history, that he is suddenly an improved horse. I may be wrong but I would like to see him back it up with a similar performance before handing out that accolade.

    As such, I have him running to 120 and amended his published mark in line with that. Expert Eye (2nd) was probably a little keen for his own good and I have him performing a couple of pounds of his current mark of 119 (remains unchanged). Third-placed Lord Glitters is promoted 1lb to the 116.

    Disappointment of the race was Without Parole but there were legitimate excuses for his performance as he was reported as being unsuited by having to make his own running. That said the form of the St James’s Palace he won at Royal Ascot is looking shaky as the first six home now failing to reproduce their supposed performances there in a total of seven subsequent starts. For this reason I have pulled the race down a pound and Without Parole goes from 119 to 118 based on the Royal Ascot performance rather than what he did or didn’t achieve last week.

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    York Ebor Festival | Handicappers Blog
    28 Aug 18

    Lion roars loudest
    Head of handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill assesses Roaring Lion’s success in the Juddmonte International, the highest-rated performance of the Ebor meeting…

    The Juddmonte proved a rather messy race with Christophe Soumillon’s decision to come to the stands rail on pacesetter Thunder Snow doing favourite Poet’s Word few favours, but let’s take nothing away from an impressive performance by Roaring Lion, whose winning margin of three and a quarter lengths was the longest in the race since Frankel’s seven-length demolition of the field in 2012.

    In determining the level of the race, I not only took into account the ratings and the current form of the horses concerned but also had a look at the race from an historical perspective – and the most striking fact that came to light is that no horse has run above 115 in finishing fifth since the turn of the century. Using that figure as a guide to what fifth-placed Benbatl (pre-race 123) achieved, this leads to Roaring Lion running to 127 which is an improvement of 5 lb on his previous mark of 122 and is the best winning performance in the race since the aforementioned Frankel’s 140 in 2012. This level has runner-up Poet’s Word running 10 lb below the 130 he achieved in winning the King George last month – a little disappointing but hardly surprising in light of the way things panned out for him, and 120 is bang on the average figure for a runner-up in this race in recent times.

    I took some stick on Twitter immediately after the race for not giving third-placed Thundering Blue (pre-race 109) the credit he deserved for his career best effort – that was never my intention and I still defy anyone to say he was underrated on what he had achieved previously. This was on a completely different level, however, and I have raised him 10 lb to the figure of 119 that I have him performing to on the day – a career best by some margin in my book and congratulations to connections for their brave (and expensive) decision to supplement the five-year-old.

    St Leger clues

    There was plenty of top-class action over 12f at York last week, with the Group 2 Sky Bet Great Voltigeur, the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks and the Listed Sir Henry Cecil Galtres Stakes all producing performances that merit comment, as Mark Olley outlines…

    I will start with Wednesday’s Great Voltigeur which was won in game style by Old Persian. In a truly-run race, Old Persian was always well placed and he battled on well to just hold off shorter-priced stablemate Cross Counter, to whom he was conceding 3 lb. Old Persian’s new rating of 117 is 5 lb lower than what last year’s winner Cracksman (122) achieved in the race, but he was an above-average winner and 117 is around par for a Great Voltigeur winner in recent times (same figure as 2016 winner Idaho).

    Ballydoyle’s Kew Gardens was the only horse involved in the finish to make any headway from the rear of the field, and his effort was all the more meritorious as he was carrying a 5-lb penalty for his Group 1 win. He was beaten just over one and a half lengths, which equates to 3 lb at the poundage used (rounded up), and I have him running to a figure of 116. However, the ultimate decision for his rating belongs to Senior Irish handicapper Garry O’Gorman.

    Both Old Persian and Kew Gardens head to the St Leger and Old Persian’s 117 rating is the same as the five-year average rating for the winner of the Doncaster Classic.

    Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks was run in a very different style to the Voltigeur – they went steady and it turned into a speed burn-up in the straight. Sea Of Class sat last under a confident ride and she unleashed a devastating turn of foot to decisively beat Coronet, who finished runner-up in the race for the second year running (beaten by Enable (123) last year).

    I have called the two and a quarter length winning margin 5 lb and Sea Of Class moves up 3 lb to a new rating of 118, a figure which fits nicely with historical race standards for the Yorkshire Oaks. William Haggas’ filly is clearly anything but standard, and as an unexposed filly with a progressive profile, I doubt we have seen the best of her yet.


    The listed Galtres Stakes was run in similar fashion to the Yorkshire Oaks and saw another very promising filly in Lah Ti Dar, who destroyed inferior rivals in impressive fashion in running out a ten-length winner. A time comparison between the two races suggests a figure of 115 for Lah Ti Dar and that is where I have pitched the level of the race. The highest-rated Galtres winner this century, she’s clearly pattern class and now has the St Leger on her agenda. The 3 lb fillies’ allowance that she receives at Doncaster means her rating equates to that of a 118 rated colt, and that figure would have been good enough to win four of the last five St Legers.

    Nunthorpe head-scratcher

    With headline act Battaash underwhelming in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes for the second year running and the race going to a 40/1 outsider, rating the latest renewal wasn’t straightforward, as 5f handicapper Chris Nash explains…

    The Nunthorpe looked an ideal opportunity for Battaash to build on the deep impression he created at Goodwood last time but he managed only fourth, and with no obvious excuses this time around (boiled over in the preliminaries when also finishing fourth last year). There was, however, a really exciting finish ahead of him fought out by Alpha Delphini and Mabs Cross. The pair crossed the line separated by just a nose, with the verdict going to the former in the ensuing photograph.

    There is no doubt that this is a career-best effort for Alpha Delphini, but knowing what he actually achieved is difficult given he had a previous best figure of just 110 and had already been beaten by several of his Nunthorpe rivals previously this year. In the end I decided to rate him 116, which is equal to the lowest-rated winners of the race this century – Borderlescott in 2009, Reverence in 2006 and Bahamian Pirate in 2004.

    That interpretation has Mabs Cross running to a figure of 112 (received a 3 lb fillies’ allowance from the winner), which represents a career best for her too.

    Blue Point ran to a figure of 108 in finishing third, which is way below the 120 he recorded when winning the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot in June, and Battaash managed a figure of just 107. I had him at 127 after his King George Stakes win but that form did not stand up in the Nunthorpe so I have trimmed him back to 126.

    The final Group 1 5f race of the European season is the Abbaye at the Arc meeting and I imagine that most of the main protagonists will be in action again there.

    Good week for Gosden stayers

    Matthew Tester looks at what was a highly profitable last two days of the meeting for the John Gosden yard who completed a big-race double in the stayers division…

    First up was Stradivarius who landed the inaugural Stayers’ Million bonus when winning the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup. Giving weight to the whole field under a Group-1 penalty, he actually improved his superiority over the horses he had beaten in the Goodwood Cup – Idaho, Desert Skyline and St Michel – and his rating goes up from 118 to 120.

    120 is the highest winning figure in the Lonsdale since 2003 when the previous year’s St Leger winner, Bollin Eric, was victorious. Stradivarius had already won the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup this year, and with the million-pound bonus, his earnings for the season come to almost £1.8m.

    The runner-up, Count Octave, had previously rated 111 when five lengths behind Stradivarius in last year’s St Leger. He beat the rest by upwards of four and a half lengths and has been awarded a career-best figure of 115.

    Prize money for the Sky Bet Ebor has risen to £500,000 this year and will go to £1,000,000 next year. The quality of horses it attracted meant that anything rated lower than 102 did not even get a run in the race. That level has been steadily rising and is unlikely to come down, though from next year the number of runners will rise from twenty to twenty-two following York’s decision to commission a special set of starting stalls for that number.

    The 2018 favourite was Stratum who just sneaked in off bottom weight. He was short of room and then involved in some bumping before the furlong pole and didn’t get a chance to show what he could so. Instead it was Gosden first and second with Muntahaa clearly best and Weekender running a career-high performance in chasing him home. The winner’s rating goes from 109 to 115 and Weekender’s from 112 to 114.

    Pretty Darn Good

    York’s Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival might have been the flagship event of the last seven days but it was Deauville that staged the most important juvenile contest and it saw a couple of British-trained fillies raise the bar for the year, writes Graeme Smith

    I said at the time that Pretty Pollyanna’s Duchess of Cambridge success could easily be worth more than 115 and she produced a 117 performance to beat Signora Cabello (115) in the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny. The pair drew four lengths clear of True Mason with further daylight behind him.

    Historical standards suggest the figure could be higher still but one or two of those further back clearly failed to fire so I exercised an element of caution. Nevertheless, this substantiates the impression Pretty Pollyanna made at Newmarket – form that had already been endorsed when Angel’s Hideaway won the Princess Margaret – and there’s clearly the potential for her to do better still. For context, she’s already rated superior to last year’s Champion two-year-old filly, Clemmie, who finished the year rated 115.

    When rating the Morny I factored in Signora Cabello’s standing against previous winners, and at 115 with her fillies allowance her performance would have won her 3 of the last 6 renewals. She’d been building up a strong CV with successes in the Queen Mary and Robert Papin but had only been doing enough to win narrowly, and a duel with Pretty Pollyanna showed she’s a deal smarter than she’d previously revealed.

    The best performance in the juvenile division at York came from Emaraaty Ana in the Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Gimcrack Stakes. He elevated himself to a position just behind the leading colts so far with a performance of 112.

    The average figure for a Gimcrack winner from the previous 5 years is 114 but that slightly lower performance from Emaraaty Ana is typical of the two-year-old colts overall this summer, with Quorto and Calyx leading the way at only 114. There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge yet of course and Emaraaty Ana’s pedigree suggests stiffer tests of stamina may help him advance further.

    The Ebor meeting’s two-year-old races were kicked off, as ever, by the Group 3 Tattersalls Acomb Stakes. It’s thirteen years since Palace Episode won the Acomb en route to Group 1 success but Phoenix of Spain produced a better performance than the majority of winners in the interim in recording a figure of 109 for his length and a half defeat of Watan.

    The first two were amongst those who looked to have the most potential beforehand, and having drawn clear of a reasonably strung-out field headed by the form pick Persian Moon, it could easily be onwards and upwards for both.

    The Sky Bet Lowther didn’t look a vintage renewal beforehand and with Fairyland’s main rival, Angel’s Hideaway, running notably flat I pitched it at a slightly substandard level.

    There’s a lot to like about Fairyland, of course. She beat a couple of colts who’ve gone on to Group 2 success in listed company in the spring and then won the race in her group in the Albany. It’s also easy to warm to runner-up The Mackem Bullet, who continues to outrun her purchase price of £9,000 by some way and looked to be getting the better of this at one stage. Figures of 107 and 106 respectively do leave them with plenty of ground to make up on the leading sprint fillies at this stage, however.

    Red Balloons had looked exciting prior to disappointing in the Super Sprint and she got herself firmly back on track when running away with the very valuable Goffs UK Premier Yearling Auction Stakes. She now figures at 97 and that should see her competitive in minor pattern company this autumn.

    The Super Sprint winner, Ginger Nut, further bolstered the coffers when adding the most valuable nursery of the year to her haul when getting the best of a tight three-way finish to the closing race on Wednesday’s card. Considering it took her five runs to get off the mark her improvement in the last month or so has been remarkable. Now rated 93, she’ll presumably be heading for listed or minor pattern company now.

    Over at Goodwood, the Group 3 Ladbrokes Prestige Stakes resulted in a bunched finish where all eight runners were covered by less than four lengths. It may be that Antonia de Vega did well to put a length and a quarter between herself and the field, particularly as she was outpaced briefly when the tempo picked up. She emerges from just the second start of her career rated 100.


    For those who like to keep an eye out for future stars in novice races, Newmarket’s Friday card is often worth closer inspection. The performance of Sir Michel Stoute’s Sangarius is well worth taking the time to do an internet search. Both he and the runner-up, Bangkok, have a lot to recommend them on paper and the pair charged upwards of six lengths clear of their eleven rivals. Sangarius in particular could well be fast-tracked to better things.

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    Thanks for putting these up, Ben, it's appreciated.

    Reading the last two posts makes me wonder, though, whether the handicappers are on a mission to big up the performances of these horses as much as possible? Has this year's flat season really been that good?

    Battash is rated the best sprinter in the world this year, then flops at York.
    Poet's Word is given an exalted 130 after Ascot but gets soundly beaten next time out (I know there were tactical issues, but a champion-level horse should have been better able to cope).
    The horse which beats him at York, Roaring Lion, then gets the highest rating for a winner of the Juddmonte since Frankel.
    Great Voltigeur winner Old Persian gets a rating already good enough to match an average winner of the St Leger.
    Lah Ti Dar becomes the highest rated winner of the Galtres Stakes this century.
    Stradivarius's rating goes up after York, even in the absence of his main opponent this season and the horses behind him get lifetime bests.
    The Lowther was one of just a few races which are rated below their normal level.

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