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Thread: The thoughts of the handicappers.

  1. #461
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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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  3. #462
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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.
    Two's company, three's allowed.

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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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