Handicappers' blog

    The head handicappers from the British Horseracing Authority analyse the action from British Champions Day, including the huge news of why they have rated Cracksman as the best horse in Europe - ahead of Enable - on the back of his Champion Stakes romp.
  • Tuesday 24 October 2017
  • Blog

CRACKSMAN THE BEST HORSE IN EUROPE

The concept of Champions Day was exactly that, an opportunity for the best in the business to showcase their abilities. The latest edition, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, delivered with a top quality performance from Cracksman in taking apart his nine opponents in the Qipco Champion Stakes.

With due respect to his stable companion Enable, and notwithstanding the decisions of the World’s Best Racehorse Ranking Committee which will meet in Hong Kong in December, it is my belief that Cracksman put up the best performance we have seen in Europe this year.

Visually his seven lengths success was extremely impressive. The fact that he ran the fastest final furlong of the afternoon confirms the merit of the performance and I have raised his mark 8lb from 122 to 130.

Runner-up Poet’s Word previous performance in Ireland looks a solid 119 but I have him running 2lb below that at 117 due to the proximity of French challenger Recoletos (115) in fourth. The latter horse was slightly hampered close home so I have him running 114+.

Third placed Highland Reel(pre-race 123) is adjudged to have run 7lb off that level at 116 which is unsurprising given that the testing ground would have been far from ideal for him. I am sure that he will again be seen to better effect once he sets off on his travels.

For those that believe this to be a slight on Enable (currently 128) - I believe it is worth pointing out that these figures are a measure of performance rather than a measure of the inherent ability of the horse. The truth is that nobody knows how good Enable is; she just keeps winning. By the same token we don’t know the limits of Cracksman’s ability at the present time.

Cracksman on route to destroying the Champion Stakes field

It is my opinion that the latter’s performance on Saturday was better than her efforts in winning both the King George and the Arc. Do bear in mind, though, that she received the 3lb allowance for fillies in both those races as she would if taking on Cracksman.

At present, it looks as though both will stay in training next year and that should provide the exciting opportunity for us to find out more about both.

A PERSUASIVE HEADACHE AFTER QEII VICTORY

I tweeted from Ascot on Saturday that the result of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was “a bit of a head scratcher” with Persuasive (pre-race 113) beating the top miling colts in Europe in the shape of Ribchester (125) and Churchill (123); and so, it proved.

My view is that the field went off too hard too early as Toscanini attempted to set the race up for Ribchester. In fact, it was noticeable that Dettori took a pull after about a furlong and eased Persuasive back into midfield having originally been upsides Richard Fahey’s colt – and that was a main contributory factor to the result.

In terms of finding a level for the race the problem and the solution lies with the fourth horse home, Nathra. She creates the problem that in being rated 111 pre-race and not having won in nine races since landing the Nell Gwyn in April of last year. This negates the possibility of getting Persuasive to a 120+ figure you would normally expect from a QEII winner and one that could have been derived from pitching her in comparison to Ribchester and Churchill.

Conversely, Nathra helps provide the solution in that, given her career performances, I know pretty much what she is capable of. Is she a 115 horse and as good as Roly Poly who beat both her and Persuasive in the Sun Chariot and is a three time Group 1 winner this season? No she isn’t.

Aclaim beat her in the Park Stakes at Doncaster last month giving her the 3lb fillies’ allowance, then went on to win the Group 1 Foret in France and is currently rated 116. Should I be taking the view that having finished fourth on Saturday I should be giving her a rating which suggests she would beat Aclaim in receipt of the same allowance? In my view no.

That said, I suspect this is a career best for Nathra and, given that she was up a furlong in trip and on softer ground than at Doncaster, I have raised her 2lb to 113. That leaves her 3lb sex allowance as the difference between her and Aclaim at 116.

Interestingly from a historical point of view, Nathra was beaten four and a half lengths (9lb) by Minding in the 2015 Fillies Mile and the O’Brien filly was credited with a mark of 122 in the 2016 World’s Best Racehorse Ranking Committee ratings after her success in last year’s QEII – so 122 minus 9lb = 113.

Given that Persuasive was eased close home and value for at least a length and a half success, I have her running to 118. A filly hadn’t won the QE II since Milligram in 1987 before Minding’s success last year and now we have had two on the trot. Considering everything that Minding achieved last year, a mark for Persuasive 4lb below Minding sits comfortably with me.

A VINATGE YEAR FOR SPRINTERS

It’s been a vintage year on the European sprinting scene, writes Stewart Copeland, and this year’s 6f Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint was eagerly anticipated with Harry Angel looking to consolidate his position at the top of the sprinting tree.

However, it was far from a one-horse affair with the race attracting fellow Group 1 winners in Quiet Reflection, Caravaggio, Brando and last year’s winner The Tin Man, which amply illustrates the strength in depth to the race.

None of them were to prevail though with that honour falling to the Dean Ivory-trained Librisa Breeze. He has threatened more than once to deliver a performance out of the top drawer including when unlucky in running behind The Tin Man in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot.

The race itself was a fascinating affair as - after the field sorted themselves out early on - the gallop was strong in the conditions and the sectionals show the race became more a test of stamina than speed at the trip.

That scenario played perfectly into the hands of Librisa Breeze, sensibly ridden off the pace before coming with a strong sustained challenge from over a furlong out to collar Tasleet close home and triumphing by a length and a quarter.

In doing so, Librisa Breeze returned a career best performance of 119 having gone in to the race rated 112. As for Tasleet, he’s been unfortunate to find one too good in three Group 1 races this year, but ran right up to his best of 116.

Librisa Breeze thrived in the Champions Day conditions

A further three quarters of a length back was Caravaggio who stayed on well to finish a creditable third, returning a rating of 114. That’s in keeping with the level of form he’s largely shown since his win in the Commonwealth Cup which remains the highlight of his season.

As for Harry Angel, it just wasn’t to be and the race did not pan out in a way for him to show his best. After rearing at the stalls and missing a beat at the start, he soon recovered; but he raced plenty keen enough near the strong pace and in the tiring conditions.

His trademark surge was still there over two furlongs out but his stamina began to wane inside the last and his earlier exertions took their toll. Blessed with so much natural speed, these circumstances didn’t play to his strengths.

Given the excellent news that he stays in training, hopefully there will be plenty more to look forward to with him.

In rounding up the overall sprint scene, Harry Angel’s defeat on Saturday doesn’t detract from what he achieved at Haydock and he remains at 125.

Heading the ratings at the minimum trip is Battaash, the scintillating winner of the Abbaye at Longchamp, at 123. With both remaining in training, the possibility of these two clashing is a mouth-watering prospect for 2018.

ORDER OF ST GEORGE GETS UP LATE FOR LONG DISTANCE SUCCESS

The Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup is the final Group staying race of the season in the UK and, with the exception of Vazirabad, pretty much all the big names turned up, writes Mark Olley.

The very testing ground conditions robbed us of a repeat of the Ascot Gold Cup’s thrilling finish between Big Orange and Order Of St George as the former prefers faster ground. However, we still got a cracking finish and this time Order Of St George prevailed.

Order Of St George was an odds-on disappointment in this race last year when it came just thirteen days after his excellent third in the Arc. This time round he was an equally fine fourth in the Arc but had an extra week to recover and that seemed to do the trick.

Aidan O’Brien’s top-class stayer did not need to be at his best to win (I have him running to 116 and his domestic rating in Ireland is currently 123), but he needed to be at his most tenacious.

Torcedor must be thoroughly sick of the sight of Order Of St George. He finished nine lengths behind him when fifth in the Ascot Gold Cup and again nine lengths behind him when runner-up in the Irish St Leger.

Twice beaten but certainly not bowed, he looked all over the winner entering the final furlong but the strong pace and thorough stamina test just did for him in the end and he had to settle for a gallant second.

This was a career best run and his new rating of 115 (confirmed with Irish handicapper Garry O’Gorman) is just above standard which seems fair as this was the strongest renewal of this race for several years.

Three year old Stradivarius did plenty of late running to finish third, beaten a length. Pre-race reports suggested he was a doubtful runner due to the soft ground but he handled it well enough. When he won the Group 1 Qatar Goodwood Cup beating Big Orange in August as a three-year-old he was receiving a 13lb weight-for-age allowance.

Here, that allowance had dropped to 8lb (it drops every fortnight throughout the season); so, he in effect needed to improve 5lb to stay the same horse. He didn’t quite manage it, but remains a high-class young stayer with a bright future.

HYDRANGEA BLOOMS IN FILLIES AND MARES

The Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes looked a strong renewal beforehand and it didn’t disappoint in event, writes Adam Barnes.

Market leader Bateelloves soft ground and was guaranteed to stay the testing twelve furlongs at Ascot. She also arrived on the back of a career-best effort having landed the Group 1 Prix Vermeille last month. So, when she loomed up alongside the up-in-trip Hydrangea early in the straight, I’m sure many would have expected Bateel’s stamina to prove decisive.

However, not only did Aidan O’Brien’s filly stay this new trip but she positively relished it, pulling out extra to fend off Bateel and win going away at the line. At the end of a long season, adding this success to her other Group 1 victory - over a mile on good ground – was very much evidence of her talent, versatility and toughness.

I’ve assessed Hydrangea as running to 119 here, an improvement of 5lb on her pre-race rating. This is also the view that has been taken by the Irish Handicapper. There was scope to go higher given that Bateel came into the race rated 119 and it wouldn’t have been problematic to credit the keeping-on Coronet with some improvement on her rating of 113 for pulling five lengths clear of the remainder.

However, there were also a few factors that convinced me to ‘damp down’ the level slightly. These include the failure of the keen Journey to do herself justice on the day, the unspectacular time (even accounting for the ordinary pace), as well as historical standards pointing more towards a level of around 117-118.

This win by Hydrangea was also notable for providing her trainer Aidan O’Brien with a remarkable 25th Group/Grade 1 win this year, drawing him level with the world record of the late Bobby Frankel.

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