Handicappers' blog

    The Head Handicappers at the BHA analyse the key performances over the four days of the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York.
  • Wednesday 29 August 2018
  • Blog

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 VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot 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.

Roaring Lion
Roaring Lion's win was the highest-rated performance at York.

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’s 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 Arc on her agenda. Connections did moot the St Leger after York and the 3 lb fillies’ allowance that she would receive 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. 

Nunthorpe Stakes
Alpha Delphini just denied Mabs Cross in the Nunthorpe.

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 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 at Newbury 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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