Handicappers' Blog (14 May)

    The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action including the QIPCO 1000 Guineas meeting while also assessing races from Chester's May meeting and the Swinton Hurdle.
COMING INTO BLOOM

The second half of QIPCO Guineas weekend led almost seamlessly into Chester's glamourous May meeting, and following on from Legatissimo's taking Classic triumph there were a couple of stayers who also announced themselves in the big time with the possibility of more to come. While we're looking to the future, the valuable Swinton Hurdle also went the way of a lightly-raced and progressive sort, and here's what we made of it all…

LEGATISSIMO HITS THE RIGHT NOTE

Whilst the QIPCO 2000 Guineas from the day before was a relatively simple race on which to place a level (within a pound or so) the QIPCO 1000 Guineas last Sunday provided something of a head scratcher and, even after a week to reflect on the result, I cannot be confident the level I've gone for will prove to be the final answer, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

First port of call when assessing any race is looking for the horses which provide the most reliable guide to the level, which horses "fit in" best with each other. In the colts' race Territories (second; pre-race 114), Ivawood (third: 117), Celestial Path (fifth: 110), Home of the Brave (sixth: 106) and Moheet (eighth: 103) all ran to within a maximum of +/- 3lb of their pre-race marks, so it required a minimal amount of thought and tweaking to come up with a figure of 122 for the winner Gleneagles.

Using similar handicapping processes for the fillies' races presents problems in terms of a realistic level with the first two coming four and a half lengths clear of the rest of the field. Using runner-up Lucida as a benchmark on her pre-race mark of 111 results in a winning performance of 113 for Legatissimo, which given the quality of fillies in the next five places looks on the low side to me - there have been only three winning figures lower than that in the last 10 years.

Whilst she ran a cracking race in finishing third, surely the evidence from this race and the Fred Darling suggests Tiggy Wiggy will be seen to better effect back at 6f so we have to go hunting through the fourth (Malabar - 109) and fifth (Fadhayyil - 108) for more clues. With half a length between them they seem to fit perfectly in relation to each other, but using them would result in Legatissimo having run 122 and Lucida 120 - the best two performances in the race since the turn of the century. Again possible, but surely unlikely!!

In such circumstances, a historical review of past performances in the race can prove useful and provide a peg, even if it's only a short term fix until more evidence becomes available. Since the turn of the century the best two performances in finishing runner-up in the 1000 Guineas have been the 114s posted by Six Perfections (2003) and Sundrop (2004). I wouldn't want to place Lucida's effort above those two so for the time being I have called her their equal. This equates to a winning figure of 116 for Legatissimo, which places her behind Finsceal Beo (119 in 2007) and Russian Rhythm (117 in 2003) - it also makes her the equal of Homecoming Queen's extraordinary effort in 2012; that sits comfortably with me for the time being.

It is of course early days and with the Irish 1000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot both looming in the next six weeks more clues will become available by which to measure the true worth of Sunday's contest - the rubber and the calculator are ready and waiting….!

PARIS RELISHES LONGER TRIP

The Betway Chester Cup Handicap posed its usual conundrum with a big field winding its way round Chester's tight turns, writes Mark Olley.

Buthelezi took them along at a steady early pace, which made it very hard for the "hold-up" horses to work their way into things and it was an advantage to race handily. John Reel, who had worked his way into a prominent position despite his wide draw, took it up with just under a mile to run and really committed for home with four furlongs to go.

Whilst no Irish horse has won the Chester Cup since 1964 the raiding party looked like having the forecast when Zafayan and Quick Jack swept past entering the final furlong but Trip To Paris soon ended that dream as he surged into the lead in the final few strides and won going away.

Trip To Paris had found himself in a pocket on the inside when Quick Jack and Zafayan went for home and got first run on him, but he managed to extricate himself and showed a fine turn of foot to sweep into the lead. The winning margin was three-quarters of a length, but he was value for much more than that and I have him 4lb superior to runner-up Quick Jack.

Trip To Paris's 95 rating included a 3lb penalty for winning a Ripon handicap a couple of weeks previously. He was moved to 99 for that win so was 4lb well-in here. He now moves up a further 4lb to a new figure of 103 and is an exciting young stayer who should figure strongly in races like the Northumberland Plate before potentially stepping up to graded company.

Quick Jack's CV becomes more impressive by the day. He has now finished placed in the Cesarewitch, County Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Chester Cup on his last three starts.

The Group 3 Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes was run in testing conditions on Friday and conversely to the Chester Cup the pace was strong. Big Orange and Fattsota duelled for the lead and almost certainly ruined their chances by doing so.

Tac de Boistron (117) was the class act in the field and had to concede a 7lb penalty for his Group 1 win at Longchamp last season. Marco Botti's gelding loves the mud and when he cruised into the lead with two furlongs to run I thought he had the race sewn up. However, he got a bit weary and couldn't repel the late challenge of Clever Cookie.

Peter Niven's seven-year-old was having only his seventh Flat run and is clearly still progressing. He moves up 5lb (from 106 to 111) for this win and reportedly has the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day as his long term target where the ground is more likely to have cut than for the Summer Cup races.

THE ONSET OF WAR

Scottish Champion Hurdle victor Cheltenian made a bold bid to follow up in the new season's first big handicap, the Grade 3 Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle, but it was his stable companion War Sound who gave Ciaran Gethings a big winner on his first day as a professional, writes David Dickinson.

Fergall and Arzal helped force a decent pace but the suspicion is that they went a little too hard in the back straight as both were fading by the final flight. This resulted in a rapidly changing picture in the home straight, with the last two winners of the race Barizan and Ballyglasheen both finishing to good effect to make the frame again.

The one constant in the straight was the winner who always seemed to hold the aces. The strong pace here seemed to suit the inexperienced War Sound, who has proved more than tricky to get settled on occasions but had few problems on that score this time. This fact was seemingly anticipated by punters, as late supported saw him sent off the clear 6/1 favourite.

He looks the sort who will have some good days ahead of him, most probably over fences, and his new rating of 148 may be just the start of a career rather than the peak of it.

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