Handicappers' Blog (28 July)

    The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action including the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot where Postponed got the better of Eagle Top in a pulsating finish.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes undoubtedly took on a different complexion when the Derby winner was pulled out on the morning of the race due to softening ground, but a driving finish made for an incredible spectacle, with the added spice of the protagonists’ previous from the Royal meeting.

CUMANI ACE FIRST PAST THE POST

The highlight of last week’s racing was the Group 1 Qipco King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, writes Mark Olley.

All the talk pre-race was around the participation or not of Derby and Eclipse winner Golden Horn and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little gutted, albeit far from surprised, when the announcement finally came that he would not run.

However, any anticlimactic thoughts were swiftly put to one side by the race itself as POSTPONED and Eagle Top fought out a thriller.

Romsdal set a really strong pace on ground that as it turned out was probably no slower than good/soft (based on times).

Andrea Atzeni was poised to take over on Postponed, duly did so two furlongs out and quickly committed for home. Eagle Top made up a lot of ground, forced his head in front close home, but was just beaten by the narrowest margins.

Maybe the amount of ground that Eagle Top had to make up left him vulnerable to being repassed by Postponed, but the margins were so small it is hard to be critical.

The final time was just over five seconds faster than the concluding handicap, run over the same course and distance.

I wouldn’t get too carried away by that as the handicap was only a four-runner affair, but my hand times suggest Duretto covered the final furlong about 0.7 seconds faster than Postponed which shows how comparatively slowly they were finishing in the King George due to the strong early pace.

As for ratings, I have Romsdal returning to the 115 he recorded when third in the Derby and second in the St Leger last season. This is someway short of the standard figures we have for the King George and that applies to all finishers.

Eagle Top and Postponed had only a nose between them in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes over this course and distance at the Royal meeting and with the same margin separating them here, but the other way round, they have new figures of 122 (Postponed) and 121 (Eagle Top).

From a historical point of view Postponed’s figure of 122 is the lowest in the last ten years, just below the fillies Taghrooda and Danedream (123). Harbinger’s 135 back in 2010 is the standout rating.


INTERNATIONAL WINNER IS HEAVENT SENT

It’s not often a horse proves tough and durable enough to win more than one or two major handicaps, and HEAVEN’S GUEST gave his connections a huge amount to cheer when lifting his fourth valuable prize in Ascot’s Gigaset International on Saturday, writes Graeme Smith.

It’s not as if Richard Fahey’s five-year-old is kept fresh for his forays into battle and his record is all the more impressive when you throw in first-four finishes in two Ayr Gold Cups, York’s Charity Sprint, last year’s International and last month’s Bunbury Cup.

Saturday’s effort represented a career-best, earning a 5lb rise to 108 with an eventually-hard-fought defeat of Balty BoysHeaven’s Guest was a good two lengths clear through the penultimate furlong before being closed down only late.

Balty Boys made it a one-two for Yorkshire stables and put a poor effort in the John Smith’s Cup firmly behind him as he belatedly confirmed the promise of his fourth in the Royal Hunt Cup, where he’d run out a clear-cut winner of the race in the stand-side group.

Balty Boys’s 112-performance (up 4lb) earns him a place in the end-of-season European Thoroughbred Rankings but it wasn’t the strongest 7f performance I dealt with last week.

That honour goes to HOME OF THE BRAVE, who completed a memorable pattern-race double for Hugo Palmer on the Curragh following on from Covert Love’s Irish Oaks success, with an all-the-way win in the Group 3 Minstrel Stakes.

I’d had my suspicions for a while that his Free Handicap success could be worth a fair bit more than I’d rated it – the form had been well endorsed by Tupi – but with little else doing much positive work for it, including Home Of The Brave himself in a couple of Group 1 attempts at either side of 7f, he’d been stuck on 107.

Not any more – I’ve been marginally more positive than the Irish handicapper (our final level with be agreed on at the end of the season) and have raised Home Of The Brave’s rating to 116 for his three-and-a-half-length hammering of Gordon Lord Byron.

Incidentally, the Free Handicap had been notable at the time for the flop of the strong 2000 Guineas fancy Faydhan, but his effort’s looking a fair bit better now with the pair who beat him both rated in the mid-110s, acknowledging the disappointing Glenalmond finished just behind in fourth.

One more winning performance worthy of a mention from the 7f division last week came from Kevin Ryan’s Salateen in a competitive-looking handicap at York on Saturday.

The chestnut son of Dutch Art was well placed to strike off a modest gallop but was impressive nevertheless in quickly putting three lengths between himself and his rivals two furlongs out and earned himself an 8lb rise to 107.

He’d been third to Elm Park in the Royal Lodge last year and could well on the way back to pattern company judged by his rider’s comments in the post-race interview.

Finally, the form of the fillies’ handicap from Newmarket’s July Festival is already proving strong and there could well be more than just the winner, Spangled, with an eye on pattern company later in the summer.

The runner-up Muffri’ha posted a decisive success in a 0-90 classified race at Lingfield last week, and this week the fourth-placed Alfajer went down by only a neck to a rival who was turning out quickly before a 4lb rise took effect in another well-contested fillies’ handicap at Doncaster, arguably from a disadvantaged position, too.

I’ve revisited the level of the Newmarket race and raised it 2lb. The proximity of some of the also-rans suggests the race as a whole may not go much higher, but there are a few unexposed fillies in there and this is already looking a strong piece of form in their fledgling careers.

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