Talking Horses

    In his last Talking Horses column, David Lawrence analyses the horses that caught his eye most over the last week. A statistical look at the November Handicap, his final ratings of this season’s top juvenile fillies and a number of horses to be working well in Newmarket and Lambourn will need adding to your ATR tracker.
  • Wednesday 08 November 2017
  • Blog

Editor’s note: We are sorry to say that this will be David Lawrence’s last Talking Horses column. Everyone at At The Races would like to thank David for his incredible hard work, dedication, insights and ability to pinpoint winners through Talking Horses for the last 16 years. We hope that David will continue to contribute to occasionally but his weekly presence on our site will be greatly missed. We wish him the very best for the future.


MIGHT BITE seems set to make his seasonal reappearance in Sandown’s three-mile 188Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase this Sunday, 12 November, and I shall be disappointed if he fails to collect.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old was initially commended to Talking Horses readers last February, prior to his victories at the Cheltenham and Aintree spring festivals, and is now considered a major Gold Cup hope.

He still has to improve in order to score in the big one at Prestbury Park in March but, given an official rating of 162, he should certainly be capable of defeating his rivals at Sandown this weekend.


TOUJOURS posted an encouraging first appearance at Chantilly on 31 October, collecting a nine-furlong maiden event by a length, and I suspect she is a filly about whom a good deal more will be heard next spring.

Trained by Andre Fabre for the team of owners Aidan O’Brien often refers to as the Coolmore ‘lads’, she is a daughter of Galileo and out of a mare who scored at Group 3 level over a mile and a half. Given her pedigree - and connections - Toujours could well prove Pattern class herself at three.

ISPOLINI will have been a bitter disappointment to many punters on his debut in the second division of the one-mile maiden at Nottingham the following day, as he could manage no better than fourth, after starting as 8-11 favourite.

Charlie Appleby’s Dubawi colt warrants another chance, however, because he lost significant ground leaving the stalls and was ultimately beaten just four lengths. A half-brother to the smart Playful Sound, Ipsolini - bought for 1,200,000gns as a yearling - will handle a longer trip.


MELON upped his game from last season when taking a two-mile Grade 2 hurdle at Down Royal on 3 November and, while he still has a long road to travel in order to justify bookmakers’ championship quotes, there seems no reason why he should not collect again at this level or higher.

Willie Mullins’s five-year-old, successful in a maiden contest before finishing second at the Cheltenham Festival, won by four and a half lengths at Down Royal and connections are hoping that he will improve for the run.

Warren Greatrex appears to have amassed a decent team for the 2017/18 jumping campaign and must have been delighted when JAMMIN MASTERS took second place on his first outing since joining his yard in Upper Lambourn.

Greatrex’s charge, placed over fences on three runs in Ireland last term, switched to hurdles at Wetherby on 3 November and, jumping well throughout, got home within three-quarters of a length of odds-on favourite Carlos du Fruitier. Judged on this form, he should soon go one better.

BORN SURVIVOR made an encouraging start to a new career over fences by landing a two-mile novices’ chase at Wetherby the following afternoon and, given that he is a handsome, powerful individual, this Harry Skelton-trained six-year-old looks an ideal type for bigger obstacles.

He collected by 11 lengths from The Nipper, making all the running, and should win again under a penalty before trying a higher grade. The son of King’s Theatre, officially rated 143 over hurdles, is most effective on softer ground.


James Tate’s two-year-olds almost always improve after their initial run and, provided that is the case with GRECIAN SPIRIT, this son of Teofilo should have no trouble breaking his duck.

Tate’s colt forfeited ground by starting slowly in a one-mile novice stakes at Wolverhampton on 31 October that was not contested at any great pace, but stayed on gamely in the closing stages to take third, two and a quarter lengths behind hot-favourite Laieth. Judged on pedigree, Grecian Spirit should appreciate stiffer tests.

FURZIG is another who might ultimately appreciate a longer distance than was chosen for his debut in a six-furlong median auction contest at Newcastle on 4 November. But, whatever trip eventually proves ideal for him, this Richard Fahey-trained gelded son of Monsieur Bond seems sure to get off the mark at some stage.

Apparently unfancied at Gosforth Park - being sent off at 16-1 - he nonetheless showed promise, overcoming a slow start to fill third spot, little more than a half-length behind Global Tango.


Nicky Henderson appears all set to launch the British career of a potentially useful five-year-old mare named COUNTISTER. This French import took a Group 2 AQPS event at Maison-Laffitte a little over a year ago, scoring by three lengths over an extended mile and a half, and is now ready for a switch to hurdling. I am told the daughter of Smadoun has impressed at home during recent schooling sessions.

John Gosden’s success rate in backend all-weather two-year-old races is excellent and he has a clutch of juveniles lining up to make their first appearance on artificial surfaces. Among them is WHITLOCK, a son of Dutch Art who cost 300,000gns as a yearling and is a brother to Pattern performer Zonderland. Whitlock, a good-looking, robust colt, is also related to multiple Group 1 heroine Russian Rhythm.

RHODE ISLAND is another youngster from the Gosden stable with definite - and quite possibly imminent - winning prospects, if his efforts at home are transferred to the racecourse. By Galileo and owned by the Coolmore team that includes Michael Tabor, he is a half-brother to one-time sprint star Kingsgate Native, whose most memorable victory was registered in Royal Ascot’s 2008 Golden Jubilee Stakes.


Regularly backing the favourite in Doncaster’s Betfred November Handicap, this season’s renewal of which is run on Saturday, 11 November, has resulted in a significant loss over the past few years.

Many punters will have benefited from supporting Open Eagle, who scored as 15-2 market-leader in 2014, but the previous successful betting-topper in this event was Snow Princess (at 5-1) in 1995.

Four second-favourites have scored in the past decade - Malt Or Mash (5-1 in 2007), Zuider Zee (8-1 in 2011), Conduct (8-1 in 2014) and Prize Money (4-1 in 2016) - but statistics show that anyone preferring to look for a big-price return has a fair chance of collecting in this mile-and-a-half contest.

Undoubtedly, long-shots do score reasonably frequently in the November Handicap, as the successes of Tropical Strait (20-1 in 2008) and Art Scholar (20-1 in 2012) ought to be enough to indicate.

For consistent reward, though, supporting runners with solid claims just off the market-leader has proved the best policy, since, apart from the four second-favourites referred to above, victories have been registered in the last ten years by such as Charm School (17-2 in 2009), Times Up (14-1 in 2010) and Litigant (10-1 in 2015).

Five of the winners in the period under scrutiny - Malt Or Mash, Times Up, Art Scholar, Conduct and Open Eagle - had finished in the first four on their latest start before lining up.

Just two, though - that pair being Malt Or Mash and Open Eagle - went into the Doncaster stalls with a last-time-out success on their CV.

Winners have come from across virtually the whole weight range - with Litigant carrying as much as 9st 10lb and Art Scholar as little as 8st 7lb - but it may be worth noting that eight of the last ten winners - Malt Or Mash (8st 10lb), Tropical Strait (8st 13lb), Charm School (8st 12lb), Times Up (8st 13lb), Zuider Zee (8st 13lb), Conduct (9st 2lb), Open Eagle (8st 12lb) and Prize Money (8st 10lb) - carried in excess of 8st 9lb.

Furthermore, eight of the last ten winners had an official rating in the 90s - Litigant (106) and Prize Money (107) were the odd-men-out - and six of those - Malt Or Mash, Tropical Strait, Times Up, Zuider Zee, Art Scholar and Open Eagle - had already registered a victory at the big-race distance.

Two of them - Zuider Zee and Art Scholar - had a previous course success to their credit.

Four-year-olds and five-year-olds have each notched a trio of wins in the past decade, the younger age-group via Charm School, Times Up and Zuider Zee, the latter thanks to Tropical Strait, Art Scholar and Open Eagle.

Meanwhile, two three-year-olds - Malt Or Mash and Prize Money - plus one six-year-old - Conduct - and one seven-year-old - Litigant - have added their names to the roll of honour.

It may also be worth noting that eight of the last ten winners - only Times Up and Art Scholar failed to qualify on this score - were drawn 12 or higher.

John Gosden, with two victories in the last ten seasons (via Charm School and Zuider Zee), is the sole trainer to have lifted the trophy more than once in the period under discussion.


Two-year-old fillies trained in Europe made limited impact at last week’s Breeders’ Cup meeting - registering nothing better than a single third place - and I cannot say I am surprised.

That is because, according to my ratings (see leading achievers’ list set out below), no distaff juvenile has shown enough ability during 2017 to demonstrate she is a Classic winner in waiting.

Aidan O’Brien’s CLEMMIE heads my rankings with a mark of 108 and, given the average 1000 Guineas heroine earns close to 115 on my scale, she clearly still has something to prove next spring.

Perhaps predictably, O’Brien dominates the table, with HAPPILY (106), MAGICAL (106) and SEPTEMBER (105) also featuring in my top five, but none of them has tempted me into betting ante-post.

Leading European two-year-old fillies of 2017 (ranked in order of ratings achieved by 07 November)

Rank Name (age) (gender) Trainer (country) Rating*
1) Clemmie (2) (filly) A O'Brien (Ire) 108
2) Wild Illusion (2) (filly) C Appleby (GB) 107
3=) Happily (2) (filly) A O'Brien (Ire) 106
3=) Magical (2) (filly) A O'Brien (Ire) 106
5=) Heartache (2) (filly) C Cox (GB) 105
5=) Laurens (2) (filly) K Burke (GB) 105
5=) September (2) (filly) A O'Brien (Ire) 105
8) Polydream (2) (filly) F Head (Fra) 104
9=) Different League (2) (filly) M Palussiere (Fra) 103
9=) Magic Lily (2) (filly) A O'Brien (Ire) 103
9=) Mission Impassible (2) (filly) J-C Rouget (Fra) 103
9=) Threading (2) (filly) M Johnston (GB) 103

* All figures have been adjusted to include penalties and allowances

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