Fallout from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival continued this week when the British Horseracing Authority released their updated ratings of horses that competed over the four days, helping us put some flesh on the bones of what we saw nearly two weeks ago.
Simon Rowlands, who looked at the form from a timing perspective on this site (days one and two & days three and four), also aided fans with trying to get a stronger grip of the form. Also on attheraces.com this week, we featured a BHA Handicappers’ Blog, a piece which allowed the respective handicappers to put their reasons forward for coming to certain conclusions. As you can read, they went into more detail in some races, while just a passing mention of figures elsewhere.
There were two BHA-based performances that caught my eye, and while they have essentially paid huge compliments to the respective horses, I’m not sure they earned it. Fundamentally, I don’t feel they are correct, nor fair on the horses or their connections, and are more examples of the BHA handicappers inflating performances and, in some cases, taking the form too literally.
TIGER ROLL SURPRISINGLY RAISED TO 167 AFTER CROSS-COUNTRY SUCCESS
The biggest surprise was to see Tiger Roll’s official open chase rating raised to 167 from 159 on the back of winning a specialist event in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. OK, the real People’s Horse was hugely impressive in bolting up by an easy 22 lengths, but to put up his chase rating by 8lb seems exceptionally harsh on the evidence, especially in you want to take a longer-term view of Tiger Roll’s career.
BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood said the rating “could be higher if anything”, meaning officially, Tiger Roll now goes to Aintree for a Grand National repeat at least 8lb well in.
Fundamentally, I don’t think the rise is justified despite the deep impression Tiger Roll left on the eye. Essentially, he was beating up vastly inferior opposition in a specialist banks event. Hammering the runner-up and banks pro Josie’s Orders by such a wide-margin looks great, but over regulation fences and hurdles, in his pomp, Enda Bolger’s charge was rated vastly inferior to Tiger Roll, 130 and 136, respectively.
Third was the French raider and consistent banks runner Urgent De Gregaine. He is not a horse I know too well, for all he is clearly at home in these kind of races. Fourth home was the once classy Ballycasey of Willie Mullins’s yard, but he is now 12 and came to Cheltenham on the back of a poor preparation and lacked quality banks experience, for all he ran well.
The point I’m hopefully making is, Tiger Roll was beating older horses who simply don’t hold the raw ability he possesses at the moment. Some didn’t come into the race in the same kind of form as he did and are also getting on in years in comparison. To win a specialist event, which he showed he excelled in the year previous, and have his open chase rating put up seems incredibly harsh.
While it pays the horse a compliment, Tiger Roll hasn’t really earned the rise in terms of it effecting his chase mark, although, if he had a specialist cross-country rating (which the BHA may keep for all horses?) of 167, based on his most recent win, one could not argue with that.
Should he win or run well in this year’s Grand National, he’ll likely have to unfairly carry more weight in next season’s Aintree showpiece, or other top-class handicaps, depending on how his season goes. Maybe he’ll win the Grand National again, that would be great, but does that mean the BHA will put his mark up even further into the 170s? Of course they will. Is Tiger Roll a 170s horse? Of course he’s not.
He is one of National Hunt racing’s great horses, an all-time great, but what makes him great is his longevity, versatility, Cheltenham Festival record and thirst for life, along with being a quality graded horse and National hero.
LIFE GETS HARD FOR A PLUS TARD
It was a surprise to see impressive Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase winner A Plus Tard finish the Festival officially rated 163 after his handicap success off 144, seeing BHA handicapper Michael Harris rating the five-year-old 4lb ahead of Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase winner Defi Du Seuil.
In giving Rachael Blackmore her first Festival success, the county Tipperary jockey will likely never win a major festival race with such ease. In the end, 16 lengths separated the Henry de Bromhead-trained winner from runner-up, Tower Bridge. In black and white, that looks an extraordinary performance, and one the BHA handicappers are happy to weigh in with, hence the raising of the winner by a whopping 19lb, but was it that good or, is the winner a touch flattered?
I would suspect the latter when you consider a few variables, but my case essentially is built around the runner-up Tower Bridge, who looks to be the yardstick used by the BHA to get A Plus Tard onto his 163 rating.
First of all, the final time for the Close Brothers was poor, but only owing to the slack pace throughout. A Plus Tard received a fine no nonsense ride, but there can be no doubt, tactically, he was in a much better position than the runner-up, and third-horse home, 33/1 shot Ben Dundee, who had form figures of PF6 coming in. With the race turning into a sprint, he was in a more much favourable position than most.
Tower Bridge was 4½ lengths ahead of Ben Dundee, a fair distance in a handicap, but in comparison to the winner he had a torrid trip round and had a few too many sloppy jumps. In nearly all parts of the race, Tower Bridge raced wider and was also further back than A Plus Tard, given the pace. When taking this into account, Tower Bridge has run a lovely race with so much going wrong.
Furthermore, where Tower Bridge is concerned, despite having a thorough flat pedigree, being by High Chaparral out of a Linamix mare, Joseph O’Brien’s inmate is a three-mile plus performer in the making over fences. There is ample evidence to corroborate this, namely his last three starts of last season, all on soft ground, over trips of 2m6f, 3m and 3m½f. Given his robust size and galloping action, I am in no doubt we won’t see the best of him until he returns to 3m on soft ground.
If you consider all this to be true, was a 2m4f slow-run race on the sharp Cheltenham Old Course really going to bring out the best in him, especially with the trip he got? I would argue not even close, so it’s amazing to see he has been put up 6lb by the Irish handicapper (maybe more by the British one) despite being beaten 16 lengths in a handicap.
All of this is not to say A Plus Tard is not a Grade 1 horse in the making, but you’d have to seriously question the validity of him being a better horse than Defi Du Seuil on the evidence of Cheltenham. The Cheveley Park Stud-owned five-year-old remains a top-class prospect; he is straight-forward, progressive and jumps well.
You can be sure if Cheveley Park own him, he is a good model and there is more to come, but we need to see it. Connections have now potentially had their hands forced into running in a Grade 1 chase next time out.
If the BHA make A Plus Tard 163, what rating does the Aidan Anthony Howard-trained Winter Escape now have, considering he beat the Close Brothers winner by 2¼ length in mid-January giving him a stone in weight?