Handicappers' Blog (1 September)

The week after the Middle Park Stakes and the Cheveley Park Stakes were run at Newmarket, the head handicappers of the BHA assess the best of the action from HQ.

  • Thursday 01 October
  • Blog
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THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT

Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting brought a host of top-class two-year-old contests and Matthew Tester rubber stamped his view that this year’s crop are out of the ordinary. Here he gives a detailed update on the best in class as things stand and it’s worth looking out for one or two pointers for the future…


STARS APLENTY

Last year was famine. This year is feast. At least that is the way it feels to me as the BHA’s Handicapper of two-year-olds, writes Matthew Tester.

There are five Group 1 races for two-year-olds in Britain and the first ones were last weekend. Compared with other Handicappers, my climax comes much later. Last year our champion two-year-old was rated 119. This year, even before the championship races, we had three colts rated 120 or possibly higher. It looks like we’ll see all three of them on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile putting on the line their chance to be crowned the best.

The first of them was Shalaa who ran in the Juddmonte Middle Park on Saturday. He had already looked of a very high class in winning the July Stakes, then the Richmond and then the Prix Morny. The thing that marks him out as special is his amazing cruising speed. In the Richmond in particular, he was still on the bit fully a furlong after everything else had been asked for maximum effort. In winning the Middle Park he added a second Group 1 win but he did not quite have everything his own way. 

This time he was taken on for the lead by the Gimcrack winner Ajaya. It rather set Shalaa alight and, fast though they were going, he wanted to go even faster. Ajaya fell back and it is much to Shalaa’s credit that he had enough petrol in the tank to repel the Coventry winner Buratino. Shalaa won but did nothing that would allow me to raise his rating from 120.

To my eye he’s about speed and anyone who thinks he’s a miler should have gone to Specsavers. He might even prove better at five furlongs than six. That exceptional cruising speed is seen rarely. Frankie Dettori said that the last time he went that fast on the Rowley Mile he was chasing Frankel in the Guineas.

The other two championship candidates are now expected to meet in the Dewhurst on 10 October. They are Emotionless for England (and Godolphin) and Air Force Blue for Ireland (and Coolmore).

Air Force Blue had only previously run in one maiden race before chasing home Buratino in the Coventry. He got his revenge on that one in the Phoenix Stakes and then went on to win the National Stakes. It is seven years since Mastercraftsman achieved the same double; and he went on to win the Irish Guineas and the St James’ Palace as a three-year-old. So we are dealing with a very high class horse. My Irish colleagues have a rating of 122 for Air Force Blue so you can see how he has impressed us all.

Emotionless followed up his maiden with a facile success in Doncaster’s Champagne Stakes. It is rare to see a Group 2 won that easily and he was value for decidedly more than the three and a half lengths official margin. Bear in mind that the runner-up, Ibn Malik, pulled seven lengths clear of the third. Remember that the third was a proven Group performer. You can see why Emotionless could be something really special. It is impossible to exactly match a rating to a performance when only one horse got within 10 lengths even without Emotionless being asked for maximum effort. My 120 rating could be 123 or could be 117. Perhaps it was ‘too good to be true’ but I hope not. I am calling them each 120 because I am not sure how it will turn out when Air Force Blue and Emotionless meet. Most bookies agree with me and have them roughly level in the betting for the Dewhurst.

I just hope for good ground, a clean result and a great winner that we can all get behind.

The other Group 1 from Saturday was the Connolly’s Red Mills Cheveley Park which is for fillies. The top four rated fillies fought out the finish with Lumiere coming out on top. In doing so she reversed the placings with Besharah from the Lowther at York. The Lowther was only Lumiere’s second start, a big step up from winning a maiden, and she was entitled to have more improvement in her. I have given her a very high rating of 115 and it makes her the best that we have got. The American-trained Acapulco had thrashed Besharah in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. She then earned a 115 rating for her run in the Nunthorpe against older horses. My impression that day was that she is value for a little more because she ran out of petrol late on due to the tiring going. 

The feast of Newmarket also included other Group races in the Shadwell Rockfel Stakes, the Juddmonte Royal Lodge and the Tattersall Somerville. Happily all of them saw the form horses fighting out the finish. The one that really caught the eye was Foundation who beat a previous Group winner Deauville to win the Royal Lodge. Foundation raced rather too keenly than ideal but that, I think, was down to freshness and the wide open spaces. It was not a feature of his two previous starts but he is classy and it showed. Foundation is now second favourite for the Derby and is almost certainly going to prove better than his current 110 rating.

The British Group 1s still to come are the Dewhurst, the Fillies’ Mile and then the Racing Post Trophy. All to play for.


THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

Getting the level of a novice hurdle right can often be a knotty problem but one of the tricks of the trade is to use a horse with reliable handicap form to base the race around, writes David Dickinson.

Such an instance appeared to be the case as the runners pulled up in the opening race on Betfair Hurdle day in February, with the fifth home Cloonacool having appeared to run right up to his best rating of 132, gained when scoring by a short head in a handicap on his previous start. The waters were muddied within a few minutes when the vet reported that the horse had been struck into.

Looking at the form in the aftermath of the race, I could have made a case for having the race higher but I was reluctant to raise a horse for finishing an injured fifth and ended up assessing him as having run to his rating.

In the aftermath of the Cheltenham Festival, I revisited this Newbury novice, as Qewy had finished an excellent fifth in the Supreme and Bouvreuil second in the Fred Winter. That, added to a subsequent success for Cardinal Walter over slightly further, seemed to make a pretty conclusive case that I had the Newbury race 4lb too low. I raised it accordingly but ended up leaving Cloonacool’s mark unchanged on 132. My logic was that finishing an injured fifth didn’t warrant a rise six weeks after the event regardless of what the mathematics suggested.

Saturday’s Racing FX Prelude Hurdle at Market Rasen saw Cloonacool return to action looking fit and well, and he ran out a tidy winner of an open looking handicap. It was a somewhat muddling race with a couple of slightly unlucky horses, however the four way photo for second place has me thinking that the great Jim Bowen might have told the race ‘Just look what a finish you could have had’!

Cloonacool’s new mark? Up 4lb to 136.

 

Handicappers' Blog (1 September)
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