Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action including on Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.

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CITY LIGHT IS THE BEST AW CHAMPIONSHIP SPRINT WINNER YET

Whilst this year’s renewal of the 6f Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship attracted the smallest field in its brief history, what it lacked in quantity was more than made up for in quality, says Stewart Copeland.

Six of the eight runners had already achieved a level of form on a par with the average winning performance in the race, headed by Gifted Master on 112. He achieved that rating after being successful in the 6f listed Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield back in November.

Plenty of action had unfolded on the all-weather sprint scene since that win and the best recent form was boasted by the revitalised Kachy, who was made favourite on the back of that. His latest success was in the 6f listed Cleves Stakes over course and distance in early February where he recorded a rating of 110, confirming he was back to the form that saw him finish second in the 2016 Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

However, the spoils on the day were to go elsewhere, and it was the sole French challenger CITY LIGHT who took the prize back across the Channel. Winner of a fast track qualifier at Chantilly in early March, City Light had shown himself better than ever with that win and more than confirmed that view here.

Always travelling strongly just off the sound pace set by Gifted Master, he was produced to challenge over a furlong out and soon put the race to bed. He came home a length and a half clear of Kachy, with last year’s winner Kimberella, putting up a creditable defence, a further length and a quarter back in third.

In assessing the race I have took the view that City Light has produced the highest winning performance we have seen so far in this race. I have credited him with a performance rating of 114 which betters the 112 achieved by Pretend in 2015. That means I have Kachy reproducing his 110. As for Gifted Master, he weakened out of contention in the straight and clearly failed to give his running back from his break. He ran to 98 but remains at 112 for now on the all-weather.

The other sprint final on the card was confined to three year olds, the 6f 32 Red 3 Year Old All-Weather Championship Stakes. Although it may have lacked the strength in depth of the older horse race, it produced an exciting finish nevertheless.

The race itself was a much more tactical affair with only a modest gallop until past halfway and several horses racing keenly. Analysis of the sectional times in this race compared to the older horse sprint race show how much quicker they were finishing in this race which effectively became a dash for home from 2f out.

In such circumstances the place to be is often on or near the pace and the favourite, CORINTHIA KNIGHT, was given an excellent ride. Tracking the leader throughout, his jockey kicked on approaching the straight for a decisive race winning move. Despite a host of challengers, he always looked like holding on for a half length success from Lake Volta.

As for the form of the race, the field finished largely in a heap so it’s difficult to take too positive a view of it. Corinthia Knight went in to the race rated 105 and did not need to improve on that. In fact I only have him running to 99 given the proximity of too many rivals in the low/mid 90s to justify any higher.

One to note from the race is Breathless Times who was a strong finishing fourth after suffering none too clear a passage. Nothing produced a quicker final 2f sectional and it will be surprising if this lightly-raced colt doesn’t improve further on his current rating of 96 achieved here.


LE ALL-WEATHER AS FRANCE HIT A FINALS DAY HAT-TRICK

FUNNY KID in landing the Marathon in a most thrilling finish was another winner from across the channel. The third French-trained winner and by far the longest priced success on the card came in the Mile Championship when LUCKY TEAM flew past five horses in the final furlong to win going away at 40/1.

Pre-race, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, the William Haggas-trained Second Thought looked to hold an outstanding chance of extending his unbeaten streak on the AW to seven as his rating of 109 put him 2lb clear of Arcanada and 6lb+ in front of the rest of the field. Even he couldn’t hold the sweeping run of the winner and went down by a length and a quarter. Arcanada finished last after setting a strong pace and the trainer could offer no explanation to the Stewards for the poor run.

Given the proximity of the likes of Goring (3rd: pre-race 101 but on a roll having won his previous four), King Malpic (4th: 96) and Mr Scaramanga (5th: 101) it is hard to believe that Second Thought has run anywhere near 109 and I have settled on a performance of 104 for the time being, which suggests that Lucky Team has posted a career best of 107 in winning the race.

This falls short of the last two winners of the race – Sovereign Debt (110) last year and Captain Joy (112) in 2016 – but rated better than Grey Mirage (103) in 2015 and on a par with Captain Cat’s 107 in the inaugural running in 2014.

As far as domestic handicap marks are concerned Second Thought is brought down 2lb to 107 after a reassessment of his previous race and Goring is adjudged to have posted another personal best and goes to 104.

A feature of the concluding Easter Classic (10f) was the strong early pace as Star Archer (pre-race 93) and Utmost (105) duelled in front being closely followed by Mr Owen (107) with all three ultimately paying the price for their early exertions.

VICTORY BOND (105) travelled noticeably well in mid-division, was still on the bridle when delivering his challenge inside the final two furlongs and quickly put the contest to bed when quickening two lengths clear approaching the distance – always in full control after that despite being run down a little close home. He goes back up a pound to 106 for this success.

It is hard to get him much higher given the close proximity of Abe Lincoln (3rd: pre-race 99 and beaten off 97 previous start) and the exposed Pactolus (beaten off 99 in handicap company previous 4 starts) in fourth.

Top rated Master The World (108) was given a lot to do from rear and finished best of all but was never doing enough to catch the winner and went down by half a length, running to 103 on my figures. With Mr Owen (5th), Utmost (6th), Battle of Marathon (7th) and Petite Jack (8th) also all running below the level of their Winter Derby performances, we have dropped the level of that race by a pound so Master The World goes down a pound to 107.

From a historical perspective Victory Bond’s performance is rated on a par with Grendisar in 2016 and superior to Grandeur (103) in the first running in 2014, but inferior to last year’s winner Convey (111) and Tryster (115) in 2015.

Up at Newcastle Jeremy Noseda’s GRONKOWSKI continued his progression with a fourth straight win in the Listed 32Red Burradon Stakes. He was little more than workmanlike but I have him improving another couple of pounds to a mark of 103 - touted as a possible Kentucky Derby candidate he is going to have to progress a fair bit more in my opinion to be a live candidate for that.


DID YOU NOTICE NIVVO IN FILLIES & MARES?

One of the less obvious problems of All-Weather Finals Day, writes Matthew Tester, is what about Nivvo?

This Irish-trained mare finished tenth in the Fillies & Mares final over 7f; but she was only 0.82 seconds behind the winner which means 5.1 lengths. The first six home were all rated in the 90s. Although Nivvo had won her last two starts she went into the race with an Irish rating of just 68.

On my figures she ran to a mathematical 87. Racing Post thinks that it should be 89. But what do you do with the handicap mark?

Experience says that she has probably not suddenly improved by that much; but to leave her on 68 would seem likely to gift her another handicap win. That would be unfair to whoever was opposing her in her next race.

The Irish Handicapper has raised her by only two to 70. My choice would be to see her run once in effect under a penalty, up six off 74. Perhaps she was completely flattered and should stay on 68. Or perhaps she has continued on the upgrade and should go up by more than six. What would you have done?

HAWKBILL IN CONTROL IN SHEEMA CLASSIC

To call Charlie Appleby’s HAWKBILL disappointing since winning the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown as a three-year-old would be a shade harsh, writes Adam Barnes; but he certainly had not progressed from the level achieved there prior to arriving in Dubai this winter. However, his win in the Group 2 City of Gold Stakes - when overcoming a notably wide trip (travelled 17 metres further than stablemate and runner-up Frontiersman according to Trakus data) – was quite taking.

He duly stepped up on that form when belatedly doubling his Group 1 tally in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday albeit with the aid of the run of the race from the front. Hawkbill was able to set a steady early pace and control the tempo throughout. The likes of top-rated Cloth of Stars pulled far too hard to show his best form and Japanese challenger Rey De Oro was caught further back than ideal. He had little chance the way the race developed.

That said, Hawkbill still quickened up well and was comfortably holding his nearest pursuers in the closing stages to score by three lengths. In terms of the ratings level of the race, historical standards point towards the low-mid 120s. There was enough depth to the race overall to go towards the top end of that range if desired but, given the winner’s profile coming in (rated 118) and the tactical nature of the race, I have been slightly cautious and called Hawkbill on 122 for now. It’ll be interesting to see if he can back up this performance in a more conventional contest.

TURF OF THE RISING SUN

With Japanese-trained runners having won three of the previous four editions of the Dubai Turf, writes Andrew Mealor, it was no surprise to see Japan well represented in the latest renewal with five of the fifteen runners. These included the last two winners, Real Steel and Vivlos.

That pair ran with credit but had to play second fiddle to comfortable winner BENBATL who provided Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor with his sixth win in the race. Janoobi set a solid pace as he raced in a clear lead and Benbatl was perfectly placed at the head of the main group under Oisin Murphy. The pair went to the front under 2f out and the result was in little doubt from there. He came home three and a quarter lengths ahead of Vivlos (who had to do plenty of running from rear). Real Steel dead-heated with another of the Japanese runners, Deirdre, for third.

Although well fancied, Benbatl still looks to have improved a fair bit on his previous form in winning so decisively. Race standards point to a rating in the 122/123 area, and I have gone for the higher of those figures because it ties in with the best recent form of Real Steel (116) and Deirdre (112). Vivlos couldn’t quite repeat the 117 she produced in the race last year but her performance figure of 113 still represents her best run since then.

Although some remove from the 130 produced by 2014 winner Just A Way, a winning figure of 123 is more than respectable for a winner of this race and sits bang on the 10-year average. The Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot looks a logical next target. The average winning performance in that race over the past 10 years is 124 (123 for past five years), though Cracksman (130) may set a higher bar this year.

One of the other Godolphin runners, Blair House, had beaten Benbatl into second when landing the Group 1 Jebel Hatta earlier in March. Benbatl didn’t get the run of things that day (stuck wide from a high draw), but this time it was Blair House (116) who found the race going against him. He was dropped in from a high draw and met some trouble when trying to close in the straight, his jockey also reporting that the gelding hung left throughout. The race also didn’t pan out ideally for the John Gosden-trained Monarchs Glen who didn’t settle in a wide position and was found to have been mildly lame. He was very progressive at the end of last year, posting a figure of 115 when winning the Group 3 Darley Stakes at Newmarket.

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