Handicappers' Blog (4 November)

The head handicappers from the British Horseracing Authority take a closer look at the 2015 Breeders' Cup where American Pharoah stole the show with his Breeders' Cup Classic victory.

  • Wednesday 04 November
  • Blog
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ALL AMERICAN DREAM

Phil Smith puts American Pharoah’s Breeders’ Cup achievement into context in an all Breeders’ Cup bulletin below, and the best of the rest, including the defeat of our own pin-up champion, follows on.

PHAROAH SLAM DUNKS IT

No horse had ever completed the Triple Crown and won a Breeders’ Cup, so the American press invented the “Grand Slam” in the run-up to Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, writes Phil Smith.

After two furlongs it became clear that with no “stalking horse” being prepared to take on American Pharoah it would take a below par performance from the best horse in the world to stop him winning the “Slam.”

In the event he strolled home by six and a half lengths. It looked further and I gave him value for eight lengths, which equates to 14lb over 1m2f. However it is mighty difficult to put a figure on his performance because of the proximity of Effinex in second. Effinex (named after the owner’s previous wife) had won the Suburban Stakes at Belmont in July performing to 115, beating Tonalist a head but in receipt of 6lb.

If I used that performance then American Pharoah was 129, 2lb below his Haskell win. Surely this was American Pharoah’s finest hour and 129 was too low? For me there are two main criteria for proving a horse’s ability. One of them is when a three-year-old beats the best older horses. This was the first time he had faced the older horses and he had slammed them.

The United States have been in the Longines World Rankings (formerly called the International Classifications) since 1995. The highest rated American three-year-olds in that time have been Skip Away (130 in 1996) and Point Given (also 130 in 2001). I just can’t have it that Saturday’s win was inferior to those horses. So how high can I go?

The highest rated American horse in that time has been 1996 Cigar on 135. Time may have shown that American Pharoah was better than that but my second criteria is that great horses have to show that they can give the weight for age as well as receive it. Sadly he is not going to be given that opportunity. Unusually for an American horse Cigar showed himself to be a champion in another continent so I am struggling to get the Pharoah to that level, especially when Effinex finishes second.

Of course time may show that Effinex is an improver and is well suited to a fast pace, (the time was a course record!). It will be interesting to see if he runs again this season and can replicate his 119 or improve on it. If he can then it would be easy to get the winner higher. For the moment I have Effinex on 119 and the winner on 133.

I suspect my International colleagues are finding it as difficult as I did to set the level as only the Brazilian Handicapper had put his figures on our International database at the time of writing. We agree!

I have Found running to 118 in both the Irish and QIPCO Champion Stakes. Surely she cannot have performed worse at Keeneland when winning the Turf?  As a result, if Found is 118 then Golden Horn (119) has run 11lb below his 130 best, because I called the winning margin 2lb as to my mind Found won comfortably. Remember she gets a 3lb fillies’ allowance.

It is unsurprising that Golden Horn struggled on that ground which was inconsistent and varied between good and soft. I cannot get Found any higher because of the proximity of Big Blue Kitten, an exposed seven-year-old whose previous best this season was 118 when winning the Joe Hirsch at Belmont, a figure I have him reproducing on Saturday when he was three quarters of a length or 1lb behind Golden Horn.

A TACTICAL MILE

The Europeans fielded a strong squad for the Breeders’ Cup Mile but it was another contest to prove a disappointment for the visitors, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

In a steadily-run race it paid to race prominently and Tepin (winner), Grand Arch (third) and Mshawish (fourth) raced in the first five throughout, with the filly Tepin blowing the race apart when kicking for home early in the straight. From my own ratings perspective it is not a difficult race to put figures on – Grand Arch has never been better than 115 in my book and that fits in neatly with Mshawish, who I reckon has been a pretty consistent 114 of late and was half a length behind; using these two as a guide Tepin has performed to 120 and runner-up Mondialiste (pre-race 115) to 118.

The latter deserves extra credit as he was the only one to make any real impression from rear – still out with the washing turning for home, he didn’t get the clearest of runs early in the straight but once angled to the outer came home twice as fast as anything else. I will be raising him to his performance figure of 118 but there has to be a chance that he may prove slightly better than that figure when things go more his way – it will be interesting to see where David O’Meara sends him next, Hong Kong maybe?

I suspect the combination of the ground and a wide draw scuppered the chances of the other British challenger Time Test and he will retain his current rating of 119 despite running only to 107 in finishing 10th of the 12 starters. He is another who the faster ground in Hong Kong might suit?

A FEW FOR THE FUTURE

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf races went pretty well for the Europeans with first and third in the colts’ race and second and third in the fillies’, writes Matthew Tester.

Hit It A Bomb made his debut only five weeks ago and is now a Grade 1 winner having won three out of three races. He was given an audacious ride by Ryan Moore to come from last place to lead close home. Lots of other jockeys tried the same trick over the weekend but only Ryan pulled it off. 

Great credit must for to Richard Fahey for getting third with Birchwood in the same race beaten only two necks.

Birchwood has been on the go since 2 May and ran a career best. I have not yet had the chance to discuss the figures with my international colleagues. My holding figures are 115 for the winner and 113 for the Birchwood. Hit It A Bomb therefore comes out 8lb behind his stable-mate Air Force Blue on those figures, which equates to around four lengths over the mile of next year’s Guineas. He could well have improvement in him; but so might Air Force Blue.

In the fillies’ race Alice Springs ran right up to her Group 1 form in Europe at 111 to finish runner-up to Catch A Glimpse, who had strong claims pre-race. Nemoralia for Jeremy Noseda ran a fine race in third and goes up from 105 to 110 for the run.

But none of those fillies can hold a candle to Songbird – winner of the fillies’ race on dirt. 

Songbird had been hacking up in her prep races and did so again. She won by five and three-quarter lengths without ever coming under maximum pressure. She is just about as good a two-year-old dirt filly as I have seen in the eight years I’ve been doing USA ratings. The placed horses all had really good Group form but Songbird made every yard and the win was never in doubt.

Nyquist was top-rated going into the colts’ dirt race and beat Swipe for the third successive time. The form book says he is a solid winner but was not exceptional. In fact, my figures say that he would not have won the fillies’ race. That is how good Songbird looks.

Handicappers' Blog (4 November)
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