Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action from the three-day Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket, where the likes of Earthlight, Benbatl and Wichita all won.

  • Friday 04 October
  • Blog
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MIDDLE PARK MUDDLE

Newmarket staged the first of its two championship weekends for juveniles with the three-day Cambridgeshire fixture, and while sprint honours could have been expected to be decided in the two Group 1 contests, the divisional champions aren’t necessarily cut and dried, writes Graeme Smith.

The Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes ended up having more depth than the Middle Park for various reasons and I feel there’s a better chance of the race producing genuine 1000 Guineas contenders than can sometimes be the case.

If physique is any guide there were plenty with long-term scope and the winner and third in particular promise to be well suited by further than 6f.

In a race that tested stamina more than speed at the trip, Millisle very much rose to the occasion after being taken off her feet for much of the contest. Her stiffest test of stamina to date clearly suited her well, and while her rating is a matter for the Irish handicapper, I currently have her penciled in at 115.

Millisle’s margin over the pre-race favourite Raffle Prize was a length and three quarters and that would usually translate to 5lb over 6f, but leaving that rival on her pre-race 113 has the pair much closer than the Cheveley Park form suggests.

There’s good reason for this. Raffle Prize did plenty into a hot pace to get to the front following a slowish start, and after looking set to win when a length clear into the Dip she proved to have left herself short for the final climb.

Her last furlong was run at around 93% of her overall race speed which is telling in itself - the evidence of the 6f races at the fixture suggested Millisle’s 96% was much closer to optimum.

There was promise from the French filly Tropbeau back in third. Rather like the winner, she didn’t look entirely comfortable with the early pace dropping back from 7f and she became stronger the further she went.

On the day she might well have finished second but for being impeded twice, and I can see her improving further from this 110-rated performance as she works towards one of the Guineas next spring.

In a field where many impressed physically, she and Raffle Prize were probably the most imposing.

Next up came what had been billed as the two-year-old clash of the season in the Juddmonte Middle Park but unfortunately that didn’t prove to be the case. Siskin was withdrawn after rearing over in the gate and then Mums Tipple failed to fire and was subsequently found to be lame.

What was left had the feel of a slightly substandard renewal with a couple of outsiders finishing within two and a half lengths in third and fourth. A time comparison with the Cheveley Park suggested 116 would be appropriate for Earthlight’s winning performance but the gallop hadn’t been quite so aggressive as in that race and I felt 115 summed this form up better.

Earthlight wins the Middle Park
The speedy Earthlight in action winning the Middle Park

In a race where few made any real ground, the Morny winner Earthlight made his effort fairly smoothly from mid-division before the whip was drawn to beat Golden Horde for a second time in as many meetings.

The feeling is that his Morny success was a better performance and at 115 the Middle Park has been pitched slightly south of the historical standard for the principals - Earthlight’s performance rates the lowest winning mark since Astaire’s 114 in 2013. 

As they say, a horse can only beat what’s put in front of him and Earthlight’s first season has been a faultless, five wins from five starts, including two in Group 1 company. 

He was produced in strikingly good shape for the Middle Park – well muscled and really gleaming – but he’s not the biggest and it will be interesting to see if he can make the physical progress over the winter he’ll need to maintain his position towards the top of the tree.

Golden Horde on the other hand is a very imposing colt. His Richmond win has proved stronger than I thought at the time and after getting slightly bogged down in the Deauville mud when third in the Morny, he was right back on it with his second 114 performance.

Less predictable were Summer Sands and King Neptune in third and fourth. The latter certainly did his chance no harm in going from the front but it’s still not easy to pinpoint where around 10lb of improvement came from on his ninth start.

It appears Summer Sands will put this form to the test in the valuable auction race at Redcar this coming Saturday. If this form is to be believed – and the speed figure judged against the time of every other race on the card suggests there’s an element of doubt – he’ll be very hard to beat there.

Threat was back in fifth. He retains his 114 rating despite running to only 106 here. I felt his best performance to date came when stepped up to 7f in the Champagne Stakes and the combination of the return to 6f and a slow start counted against him.

The Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes that kicked off Saturday’s card has a role of honour that includes Roaring Lion and Frankel, but I’m not convinced the latest renewal is quite up to its usual standard.

Rather like King Neptune did for the same stable a little over an hour later, Royal Dornoch belied long odds with a much-improved performance. At least this one was easier to explain.

Royal Dornoch did his racing at 6f through the summer and while he failed to figure at 7f in the Champagne Stakes, the further step up to 1m proved right up his street. Kameko had been beaten only a nose in a photo finish to the Solario but Royal Dornoch proved too strong at the end of a sustained duel.

I have him penciled in at 109 and Kameko goes in on 108.

Iberia represented the Pinatubo National Stakes form line and he raised his game as promised for the step up from 7f, improving around 9lb on my figures to 105 as he stayed on in third. He looks a strong stayer and it would come as no surprise to see him upped again to 1m2f for something like the Zetland Stakes, which has been elevated to Group 3 level this year.

Wichita made the breakthrough at Group 3 level in the Tattersalls Stakes on Thursday in some style. It probably wasn’t the deepest race in event, with three of the six failing to fire, but he gave a strong-galloping performance to draw seven lengths clear and looks well worth his place in something stronger.

I have him at 114 and historical standards suggest that could be on the conservative side. The figure was tempered slightly by both the time (speed figure was 108 despite true sectionals) and the exposed nature of the third-placed Ropey Guest.

The Moyglare form was put to the test in the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfel Stakes on Friday and it stood up well. The runner-up from the Curragh, Daahyeh, confirmed her superiority over Under The Stars, though it was by half a length less this time and as such she came up 1lb shy of her 108 rating.

The progressive Stylistique and unexposed Cloak Of Spirits improved to split the pair and they are now rated level with Under The Stars at 105.

Daahyeh has enjoyed an excellent year so far, finishing in the first two on all five starts, with her only defeats coming at the hands of Raffle Prize in the Duchess Of Cambridge and Love in the Moyglare.

Stylistique, also trained by Roger Varian, continues to go from strength to strength and this imposing filly could do better again when given a chance at 1m.

IMPRESSIVE COMEBACK FOR BENBATL

From a ratings perspective, the performance of the week came from the returning Benbatl, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

Benbatl posted the best performance over a mile in Europe this year with a dominant five-length success in the Group 2 Shadwell Joel Stakes, recording a lifetime best figure of 126 on his first start since runner-up to Winx in the 2018 Cox Plate.

Yes, he was allowed to control the race from the front but such was the manner of his victory that there can be no arguing with his superiority over some quality milers.

Runner-up King Of Comedy didn’t help his chance with an awkward start and then running keen but, given the fact that he beat the reliable Zaaki (third, pre-race 113) by one and a quarter lengths, looks to have run to the same mark of 116 that I had him running to when runner-up in the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot (which is 2lb below the 118 I had him in the International on his latest start).

The options of both the QEII and the Champion Stakes are open to Benbatl on British Champions Day at Ascot later in the month, and he would be a major force in either contest if turning up in the same form as last week.

However, I do just wonder if his chance would be compromised if the rain keep falling. Given his achievements around the world, however, there will still be plenty of further opportunities before the end of the year if that proves to be the case.

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