Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action from the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

  • Wednesday 10 April
  • Blog
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KEMBOY TOO CLASSY FOR BOWL FIELD

Willie Mullins has quickly cornered the 2018/19 staying chase division in under a month, writes Martin Greenwood

While King George winner Clan Des Obeaux and Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai have performed with credit in both the Gold Cup and the Betway Bowl, neither have been able to stop first Al Boum Photo and then Kemboy reaching the top of the tree.

Like Al Boum Photo, Kemboy came into the Betway Bowl with an unexposed look to him and unsurprisingly went off favourite to put his early tumble in the Gold Cup behind him. Those market signals proved correct in no uncertain fashion with Kemboy tanking along throughout while setting what appeared to be just a sensible pace. With the exception of the amiss-looking Elegant Escape, they were still well bunched turning in. That didn’t last for long, however, and when asked to assert Kemboy did so in devastating fashion, leaving his toiling rivals fighting it out for minor honours after Balko Des Flos made a last-fence howler.

With the horses behind making some sense - if you accept Balko Des Flos coming right back to his very best form - then Kemboy looks an above-standard winner. Cue Card achieved a figure of 176 when winning this race back in 2016 and Kemboy has been credited with a similar performance. Both Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux have had their ratings slightly lowered again and they are both now 171.

The following day it was the turn of the staying novices. The Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase seemed an ideal opportunity for Topofthegame to confirm his performance in the RSA and he was duly sent off odds on. However, he left the impression that Cheltenham had left its mark as he put in some sketchy jumps and never seemed to be travelling smoothly on the second circuit, merely plugging on to overhaul pacesetter Top Ville Ben close home but no match for the impressive Lostintranslation.

The latter was second best on ratings going in following his second in the JLT at the Festival and he relished his first try over 3m, scoring impressively after taking over the lead in the home straight.

Given the proximity of both Top Ville Ben and Mr Whipped, it is hard to push up Lostintranslation’s rating simply on the bare form, but allowing for the style in which he scored he will be in the low 160s and above a standard winner of this race. Both he and Topofthegame should play their part in next season’s leading staying events.

My thoughts on the meeting’s headline race can be found in the Grand National blog.

MELLING GLORY FOR MIN

Friday’s JLT Melling Chase looked a competitive renewal beforehand with just 3lb separating the three highest-rated horses in the race. In event, however, Min trounced his five rivals. Michael Harris assesses the performance.

Politologue and Min had fought out a close finish in the same race twelve months earlier but on this occasion Min producing a scintillating front-running display. Although keen in the early stages, he travelled strongly throughout and eased to a twenty-length success. His best effort previously this season had also come over 20f (when winning at Punchestown) and it certainly appears that this trip is now his optimum.

Historically, the last ten winners average out at 171 and pre-race standards suggest a rating in the mid-170s for Min, which makes this a clear career best. I have settled on a figure of 173, although as with all of our ratings they will be discussed and finalised in the end of season Anglo-Irish classifications.

The performance leaves a similar impression to that created by Cyrname when he won the Ascot Chase by a wide margin back in February. With both Aso and Politologue running well at Cheltenham, that form appeared to have been given a boost, however Waiting Patiently did little for it with a distant third in the Melling. It is a race I will keep an eye on going forward.

Min’s performance here arguably pays a handsome compliment to Altior, who has beaten Min on all three occasions he has faced him.

Min wins the Melling at Aintree
Min was imperious in winning the Melling in a career best performance

In the novice division, Kalashnikov ran out a game winner on his first run over 20f in the Devenish Manifesto Grade 1. He had been shaping as though a step up in trip would suit and it certainly appears that his future lies over this trip.

The recent average for a Manifesto winner has been 158. Kalashnikov is a bit below that at 155 but is still 1lb higher than 2018 winner Finian’s Oscar. Mengli Khan ran a fine race in defeat and is another to advertise the strength of the JLT Chase form - Lostintranslation and Kildisart both won at Aintree and considering all those performances I have collaterally raised the level of the JLT, with Defi Du Seuil now rated 162 (from 159).

ORNUA STRIKES GOLD IN THE MAGHULL

The Grade 1 Doom Bar Maghull Novice’ Chase, the feature chase run over 2m during the Aintree festival, perhaps lacked a star contender but it looked a very open race and duly resulted in a close finish, writes Chris Nash.

Irish-trained runners finished first and second with Ornua beating Us And Them by one- and three-quarter lengths, with a further one and a quarter lengths back to Destrier in third. The last ten winners of this race range from 155 to 169 and average out at 161. Applying race standards to the result suggests the winner would have run a figure in the region of 157–159. Given my doubts about the overall strength of the race, I opted for the bottom end of that range, though even that interpretation still has the first three home all running career best figures – 157 for Ornua, 155 for Us And Them and 153 for Destrier.

Whilst the form of this renewal is nothing out of the ordinary, it has led to upgrades for some other 2m novice chasers.  The Arkle form was boosted by Us And Them (2nd) amongst others, and the winner of that race, Duc De Genievres, has been raised to a figure of 164. He remains the highest rated 2m novice of the season so far.

The second highest-rated novice at the distance is Le Richebourg. He’s beaten Us And Them twice in Grade 1 races in Ireland this season and has been raised to 159. A setback meant that he couldn’t run at either Cheltenham or Aintree.  The performances of Ornua and Kalshnikov also give a boost to the form of Dynamite Dollars who has been raised to a figure of 157. He was another who had to miss both Cheltenham and Aintree but his form from earlier in the campaign now has a very solid look to it and he remains a promising horse for next season. 

IF THE CAP FITS EDGES LIVERPOOL HURDLE THRILLER

Andrew Mealor assesses the two Grade 1 races in the staying hurdle division.

The Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle on Saturday provided a cracking three-way finish, with little more than a neck separating If The Cap Fits and the mares Roksana and Apple’s Jade at the line, though from a handicapper’s viewpoint it’s somewhat ironic that the best finish of the meeting came in a non-handicap!

With Paisley Park absent and Sam Spinner clearly not at his best, it arguably wasn’t the strongest of renewals in terms of top-level stayers. Apple’s Jade – in receipt of 7lb from the males in the field - stood out on form beforehand, and it’s likely that she was a fair way off her best form for all she went so close. She jumped right at several flights but kept responding and was edged out only close home.

Historical race standards point to a figure in the mid-160s for the winner, though pre-race standards (which looks at the levels of the principals beforehand) suggests lower, as does the proximity of outsider Lord Napier in fifth, the latter having achieved a peak figure of 145 when winning a well-contested handicap at Sandown two starts back. As such, I settled on a figure of 160 for If The Cap Fits, which is still a big improvement on his pre-race 152 and very close to what the previous two winners of the race achieved.

He did very well to prevail in truth having made a bad blunder at the last and then had to squeeze through a narrow gap to lead in the final strides, and some extra credit has been incorporated into that figure.

Roksana (up 3lb to 151) has also run a career best, and her effort paid a clear compliment to Benie Des Dieux who would have beaten her comfortably in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but for falling at the last.

If The Cap Fits still has a fair bit of ground to make up on division leader Paisley Park (168), though the fact this was his first run at 3m added to the impression that he did well to win as the race went, suggests he may have more to offer as a stayer next season.

The Doom Bar Sefton for the 3m novices was a bit easier to assess and favourite Champ (152) didn’t need to improve on his previous best form to prevail. In a race that was steadily run and tested speed as much as stamina, Champ settled surprisingly well up in trip and proved too quick for his rivals having travelled strongly to the last. Runner-up Emitom (up 3lb to 147) enhanced his reputation up in grade by staying on to finish seven lengths clear of the rest, and he’s another whose best days look ahead of him.

FELIX BOUNCES BACK

Felix Desjy was a fine winner of Aintree’s Grade 1 Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle, leaving his Cheltenham run well behind him, writes David Dickinson.

Felix Desjy came into Cheltenham off the back of an impressive all-the-way success in Punchestown’s Grade 2 Moscow Flyer hurdle but things went wrong in the Supreme. As he lined up at the front of the pack, the eventual winner of that race, Klassical Dreams, charged the tape causing a false start. From the ensuing standing start, Felix Desjy was very slow into his stride. In the circumstances, a fifth-place finish after being almost last over the first hurdle was a decent effort.

With a hood reapplied and back to his front running best on Friday, he led the field a merry dance despite a significant blunder at flight four, the first in the back straight. A rating of 154 puts him still behind Klassical Dreams but in front of the rest of last month’s Cheltenham opponents, including the third that day Itchy Feet, who never looked happy in this race and eventually finished fourth.

Cheltenham Grade 1 form was franked in the juvenile race, the Grade 1 Doom Bar Anniversary Hurdle, where Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills confirmed his status as best of the four-year-old crop. Impressive Fred Winter winner Band Of Outlaws started favourite but was found out by the wet and windy conditions. My take on his run was that the extra 20 seconds the Aintree race took in comparison to Cheltenham made this more of a stamina test than Band of Outlaws would want. His best flat form came over seven furlongs and a mile.

As Fakir D’Oudairies got so close to Pentland Hills, having been beaten 11 lengths in the Supreme at Cheltenham, it does temper enthusiasm for the four-year-olds going forward. They look an able (juvenile Chief Justice took the meeting’s closing handicap) but unexceptional bunch. Given the tragedy that befell Sir Erec in the Triumph, chances are their star performer was lost.

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