Handicappers' Blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the best of the action from last weekend's racing, starting with Ascot's bumper nine-race card.

  • Tuesday 12 February
  • Blog
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CYR THE BEST NAME

The star performance of the weekend was undoubtedly Cyrname’s runaway success in the Betfair Ascot Chase. Michael Harris assesses the performance.

A bumper nine-race card at Ascot on Saturday was headlined by the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase, and beforehand it looked a very competitive renewal. Last year’s winner Waiting Patiently was a warm favourite, but it was Cyrname who ran out an impressive 17 lengths winner.

He had shown improved form over the same course and distance on his previous start when winning a handicap by twenty-one lengths, and connections had cited the step up in trip and the removal of the hood as reasons for his improved effort that day.

Ridden from the front as usual, Cyrname impressed in the jumping department once more and made the Ascot Chase a good test. When both Waiting Patiently and Fox Norton looked to challenge him turning into the straight, he found another gear and quickened away to win very comfortably, beating the course record in the process despite being eased down in the closing stages.

As for rating the performance, Fox Norton (third) ran to 163 when seven lengths behind Altior in the Clarence House last time and I thought he was in similar form here, whilst Charbel (fifth) has a string of consistent efforts to his name this season and looks very solid on 159 – his Grade 2 win at Huntingdon has been dropped 2lb on the back of this run.

Using those two as a guide to the level brings Cyrname out on 178, which is the best steeplechase performance of the season so far in any division. To put that in context in terms of this race historically, Waiting Patiently (2018) and Riverside Theatre (2011 and 2012) had been the highest rated winners of this race in the last ten years on 170.

Cyrname wins the Grade Ascot Chase
Cyrname won in devastating fashion at Ascot on Saturday

Waiting Patiently (down 1lb to 169) wasn’t quite at his best in second and looked to get tired on his first completed start of the season – he also likely needs a softer surface to show his best form. Fourth-placed Politologue had beaten Charbel here earlier in the season giving him 6lb but was unable to match that form on this occasion.

It is very rare that a Grade 1 of this depth is won in such comprehensive style and the way Cyrname finished off the race provides plenty of hope that three miles won’t prove beyond his stamina limitations. Whilst the majority of his best runs have come on right handed tracks, he is clearly a different animal of late and, still only a 7yo, looks well worth another chance on a left-handed track – it’s possible the removal of the hood has been a key factor in his recent improvement.

THAT OBEAUX SOUND

Clan Des Obeaux made mincemeat of the opposition in the re-routed Betfair Denman Chase at Ascot on Saturday, and continues to show he is a different animal to the one we saw last year, writes Martin Greenwood.

While the field wasn’t nearly as onerous as the one he faced at Kempton on Boxing Day, Clan Des Obeaux put down another marker with a visually imperious display, jumping boldly and easily brushing aside the 159-rated Terrefort (who received 3 lb) having stalked him effortlessly on the last circuit. 

Ratings wise, it’s hard to be certain when horses barely come off the bridle and I am happy to simply leave the 173 from Kempton, which is as good as anything we have seen this season in the staying division. Next up will be Cheltenham, which will prove a different test compared to the flat tracks he has raced on this season. However, he did finish second on both his previous starts over fences there, albeit at around 21f.

Earlier in the week I had the privilege of delivering the weights for the Grand National for the first time at a fun-packed event in Liverpool, which was an honour and a privilege. Fast forward four days and some of those announced were taking part in an ultra-competitive William Hill Grand National Trial handicap at Haydock.

With over half of the field holding a National entry it looked a really informative contest going in, but in the event the searching pace, even on unseasonably faster ground, had most in trouble a long way from home. The race effectively turned into a three-horse affair up the home straight, but we were treated to a great finish as the fragile Robinsfirth held off Ramses Des Teillee and Chef D’Oeuvre (who ran from 3lb out of the handicap), with only a couple of lengths separating the trio at the line.

Only Ramses has an entry in the ‘big one’ and will go into the race 5lb ‘well in’ given the National closed so early. Robinsfirth also posted a personal best at 154 (up 6lb), while Chef returned to something like his previous best on 134 (up 7lb from his pre-race rating but only 4lb higher than the mark he ran off).

AL DANCER SUPREME AFTER BETFAIR ROMP?

The Betfair Hurdle, transferred from the lost Newbury meeting last weekend, is usually close to being the most competitive handicap hurdle of the winter, writes David Dickinson. However, 2019 hasn’t been a typical jump season in many ways and the Betfair turned out to be unusually weak for a race of its stature.

One of the preps I do for any handicap is to note the horses that have run within five pounds of their mark within the last six weeks. In lower grade races this can prove more than useful – a wide-margin winner could simply be beating a bunch of out of form horses for example.

Of course, this doesn’t usually apply to any of the bigger handicaps I deal with. For instance, November’s Greatwood Hurdle saw 13 of the 18 runners get such a note, the Betfair Exchange Trophy (formerly the Ladbroke) at Ascot the following month, saw 14 of the 21 runners duly noted. Saturday’s 14-runner Betfair saw just two, Magic Dancer and Ar Mest.

Though a weaker renewal than usual, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the progressive winner, Al Dancer, who is now favourite for Sky Bet Supreme that opens next month’s Festival.

Another reservation about the form would be the lack of horses able to get involved from off the pace. Good rides on those to the fore saw the taps turned on at just the right time for them but the wrong time for those ridden from behind. As such, Getaway Trump, who did best of the horses in the latter category, should certainly not be written off just yet.

Al Dancer’s new rating of 152 puts him right in the mix for the Supreme (although you usually need to be in the upper 150’s to win it) but that race continues have an open look to it, with the improving Betway Kingwell Hurdle winner Grand Sancy also raised to the same mark.

Add to these the entry for Angels Breath in this coming Saturday’s Sky Bet Dovecote at Kempton, an equally intriguing Irish Juvenile in Fakir D’Oudairies, plus the usual solid Irish novice contingent, fronted this year by Klassical Dream and Aramon (who all but dead-heated last time), and you have the makings of a fantastic race to open Cheltenham.

Quel Destin (146) continues to look the best of the home juveniles after a decisive win in Haydock’s William Hill Victor Ludorum, as Torpillo became another talking horse to fail to lower his colours. Quel Destin is an admirable sort and probably still on the up, but it does appear that the better bunch of juveniles are in Ireland this winter. Ironically another Paul Nicholls inmate, Pic P’Orhy, seems to have the best form of all the French Imports but has yet to make his debut in this country.

CHELTENHAM STAYING CLUES?

With Cheltenham in mind, Andrew Mealor looks back at the two big staying races over hurdles on Saturday’s card at Haydock.

In theory Haydock’s Rendlesham Hurdle is one the last major trials for the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival. In reality, however, the latest renewal looks likely to have little bearing on events at Cheltenham next month with none of the first three home even entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle at present. 

Hot favourite Yanworth was clear top rated coming in on 161 but he disappointed on his first outing since sixth in last year’s Stayers Hurdle, whilst 3/1-shot Clyne also underperformed on a rare run away from soft ground, and it was two of the lowest-rated runners who came to the fore in Shades Of Midnight and Petticoat Tales, the former scoring by eight lengths.

Historical standards point to a figure in the low-150s for the winner (the average figure for the previous five winners is 152) but given the doubts over the strength of the form I have taken a lower view of the race and based the level around Shades of Midnight returning to his highest previous figure of 148 (a 7 lb rise), which also means a small rise for the mare Petticoat Tales (131 to 133).

Shades Of Midnight had finished a close second to Paisley Park in a handicap on his previous visit to Haydock back in November, and that rival has gone on to dominate the staying hurdle scene in Britain with wins in the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot and the Cleeve at Cheltenham. He recorded a figure of 168 when scoring by twelve lengths in the latter, and looks sure to take all the beating if turning up in similar form at the Festival.

Later on, the Haydock card there was a performance which may well have a much bigger impact on Cheltenham. The Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle looked a competitive event on paper but in event Lisnagar Oscar ran away with it, scoring by an easy ten lengths. The form looks to have some strength to it – fourth-placed Star of Lanka was a solid fourth in the competitive Lanzarote Handicap last time – and a winning figure of 145 makes him a leading contender for the Albert Bartlett (Spa) next month.

Short-priced favourite Kateson (141) disappointed on the back of his third in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle but that form has been boosted by others, namely Getaway Trump (mentioned above) and Brewin’upastorm (146), the latter likely to have gone very close in the Grade 2 at Cheltenham won by Birchdale (also 146) but for falling at the last.

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