Handicappers' Blog (9 July)

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BIG GUNS OVERSHADOWED IN ECLIPSE

Saturday's Eclipse was notable for the failure of the market principals to fire but did that mean the race was substandard? Phil Smith gives his take on the form, while a couple of the main supporting races are also discussed at length.

MUKHADRAM BREAKTHROUGH

I found the victory of Mukhadram in Saturday's Coral-Eclipse Stakes personally pleasing but professionally confusing, writes Phil Smith. How so? He is a horse I have always liked and the great thing about front runners or horses that race prominently is that they generally run their race. Mukhadram's last seven performance figures before Saturday were 114,122,118,117,111,118 and 119. As you can see he has been astonishingly consistent.

However his well-deserved Group 1 victory asked more questions than it answered because of the proximity of Somewhat, who went into the Eclipse rated 102 so created a huge problem as he was only just under three lengths back in third.

Fortunately my two-year-old Handicapper Matthew Tester called me to discuss the horse as he had one really good performance for Somewhat of 112 in the Washington Singer Stakes at Newbury. He convinced me that it would not be a great surprise to him that given the way the race was run and the track it was on that Somewhat could even improve on that effort.

Going through Somewhat at 114 I could get Mukhadram to 120, which means he will be discussed this week by the International Handicappers as he will get into this month's edition of the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings. Interestingly there are already figures of 121, 122 and 122 on our interactive system from other members of the International Panel.

The horse benefitted from another super ride from Paul Hanagan. Overall the time was stronger than many observers might think but clearly for whatever reason the five most fancied horses in the betting failed to give their running.

EXTORTIONIST CHARGES THROUGH THE RANKS

The race went to Extortionist, who as a two-year-old had won the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot and placed in the Group 2 Flying Childers at Doncaster. He'd got his three-year-old season back on track when winning a handicap at Newmarket off 100 last month and made further progress from his pre-race rating of 106 in prevailing by a length and a quarter and the same from the evergreen-Kingsgate Native (112 pre-race) and Dinkum Diamond (107), with the 103-rated Wind Fire a further nose back in fourth.

I felt the third and fourth provided the best guide to the form - the reliable Dinkum Diamond had placed in a handicap off 107 last time and Wind Fire (received a 3lb fillies allowance) had just won a listed contest over the same course.

This has Extortionist running a career-best figure of 113 but he won tidily enough and would appear to be worth that rating for now. Kingsgate Native ran to 109 but I'll leave his rating of 112 unchanged as that comes from a particularly strong-looking Palace House, where he split Sole Power and Hot Steak. Dinkum Diamond and Wind Fire both ran close to their respective marks with figures of 106 and 103 and I'm happy to upgrade Steps in fifth, who was slowest away and stopped in his run when making ground. He ran a figure of 105+ and remains a horse with Group race potential, though his hold-up style will always leave him a slight hostage to fortune.

The next likely meeting point for these sprinters will be the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood on the 1st August followed by the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

On a separate issue, I had an email from Tim Easterby recently suggesting he feels older horses aren't being given a chance to win handicaps, with their ratings dropping at a much slower rate than their form actually regresses. This is a viewpoint our team often has to defend against, and so it was pleasing for all parties to see Captain Dunne win for Tim at Haydock on Friday evening.

Captain Dunne fits the category well - his last win had been in the Dash at Epsom in 2011 off a mark of 105 and he'd been placed in May 2013 off 95 - and he'd come all the way down to 69 to register this win. Hopefully Captain Dunne's exploits, along with those of Gran Canaria Queen (who won at Carlisle on Saturday off a mark thought by her trainer to be beyond her) will give Tim more confidence in our handicapping methods in future.

HAVANA BEATS REPEATER

On the face of it, the result of the Coral Marathon Esher Stakes at Sandown was a triumph for the BHA handicap ratings, but as is so often the case in horseracing, the bare result doesn't tell the whole story, writes Stephen Hindle.

A field of just four went to post for this listed event over 2m and the favourite was actually the third best on the figures - Irish raider Domination came with mark of 100 following victory in the Ascot Handicap. With no obvious front runner in the field, Domination made the running, in stark contrast to what he did at Royal Ascot, and having won over 2m4f there he might have been expected to make this more of a test than he did, quickening the pace only half a mile out.

Ultimately, it was the highest rated in the field, Havana Beat, who battled on with the greatest resolution. His was a satisfactory performance not only in that his 103 mark was the best on offer, but also in that he confirmed, seemingly to the pound, his form from the Gold Cup, where he finished eighth behind Leading Light.

A head victory over the 102-rated Repeater was seemingly an ideal outcome, but Repeater probably should have won. He's always had a poor strike rate for a horse of his ability and he blotted his copybook on this occasion, reluctant to race and losing several lengths at the start. The steady pace meant the lost ground wasn't too much of a problem, but after coming with what looked a winning challenge in the final furlong he continued to carry his head awkwardly and was headed close to the line. He did at least confirm the form he showed in the Northumberland Plate and clearly retains enough ability to end a losing sequence which stretches back the best part of three years.

Domination was reported as having hung left but even so was beaten by less than half a length and certainly left the impression he's worth another chance at this level. The front trio finished a little way clear of the 90-rated mare Body Language.

Handicappers' Blog (9 July)
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