Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action from Newmarket's Future Champions Festival.

  • Thursday 15 October
  • Blog
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Clean sweep for the O’Briens in the Dewhurst

You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last Darley Dewhurst winner that wasn’t crowned European Champion Two-Year-Old, but in the aftermath of last weekend’s renewal it may be that this year’s title is still up for grabs, writes Graeme Smith.

The fact that this year’s race attracted by far the biggest field since Beethoven beat 14 rivals in 2009 underlined the view that things were all to play for. In event, as is often the case, a couple of Aidan O’Brien-trained colts rose to the occasion as they reversed National Stakes running with Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon, and for the time being at least St Mark's Basilica sits at the top of the class.

His official rating is a matter for the Irish handicapper until the European 2yo Rankings are discussed but my personal view at this stage is that he ran to a figure of 120. The average winning Dewhurst performance from the previous 5 years is 123, and 120 would have been good enough to be crowned Champion juvenile only twice since Grand Lodge achieved that figure in 1993.

St Mark’s Basilica is a half-brother to the 2018 Vertem Futurity and 2019 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia and shapes as though he’ll stay 1m himself, but he could well be given more to think about at that trip by his stablemate Wembley.

Ryan Moore’s mount got himself into an unpromising position having been slowly away and taken a long time to warm up. Pencilled in at 118, he’d be a very interesting runner if aimed at the Vertem later this month, though his stable will likely have a host of other possibles for that race of course, including the exciting High Definition.

Thunder Moon had shown a good turn of foot when winning a messy National Stakes at the Curragh and he travelled just about best entering the last 2f only to come up at least a couple of pounds short of that performance at 114.

The best of the British-trained colts was Devilwala in fourth. He raised his game significantly upped from 6f on his first outing since changing trainer, though whether his position front running against the rail played a part in that remains to be seen.

The Emirates Autumn Stakes has become a serious springboard to better things in recent seasons, with Ghaiyyath and Persian King both on the roll of honour, and One Ruler produced a smart performance in coming home almost two lengths clear of Van Gogh.

It’s fair to say the Godolphin-owned colt got a clearer run at things than some, but he nevertheless ran to a figure of 111 and is clearly progressing fast. Incidentally, the Listed Flying Scotsman Stakes at Doncaster that One Ruler finished third in on his previous start is looking better by the week – the winner New Mandate was raised to 112 after following up in the Royal Lodge a fortnight ago and runner-up Laneqash has now had his rating raised by 4lb to 111, collaterally.

Van Gogh looked well suited by the return to 1m in second, getting back to the form he’d shown when chasing home Cadillac in a Group 2 at Leopardstown, and he might have done slightly better still but for having to work to his right to make his run.

Megallan’s poor luck was more obvious though, and he’d surely have finished third at worst but for being shuffled right back behind the weakening front-runner Qaader. He’s duly been rated third best at 105.

If there was an edge in racing against the rail that would certainly have helped Lone Eagle, who made all in the Godolphin Flying Start Zetland Stakes, but it was hard not to be impressed by his performance either way.

My hand-timed sectionals say it was a searching pace he forced. Having first seen Fabilis off, he found plenty to then turn away Recovery Road before galloping on to win by a length and three-quarters and seven lengths.

The Zetland Stakes has had a lot of support in recent years as part of the initiative to promote staying horses and with Group 1 winners Wings Of Eagles (finished only fourth), Kew Gardens and Coronet having emerged from the race, it’s clearly reaping dividends.

Lone Eagle is a son of Galileo who was bought for 500,000 gns as a yearling. Currently rated 110, he too looks an exciting prospect.

Fillies took centre stage at Newmarket on Friday and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Pretty Gorgeous avenged her Moyglare defeat at the hands of old rival Shale in the Bet365 Fillies’ Mile.

In a race run with negative closing sectionals, it became hard work for Pretty Gorgeous as she held on by half a length from the May Hill winner Indigo Girl, but going into the Dip she’d promised to win by a fair bit further having taken over smoothly.

In hindsight, she’d shown a lot of speed when eroding Shale’s advantage in the Moyglare before being outstayed and it could be that playing her slightly later will bring even more out of her.

Again, as Pretty Gorgeous is trained in Ireland her official rating is a matter for the Irish handicapper, but I have her pencilled in at 113 in the Fillies’ Mile.

Incidentally, even though her score with Shale stands at two apiece from their meetings, my personal view is that Pretty Gorgeous’s two-and-a-half- length defeat of that rival in the Debutante (with Mother Earth the same distance back in third) is about as good a performance in the staying fillies’ division as there’s been all year (I have that at 114).

Campanelle also rates around 114 courtesy of her 6f Morny success. That figure would be the joint-lowest for a champion 2yo filly this century were things to finish like that.

Indigo Girl and Dubai Fountain had finished first and second in the May Hill at Doncaster and both raised their game further in the face of a more exacting test of stamina. Indigo Girl now rates at 112 (from 107) while Dubai Fountain’s 110 performance arguably deserves a special mention given she raced closer to the pace than the other principals.

The form of the Godolphin Lifetime Care Oh So Sharp Stakes looks some way short of the top fillies at present but that’s not to knock Saffron Beach at all.

Her 101 performance when holding off Thank You Next by half a length reads well considering she’d made her debut less than a fortnight earlier. Jane Chapple-Hyam mentioned a possible trip to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for her later this autumn, though she’ll likely have to improve at least 7lb more to finish in the first three there.

McFabulous sparkles in NH curtain raiser

Chepstow’s two-day October fixture signals the start of the core National Hunt season and we got an early look at one of the potential stars of the new campaign as McFabulous dispatched his rivals with ease in the Grade 2 Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle, writes Andrew Mealor.

Five of the seven runners in the Persian War were second-season novices, taking advantage of the rule that allows horses who gain their first success over hurdles in the later months of the previous campaign to retain their novice status in the early part of the new season.

That timeslot has been extended this season due to Covid-19 and the change was very much to the benefit of McFabulous who qualified by just a few days having gained his first win on the 4th February.

That success was followed by a resounding win in the rearranged EBF Final at Kempton just before lockdown, and that form made him the one to beat in the Persian War, even under a 3lb penalty.

Sent off at 6/4-on in a field of seven, backers of McFabulous never had a moments worry as he travelled strongly to the front three out and barely had to get out of second gear to win by an eased-down three lengths from Courtandbould, who was in turn four lengths clear of One For The Team in third.

Historical standards suggest a figure in the mid-140s but the likelihood is that McFabulous is an above-average Persian War winner and I have taken a higher view of proceedings. His new rating of 153 (which includes extra credit for the amount he appeared to have in hand over and above the bare result) is the highest achieved in the race since another Paul Nicholls-trained winner, Silviniaco Conti (also 153), in 2010.

The success of McFabulous enhanced an already impressive record in the race for the Ditcheat handler who has now saddled eight Persian War winners in total, including three of the last five.

McFabulous’s novice status expires at the end of November, though connections have loftier plans for him in any case, with a campaign centred around a crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle on the agenda. Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle is likely to be his next port of call. That race will be a sterner test, both in terms of stamina and ability - 159 is the average winning rating over the last five years- but given the impression McFabulous created at Chepstow, the likelihood is that he can rate higher when opportunity allows.

Courtandbould (141 from 135) has quickly developed into a useful novice, having made his hurdling debut only in July, and he stuck to his guns admirably in second, especially as he was a bit keen early on. He holds an entry in the 2m listed novice at Kempton this weekend, though beyond that connections may have an eye on the 21f Hyde Novice’s Hurdle at Cheltenham next month, a race the yard won with Coolanly in 2018.

That Grade 2 event could also well be a target for One For The Team (remains on 140) before his novice status runs out at the end of November. His progressive form in handicaps last season – including a fourteen length win on his final start – came over 3m, and this was a highly respectable return over a trip that was probably sharp enough for him.

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