Handicappers' Blog (18 September)

The head handicappers from the British Horseracing Authority review the pick of the flat action from the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival while casting an eye back to Haydock's Sprint Cup result.

  • Thursday 18 September
  • Blog
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KING OF THE HILL

It might have taken until September for Kingston Hill to add to his Racing Post Trophy success last autumn but it was certainly worth the wait for the Derby runner-up and he became a Classic winner in his own right as he outpointed ‘the right’ horses late in the piece. That’s the lead in this week’s bulletin and beyond the round-up of the latest happenings on the juvenile scene we also look back on the Sprint Cup from Haydock the previous week.

TOWN ROAR

The two biggest staying races of Doncaster’s St Leger Festival had the majority of the crowd in raptures after both favourites obliged, writes Stephen Hindle.

It’s very rare that the Derby form fails to work out and Kingston Hill and Romsdal confirmed once again that it’s rock solid by finishing first and second in the Group 1 Ladbrokes St Leger, having finished second and third to Australia at Epsom.

Much debate surrounded the participation of Kingston Hill, who had been withdrawn on account of the ground being deemed too firm on a couple of occasions since last seen out, but on going officially described as good with good to soft patches, he was allowed to take his chance at Doncaster and it proved to be a correct decision as he finished well to beat Romsdal by a length and a quarter. He drifted to his left a furlong out, doing the second and third (Snow Sky) no favours, but there was no doubting the best horse won.

While it was nice to see the top three rated finish in that order the distances were too compressed to have all of them running to their pre-race marks. I have Romsdal running to his 115, which means Kingston Hill has run to 117, 3lb off his mark of 120.

I have Snow Sky improving a bit and he goes from 111 to 113, with Windshear running to 112 in fourth having previously been on 110. Windshear was just a neck behind Snow Sky and I could have given him the same rating, but Snow Sky has beaten him by the same margin on his last two starts so a 1lb difference seems more appropriate.

It appeared to be a deep St Leger in terms of quality, if not one bursting with superstars, and few of the runners were disgraced. I have raised the fifth Marzocco from 107 to 110 and sixth Forever Now from 106 also to 110. The depth of the race is underlined by the fact that all 12 runners have run to at least 99, at least on my figures.

Star staying mare Estimate registered a deserved first success of the season in the Socialites Electric Cigarettes Doncaster Cup, which was her fourth pattern-race win but first Group 2 success, having scored twice at Group 3 level previously and once in a Group 1.

The first six were separated by less than three lengths and with three of those six rated 103 or less it’s impossible to rate Estimate as having run to her figure of 112 on the maths, particularly considering that she was receiving weight from the other five in the first half of the field.
Kalann was rated just 80 in Ireland going into this and has clearly run the race of his life, or at least his Flat career, in a close third. He does have placed form in graded company over hurdles, however, so perhaps it shouldn’t be seen as a huge surprise.

To level the race I looked to Brass Ring, who seems to run to within 1lb of his mark every time he takes to the track and ran another creditable race here in sixth. That also means Biographer has run close to form as he was just a short head in front of Brass Ring in fifth, and prior to the race I had Biographer on 102 and Brass Ring on 103.

I plumped for 103 for them both subsequently, which means Estimate has run to just 105 on the maths, some 7lb below her rating, but the way this race panned out was always likely to mean she would fail to run to her mark on the figures and as her second in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot looks solid enough I have left her on 112.

I have also left Whiplash Willie, who is on 108, despite the fact he seems to have run slightly below form in second.

My figure for Kalann is 105 and hopefully he will confirm this effort at some point in the future, whilst Clever Cookie was far from discredited in fourth after the leaders rather got away from him and he stays on 106.


JUVENILES IN THE ASCENDANCE

Leger week gives plenty of clues to the two-year-old championship races starting soon, writes Matthew Tester.

The John Smith’s Extra Smooth May Hill Stakes, for example, has often been the springboard to the Fillies Mile. Four of the last six winners have done the double. Agnes Stewart might follow suit although she is only rated 105 on my figures for now. In recent years the Fillies Mile winner has run 110-113 so there has to be more to come. But she won the May Hill decisively and there is an argument that the race could be 2lb higher. 

Estidhkaar moves up 1lb to 114 for his win in the At The Races Champagne Stakes. The last two winners were Outstrip and Toronado, each of whom went on to win Group 1s. Estidhkaar did not exactly slaughter this field but he was giving 3lb away to every other horse. And there were strong group-race form lines behind him. Again, the race could have been rated higher but we want to consider all the runners and try to take a balanced view. 

If you push the figures as high as you can then there will always be some who are given ratings beyond what we believe to be true. Finding the level for a race is rarely simple with every figure pointing to the same decision. The art of handicapping comes not from being good at maths; it comes from choosing the most appropriate fit on the information available at the time. And that means amending that solution as more information becomes available later.

The unfortunate loser of the week has to be Cotai Glory in the Group 2 Polypipe Flying Childers. He had the race won close to home when he hung and then swerved, leaving George Baker on the ground strides before the line. Cotai Glory looked certain to win and do it well, by two lengths at least. I have decided to give him credit for the performance and have moved him up from 107 to 112, treating him as if he had won by two lengths. He could well be off to something like the Cornwallis next.

A DOMINANT FORCE

The Saturday before last saw the final Group 1 sprint of the season in Britain, the 6f Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, writes Stewart Copeland.

With this year’s leading European sprinter Slade Power an absentee, the race had a wide-open look to it with 17 runners going to post. The betting was headed by Sole Power, who was attempting to register his first Group 1 success at 6f having been a multiple winner at this level over the minimum trip.

However the day was to belong to the progressive three-year-old G Force, trained by David O’Meara and owned by Middleham Park Racing. Shrewdly purchased by the latter for just 25,000gns at Tattersalls last October, G Force’s form has been on an upward curve all season and he gave notice last time out in the Nunthorpe at York when a narrowly beaten, unlucky-in-running sixth, that he could mix it at the top level.

He also left the distinct impression a step up to 6f would bring about further improvement having been exclusively campaigned at 5f this year. That proved to be so, as having been held up off the pace he came through with a strong late challenge to deny Gordon Lord Byron by three-quarters of a length, the latter attempting to win the race for the second year running. Back in third a further length-and-a-half back was the consistent Music Master, who gives more solidity to the form having run well in some of the top sprints this season.

In assessing the race my first port of call is to calculate the historical/pre-race standards for the contest. In recent years a figure of 118 for the winner has proved to be the average and my calculations suggested this race was no different. That meant G Force had improved 7lb from his pre-race rating of 111, with the runner-up Gordon Lord Byron returning a figure of 116, a shade below his pre-race rating of 117. It also meant that Music Master ran right up to the standard I’d expect for the third placed horse, reproducing his rating of 112.

Incidentally that means the 118-rated Sole Power, who finished a respectable fourth, ran to a rating of 111. Even though he’s shown himself capable of being competitive at 6f at Group 1 level the fact remains that his very best form is at the minimum trip, but all credit to connections for having a go, which certainly added a good deal more interest to the race.

Looking at the European sprint scene as a whole the 6f ratings are still headed by Slade Power, who I currently have at 119, closely followed by G Force at 118. Not surprisingly my colleague Chris Nash has Sole Power topping the 5f ratings at 118, a division he has clearly dominated this year. The sole remaining Group 1 sprint in Europe is the Qatar Prix de L’Abbaye de Longchamp for any potential contender to dethrone the above.

Handicappers' Blog (18 September)
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