Handicappers' Blog (20 October)

The latest blog from the head handicappers at the British Horseracing Authority covers British Champions Day where, the performances of Fascinating Rock, Muhaarar and Solow are covered.

  • Tuesday 20 October
  • Blog
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QIPCO CHAMPIONS DAY

The culmination of the British season drew a wealth of Europe’s finest and marked the crowning of not one but two divisional champions, one of whom stamped himself as the best in his division in Britain for more than a decade. Here our team gives a full review of all five Championship races and just how they impact on end-of-season classifications.

DOING A SOLOW

A ninth straight success for Solow in the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes left him very much in pole position for the title of Champion Miler of Europe but once again he did little more than was necessary in winning a modest renewal of a race that is often considered the key to the pecking order in the division, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

With runner-up Belardo (pre-race 112) and fourth-placed Integral (117) without a win between them this year, and third-placed Gabrial (113) unsuccessful in 11 starts since winning the Lincoln off 100 back in March, this year’s race cannot be considered a vintage running.

In terms of putting performance figures on the race, my first instinct was to have Gabrial reproducing the 113 he ran when third behind Solow in the Sussex at Goodwood, which would mean Solow had run to 118 on Saturday and Belardo 116. It may be that come the meeting of the international handicappers in Hong Kong in December that that is the route the committee will decide to take. After digging a little deeper into the form however, I have decided to set the current level of the race 1lb above that; as such I now have Solow running 119, Belardo 117 and Gabrial 114.

My reasons for this line of thinking are as follows:

• In running to 113 in the Sussex, Gabrial was beaten two-and-three-quarter lengths by Solow – on Saturday he was beaten two-and-a-quarter lengths, thus closing the gap by half a length or the equivalent of 1lb improvement.
• In the Sussex, Solow beat the 118-rated Arod by half a length. At Ascot he beat Belardo by the equivalent of a neck further, suggesting that Belardo should be 1lb inferior to Arod.
• Most of the International handicappers have Integral running to 114 in the Sun Chariot on her previous start – I have now dropped her BHA rating to that level but Belardo was conceding her the 3lb sex allowance and at 116 it would have meant that (in theory) Integral should have beaten him. At 117 they at least had the same theoretical chance on Saturday.
• In the light of Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs’ subsequent Derby figures, the pace making Elm Park could easily have performed to 113 in the Dante – a figure that supports my current level for the QEII.

It was disappointing that the likes of Gleneagles (sixth; ran to 113), Territories (seventh; 112) and Kodi Bear (eight; 111) failed to live up to expectations for various reasons, but let’s take nothing away from Solow. He will retain his pre-race rating of 124 and he can only turn up and beat what is put in front of him – something he has done with supreme professionalism all year long.


SIMPLE AS THAT

It might only be the fifth running but Saturday’s QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes was the highest quality field so far, writes Phil Smith.

It looked a good contest beforehand and with victory going to the St Leger winner, from a clearly progressive filly who had won three of her last four starts, the result confirmed my pre-race thoughts.

Here are my performance figures for the first four home of each of the five renewals.

 

Year

Winner

Perf figure

Second

Third

Fourth

Average

2011

Dancing Rain

117

114

111

111

113.25

2012

Sapphire

116

112

108

106

110.5

2013

Seal of Approval

114

108

107

106

109.75

2014

Madame Chiang

113

110

109

109

110.25

2015

Simple Verse

117

115

113

112

114.25

The further she went the better she went, and using Bocca Baciata as my base for the race on 111 (third successive 111) brings Simple Verse out on 117. The distance between the two fillies was three-and-a-half lengths and I called that 6lb as Simple Verse was going away at the line. That’s exactly what I’d do if a horse won one of my handicaps in that fashion.

In the QIPCO Champion Stakes the three highest rated horses finished first, second and third, although not in the order suggested by their ratings. Fascinating Rock improved from his 120 going in to 123 with his defeat of the 118-rated Found, who received the 3lb fillies’ allowance. Jack Hobbs (at 120) performed just a little below his best of 123. Whenever a horse runs below its rating we always look back at its form to see if we’re still happen with our existing assessments.

In Jack Hobbs’ case I’m confident he’s worth his 123 as Storm The Stars endorsed the Irish Derby form in the Voltigeur and both that one and Golden Horn have done plenty for the Epsom form too. So why just a little below his best? It may prove that 1m4f suits him ideally rather than the 1m2f of Saturday’s race. The performances I have for his three starts at 1m2f are 119, 119 and 120, whereas his two Derby performances at 1m4f are 121 and 123. Group 1 races are won and lost by such small margins.


MUHAARAR CONFIRMS HE’S KING

This year’s 6f QIPCO British Champions Sprint was the first staged with Group 1 status and boasted a field well worthy of that tag, with no less than four of the 20-strong field previously successful at this level, writes Stewart Copeland.

The main focus of the race was whether Muhaarar could land his fourth Group 1 success in a row and cap what had already been a fantastic season, one in which he’d laid claim to being one of the best British sprinters for many a year. He didn’t disappoint.

Sent off a somewhat generous looking 5/2 favourite, he was always travelling well just behind the pace and when asked to assert over a furlong out, did so in tremendous style, soon putting daylight between himself and his rivals. Chasing him home was the previously unbeaten Twilight Son, winner of the Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup, with Danzeno and The Tin Man filling the remaining two places.

One significance of the result is that three-year-olds filled three of the first four places, and that age group has largely dominated the Group 1 6f furlong sprints in Britain this year. The introduction of a revamped sprint programme for three-year-olds has certainly increased the strength in depth of that division, with the focal point of the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot surely playing an important role in Muhaarar’s development as a sprinter.

As for Muhaarar’s performance on Saturday, his two-length defeat of Twilight Son is arguably a career best and as good a performance as we’ve seen by a British sprinter on these shores since his sire, Oasis Dream, ran to 125 in winning the 2003 July Cup. Even though his rating will have to be ratified at the year-end World Rankings conference in Hong Kong, I’ve taken the view that Muhaarar ran to a figure of 123 at Ascot.

The form has a very solid look to it, with the second, third and fifth-placed Naadirr all tying in neatly on the pick of their previous efforts. That means Twilight Son reproduced his Haydock rating of 117, with Danzeno credited with 113. A mention must also be given to The Tin Man in fourth, who’s progressed at a rapid rate of late and ran an excellent race for such an inexperienced horse stepping up significantly in class. He posted a rating of 112.

To further illustrate the strength of the form, whilst accepting the fact the race has been upgraded this year, Twilight Son’s performance would have been good enough to win every other renewal (run as the Diadem prior to 2011) this millennium with the exception of Deacon Blues’ triumph in 2011. He can consider himself somewhat unlucky to be born in the same year as Muhaarar!

Sadly it appears we’ve seen the last of Muhaarar on the racetrack, with connections ruling out a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup. His performances this year have lit up the sprint scene, particularly his two stunning successes at Ascot, and it’s been a privilege to watch and assess his development.


FLYING HIGH

The Group 2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup was run at a very steady pace and subsequently turned into a messy race with plenty of horses meeting varying levels of trouble in running, writes Mark Olley.

The one horse to avoid all the trouble was Flying Officer, who was given a superb ride by Frankie Dettori. Sat just off the slow pace, Frankie was quick to push Flying Officer through a gap on the rail over three furlongs out and from there he was in the perfect position to make a long run for home. I would imagine he was in front sooner than ideal, but while his rivals were getting in each other’s way John Gosden’s gelding was powering his way to a clear-cut win. His rating moves from 109 to 115, as I called the one length winning margin 2lb due to idling/being eased in the final few strides.

Conversely things did not go to plan for Clever Cookie. His usual patient running style was ill-suited to the slow pace of this race and he found a wall of horses in front of him as he tried to make progress. Once in the clear he made a lot of late headway only to find Flying Officer beyond recall.

I think this run is at least as good as his York listed win back in May and have subsequently left his rating unchanged on 113. Peter Niven’s likeable gelding has been in the form of his life on the Flat this summer. He loves ease in the ground and will hopefully be a major force in the Cup races next season.

Irish runner Wicklow Brave came to hold every chance entering the final furlong, but he is not quite as strong a stayer as the front two and was caught for second close home. Willie Mullins’ gelding clearly stays 2m, but I can’t help feeling the 1m6f, or just beyond, could be his optimum trip. He came into the race rated 111 and nudges up 1lb to 112.

Pallasator was one of the major sufferers, as Wicklow Brave angled out for a run two furlongs from home. Sir Mark Prescott’s gelding took a major bump, but despite that recovered to keep on nicely for fourth. I am certainly not suggesting he was unlucky, but I am sure he could have finished closer with more luck in running. 

Last year’s winner Forgotten Rules has generally failed to build on that win, when he was having just his third Flat race start. However, it would be harsh to be too critical of this performance as he found significant trouble in running and this effort is best forgiven.

My figures have this as the strongest renewal of the race since Fame And Glory beat Opinion Poll and Colour Vision back in 2011, but it is very unlikely to provide Europe’s Champion Stayer as Order of St George currently has an Irish rating of 124 for his scintillating Irish St Leger victory in September.

Handicappers' Blog (20 October)
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