Handicappers' Blog (23 May)

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THE ROAD TO GLORY

Olympic Glory rounded off the latest week with a decisive display in the Lockinge as he aims for the miling crown, and that was probably needed following on from relatively underwhelming results from a couple of the major Epsom trials at York.

There were big-race pointers elsewhere on the Knavesmire though, with penalised Group 1 winners coming to the fore in the Duke of York and Tac de Boistron underlining his claims for Royal Ascot in the Yorkshire Cup.

FURTHER GLORY FOR RED-HOT HANNON

Fresh from his 2000 Guineas success with Night of Thunder, Richard Hannon plundered another Group 1 prize at 1m when last season's joint top-rated European miler Olympic Glory made an extremely satisfactory reappearance with success in the JLT Lockinge at Newbury on Saturday, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

With a pre-race rating of 125, the colt went into the race with 7lb and more in hand of his seven rivals and, despite some minor reservations about his ability to cope with the rapidly drying ground, took the contest with a convincing display.

From a handicapping point of view the race is relatively easy to evaluate. Runner-up Tullius appears to have confirmed his career-high rating of 117 gained on his previous start when taking the Bet365 Mile at Sandown and that fits in neatly with fifth-placed Empire Storm having run to his pre-race figure of 107. This suggests that Olympic Glory ran to a mark of 122, 3lb short of his best, and sets down an early marker for the European miling crown.

A rival for that accolade may yet turn out to be third-placed Verrazano. The ex-American colt is a giant of a horse who will surely strip fitter for this first ever run on turf and the way he stayed on suggests he will step up on this performance of 113 in future races. That said he will need to improve on his 2013 world ranking figure of 119 now he has switched to turf if he is to challenge both Olympic Glory and his stable-mate Toronado for the top honours.

All roads now lead to Royal Ascot for the Queen Anne where at least one of the Hannon pair will lead the home defence in the latest round of what promises to be a fascinating division this year.

ON THE CLASSIC TRAIL

I have been watching and assessing a plethora of Oaks and Derby trials this week in Britain, France and Ireland, writes Phil Smith. The most informative and yet at the same time the most confusing was the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown. I have both Ebanoran and Fascinating Rock performing to 112, with Geoffrey Chaucer on 110, but it would be no surprise to see the form reversed and/or improved on when and if they all meet again.

Free Port Lux won the Prix Hocquart by half a length and I have him on 111 but I know my French colleague believes him to be better than that.

I also dealt with the Betfred Dante Stakes at York. The Grey Gatsby is an honest and consistent sort and I put him back to his two-year-old figure of 110 after his victory. I'm not at all convinced True Story was unlucky as he was well beaten despite the interference.

In the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, Madame Chiang produced a taking performance but I can get her no higher than 100 as yet as the second filly Lily Rules looks an exposed 96.

For me the most taking performance of the week was Shamkala's victory in the Prix Cleopatre. She was never off the bridle in maintaining her 100% record. I have her on 111 and she looks a worthy favourite for the Prix de Diane. I was similarly impressed with Tarfasha's easy victory in the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas. I rated her performance at 106 but she seems sure to be able to improve on that figure.

MAAREK'S THE MAN

The main sprint action on the Knavesmire last week was the Group 2 Clipper Logistics Duke of York Stakes, the first pattern race of the season over 6f in Britain, writes Stewart Copeland. It looked a wide-open affair beforehand, but class will out as they say and the finish was fought out by the only two horses with winning form at Group 1 level.

The honours on the day went to the admirable seven-year-old Irish challenger Maarek, now trained by Miss Evanna McCutcheon. Last year's Qatar Abbaye de Longchamp winner dug deep in a rousing finish to hold off the sole three-year-old challenger Astaire by a half a length. The winner of last year's Middle Park, Astaire was bidding become the first of his age group to win the race since Sampower Star in 1999, and emerged with plenty of credit from this narrow defeat.

Chasing them home in third was Es Que Love, a further length and a half behind. He brings solidity to the form as he was runner-up in the Group 2 Abernant Stakes at Newmarket on his previous start. I've factored in that he didn't have the best of runs inside the last furlong and I've rated the race as if he'd finished narrowly behind the runner-up.

Over the last decade a performance in the low/mid-110s is usually required to win the Duke of York, and there's no doubt in shouldering a 5lb Group 1 penalty to victory Maarek ranks higher than most in this period. With what the historical and pre-race standards are telling me, and the form of those in behind, I've settled on a rating of 115 for Maarek. That's marginally a career best effort - he achieved 114 at Longchamp - and only Society Rock's 117 in the race last year ranks higher this past decade.

That means I have Astaire reproducing his Middle Park rating of 114, and to put that figure into context, that would have been good enough to have won seven of the last 10 renewals. As for Es Que Love, he achieved a figure of 105. However his rating remains at 108 and that reflects my view above that he was better than the bare form on the day.

CHOIR AND MOORE SING FROM THE SAME HYMN SHEET

The 2014 Sky Bet Yorkshire Cup attracted a bigger than usual field of 12 and it duly proved to be a competitive affair, with only five lengths separating the first eight, writes Stephen Hindle.

The good finish was, as is often the case, partly down to a lack of pace, as the gallop didn't appear strong until they got into the final half mile. That arguably played into the hands of the winner Gospel Choir, who was having his first run at 1m6f, and he held on by a neck under Ryan Moore from Tac de Boistron.

Tac de Boistron is a real regular in these big staying contests and was far from discredited in second. He was giving 4lb to the winner and at least 3lb to the rest of his rivals. I saw no reason to have him running below form and kept him on his pre-race 117, which gave a performance figure of 114 for the winner. Gospel Choir remains unchanged on 115 as there seemed little point in pulling his rating down for winning another Group 2.

If there is a fly in the ointment when it comes to assessing this race it's the third Tiger Cliff, only half a length further back. Tiger Cliff had an excellent season in 2013, winning twice and finishing second once from four starts, the last three in some of the biggest staying handicaps in the calendar.

He suggested the gulf between the top handicaps and pattern company perhaps isn't that great at all with this fine effort, and while it does seem a bit of a jump to go from 104 to 112 he's still lightly raced for a five-year-old. Otherwise the form looks solid, and I have half of the 12 runners performing to within a couple of pounds of their pre-race ratings.

At Newbury, there was a win for old favourite Mount Athos in the JLT Aston Park Stakes. Mount Athos (115) had sidestepped a defence of the Ormonde Stakes at Chester due to the soft ground, and he didn't have to be at his best to take this 1m5f listed contest by a length from Forgotten Voice.

The runner-up was having his first run back in Britain following a spell in Australia, and despite now being a nine-year-old he clearly retains most of his ability. I left him on 110 as he didn't get the best of runs but still ran to within a couple of pounds of that. Those further back set the level in this one, third-placed First Mohican now back to 108, Elkaayed running 1lb below his pre-race 104 in fourth, and Brass Ring running to his pre-race 103 in fifth.

Handicappers' Blog (23 May)
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