It's been a big week on the Flat with Newmarket's Craven meeting seeing the unveiling of a host of hot prospects for the future, whilst Good Friday saw the inaugural all-weather championships, where more than £1m was on offer for those who'd been on the go. In a meaty bulletin we kick off with our updated view of last year's Champion Two-Year-Old.
TOORMORE THE SAME
After Kingman's demolition of the Aon Greenham field at Newbury the previous Saturday, it was the turn of last season's top-rated juvenile Toormore to put his 2000 Guineas credentials on the line when making his reappearance in the Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes at Newmarket last Thursday, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
Whilst not making the same visual impression as John Gosden's colt, Toormore got the job done in workmanlike fashion and putting a rating on the performance and a level on the race as a whole is difficult to do with confidence at present, particularly with well-fancied pair Anjaal (fifth - rated 111) and Be Ready (sixth and last - 111) blatantly failing to run their races. Runner-up The Grey Gatsby (beaten two lengths) went into the contest rated 110, whilst lightly-raced pair Postponed (third) and Patentar (fourth) possessed pre-race marks of 96 and 87 respectively - after much digging and delving I eventually decided that my figures for the race are Toormore (115), The Grey Gatsby (108), Postponed (104) and Patentar (99).
These figures suggest Kingman (118) put up the better 'trial' performance but Toormore will retain his pre-race rating of 122 gained when landing the National Stakes at The Curragh last September and he will almost certainly be the top rated colt in the race as the field heads to post on 3 May. Add the well-touted Coolmore contingent to the mix and it is certainly shaping up into a cracking first Classic of the season.
From a handicapping perspective the most satisfying result of last week was the Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance Earl of Sefton Stakes, also at Newmarket on the Thursday, with the first three home Mull of Killough (114), French Navy (112) and Fencing (110) all apparently running to their pre-race marks - if only it were always that easy!
Not quite so simple was the Ladbrokes All-Weather Mile Championship at Lingfield on Good Friday. Analysis of the result suggests two or three possible ways of rating the race but for me the critical horses are third-placed Alfred Hutchinson (beaten off his current mark of 100 in handicaps on his last two starts) and fast-finishing sixth-placed Noble Citizen (currently rated 97 and beaten off 96 on his last two starts) - using these two as a guide to the level, my figures for the race are Captain Cat (107), Highland Knight (103) and Alfred Hutchinson (100). The winner is the really interesting one from the race as he flew home having still been in rear on the final turn - he has now officially improved 21lb since winning a handicap at Kempton off 86 at the end of October and it will be fascinating to see if he can carry over that improvement when returning to turf.
DIVA GETS IT HER WAY
Whilst the two main British trials have proved informative with regard to the 2000 Guineas it's hard to argue that either the Fred Darling (won by J Wonder, who ran to 105) or the Lanwades Stud Nell Gywn have shed much light at all on the fillies' classic, writes Graeme Smith.
It may well prove that an end-to-end gallop and/or the extra 1f or the Guineas could bring a big step forward from one of the principals from the Nell Gwyn - Sandiva already has a rating of 109 from her Group 3 Calvados success at Deauville last August - but I reckon her winning figure in last Wednesday's race is the second lowest in the last six years at 103, ahead only of Esentepe's 100 in 2012.
Many of the fillies from the Nell Gwyn have had plenty of racing and don't look obvious candidates to step up markedly, but the runner-up Euro Charline (up 3lb to 101) could prove an exception. Marco Botti's filly was having her first turf start following two impressive all-weather successes and both suffered slightly in the crowding towards the rail and shaped as though an extra 1f will be in her favour as she closed exiting the Dip. Whilst my level fits in well with historical standards and the pre-race handicap marks of the principals, I certainly wouldn't assume this is the limit of the first two's ability, and one or two further back have the profile to do better for all they weren't able to show it on the day.
The Rossdales Maiden over the Nell Gwyn's course and distance 24 hours later often proves a good source of useful fillies and whilst a modest pace prevented any of them from setting themselves apart on the day there's a good chance a few will leave this form well behind in time.
There were certainly some eye-catching pedigrees - with most of the choicely-bred ones just starting out - and whilst the bunched finish means I couldn't justify a mark any higher than 83 (that level is slightly above what standards suggested for the principals) for Hadaatha's winning debut I suspect there'll be plenty of people out there who consider that to be lenient. My job is to assess what horses achieve in terms of form, and whilst Hadaatha's pedigree suggests she could be better than that, particularly over longer trips, it's not for me to inflate her mark artificially because of what her parents achieved years earlier.
I was impressed by how Solar Magic and Etaab shaped on their respective debuts in fourth and sixth, and it could well be that both have proved a fair bit better than their form here by the time they qualify for a mark. As ever, I'll be keeping an eye on how this race works out and am prepared to adjust my level should the need arise. Speaking of which, I did exactly that to the maiden That Is The Spirit win at Doncaster's Lincoln meeting following good performances from several of those he beat within the last week, including the runner-up Provident Spirit who ran to a figure of 87 when winning at Newmarket. That Is The Spirit had initially been given a mark of 85 but I now feel 90 more accurately reflects what he achieved.
I've had an interesting week as far as assessing potentially smart three-year-olds goes and dealt with the 32Red All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championship over 7f at Lingfield on Good Friday. I get the impression Ertijaal's connections still haven't ruled out a crack at a Guineas - and why not given the only horse to beat him in four starts to date is Toormore (and narrowly too!) - but he'll have to improve a fair bit further on this latest step up to a mark of 105 if he's to figure in such a race.
The runner-up Passing Star took a big step forward for all he met with his first defeat, improving a stone to a new mark of 103, whilst American Hope was arguably better than the bare result in fourth having been ridden that bit more positively in a well-run race that the first three.
The 32Red.com Fillies' and Mares' Championship, run over the same 7f, proved a very valuable pot considering the level of performance it took to win. Tactically the scales were nudged in favour of those ridden prominently by an astute front-running ride from Adam Kirby on Living The Life, but she ran a sound time all the same and is undoubtedly better than her pre-race mark of 78 - I moved her up 11lb to 89.
My impression was that fourth-placed Fashion Line (raced in mid-field) would have run nearer her mark of 88 and been more competitive on a level playing field, whilst fifth- and sixth-placed Interception and Fanoos also want marking up having finished well from even further back.
LITIGANT LORDS IT OVER MARATHON RIVALS
The inaugural all-weather championships were hailed as a great success by the organisers and it would be fair to say that the 32Red Casino All-Weather Marathon on the card most certainly complies with that assessment, writes Stephen Hindle.
Firstly, the three fast-track qualifier winners all lined up. Secondly, the three that won those races all finished in the first four and thirdly, one of them won. Not only that, but Litigant was the favourite and no doubt a very popular winner amongst the capacity crowd.
An ex-French gelding, Litigant won two out of three races in 2011 for Andre Fabre but didn't race in 2012. He didn't see a racecourse again until November of last year, when an eye-catching second off a mark of 88 on his debut for Seamus Durack.
He's now unbeaten in three starts since, and didn't appear to have had to improve much to take a first prize of more than £93,000, wearing down another of the fast-track qualifier winners, Arch Villain, to score going away. As a result of that, and the fact Arch Villain was probably at an advantage due to racing more prominently off what seemed to be a modest pace for much of the contest, I decided to call the half-length margin of victory 2lb.
The key to the final figure revolved around the second. Arch Villain went into the race rated 94, but there was room for putting him up based on his win at Kempton in November, when the second, Theology, won his next race.
Communicator, third in the Marathon Championship, went in on 90 but he has been higher in the past. Having decided to put up Arch Villain's Kempton form to have him running to a mark of 97 that day to tie in with the same mark at Lingfield, a four-length gap to Communicator meant a rating of 93 for the latter, which seemed fair considering that in 2012 he'd finished second off marks of 93 and 94.
That meant a new figure of 99 from 96 for Litigant, which conveniently put him 1lb higher than Castilo del Diablo, another of the fast-track qualifier winners. I subsequently lowered Castilo del Diablo to 96 on the all-weather, though I'm not sure the tempo of the race suited the hold-up tactics adopted on him, so to finish fourth was certainly no disgrace.
Despite justifying favouritism and seeing his rating go up, Litigant still didn't emerge as the highest-rated horse in the race. In an ideal world I'd have liked him to, but I was comfortable with my assessment and the one who is still higher, Blue Wave, won off a mark of 100 in February, so I felt 101 was the lowest I could justify for him, particularly as the longer trip didn't appear to be in his favour.
One of the few downsides to the all-weather championships is perhaps that all the finals are on polytrack. This really hindered some quality fibresand specialists in this race, with Mr Burbidge, Arr' Kid and Masterful Act all failing to finish any better than tenth.
The bookmakers.co.uk All-Weather Sprint Championship on Lingfield's Good Friday card produced a thrilling finish as Alben Star collared Trinityelitedotcom in the final strides, with Rivellino a fast-finishing third, writes Chris Nash.
The 12 runners all carried the same weight and plenty of them had been running against each other through the all-weather season. As is often the way in sprints the form of this race did not necessarily repeat that of previous meetings but I did find one seemingly reliable piece of form on which to base my assessment.
On the 8 February over the same course and distance Rivellino beat Alben Star by a neck in receipt of 3lb - which equated to Alben Star running a 2lb better race than Rivellino. On Friday at level weights Rivellino was beaten a head and half a length by his old rival, which again equated to 2lb. In the interim Rivellino had been placed in a listed race and arrived at Lingfield rated 104 so I used him as the guide to the form.
This had Alben Star running to 106 and the Trinityelitedotcom to 105. Both the first two have separate turf and all-weather marks and in putting up their all-weather marks for these runs I will keep the differential currently in existence - their turf marks will be 3lb and 2lb lower respectively.
It was interesting to read the quotes attributed to the winning trainer, Richard Fahey, in the press afterwards. He suggested that Alben Star has problems but had recently been treated by the vet. He had been in decent form at home and the trainer seemingly fancied him to run well. Fahey also added that the handicapper will probably 'kill' the horse.
Given that Mr Fahey expected Alben Star (rated 100 pre-race) to give more highly-rated horses a run for their money at level weights he'll hopefully view my assessment as being perfectly fair. As a group the BHA Handicappers are not in the business of 'killing' horses, by which I presume Mr Fahey means trying to stop them from winning in the future.
I have two pieces of recent form which both suggest that Alben Star is a 2lb better horse than the 104-rated Rivellino. If the first three took each other on in a handicap next time I would hope and expect that the connections of all three would feel they had a chance.
A mention also for the grand old campaigner Borderlescott (currently rated 100) who lined up in the 5f conditions race at Musselburgh that carried his name.
Seemingly unfancied at 33/1 and slightly wrong at the weights with some of his rivals, the 12-year-old ran a great race on his seasonal return and was touched off only in the shadows of the post, failing by a nose to take home the prize.
The winner was Smoothtalkinrascal, who arrived here rated 105 and gave Borderlescott 5lb. As such, those two ran very close to their ratings, and were supported by the 96-rated Inxile coming home a further length and a half back. I raised Smoothtalkinrascal 1lb to 106 to reflect the fact he'd beaten Borderlescott, and left both the runner-up and the third where they were.