CRACKSMAN: EUROPE’S BEST ONCE AGAIN
BHA Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill assesses the two most valuable races on Champions’ Day, starting with Cracksman’s dominant success in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.
As was the case twelve months ago, the highlight of Champions Day 2018 was undoubtedly the performance of Cracksman in winning his second Champion Stakes. Rated 130 when demolishing his field by seven lengths last year, the question is whether he achieved a similar level with his very comfortable six-length success (looks further to the naked eye) on Saturday, when he was in such control that Frankie Dettori could spend the last half furlong waving to the crowd.
From a ratings perspective the slight concern is the presence of Czech raider Subway Dancer (pre-race 108) in third, but for whom the race would probably be rated higher. He is no slouch however, and was credited with a performance of 112 when runner-up in last year’s Prix Dollar (French Group 2) and I suspect he has run to that sort of level here.
As such, runner-up Crystal Ocean (pre-race 129) has run to 114 on ground that may well have been too soft and over a trip that may have been too sharp. Interestingly, the last time he ran over 10f with some cut in the ground I had him running to a very similar level (113) when winning the Gordon Richards at Sandown on his seasonal reappearance.
From a purely mathematical point of view that would leave Cracksman having run to 126/127+ but such was his dominance and ease of victory, I believe it would be churlish to say that his performance wasn’t as good as last year’s and I have put him back to his peak mark of 130.
That would represent the best performance we have seen in Europe this season and, come December, the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee will discuss the performance in relation to the world’s other leading performers through the year.
Following on from the Champion Stakes and various other results from the second half of the season, my colleague Mark Olley (who looks after the top 12f races) and I had a conversation regarding the top British-trained performers of the season in relation to each other and made a couple of tweaks. Crystal Ocean, who has yet to win at Group 1 level, is pulled back to 126 whilst his King George conqueror Poet’s Word is reassessed at 127 – the same as his Juddmonte International conqueror Roaring Lion.
Mention of Roaring Lion brings me neatly to the QEII and a fourth straight Group 1 success for John Gosden’s colt. To my mind the soft ground was the determining factor as far as the result was concerned, with Roaring Lion running 9lb below his best in gaining a narrow victory on ground that both jockey and trainer were adamant that he was hating - the next five horses home were all proven soft ground performers.
The presence of Stormy Antarctic in fourth gives a major clue as to the level of the contest, that gelding having never run higher than 114 in twenty-three previous starts and I see no obvious reason as to why he should have improved on run number twenty-four. As such, I have Roaring Lion running to 118, runner-up I Can Fly (who could be considered a little unlucky as carried 2lb overweight and didn’t get the clearest of runs 2f out) improving from 110 to 116 and Century Dream (third) going up a couple of pounds, also to 116.
STRADIVARIUS HITS ALL THE RIGHT NOTES
Five wins out of five. Over £2,000,000 won in prize money and bonuses. It has been a dream year for Stradivarius. He rounded off his season by winning the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot, but it could have finished very differently, as Matthew Tester explains.
This win showed why Stradivarius is king of the stayers. He is a stayer with a turn of foot. With three furlongs to go he was stuck on the rails with nowhere to go. When, turning into the straight, the front-running Flag of Honour swung just one horse’s width off the rails, that was enough encouragement for Frankie Dettori. He already had Stradivarius ready to go.
The horse quickened into the gap before Ryan Moore could shut the door and the race was won in that instant. Without that gap, without that acceleration and without Frankie having him primed for the moment, his perfect season might not have happened.
None of Stradivarius’ five wins in 2018 have been gained by a wide margin but he keeps pulling out enough. His rating of 120 remains unchanged after Saturday but it might go higher next year. Only one of his opponents in the Long Distance Cup was rated higher than 112, but next year Stradivarius could take on the St Leger winner Kew Gardens in the top staying races, that colt currently rated his equal at 120.
That might be the chance for Stradivarius to show us everything that he can do and for him to earn an even higher figure.
MAGICAL SUCCESS O’BRIEN AND MOORE
Man of the moment, John Gosden looked to have a strong hand in the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes, writes Mark Olley, saddling hot favourite Lah Ti Dar and last year’s third Coronet. However, that pair had to give best to Ballydoyle’s Magical.
Having won the race last year, Aidan O’Brien was mob handed in the latest renewal, saddling six of the eleven runners, including last year’s 119-rated winner Hydrangea. However, she has unfortunately been a shadow of herself this season and finished a well-held fifth.
Victory went to Magical who missed the early part of the campaign with a minor setback. This was her second try at 12f (down the field in the Arc last time) and she proved her stamina with a decisive win. I have a figure of 115 on this performance (her official rating will be published in Ireland) and that bears comparison with our historical standards of 116 for an average winner.
Coronet finished third in 2017 and went one better this time. She didn’t get an ideal run through the race but still managed to beat her better-fancied stablemate Lah Ti Dar. Her 113 rating is the same as she achieved in the race last year.
Hot favourite Lah Ti Dar was initially rated 115 after her ten-length defeat of Light of Joy in the Galtres Stakes at York. That wasn’t an easy performance to rate and that has now been revised down 1lb to 114. Still inexperienced, she reportedly remains in training and it would be no surprise were she to progress further as a four-year-old.
Going in to this year’s QIPCO British Champions Sprint no one horse had stamped their dominance on the 6f division this season, writes Stewart Copeland. Indeed, the previous five Group 1 races in Europe at the distance had produced five different winners.
Of them, only The Tin Man was in the fourteen-strong field, so it was no surprise the recent Haydock Sprint Cup winner was sent off favourite, given he boasts an excellent record at the Berkshire track.
However, it was not to be his day, and instead the honours went to the 3yo Sands Of Mali, trained by Richard Fahey and given an excellent front-running ride by Paul Hanagan.
Having been below par since a somewhat unlucky second in the Commonwealth Cup at the track in June, he bounced back in great style and arguably put up a marginal career best effort in landing the spoils.
Soon dictating the pace, he kicked on 2f out and always looked in command thereafter. The hand-timed sectionals I took suggest a slightly positive split for the last 2f, which emphasises the jockey got the fractions spot on. In a race which very few got into, a position on or near the pace looked an advantage.
In terms of assessing the race, the historical and pre-race standards both suggest a figure in the region of 117/118 for Sands of Mali, and I eventually settled on 118. This links in neatly with third-placed Donjuan Triumphant’s rating of 112. Like the winner, he was well placed on the pace throughout and was fully proven under the prevailing conditions.
Splitting the pair was last year’s Champion Sprinter, Harry Angel. It’s been a frustrating season for all those concerned with him, so it was good to see him run so well. A combination of the stiff track and soft going were probably never going to show him at his very best light, so he deserves plenty of credit for his effort in running to 115.
Reflecting on the season, there’s little to choose between the winners of the Group 1 6f sprints in Europe, though in my view U S Navy Flag’s victory in the July Cup just shades it at 119.
However, it’s unusual when a performance outside the very highest company tops all of them, but Harry Angel’s success in the Group 2 Duke of York arguably still rates as the best 6f performance this year. He achieved a rating of 123 on the Knavesmire – when carrying a Group 1 penalty - and it only adds to the frustration that we were unable to see him match that level during his luckless campaign.