Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the British Horseracing Authority analyse the pick of the action from the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival including the victories of Japan, Enable, Battaash and Mums Tipple.

  • Wednesday 28 August
  • Blog
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International glory for Japan

Top-rated Crystal Ocean was just touched off by Ballydoyle raider Japan in the Juddmonte International, the feature race on day 1 of the Ebor Festival. Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill assesses the form…

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad disappointed that Crystal Ocean (127) didn’t win the Juddmonte International, but that is purely from a handicapping perspective because, as always, he gave it everything and ran his usual game and gutsy race – and it’s not as if it’s the first time a hot favourite has come unstuck in this event. Go back twelve months and Crystal Ocean’s stablemate Poet’s Word arrived at York on the back of winning the King George at Ascot, when beating Crystal Ocean by a neck and running to a figure of 126. He couldn’t quite repeat that form on the Knavesmire three weeks later, however, finishing runner-up to three-year-old Roaring Lion (albeit sustaining a career-ending injury in the process).

Back to Crystal Ocean, and maybe the hard race he had behind Enable at Ascot left its mark? Perhaps the drop to ten furlongs was against him? Or maybe, just maybe, he saves his best performances for the Berkshire track? His three best figures have all come at Ascot – 125 in last year’s King George and a brace of 127s in the Prince of Wales’s and the King George this season. The 121 I have him running to last week is more in line with his other performances away from Ascot.

In settling on a level for the Juddmonte I have not only looked at the previous form and ratings of the horses concerned but also looked back at previous runnings of the race. No fifth placed horse has performed above 115 in the Juddmonte since the turn of the century and I see no obvious reason why Regal Reality should prove the exception to that rule. However, given the quality of the field, I am happy to have him match that figure.

This level suggests improved performances from the progressive three-year-olds JAPAN (up to 122 from 117) and King of Comedy (fourth, up to 118 from 116), and means the resurgent Elarqam (3rd) has run to 119+ having been slightly hampered in the final half furlong or so. I now believe I slightly underestimated his previous success in the Sky Bet York Stakes which I originally called 118 but could easily be 120 if using Addeybb (second) and Knight To Behold (third) as a guide to the level. As such, I have raised Elarqam to a new mark of 120.

Japan won the Juddmonte International
Japan denied Crystal Ocean in the International.

Oaks magic from Enable

The Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks may have been light on numbers but it more than made up for it in quality and it was probably the last time we will see Enable on a British racecourse, writes Mark Olley.

Things didn’t go to plan for ENABLE in the King George, but they were much more straightforward on the Knavesmire. John Gosden’s charge dictated a steady pace before showing a terrific turn of foot to totally dominate high-class rival Magical.

Sectional times from the meeting show Enable covered the first five furlongs in 65.85 seconds. Forty minutes later over the same twelve furlong trip, Galtres winner Search For A Song recorded 63.31s for her first five furlongs, fully 2.54s (around 15 lengths) quicker, an illustration of how relatively sedately they went in the Yorkshire Oaks. However, Enable’s final time was 0.4 seconds faster, and her final furlong sectional of 11.98 seconds was matched on the day only by Mums Tipple, who was an eleven-length winner of the six-furlong sales race.

When races are relatively steadily run it makes it hard for horses to exert their superiority over rivals and to compensate for that we increase the poundage used. Both Enable and Magical were eased in the closing stages and I have called the two and three-quarter lengths winning margin 6 lb, which basically means we think Enable was value for a further one length.

Magical is a dual Group 1 winner who has also finished runner-up in both the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and Coral Eclipse at Sandown this year. She is an ultra tough and high-class mare (rated 122) and brings substance to the Yorkshire Oaks form. Magical has met Enable twice before, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and the Eclipse, and on both occasions finished three-quarters of a length second. In extending that superiority over her old rival, Enable looks to have run as well as she ever has. As a result I have taken her back to her peak rating of 128, a figure she last achieved when winning her first Arc as a three-year-old. As I mentioned in a previous blog, her 128 rating is equivalent to that of a 131 rated colt as her 3 lb mares allowance needs to be added on for comparison.

There was another twelve furlong performance of note at York and that was LOGICIAN’s impressive success in the Group 2 Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes. He maintained his unbeaten record despite the significant step up in grade, and a one and three-quarter length defeat of Constantinople earns him a rating of 115. To put context to that figure, only Bandari (114 in 2002) has rated lower on the day among Great Voltigeur winners this century. However, I’m sure we haven’t seen the best of Logician yet.

Third time lucky for Battaash

A runaway success for Battaash in the Group 1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes more than made amends for the gelding’s two previous failures in the race (including a defeat as odds-on favourite twelve months ago). In the process he looks to have produced a career-best performance, as Chris Nash explains…  

The Nunthorpe was won in mightily impressive fashion by BATTAASH. He tracked the early pace, moved upsides the leaders on the bridle at halfway and strode clear from there to win by three and three-quarter lengths. It was a performance of total authority.

The visual impressions were also backed up by the clock as Battaash broke the five furlong track record set by Dayjur in the same race some twenty-nine years previously. Dayjur’s winning time back in 1990 was 56.16 seconds and Battaash bettered that 0.26s. To put that into context, the 0.26s margin would equate to around one and a half lengths, which would be the equivalent of between 5 and 6 lbs over five furlongs. It also looks like Dayjur carried 9st 6lbs in his race (with his 3 lb weight-for-age allowance added back on), whereas Battaash carried 5 lbs more at 9st 11lbs.

The last ten winners of the Nunthorpe range from 116 to 124 and applying race standards to this renewal gives a figure of 126-127 for Battaash. In second place was Soldier’s Call who had placed in both the Abbaye last autumn and the King’s Stand earlier this season, running to a figure of 114 both times – there appears to be no reason why he wouldn’t have done so again. A further length back in third was the Irish-trained So Perfect who arrived here rated 106 but had reached a peak of 110 in her two-year-old career – her presence in third does nothing to detract from this form, especially as she was in receipt of the 3 lb sex allowance from the first two. I have called the winning margin 13 lbs and settled on a figure of 127 for Battaash, which has Soldier’s Call repeating his 114 figures and So Perfect running to 108.

The Nunthorpe would have to rate a career best for Battaash. I did initially rate him 127 after he scorched home in the King George Stakes at Goodwood last year but that form didn’t work out and I dropped him back to 125 subsequently. My international colleagues were less impressed and they dropped him back to 123 at the end of last season. Looking at their initial ratings for the Nunthorpe, it appears that the majority of them are reluctant to give Battaash as much credit as I am with their figures ranging from only 121 to 127. We’ll see what happens when the ratings are ratified at the end of the year but I reckon you will struggle to see a more impressive five furlong performance.

He becomes the highest rated winner of the Nunthorpe this century, an honour that previously belonged to Nuclear Debate who achieved a figure of 124 in 2000. More recently Mecca’s Angel was given a figure of 121 for winning the 2016 renewal – as a filly getting a 3 lb allowance that ranks the equivalent of a 124 rating for a male.

Whichever way you look at his effort it is hard to knock what Battaash did on Friday. In terms of domestic performances this season his 127 figure will slot him just behind Enable (128) and will put him level with Crystal Ocean.

As he is already a gelding we should have the pleasure of seeing Battaash in action for some time to come. We may well see him next on Irish Champions weekend in the Group 1 Derrinstown Flying Five and following that he will likely go to Paris to run in the Abbaye, a race he won back in 2017. Connections have also mentioned possibly having a crack at the Breeders’ Cup as well.

Battaash wins the Nunthorpe Stakes.
Battaash broke Dayjur's course record in the Nunthorpe.

Mums Tipple storms up the juvenile rankings

The three pattern races for juveniles at York last week were put firmly in the shade by what at first glance appeared to be a freak performance from Mums Tipple in the Goffs UK Premier Yearling Auction Stakes, writes Graeme Smith.

MUMS TIPPLE was a strong favourite considering the form of his debut success at Ascot seemed to leave him with plenty to find with a handful in opposition, and in less than 70 seconds of action - in which he blitzed his 20 rivals by no fewer than eleven lengths - he stamped himself as one of the hottest prospects in the bloodstock world right now.

Emotionally this was right up there with Lady Aurelia’s Queen Mary decimation and I daresay there will have been people minded to search the web for the video of Arazi from all those years ago, but handicapping the race requires a much more objective judgement.

Putting figures on such a dominant performance is never easy, particularly as the leading form picks surely didn’t fire given their proximity to others in the race, so his figure for now is slightly tentative in the hope we find out more in the Mill Reef and/or Middle Park.

A strict mathematical interpretation of the eleven-length margin suggested a figure approaching 120, which would be the best by any two-year-old in Europe this year. However, smart as his time was it stopped short of confirming such a lofty view and that looks telling evidence with the sectionals suggesting he ran his race very efficiently.

A line through the well-run mile handicap brings a speed figure of 116/117 for Mums Tipple and he’s been rated the lower of those figures, bearing in mind he had the strong tailwind at his back throughout his race whereas the milers didn’t.

Regardless of Mums Tipple’s rating for the time being, he’s a handsome colt who clearly has a huge amount of ability and he’ll be a box office draw wherever he turns up next.

The second most valuable two-year-old prize from York also made its way back to Richard Hannon’s Wiltshire base thanks to THREAT pressing his clear form advantage home in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Gimcrack Stakes.

The Coventry and Richmond runner-up had upwards of 9 lb in hand of his rivals on pre-race figures in a renewal that seemingly lacked its usual depth, and even with Lord of The Lodge taking another big leap forward for front-running tactics, he got the job done by a length and a quarter.

A 2 lb rise to 113 pegs Threat as an average Gimcrack winner judged on the last 7 years. Historical standards pointed to a higher mark, as tends to be the case with strung-out finishes, but that level didn’t feel right given what the opposition had achieved pre-race.

The other two group races at York stayed in the county courtesy of LIVING IN THE PAST and VALDERMORO.

Living In The Past had plenty to prove in the Sky Bet Lowther Stakes following her third-place finish behind the reopposing Under The Stars in the Princess Margaret but, rather like Mums Tipple half an hour later, she was another to stride on (eventually) with the wind at her back and register an all-the-way success.     

The final time wasn’t an endorsement of the form, even with a fairly true last 2f, and 108 pitches Living In The Past and the race as a whole slightly below an average renewal.

There was undoubtedly a tactical element to the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes as Harpocrates got it all his own way in front and Valdermoro did well to run to him down late. Both Harpocrates and the third-placed Ropey Guest were beginning to look exposed at this level and, promising as Valdermoro is, a figure of 106 means his performance sits towards the lower end of recent Acomb winners.

Incidentally, the previous Sunday saw an excellent field assemble for the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny at Deauville. Heavy ground won’t have suited all of them but the Andre Fabre-trained EARTHLIGHT nevertheless confirmed the positive impression he’d made when winning the Group 3 Cabourg in July by holding the rallying Raffle Prize by a neck.

There’s a slight spread of opinion amongst the international handicappers on the level of the form, and obviously my French counterpart will publish the official figure, but I have Earthlight penciled in on 117, with the Duchess of Cambridge winner Raffle Prize improving 2 lb further to 113.

Vintage Stakes winner Pinatubo currently sits at the top of the pile of European juveniles on my figures at 119. Raffle Prize is the leading filly.

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