Handicappers' Blog (29 July)

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ROODA RULES THE ROOST

The late addition of a couple of John Gosden runners strengthened the King George field and made for a real summer highlight, and Taghrooda's surge to success will likely live long in the memory of all those who saw it. Stephen Hindle puts meat on the bones in terms of ratings, and he's flanked in this week's bulletin by Graeme Smith, who looked after the highlight from a popular week in Yorkshire.

TAGHROODA BAGS ANOTHER GROUP 1

What was described as a bold decision to run Taghrooda in the QIPCO King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes turned out to be very much the correct one as she produced an authoritative display to take her career to four wins from four starts, writes Stephen Hindle.

The Irish Oaks was seen as the "easy" option for Taghrooda and on the figures it was, but connections of the three-year-old filly evidently have plenty of confidence in her and were well aware of the greater rewards up for grabs at Ascot.

The favourite Telescope, carrying 15lb more than Taghrooda due to the combined weight for age and gender allowance, proved three lengths inferior at the line but he nevertheless ran another cracker. As did Mukhadram, who at five was the oldest runner in the line-up, finishing only a short head further away in third. Like the winner, Mukhadram is owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

While some have quibbled over the merit of the current crop of three-year-old fillies Taghrooda herself is clearly exceptional and, set to be retired at the end of the season, the Arc is surely the race to aim her at. Three-year-olds have won 16 of the last 20 runnings of the autumn showpiece and a three-year-old filly has won in three of the last six years. If that isn't enough to convince you, Taghrooda's sire Sea The Stars won the race five years ago to complete his own magnificent career. Sea The Stars looks to have a very strong hand for the Arc at present incidentally, as he's also the sire of emphatic German Derby winner Sea The Moon.

I suppose I'd better get to the figures, seeing as that's what I'm here to talk about. I thought it was a good renewal and have taken a positive view, having Telescope running to his mark of 123 and moving Mukhadram up 2lb to the same level, though that's still 2lb below his career-best figure.

Eagle Top, who was the only other runner to finish within 10 lengths of the winner, ran to 121 on my figures in fourth, 3lb better than when winning the King Edward VII Stakes on his previous start, which is perfectly plausible on just his fourth career outing.

The rest ran below form, Trading Leather free and without cover under a more patient ride than usual, Magician seemingly in need of ground like concrete, Romsdal letting down the Derby form albeit not given a hard time, and Leitir Mor acting as the rabbit and unsurprisingly finishing tailed off after setting a strong pace on his first run beyond 1m.

Back to Taghrooda, and I have her posting a career-best of 125, which is in itself not an above-average rating as recent King George winners go. However, with this being just her fourth run it wouldn't be surprising if she found a little more improvement and that will put her right in the mix for the Arc.

SHEIKH'S THE TOAST OF YORKSHIRE

Saturday's York card was much the most valuable from last week's Go Racing In Yorkshire Summer Festival and the 1m2f Group 2 Skybet York Stakes predictably saw the strongest performances of the week in the county, writes Graeme Smith.

Beforehand the field clearly lacked one of the calibre of last year's winner Mukhadram and it's not surprising the form comes out towards the lower end of the historical standards, but pre-race ratings suggested a tight finish could be in the offing and so it proved.

On the day it was Sheikhzayedroad who came out on top, wearing down Secret Gesture and Windhoek well inside the last 1f, but I wouldn't be confident he'd confirm superiority over the placed horses should they meet again. The camerawork made it difficult to get accurate sectional times with the stopwatch but what I got suggested the gallop had been strong and there's definitely a chance Sheikhzayedroad outstayed his more prominently-ridden rivals after looking only third best for much of the last 2f - in fact Windhoek (who'd raced freely) looked set to win when going to the front inside the last 2f only to tie up late.

There's a chance I've undervalued the race as Secret Gesture reached a level of 111 in 2013 whilst the most positive reading of Windhoek's win in listed company at Sandown last time could see him as high as 112, but I opted for figures of 110, 106 (Secret Gesture got a 3lb sex allowance) and 109 for the first three respectively. Sheikhzayedroad has been better than ever in 2014 but his pre-race mark was 109 and it's hard to reason higher than 110 on how the best of his form has worked out.

With Secret Gesture staying on 108 and Windhoek at 110 both are rated to finish at least upsides Sheikhzayedroad should they meet again and I don't think that's unreasonable the way I saw things.

Whilst the York Stakes produced a tight finish the earlier fillies' handicap over that trip did anything but with the handicap-debutante Kleo running out a most decisive three and three-quarter-length winner.

The final time compares favourably with the York Stakes when relative levels of ability are taken into account but breaking the race down underlined the difference in pace, with Kleo covering the last sections of the race significantly faster than the Group 2 field.

It's fair to stay the handicap provided a reasonable test but not an end-to-end one, and I've mark Kleo's performance up given she started her sweeping run from further back than the second and third. All in all she's up 8lb to 90 and the way she's improved through her five starts so far that may not necessarily prove her limit.

Handicappers' Blog (29 July)
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