It seems like only yesterday that the All-Weather Championships were first being unveiled, to acclaim and, it has to be said, to some scepticism. That was in the autumn of 2013, however, and Finals Day at Lingfield last Friday was the fifth such event. Most of the scepticism has long since dissipated.
Whether or not there was a horse in this winter’s Championships to rival the brilliant Enable – who made her debut on AW at Newcastle at the end of 2016 – remains to be seen. But the 2017/18 Championships will be remembered for some excellent performances by horses and humans: Spare Parts and Captain Lars each won seven races, the latter expertly handled by a coming force in the training ranks in Archie Watson.
Finals Day itself has been a success from the outset, and for the third year running it was accompanied by detailed sectional timing, provided by Total Performance Data and showcased as usual in the results section of this website.
From those sectionals, we know, for instance, that the fastest last 2f on the entire card was – remarkably! – recorded by a horse unplaced in the longest race of all, The Betway Marathon. A mid-race crawl saw the first six home all break 22.0s, with sixth-placed CURBYOURENTHUSIASM recording 21.4s.
The result of such a slowly-run race (I have a timefigure of just 49, where something like 105 might be expected) should be treated with considerable caution, while some of the other outcomes might have been subtly different had things panned out in other ways.
RECKLESS ENDEAVOUR (22.2s last 2f) seemed a shade unlucky in the opening SunBets Apprentice Handicap,LAKE VOLTA and BREATHLESS TIMES (both 21.8s) come out about a length ahead of Corinthia Knight in the 32Red 3-Y-O Stakes on sectional upgrading and MASTER THE WORLD (22.3s) might just have beaten Victory Bond in the concluding Betway Easter Classic another day.
Less obviously from the sectionals, KACHY was done no favours by a tardy start and having to work hard a couple of horses wide to get to the front in the Betway Sprint. But he went 1.37 in running (about 4/11) before City Light – who had taken a similar path but further back – swept past him late at a trip which is at the limit of Kachy’s stamina.
Lingfield was not the only AW meeting on Good Friday, with Newcastle staging a qualifier for the Kentucky Derby, no less, in the shape of the 32Red Burradon Stakes. The runners went fast early and slow late, as TPD sectionals show, though winner Gronkowski recorded a performance many lengths off what should be required on the first Saturday in May.
A much bigger clue for Churchill Downs came the following day in Dubai, where MENDELSSOHN won the UAE Derby by a margin wider than any horse managed at the entire 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
It is sensible to apply some of the aforementioned scepticism to performances which look almost too good to be true, especially when they take place on the dirt at Meydan on a day when there may have been a faster strip by the rail. But I have tried, and there is only so much “dumbing down” of this particular effort that can be justified.
It still takes outstanding athletic ability to run from start to finish as quickly as Mendelssohn did: I have a timefigure of 128, and it could be higher. Only 127-rated Bolt d’Oro (disputing second favouritism for the Kentucky Derby) has got close among this year’s three-year-olds. In addition:
Mendelssohn lowered the all-aged course and distance record by 1.32s despite being just three (though against that it should be acknowledged that the distance is used only about six times a year).
He completed the UAE Derby in an average speed faster than the older horse Thunder Snow managed, carrying the same weight, in the Dubai World Cup at just 100 metres further later on the card.
Mendelssohn ran fast early and not so fast late, which is a style typical of US dirt racing, where getting clear of kickback can be advantageous. His finishing speed of 96% of his average race speed is almost bang on the par figure for Kentucky Derby winners this century (96.6%).
His Trakus sectionals, adjusted from metric to imperial, have him running the second quarter in 23.51s and the third quarter in 23.55s, which are quicker than any Kentucky Derby winner since 2009 and since 2007 respectively. He runs in the style of a dirt horse, and a top-class one at that.
Race and prior-rating standards would have Mendelssohn rated in the 130s, so-called “yardstick handicapping” (not to be recommended) would have him in the 140s at the least.
He is US-bred through and through, a $3m-yearling half-brother by Scat Daddy to the triple Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder. He has already won at the Breeders’ Cup himself, albeit on turf.
“What is not to like?”, as the saying goes. Well, Mendelssohn is now ante-post favourite, rather than the double-figure price he had been, for a race which will have 20 runners and be unlike anything he has yet experienced. But he deserves that elevated position: that is my interpretation of the evidence, anyway.
Despite the passing of the All-Weather Championships, all-weather itself is very much still alive and kicking. Three fixtures have been slated for Wednesday this week, and a couple of mile races at Lingfield look like they could set up for late closers.
The first race, at 1.40, features several front-runners or pressers and I like the look of RATTLE ON from the capable Jim Boyle yard despite the horse’s draw in stall 11 of 11. The gelding gets a bit further than this trip and can reward each-way support.
A good pace could help SWEET SYMPHONY to settle in the 4.15, in which she looks to have a solid favourite’s chance for in-form trainer Marco Botti.