There cannot have been many classier listed races in recent history than last Saturday’s Betway Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield Park.
The first two home – Decorated Knight and Arab Spring – had already won Group 3s, as had fourth-placed Grendisar, while third-placed Battalion was a three-time winner at this level and was at the top of his form.
In the event, the 120 Timeform performance rating achieved by the first two is 9 lb in excess of an average listed winner and only 1 lb below the standard attained on average by an older Group 2 winner. If the Winter Derby itself – to be run at the same venue on 25 February – is as good as this then it will deserve its Group 3 status, and some.
Saturday’s Trial was a fascinating race as well: a tactical event, without being so subject to pace and jockeyship that the form needs throwing out. The Total Performance Data sectionals and ATR’s unique sectional graphics tell the story.
The opening two furlongs were faster than par for the grade, before the pace settled to somewhere between even and steady, leaving enough for a fairly quick finish, for the principals at least: look at how the ATR heatmap goes from an initial red, through yellow and green, and back to red again at the finish.
It should have been an advantage to be close up entering the final straight of less than two furlongs, though the sectionals show there was only 0.5s (a bit over three lengths) between first and last. Arab Spring briefly looked as if he had it in the bag, but Decorated Knight’s miling speed proved decisive, as he followed a 11.2s furlong with a 11.3s one.
Both Battalion and Grendisar might have finished a bit closer with less to do, though those sectionals do not suggest they were unlucky. Mythical Madness ran as if 10f might have been just too far for him, even under these circumstances.
Meanwhile, connections of Arab Spring are entitled to fancy their chances of reversing the narrow decision another day, especially if a truer early gallop runs the finish out of his rival. I, for one, am looking forward to a rematch!
The listed Betway Best Odds Guaranteed Plus Cleves Stakes earlier on Lingfield Park’s card is trickier still to interpret. A solid opening furlong soon slackened into a steady mid-race by sprinting standards, with the odds-on Pretend getting bumped then tending to over-race.
As so often happens in such circumstances, there was a real burst of speed in the penultimate furlong – in which five of the seven broke 11.0s – before a flattening out near the end. Third-placed Boom The Groom did especially well, running a 10.6s (42.5 mph) second-last furlong, though he did get a good run up the rail at the time.
Sectionals suggest the front-running second Mythmaker was flattered, if not by a lot. He is two to three lengths inferior to the admirable winner Lancelot du Lac judged on most recent form. There may be other days for Pretend in the future, as there have been in the past, but his considerable talent does need balancing against an apparently fragile constitution.
Perhaps the most interesting sectional performances of all are those in which the horse in question runs a decent overall time AND a good sectional, taking away more of the guesswork or supposition.
A couple of recent eye-catchers in that respect were HAMISH MCGONAGAIN ATR Tracker, who ran a final 1f of 11.4s later on at Lingfield Park on Saturday, and SPIRIT OF WEDZA ATR Tracker at Newcastle on Saturday night. Sectionals for the latter suggest this was a strong pace, and Spirit Of Wedza paid most for it.
An even stronger relative pace unfolded in the 12f handicap won by My Renaissance at Southwell on Thursday. WHAT USAIN ATR Tracker was beaten a long way into third but did too much early on, especially given stamina doubts, and can be forgiven this.
Most All-Weather Championship categories have had only one or two Fast Track Qualifiers so far, but the Fillies & Mares division will soon have completed all four.
The successful runner in the winner.co.uk Mobile Loyalty Free Bets Fillies’ Stakes at Chelmsford City on Wednesday afternoon will gain an automatic berth on Finals Day, though if that happens to be Volunteer Point then she has achieved that distinction already.
The Mick Channon-trained mare, the reigning Fillies & Mares Champion, bagged a rather substandard FTQ at Wolverhampton in November. A length and a short head behind her that day was Golden Amber, who reopposes on the same terms here.
This contest looks slightly stronger, but there are doubts of one sort or another over those with better form. Ashadihan (a Group 3 winner on polytrack), Bahaarah and Buying Trouble have all been off for nearly half a year. The last-named may be a sprinter for good measure, and this is over 7f.
Throw in the fact that only Make Music has made the running in recent starts, and that this represents a significant step up in class for her, and a messy race could be in store. A messy FTQ found out Mise En Rose last time when ninth at Lingfield in October, a race in which Volunteer Point ran better in fifth.
All in all, this seems a race to treat with caution, but it is possible that VOLUNTEER POINT will only have to run to her best – something she has done on every previous visit to this track – to prevail. She is tough and largely dependable, and is put up as the selection.