We have just passed the halfway stage in the fourth All-Weather Championships and things are coming nicely to the boil in advance of Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, 14th April 2017.
A dozen of the 24 Fast-Track Qualifiers – the winning of which secures a starting place on the big day – have been run, with the two most recent being the Betway Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton on 16 January and the Smarter Bets With Matchbook Betting Exchange Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park the following day.
The former proved to be a fairer test (and a different outcome!) than I had been anticipating, with the TPD sectionals identifying an “Even” early pace for those close up, if a slightly slower-than-par one for those in rear.
The decisive juncture of the race came half a mile from home, going into the final bend, at which stage every horse increased its pace in relative terms (shown by the red on the sectional heatmap), if some more effectively than others.
The winner, Antiquarium, was both well-positioned at that stage and proved to be able to sustain the pressure best thereafter. He led early in the penultimate furlong and ran on well, whereas his two nearest pursuers found less.
Antiquarium had won the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle last summer and showed more tactical speed in this victory than he had in that one. All in all, he looks very well equipped for the Betway Marathon on Finals’ Day, for which he is now ante-post favourite: Timeform rate him on 115, which is 8 lb in advance of the standard usually required to win the race.
There are no official sectionals for the Kempton race, but manual ones speak well of the winner, Second Thought, who ran about 34.2s for the last 3f. He and the favourite Sutter County pulled clear of their rivals, but Second Thought quickened the better to score by a neck.
There is no reason to think that the useful runner-up failed to give his running, and Second Thought’s new Timeform rating of 110 is in advance of the level shown by both the past winners of the 3YO Final (when run at a mile).
Remarkably few races at Lingfield this year have resulted in pace burnouts, with most of the finishing speed %s having been well above the 101 to 103 bracket which generally signifies par at the track.
That was very much the case with the 5f fillies’ maiden on 18 January, a highly tactical affair for a sprint, in which the pace started as “even to slow” then steadied further before a stampede for the line.
The winner, Hathfa, very much got the run of things up front in stark contrast to debuting runner-up BERRYESSA ATR Tracker, who stormed home in under 22.0s for the last 2f (109.1% finishing speed) but had too much to do.
This is modest form, but Berryessa could well go one better next time with careful placing.
There was a remarkably similar scenario in the 5f handicap at Lingfield two days later, with winner Popsilca getting the run of things more than Little Miss Daisy and PULSATING ATR Tracker in particular. The last-named was another to break 22.0s for the last 2f, but her late run could get her only into fourth.
Pulsating has placed far more often than she has won, but the signs are that she is in peak form, having recently changed trainers, and she deserves close consideration at this sort of level.
There are no FTQs between now and the listed Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield Park a week on Saturday – one of six Qualifiers in the month of February – but there is still plenty to interest and occupy the all-weather enthusiast.
The 32Red Handicap at Kempton on Saturday evening has attracted 14 runners and is a race in which pace and draw may play a significant role, with few obvious gallop-forcers and a sweeping bend coming halfway through the 7f contest.
Al Khan shaped well in the sprint finish of the race won by Flaming Spear at Newcastle last time but is drawn in the car park here, while Firmdecisions has again been done no favours in gate number 10.
KEYSTROKE could be the one to beat from stall 6, having shaped as if this drop in trip may help him in some of his recent starts. He did well to run down Mythical Madness against something of a pace bias at Wolverhampton a couple of starts ago and looked the winner (touched 1.32 in running) before finishing fourth to Flaming Spear over Newcastle’s stiffer mile last time.
A true pace looks likely in the Sun Bets On The App Store Handicap at Lingfield Park earlier on Saturday, a race that features a couple of big names from the not-too-distant past in Captain Cat (a 2014 Finals Day winner) and Horsted Keynes (runner-up at Royal Ascot later that year).
Such a scenario promises to assist SOMETHINGTHRILLING after the mare got further back than ideal and also encountered traffic at Wolverhampton last time. Supersta, who finished best from the rear when second in a well-run race at that same course on his latest start, is the one to give her most to do.