You may not realise it, but we are in the middle of a golden age of all-weather racing in Britain, at least compared to what came before.
Using Timeform performance ratings, there were just five efforts on the surface prior to 2018 that garnered figures of 122 or higher, headed by Echo of Light’s Summer Mile Stakes win at Lingfield in 2006 and Prince Bishop’s September Stakes win at Kempton in 2014, both of which earned 125 base figures on the day.
Five was also the number of elite efforts that occurred in 2018 – Kachy twice, City Light, Enable and Crystal Ocean – and there have already been three such performances in 2019, despite its still being only February.
Kachy has been at it again this year, with his track-record-smashing victory in the Cleves Stakes at Lingfield on 02 February earning him a 124 performance figure from Timeform.
As such, the six-year-old entire could legitimately be described as The Best All-Weather Performer in Britain Ever, with three of the top dozen performances on the surface in history according to Timeform. But he is facing significant competition, here and now, in the shape of Wissahickon.
The latter ran to 122 when winning the Winter Derby Trial later on that early-February card and again when following up easily in the Winter Derby itself, again at Lingfield, last Saturday. The main obstacle to Wissahickon delivering more of the same on AW Finals Day at the track on Good Friday could be that he is so good he gets diverted to even bigger targets.
Thanks to Total Performance Data sectionals – which are displayed elsewhere on this site – we can break down Wissahickon’s performances in detail. For instance, how does his win last Saturday compare to those of the winners in the previous two years?
Wissahickon’s overall time was significantly quicker than the other two’s despite the implied surface speeds in 2019 and 2018 being similar and 2017 being faster than both.
Wissahickon got to 4f out only a fraction ahead of Mr Owen 12 months earlier then ran each closing section faster than that smart horse, including a 10.7s penultimate furlong.
Convey’s closing sectionals were faster still, but that was in no small part down to a snail’s pace until after halfway: his run time at the 4f pole was 4.3s (over 25 lengths) slower than Wissahickon’s. Convey’s finishing speed was a whopping 116.5% of his average race speed in a contest in which stamina scarcely counted.
Wissahickon has speed aplenty, but he also has stamina and can run fast overall times, as he showed when storming clear late on in a strongly-run Cambridgeshire Handicap (97% race finishing speed) at Newmarket late in 2018.
You can look for chinks in Wissahickon’s armour, but you are going to have to look very hard to find them.
One of the tricks with betting on the Cheltenham Festival, in my view, is not to commit prematurely.
Countless blogs (including some of my own), interviews and Preview Nights will ensure that their writers, interviewees and previewers have public views which may be difficult to revise even when circumstances subsequently change.
So far, I have tried to be cagey where it has been required, and more forthright when I feel it has been justified, without tying my hands too much for the event itself. Fortunately – for the prospective audience more than me! – I have not been asked to do any Preview Nights or podcasts this year.
Nonetheless, there is one horse that is very likely to be entering my calculations in a couple of weeks’ time, and that is Angels Breath.
In going down narrowly to a smart rival, in Southfield Stone, to whom he was conceding weight, at Kempton on Saturday, Angels Breath ran as good an overall time and closing sectionals combined as any novice hurdler this season, and on just his second start under Rules.
Apparently, some were disappointed by the effort, in which case their expectations appear to have been too high in the first place. I am with Declan Rix, who blogged on these pages on Sunday, in believing that Angels Breath remains a major player for whichever race is chosen for him.
Friday’s fare on the all-weather is pretty low-key but a couple of runners make appeal from a betting angle.
JAN VAN HOOF (6:30 Newcastle) did well to win at all at the course and distance last time, as may be seen from his notably fast late sectionals in the Results Section elsewhere on this site. He has gone up only 2 lb in the handicap as a result and looks like getting a stronger pace to run at this time, which should mean he is at the very least competitive.
The nine-year-old wins only occasionally these days, but the form of his course-and-distance third to Gorgeous Noora last time is working out well and he has been found a winnable race. The forecast odds make him look worth a dabble.