THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
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Premio Loco equalled his best all-weather rating in the Winter DerbyPICTURE: Getty Images
Changing focus as Flat racing takes centre stage
The National Hunt team still have big meetings at Aintree and Sandown to look forward to but Saturday was a definite sign that spring is here as Flat racing took centre stage for the first time this year. Lingfield’s card saw the first pattern race of the British season in the Winter Derby, while a field of potentially smart three-year-olds from the Spring Cup are also discussed within today's blog.
The 2012 edition of the Group 3 Blue Square Winter Derby Stakes over 1m2f at Lingfield on Saturday went the way of dependable veteran Premio Loco, writes Greg Pearson.
Given a ‘gun ride’ by the underutilised George Baker, the eight-year-old gelding equalled his best all-weather figure of 111, which he’d previously achieved when fourth in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan last year.
Premio Loco’s rating will remain at 113, a figure derived from his second in the Group 2 Nayef Joel Stakes over the Rowley Mile at Newmarket three starts back. Comparing his performance with recent winners of the Winter Derby, only the Clive Brittain-trained Hattan ran higher when posting a performance of 113 in 2008.
Premio Loco became the first horse to win a Winter Derby carrying a penalty since Caluki won a muddling renewal in 2004, defying a 5lb penalty to that horse’s 3lb extra burden too.
In second was the solid 105-performer Cai Shen who was beaten half a length in receipt of 5lb from the winner and as such ran to his mark using a 1lb differential for the margin. There is little doubt the Richard Hannon-trained colt received few favours from his wide draw but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that he was an unlucky loser. The third-placed Circumvent had a pre-race rating of 98 but ran to 104. He’s much less exposed on all-weather so I gave him a separate all-weather mark of 104 whilse increasing his turf rating to just 100 – I feel a turf mark in excess of 100 would have been too high given he had ten starts on the surface in 2011 without running above that level.
GUSTO SPRINGS FORWARD
It’s been well publicised that Richard Hannon won the Listed bluesquare.com Spring Cup at Lingfield with subsequent Group 1 performers Paco Boy and Dubawi Gold during their respective three-year-old careers, and comparisons will no doubt be drawn between that pair and his latest winner Gusto, writes Graeme Smith.
While it’s a bold call to suggest Gusto will go on to emulate those horses at the top level I have him recording a stronger performance than they did in the 7f Lingfield contest – Paco Boy ran to 96+ in 2008 and Dubawi Gold 106 last year – so Gusto's 110 effort is the best in the race’s ten-year history.
Admittedly it wasn’t a truly-run contest and Gusto was probably at an advantage going from the front, but nevertheless both he and third-placed Bannock (pre-race 110, now 108) had won listed races as juveniles and the front three drew four lengths clear of the recent handicap scorer Pale Orchid (rated 91). As such I took the view that it was worth rating the race higher than the 105 figure the historical standards suggested – my 110 on Gusto has Pale Orchid running bang on his pre-race rating.
This level admittedly means an 8lb rise for runner-up Kenny Powers, who’d recently returned from Dubai, though he is still lightly raced and was completely unexposed on all-weather. If anything there’s a case for suggesting better still may come from him – he came from a poorer position than the pair he split and was the only one able to make any inroads into their advantage as he finished strongly.
IMPROVEMENT ON THE CARDS
Tipping is all about the future and handicapping is all about the past. This is why handicappers do not try to make their living as tipsters, writes Matthew Tester.
However, at January’s press conference for the World Thoroughbred Rankings, the journalists always ask us to give them “dark horses” for the classics. A few newspapers reported my nomination that 40-1 about Most Improved for the 2000 Guineas looked way too generous. Handicappers are not allowed to bet - to do so is a sackable offence. But it is encouraging that Most Improved has recently snuck down to 8-1 third favourite for the race.
Most Improved is trained by BrianMeehan at Manton. I spent four years there learning from Barry Hills when he was the trainer at Manton. Barry has since complained that I had four years helping him to win races followed by a lifetime trying to stop him!