THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Willing Foe (nearside) winning the Ebor under Frankie DettoriPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Dettori finds Foe a Willing friend in Ebor
A multitude of high quality staying races on Saturday means my ironing may not get done this side of midnight, writes Stephen Hindle.
Probably best to start with Europe's richest Flat handicap, the Betfred Ebor, needless to say run at York over a mile and three quarters. One of the few races to have eluded Frankie Dettori over the years, he chalked off another of Britain's top races after Willing Foe prevailed by a neck from Royal Diamond, one of four Irish challengers.
Willing Foe is lightly raced, particularly for a five-year-old, and he has a good strike-rate, this being his fourth win from nine career starts. He was previously unraced beyond a mile and a half and the race panned out nicely in that respect as it turned into something of a test of speed at the trip, the gallop on the steady side until over four furlongs out.
He drifted left in the closing stages, carrying the runner-up with him, and had to survive a Stewards Enquiry. I doubt many would have argued that the better horse of the pair hadn't won, however, other than perhaps a few of those who were on the second at tasty prices.
Given the steady pace it seemed pertinent to stretch out the distances so as to create the fairest future marks possible. That meant calling the length and a half from second to third 3 lb, but given the way the first two drifted I think that is justifiable.
The best fit, I felt, was to raise the winner 6 lb to 107, while I would raise the second 5 lb to 104 if he were trained in Britain. It seems reasonable to think the third, Number Theory, is still improving as he had won his three prior races, so he goes up 2 lb to 99.
Fourth-placed Motivado, a neck further back, was one of two horses in the race (the other being Hurricane Higgins, who probably found the race an insufficient test of stamina and may also be better suited by firmer ground) due to go up in the weights, having run and won since the publication of them. He was 6 lb well in despite his 4 lb penalty so hasn't quite run up to his new mark, but the second from the race he won at Goodwood has since run well so I am leaving him on 103 for now.
A further length back in fifth was Area Fifty One, who I have running to his mark of 100. That said, he looked to be narrowly in front about a furlong from home and may possibly find further improvement back at shorter, this being his first try beyond a mile and a half.
The Melrose Handicap, run over the same course and distance as the Ebor but restricted to three-year-olds, went to the rapidly improving Guarantee.
Run at a much better pace than the Ebor, three hold-up horses filled the first three places but there was little doubting the merit of the performance of the winner in such a competitive event.
With half a dozen of the runners having won last time out, and all bar a handful of the entire field of sixteen having at least been placed on their most recent outings, it's surely form to view positively and, despite trouble in running behind, I decided to raise the first four.
Having won in good style, I credited the winner with a shade extra and raised him 10 lb to 105, while the second, Biographer, is another with a progressive profile and goes up 4 lb to 99 having been beaten three and a half lengths at the line. The favourite, Cardinal Walter, briefly threatened to make an impact but couldn't quite get on terms with the first two, yet still ran well only a length further back and is raised 3 lb to 89. Mysterious Man was not far behind either and goes up 1 lb to 84.
There were plenty of hard-luck stories in behind and the race should throw up plenty of future winners. For Guarantee, however, a date at Doncaster for the St Leger could be on the cards.
While the handicaps were of the highest quality, they were still just handicaps, and arguably the best race of all on the day was the Lonsdale Cup, a Group 2 over 2m which forms part of the British Champions Series.
Unfortunately it wasn't the most satisfactory affair as the pace was steady until halfway and the favourite and joint highest rated, Saddler's Rock, ended up making the running, which possibly wasn't ideal. He faded to finish ninth. Cavalryman, another on 115, also performed under par by finishing fourth.
That left the way clear for Times Up to return to form and show off his staying abilities as he outran them to the line to score by two and a quarter lengths from High Jinx.
It's hard to go overboard as to the merit of the form as High Jinx had been beaten in a handicap off a mark of 100 last time out, though Mount Athos, the winner that day, is favourite for the Melbourne Cup having since gone in again in Pattern company.
There are some fairly consistent performers further back, and it seems reasonable to assume High Jinx has stepped up on his handicap form, while he is still lightly raced.
On balance, I feel Saddler's Rock and Cavalryman have achieved more this term and I decided to go 114 for Times Up. The level also reflects High Jinx's second last time, which by moving him up to 111 would keep him on better terms with Mount Athos compared to the relative weights they carried that day. Lost In The Moment returned to something like his best only half a length further back in third, and goes up to 110.
Yet another notable staying performance on Saturday came at Goodwood, where Quest For Peace booked his Melbourne Cup ticket with a length win over Electrolyser in the Listed Windflower March Stakes.
The proximity of the third, Berling, a very consistent 99-rated performer, holds down the form, but Quest For Peace still ran close to his 111 rating.
ANOTHER GROUP ONE SPRINT HEADS DOWN UNDER
The Nunthorpe Stakes run over 5f provided the Group 1 action at York on Friday and it produced a fine performance by the Australian trained mare Ortensia, writes Chris Nash
She was seemingly toiling at halfway, racing at least three-quarters of the way down the field and many lengths off the leaders but produced a strong finishing effort to lead late and beat Spirit Quartz by a neck. There was alength and a quarter back to Hamish McGonagall in third and a further length and a quarter back to Humidor in fourth. As is often the case in Group race sprints this form was not the easiest to assess.
The winner had run to 115 when taking the Group 2 King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last time where Spirit Quartz once again finished second. On that occasion she carried a Group 1 penalty so gave him 4lbs and beat him a length and a quarter - meaning that he ran to a figure of 107. On Friday she received 3lbs from the runner-up (the mares allowance) so Spirit Quartz was 7lbs worse off with her but finished a length closer to her. Any interpretation of this run has him returning a career best. If the winner repeated her 115 effort then he has run to 117 which is a mighty figure for a horse that has yet to win this season. I have my reservations over this figure but he has beaten reliable top-level sprinters like Bated Breath(118) and Sole Power(115) so I have decided to go with it for the time being.
Some sort of confirmation of this level can be provided by Hamish McGonagall (running to 113) who returned a figure of 114 when finishing second in the race in 2011 and who seems to reserve his best performances for York. In addition, Humidor (running to 109) had a previous best of 108 when winning a Listed race in September last year - I don't think it is unreasonable to rate a fourth place in a Group 1 race as a marginally better effort. The first four arrived here rated 115, 107, 110 and 105 and they leave here rated 115, 117, 113 and 109. Time will tell whether I have taken an inflated view of this race.
This form will likely be tested in the Haydock Sprint Cup next month, a race in which Ortensia may well take her chance. Her running style over 5f suggests that this 6f race will suit her fine but connections make no secret of the fact that she does not want soft ground. The next three home have been campaigned exclusively over the minimum trip this season so the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp on Arc day might be a suitable target.
HITCHEN, A RIDE!
Even though the main focus of attention was understandably on the Knavesmire last week, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the excellent win of Hitchens in the 6f Listed Chris Blackwell Memorial Hopeful Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, writes Stewart Copeland.
Age shows no sign of catching up with this tough seven-year-old gelding, and back on the track where he finished third in last year's July Cup behind Dream Ahead, he showed himself as good as ever.
Held up off the pace set by another sprightly senior citizen of the sprinting world, the nine-year-old former Group 1 winner Markab, Hitchens came through with a strong challenge inside the last, to win by a length from his aforementioned rival.
In conceding 3lbs and upwards to a strong looking field for the race, I have Hitchens recording a figure of 114, which is the highest rating achieved in the Hopeful this past decade. On this evidence it'll be no surprise if Hitchens has another shot at Group 1 company, with an entry in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock suggesting that as a possible target.
Briefly on another topic, I'm responsible this week for compiling the weights for this year's renewal of the 6f William Hill Ayr Gold Cup handicap. The race's enduring popularity shows no sign of waning, with a staggering 208 entries for me to sift through. To put it another way that's enough for seven maximum fields, with a bit to spare!
The weights will be headed by the Irish challenger Gordon Lord Byron, rated 112 by my colleague Mark Olley after his impressive success in the Listed 7f Betfred City of York Stakes at the weekend. To further emphasise the quality, as well as the quantity, of the race, at this stage if everything stood their ground, remarkably only a triple figure rating would probably guarantee you a run in the main event.
This blog appears courtesy of the British Horseracing Authority