THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Excelebration impresses in QEII exhibition
If ever a horse had regrets about being born in the same year as Frankel it would be Excelebration, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
Five times he has taken on the world's highest-rated horse and five times he has come off second-best - but if he has developed an inferiority complex it certainly didn't show at Ascot on Saturday as he put on a dazzling exhibition to take the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Often the decider in the quest to be crowned Champion Miler of Europe, the race was never going to live up to that billing this year as Frankel had already stitched up the title with his victories over Aidan O'Brien's colt in the Lockinge and the Queen Anne, but in scoring by a long looking three lengths, Excelebration catapulted himself into a position within the top-three turf performers in the world this year.
To my mind this was his best performance yet. Runner-up Cityscape has one outstanding performance to his name when landing the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan back in March when given a figure of 124, but other than that he has never bettered 121 and that is the figure I have him running to on Saturday, suggesting that Excelebration has run to 128+. Given the style of his success and the fact that he got boxed behind runners from two furlongs out, I'm sure his new published figure in Ireland will be pushing the 129/130 level - an improvement of 4 or 5lb on his previous efforts.
This level for the race suggests Elusive Kate has run to 110 (continuing a pattern of gentle regression in her last couple of starts) and fourth placed Carlton House is 7lb off the best of his 10f form at 112 - fifth placed Sovereign Debt appears to have reproduced his pre-race mark of 111.
A number of people asked me after the race if this was the proof that was needed to raise Frankel's rating from its current 140 - I don't believe it is. There is little doubt that using Dubawi Gold, and last year's QEII and this year's Lockinge as a guide, Excelebration had 'levelled off' at around the 125 mark - and one thing Saturday's race proved was how below form he was in a literal reading of the Queen Anne form.
On that occasion he beat Side Glance and Indomito a neck and a length - this time around he hammered them by nearly seven-and-a-half and ten-and-a-half lengths. This was a new and improved Excelebration but one that will still languish some 10-11lb behind his old adversary.
TOUGH MAAREK SPRINTS TO GLORY
Even though the main focus of attention was understandably elsewhere at Ascot on Saturday, the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Sprint still provided a fascinating race in its own right, writes Stewart Copeland.
At the head of the betting were the recent Group 1 winners Society Rock and Wizz Kid. However, neither performed to their best on the day, and the honours instead went to their closest rival in the market, the admirably tough and consistent Irish five-year-old gelding Maarek, trained by David Nagle.
Maarek's had a tremendous season, already successful in two Group 3 races, as well as posting a tremendous weight-carrying effort when third in the Ayr Gold Cup, which I highlighted in the blog a few weeks back.
Rated 114 prior to Saturday, I've taken the view that Maarek has reproduced that level of form again. This level of performance is what we would normally expect for the winner of this race (formerly rus as the Diadem) as the historical race standards we keep suggest the average winner is usually in the 113-114 bracket.
Admirable as he is, Maarek's best form still falls someway short of the best sprint form we've seen in Europe this year, with that honour being held by Moonlight Cloud's 121, achieved when an emphatic winner of the Prix Maurice de Gheest. As far as top honours go amongst the British horses, that's currently Mayson's 119 achieved in the July Cup, with Society Rock and Bated Breath, both 117, best of the rest.
THE NEW ONE FOR THE NEW SEASON
Jump racing really got into the groove at Cheltenham over the weekend and all four races in my division (20f+ hurdles) produced winners who recorded figures of 140 or above, writes Martin Greenwood.
Both handicaps were won by raiders from across the Irish Sea. After nearly five months without a winner in a British handicap, Irish trainers have struck with a vengeance in the last month and Bondage became their fifth winner in that time period when beating Medinas nearly three lengths, the pair well clear of a large and competitive field.
Bondage is a tad quirky and carries his head high but there is no doubting his ability and he defied the 12lb rise given after his Perth victory in some style, always travelling strongly and never looking in danger of defeat despite his ungainly head carriage.
His new rating is now 145, up 18lb from his pre-race figure, and if connections decide they don't want to try his new rating, they have the option of running in novice events as his first victory over hurdles only came in July at Sligo.
Bondage shares top spot in the embryonic highest novice list with The New One, who made it two out of two over hurdles with an authoritative success in the opening race of Friday's card. Coming into the race, The New One had the best form due to his wide-margin win at Newton Abbot over two furlongs shorter earlier in the month, and was made favourite to overcome a handful of promising types.
Like Bondage, The New One always looked the likely winner come the business end of the race and he was two and three-quarter lengths too good for Village Vic (received 5lb), who shaped extremely well on his hurdling debut, with the pair a long way clear.
Like The New One, According To Trev, who won the 3m+ novice the following day, is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. According To Trev is also two from two over hurdles and he supplemented his Worcester success in June by holding off Irish raider Our Vinnie by a diminishing head, though it is entirely possible he was idling a touch in front.
With some other promising individuals 11 lengths and more toiling behind, this race, like The New One's, looks above the usual standard for these races and I have rated him 140, with more improvement probable.
Also now rated 140 (from 127) is Action Master who flew up the hill after being waited with to land the 3m handicap on Friday. Like Bondage, Action Master is a little quirky but again has plenty of talent and despite not looking the most straightforward of rides he scored in comfortable fashion from another Twiston-Davies inmate, Viking Blond, with favourite and fellow Irish challenger Heaney continuing his improvement in third.