THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Finian's Rainbow proved how good he is at Aintree, says John de MoravillePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Finian's proves class but focus remains on Sacre
The most closely-fought Grand National finish in memory is discussed fully in Phil Smith's forthcoming head of handicapping blog. However, there were plenty of other top-class races to get the teeth into on the supporting cards too, and all are covered by the remainder of the jumps team here. Furthermore, in the spirit of including something for everyone there's also a section on a listed contest from the Flat and an explanation of the changes to the rules for nurseries.
OVER THE RAINBOW
Finian's Rainbow lit up Aintree by completing the coveted Queen Mother Champion Chase- John Smith's Melling Chase double last achieved in the same season in 2005 by the mighty Moscow Flyer, writes John de Moraville.
While yet to hit the magic 180 rating attained by that Irish-trained legend, Michael Buckley's star, by routing the opposition in Friday's Grade 1 showpiece, silenced those who questioned the merit of his defeat of Sizing Europe at Cheltenham, where the final fence had to be bypassed.
Extraordinarily for a horse with his list of achievements, Finian's Rainbow is in danger of being overshadowed by his freakish novice stable-companion Sprinter Sacre (169), but he looked every inch a champion last week in running to a mark of 172+.
It was good to see Wishfull Thinking (164), whose Cheltenham fall led to that festival controversy, finally recapturing his best form of last spring andfinishing an honourable seven-lengths runner-up.
His long-suffering connections had plenty to celebrate on Thursday when another of their potentially top-class chasers, Menorah, belatedly got his act together in the Grade 1 Betfred Manifesto Novices' Chase.
With Sprinter Sacre (169) in a class of his own in the 2m novice division - as he ruthlessly underlined with a bloodless 1-7 victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Maghull Chase - Menorah (162) found the slower tempo of this 2m4f (won by Wishfull Thinking a year ago) putting less strain on his hitherto fragile jumping.
Al Ferof, hot favourite for the Manifesto, was a disappointing third but his trainer Paul Nicholls had earlier unleashed one of the most improved novices of the season, Edgardo Sol, to romp away with the Matalan.co.uk Red Rum Handicap.
Edgardo Sol's previous visit to Aintree last October had resulted in a controversial victory, by a nose, off 127. Progressive since over hurdles - he was an arguably-unlucky second in Cheltenham's County Hurdle - he ran off 143 in the Red Rum and, having turned that usually highly competitive event into a procession, has been upped a stone to 157.
Talking of improvers, he is now, coincidentally, on the same mark as the celebrated Hunt Ball though the latter did kick off the campaign on 68!
...I am the best novice hurdler of the season! Simonsig further enhanced his burgeoning reputation with an easy win in the John Smith's Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree last Saturday, writes Martin Greenwood.
Odds-on following his demolition of the 2m5f novice at the Cheltenham Festival, which earned him the top novice rating of 157, Simonsig treated his rivals at Aintree with the same contempt, strolling clear on the bridle to beat Super Duty (now 142) by 15 lengths. I have adjusted his rating to 161, which equals the rating achieved by Black Jack Ketchum in 2005/6, and that pair are the two highest-rated staying novice hurdlers since Iris's Gift in 2002/3. There is almost certainly more to come from Simonsig, and whether he stays hurdling or embarks on a chasing career, many more big-race successes look likely.
The only horse to have defeated Simonsig was the previously-unbeaten Fingal Bay who got the better of him at Sandown in December. Fingal Bay, who missed Cheltenham due to injury, was a hot favourite for in the Sefton Novices' over 3m at Aintree the previous day. However on this occasion the formbook didn't quite follow thescript. Lovcen, seemingly beaten fair and square behind Brindisi Breeze at Cheltenham, continued his improvement and achieved a rating of 150 (the same as Brindisi Breeze) with a one-and-three-quarter-lengths success, proving the stronger stayer of the pair despite the runner-up having looked stamina laden over shorter trips. There is a chance that Fingal Bay's pre-race rating of 153 (achieved at Sandown) flattered him, and for the time being at least he is rated 148, still his best effort other than at Sandown.
My other 2m4f+ hurdle races from Aintree resulted in déjà vu results for the Jefferson-trained pair Cape Tribulation (now 158) and Attaglance (now 155), who achieved the rare distinction of winning handicaps at both festivals and have never been better, while Big Buck's managed to beat the record for consecutive wins over jumps and won his fourth straight Liverpool Hurdle in awesome fashion. He had a straightforward task on paper which was made even easier due to mishaps to his most likely threats.
The other race in my division also had déjà vu applied, Oscar Whiskey repeating his neck victory over Thousand Stars in the Aintree Hurdle, after neither had convinced over 3m at Cheltenham on their previous starts. The runner-up returned to his very best (164), while the winner (who ran to 165) remains on his pre-race rating of 167, at least until the handicapping teams from the UK and Ireland meet to discuss the end of season ratings in early May. The big disappointment in the race was Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby, preferred in the betting to stable companion and Cheltenham fifth Zarkandar, who ran well below his best in third. Perhaps the longer trip, or making the running, was not ideal for Rock On Ruby, but at least he got round, which is more than you can say for Zarkandar.
EXTINGUISHING THE FLAME
The four weeks between the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals resulted in some very solid novice events on Merseyside with plenty of the Cheltenham rivals crossing swords again, writes Dave Dickinson.
Triumph-winner Countrywide Flame had his colours lowered by the Alan King-trained Grumeti who hadn't helped his prospects at Prestbury Park with a couple of significant jumping errors. Grumeti took a while to get to Countrywide Flame,who himself had shown more speed than some people might have expected when going to the front on the home turn. This may not have suited him perfectly but given that he increased his superiority from Cheltenham over both Sadler's Risk and the badly-hampered Dodging Bullets, it is hard to conclude that he has run below that winning form. Consequently I have used him as my benchmark and raised Grumeti 5lb to 153, making him currently the top-rated juvenile.
Friday's Grade 2 Novice Hurdle suggests the Supreme-second Darlan probably also improved from Cheltenham. Three of those behind him that day, Prospect Wells, Vulcanite and Agent Archie, were further behind him here and his new rating of 151 - arrived at using the 134-rated Vulcanite as a benchmark - puts him on the same mark as his Cheltenham conqueror Cinders and Ashes.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
A decent-looking renewal of the listed Further Flight Stakes was won by the Clive Cox-trained Electrolyser, who had failed to make much of an impact in a couple of hot races in Dubai but found this more to his liking, dictatingas he liked and putting things to bed when quickening 3f out, writes Stephen Hindle.
In 2011, The Betchworth Kid failed to win subsequently after taking Nottingham's 1m6f contest, but this year's renewal looks stronger with some proven Group horses in behind the winner.
Electrolyser himself has run well in Group races in the past, having finished second in the 2010 Goodwood Cup, and he appears to have run to his 109 rating considering he finished two lengths to the good over Zuider Zee, who obtained his mark of 105 when winning the November Handicap and confirmed it with a third in listed company in France on his final start in 2011.
Fifth-placed Solar Sky, sixth-placed Eternal Heart and the seventh, Parlour Games, all seem to have run close to form and help give the race a solid enough look. Dandino was a bit below his 112 rating in third and may prove best back at shorter, whilst Blue Bajan also ran below par in fourth butconsidering neither had run for at least seven months they ran respectably. Nevertheless, I moved them to 110 and 109 respectively.
Time will tell if Electrolyser can better The Betchworth Kid in winning another race this season, but it's fair to say he's worthy of his 6lb rise and he should be up to making an impact in a similar or higher grade, particularly when able to dominate.
How horses qualify fornursery handicaps is something we have tried to make simpler and fairer over the years, writes Matthew Tester.
All sorts of restrictions have been taken away and we have now taken another step along that path, which trainers ought to be aware of.
The key change is help for once-raced winners. As from this year, they may be able to go straight for nurseries which had previously not been open to them.
The rules now state that we can let into nurseries any once-raced winner rated 80 or below and any twice-raced winner rated 85 or below. This is always as long as we feel there is enough evidence on which to make those judgements. As before, only form shown in this country countsfor qualification purposes although overseas runs will always be assessed.
We hope that this will help trainers whose horses win on their debut and for whom it has been tough to find a race where the horse can run competitively next time.
Readers can check out new rule 32.2 here.
This blog appears courtesy of britishhorseracing.com