THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Frankel: topped the World Thoroughbred Rankings with a mark of 136PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Opposition the key if Frankel is to beat 136
This week's blog chiefly pays homage to the year of Frankel in the wake of the recent publication of the World Thoroughbred Rankings. Dominic Gardiner-Hill not only explains the reasoning behind his rating but also looks forward to 2012 and assesses his prospects for improving on that level. There were also a couple of potentially significant performances in the novice hurdle ranks in the last seven days, and our national hunt handicappersrun the rule over what impact those up-and-comers could have in some of the big races still to come.
Having spent the last three months of the 2011 season playing the "party pooper" and telling the world and his wife that Frankel could not be raised from his post Sussex Stakes mark of 135, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, the publication of the 2011 World Thoroughbred Rankings saw him predictably confirmed as the world's best racehorse but with a mark of . . . 136!
One of the advantages of having a month between the end of theseason and the start of the rankings conference in Hong Kong is that it gives the handicappers a chance to review the season as a whole, pull a few things apart and put them back together again.
Having reviewed Frankel's season, particularly his victories in the Sussex Stakes and the QEII, and considered the treatment the rankings committee had given to other "superstars" such as Sea The Stars and Zenyatta, I submitted a figure of 136 for discussion and it went throughunopposed.
Given that both he and Sea The Stars showed very similar levels of form I felt it appropriate that he should be credited with the same mark as the Irish colt. I don't believe there is anybody in the world that can say with any certainty which is the better of the two and if I was framing a handicap involving the pair of them I certainly would not want either one of them to be conceding weight to the other!
Having opened his season with 120-performance in defeating Excelebration (whose only three defeats of the season came to the hands of Frankel) in the Greenham at Newbury, Henry Cecil's colt elevated himself into the 'superstar' bracket with his devastating 2,000 Guineas display at Newmarket.
Visually it was probably the most stunning performance I have seen but the race wasn't easy to rate with runner-up Dubawi Gold going into it rated 101 and third-placed Native Khan going in on 111. By hook or by crook, using ten-year averages for the race, I came up with figures of 130-117-116 for the first three home - figures that would stay with the second and third all year and be their final rankings mark.
On to Royal Ascot and I suspect I wasn'tthe only person who felt somewhat deflated after the St James's Palace. Yes, he won the race but those that had come to witness another demolition job were left disappointed. Plenty of column inches were taken up on the ride he received that day and Idon't intend on adding to them here but suffice to say Frankel was way off his best in taking the race with a performance of 120, with neither runner-up Zoffany (118) or fourth placed Neebras (115) doing anything to advertise the form subsequently.
It is an interesting aside that Frankel's Guineas performance was the best since Zafonic in 1993 and he went on to put up the best ever performances seen in both the Sussex and the QEII, but his St James's Palace effort was the second lowest winning performance in the race in the last ten years with only Azamour's 118 in 2004 being rated lower.
The clash that everybody wanted to see - Frankel vs Canford Cliffs - materialised in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and Frankel stamped himself the best horse on the planet with a stunning five-length success. Using third placed Rio de la Plata as a guide to the level of the race my figures were 136-123-118-113, suggesting that the hanging Canford Cliffs had not performed to his best of 127 in chasing home his younger rival. Subsequent news that he had been retired due to injury helped explain the performance although nobody can doubt that the best horse prevailed.
There is always a worry when giving horses stellar marks that if they fail to reproduce them people will start questioning their previous form - there was no such need to worry with Frankel. Another barnstorming display in the QEII - when he once again beat old rival Excelebration by four lengths and increased his superiority over 2,000 Guineas runner-up Dubawi Gold from six lengths to seven and three-quarter lengths - confirmed his standing at the top of the pile, my figures for the race being 136-125-115-117.
So whatdoes 2012 hold for Frankel and how high can he go? It would appear a seasonal debut in the Lockinge at Newbury is on the cards followed by a probable step up to 1m2f. As far as his rating is concerned, a lot of it will depend on the quality of opposition around and how far he can beat them.
Remember at 136 he is already entitled to beat the world's top 1m2f performer Cirrus Des Aigles (128) by five lengths and So You Think (126) by six lengths so he will have to put up a mightyperformance to increase his mark further. That is some thought to keep us warm during the winter months!
Warwick's Grade 2 Neptune Investment Management Leamington Novices' Hurdle over 2m5f, while usually lacking strength in depth, always has a couple of exciting prospects and the latest edition was no exception, writes Martin Greenwood.
Prior to the race our ratings suggested it was a straight fight between Cotton Mill (rated 139) and Highland Lodge (rated 140), both of whom were two wins from two over hurdles. With Highland Lodge going off at a shade of odds-on, it was perhaps surprising that Cotton Mill was as big as 11-2, with another unexposed sort Ambion Wood (rated 129 going in) the second favourite.
In the event all three of the aforementioned had pulled clear with Same Difference leaving the back straight, but Highland Lodge was the first beaten and dropped out tamely from the second last leaving the impression that something wasn't quite right. Cotton Mill and Ambion Wood fought out a good finish thereafter and only half a length separated the pair at the line, with Cotton Mill holding on bravely.
These races are never easy to be sure about with so many unexposed sorts in the field and for the minute I have rated the race around the standards that cover the contest in the last five years. I have Cotton Mill slightly below his pre-race figure but he will remain on 139. Ambion Wood has been raised 6lb to 135 and Highland Lodge is now 139, the same as Cotton Mill with the hope he fulfils the promise he showed on his first two starts. Obviously only subsequent events will tell me whether I am too high or low, and I will adjust as necessary over the coming weeks.
THE PUNTERS' DARLAN?
Following the Nicky Henderson-trained Darlan's easy fourth success from as many career starts in a novice hurdle at Taunton last week it was hardly a surprise he moved up the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, writes Graeme Smith.
I was rather taken aback by his promotion to second-favourite for the valuable Betfair Hurdle - formerly the Totesport Trophy - at Newbury in February, however, with his chance in that race dependant entirely on a handicap mark that had yet to be released.
There was a reasonably wide range of possibilities for assessing that Taunton novice hurdle. Darlan won by half a length but it's very subjective how much extra he was value for having never left the bridle and anyone who snapped up a price for the Newbury race was taking something of a leap of faith on how I'd view things.
As it happened, I seemingly took a higher view of the form than Darlan's rider Barry Geraghty, who pointed out the runner-up Jump City could be disappointing and others further back needed the run.
Jump City had disappointed at 2m4f on his last two starts but his previous form around 2m has proved solid around a figure of 138 (I raised his rating 2lb back to that level) and I took the view Darlan was value for a winning margin in the region of eight lengths, raising his rating from 137 to 146.
I think he could still be a contender for the Betfair Hurdle if standing up to the rough and tumble of markedly more competitive company but surely anyone who's already backed him would have been better off keeping their powder dry until they could make an informed decision.
This blog appears courtesy of britishhorseracing.com