THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Aerial: valuable win in close finish sees Paul Nicholls-trained chaser up 6lbPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Plenty to chew on before the banquet begins
There was anything but a second-class feel to the last racing week despite its proximity to Cheltenham with big races all over the country on Saturday.
Aerial edged a pulsating finish to the Grade 3 handicap at Newbury and there was plenty of other graded action elsewhere, with Fontwell and Kelso each staging one of their seasonal highlights.
Kelso also saw the reappearance of last year's Grand National winner Ballabriggs as he gears up towards his Aintree defence, which is also covered in this week's edition, and we throw in a bit of action from the desert for you Flat fans out there too!
AERIAL PICKS UP LATE
Saturday's 2m4f Barbury International Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup produced one of the tightest finishes we've seen in valuable handicap chases this season, writes Graeme Smith.
It was the Paul Nicholls-trained Aerial who came out on top, but only by a short head from the flagging Dan Breen, and the third and fourth also finished within three and a half lengths as the quartet drew clear.
With such a tight finish involving that many horses there's no real need to alter their marks drastically.
The view I took of the race revolved around raising Dan Breen 5lbto 148 - the mark he finished last season on - and the fourth-placed Fine Parchment (last year's winner) 2lb to 135, the mark he'd finished second at Aintree from in the autumn. The third-placed Rileyev therefore went up 4lb to 136 (his actual rise is7lb as he was 3lb out of the handicap), making this a career-best effort stepping up beyond 2m for the first time in a while.
All of this meant a 6lb rise for Aerial for his most valuable success to date, and his connections will no doubt hope he can defy his mark of 155 when getting a chance over longer trips, having needed every yard to get up.
I spent Saturday afternoon at Kelso where the totepool.com Premier Chase featured the return of the Grand National winner Ballabriggs.
The pace was notably steady for much of the contest and all bar the huge outsider still held a chance halfway up the run-in. The proximity of the 128-rated Abbeybraney holds the form down and I've rated the race around him running to that figure, which has both According To Pete and Ballabriggs below their best in the face of an insufficient test of stamina - the latter coming up nearly 30lb shy of his 160 rating.
That trio all remain on their pre-race marks but Master Of The Hall (who conceded weight all round) earned a rise for his dominant success, his new figure of 151 (up 3lb) reflecting the fact he had a deal more in hand than the four-length margin.
POOLE WINS SWIMMINGLY
The weights for all the Cheltenham handicaps were revealed last Wednesday in the traditional press conference held at Prestbury Park, writes Martin Greenwood.
Part of the process involved telling members of the audience the likely cut-off point for their runners (what rating will likely give your horse a run). I also pointed out that if you were able to win between times you would incur a 5lb penalty, which would help the horses slightly lower down the handicap, and that scenario played out at Newbury on Friday.
Poole Master, trained by David Pipe, was rated 130 prior to the race, which in normal years would just about get you into both the Coral Cup and the Pertemps, whichhe is entered in.
Poole Master is also entered in the Martin Pipe handicap for conditionals on the Friday of the festival. This race always attracts a mammoth entry, and the weights on the day are usually very compressed, usually only around 12lb separates top weight from bottom, meaning you would normally need to be rated in the high 120s to get in.
This year the race has moved from a 0-140 to a 0-145, meaning the likelihood is that you would have to be rated around 133 to get in which of course would have put Poole Master's participation in the race David would clearly love to win for the first time in serious jeopardy.
Luckily, Poole Master will be able to race off 135, thus enabling him to run in any of the handicaps at Cheltenham, after he scooted up in a novice at Newbury.
Top rated on BHA figures after winning his last two novices, Poole Master was pretty impressive in accounting for Nicky Henderson's promising Let's Get Serious (who was receiving 4lb) by five lengths, the winning distance not doing justice to his superiority. With the rest of the field well strung out this looked a decent renewal of the race, and Poole Master is now rated 144, meaning he will be 9lb ‘well in' at The Festival.
CORAL CUP POINTERS
Two performances among the middle distance hurdlers are worth a mention from last week, writesChris Nash.
On Sunday Third Intention took the Grade 2 Game Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in good style. He was stepped up in trip to 2m4f and also had a tongue tie on for the first time and that combination led to whatI have rated as a career-best performance.
He was a decent juvenile hurdler last season and finished a close seventh in the Triumph with the likes of Brampour and Smad Place behind.
He came to Fontwell rated 145- having been runner-up in a Taunton handicap in January - and travelled really well prior to coming nine lengths clear under hands-and-heels riding. You could question what he beat, with the formerly useful second (Topolski) and third (Duc De Regniere) both having pulled up last time but it was hard not to be impressed with the manner of his win.
His mark will rise to 153 and (given that Sunday was the last day that form could be taken into account for the Cheltenham handicaps) that is the rating he will be asked to run off if he takes his chance in the Coral Cup at the Festival.
Another engaged in the Coral Cup is the novice Tap Night, who won the Grade 2 Premier Novice Hurdle over 2m2f at Kelso on Saturday. His form has a very progressive look to it and he improved his rating 10lb to 142 as he mastered the Tolworth winner Captain Conan (rated 142) late in the day for a two-length success.
I have used the runner-up to level the race and, taking into account the 3lb penalty he carried, have Tap Night running to 141.
This victory earns him a 5lb penalty for the Cheltenham handicap, which means he'll line up off a mark of 137 if taking his chance - effectively 4lb well in. The step up to 2m5f at the Festival should also play to his strengths having already won over 2m4f and looked better the further he went on Saturday.
FOX SETS SIGHTS ONGOLD
The 2m Dubai Gold Cup will make its debut on Dubai World Cup night later this month and a key trial for that event took place during the week in the shape of the Nad Al Sheba Trophy, a Group 3 contest over 1m6f, writes Stephen Hindle.
Fox Hunt, now in the care of Mahmood Al Zarooni, was a model of consistency for Mark Johnston in 2011, the German St Leger one of his four wins. He also finished seventh of twenty-three, beaten under three lengths, in the Melbourne Cup on his final start, the form of which is working out extremely well.
He already looks an improved performer this year, however, following up a win in handicap company on his debut at Meydan with this two and a half length success over Opinion Poll over the same course and distance.
Opinion Poll was consistent himself in 2011. I had him on 116 (117 was agreed by my international colleagues) and it seemed reasonable to assume he had run to that figure as it also ties in with the fourth, Modun, who was agreed as being 110 at the end of year classifications.
With Jakkalberry appearing to have run to a similar level as when seventh in the Hong Kong Vase when last seen out in December, this seems pretty solid form, and I have Fox Hunt running to 118.
Fox Hunt will have a leading chance in the Dubai Gold Cup, but further down the line he won't need to improve much, if at all, to look like a top contender for the only race with the title of solely Gold Cup, at Royal Ascot. His credentials are there for all to see. He has just beaten last year's runner-up Opinion Poll, he shapes as if the extra distancewill suit, and he has already won at the Royal meeting having taken last year's Duke of Edinburgh Handicap.
This blog appears courtesy of britishhorseracing.com