THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Brae Hill (right) edges out Mull Of Killough to land the LincolnPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Plenty to chew over as Flat returns with a bang
SATURDAY saw a bumper day of action on the Flat, the turf season opening at Doncaster, Kempton staging one of the best Polytrack cards of the entire year and Meydan hosting the world's richest race in the Dubai World Cup. Our team of Flat handicappers cover the highlights.
I have something of a love/hate relationship with the Lincoln, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
I look forward to it each year as it marks the start of a new turf season and all that it promises over the coming months and I enjoy the fact that it is contested by a bunch of largely exposed older handicappers, who compete for a nice prize without the nuisance of a rapidly improving three-year-old or two that the big mile handicaps later in the year tend to come with.
On the other hand, the big yards (Gosden, Haggas etc) often prepare a future Group horse for it while the time of year means that, with fitness at a premium, the actual race itself sometimes doesn't provide the competitive and exciting finish that makes the job worthwhile.
This year, however, was a good year. Having finished runner-up in last year's race off 95 Brae Hill went one better off the same mark on Saturday, beating fast-finishing ex-stable companion Mull Of Killough (96) by a shorthead with the Haggas-trained Fury (98) a length further away in third. The winner was having his thirty-third start and is unlikely to have made vast improvement on anything we have seen from him before - he has never been much better than a 97-98 performer at his very best - but I am happy to call this his best performance yet for the time being and have raised him 4lb to a new mark of 99.
While the runner-up is slightly less exposed he was still having the 17th start of his career and had never been better than 96 previously - once again I am happy to believe this is a career-best and have moved him up 3lb, also to 99.
Third-placed Fury is an interesting one as he looked a Group horse in the making early last season after finishing fifth in Frankel's 2,000 Guineas and being touched off for the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown. Immediately after that performance he was rated 106 but the wheels fell off in a big way and he finished last in all three of his subsequent starts, registering performance figures in the low 80s in all three. Subsequently gelded and allowed to compete off 98 on Saturday he showed a return to form and will be raised 1lb to 99 for the handicaps in which his future now seems to lie.
One final pat on the back from the Lincoln goes to fourth-placed Edinburgh Knight who ran a blinder under top weight off a mark of 104. He also goes up 1lb to 105 (which should keep a number of top handicaps open to him) and proves that top weights can be perfectly competitive in these big handicaps.
The William Hill Spring Mile (the Lincoln consolation) also provided a very satisfactory result from a handicapping perspective. Again the top weight Kyllachy Star proved competitive in finishing second off a mark of 90 and will be raised only 1lb to a new mark of 91 for his effort, but he had to give best to 50-1 shot Norse Blues who took the contest off 85. He is another about whom the handicappers know plenty and I have done nothing more than raise him back to his previous career high of 90 (+5lb) for his success.
The most interesting horse from the race, however, was fourth-placed Captain Bertie (84). He is another who was gelded over the winter and came in for significant market support, which he might have justified with more luck in running having met with all sorts of trouble during the race, dropping back to the rear of the field and then finishing like an express train to grab fourth. So the conundrum for me was whether to revise his rating in terms of what he might have achieved or what he actually achieved?
It is a dangerous game rerating horses on what you think they might have run to with more luck - you have to be very sure of the probable outcome if you are to base a horse's future rating on it. Yes, Captain Bertie looked extremely unlucky and his supporters probably feel aggrieved but I don't feel I can say with certainty that he would have won. I have raised his rating by 1lb (to 85), which means he will meet second and third on the same terms in a future handicap and be 4lb better off with the winner - I also have it in mind that he has not won a race since September 2010 and palpably failed to "go on" after a hugely encouraging seasonal reappearance last year when second in the Esher Cup at Sandown in April. We will see.
Over in Dubai the Godolphin Mile was overshadowed in terms of quality by a number of other races on the card but still produced an impressive winner in the shape of African Story. A relatively "moderate" miler when in the care of Andre Fabre in France last year (rated 111 in the European Rankings), his career has taken off since setting foot on Meydan's Tapeta track and, but for a luckless run in the Firebreak in February he would now be four from four on the surface. At the present time I have a figure of 120 on his performance, although one or two of my international colleagues are favouring 119 - obviously all this will shake down as the year progresses and it will be interesting to see the path Godolphin tread with him and whether he can translate his new found improvement back onto turf.
TALE OF TWO CITIES
The Roger Charlton trained six-year-old Cityscape posted a career-best performance in winning the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Stakes over 1m 1f at Meydan on Saturday, writes Greg Pearson.
Going into the race he was rated 121, a figure he had achieved when third in the 2011 Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot behind Canford Cliffs and a narrow second to Dick Turpin in Milan's Group 1 Premio Vittorio Di Capua Stakes.
Without question it was a strong Group 1 field that he comprehensively outpointed here in a track record time - there was only one runner rated below 116 in third-placed City Style (113), and that gelding came with a progressive profile. Taking a line through Mutahadee reproducing the 116+ figure he achieved when scoring a facile handicap success three starts back would suggest Cityscape ran to 125 in beating that one by a comfortable four and a quarter lengths (which I called 9lb). To put things in perspective against recent winners, 125 is the performance figure I allocated to Gladiatorus when he obliterated the 2009 field at Nad Al Sheba in most impressive fashion - incidentally both he and Cityscape were racing beyond 1m for the first time.
Testament to Cityscape's toughness and durability, he has been widely travelled and astutely placed by Charlton to win Group races in four different countries (England, Ireland, France and Dubai). Not many horses can attest to that.
Pre-race favourite Ambitious Dragon ran disappointingly but pulled himself into the ground through the early and middle stages, and it's debateable whether he was entirely comfortable racing in the anti-clockwise direction.
Later on the card was the world's richest race - the Group 1 Dubai World Cup over 1m2f. This result had a British flavour with the first two, Monterosso and Capponi (both now with Mahmood Al Zarooni), both having represented Mark Johnston earlier in their careers. Unlike last year's running, which will long be remembered for the farcically slow pace, this year's edition was a more truly-run contest and saw Monterosso (pre-race 121) produce a career-best performance of 127 in beating the 122-rated Capponi by three lengths.
Capponi had beaten Monterosso when winning the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 three weeks earlier, but it was clear Monterosso had derived significant benefit from that race after a year off.
Unlike many others from my native Australia I have given up making excuses for So You Think. Make no mistake he is a serious racehorse - he's run to figures of between 118 and 126 on all nine starts for Aidan O'Brien - but superstar is a term I no longer associate with him, acknowledging his three European Group 1 successes. Bring on Royal Ascot - we need the great mare Black Caviar to come and restore some credibility for the Aussies.
Among all the top-class action on Dubai World Cup night I had the privilege of applying figures to a couple of races, writes Stephen Hindle.
The Dubai Sheema Classic, a 1m4f Group 1 event worth the best part of £2 million, was a very classy affair, with Champion Stakes winner Cirrus Des Aigles holding on by a neck from Breeders' Cup Turf winner St Nicholas Abbey.
Whilst St Nicholas Abbey was possibly inconvenienced to a degree by allowing the winner first run in a race run at less than a true gallop, he did have enough time to get past and I set my level around the Aidan O'Brien-trained stalwart, electing to have him running to 124, the same figure as in the Breeders' Cup.
That gave a performance rating of 125 for Cirrus des Aigles, the high-class French gelding still a little below his high watermark of 128 earned at Ascot.
Jakkalberry stayed on well down the outside for Britain, though still finishing three and a half lengths adrift of St Nicholas Abbey, and he looked back to near his best, running to 119.
Another O'Brien inmate, Treasure Beach, was half a length further back in fourth and the Irish Derby winner helps give the form a solid look, as does the consistent South African-trained mare Mahbooba in fifth.
It was nice to see the ultra-consistent Opinion Poll return to the winners enclosure following the Dubai Gold Cup as he held on to beat Joshua Tree, like Jakkalberry trained by Marco Botti, by a comfortable three-quarters of a length.
For a stayer, Opinion Poll has an excellent turn of foot and he displayed it two furlongs out to put the race to bed. I often base my races around him and saw this one as no different, another 116 meaning Joshua Tree has repeated a couple of 114 performances we had for him last season. Opinion Poll has now made the frame in his last nineteen races and looks set for another solid campaign in 2012.
THAT'S MY BOY
The new two-year-old season kicked off on Saturday which was great news because I am always excited to see the new crop start, writes Matthew Tester.
My Boy Bill won the Brocklesby in tidy style and my impression is that he is a nice prospect. He was ridden with patience and went past them well despite having to be switched to get his run. This race varies considerably in class and time will tell how strong this renewal was.
With Stewart Copeland away on holiday, I have also been helping with some of the sprinters to make up my workload.
The highest rated performance I looked after this week was in Dubai's Golden Shaheen at Meydan on Saturday. Krypton Factor pulled away from a high-class field and we have him pencilled in at 124. Rocket Man had won the same race last year but was two and a quarter lengths away in second. Third was Luck Or Design who had won the big sprint in Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific day in December.
To put that in perspective, Dream Ahead was a 126-horse last year which tells you how impressive this performance looks.