THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Moonstone Magic: one of the better Fred Darling winners this centuryPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Much to digest as Classic trials take centre stage
There was something for everyone as far as the racing schedule went last week with the new Flat season really kicking into gear at Newmarket and then Newbury, whilst the National Hunt bandwagon rolled north of the border to Ayr for the Scottish Grand National meeting. Both codes are covered in this week's edition, though the emphasis is rather on the Classics picture.
Craven and Greenham week must be one of the most exciting weeks of the year for Flat racing fans and the last seven days once again saw the re-emergence of a whole host of potential Classic contenders, writes Graeme Smith.
In the spirit of ladies first, the Lanwades Stud Nell Gywn Stakes looks a good place to start the rundown. It's fair to say none of the market leaders for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas lined up and in the event it saw something of a surprise result as one of only two race-fit fillies belied odds of 20-1 as she edged a finish that saw the first five covered by less than a length. With a finish that tight it was always going to be difficult to justify an exalted view of the form, particularly as the winner Esentepe already had ten runs behind her and came with a handicap mark of only 92.
Historical standards for the first five suggested a figure around 101 for Esentepe, whilst a time comparison with the well-run 6f handicap later in the card came out at 100. The latter figure also tied in relatively closely with the pre-race mark of the third, Lily's Angel, and was the level I plumped for - making Esentepe the joint-lowest-rated Nell Gwyn winner since the turn of the century alongside 2007 scorer Scarlet Runner.
Post-race there are no fewer than five of the beaten fillies who retain a higher mark than Esentepe and runner-up Nayarra even surpassed her level on the day, running to 102 under a 3lb penalty for her Group 1 success last autumn. I've left her rating at the 106 she achieved in Milan, feeling a return to 1m will see her in a better light. The inexperienced Starscope probably caught a few eyes too as she did good late work from well back to snatch fourth (ran to 98) and it may be that she does better again having come on the back of just one previous start.
The Dubai Duty Free Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury was a harder race to rate with all bar two of the field failing by a long way to show their form in the testing conditions. The once-raced maiden-winner Moonstone Magic gave Ralph Beckett his third winner in the race with another dominant display.
Both historical standards (for the first two only given none of the others really mattered this year) and a time comparison with Noble Mission's 92+ performance in the opening maiden - the best relative time on the card by my reckoning - suggested a figure around 108 for Moonstone Magic but I preferred a level 2lb lower, which meant the runner-up Radio Gaga (pre-race 91) moved level with and not above Excelette, who'd beaten her to the runner-up spot in the Listed Bosra Sham Stakes at Newmarket last October. It is of course possible that Radio Gaga improved further than the 98 I have credited her with on this first try beyond 6f and the race may need revisiting, but as things stand Moonstone Magic rates as one of the better Fred Darling winners this century.
The beaten favourite Best Terms still stands head and shoulders above this field in terms of ratings, with her 115-rated performance when winning the Lowther standing up strongly. As far as the 1000 Guineas goes, it seems Best Terms will return to sprinting and Moonstone Magic is by no means sure to be supplemented, with her trainer concerned it may come too soon after two quick runs. In terms of figures, I had Mashoora running to 108 when winning her trial in France, Homecoming Queen ran to 106 when successful at Leopardstow, and her stablemate Maybe - the current ante-post favourite - is rated 116 from her unbeaten juvenile season.
Rather like in the fillies division, the market leaders for the Qipco 2000 Guineas also stayed away from last week's trials and on form so far Camelot still sets the standard at 119.
I dealt with a couple of the colt's trials and in the first, the Bet At bluesquare.com European Free Handicap, I had Telwaar running no higher than his mark of 100 in swooping from last to first. Both placed horses were wrong at the weights having had their marks reduced since the Free Handicap was published at the end of last year, but runner-up Bannock still came out with the best performance, running to 109.
The Aon Greenham Stakes was probably a stronger trial, even with Top Offer and Tales of Grimm defecting, but Caspar Netscher probably didn't have to do any more than reproduce the 114-form he'd shown last year to account for the unexposed Boomerang Bob in an unremarkable time. Both 'Caspar' and the third-placed Bronterre remain rated 114, whilst Boomerang Bob - who raced only at 5f in a juvenile season that finished in early July - had his increased 7lb to 112.
It could well be that Bronterre puts up a better fight if taking his chance in the Guineas (possibly unsuited by soft ground on Saturday) as his 114-rated Dewhurst performance was very much endorsed by his stablemate Trumpet Major in the Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes, which Dominic Gardiner-Hill dealt with.
Again, this wasn't straightforward to assess with the 113-rated runner-up clearly not on his game given both his five-length beating and the proximity of others to him, whilst the third-placed Eastern Sun raced alone down the centre of the track. Dom used the sixth-placed Campanology as a guide to the race (rated 90) as that moved Trumpet Major up the Dewhurst result (he'd finished fifth in the race) - crediting him with some improvement - yet kept him just behind the 117-rated winner Parish Hall, coming out alongside the runner-up Power at 116.
Race standards from the last decade give Trumpet Major a chance of reaching the frame in a Guineas with a rating of 116, but he'll likely have to better that to win the race.
GO ON MAYSON!
Even though understandably the Classic trials took centre stage at last week's Craven meeting there was some decent sprint action on show, with the 6f listed Connaught Access Flooring Abernant Stakes being the pick of it, writes Stewart Copeland.
The race itself was a somewhat unsatisfactory affair, with a modest early gallop probably compromising the chance of some of those held up, which included the favourite Genki, making his seasonal reappearance and trying to follow up his success of last year. He failed to land a blow from off the pace, but given the race wasn't run to suit, too much shouldn't be read into it in my view and he remains on his rating of 114.
The spoils however went to the four-year-old colt, Mayson, trained by Richard Fahey. Always travelling well up with the pace, Mayson quickened clear in taking style over a furlong out and came home a comfortable three and a half lengths clear from the pace-setting Jimmy Styles.
This represented a marked turnaround in form from their placings in the Cammidge Trophy at Doncaster last time out, and in my view a career-best performance from Mayson. I've credited him with an improved rating of 110, which is roughly on par with the average performance we'd expect for an Abernant winner over the past decade.
Mayson's next port of call is apparently the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes at the Knavesmire next month, and on this effort he's well worth his place in that field. That race often produces a winning performance in the mid-teens though, and probably explains why recent winners of the Abernant don't have a great record in it.
In fact we have to go back to 1995 to find the last horse to complete the Abernant/Duke of York double in the same year. That was no less a horse than the top-class Lake Coniston, who subsequently romped home to an impressive success in the July Cup at Newmarket.
The return of Edgardo Sol to hurdles for the Isle of Skye Blended Whisky Scottish Champion Hurdle looked a masterful piece of placing but unfortunately he proved unable to convert his chase improvement back to timber and was just about the first beaten, writes Dave Dickinson.
A strong pace and faster ground than for the main winter handicaps saw returns to form for Local Hero and Clerk's Choice who ran fine races to fills the places. However, the spoils went to the Alan King-trained Raya Star, already a winner of a slowly-run Ladbroke and third in the Betfair (formerly the Schweppes) at Newbury in February. This truer test held no terrors for him and using the placed horses as benchmarks, he is raised 6lb to a career-high of 149.
Raya Star started his career on the lesser tracks and actually fell on two of his first three hurdle starts, but he now looks a smart prospect for novice chases next season. Note should also be made of the fourth home, Red Merlin, who seemed to travel best but was run out of it on the very long run in, the last having been omitted.
Raya Star is not the first horse to have failed in the County Hurdle following a wide challenge two out and subsequently returned to form - Lifestyle did the same at Aintree on Grand National day.
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