THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Sizing Europe: the two-miler recorded an authoritative Tingle Creek victoryPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Sizing Europe underlines his two-mile credentials
Saturday saw the reigning two-mile Champion show some of the young guns how it's done in the Tingle Creek, and John de Moraville gives his verdict on just how high a standard Sizing Europe is setting a present. Mark Olley runs the rule over a couple of Grand National trials he dealt with; while both Chris Nash and Stephen Hindle outline some younger horses we could be hearing more of in 2012.
Sizing Europe underlined his position as the top two-miler with an authoritative victory in Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase - but he did not need to run up to his best to win, writes John de Moraville.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained star, who headed last season's Anglo-Irish Classifications on 177 thanks to his sparkling Queen Mother Champion Chase success at Cheltenham, went into Saturday's showpiece with 13lb and upwards in hand over his six rivals.
And that superiority was strikingly apparent in the race with Andrew Lynch's mount, back at his optimum distance, never looking in danger of defeat.
With trailblazing second-favourite Wishfull Thinking following his Paddy Power failure with another worryingly disappointing display, Sizing Europe ran to 167+ in disposing of the promising Kauto Stone, who was not helped by a jolting blunder at the fourth fence from home, by eight lengths.
Kauto Stone's jockey Ruby Walsh had taken the earlier Grade 1, the newly-promoted Henry VIII Novices Chase, on the 4-11 favourite Al Ferof. Running to 153, similar to the mark he posted on his impressive Cheltenham chase debut, the classy grey momentarily looked vulnerable as For Non Stop (151) loomed up after the last.
Thankfully forhis supporters, he pulled out a bit extra close home. More will be needed if he is to upset Arkle favourite Peddlers Cross (160+) at Cheltenham in March.
OFF YOUR ROCKER
The Betfred Becher Chase has an illustrious roll of National stalwarts as past winners, including Earth Summit, Amberleigh House, Clan Royal, Silver Birch and Black Apalachi, and it will be interesting to see if this year's winner West End Rocker becomes a National hero, writes Mark Olley.
Last year's winner Hello Bud set a decent pace until depositing his rider at the Canal Turn and that, along with the very testing ground, had the field well strung out. It is never easy to assess a race when there are such big distances between the finishers and I spent far longer on this race than on any other this weekend.
I have ended up raisingWest End Rocker to a new mark of 149 (+12lb) while runner-up Niche Market drops 4lb to a new mark of 142. This allows 16lb for the twenty-two-length winning margin which looks pretty fair.
There is a longway to go until the National weights are finalised and with the figures from this race far from set in stone this race will be revisited as the horses run again and further evidence becomes available.
The last three National winners have been rated 150, 153 and 148 so West End Rocker nicely fits that profile. Alan King's gelding was brought down in the race last year, but jumped very well after an early scare on Saturday and it is easy to see why he heads the ante-post betting at thisstage.
Another horse to merit a mention from this weekend's racing is Deep Purple. Evan Williams' gelding has some high-class 2m4f form to his name over theyears, notably winning the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon and finishing fourth in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. He was rated 166 at his peak, but had slipped to 149 when stepped up to 3m5f at Sandown on Saturday.
Produced superbly by Paul Moloney, Deep Purple won going away by three lengths. He is another for whom I heard the National mentioned as a long term target and his new rating of 154 (+5lb) is still a long way below his career best.
There was a really decent renewal of the Grade 2 Winter Novices Hurdle over 2m4f at Sandown on Friday, writes Chris Nash.
The winner Fingal Bay has already had a positive mention in this feature this season and he further enhanced his claims for a prize at the Festival in March with a powerful display of galloping to beat Simonsig by two and three-quarter lengths.
The runner up travelled by far the best up the straight but when asked to go and win his race he found it impossible to peg back Fingal Bay. It was a further sixteen lengths back to Barbatos in third (pre-race rating of 137) while the fourth, fifth and sixth arrived with pre-race ratings of 138, 142 and 135 respectively.
There is scope to rate the front two very highly given what they beat but with the champion novice hurdlers of last year (Al Ferof and Spirit Son) being rated 154 I am keen to keep some perspective until both are tested at the highest level. I have settled on a figure of 149 for Fingal Bay and 146 for Simonsig - both represent career best efforts and both remain progressive horses. Their styles of running could not be more contrasting and there are reasons to believe that the 2m4f trip might prove to be the minimum that the winner requires and the maximum that the runner-up wants for now.
It's off to Hong Kong for some fortunate (or not, as the case may be) members of the handicapping team, where they will be discussing performances worthy of at least 110 with their international colleagues, writes Stephen Hindle.
From what I've heard (lesser lights like me don't get invited!) the team begins discussions at the top and then work their way down, so presumably they will begin with Frankel and it will be a while before they reach Barbican, a late contender for inclusion after his five-length romp in the listed Wild Flower Stakes at Kempton.
Alan Bailey's three-year-old has had an excellent first season racing, winning six of his ten starts, which began in a maiden at Wolverhampton back in February. Since then he has done nothing but improve, and giving 7lb (factoring in weight for age) and a beating to the 102-rated Ceilidh House was no mean feat.
The runner-up possibly didn't see out the trip stepping up from 1m2f, but the first two still pulled seven lengths and more clear of the rest and Barbican looks to have improvedon his 106 rating. I settled on 111 to keep him lower than the two who beat him in Group 3 company at Newbury on his previous outing, though the figure could be higher on all those he beat at Kempton.
It will be interesting to see howconnections campaign Barbican in 2012. He has winning form from an extended 1m to 1m6f, and there's no reason to doubt his being a force in at least minor Pattern company.
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