THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Tidal Bay (right) was among the stars who impressed at SandownPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Star performances light up Sandown finale
With its proximity to the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festivals, Sandown’s Celebration Chase has tended to suffer from a touch of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ syndrome. Not this year, writes John de Moraville.
Saturday’s Grade 2 showdown, inaugurated in 2001 after Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase was a victim of the foot-and-mouth crisis, produceda star of its own in Sanctuaire, a six-year-old novice having only his third start over fences.
He was a talented but temperamental 150-rated hurdler whose victories included the Scottish Champion and the Fred Winter.
Sanctuaire, who had pulled hard in the past and given trouble at the start, seemingly relished his new front-running chase tactics. Unchallenged winner of his two previous outings, he again blasted off in front and, jumping from fence to fence, had his far more experienced rivals on the rack by half-way.
Never in danger of defeat, Sanctuaire hammered Victor Chandler Chase winner Somersby (166) by 17 lengths with Dan Breen (148) finishing a creditable third. While Somersby and the majority of Saturday’s field failed to give their true running, a line through Dan Breen, who had also run to 148 in winning a course and distance novice chase (subsequently disqualified) on similar going last season, gives Sanctuaire a chase rating of 167.
That mark - just 2lb below brilliant Arkle hero Sprinter Sacre - may well flatter him and is sure to provoke a heated debate at next week’s Anglo-Irish Classifications meeting. But one thing is certain, on a front-runner’s track like Sandown, Sanctuaire is an extremely potent force. Unsurprisingly, he is due to return to the Surrey circuit in December for the Tingle Creek.
Most of us knew she had it in her, and at last Quevega was given an opportunity to post a 160+ performance, writes Martin Greenwood.
There has never been any doubt that Quevega is a mare with tremendous talent, but usually she faces more or less straightforward tasks on the figures, especially in the mares race at Cheltenham, and given she receives the 7lb mares allowance in open company, it has been difficult to justify anything other than marks in the high 150s over the last few years.
In winning her third straight Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle at a very wet Punchestown last week, Quevega finally broke through the 160 barrier with a convincing five and a half-length victory over Cheltenham World Hurdle runner-up and another ubermare, Voler La Vedette, with Mourad another four and a half lengths further back in third. Both mares entered the closing stages tanking along but Quevega soon put the contest to bed, and recorded her sixth consecutive win in the process. Quevega beat the 160-rated Mourad by just over alength in 2011, but her 2012 ten-length beating of the same horse means a career best figure of 163 for the mare.
The obvious question is would Quevega manage to beat Big Buck’s? In my opinion, the match will probably never happen. Ruby Walsh is far too clever to put two of his best mounts in the same race together! With Quevega’s allowance added to her new rating it would be a 174 to 170 clash in favour of Big Buck’s on my ratings. There is no doubt thatQuevega is probably capable of better if given the opportunity to prove it, but I still think that comment applies to Big Buck’s as well! It would be a fantastic race to savour if it ever materialises. And the result? I think Big Buck’s would emerge the winner.
HEAVY GROUND FORM
Life as a handicapper can be tricky enough as it is but when the weather intervenes in the way that is has over the last week or so then it can become particularly difficult, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
I must have had half a dozen people come up to me over the course of Sandown’s two day meeting last Friday and Saturday asking, “How do you guys work things out when the ground is like this?” The answer is to try and be sensible, realise that these races are being run in exceptional conditions where the ability to act in the ground is probably as important (if not more) as handicapping and try not to overreact.
A classic example of this was the Poker at Bet365.Com Handicap at Sandown on Saturday. The race cut up to just four runners with the final distances being ½ a length, nineteen lengthsand thirty five lengths – being beaten so far, the third and the fourth give no guide to the level of the race so I realistically only had the first two to work with.
The runner up Sam Sharp had scored off 82 last May but had struggled subsequently and was racing off 83 on Saturday – although only beaten half a length in a £12,500 handicap I have left him on that mark of 83 and raised the winner Weapon of Choice by just a pound to a new mark of 90. This represents a career high for Stuart Kittow’s gelding and it will be interesting to see if he can reproduce, or better it, back on a faster surface in a more competitive race – only time will tell.
The same can be said for John Berry’s Silken Thoughts who ran away with the Casino at Bet365.Com Flat v Jump Jockeys Handicap off a mark of 77. Progressive towards the back end of last season when winning two of her last three races, the filly was always travelling well in the mud and only needed to be pushed out to land the race by four lengths. Given her profile and the manner of her success I would normally have called her value for a five length victory on better ground and put her up 10lb but on this occasionI have just put her up the eight to 85 and left both the runner up and the third on the same marks they ran off.
My best quality race of the week over a mile took place twenty four hours earlier at the Esher venue when David O’Meara’s mud lover Penitent landed the Group 2 Bet365 Mile. The second bottom rated horse on 108 going into the race he stayed on dourly up the hill to see off Earl of Sefton winner Questioning by a length and three quarters with eight lengths and more back to the other four runners. Again the suspicion is that his victory owed more to his ability to keep galloping in the ground but he is now two from two since joining O’Meara and, until subsequent form proves otherwise, I have to give him credit for the performance. I have left Questioning on his pre-race 114 and moved Penitent to a career high 116 – once again it will be interesting to see if that figure can be reproduced on better ground in the summer.
It is now almost a year since Frankel confirmed himself a superstar with his blistering 2000 Guineas victory – still one of the most visually stunning performances I have ever witnessed and all roads lead to Newmarket on Saturday to see if this year’s crop of three year olds contain any pretenders to his crown.
At this stage the Irish look to hold a strong hand ratings wise with the top three rated horses in the race – Racing Post Trophy winner and joint top rated juvenile of 2011 Camelot (O’Brien) leading the way on 119 by a couple of pounds from stable companion Power and the Jim Bolgertrained Dewhurst winner Parish Hall on 117.
Let’s hope the rain goes away and the best horse on the day wins!
ANOTHER BIG WIN FOR AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD
“You never give the older horses a chance in the big handicaps”, is just another hackneyed old phrase that we hear all the time. After the results of the three big staying handicap chases of the last three Saturdays, perhaps we might hear ita little less in the future, hopes Phil Smith.
At Sandown, Tidal Bay became the third eleven year old to win a big handicap following the successes of Neptune Collonges and Merigo at Aintree and Ayr. Neptune Collonges started the season on 168 and won the John Smith’s Grand National off 157, Merigo began 2011-12 on 141 and won the Coral Scottish Grand National off 134.
Graham Wylie’s veteran began the season on 166 and afterfinishing second in the Argento Cotswold Chase getting weight from Midnight Chase, my colleague Stephen Hindle dropped him 9lbs. to 157. This was a brave but correct decision. He then finished last of five in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury and I dropped him a further 3lbs to 154.
Following a respectable run when badly hampered behind Big Buck’s at Liverpool over hurdles, Tidal Bay was set to carry top weight of 11st12lbs on Saturday. As a result he has become the highest winning weight carrier in the Bet365 Gold Cup and all of its previous incarnations since The Dikler carried 11st13lbs to victory in 1974.
So when was the last time three eleven year olds won our three premier end of season staying handicap chases in the same season? The answer is it has never happened! The Bet365 Gold Cup (Whitbread) was introduced in 1957 so it has not happened in 55 renewals. Feeling pleased with myself I mentioned it to a caller yesterday. “It’s because you have the young horses too high," he responded. You just can’t win as a handicapper.
These three old timers had dropped a total of 30lbs in five months but all had run well in their last run before their bigwin. A £10 treble on them would have netted an intrepid follower of these old guys £28,900!