THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Pricewise tip Red Merlin won a wide-open running of the SwintonPICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Wide-open Swinton asight worth savouring
My Saturday morning started by researching the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (formerly the Swinton), writes Dave Dickinson.
One of our aims is competitive betting in handicaps, so one look at Page 73 of the Racing Post on Saturday and my face must have looked like something purchased from 'Smug Handicappers R Us'.
In one of the bookmakers adverts for the race there were ten 12-1 co- favourites from the 20 runners and only one horse was quoted at longer than 20-1!
Now I am sure it was a marketing ploy by the Magic Sign but days like these don't come by in the handicapping world that often. So, a mental note to self: keep page 73 in good nick and remember to buy a picture frame for the office wall next week.
In the event punters latched on to Tom Segal's Pricewise selection, Red Merlin, and he won very tidily by a long looking two and a half lengths. I felt the winning margin was worth five pounds and using Petit Robin and Conquisto as my markers, I have raised the winner eight pounds to 143.
Not the closest of finishes sadly, but there were two pieces of good news. Firstly, it was a closer finish than last year's renewal (then again so was the Grand National, the London Marathon and probably the Paris-Dakar rally). Secondly, I should save a few pounds on that picture frame as I can't afford one big enough to include a photo of the finish!
QUEEN COMES HOME FASTER THAN THE REST
As I watched Homecoming Queen stroll home in last Sunday's Qipco 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket by the longest winning margin in the race since 1859 my immediate reaction was, "what the hell am I going to do with that?", writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
She was having her 14th career start and was the most experienced and apparently most exposed runner in the contest. She had a pre-race rating of 106 which would have failed to get her into the first three in any of the previous ten renewals of the race and went off a relatively unconsidered 25-1 shot - and yet she bolted in by nine lengths!
The first point to make is that a number of the more fancied fillies blatantly failed to run their race. The O'Brien first string Maybe (ten lengths behind in third) cannot have run to her pre-race mark of 116, whilst other fancied contenders such as Lightening Pearl (111), Moonstone Magic (106), Discourse (109) and Lyric of Light (112) were probablycaught out either by the ground or the half-hour delay caused by the fatal injury to Gray Pearl - or a combination of both.
The key to the race appears to lie with Lily's Angel (seventh) and Laugh Out Loud (eighth). I have Richard Fahey's filly reproducing the 98 she ran when third in the Nell Gwyn, suggesting that the Channon filly has stepped up a couple of pounds from her pre-race 96 in finishing a short head behind. Building up through the field, thismeans that sixth placed Alla Speranza has run to 99, just 2lb off her pre-race rating of 101 - all neat enough under the circumstances!
Given the ground I have called the nine lengths winning distance 16lbs which results in HomecomingQueen running to a mark of 120 - the best winning performance in the last ten years (bettering Finsceal Beo's 119 in 2007) and on a par with Cape Verdi's 120 performance in the 1998 renewal.
It does however mean that in running to 104and 102, runner-up Starscope and third placed Maybe have posted the lowest rated performances to fill those positions in a very long time - certainly within the previous ten years. Maids Causeway (108 when second in 2005), Vista Bella (107 when third in 2005) and Nasheej (107 when third in 2006) had previously held that "distinction".
Do I believe Homecoming Queen's performance? She is certainly a tough filly who has an engine but perhaps it is significant that only she and the runner-up of the first six home had had a previous outing this season, while both my benchmarks for the race (Lily's Angel and Laugh Out Loud) had also enjoyed a pipe opener. Having had a long talk with Turf Club handicapper Garry O'Gorman we agreed we had to give her credit for the performance in the short term and see what the rest of the season brings.
The Chester Cup proved to be a race to remember for Donald McCain,who trained the first two home, though few would argue the real fairy tale would have come about if the pair had finished the other way round. The runner-up Overturn was attempting to follow up his win in the race the previous year off joint top weight and a 7lb higher mark, writes Stephen Hindle.
After setting a good pace and stringing the field out all over the Roodeye on the final circuit, it looked as if Overturn could well overcome his weight burden, but stablemate Ile De Re eventually wore him down. Both the winner and second had been running over hurdles: Ile De Re had been beaten off a mark of 124 at Sandown in March, while Overturn of course, had finished second in the Champion Hurdle a few days later, earning the lofty rating of 166.
The task of conceding 13lbs to Ile De Re on the Flat proved too much for Overturn with Ile De Re returning to the sort of formwhich saw him placed in Listed company in France. As is usually the case with such a prestigious and valuable handicap, I wanted to take a positive view of the form. As the first two pulled five lengths clear of Gulf of Naples, a very progressive four year old due to race off a 7lb higher mark in the future, I could have gone much higher with the front pair.
However I felt the good pace and testing ground were large contributing factors in the field finishing so well strung out, so I didn't want to go overboard. Ile De Re was running off a mark of 93, and I felt anything less than 101 would be kind considering the runner-up was running off 106 and the third was due to go up 7lb.
I raised Overturn by 6lb to 112, calling the length and three quarters a standard 2lb. Gulf of Naples didn't quite run to his new rating of 108 from his win at Ripon, but I felt it was a decent run all the same and left his future mark unchanged.
Due to the soft ground the race was started by flag and what seemed a good draw for the previously progressive Shubaat turned into a poor one when he missed the break, and he was always behind. The early jostling didn't do fourth-placed Eternal Heart any favours either. He was beaten almost twenty lengths but considering the fact he likes to race up with the pace it was by no means a poor effort.
The Group 3 Ormonde Stakes suffered from a poor turnout and was made less interesting with the withdrawal of last year's Great Voltigeur winner and Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up Sea Moon.
Only four went to post and one of those was a previously unraced gelding. The two that dominated the betting were last year's Irish Derby third Memphis Tennessee, and the St Leger runner-up Brown Panther. Unfortunately, Brown Panther disappointed badly, trailing home a well-beaten last, and Memphis Tennessee was left with a fairly simple task, not needing to run to his 117 rating.
Memphis Tennessee doesn't carry the sort of hype that many trained at Ballydoyle do, but he's a colt with a lot of ability and is a reliable individual who has earned his mark from good placed runs in last year's British and Irish Derbys.