Derby v Jockey Club: can Waldgeist and Fabre win long game?
Scott Burton examines the traditional ratings gap between the two Classics
Dietrich von Boetticher, the driving force behind Gestut Ammerland and a fierce supporter of French racing, was a welcome visitor to Chantilly on Sunday.
He was there to support Waldgeist – in whom he shares ownership with Newsells Park Stud and Coomore – and casually took a leaf out of the 'Kenny McPeek playbook' when it came to taking adversity on the chin.
Having seen Waldgeist caught on the line by Brametot at the end of a pulsating finish to the Qipco Prix du Jockey Club, Boetticher declared himself delighted with the son of Galileo’s performance.
He went on to say how much he hoped Waldgeist could emulate his own Hurricane Run who, having been beaten by Poule d’Essai winner Shamardal in the 2005 Jockey Club, went on to excel when stepped up in trip in the Irish Derby, the Arc and the following season’s King George at Ascot.
In describing trainer Andre Fabre’s decision to stay at home in Chantilly rather tan tackle the Derby, Boetticher said: "He thought for the future this would be better because it is easier. Epsom is a tough race and we want to go on with him."
The comments are especially interesting because, as has been the case for nine of the last ten years, the winning of the Jockey Club has been rated an inferior performance to the one required to triumph the day before at Epsom.
Wings Of Eagles posted a Racing Post Rating [RPR] of 121+ against 117+ for Brametot, the same mark given to Epsom fourth Eminent
But could it be that there is something to Fabre and Boetticher’s theory that running in the Jockey Club leaves more in the tank for later in the season?
After all, most people reading this won’t need reminding that the no winner of the new format French Derby has gone on to land the Arc.
Conversely, does the effort required to win the Derby at such an early stage in a colt’s career sometimes leave a mark ?
Rating the two Derbies
The debate is often a lively one around this time of the year, especially in the French press room, where the habit that 'les anglosaxons' have of looking down on the Jockey Club winner often causes a certain amount of consternation.
In 2015, when New Bay's Jockey Club winning mark was eclipsed by Golden Horn, many turf writers in Paris – including this one – felt that, should the pair ever meet, there was no way John Gosden’s charge would come out on top by as far as the ratings suggested.
An early answer to the dispute failed to materialise when plans for New Bay to take on Golden Horn in the Coral-Eclipse were scrapped because of fears of a heatwave and, in fact, the handicappers were almost bang on the money when the pair met in the Arc.
In looking at the way the winners of each race have progressed from their Classic triumphs over the last 10 years, it is important to place a couple of pretty important caveats.
After all, almost all of the 20 winners are now standing at stud and I am not about to argue that one stallion's race record was superior to another.
For example, Workforce's Derby was rated 10lb superior to Lope De Vega's Jockey Club – a margin that was increased by another point following the Epsom hero's Arc victory – yet to date it is the Chantilly winner who has proved the greater hit in the covering sheds.
Just as importantly, our figures are compiled by the crack Racing Post Ratings team, headed by Paul Curtis and Sam Walker, two handicappers widely regarded to be without peer.
So it is important to say that ratings given for a performance on one day are not necessarily supposed to be indicative of future ability.
All that said, these are how the winners of the two Classics compared over the last decade.
Biggest differentials between Derby and Prix du Jockey Club
2007 Authorized + 11lb Lawman
2010 Workforce +10 Lope De Vega
2015 Golden Horn +8 New Bay
2012 Camelot +8 Saonois
2016 Harzand +7 Almanzor
2014 Australia +6 The Grey Gatsby
2009 Sea The Stars +5 Le Havre
2008 New Approach +4 Vision D’Etat
2011 Pour Moi +1 Reliable Man
2013 Ruler Of The World = Intello
What we are trying to establish here is not as simple as saying "did the handicappers get it wrong ?" however much you might be tempted to say so in the case of Almanzor, who got the better of Harzand when they met in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes (the Derby winner was struck into early in proceedings) and easily overhauled his 7lb deficit as rated after the Jockey Club.
Almanzor is an extreme case in at least one way in that his RPR of 117 was the lowest-rated Jockey Club winning performance of the decade, yet his end of season 129 was the highest achieved by any Chantilly winner during that period.
In determining whether Boetticher and Fabre may be on to something, the first thing to look for is how many winners of each race went on to improve their rating at least once between their Classic success and the end of their three-year-old season.
In the case of the Derby, the answer is seven out of ten, which is a good score considering Pour Moi never ran again.
The Jockey Club polls identically at seven out of ten, with Le Havre also never racing again.
Mind the gap
In a column for the Racing Post in 2011, RPR guru Sam Walker explained that obtaining a high mark for a race was often a function of races being run at or near and end-to-end gallop, which in turn can lead to winners beating their 'marker' horse (the reliable witness through which the overall form is assessed) by further.
At the article's conclusion, Walker argued:
"Sustained effort (the extreme of which is end-to-end) is harder on the horses, meaning they need bigger spacing between races, but the results create a better depiction of the superiority between the individuals involved. This allows the winners to show more precisely just how good they are.
"End-to-end does have it's drawbacks and perhaps connections outside Britain will not want to adapt to a system which means horses finish on empty every time they visit the track."
Jockey Club catch up?
If we remove 2009 and 2011 from calculations - the years that Le Havre and Pour Moi were prevented by injury from the opportunity to improve their score - only Almanzor overturned what might be termed the 'Derby Defecit.'
Intello and Ruler Of The World continued to be locked together, while two Chantilly winners narrowed the gap, leaving four Derby winners - Authorized, New Approach, Workforce and Golden Horn - to add to their supremacy.
It is no coincidence that a) they were highly-rated winners at Epsom in the first place and b) they all went on to win major all-aged Group 1s later in the season, the only real way for a three-year-old to build a substantial rating in the second half of the year.
French trainers tend to delay such confrontations until the crunch comes in the Arc, while the Pattern in Britain and Ireland gives little opportunity to do so after the end of June.
Kevin Ryan had no such qualms and took on Australia twice with The Grey Gatsby in 2014, coming off second best at York before reversing the form in thrilling fashion at Leopardstown.
And last year Jean-Claude Rouget took the fight to his Anglo-Irish adversaries with Almanzor at Leopardstown and Ascot, not only proving himself the best three-year-old in Europe but also earning mighty ratings for beating his elders in end-to-end races outside France.
Ultimately different horses can take different amounts of racing: for instance Golden Horn showed an admirable constitution during his summer roadshow of Derby, Eclipse, Irish Champion and Arc.
As for Brametot and especially Waldgeist, if the Arc is the aim, then their respective trainers will tailor their future campaigns to peak for that day.
Just don't be surprised if being exposed to an end-to-end gallop on Irish Derby day results in a higher rating for Waldgeist, win, lose or draw.