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Welcome to the weekly Handicappers' blog where we comment on all the big events in the world of handicapping, including reviews of the big races, eyecatching performances and the most exciting finishes- making this an invaluable guide to what is hot in racing at the moment.

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Slade Power
Slade Power
A SHOW OF POWER
The strength of last week’s programme ensured high-class performance were in plentiful supply and none shone brighter than the likely Champion Sprinter Slade Power, who confirmed his superiority over the division in clear-cut fashion in the July Cup. That’s the lead in this week’s bulletin, and we look in depth at the John Smith’s Cup and the current pecking order in the juvenile division.


Power surge

Mother Nature often does her best to wreak havoc with the best laid plans during a typical British summer, and she was at it again during Newmarket’s July meeting, writes Stewart Copeland.

In the build-up to this year’s 6f Group 1 Darley July Cup most of the anticipation centred around a clash between the two ‘Powers’ – Slade and Sole – winners of the two big sprints at Royal Ascot, the Diamond Jubilee and King’s Stand, respectively.

However the deluge of rain that hit the Suffolk track on the opening day of the meeting cast Sole Power’s presence immediately in doubt and it was disappointing, though hardly surprising, that he was withdrawn on the day. The conditions also put paid to the participation of another strong Irish challenger Due Diligence, who had finished runner-up to Slade Power at Royal Ascot.

Despite those two notable absentees a field of 13 still went to post, with Slade Power a warm favourite to further establish himself as the leading 6f European sprinter. His closest rival in the market was the 116-rated Spanish-trained Noozhoh Canarias, dropping back in trip after running creditably in the 2000 Guineas.

Once the stalls opened, the field split and we had two distinct groups of similar size on either side of the track. In such circumstances there’s always a concern that the pace could be markedly different in each, rendering any race unsatisfactory. Thankfully in this case, and the sectionals available help tell the tale, the pace to halfway was only marginally different between the two groups, which meant any pace bias was minimal. To further emphasise that point, the first two home raced on the far side, the next two stand side.

The two market leaders raced on the far side, with Slade Power tracking his Spanish foe, before asserting inside the last furlong for a decisive length and a half victory. Second was the six-year-old gelding Tropics, who was making a welcome return to form having been below his best so far this year.

As for the stand side group, that was led home by Gregorian, a further short-head behind, with the sole American challenger Undrafted a neck behind that.

In assessing the race I’ve taken the view that Slade Power has reproduced the same level of performance as his Diamond Jubilee win, which results in a rating of 119. This means Tropics achieved a rating of 115, marginally a career best having been credited with 114 at last year’s World Thoroughbred Rankings. As for Gregorian, he was arguably unlucky not to finish second after having none too clear a run around a furlong out, finishing best of all. I have him running to 115, but have left him at his pre-race figure of 116, which reflects the fact that he appeared a shade better than the bare form on the day.

As a result of Slade Power’s win nothing much has changed at the top of the 6f European sprinting ranks apart from him further emphasizing his dominance. His next port of call looks likely to be an attempt to land the hat-trick of 6f Group 1 British sprints in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock in September, and on what we’ve seen so far this season he’ll take some stopping.


Farraaj shows his class

It wasn’t so long ago that certain powerful owners would be reluctant to attend the presentation ceremony having won a major handicap, even at the Royal meeting, writes Marcus Weedon.

Would this still be the case? Farraaj’s triumph in the John Smith’s Cup at the weekend highlights the growing tendency in British racing for Group standard horses to contest and win valuable handicaps. Roger Varian’s battle-hardened five-year-old lumped 9 stone 11lb to victory and defied an official rating of 111 to win tidily by a length and a half.

This would be nothing new to our Australian cousins of course, as their most valuable and influential race of the year - you know, the one which stops a nation - is a handicap. Looking through the list of the last 10 winners, four have shown themselves to be seriously smart by achieving a rating in the 120s for winning the Melbourne Cup: the Japanese challenger Delta Blues in 2006, Efficient in 2007 (both 120), the runaway 2010 winner Americain (121) and, of course, the brilliant three-time heroine Makybe Diva, the queen of them all at 124. It’s also worth noting that Americain was rated 123 after his defeat the following year under top weight, and that he, the Diva, and Delta Blues had all won a ‘normal’ Group 1 at level weights before they lifted the Cup.

Back in traditional old Blighty the borderline between sprint handicaps and Group races has been distinctly blurred in recent times. This year’s Wokingham winner, Baccarat, was awarded a post-race mark of 112 and a performance of that quality would have earned him a share of fourth place in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee over the same course and distance. This is the new sprinting norm and the trend seems to be spreading to classic distances as shown by Farraaj and Educate, fourth behind him on Saturday, who won the Betfred Cambridgeshire off top weight last autumn.

It has to be said that the John Smith’s Cup demonstrated a bias towards front-runners, and the fact that the second was beaten at Kempton last time tempers enthusiasm somewhat. However, Farraaj’s new rating of 116 entitles connections to step up to Group level with some confidence.


Hannon Juveniles shine brightly

Last year the other Richard Hannon had the top-rated two-year-old with Toormore, this year the younger Richard Hannon has burst to the front with his impressive Newmarket winners Estidhkaar and Ivawood, writes Matthew Tester. And Estidhkaar is a half-brother to Toormore.

Ivawood struck first. He had been eye-catching when winning a Sandown maiden and stepped up by landing the Group 2 Portland Place Properties July Stakes by two and three quarter lengths from Jungle Cat. That horse had finished third in the Coventry, and there’s strength further back too with three others having already put up 100+ performances.

Estidhkaar then won the 666Bet Superlative Stakes by four and a half lengths. In the case of both Hannon horses, every one they beat was already a winner. As it turns out, each of the Hannon winners is currently reckoned to have run to 113. Each has the scope to improve again and I am hoping that each will be fighting for top honours at the end of the season in the Middle Park and the Dewhurst.

Of the other races last week, a median auction maiden at York won by Flaming Spear could turn out to be significant.

The style of the win was even more impressive than last year’s winner of the same race. That was The Grey Gatsby who went on to land the Dante and then the French Derby. And the trainer of both him and Flaming Spear was Kevin Ryan. It would be no surprise to see Flaming Spear running in pattern company next time. Lightning does strike twice!
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