Back To Black
Rachael Blackmore has enjoyed a season to remember in the UK and topped it off by becoming the first female jockey to win the Randox Grand National, writes Martin Greenwood…
In a bizarre race for the domestic runners, with only three of them finishing out of twenty-two challengers, it was left to the Irish to dominate and Minella Times came to the fore, seeing off fellow Irish challengers Balko des Flo (100/1) and Any Second Now (after winning over the minimum distance last time out). That trio pulled away from Burrows Saint, who had travelled as well as any before fading late.
Like Any Second Now, Minella Times was another example of how some of the Irish challengers warmed up for the race. Having run only twice over 3m+ in his career, he had finished second in a red-hot handicap at Leopardstown over 21f on his previous start, and it clearly shows that you don’t have to run over marathon trips to prove your worth for a modern Grand National. Minella Times scored off 146 though was 4 lb well in, not that the extra few lbs would have made any difference to the result. His new rating is 162 (with further progress probable), while Balko des Flos rises from 152 to 161, though he of course was near high-class in his pomp. Any Second Now also posted a personal best of 159 off a mark of 152 (though 3lb well in) and did amazingly well given a bad blunder followed by being badly hampered around halfway stopped him in his tracks.
Despite the Irish running riot, the UK challenger Cloth Cap went off hot favourite following his impressive Kelso win after the weights came out, which put him a stone well in. Things seemed to be going promisingly for just over a circuit but he stopped quickly and reportedly made a noise. With the Kelso second Aso also disappointing subsequently, I have re-jigged that race by 5 lbs so Cloth Cap will now race off 157 rather than 162 next time after competing off 148 at Aintree.
Earlier in the week, Clan des Obeaux added another big prize to his illustrious career by demolishing the field in the Betway Bowl Chase. It is difficult to know exactly how good this horse is, even after all these years, but certainly on a fast, flat track he can be devastating. Visually, his twenty-one length victory in the 2019 King George was easily his best effort prior to the Bowl, but his efforts in between have suggested he is worth a rating in the high 160s/low 170s at best. Either he needs a specific set of circumstances to show his very best form, or the two races he has won by twenty+ lengths have somehow fallen apart to varying degrees. Only Clondaw Castle could give him any sort of race at the business end of the Bowl, but Clan des Obeaux soon put him to bed to saunter home by 26 lengths. Clan des Obeaux’s highest ever rating was 173 compared to his pre-race rating of 169. Hopefully we will get to see him again before the end of the season, and short term he has been pencilled in at 172.
Fakir d’Oudairies franks Ryanair form
The Marsh Melling Chase was won in emphatic style by Fakir d’Oudairies who recorded an overdue second Grade 1 success, writes Michael Harris…
This looks to be a career-best performance for the six-year-old who had a smooth passage through the race and quickened away from his rivals impressively to win by a comfortable eleven lengths. He was last seen when a distant twelve lengths second to Allaho at the Cheltenham Festival and this form pays a big compliment to the merit of that rival.
On a form line through Itchy Feet (third) and looking at race standards, a minimum figure in the mid-160s would be appropriate for Fakir d’Oudairies before any ease of victory is taken into account, and I have settled on a rating of 168. This is in line with the average performance recorded by the winner of this race across the last four renewals, but below the ten-year average of 172. This is a trend we have seen for the level of the race in recent seasons, with the exception being Min’s dominant performance in 2019 (171).
Runner-up Nuts Well did not get much luck in running and although he would have been no match for the winner regardless, it was another fine effort on the back of a fantastic run of handicap form which had seen his rating rise from 130 to 159 for winning five of his previous six starts. He took the step up in grade in his stride and is a credit to connections.
The SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase was won by a rejuvenated Protektorat who produced a career-best effort under a change of tactics. He had been given a wind operation since a below-par effort at Kelso in February, and with his usual hood left off and a tongue tie added, he was able to produce the sort of form he had promised earlier in the season. Historical standards would suggest a mark in the mid-150s and that would align with the pre-race marks for The Shunter (second, 153) and Hitman (third, 151) who both looked to run their races, though if The Shunter’s jumping had been better in the latter stages of the race it may well have been a much closer battle with the winner.
I have given Protektorat a rating of 154 which is below the five-year average figure of 157 at this stage, but I would expect the first three to all improve upon what they have achieved this season in the future.
Workmanlike success for top 2m novice Shishkin
Shishkin completed the Cheltenham-Aintree double and maintained his unbeaten record over fences when winning the Grade 1 Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase, but he didn’t produce a performance which suggested that any increase in his rating was warranted, writes Chris Nash…
Shishkin’s pre-race mark of 169 saw him rated 19 lbs and upwards clear of the other four runners so he was going to have to beat them by a long way to enhance his rating. He ended up taking this by three and a quarter lengths from Funambule Sivola with a performance that would have to be described as workmanlike rather than wildly impressive, even though it looked a shade cosy come the line. The Maghull usually has a small field so historical standards won’t be rock solid but they suggest a figure of 160-163 for the winner. I went at the bottom end of that range and had Shishkin running a figure 160+, though his mark of 169 will remain unchanged. The runner-up deserves a favourable mention having started his chase career in November off a mark of 112. He has been successful in four of his six handicap starts and had advanced to a rating of 149 prior to Aintree. This run represented further progress and his revised rating will be 156.
Monmiral eclipses Quilixios in juvenile rankings
The Grade 1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-y-o Hurdle may well prove to be the defining race when it comes to acclaiming this season’s Champion Juvenile, writes Mark Olley…
Adagio finished an excellent three and a quarter lengths second to Quilixios in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and he repeated that finishing position here, albeit beaten further. He travelled smoothly into the race and came with every chance at the last, but he fluffed his lines at the flight and that sealed his fate – his rating remains unchanged on 147. Monmiral stretched his unbeaten record to five with a seven and a half-length success, and although his task was made easier by Adagio’s mistake at the last, he was in no way fortunate and powered away for a decisive win. In normal circumstances, over this trip and ground, the seven and a half-length winning margin would equate to 8 lb, but I scaled it back to 6 lb due to Adagio’s error at the last. Monmiral’s new rating of 153 makes him the leading juvenile hurdler in GB and Ireland as things stand. That figure is some way clear of the 149 Pentland Hills recorded when winning this race in 2019 and matches the ratings of Apple’s Jade (2016, in receipt of the mares’ allowance), Grumeti (2012) and Walkon (2009).
The Grade 1 Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle was won by Belfast Banter who continued his remarkable improvement. This was his twelfth run of the season, which started in defeat in a maiden hurdle at Bellewstown last July. He finished a creditable fifth in an Ascot Grade 3 handicap off a rating of 129 in December before winning the County Hurdle at Cheltenham (off the same rating), and I now have him on 146 after showing another big chunk of improvement, although his official end of season rating will be ratified in the Anglo-Irish classification next month.
The race was awarded Grade 1 status in 2016 when won by Buveur D’Air (157) and this is easily the lowest winning rating in the period since.
Stayers success for consistent Thyme Hill
The Grade 1 Ryanair Liverpool Stayers Hurdle assembled the best of this season’s British staying hurdlers, writes Gordan Markham…
Unfortunately, Paisley Park was pulled up entering the home straight having ran flat and was possibly feeling the effects of a hard race at Cheltenham. That left Thyme Hill and Roksana to battle out a tremendous finish and mark themselves down as two of the best three staying hurdlers in the country. A rating in the low 160s is par for this race in recent times and Thyme Hill recorded a comparable figure of 161 in taking this year’s renewal with a battling performance from the last to get on top of the gallant and consistent Roksana close home. Thyme Hills’ overall rating remains unchanged on 162, a figure he achieved when narrowly defeated by Paisley Park (remains on 163) in the Long Walk at Ascot.
Roksana has been a credit to connections this season and I have her once again reproducing her best figure of 153. Thomas Darby (third) was stepping up to 3m returned to graded company and performed with plenty of credit, earning a figure of 156 (+3) for this performance.
On the same day, My Drogo produced an impressive performance in landing the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle. Stepping up to 20f for the first time under a patient ride, My Drogo made his challenge on the home turn and soon began to assert his authority on the field before pulling well clear from the last to win comfortably. Previous winners of this contest have ranged from 156 Simonsig (2012) to 148 Lac Fontana (2014). Given the authority of the victory, I have no hesitation in having My Drogo performing at the upper end of that range on 155, which makes him the highest-rated British novice this season and behind only Cheltenham winners Appreciate It (161) and Bob Olinger (159) in the overall novice standings. My Drogo had bypassed Cheltenham and the form of his previous victory at Kelso was further boosted this week by the performance of Do Your Job who finished second in the 2m Grade 1 contest and is now rated 143.
Minella Drama attempted to close the winner down in the home straight but always looked like coming off second best. He has been consistent all season and ran to a career best of 143 when taking the rearranged Sidney Banks at Market Rasen last time out. That form has been boosted subsequently by the runner-up and I have him replicating that figure. Ballyadam was the disappointment of the race stepping up in trip on the back of his second in the Supreme. He looked in trouble jumping three out with connections reporting this may have come too soon for him.
Friday saw the turn of the staying novices in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and although the race produced a shock 66/1 winner, the form appears to stack up well – runner-up Bravemansgame was up in trip after his third in the Ballymore, whilst Oscar Elite (third) and Streets Of Doyen (fourth) had finished second and third in the Albert Bartlett. Point winner Ahoy Senor had raced only once previously over hurdles, winning a maiden at Ayr, and he controlled the race from the front. He earns a figure of 152 for this victory, matching the standard set by the previous two winners Santini and Champ, and looks a stayer of potential moving forwards. 152 has him a pound behind the Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier and is the second best performance by a staying novice this season.
The 20f Aintree Hurdle looked a tight affair on pre-race ratings, though half the field were unproven over the trip. Abacadabras, fresh after an early tumble in the Champion Hurdle, was one of those up in trip and looked suited by it, travelling strongly through the contest but seeming to idle once hitting the front. He earned a figure of 159 which is in line with recent winners of this race. Second and third positions were filled by horses stepping out of handicaps, Buzz (+3 to 156) and the unexposed Millers Bank (+7 to 154), and both produced career bests up in trip. Buveur D’Air remains unchanged on 158 after finishing fourth as he arguably shaped second best on the day. Racing a touch freely, he was left in front too soon down the back when Jason The Militant departed and then inconvenienced at the third last by the loose horse, only fading late on.