Flat is back

31 Mar 15

Saturday saw the start of the British Flat Turf season and we were treated to a quality card at home at Doncaster and over at Meydan on World Cup night. Our team give their thoughts on the Lincoln and the Betway Doncaster Mile as well as the best races from Dubai.

 Angel Gabrial

The traditional curtain raiser for the turf season had a quality look to it with over 50% of the field (12/22) in this year’s renewal of the Betway Lincoln being rated 100 or more and the bottom rated horses running off 96 – and it was a couple of the former group who battled it out for the £62,250 winner’s prize, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.

Gabrial has reached to heights of 109 at points in his career but after a relatively modest 2014 campaign (notwithstanding a win at Leicester off 94 on his final start) – largely over longer trips – he showed that there is plenty of life left in this old campaigner when getting up close home off 100 to land the spoils. The fast pace cut out by the appropriately named Lincoln suited him to a tee and, despite being short of room for a stride or two over a furlong out, he stayed on to deny David O’Meara’s French-import Mondialiste by a neck. As a result, I have put Gabrial up 6lb to a new mark of 106 and it will interesting to see if Richard Fahey returns him to pattern/listed company or targets another big handicap such as the Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot with him.

Mondialiste is another with pattern-race form to his name, having finished third in the 2013 Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly. Not seen since May last year, he ran off 105 on Saturday and his new mark of 110 takes him back to the sort of level he showed at his best in France – I suspect he will prove up to at least listed/Group 3 class in the months to come.

Talk of listed class brings us neatly to the Betway Doncaster Mile. Andrew Balding’s 118-rated Tullius justified clear top rating in the contest, but only just! In a messy race in which runner-up Glory Awaits dictated a modest pace before kicking for home three furlongs out, Tullius scraped home by half a length, running to 106 – 12lb behind the form he showed on his favoured soft ground when fourth in the QE II at Ascot on Champion’s Day last year.

It is not an easy race to rate with the penalised Glory Awaits appearing to run above his pre-race rating of 107 and, for the time being, I have credited him with returning to his best of 112 – the level he ran to when second to Dawn Approach in the 2013 2000 Guineas. Time may show this performance to flatter him, but it fits in quite neatly with third-placed Sirius Prospect (106) and fourth-placed Penitent (104) at the moment. As ever, I will be keeping an eye on how the form works out with a view to possibly revising my level in the future.

Princely sum

The Dubai World Cup took place over 1m2f on Saturday at Meydan in what was its first running on dirt at this venue after the track had initially been laid with Tapeta, writes Chris Nash.

Whilst it may have been an interesting race to watch and it produced a somewhat unbelievable performance from the winner I am of the opinion that it was perhaps not the greatest of Group 1 races in terms of quality and the result certainly poses plenty of questions when it comes to rating it.

Races on the dirt over this trip during the 2015 Carnival have been characterised by really quick early splits – as positions out of the kickback are sought – followed by progressively slower splits with the final two furlongs generally being the slowest of the race. Saturday’s contest followed a similar pattern. Prince Bishop crossed the line first but only after having been at least five lengths detached from the rest and under the whip after just two furlongs.

At that point he was going nowhere but to be fair to him he had done similar in his most recent race and must be a game sort to keep on trying. It is quite likely that he ran the most even paced race of all the runners but it didn’t look to be by design and it must be very rare that a horse in so much trouble early in a Group 1 race can actually capture the prize.

Prince Bishop beat three horses that had been running in the USA most recently and his two-and-three-quarter-length defeat of California Chrome (rated 124 at the end of 2014), with Lea (119 also after 2014) and Candy Boy (115) further back reads like excellent form on paper. A strict interpretation of the result would have him running a figure between 126 and 130 but I cannot believe that he is suddenly capable of that level of form.

The problem I have is that Prince Bishop is eight years old, had run 27 times previously and had never recorded a figure higher than 117 – he ended 2014 rated 116. My current feeling is that a figure in the low-120s is a more realistic assessment, with the next three finishers all below their peak form. I am sure this race will be a source of plenty of discussion when it comes under consideration at the end of year international rating conference.

The supporting card on World Cup night is naturally strong. The 1m4f Sheema Classic run on turf resulted in a one-two for French-trained horses with Dolniya beating Flintshire by two and a quarter lengths in receipt of a 5lb fillies allowance. Their finishing positions mirrored those from Chantilly last time out where both had run in a lower grade conditions race but were a reversal from the 2014 Arc de Triomphe where Flintshire (second) had beaten Dolniya (fifth) by two and a quarter lengths. Flintshire is a consistent horse in top grade races but this form suggests that the year-younger Dolniya might still be improving. They leave the race having recorded similar levels but the 120 figure of Dolniya equates to a career-best for her. The British-trained Sheikhzayedroad (fifth) and Just The Judge (sixth) both ran respectable races and recorded figures close to their best – 113 and 109 respectively.

There was British success earlier on the card when the Tom Dascombe-trained Brown Panther took the Group 2 Dubai World Cup over 2m. He went into the race rated 118, which made him the likeliest winner on the figures and so it proved with a commanding three-and-a-quarter-length success over Star Empire. The runner-up had run to a figure of 110 in the last two renewals of this race (in finishing fifth and third) and at the age of nine it is a little difficult to imagine he is an improver.

The fairest interpretation appears to be to assume that he repeated his 110 performance which has Brown Panther running to a bare figure of 114+, but such was the manner of his victory I remain happy that his pre-race rating of 118 remains a fair indication of his ability.