BRITISH CHAMPIONS WEEKEND
In a bumper edition every pattern race from QIPCO British Champions Day is discussed at length, while Matthew Tester gives us the rundown on the aperitif of the previous day at Newmarket, including his take on the 2015 prospects of the headline acts.
NO SHOCKS ON CHAMPIONS DAY
Despite the doom merchants forecasting unpredictable results on the ground at Ascot on Saturday for QIPCO British Champions Day, the reality was that all of the winners were perfectly justifiable and hardly surprising, says BHA Head of Handicapping Phil Smith.
Forgotten Rules started at 3/1 and was unbeaten going into the race.
Gordon Lord Byron started at 5/1 and was BHA top rated.
Madame Chiang started at 12/1 having improved her rating by 9lbs following a promising run in the Prix Vermeille where she was only beaten by just over three lengths.
Charm Spirit started at 5/1 and was BHA top rated.
Noble Mission started at 7/1 and was likely to be given a soft lead on ground he loves, had already won two Group 1 races in Europe this season and had not been out of the first two on six previous runs this year.
Bronze Angel started at 20/ 1 amazingly having won the Cambridgeshire (again) on his last run.
I was responsible for assessing two of the races, the first one being the QIPCO Fillies and Mares Stakes. There were a number of fairly obvious marker horses that I used when coming up with my performance figures for the race. I had Chicquita running to 109 on her previous run and she was around a pound superior in the race to Seal Of Approval who was rated 108. It brought Madame Chiang out on 113 which is a pound lower than last year’s winner recorded. Silk Sari went into the race on 108 but had won her last two and was clearly progressive so I had no issue raising her to 110.
I had hoped that my top rated filly Hadaatha would win but she ran disappointingly. She pulled, the race came only 13 days after her best ever run at Longchamp and the sectional times provided by Turftrax showed me that she was the fastest in three of the furlongs before the field reached the four furlong pole. On a first go at 12 furlongs she was always going to find the last half mile exhausting.
I have been telling my International colleagues that Noble Mission was a reformed horse this year but on our interactive system I was 2lbs higher than everyone else in the world when he won at Sandown and Chester in the spring. I knew he would run well on Saturday but I didn’t think he could win. I used Free Eagle who I had on 119 when he won in Ireland as my marker which brought Al Kazeem out on 121 just a little lower than his best before he was retired, with Noble Mission on 122, the same as Twice Over recorded in the race in 2009.
What happened to Cirrus Des Aigles? It was the perfect ground and trip but a look at the sectionals might explain it. Cirrus Des Aigles was the fastest horse from 6 to 5 furlongs, from 5 to 4 furlongs and from 4 to 3 furlongs. He was sixth fastest in each of the three furlongs splits from there to the finish. Either by accident or design, by over confidence or a loss of concentration the jockey asked too much of him too early in the race.
By contrast James Doyle set a very even pace. Not once from 7 furlongs out did he set the fastest fraction on Noble Mission. He got the horse into a lovely rhythm and got a breather into him from the 6 to the 5 pole where he was the slowest horse in the field.
Overall the QIPCO Champion Stakes was the fastest relative time of the day as you would hope from the best race, the winner was the horse who, despite leading, never put up the fastest sectional in the final 7 furlongs. Congratulations Noble Mission and J.Doyle!
That’s the spirit
As far as historic comparisons are concerned it is hard to call Saturday’s QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes a vintage renewal but it would be churlish to crab the winner Charm Spirit, who pretty much claimed the runner-up position behind Kingman in the three-year-old miler pecking order with this third Group 1 strike, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
He is not a horse to win his races by wide margins – his last four successes have been gained by an aggregate total of just over a length-and-a-half – and as such he might be slightly better than any form based rating placed on him.
My French counterpart had him rated 122 after his narrow success over Toronado and Night of Thunder in the Moulin last month and I am happy to have him running to that level at Ascot; as such, with Olivier Peslier weighing in 1lb overweight at 9-02 on the winner, my figures for the race are Charm Spirit at 122, runner-up Night of Thunder at 120+, Toormore at 119, Tullius 118 and Captain Cat 113.
Historically this is on the low side for the winner, being on a par with Poet’s Voice’s success in 2010 although, perversely, third paced Toormore’s figure of 119 has only been bettered twice since 2002 by horses finishing in that position.
Given the passage Night of Thunder had throughout the race I suspect he’s slightly better than his performance figure of 120. His 2000 Guineas form could hardly have worked out any better and given that he works out a pound inferior to Charm Spirit in the Moulin, I have moved his BHA mark up 1lb to 121 to reflect that relativity between the two.
Toormore (122 as a two-year-old) has run his best race of the season and will go from 113 to 119, whilst Tullius (117 going in) is credited with a lifetime best on his preferred ground and will be moved to 118.
With last year’s winner, and current leading European sprinter Slade Power not around to defend his crown, this year’s running of the 6f Group 2 QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes was the last realistic opportunity for anyone to usurp him at the top of the sprinting pile, writes Stewart Copeland.
Heading the likely contenders were the first two from in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, G Force and Gordon Lord Byron respectively, with Tropics the next best on the ratings having chased Slade Power home in Newmarket’s Darley July Cup.
Looking at the race beforehand there seemed little obvious early speed with the exception of the Irish challenger An Saighdiur, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him seize the initiative and make the running. After a modest first furlong, with several racing keenly, the aforementioned soon tacked over to the stand rail from his low draw to inject some pace. That gave those drawn high something to aim at, which looked a clear advantage on the day over those towards the centre.
Of the three main contenders above, G Force was marooned in the centre furthest away from the action and could never land a blow, a run which is best ignored given the circumstances. His connections also cited he was unsuited by the going, which was a question mark against him beforehand. This performance shouldn’t detract from what has been an excellent season for him and his rating remains at 118, which makes him the highest three-year-old sprinter in Europe.
Instead the spoils on the day went to his old foe Gordon Lord Byron, gaining a much deserved success after some excellent efforts in defeat of late. He came through with a strong late run to win going away by a length-and-a-quarter from Tropics, with the proven mudlark Jack Dexter a neck further back in third.
Looking at the race as a whole, given the somewhat muddling nature of the contest – several horses rated in the 90s finished a bit close for comfort as well – there’s no reason to think the winner had to improve on his previous form to succeed. As a result of that Slade Power’s position at the top of the European sprinting tree remains intact with a current published rating of 120 in Ireland, with the next two in the pecking order amongst the older sprinters being Sole Power and Gordon Lord Byron, both at 118. An Irish one-two-three no less!
From bumper to Group 2 in two steps
QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup-winner Forgotten Rules has had only a short career so far but it has already been a varied one, writes Stephen Hindle.
Following an impressive debut success in a bumper at Punchestown he went straight to the Flat for a minor event at Galway in August and confirmed that promise with an eight-length victory over a rival who’d previously been placed in listed company.
Even so, it was a fair step up to then contest a Group 2 at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day, and not only did Forgotten Rules take it in his stride he scored with a bit of authority, despite hanging, which connections put down to inexperience.
While holes can be picked in the form with the Gold Cup winners Leading Light and Estimate clearly nowhere near their best it has a solid enough look.
A length-and three-quarters away in second was Biographer, who went in rated only 103 but has been 110 in the past, and as he finished only a neck in front of Pallasator, who is already rated 110, that seemed a good starting point. Whiplash Willie, two lengths further back in fourth, would further set the level as he is rated 108.
I’d normally call a length-and-three-quarters 2lb at 2m but felt Forgotten Rules won with at least a bit in hand and so I called it 3lb, which means he has posted a figure of 113 – slightly higher than the average of the past five renewals (run prior to 2011 at Newmarket and a Group 3 prior to this year).
For those finishing outside the first four the heavy ground could be used as a viable excuse, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what was a high-level performance from the winner. Nor should he be written off as a mudlark. He won his bumper by 13 lengths on good ground, and connections believe he will be effective on anything other than very firm going.
Performance of champions?
Soft ground played its part in Future Champions Day, writes Matthew Tester. The favourites were beaten every time and the winners of the Dewhurst and Middle Park were returned at 10/1 and 22/1 respectively.
They were tough races to rate. There will be energetic debate in London when the European Handicappers get together to decide on the final classification. That will be announced in January and these are just my preliminary figures.
Belardo won the Dewhurst. At Doncaster he had finished only fourth to Estidhkaar who was giving him 3lb that day. At levels, though, somehow this was a different story. Estidhkaar was slowly away and never seemed to be on an even keel. Belardo came out of a pocket and quickened away up the hill for a comfortable win. My rating for him is 119, up to scratch for the race; but seven of the last 10 winners of the Dewhurst had rated higher.
There have been quite a few Dewhurst winners at 10/1 or bigger in my time with the team – Parish Hall, Beethoven, Intense Focus, Milk It Mick and Tout Seul. And the truth is that, although they all turned out okay I do not believe that any of them ever ran to a higher rating in the rest of their careers.
Belardo had already been beaten in two Group races before the Dewhurst. Maybe the soft ground was what brought the improvement. If so then he could be a real player in a soft-ground Guineas. No two-year-old is rated higher than him at the moment and he could be the one to defy history. After all, none of those others were our champion two-year-old and, at the moment, Belardo looks like he could be.
Charming Thought had never run in a Group or even a listed race before. He had been brought along quietly in maiden and novice company. He went into the Middle Park with a rating of 98, very high for a novice winner, and came out with a rating of 118 – higher than the last three winners of the Middle Park.
He beat by a nose Ivawood, a multiple Group winner who was odds on to add the Middle Park to his tally. The next three horses behind Ivawood were all proven Group horses with ratings of 110 or more before the race, so it has a pretty solid feel.
I can only remember one recent longshot winning the Middle Park, the 25/1 Crusade. His future career was cut short and we never got to see what he might have achieved. I was surprised by the win of Charming Thought. But the more I thought about how he had been brought on, the more comfortable I felt with the idea that he really could be that good. On pedigree there is a fair chance that he will stay 1m next year so I hope to see him line up for the Guineas too.
Next weekend sees the Racing Post Trophy and the one after the Breeders Cup. After those we would normally know who the champion two-year-old is. This year I suspect that you are going to have to wait until January.