Champions all

20 Oct 16

Best Ascot Champions Day ever? The BHA Handicappers with how they saw it.

We start with Dominic Gardiner-Hill’s take on the big 8 and 10f races:

The feature races at Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday certainly did their bit to uphold the card’s illustrious title as few could deny that QE II winner Minding and Champion Stakes victor Almanzor have been two of the brightest stars of the 2016 European season.

Minding had every right to win the QE II with her pre-race rating of 120 given that she was receiving the 3lb sex allowance from the colts. In landing the seventh Group 1 of her career I believe she put up her best performance so far – a view that is shared by Senior Turf Club Handicapper Garry O’Gorman. I have credited her with a performance of 121, whilst I have runner-up Ribchester improving a pound from 121 to 122 and 3rd placed Lightning Spear up from 117 to 120. I have allowed 2lb for her final winning margin of half a length as I do not believe the margin truly reflects her superiority. She put the race to bed when quickening two lengths clear over a furlong out and was never in any danger from that point on. Only her either idling or tiring a little close home allowed the staying on Ribchester to get as close as he did.

Given that her performance, with the allowance taken into account, is the equivalent of a 124 for a colt historically her effort surpasses the likes of Ramonti (123 in 2007), Poet’s Voice (122 in 2010), Charm Spirit (122 in 2014) and Solow (119 in 2015) in the last ten years but falls a little way short of the 135 recorded by Frankel in 2011 and the 130 put up by his old sparring partner Excelebration the following year.

Interestingly, however, in the same ten year period Ribchester’s 122 has only been bettered by Henrythenavigator (125 in 2008) and Excelebration (125 in 2011) in terms of the runner-up’s performance whilst Lightning Spear’s 120 has not been exceeded by any other third-placed finisher. His effort is considered on a par with those of Duke of Marmalade (2007) and Red Jazz in 2010.

Almanzor had pretty much proved himself the best European trained turf horse of 2016 with his victory in the Irish Champion Stakes five weeks previously. That form could not have had a more solid look to it with runner-up Found’s subsequent victory in the Arc and third placed Minding’s QE II success. Almanzor had originally been credited with a mark of 127 for that success but in retrospect that may have been a little conservative and I now believe that Irish performance was worthy of a mark of 128.

I believe he surpassed that figure that with a 129 on Saturday which puts the performance currently on a par with Japanese trained A Shin Hikari’s demolition of the Prix d’Ispahan field at Chantilly in May. In a race with a muddling early pace Almanzor was always travelling best and won going away without Christophe Soumillon having to apply maximum pressure. He increased his superiority over Found from .75 of a length to 2 lengths although I think there is a strong case for believing the O’Brien filly did not quite run up to either her Leopardstown or Arc form. I have her running 3lb shy with a performance of 120.

Jack Hobbs made an extremely satisfying return from injury in third and whilst not quite running up to his current published mark of 123, his performance of 120 is considered exactly the same as filling the same position in the race last year. My Dream Boat stayed on for fourth and I have him running the same 117 that he did when fifth in the Irish Champion, hopefully giving a reliable link between the levels of the two races.

Again looking at it from a historical perspective, Almanzor’s effort is right out of the top drawer in comparison with the previous ten year’s running’s. At 129 only the mighty Frankel (135 in 2012) and New Approach (130 in 2008) have bettered his performance. Found’s 120, if taken as the equivalent of a colt at 123, has only been surpassed by Cirrus Des Aigles (131 in 2012) and So You Think (125 in 2011) in terms of runners up.

These figures are obviously my own personal view on Saturday’s proceedings and all these performances will be analysed and assessed when the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee has it’s end of year meeting in Hong Kong in December, but I doubt that I am too far wide of the mark and Champions Day certainly lived up to its title.

Sprinter Man

After Muhaarar’s imperious 123-rated performance in the inaugural running of the 6f Qipco British Champions Sprint as a Group 1 contest, this year’s renewal had a lot to live up to writes sprint Handicapper Stewart Copeland.

The race certainly was not lacking in quality with no less than five of the thirteen strong field successful at the highest level. The Nunthorpe heroine Mecca’s Angel and last season’s leading juvenile sprinter Shalaa headed the ratings on 121. A notable absentee though was Limato, who boasts the best performance seen over 6 furlongs in Europe this season when successful in the July Cup.

However none of the quintet who had already won a Group 1 were to triumph here and instead victory went to the four-year old gelding The Tin Man trained by James Fanshawe. A creditable fourth behind Muhaarar last year, he had advertised his claims for this year’s race with a strong finishing second to Quiet Reflection in the Sprint Cup at Haydock last month. Ridden in similar fashion, he travelled well just off the pace set by trail blazing Signs of Blessing, and came with his trademark strong late surge to win by a length.

In going one better here, The Tin Man has been credited with improving his rating from 115 to 117. The race itself is not entirely straight forward to rate as that length behind him was Growl who has been in excellent form in top class handicaps but only went in to the race rated 104. However the application of cheek pieces seems to have induced a much improved performance, and with the effort largely backed up on the clock as well, for now he has been credited with a rating of 114.

The form amongst the other placed horses does give the form a more solid look though with the 116 rated Brando – who beat Growl in the Ayr Gold Cup last time out – a creditable short head behind in third and the aforementioned sole foreign challenger Signs of Blessing a further half-length back. He largely reproduced the level of form he achieved over course and distance when third in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot.

The upshot of this result means that Mecca’s Angel and Limato still head the European sprint rankings at their respective distances with the latter also showing top class form over 7f when successful recently in the Foret at Chantilly which earns him a current rating of 122. As for the 3yos – despite her below par run at Ascot Quiet Reflection still heads that group with a rating of 116.

The Sheikh’s best effort

Mark Olley on a fascinating battle of the stayers:

The Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup was run at a very steady pace, the consequence of which was that there was only just over two lengths between the first five finishers.

The result was a repeat of the Group 2 Doncaster Cup in which Sheikhzayedroad beat Quest For More. At Doncaster the winning margin was only a nose, but this time it was half a length. In between those two races Quest For More travelled to France where he won the Group 1 Qatar Cadran and he is now rated 117. As Sheikhzayedroad has beaten him the last twice they have met he is a pound higher on a career-best 118.

Simple Verse was only a length behind the winner in third, receiving her 3lb fillies allowance. This was her first try over 2m but even so she looked to find this an insufficient stamina test and a stronger pace is sure to suit. Ralph Beckett’s filly came into this race rated 113 and taking her allowance into account I have not got her improving on that.

Odds-on favourite Order Of St George was a further half-length back in fourth. He was held up in this steadily run race and that certainly was not an advantage. Back in the summer, at Royal Ascot, he had finished over five lengths in front of Sheikhzayedroad when winning the Gold Cup. He has been busy of late and this may have been one race too many so soon after his excellent third in the Arc just two weeks previously. In my opinion his Gold Cup win is still the best staying performance of the year in the UK but we will have to wait for the International Classification meeting next month to see if that is ratified by my International colleagues.