There was something for everyone last week with the revamped three-day Craven meeting kicking off a big week of classic trials, and the Scottish Grand National fixture for those who prefer their jumping. This week’s bulletin is mainly Flat driven, but there’s an overall round-up from Ayr tagged on.
WEATHERING THE STORM
You have to go back to 2004 and Haafhd to find the last horse to follow up victory in the Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes with success in the 2000 Guineas but Ed Walker’s Stormy Antarctic put himself firmly on course for a crack the season’s first Classic with a convincing success at Newmarket on Thursday, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
Rated 112 at the end of his juvenile career, he went into the race 2lb clear of hot favourite Foundation and duly confirmed that superiority with a comfortable three-and-a-half-length beating of that rival.
I have long since learnt to treat “trials” form with a degree of caution and, whilst mathematically I could have gone higher, I have moved Stormy Antarctic up to a new mark of 114. Using runner-up Foundation (pre-race 110), third-placed Shogun (108) or fourth-placed Tony Curtis (106) as a guide would give a figure at least 1lb higher. My reasons for taking a more reserved view include the fact the race was run in driving rain following closely on the heels of a thunder storm, the ground was getting softer by the minute and there’s always a doubt about relative fitness levels at this point in the season.
In terms of recent winning performances in the Craven, this places him some way behind top quality milers Toronado (121 in 2013) and Haafhd (120) but in advance of last year’s winner Kool Kompany (110), Adagio (110 in 2007), Killybegs (109 in 2006), Democratic Deficit (109 in 2005) and Native Khan (108 in 2011) – whilst his performance is considered on a par with Trumpet Major’s 114 in 2012.
It remains to be seen if he will prove as effective on a quicker surface, but if he can reproduce or improve on Thursday’s effort come April 30th he has every chance of making the frame, as on nine occasions since the turn of the century a performance of 114 has been good enough to grab a place in the first three!
Last year the two-year-old champions were definitely above average, writes Matthew Tester. Air Force Blue was top colt at 124 and Minding top filly at 120, and each is favourite for their respective Guineas. So did the classic trials change anything?
Ibn Malik’s smooth win in the CSP European Free Handicap paid a real compliment to Emotionless, who beat him easily in the Champagne Stakes last year before flopping in the Dewhurst when found to be suffering from a bone chip in his knee. Ibn Malik goes up 5lb to 112 but is not in the Guineas.
Tasleet won the Greenham, run at Chelmsford, but I’m not sure that form will have much of a bearing on the 2000 Guineas. His figure remains at 110.
The filly Nathra was 110 before the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn and had only to run to that level to win. She has four and a half lengths to find with Minding from last year’s Fillies’ Mile.
In the Fred Darling Stakes Marenko did not have to improve on her 105 to win once you accept that Besharah and Katie’s Diamond failed to live up to their best two-year-old form. My impression last year was that Minding was particularly suited to easy ground. It is possible that she would not produce a 120 performance on quick ground but only one horse is rated within 10lb of her.
Lumiere is second favourite and rated 116 last year from her form at 6f. She has a ton of speed but her pedigree suggests 1m this year could be okay. The 4lb difference between Minding and Lumiere over 1m equates to about two lengths, but on decent ground there are six lengths to a second so we are only talking about one third of a second to bridge the gap. My feeling is that Minding will have to run to her best; but that the classic trials themselves did not much change the picture we had a week ago.
Even though the main focus on the Flat this past week has been the classic trials the domestic sprinting demesne also stepped up a gear, with the division’s first pattern race of this season in Britain in the shape of the Group 3 6f Connaught Access Flooring Abernant Stakes, writes Stewart Copeland.
Looking at the race beforehand, the eleven-strong field boasted plenty of strength in depth for the grade of race, with the field headed on the ratings by the four-year-old gelding Magical Memory, trained by Charles Hills. A most progressive and fruitful campaign last year, which included a prestigious handicap success in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, culminated with an excellent third to Twilight Son in the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock, earning him his current rating of 114.
Soon travelling strongly just behind the pace, Magical Memory could be called the winner some way out, quickening clear a furlong out before tiring a shade late on to win by a neck and the same from fellow four-year-olds Tupi and Mattmu.
In terms of strength in depth, since the Abernant became a Group 3 race in 2013 the average rating of the first four home has been 105. However this year’s renewal based on the pre-race ratings of the four came out at 110/111. Taking that in to account, I eventually settled on a figure of 110 for Magical Memory, though a case could be made for a shade higher. Even though this is slightly below the level he achieved at Haydock the taking style of his win suggests he’s every bit as good as last year, and given his overall progressive profile there may even be more to come.
As for the placed horses, Tupi has been campaigned over 7f/1m prior to this but coped fine with the drop in trip, running to a figure of 109, a shade below his peak figure of 111 last year. On the pick of his form the 113-rated Mattmu looked the main danger to Magical Memory and he ran as if retaining all his ability with a highly creditable third, returning a figure of 108. No doubt he will attempt to go one better in next month’s Duke of York Stakes on the Knavesmire after finishing runner-up last year. That race also seems on the agenda for Magical Memory, and looking at a strong initial entry that includes the first two from the Sprint Cup (Twilight Son and Strath Burn) and the Nunthorpe heroine Mecca’s Angel, it’s a race eagerly anticipated already.
FORM WORTH FOLLOWING
The victory of Vicente in Saturday’s Coral Scottish Grand National was yet another piece of form which confirmed the strength of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, writes Phil Smith. In a month since that race, Native River has come out and won a Grade 1 at Aintree, Vicente and Definitly Red have both won good-quality handicaps at Ayr and Waldorf Salad has also won a handicap at Chepstow.
As a result I have raised the level of the National Hunt Chase by 3lb so that Minella Rocco (155) keeps a higher rating than Native River (154) and Vicente (151).
On Friday at Ayr there were 6 handicaps. They were 0-120, 0-130, 0-130, 0-130, 0-145 and an open handicap. Northern and Scottish trained horses won 5 out of the 6 contests from 31 runners at a strike rate of 16%. The rest of the country and Ireland won 1 race from 16 runners at a strike rate of 6%.
On Saturday there were also 6 handicaps. They were 0-130, 0-145, 0-150 and three open handicaps. Clearly contests for a much higher calibre of horse. Northern and Scottish trained horses won none of them from 21 runners. The rest of Britain and Ireland won all 6 from 53 runners.
Over the two days of the meeting, Scotland and the North won 5 handicaps from 52 runners at a strike rate of 9.6%. The rest of Britain and Ireland won 7 handicaps from 69 runners at a strike rate of 10.1%. Pretty close to parity in strike rate but a world of difference in quality.