The Doncaster William Hill St Leger Festival 2017 | Handicappers Blog

20 Sep 17

Classy classic for Capri

The Group 1 William Hill St Leger, writes Mark Olley, looked to have real strength in depth with five horses coming into the race on pre-race ratings at least equal to last year’s winner Harbour Law (114). It was a truly run race, the sectional times are available on the Attheraces website, and with the highest rated horses fighting out the finish it certainly did not disappoint.

Capri and Ryan Moore after winning The William Hill St Leger Stakes

Capri won the Irish Derby when last seen in July. He beat Cracksman there and that horse’s subsequent wins in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York and the Group 2 Prix Niel at Chantilly make that look even better form now. Capri came into this race with an Irish rating of 120 and, after consultation with Irish handicapper Garry O’Gorman, we think he repeated that here.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt was always in the leading group (excluding runaway leader The Anvil), he went on with three furlongs to run and galloped all the way to the line. He was always holding Crystal Ocean and if anything started to go away again in the final few yards and we called the winning half-length margin 2lb because of this.

Crystal Ocean raced a different tactical race from that of Capri. He was held up until making his effort with over three furlongs to go. He then ran the fastest furlong of any horse at any stage of the race (excluding front runner The Anvil’s early couple of furlongs) from two furlongs out to the furlong pole, before flattening out and running the final furlong in around the same time as Capri. It is easy to see why Sir Michael Stoute wants to drop him back to 12f.  With a new rating of 118 (+4), he must surely have his say in the top middle distance races next season especially if he continues to improve the way he already has.

Stradivarius won the slowly run Group 2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot before proving his stamina by landing the Group 1 Qatar Goodwood Cup where he beat leading stayer Big Orange. That was a very hard race to rate at the time; but, with Desert Skyline (third) winning the Group 2 Doncaster Cup earlier in the week, I have upgraded it and now have Stradivarius on a rating of 118. John Gosden’s colt maintained his speed as well as anything in the final furlong of the Leger and a return to 2m looks certain to suit.

From an historical point of view Capri is the best winner since Masked Marvel (121) in 2011 and is the joint-fourth highest rated this century behind Conduit (122) in 2008, Milan (122) in 2001 and the afore mentioned Masked Marvel.

The Group 2 Doncaster Cup was won by the sole three year old in the race, Desert Skyline (112). On face value this might have added fuel to the fire over the weight-for-age allowance that three year olds receive from older horses (12lb in this instance). However, it may not be that simple as Desert Skyline came into the race as the joint-third best rated horse and by far the least exposed. This was just his third race at around 2m while the horses that finished second, third, fourth and fifth were aged seven, eight, nine and nine respectively. Without wishing to play down any of their achievements their best days are probably behind them now with the possible exception of runner-up Thomas Hobson.

The third main staying race of the week was the Group 2 DFS Park Hill Stakes for fillies. This turned into a very tactical affair and Alyssa showed the benefit of racing prominently when the pace is slow. Her new rating of 103 is one of the lowest in recent times for this race, but that often happens when races are slowly run and they all finish in a heap.  Only two lengths covered the first five home.

A faster run race may well have seen a different result but there is every chance that the prize money would still have gone to Ralph Beckett. Melodic Motion dead-heated for second and a glance at her sectional times make interesting reading. Held up off the slow pace, she ran some of the fastest splits for each of the final three furlongs but that effort told late on.  Despite running the final furlong in around the same time of the winner, stablemate Alyssa, her run petered out in the final few yards.

Heartache is good

The Group 2 Wainwrights Flying Childers Stakes looked a fascinating match on paper beforehand, writes Adam Barnes, and it did not disappoint in the event.

The filly Heartache and the colt Havana Grey engaged in an absorbing battle and pulled well clear of their rivals. Karl Burke’s admirable colt looked the likeliest winner entering the final furlong but Heartache gamely found extra and was ultimately half a length superior at the line.

Heartache and Ryan Moore winning The Wainwrights Flying Childers Stakes

Despite a possible lack of depth to the rest of the field by Group 2 standards, several factors point towards Heartache being an above-average winner of the race. These include the quick time, the significant distance from second to third and the solidity of Havana Grey’s profile.  As such Heartache goes up 4lb to 111 which makes her the highest rated two year old filly in the country. Havana Grey remains on the 113 rating he was awarded for his runner-up effort in the Prix Morny last month.  I did have him running 1lb below that figure here.

The Group 1 Cheveley Park over 6f at Newmarket is apparently under consideration for Heartache’s next run with next year’s Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot mentioned by Clive Cox as a possible longer-term target. Her strength at the line here offers encouragement that a sixth furlong could be within her range. Connections of Havana Grey stated that he may now be put away for the season.

Another fascinating race was the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Conditions Stakes on the opening day of the St Leger meeting.  Small-field affairs are often tricky to assess confidently and this race certainly fell into that category, especially with favourite Demons Rock clearly failing to give his running.

Nevertheless, John Kirkup and Beatbox Rhythm looked to broadly run their races and, in scoring by seven lengths, the Owen Burrows-trained Shabaaby improved significantly to put up a performance of note.

He is rated 109 on the back of this. Shabaaby does not hold any fancy entries and is described as “still a shell of a horse” by his trainer.  One for the notebook and it will be interesting to see how he progresses whether that be this season or in 2018.

Champagne moment

It’s not often Aidan O’Brien goes a decade between drinks in a juvenile pattern race and Seahenge came to the rescue as he provided the trainer with his first Howcroft Industrial Supplies Champagne Stakes success since 2008 when prevailing in a tight three-way finish, writes Graeme Smith.

Seahenge and Donnacha O’Brien winning The Howcroft Industrial Supplies Champagne Stakes

The two Ballydoyle runners were only fifth and sixth in the betting in the seven-strong field but, nevertheless, Seahenge took a marked step forward to get the better of the progressive pair Hey Gaman and Mythical Magic.

With Hey Gaman beating the fourth-placed Red Mist by a good deal further than he had in a photo at Newbury last month it was clear he had stepped forward again. Race standards pointed to a figure of 111 or 112 for Seahenge and I felt 112 to be the better fit. Hey Gaman went up 8lb to 111 and Mythical Magic went up 5lb to 110 even though the last-named is not yet eligible for a published mark.

Seahenge emerges as the joint-lowest Champagne winner since Westphalia won for his stable in 2008 and the joint-second-lowest since the turn of the century. A speed figure of 93 stops short of endorsing the form; but the flip side of that is to say that in coming from last in a race that wasn’t run at an end-to-end gallop Seahenge could be more superior than the bare margins suggest.

Seahenge paid a compliment to Expert Eye who had beaten him handsomely in the Vintage Stakes. I feel Seahenge was more professional at Doncaster than he had been at Goodwood although I’m still not sure he looked entirely straightforward. Whether he is working through greenness or exhibiting a slight kink, only time will tell.

The William Hill May Hill produced an even tighter finish with four fillies covered by less than half a length. Again that limits the view I can take of the form but there is a lot to like about the winner Laurens. I feel that she reproduced the 105 performance she had recorded when chasing the impressive Polydream home in the Calvados.

There is a line via Billesdon Brook that would support having the May Hill as high as 107 and that is in the back of my mind; but with standards suggesting anything from 103 to 105 I have settled on middle ground until more evidence emerges.

As a footnote, Nyaleti failed to confirm her Princess Margaret form for a second time and her figure has been reined back further to 110.

One of the most heart-warming successes during the week came from Tip Two Win in the Weatherbys Flying Scotsman Stakes which made for a momentous day for his trainer Roger Teal. He hadn’t had the rub of the green when second in Ripon’s Champion Two Yrs Old Trophy – though he’d have had his work cut out with Enjazaat anyway – and Tip Two Win also clearly relished the step up to 7f. A two lengths success over Tigre du Terre and Aqabah sees him up 9lb to 107 and he is now a genuine Group 3 contender.