Dubai Future Champions Festival | Handicappers Blog

17 Oct 17


The Darley Dewhurst  Stakes has crowned the Champion juvenile in four of the last five years, and though Expert Eye rather fluffed his lines in what was widely expected to be his coronation it may well be that the race has come up trumps again, writes Graeme Smith.

Not since Diesis in 1982 had the Middle Park – Dewhurst double been completed but that’s exactly what U S Navy Flag achieved when leading home an astonishing 1-2-3-4 for Aidan O’Brien in Saturday’s 7f Group 1.

Us Navy Flag & Ryan Moore, winners of The Gr.1  Darley Dewhurst Stakes

The trademark of his Middle Park success had been his ability to go off hard in front and keep going and he repeated the dose over the extra 1f in the Dewhurst. He returned a speed figure of 120 on a line through the nursery over the same distance two races later but there’s a stark contrast in the finishing speeds of those 2 races – U S Navy Flag was a fair bit slower through the final sections than Rufus King, underlining just how hard he’d gone.

The flops of Expert Eye and Emaraaty detracted from the Dewhurst to a degree but historical standards support a figure for the winner of 123 and that’s largely substantiated through what Seahenge, Cardsharp and Great Prospector had done previously, acknowledging the first two-named didn’t have the ideal run through this race.

The average figure for Dewhurst winners this century is 120.5, and 123 puts U S Navy Flag 1lb ahead of what Churchill achieved when Champion Two-Year-Old in 2016. As with all the figures in this piece, that will be reviewed following completion of the juvenile pattern-race season on a European level.

Rather like in the Middle Park the runner-up came in the form of a relative outsider from Ballydoyle. This time it was Mendelssohn (117), who’d seemingly been his stable’s first string when flopping behind Seahenge in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster and delivered a much better performance with headgear applied.

I’ve no idea what happened to Expert Eye in the Dewhurst but remain confident in his 118 figure from Goodwood. Emaraaty shaped a lot better than his finishing position of eighth suggests and I expect he’ll do significantly better another day.

The other pattern race on Saturday’s card at Newmarket saw Ghaiyyath produce a galloping performance and speed figure of 109 when drawing a length and three quarters clear of the front-running Dream Today (107) in the Group 3 Masar Godolphin Autumn Stakes.

Historical standards suggested a figure of 110 but I believe 111 to be a truer assessment on current evidence, which is backed up by impressions from Purser’s (up 2lb to 102) performance in the Solario and what Petrus achieved in the Royal Lodge (up 1lb to 101).

I can see why Ghaiyyath’s connections were thinking more about Derby trials than the Guineas in the immediate aftermath, with trips beyond 1m promising to suit him well.

The 1m2f Godolpin Flying Start Zetland Stakes is never an easy race to put figures on with the majority of runners tending to be having their first try at the trip. Last year’s race had to be raised several times this spring as the likes of Coronet, Permian and the Derby-winner Wings of Eagles climbed the ranks and it could well be that the current assessment of 107 on Kew Gardens proves conservative.

Race standards don’t carry as much credence with this being only the third year since the Zetland regained its listed status and 107 is a more positive interpretation than the 104/105 they suggested. A speed figure of 101 is a positive pointer considering the sectionals backed up the view I got watching that the gallop wasn’t entirely true, and it was hard not to be impressed by how strong Kew Gardens was through the line.

Kew Gardens had useful form at 1m coming into the Zetland but with this form underpinned by a couple of recent nursery winners in fourth and fifth this is clearly a step up, and it could well be that he proves capable of better again. I wonder if the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud over this trip might be considered for him later in the month.

Kew Gardens and Ryan Moore winning The Godophin Flying Start Zetland Stakes

While Saturday at Newmarket was generally about colts Friday provided the platform for the fillies, and particularly for Laurens, who completed the May Hill – Fillies’ Mile double with another hard-fought and narrow success.

It’s been an annus mirabilis for Karl Burke’s juvenile team and you get the impression Laurens’ success meant a lot to both her owner and trainer.

It’s fair to say that with an entirely clear run September might have turned the result the other way given how fast she finished, but it shouldn’t be underestimated just how much running Laurens had done prior to those desperate last few strides. A speed figure of 111 came on the back of some stronger sectionals than Ghaiyyath achieved his solid time through over the same trip the following day.

Standards pointed to a figure of 111 but this form stacks up more strongly than that and I have Laurens running to 113 – the average winning performance in the Fillies’ Mile this century is just over 113. Those of us who were becoming disappointed with September’s (112) progress hadn’t been bargaining for this turnaround back away from testing conditions and the last time she’d encountered similar ground she’d handed out an impressive beating to Masar (currently 112) and Nyaleti (106) in the Chesham. Strictly on that form this race could be 1lb higher still.

Magic Lily ran a very creditable 111 in third just three weeks on from her racecourse debut and she has a striking pedigree with the Oaks in mind. Magical didn’t really shine back in fourth, but there’s a fair chance she raced wider than was ideal.

The Group 3 Oh So Sharp provided a more even spread of the principals across the track than many races at the fixture. Although Altyn Orda came to the race as a twice-raced maiden, her form had received a significant boost when Bye Bye Baby ran away with a listed contest in Ireland earlier in the week and she stepped forward significantly herself.

105 is above the usual standard for the first five home but that’s more than supported by the best relative speed figure on the card (106) as well as by Gavota and Butterscotch, at least when Gavota (up 2lb to 104) is credited with a small amount of improvement from when she’d been less-than-ideally positioned in the Rockfel.


2017 had arguably been a tad underwhelming hitherto for Limato, for all placed efforts in the Diamond Jubilee and July Cup, but he got himself firmly back on track with his first success of the year in the Group 2 Challenge Stakes at Newmarket on Friday, writes Andrew Mealor.

Having ended 2016 rated 122 after wins in the July Cup and Foret, Limato had slid back to 115 prior to the Challenge following a flat effort in the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. Freshened up by a two-month break, Limato impressed with how he travelled and looked much more like his old self in beating Massaat by three and a half lengths, with the venerable Gordon Lord Byron a further length and a half back in third.

Receiving 3lb from those two rivals – who both shouldered penalties for Group 2 wins earlier in the season – Limato was favoured by the weights in the Challenge, but it still ranks as comfortably his best effort of 2017. Race standards point to a figure as high as 118, and I’m happy to rate Limato’s effort slightly above that at 119 given he’s an above-average sort for the race. That figure ties in with Massaat running near his peak of 116, and has nine-year-old Gordon Lord Byron repeating his best 2017 figure of 112. The latter did best of the group who came down the middle, and both his effort and that of fourth-placed Rehana stack up soundly against those on the stand side.

Among the beaten horses, Gifted Master (eighth) clearly went much too quick in front stepping back up from 6f and he remains on his pre-race mark of 109. The notable disappointment was the lightly-raced three-year-old Dabyah who trailed home last of the ten finishers on her first outing since finishing fourth in the Coronation at Royal Ascot. She was rated 112 coming in courtesy of her third in last year’s Prix Marcel Boussac but has now been pulled down to the 109 she achieved in the Coronation.