Epsom a tricky test for horses and assessors

08 Jun 16

first past the postponed

Phil Smith kicks us off with his views from the Derby meeting.

I had three Group 1 races at Epsom over the weekend all over 12 furlongs; and in their own different ways each was tricky to assess. I cannot be confident that I have the ratings as accurate as I would like and in both the Derby and the Oaks there is quite a discrepancy among the International Handicappers.

At first sight Postponed’s victory in the Coronation Cup was scintillating and my initial thought was that it had to be his best ever performance, surpassing his run in the Dubai Sheema Classic. However the relatively close proximity of the pacemaker Roseburg concerned me in what was a very slowly run race. The time was nearly two seconds slower than the handicap over the same distance later on the card.

Although visually Postponed was stunning, the fact that Roseburg comes out with a higher performance than Found made me cautious. I searched for reasons why Roseburg might have improved by 7lb. Perhaps being off the track for nine months might have been a factor; perhaps the change of trainer; perhaps Roseburg has matured; perhaps because he had been looked after so well by his previous trainer or perhaps from being gelded. I convinced myself that if I treated the winning distance as if by six lengths (allowing for ease of victory) then Roseburg could be 113. Found ran below her best on 112 compared with 120 pre-race. Then Postponed would have replicated his rating from Dubai. So far all of the International Handicappers agree with my assessment (thankfully).

Luckily I do not have to publish figures for Minding and Harzand and there is little International agreement on our system so far. The Investec Oaks was a very messy race as Minding got herself into all sorts of trouble aided by some very clever race riding tactics by William Buick on Skiffle. My colleague’s figures for Minding vary worldwide from 117 to 120. The Handicappers have to agree a figure by Thursday when the next edition of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings are published. I am in the 120 camp but accept that it means Architecture has improved massively from her pre-race 97!

The figures on our system for Harzand in the Derby vary from 121 to 124. I am in the middle on 122 for him using the very consistent Humphrey Bogart on 105 as a guide. He was nearly eleven lengths behind the winner but I do have concerns that this might get Idaho too high on 117.

Tullius on top

As the BHA Handicapper lucky enough to be responsible for the top end mile and ten furlong races, the Epsom Derby meeting is always a busy time for me writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill. Despite having three good quality handicaps over the two days, the best finish and the most satisfying result came in the Group 3 Investec Diomed Stakes on Friday.

It was unfortunate that likely favourite and standard setter Arod was a late withdrawal but it took nothing away from the excitement of the contest. Tullius got up right on the line to deny Decorated Knight and the pacemaking Custom Cut by a short head and a head. It was not just the spectacle of the finish that was so satisfying but, from a handicapping perspective, the fact that all three ran right up to their current BHA ratings of 110, 109 and 114 respectively. Each finished exactly where the ratings suggested they would – it isn’t often that things work out so neatly!

Much was made in the press of the first time visor bringing out the required improvement in Tullius. I am not so sure about that as I have his four performances prior to Epsom in 2016 pegged at 108-109-110-108 and think he did no more than reproduce his third place in the Earl of Sefton at Newmarket in April to score. This view is given further credence by the fact that Custom Cut was a head behind in 4th that day giving Andrew Balding’s gelding 5lb – all sounds very familiar doesn’t it!!
There were no prizes for guessing the most difficult race to re-handicap last week and the one that I took longest over my final decision – the mile handicap won by the errant Defrocked at Doncaster on Saturday. Jamie Osborne’s gelding obviously has a ton of ability but also some mighty quirks as well. Having hit the front on the far side of the field he then swerved violently right hampering to varying degrees nine of his thirteen opponents. He finished on the stands rail and scampering away to an impressive success. I watched the replay countless times to try and judge by how much each horse has been disadvantaged by his actions and, indeed, if he had disadvantaged himself with his wayward path. In the end I raised him 10lb from 85 to 95 and put up the second, Next Stage, by 6lb from 82 to 88. Next Stage appeared one of the worst sufferers but, having switched back around Defrocked, he had every chance to run him down through the final furlong. By the line the winner was actually going away again. Both look Britannia Handicap types at the Royal meeting although Defrocked will need to keep straight and Next Stage may be on the borderline for getting into the race off 88.

How are the juveniles looking?

Graeme Smith on what has happened so far and looks ahead to Royal Ascot.

It tends not to be until Royal Ascot that we get a real taste for which are the leading two-year-olds but there have been a few clashes already that have whet the appetite.

The strongest race so far in Britain has probably been the National Stakes. That marked the second clash between Global Applause and Mehmas and the former levelled the score in decisive fashion. For some reason, Global Applause had not been on song when beaten into second on the pair’s first meeting at Newbury. But by the same token Mehmas did not get the rub of the green at Sandown.

It seems the pair are unlikely to meet again at Royal Ascot with the Norfolk nominated as Global Applause’s target rather than the Coventry. But both are likely to feature near the top of the market for their respective races.

The second listed race of the year open to colts was staged on Oaks day at Epsom in the form of the Investec Woodcote. It was a close-run thing in the end between Legendary Lunch and Danielsflyer. The pair might well be on different paths in terms of their stamina in the medium to long term, but it was hard not to be impressed by the turn of foot the former showed when first sent on.

There are a host of others who’ve looked exciting without dipping their toe into listed company quite yet. The twice-raced Yalta, from Mark Johnston’s stable, and the Godolphin maiden winners Silver Line and Thunder Snow are all worth looking out for.

On the fillies front, the only listed race of the British season so far fell to Vona who belied her 33/1 odds in the Langley’s Solicitors EBF Marygate Stakes at York. A line through second-placed Boater suggests the Hilary Needler at Beverley, which went to Richard Hannon’s Grizzel, could be at least as strong.

Saying that, there are plenty of potentially smart fillies who have yet to get the opportunity to prove the point including Richard Fahey’s Queen Kindly. She is by Frankel out of the Lowther winner Lady of The Desert (herself a daughter of the brilliant Queen’s Logic). While it was a small race that she won at Catterick she did it in scintillating fashion.

Godolphin’s Nasimi also created a very strong impression when winning at Haydock. The daughter of the operation’s Cherry Hinton and UAE 1000 Guineas winner Gamilati left herself with a mountain to climb through early greenness; but she ran away to score by three lengths once finally getting the message without William Buick having to get serious.