Gold is good

03 May 16

British-trained horses do well in Punchestown handicaps

A great deal is written about differences in jump handicap ratings in Britain and Ireland writes Head of Handicapping Phil Smith. This is especially after major festivals when one country has had plenty of winners and the other has struggled. The reality is that our ratings are closer to parity than they have ever been.

For the second time in three years, British-based trainers had three winners in the handicaps held at the Punchestown Festival. Irish Cavalier, Cup Final and Fletcher’s Flyer all won in good tight finishes. But more importantly to Irish Handicapper Noel O’Brien and myself, there were four other British trained horses that were in the first four.

Because we are dealing with a relatively small sample size it is much fairer to look at the number of placed horses over a reasonably long period of time. In all of the Punchestown Festivals this decade there have been 65 handicaps. In that time there have been 28 British-trained horses placed (first four) from 126 runners giving a strike rate of 22.2%. Irish-trained horses have provided 232 placed horses from 1164 runners at a percentage of 19.9%. The overall average is 20.2%. Pretty close I am sure you will agree.

Whenever a UK horse wins a handicap in Ireland or vice versa, there is always a knee-jerk reaction claiming that the relevant domestic Handicapper has somehow got it wrong and has under assessed the winner. I had it this year when Rule The World won the Crabbie’s Grand National. The critics quickly overlooked that he was the first Irish trained winner of the race since 2007!


Gold is good


As Leicester City has so gloriously proved in recent months, sometimes sport just does not follow the expected script writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill. Saturday’s Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket was racing’s case in point.

We gathered to see what was supposed to be the next step to equine greatness for Air Force Blue but instead saw the emergence of a new star under the guidance of Frankie Dettori, one of the leading jockeys of his generation.

Galileo Gold did little wrong as a 2 year old winning three of his first four starts including the Group 2 Qatar Vintage Stakes at Goodwood where he posted a rating of 107. He then finished a close third in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp from which he gained his end of season rating of 110. He left that form well behind on Saturday in a race that is relatively easy to rate at this stage.

Runner-up Massaat (pre-race 116) represented top quality 2 year old form with his second in the Dewhurst to Air Force Blue and I see no obvious reason why he should not have replicated that on Saturday. Whilst the official winning distance was a length and a half, I felt that it was a “long looking” length and a half. Galileo Gold had been two lengths clear before Dettori started to celebrate as the line approached and eased down a little. As such I have called the winning margin 4lb and have published the Hugo Palmer-trained colt with a new mark of 120 this week. This level is given further solidity by the 113 rated Ribchester finishing another two lengths away in third and running to 112.

In historical terms 120 represents a solid but not outstanding Guineas winning performance. In seventeen runnings of the race since the turn of the century nine winning performances (53%) have been rated between 120 and 122. His effort is considered superior to those of Golan (118 in 2001), Refuse To Bend (116 in 2003), Footstepsinthesand (116 in 2005) and Camelot (119 in 2012).

I am not keen to go any higher at the present time as Air Vice Marshall (fourth: pre-race 107), Kentuckyconnection (fifth: 90) and Zonderland (sixth: 106) have already taken a rise in their ratings to 111, 108 and 107 respectively. I am happy with my current level given their proximity. Considering that it was Galileo Gold’s first run for the best part of seven months and the way the race panned out for him (bit keen at the sharp end throughout) I would hope that he would improve on this performance as the season progresses. I will be a little disappointed if 120 proves the limit of his abilty come the end of the campaign.

But what of Air Force Blue? It is obvious that, in finishing twelfth of the thirteen runners, he did not run within two stone of his best and it will be back to the drawing board for the O’Brien team. Let us not forget that he beat Massaat by a length and three quarters more in winning the Dewhurst than Galileo Gold did in the Guineas. So, if he could return to that level of performance, he could still be a major player in the summer’s top mile races.

Whilst the Coolmore operation suffered a reversal in the 2000 Guineas, they came back all guns blazing with 1-2-3 in Sunday’s Qipco 1000 Guineas.

Minding was last season’s Champion 2yo filly with a rating of 120 and she duly reaffirmed her position at the head of that particular pecking order with an impressive three and a half length victory. Given that the race took place on Sunday and therefore falls into the current racing week as far as the handicapping timetable is concerned, I have yet to finalise my figures for the race. I will obviously need to have a discussion with Turf Club handicapper Garry O’Gorman given the Irish dominance; but again it looks a relatively easy race to put figures on at this stage.

Third placed Alice Springs went into the race rated 111 and if she is used as the bench mark then Minding has run to 119+ and runner-up Ballydoyle (pre-race 113) to 112+. This would mean slight rises for fourth placed Fireglow (pre-race 105) and seventh placed Mix and Mingle (100) but I would have no problems with that.
Whatever the final figure, this was one of the outstanding 1000 Guineas performances of recent years. Only Finsceal Beo’s winning mark of 119 in 2007 bears comparison since the turn of the century with all other winning performances falling 2lb and more below the O’Brien filly.