Handicappers Blog | Ebor Festival
ULYSSES IS THE MAN
The Juddmonte International, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, rarely fails to throw up a top quality winner. Last Wednesday’s renewal proved no exception with Sir Michael Stoute’s improving four-year-old Ulysses seeing off the current cream of the three-year-old colt crop in the shape of Churchill and Barney Roy.
My immediate reaction, which went out on social media just after the race, was that I was leaning towards a figure of 127 for Ulysses and having now had time to consider the contest I see no reason to change my mind. This suggests that Churchill in second has run to his pre-race mark of 123, reproducing his Irish 2000 Guineas defeat of the consistent Thunder Snow. It has Barney Roy improving slightly on his 120 performances in the St James’s Palace and the Eclipse to a mark of 122. I am happy with that as you would expect a top class three-year-old to continue improving as the season progresses.
There were suggestions in some quarters that I had undervalued the Eclipse in which Ulysses had got the better of the Hannon colt by a whisker. As I said at the time, it was a messy race and I was slightly concerned about the proximity of 50-1 shot Desert Encounter in third. To my mind the International was a much cleaner race and provides a much more reliable guide to their ability.
At 127 Ulysses stands up well from a historical perspective. Since the turn of the century the only superior winning performances in the race were posted by Frankel (140 in 2012), Sakhee (133 in 2001), Sea The Stars (129 in 2009) and Authorized (128 in 2007). It places him on a par with the 2003 winner Falbrav. Exalted company indeed.
WHAT ABOUT MARSHA?
The 5f Group 1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes was the feature race on the Friday card. It had been billed, writes Chris Nash, as a battle between Lady Aurelia and Battaash. Both arrived rated 122 and if either could have been an authoritative winner then we may well have seen the best 5f figures in Europe this century. But neither did win. Marsha did.
Take nothing away from Marsha, who was already a Group 1 winner courtesy of her win in the 2016 Prix de L’Abbaye. She was the best horse on the day at York. The problem from a form perspective is that Marsha had been beaten by just over 3 lengths by Lady Aurelia in the the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot and had then been been beaten by 3 lengths by Battaash when he won the King George at Goodwood.
She met both on exactly the same terms at York and beat them. Does that make her better than both of them? Should she be rated above both of them? There is obviously an argument that she could be, but that is not my view.
The main reason is the presence of Cotai Glory in 3rd. He is a consistent horse who often runs in the Group 1 sprints. His best effort at the top level was in the 2016 King’s Stand where he finished second. That was a run which we think was worth a rating of 112. He ran consistently enough after that and won a Group 3 at Newbury in September but was beaten over 5 lengths in this year’s King Stand, finishing seventh and running to a figure of 109. For me he is a 112 horse at his best.
At York he was beaten by just over 3¾ lengths, a 12lb margin, but was also giving the winner 3lbs, making him 9lb behind Marsha. That would put Marsha on a rating of 121, the same figure that Mecca’s Angel recorded in winning the Nunthorpe last year.
Lady Aurelia finished a nose behind Marsha, running to a figure of 120. I am happy for her official rating to remain at 122 for now as the style of her victory at Ascot is difficult to forget. Battaash has not run to form and recorded a figure of just 108. He was warm in the paddock and somewhat reluctant to go into the stalls, so perhaps there are excuses for his below par performance. He must be forgiven this for now and his rating will remain at 122. Perhaps the Group 1 Prix de L’Abbaye, run at Chantilly on Arc day, will shed further light on the pecking order amongst the very strong crop of sprinters.
WORTH A CRACK AT THE ARC?
It is fair to say that the European middle-distance three-year-old colts have lacked a standout performer so far this season, says Adam Barnes. However, last Wednesday’s Group 2 Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes went at least some way towards remedying that situation.
Cracksman had not looked the finished article when placed in both The Derby and its Irish equivalent. He appealed as having the potential to progress further as he gained experience and, in running out a wide-margin winner on the Knavesmire, he did just that.
After tracking what was a fairly solid pace, Cracksman briefly looked flat-footed, not for the first time, as the tempo lifted at the top of the straight. However, just a matter of strides later he quickened up well to dispute the lead before continuing to power away and he was six lengths superior to Venice Beach at the line. That rival himself was well clear of the rest although quite how meaningful that is looks open to question. Mirage Dancer was quite keen and appeared stretched by this first try at 1m4f, with the remainder also having possible excuses for their below-par runs.
Both historical standards and a line through the 113-rated runner-up point towards a figure in the low-120s for this performance. As such Cracksman is now rated 122, up 5lb from 117. This makes him the highest-rated winner of the Great Voltigeur this century, with Sea Moon (2011) and Rewilding (2010) on 121 the previous highest in that timeframe. Given his strength at the line and the aforementioned impression that this is a horse very much ‘learning on the job’, it would be no surprise if he can go on and achieve a higher rating yet.
Cracksman’s connections seem torn between putting him away for the year to focus on a four-year-old campaign or letting him take his chance in something like the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe this autumn. After this display he would be well worth his place in that contest.
If Cracksman does indeed end up lining up at Chantilly on the first Sunday in October he is likely to face the formidable task of taking on stablemate Enable. She made it four Group 1s in a row when making all and scoring by a dominant five lengths in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday. Enable did not need to quite run up to her rating of 126 to do so but that is no negative and she was simply doing what she had to do on the day. Her proven ability to run to a consistently high level and to handle a variety of track types, ground conditions and tactical scenarios, marks her down as very much the one to beat at Chantilly.
Stayers to the fore
I will just touch briefly on was a relatively busy week of high-class racing in the staying division, writes Mark Olley. The Group 2 Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York tookcentre stage with the Betfred Ebor and Melrose Handicaps close behind, as well as the Listed March Stakes at Goodwood
Dartmouth came into the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup with the joint highest BHA rating of 115. As a Group 2 winner, Michael Stoute’s colt had to concede a 3lb penalty and he also had his stamina to prove over this longer 2m trip. He certainly did the latter and many observers thought that he was the winner as he flashed by the post alongside Montaly. The photo proved otherwise and he ha
d to settle for second. I have left his rating unchanged, as I have St Michel (112) who was half a length back in third in receipt of 3lb.
The biggest mover in the race was Montaly who improved 8lb to a new rating of 113. He won the Chester Cup Handicap from a rating of 99 in May before finishing second to Nearly Caught in a Listed event at Sandown. He is clearly fast improving. The race standard is around 113 and he matches this.
Nakeeta gained an overdue big handicap win in the Betfred Ebor. Iain Jardine’s gelding has been running in many of the big staying handicaps. He was runner-up in the Chester Cup last season and also second in a Listed race at York in May. His rating has been climbing and it now reaches a career high 108 (+5) for this game defeat of Flymetothestars (106) and the arguably unlucky in running Natural Scenery.
The Betfred Melrose Handicap is confined to three-year-olds and Secret Advisor came from an unpromising looking position entering the final furlong to beat the fellow Godolphin-owned Bin Battuta. The winner’s rating rises 7lb to 103.
Trainer Mark Johnston does not strike me as someone who suffers from regrets. His three-year-old Hochfeld ran away with a 1m6f handicap at Newmarket on Saturday, for which his rating moves up 9lb to 101, and I wonder if he feels the Melrose is a race that “got away”?
One of the biggest week in Yorkshire’s racing calendar brought huge success in the two-year-old division for the county’s trainers and not all of it was on the Knavesmire, writes Graeme Smith.
The week could hardly have started any better as the two horses Karl Burke sent to the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny at Deauville filled the first two places. Havana Grey continued his progression on his first start at 6f (up 4lb to 113) but that was not enough to cope with Unfortunately. He stepped up 7lb from his Robert Papin success to a figure of 117. That includes an extra 1lb for the fact his rider did not need to be hard on him. Karl Burke looks to have assembled an admirable team of two-year-olds this season, with Raydiance and the twice-raced Laurens having also posted figures north of 100 already.
117 sits towards the top end of standards for the Morny but, with third-placed Different League having posted 110 when winning a strong Albany, I felt it was justified. The only disappointment for Yorkshire stables in the race came in the form of Nyaleti who could finish only sixth. She is better than this but I have eased her Princess Margaret form back 1lb to 113 as others from the race have also disappointed.
And so to York, where all three group races for juveniles stayed in the county. First up was the admirable Wells Farhh Go, who looks as good a juvenile as Tim Easterby has had in a long time. He had impressed as a powerful galloper when overcoming greenness to win a York novice in July. It was much the same again upped in grade for the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes.
Things were rather set up for those coming from off the pace with the first four having all raced in the second half of the field. That is not to belittle what Wells Farhh Go achieved less than four weeks into his career and a step up to 1m could bring better yet. Race standards pointed to a 106-108 ballpark and at 107 he rates as an average Acomb winner at this stage. It seems he may be heading for the Racing Post Trophy next.
James Garfield looks to be knocking on the door for a Group success and stepped up again from 104 to 106 in going down by a nose. He looks very straightforward and genuine.
The Sky Bet Lowther was run at a pace that made the principals dig deep in the finish and Mark Johnston’s Threading showed tremendous fight to prevail. This was just three weeks after her wide-margin debut success at Goodwood. A speed figure of 102 was comparable to the soundly-run sales race; but hand-timed sectionals showed they were losing ground on the clock relative to their ability in the latter stages. As such a more strung-out finish might have been expected. Also considering the form of some of the more establishes fillies, I pitched the race a shade below standard with Threading at 108. The average winning performance from the last six years is 112.
The biggest juvenile performance on the Knavesmire undoubtedly came from Richard Fahey’s Sands of Mali. His Nottingham success had received a major endorsement when the runner-up Eirene landed a listed race at Newbury. Sands Of Mali blew a field of established pattern performers apart with an all-the-way-success. Invincible Army got to within a length or so a furlong out only for Sands of Mali to run away again to score by almost three lengths.
His speed figure was muddied somewhat by the time posted in the 1m6f Melrose, but judged against two other races on the straight track it’s 115, which complements his performance of 116. He could be on a collision course with Unfortunately in the Middle Park now.
Cardsharp’s July Stakes form is starting to look questionable and following his dead-heat for third under a 3lb penalty he’s back 1lb to 109. The Coventry form is going the same way and Headway comes back 1lb to 106 after finishing upsides Cardsharp, though in fairness he’s probably ready for 7f now.
To add to an excellent week for Yorkshire-trained juveniles, Mildenberger took the listed EBF British Stallion Studs Stonehenge Stakes at Salisbury. He was almost undone in a tactical race and did not have to match his 104 figure to reel in Richard Hanon’s Albishr late.
Hannon rather spoiled the party for the home team in the very valuable Goffs Premier Yearling Stakes at York as his Tangled trumped Great Prospector and Hey Jonesy. Evidently the step up to 7f wasn’t the sole reason for the improvement he showed when running away with a Newmarket nursery as he looked more than comfortable back at 6f, and stepped up another 10lb to 102. Great Prospector’s performance fell 4lb shy of the 105 he’d achieved over 7f in the Superlative Stakes at Goodwood and Hey Jonesy posted the best figure in the race at 103 under his 3lb penalty. He went into many a notebook as he raced in a smaller group of eight which included the last five home and he may well have been disadvantaged.
Goodwood also staged a pattern race in the form of the Group 3 Grosvenor Sport Prestige Stakes. Billesdon Brook had overcome all sorts of trouble when snatching a last-gasp win in a nursery at the track’s Festival fixture. She showed even better form as she confirmed superiority over Whitefountainfairy from Sandown. 100 was the winning figure and I raised Sandown’s Star Stakes, won by subsequent Group 3 scorer Tajaanus, 2lb on the back of it.