Newmarket QIPCO Guineas Festival | Handicappers Blog

09 May 18

Two huge steps forward

Saxon Warrior – Donnacha O’Brien

Saxon Warrior gave Aidan O’Brien a ninth Qipco 2000 Guineas on Saturday and an incredible 300th Group/Grade 1 success and, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill, this son of Japanese superstar Deep Impact looks certain to contribute further to that tally.

Rated 2nd in last year’s European 2yo rankings with a mark of 119, behind only stable-companion U S Navy Flag (122), Saxon Warrior has improved on that with a performance of 121 by running out a convincing one and a half lengths winner at Newmarket. I am confident there is more to come once he steps up in trip.

My level for the race included a surprise with Tip Two Win in second taking a huge step forward from his pre-race mark of 106 to a new figure of 117.  This is the mark that is also attributed to third-placed Masar (pre-race 118).  The fourth-placed Elarqam has improved 4lb from 112 to 116.

I am happy at this stage that the figures stack up relatively neatly with the winner’s stable mate Gustav Klimt (6th) reproducing his current mark of 112, James Garfield (7th) being a pound below his Greenham winning performance of 112, which is backed up by Newbury 4th Raid (8th) reproducing his 108 and the front running Murillo (9th) performing to his pre-race level of 107.

Despite Masar going into the race at 118 I have dropped him a pound to 117 which may seem a little strange for finishing 3rd in a Guineas. It should be pointed out that his impressive success in the Craven was difficult to evaluate with any degree of confidence and his figure of 118 was more of a short term “holding figure” until we saw him in a more competitive and reliable contest. I find it hard to believe that his Craven performance should be considered superior to his Guineas performance and therefore am now calling them both 117.

Billesdon Brook and Sean Levey

From a historical perspective, a winning performance of 121 is well up to recent standards. Eight of the last eleven renewals have now seen winning performances rated between 120 and 122.  In the nineteen runnings of the race since the turn of the century, twelve winning performances fall within that bracket. The last five winners have run either 120 or 121 with Saxon Warrior’s effort being considered a pound superior to those posted by Churchill (2017) and Galileo Gold (2016) and on a par with both Gleneagles (2015) and Night of Thunder (2014).

In regard to Aidan O’Brien’s nine winners of the race, eight of them performed to a mark between 119 and 121 with the only exception being Footstepsinthesand (116) in 2005.

Turning to the Qipco 1000 Guineas, winner Billesdon Brook may have gone off a 66-1 shot after nine previous starts in which she never exceeded a mark of 99 but there appears no obvious fluke to the performance. I have raised her to a new mark of 115 which leaves her a little shy of the marks recorded by Winter (116 in 2017), Minding (118 in 2016) and Legatissimo (116 in 2015) but superior to the winning efforts of Miss France (112 in 2014) and Sky Lantern (111 in 2013) in terms of recent history.

The big question of course, is can she do it again?

Defoe Scores Again

The Jockey Club Stakes often turns out to be a small-field, tactical affair, and this year’s renewal was no exception; but it nevertheless produced a worthy and interesting winner, writes Adam Barnes.

Count Octave took the field along at just a modest tempo and the complexion of the contest changed quite suddenly when James Doyle made a quick move on Red Verdon inside the final half mile. Defoe began to gradually lose his prominent position not long after but his astute jockey, Andrea Atzeni, was allowing his mount, on the drying ground and Rowley Mile undulations, to find his stride in his own time.  The hot favourite duly began to motor as they passed the two furlong pole, reeling in the enterprisingly-ridden Red Verdon and coming away for a decisive success.

Defoe and Andrea Atzeni winning The Dunaden Jockey Club Stakes

Defoe came into the race on 115 and I have rated him as running to that figure again which is at the lower end of the range pointed to by historical standards for the race. I didn’t see fit to push the level any higher given not only the proximity of pre-race 107 Red Verdon (now 108),  but also the question marks over the others, Count Octave likely needing more emphasis on stamina while Master The World and Khalidi had each not lived up to their handicap mark last time.

Defoe may not have needed to strictly improve on the form of his stylish Group 3 John Porter Stakes win to land this Group 2. That he was able to run up to his best in adverse circumstances – neither the tactical nature of the race nor the drying ground necessarily ideal – means this can certainly be regarded as a reputation-enhancing performance.  It increases the likelihood that he can be very competitive once stepped up to the highest level. It may not be long before he does that as his trainer, Roger Varian, mentioning the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh as a possible next target.