QIPCO British Champions Day – Handicappers Blog
King reigns in QEII
As with most of the races run on Saturday, due to ground conditions the two races that fell within my compass needed careful analysis before deciding on the level and revised figures, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill…
The easier of the two was probably King of Change’s success in the QEII Stakes. To give French handicapper Eric le Guen his due, he failed to get caught up in the hype surrounding The Revenant’s win on Arc weekend and published him at 117 after that success – and the evidence from Saturday suggests he was correct in doing so.
Whilst third placed Safe Voyage went into the race rated 113, the mud-loving six-year-old could easily have run to 114 when defeating Suedois by nearly two lengths under similar conditions in the John of Gaunt at Haydock in June. If he is taken to have reproduced that effort here then The Revenant has repeated his French figure of 117. Given this was the twenty-third start of Safe Voyage’s career, I am reluctant to go any higher until any subsequent evidence suggests the level is too low.
This line of thinking results in the relatively unexposed (just sixth career start) King of Change improving from his pre-race mark of 115 to 120, whilst Veracious (fourth, pre-race 113) and Mohaather (fifth, 114) both look to have been a little below their best at 108 and 110 respectively. Veracious set a decent gallop in the conditions and paid the price late on, whilst Mohaather was having his first run since winning the Greenham in April.
A couple of other points probably worth mentioning from the QEII. Although conditions were undoubtedly testing down the straight mile, the time of 1:44.88 was a good bit quicker than those posted under similar conditions by other recent winners Persuasive (1:46.13 in 2017) and Charm Spirit (1:46.28 in 2014). King of Change’s success hopefully dismisses the theory that the three horses who raced up the stands rail in the 2000 Guineas had a track advantage. Whilst winner Magna Grecia has obviously had his issues since, both King of Change (second) and Shine So Bright (sixth) have proved their worth subsequently.
The Qipco Champion Stakes is not quite so easy to assess in my view. It was wonderful to see Magical notch another Group 1 success but she was below her best of 122 in winning the Irish Champion Stakes, was a good way off her best in the Arc and I suspect she was probably below 122 again in winning on Saturday.
Addeybb will have relished the underfoot conditions but has never been higher than 117 previously and was rated 114 pre-race. His success in the Wolferton Stakes at the Royal meeting is working out well, however, and in running Magical to three quarters of a length giving her 3 lb, I think he can be credited with a career best here. I don’t think he should as high as Elarqam (120) who turned around the Wolferton form with some authority at York in July and subsequently went on to finish third in the International, so I have pitched Addeybb in at a figure of 119.
This has Magical running to 118 (4lb below her best) and third placed Deirdre (pre-race 116) also 4 lb below her best at 112 – probably no great surprise given connections concerns about the ground pre-race. This leaves the relatively unexposed Fox Tal (fourth, sixth career start) stepping up on his comfortable reappearance win at Doncaster to a new mark of 115 (from 110) – a good effort given how keen he was early.
Conditions key to Donjuan triumph
This year’s renewal of the 6f Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint certainly lived up to its name with the last three winners – Sands of Mali, Librisa Breeze and The Tin Man respectively – all taking part. Add in to the mix another three Group 1 winners this season in the shape of One Master, Hello Youmzain and Advertise, and it was arguably one of the strongest fields to contest the race since its inception, writes Stewart Copeland…
However, none of them were to prevail and the race produced something of a shock result with the admirable six-year-old Donjuan Triumphant registering his first Group 1 success. Having run with great credit in some of the top sprints these past few seasons, it was a well-deserved victory on what was his last racecourse appearance before he heads off to stud.
What counted strongly in his favour was the prevailing testing conditions, and the searching test the race provided. A proven mudlark with the stamina for 7f, that asset came to the fore late on when he outstayed favourite One Master close home – both overcoming a troubled passage inside the last 2f – to prevail by a length. The latter was another proven over 7f having won the Group 1 Foret at Longchamp over that trip on her previous start.
In analysing the race the whole complexion of it changed markedly as the pace collapsed over 1f out – led by the free running Hello Youmzain – and those held up off it dominated the finish. At this stage its worth highlighting the run of the hugely progressive four-year-old gelding Make A Challenge, who has made tremendous strides up the sprinting ranks of late in Ireland. He travelled notably strongly up with the pace and fared best of those who raced prominently throughout. This performance promises more to come and he remains an exciting prospect for next year.
As for rating the race, the average winner of the Champions Sprint is in the region of 118, and the historical standard for the race suggests that, too. This view ties in well with the third horse home, the three-year-old filly Forever in Dreams, running to the same level of 112 she did at the track when runner-up in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal meeting. That therefore means a career-high rating of 118 for Donjuan Triumphant, and the phrase ‘saving the best for last’ seems most apt to describe his win.
The result meant not a huge amount changed at the top of the 6f division in Europe. The pick of the performances remains Ten Sovereigns 122-rated win from Advertise in the July Cup, with Advertise next best at 119. The latter wasn’t at his best on Saturday tackling his softest conditions to date, but at least from a rating perspective his Commonwealth Cup victory was franked by the performance of Forever in Dreams.
Kew Gardens blooms in Long Distance Cup
By a nose, Kew Gardens brought the ten-race winning run of Stradivarius to an end in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup, writes Matthew Tester…
On ratings before the race the pair were comfortably clear of the remaining seven runners, with Kew Gardens published at 118 in Ireland and Stradivarius at 121 in Britain. Kew Gardens had been rated 120 after winning the St Leger last year but this was his first win since. Racing over 2m for the first time – or 15.6f to be precise – he saw the trip out really well and battled back once headed by Stradivarius.
The temptation, since Kew Gardens beat Stradivarius at his first attempt, was to think that he is the better horse. But all the other evidence points to Stradivarius not having quite run up to his best on the day. The third horse, Royal Line, was five lengths behind them and was only rated 111 beforehand. He was having only his third run of the year, however, and was stepping up in trip by over three furlongs, so an improved showing wasn’t unwarranted. The fourth, Mekong, was even lower at 108 pre-race, but he did have some higher-rated horses behind him here.
The jockey of Stradivarius was inclined to blame the ground afterwards. That was a surprise since he had won this race in 2018 on even softer ground (albeit without having to run near his best), and his Gold Cup win earlier this year came on ground which was described as soft, good to soft in places. It seems plausible that this race simply comes too late in the year for a horse who was made ready to win in May of both the last two years. Keeping him at an absolute peak all the way through to the second half of October is very tough to achieve.
Either way, we are expecting both Kew Gardens and Stradivarius to stay in training next year. A season of Cup clashes between the two will be exciting and entertaining. Stradivarius has started at even money or less in all but one of his eleven races over the last two years and the added strength in depth to the staying division can only be good news.
My international colleagues have initially taken a slightly lower view of this race. I have written to them with my reasons for being more bullish but the final figures will only be agreed at the World Thoroughbred Rankings conference in December.
Star Catcher edges Fillies & Mares thriller
The Group 1 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes, run over 11.5f, is open to three year olds and upwards, however, ten of the twelve runners were from the Classic generation, writes Mark Olley…
With the 122 rated Magical preferring to tackle the Qipco Champion Stakes (undoubtedly the correct decision as she won) the only two four-year-olds in the field were both rated 106 and, without being disrespectful, that is some way short of Group 1 class. However, we had the cream of the three-year-old fillies, including Oaks winner Anapurna and Irish Oaks winner Star Catcher, and they combined to serve up a thrilling race.
It was a truly-run race and every bit as exciting a finish as the preceding Qipco Long Distance Cup. Delphinia, runner-up to Anapurna in the Group 1 Prix Royallieu at Longchamp over 1m6f earlier this month, made good use of her stamina by setting a strong pace and she was only denied by Star Catcher by the narrowest of margins.
Star Catcher missed the Oaks earlier this season but has gained ample compensation since, with this success adding to her wins in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot, the Irish Oaks and the Prix Vermeille.
Star Catcher and Delphinia arrived with pre-race ratings of 114 and 113 respectively, and with so little between them on the day those figures remain unchanged. That is around 2 to 3 lb below the historical standard for this race and that is partly explained by one of the aforementioned four-year-olds, Sun Maiden, finishing just a length back in third. This was a clear career best from Sun Maiden on the softest ground she has encountered and her new rating is 111 (up 5 lbs).
Fleeting also warrants a mention as she had no luck in running up the straight, with a gap closing on the inner at a crucial time, and she finished an unlucky-looking fourth. She has failed to win this season but has danced every dance, finishing in the frame in the Oaks, Ribblesdale, Irish Oaks and Prix L’Opera among other creditable runs.