Royal Ascot 2016

21 Jun 16


Phil Smith assessed Dartmouth on 119 from his thrilling win in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday. It was a tricky race to rate. Clearly everything behind Mount Logan had run below form and Highland Reel is a difficult horse to weigh up. The average winning performance in the Hardwicke over the last seven years has been 122 with a high of Harbinger on 126 and a low of Thomas Chippendale on 116.

In his last win at Goodwood we had Mount Logan performing to 107. So, after a number of false starts I experimented with his 107 as the level for the race. This brought Almodovar out on 113 which was a significant improvement on his pre-race 107 but he has looked a progressive horse in handicaps. It meant Highland Reel had performed to 118 which was below his best but this seemed reasonable. He had been slightly impeded, his jockey dropped his whip and he did not look as if he was mad keen to go past Dartmouth. His best runs have been on Good or faster ground so 118 was creditable but below his best.

As a result Dartmouth is on 119 which will not quite get him into the next edition of the Longines World’s Leading Horses issued on 14th July as the cut-off point will be 120. He started the season on 102 so is a big improver. Who is to say what level he can get to later in the season. So far only two of my International colleagues have put figures on our inter-active system and they each have Dartmouth on 118.

The King Edward VII Stakes was a little more straightforward thanks to the amazingly consistent Humphrey Bogart. I now have him performing to 105 on his last four appearances and it meant that Across The Stars was on 111. It was an unsatisfactory race in that it was run around two and a half seconds slower than the handicap over the same distance. Across The Stars is the joint lowest winner of the race in the last eight years. There does look to be more to come from him as there does from Muntahaa (108). That on was disadvantaged by the way the race was run and was doing all his best work in the final furlong.

The Ribblesdale Stakes was another slowly run affair with most of the field finishing in a heap. I had hoped that Architecture would frank the form of the Investec Oaks but she is a thorough stayer and was inconvenienced by the way the race was run. Oaks runners traditionally have a poor record when reappearing at Royal Ascot.

The seven year average winning performance of the winner is 112 but I have Even Song (110) a couple of pounds shy of that mark. Queen’s Trust may be the filly to take out of this race as she improved her rating from 96 to 105 despite coming from well back in the field in a race not run to suit her.

Primitivo (105 from 95) was a convincing winner of the King George V handicap. He has now won four consecutive handicaps improving 31lb. in the process. Before that was put up 5lb for finishing second in a handicap. We are often told that it is harsh to put up horses for finishing second and that we never “allow” horses to run up a sequence. Clearly, Primitivo who looks as if he would make a fantastic jumper, has disproved those theories.

In contrast to some of the Pattern Races, the Duke of Edinburgh handicap was run at a blistering pace favouring the hold-up horses. As a result the performance of the second placed horse, Elite Army (109 from 105) deserves merit as he was up with the pace all the way. Of course the advantage of being up with the pace means you are less likely to get trouble in running which is what happened to Kings Fete (109 from 104). Notice that I have put the third horse up a pound more than the second because of what happened in the race. This may seem hard. But, had I not done that, you would all have rightly assumed that Kings Fete would definitely beat Elite Army if they were to meet next time.

Tip-top Tepin

For Dominic Gardiner-Hill the personal and professional highlight if the week came in the very first race.

American mare Tepin has carried all before her in her homeland and, with a published rating of 121 in the most recent list of the Longines World Best Racehorse Rankings along with the 3lb sex allowance, was clear top rate for the Queen Anne. We saw last year with Able Friend that it is not always easy to replicate your “home” form on a different continent; but Tepin put in a gutsy performance to see off the best of the older European milers currently in action. She won by half a length from the Lockinge winner Belardo.

I have taken the view that Roger Varian’s colt has replicated his Newbury performance of 119. This has the third, Lightning Spear, improving a couple of pounds from 115 to 117 on his first start for David Simcock and the fourth, Toormore, performing to 115. This is the same mark to which I have him running when he filled the same position behind Solow in last year’s race.

All this suggests Tepin has run to 117 – 4lb of the very best of her American form but a very worthy effort given that she was Lasix free, couldn’t wear her much publicised nasal strips and was having her first look at a straight mile! Looking at the bigger picture it is great for racing when these foreign superstars can come and perform at or close to their best in our top races – and from a handicapping perspective continues to provide evidence on which to base the levels on the World Rankings.

The best mile performance of the week was in the St James’s Palace however – hardly surprising as it was contested by the winners of the English, Irish and French 2000 Guineas. Senior Turf Club Handicapper Garry O’Gorman had a pound between The Gurkha (120) and Awtaad (119) pre-race and the figures worked out with only half a length between them in finishing second and third behind Newmarket hero Galileo Gold. The figures probably do not tell the whole story as there is little doubt Frankie Dettori got first run on his rivals. But I am happy to use them as a basis on which to race the race for the moment and have published Hugo Palmer’s colt on 123 this week, a 3lb improvement on his 2000 Guineas victory.

The meeting was also graced by the highest rated horse in the world when Japanese star A Shin Hikari lined up for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday. He earned his 129 rating and lofty position at the head of the WBRR with a ten lengths demolition of a good quality field in the Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly (1m1f) three weeks previous. But here he proved a big disappointment. He ran far too freely and faded in the straight to finish last of the six runners performing some 16lb below his French form. My Dream Boat (122) took advantage of the favourite’s poor performance to land his fifth victory in his last seven outings and a first Group 1 success. It is worth remembering that he was over fourteen lengths behind A Shin Hikari on his previous outing

The Royal Ascot handicaps are always extremely competitive and a potential Listed or Group class performer is usually required to land most of them. This year was no exception and for Hunt Cup winner Portage (+6lb to 111), Sandringham winner Persuasive (+9lb to 104) and the wayward (but very talented) Britannia winner Defrocked’s (+10lb to 105) their days of running in handicaps must be almost over. You may remember from a recent Handicapper’s blog how difficult I had found it to assess Defrocked after his recent Doncaster win when he wiped out the majority of his opponents by turning sharply right after hitting the front. Given the evidence of last Thursday, I think I may have underestimated him a little…..!

The Scat Daddy legacy

From the six two-year-races at Royal Ascot the flagship performances on both the colt and filly fronts came from horses sired by the late Scat Daddy, writes Graeme Smith.

The vibes had been positive about Caravaggio throughout the run-up to the Coventry and he overcame adversity with a dominant performance. With his stand-side group clearly behind their far-side rivals he had to go it alone through the last two furlong. He not only burst clear of his group but ran down and right past the enterprisingly-ridden Mehmas.

The race returned a smart speed figure of 115 on my calculations, and in a spread-out finish the ‘right’ horses – all from the head of the market – came to the fore.
It is a race to be positive about and a figure of 116 puts Caravaggio the joint-fourth-highest Coventry winner since the turn of the century. He is behind War Command, Three Valleys and Canford Cliffs and upsides Art Connoisseur. What is more, the handsome grey has plenty of physical scope and, given what he had to overcome to win impressively, there is every chance he’ll have posted a figure even higher by the autumn.

Mehmas, incidentally, emerges from the week as the leading British juvenile, currently pencilled in at 110.

On the fillies front Lady Aurelia proved for many to be the brightest star of the week with her demolition job on the Queen Mary field. She led a couple of fillies who themselves look speedy in Barroche and Kachess. And, when it looked as though she might begin to wilt, she somehow found overdrive.

As with all of these figures it is hard to be confident at this stage of the season and they will all be debated before the final European standings are produced. At the moment I am looking in the region of 121. That would put Lady Aurelia ahead of the 120 Lyric Fantasy got for winning the Queen Mary by five lengths in 1992 and the 116 Jealous Again got for winning by that distance in 2009. In fact, if she is awarded 121, it will be the best performance by a two-year-old filly since Queen’s Logic (122) streaked clear in the Cheveley Park in 2001. As far as her standing with that filly goes it would be helpful if Lady Aurelia could put up another powerhouse performance in the Morny.

Incidentally her speed figure was off the scale.

The Windsor Castle was also truly run. If anything I wonder if the leaders went too fast. Those who raced close up all fizzled out and, in the circumstances, the winner Ardad and fourth-placed Full Intention possibly deserve extra credit.

Either way, it was hard not to be impressed by Ardad, just six days on from a winning debut at Yarmouth. John Gosden’s son of Kodiac travelled easily in touch and stretched more than three lengths clear of a bunch finish for the minor honours.

A speed figure of 107 suggests I could have taken a higher view, but it’s in the back of my mind that it was largely outsiders who came to the fore as the front runners faded. I settled at 106 instead. That is just an average figure for recent renewals but I think Ardad himself has the potential to improve further.

Diamond Twilight

The field of nine for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes was its smallest field this millennium, though what it lacked in quantity it made up for in quality with four Group 1 winners writes sprint Handicapper Stewart Copeland.

Twilight Son, Gold-Fun, Holler and last year’s winner Undrafted were the four but at the head of the market was the 114-rated Magical Memory, impressive winner of the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes last time out. A narrow second favourite was the thoroughly progressive The Tin Man, an authoritative winner of a Windsor listed race on his reappearance, with rating of 115.

The race itself turned into a tactical affair. Soon bowling along at the head of the field was the French challenger Signs of Blessing setting just a fair pace to around 2f out where the race began in earnest. Plenty were still in with a chance at that point and, in a stirring finish, only 0.12s separated the first five home. The Henry Candy-trained Twilight Son prevailed by a neck from Hong Kong’s challenger Gold-Fun. Signs of Blessing kept on for a gallant third with the aforementioned Magical Memory fourth and Suedois fifth.

Given the blanket finish, and how the pace of the race played its part in the result, a degree of caution is needed in settling on a level for the race. Having taken some sectional times for this and the 6f Wokingham Handicap run later on, it came as no surprise the latter was run marginally quicker to the 2f furlong pole. Evidence of the clock like this explains why the field was still bunched up 2f out. A position on or near the pace had to be advantageous. In the circumstances, the keen going Magical Memory who came from the rear to launch his challenge, was on the wrong side of the pace bias. The Tin Man raced too keenly and connections also said that the going was too soft for him. Given his profile, it is far too soon to write him off at this level.

Analysis using pre-race and historical standards also point to taking a cautious view for now, with them both suggesting a figure of 115 for the winner’s performance. This ties in reasonably well with what the placed horses have been running to this year and seems a sensible level to pitch it. This is slightly below the average we would expect for the Diamond Jubilee, but that should not detract from the performance of the winner.

If anything Twilight Son himself would probably have benefitted from a stronger gallop, racing keener than ideal up with the pace. Having gone in to the race rated highest of the home contingent on 117, his rating will remain unchanged. And, given his overall progressive career profile, there is every hope of more to come. His next stop is likely to be the July Cup at Newmarket, where he will aim to confirm his current domestic superiority over Magical Memory and The Tin Man – a race that I am looking forward to eagerly.

Ireland 4 – 0 England.

Not football, writes staying Handicapper Mark Olley; it is actually the result of the four staying races run at Royal Ascot last week (technically Great Britain but I am using artistic licence).

The Ascot Gold Cup had the largest field, I am told, since the Second World War. However, with quantity there was also quality. Order Of St George had eight pounds in hand over his rivals on pre-race ratings. His lofty figure of 124 came from running away with the Irish St Leger last autumn by eleven lengths.

The 2m4f distance in a truly run race was an unknown but his class was not in doubt and, despite getting a troubled run through the race, Aidan O’Brien’s colt powered clear inside the final furlong for an impressive three length win. I did not feel he needed to replicate his 124 rating to win this. The figure I have for this race is 119, and having discussed this with Irish Handicapper Garry O’Gorman his official rating of 124 will remain.

The race was not a hard one to rate as Sheikhzayedroad (finished third) has several 113 performances throughout his career and Mille et Mille, just over a further two lengths back in fourth, in all likelihood replicated her pre-race figure of 111. Both these figures tie in with historical standards for the race.

Runner-up Mizzou considerably bettered his seventh in the race last year. Luca Cumani’s colt is still relatively unexposed as a stayer. He decisively beat all bar Order Of St George and his new rating of 115 firmly marks him to the fore of the staying rank. If Order Of St George drops back to a mile and a half for the Arc, as post-race quotes suggest, then Mizzou should be a major player in the remaining Cup races, especially as there is probably more improvement to come.

The Queen’s Vase, run over 2m on Friday, and confined to three year olds, is designed to find the stayers of the future. Sword Fighter made all the running in another race where tactically it was important to race prominently.

The runners all finished in a bunch and it was not an easy race to rate. Runner-up Harbour Law continues to improve by leaps and bounds and his new rating of 102 (up eleven pounds) is one of the few British ones in the race as five of the first seven home were trained in Ireland.

The one staying handicap went to the nine year old mare Jennies Jewel. This is not the first time she has made the journey to Ascot. She was there in January and on that day found Vroum Vroum Mag over three lengths too good in the Mares Hurdle. Tuesday was, I am sure connections will agree, more than ample compensation as she made all the running and battled on gamely for a thrilling win (her rating moves up five to 98).

The pace was not strong and three of the first four home were all ridden very prominently. The exception was runner-up Qewy who was caught a long way back when the pace quickened leaving Swinley Bottom. Charlie Appleby’s gelding ate up the ground inside the final furlong and would likely have won in another fifty yards. However, the race is not run over another fifty yards and Jennies Jewel clung on for a deserved win.

Add in the Queen Alexandra win for Commissioned and it was a clear sweep for the emerald isle.