The Trials Of Life
Sprinter bests the “ropey” Sceaux
The Bet365 Celebration Chase was not quite the showdown that Un de Sceaux’s fans were hoping for writes Graeme Smith. But it provided a magnificent season sign off for Sprinter Sacre as he completed his revival unbeaten in four races.
The fifteen-length winning distance potentially opened the door to a rating closer to Sprinter’s 188 pomp. However, I do not feel that the margin was a reliable guide. Un de Sceaux spoiled his chances with a ragged round of jumping and Dodging Bullets and Sire de Grugy patently ran below their best. It looked very much a case of ‘race on’ approaching the Pond Fence only for Un de Sceaux to blunder his chance away.
Some may feel I have been harsh to Sprinter Sacre but I am firmly of the opinion his Champion Chase form is the most reliable guide to his current level. He remains top of the class at 175. I have not crowned him as the divisional champion just yet though as, while the British season has drawn to a close, Punchestown still counts towards the end-of-season Anglo-Irish Classification. I see that Vautour is dropping to the minimum trip in a bid to stake his claim.
So what of Un de Sceaux? He’s proved himself a top-class 2m chaser stepping out of novice company this season. This is regardless of the fact he has found an outstanding rival too strong in the two races that have mattered most. His jumping has been a niggling doubt in the past and this was a ropey display. Even as he forced an unforgiving gallop he was losing ground to the also-prominent Sire de Grugy at numerous obstacles and made two notably hefty mistakes. Cheltenham tells us Sprinter Sacre would likely have proved too strong even had Un de Sceaux avoided his howling error three from home. Judging by the way the two were going you could not be absolutely sure.
Sire de Grugy staged his own revival in deep winter, getting the better of Special Tiara in the Tingle Creek. While he showed that his enthusiasm still burns bright with positive tactics readopted, the feeling is that he is vulnerable against the very best at 2m nowadays. It was no surprise that Gary Moore was quoted that he might try longer distances next season. Bear in mind the stable also houses the exciting and unexposed pair of Traffic Fluide and Ar Mad for these contests.
Longer distances also seem the order of the day for Dodging Bullets. Things haven’t gone his way this time around and his rating is now down to 163. He finished 2014/15 rated 171. While the door looks to be closing on his 2m career they do say that another one often opens.
The trials of life
With the Guineas trials done and dusted in readiness for the real thing at Newmarket this weekend, last week’s trials had our thoughts turned to the first weekend in June and the possible unearthing of genuine Derby and Oaks candidates writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill.
Epsom itself set the ball rolling with the Investec Derby Trial on Wednesday and it was the only filly in the contest who came out on top. So Mi Dar’s only previous appearance had seen her win a Windsor maiden last October when putting up a performance somewhere in the low 80s – she stepped up on that when posting a figure of 101 in beating Humphrey Bogart (104) by a neck despite Dettori losing his whip a furlong and a half out, with Viren’s Army (98) back in 3rd. The latter looks to provide a solid guide to the level of the race having raced six times as juvenile including winning on heavy and over the course at Epsom.
John Gosden’s filly will have to step up again if she is to make an impression in the Oaks but she is progressive and has proved her ability to handle the track.
One of the winter’s talking horses – the beautifully bred Midterm – made his reappearance in the BET365 Classic Trial at Sandown on Friday and he let nobody down. He too had shown form around the low/mid 80s when winning his only previous start, a Newbury maiden, as a juvenile. He too stepped up markedly on that when beating Algometer a length and a half with eight lengths and more back to the rest.
It is not an easy race on which to confidently put a figure; but a time comparison with my figures for the good quality 3yo handicap over course and distance later on the card suggests a performance of around 112. This fits relatively neatly with the experienced Palawan (98 pre-race) who finished fourth. As such I have published Midterm at 112 and runner-up Algometer at 109. Midterm is a son of Galileo who can do nothing but improve with experience and probably over a longer trip. I will be disappointed if 112 proves the limit of his ability by the end of the season.
Sandown also staged a pair of good quality older horse Group races on Friday. Clive Cox’s My Dream Boat proved progressive last year over 7f and 1m. He ended 2015 with a mark of 111 and took another step forward when a late surge between horses saw him take the BET365 Gordon Richards Stakes over 10f.
Western Hymn was returning from a near ten months absence and was possibly not ideally suited by the cut underfoot. Probably he has not reproduced his 2015 figure of 117. There are also possible question marks over Ayrad (3rd -112) and Tullius (5th – 111) in terms of trip and current form. So fourth placed Master Carpenter (108) looks the safest bet at present in terms to a guide; and he brings My Dream Boat out at 117. Soft ground brings out the best in the 4yo so maybe a return trip to France might be on the agenda at some point?
Toormore, a stalwart of the mile division over the last couple of years, bounced right back to his best with a gutsy victory in the BET365 Mile. After a 117 performance in chasing home stable companion Night of Thunder in last year’s Al Shaqab Lockinge at Newbury, Richard Hannon’s colt was never quite the same again. He settled down to being a 114 performer for the rest of the year. Giving weight away on Friday, I believe he bounced back to the same level (119) as when third in the 2014 Qipco QEII at Ascot behind Charm Spirit and Night of Thunder. The race has a solid look to it with both Dutch Connection (2nd) and Breton Rock (3rd) running to within a pound of their respective 116 and 113 marks. It will be interesting to see whether Toormore can maintain that level once he gets back in to Group 1 company. Surely return trips to the Lockinge and the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot are on the cards.
The guessing game of the Guineas
The last eight runnings of the Qipco 2000 Guineas have included winners at 40/1, 33/1 and 25/1 writes Matthew Tester. This year’s favourite is last year’s champion 2yo Air Force Blue at around 4/6. We are hoping to see the same level of performance as a 3yo that he showed in winning three Group 1 races as a 2yo. But those long odds winners show that nothing can be taken for granted.
The current ratings for the first five in the betting are: 124 Air Force Blue, 114 Stormy Antarctic, 116 Massaat, 117 Buratino and 116 Marcel. Bear in mind that one second over a mile is typically reckoned to be worth twelve pounds and you can see that it is not as clear-cut as the numbers might suggest.
Three fillies are in the betting in single figures for the Qipco 1000 Guineas. Their ratings are 120 Minding, 116 Lumiere and 113 Ballydoyle.
Neither Minding nor Air Force Blue has raced since October. To be worth the same ratings in May the Weight For Age scale says that they will each have had to make up to 13lb improvement just through physical maturing. No wonder there have been so many winning long shots.
The last few weeks we have run a number of twitter polls, the results are below.
The public favourite appears to be Thistlecrack who has been capturing peoples imaginations throughout the 2015/16 jumps season while you thought that Douvan’s performances at Cheltenham and Aintree ranked as the most impressive displays of Steeple Chasing in 2015/16 so far.
Over half of those surveyed thought that current favourite Minding is the most likely winner of this year’s 1,000 Guineas, which takes place this coming Sunday.