The Juddmonte clash we’d all dreamed of might not have materialised but the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival made for an enthralling week of top-class racing nonetheless. It’s not just the pattern races that will live long in the memory and our team run through some of their highlights and noteworthy performances, starting with a Group 1 breakthrough for the northern-based Michael Dods and Paul Mulrennan.
The feature race on the Friday of the Ebor meeting was the Group 1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes run over 5f, writes Chris Nash. The race attracted just about all the established 5f pattern horses in Europe with the added attraction of the American-trained juvenile filly Acapulco, who’d been so impressive when winning the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. The pace was solid and matters were very cleanly run.
The race produced a really impressive winner in the four-year-old filly Mecca’s Angel, who was having just her 14th career run and her first in Group 1 company. She raced handily down the centre of the course and got by the trailblazing Acapulco well inside the final furlong to win pulling clear by two lengths.
Acapulco had taken the field along towards the far side of the track and gave a really bold show, establishing a significant gap at the 1f pole, and although she couldn’t quite see it out she still finished two lengths and upwards clear of the rest. The form of her win in the Queen Mary was given a significant boost earlier in the week when Besharah landed the Group 2 Lowther impressively and earned a rating of 114. The next four home in the Nunthorpe also boasted solid form – Mattmu (third) was a Group 3 winner last time out, Sole Power (fourth) had won the Nunthorpe last year, Goldream (fifth) had won the King’s Stand and Muthmir (sixth) won the Group 2 King George at Goodwood.
That suggests to me that the form is really strong and with the margins between the placed horses it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion than this was a top-class performance by the winner. I settled on a figure of 120 for Mecca’s Angel and 115 for Acapulco. Mattmu arrived rated 115 and this assessment of the race has him running to 111 – a little below his best, though it’s likely he’s better suited by 6f. The Irish-trained Sole Power arrived rated 118 which is the figure he recorded in winning a Group 1 in Dubai in March. His three runs since then have all been slightly lower and this was similar at 110. His revised rating will be decided by the Irish handicappers. Goldream ran to 109 here and I left him unchanged on 113 as the King’s Stand form looks sound, but Muthmir (ran to 106) was dropped back to 115 from 116 as the King George form failed to work out in this race. In understanding the figures put on this race it has to be remembered that the first two both received a 3lb fillies’ allowance, though the rider of Acapulco returned 1lb heavy.
Some of these might show up in the Group 1 Sprint Cup over 6f at Haydock in early September but the next likely rematch for these horses over 5f is the Abbaye at Longchamp on Arc day in early October. Mecca’s Angel must go there with an outstanding chance. Not only is she well suited by cut in the ground but she is also a course and distance winner having won a Group 3 there in May. In addition she will again receive the fillies’ allowance, so if the Nunthorpe form is to be believed and she can repeat it, it would take a performance of 123+ for a male horse to beat her there.
Many of this season’s top stayers lined up for the Group 2 Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York on Friday, writes Mark Olley. On paper it looked a very open and competitive race with the winners of the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup, Henry II, Ormonde and Sagaro all taking part.
However, in the race itself Max Dynamite travelled strongly and readily pulled clear for an impressive win despite his slightly unusual preparation in the Galway Hurdle, where he’d finished second. This smart hurdler has been an infrequent runner on the Flat and his start preceding Galway was a gallant second in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle. So this was a deserved win, even if the ease of it did take me somewhat by surprise.
Mizzou was given a figure of 111 when winning the Sagaro at Ascot back in April. Luca Cumani’s colt beat the 106-rated Hidden Gold (received 3lb) by a length here, so I have left his figure unchanged, and that also fits in with my historical standard figure of around 111 for the Lonsdale Cup second.
I called the four and a half length winning margin 6lb and suggested a new figure of 117 for Max Dynamite to the Irish handicappers. This just pips Opinion Poll’s 116 in 2011 and is a ten year high figure for the race. It is also the joint highest performance from a stayer in the UK this year, alongside Agent Murphy’s Geoffrey Freer success at Newbury the previous week.
The Betfred Melrose and Ebor Handicaps at York on Saturday were both predictably fiercely competitive.
The Melrose was notable for the excellent run of Not Never who finished second. Hugo Palmer’s gelding took the field along at a decent pace and was only just denied by Polarisation in a tight finish in which all of those around him had been ridden patiently. Polarisation goes up 5lb to 91 and Not Never gets a 4lb rise to 95.
The Betfred Ebor had its share of drama. Pre-race there was the uncertainty as to whether ante-post favourite, and first reserve, Clondaw Warrior would get a run. Initially given a rating of 95 when the weights closed, he earned a 4lb penalty for a handicap win at Galway and ended up squeezing in at the 12th hour when top-weight Quest For More was withdrawn on Friday morning. He was officially 8lb ‘well-in’ as his new Irish rating after Galway was 107, but unusually for one of Willie Mullins’ Flat runners in the UK this summer he ran a disappointing race.
There was also the usual debate around the lack of three-year-olds in the race due to the field being listed by weight order. Due to the 12lb weight for age allowance that three-year-olds receive over 1m6f at this time of year they find it very hard to get a run. The lowest rated horse in the race last year was 98 and this year it was 99, so any three-year-old needed to be rated at least 111 to stand a chance of getting in. However, for the first time in several years we had one good enough in Aidan O’Brien’s Fields of Athenry. He is rated 114, but due to a Group 3 win at Leopardstown earlier this month (he did not need to run up to his 114 rating to win that race) he carried a 4lb penalty and ran off a rating of 118. By my reckoning this is the highest mark a horse has competed from in a British handicap since Tillerman ran off 119 in 2002. Fields of Athenry ran a superb race, but his early exuberance found him out in the end and he faded late on to finish a gallant fifth. He stays 1m6f, but possibly not when ridden so positively.
The training performance of the season surely goes to Joseph Tuite for his handling of Litigant. To get a horse to win a race as competitive as this year’s Ebor returning from a near 500-day absence is a great achievement. He moves up 7lb to 106 for this and will reportedly now step up to pattern company. There will likely need to be more improvement if he is to win there, but given his profile it would be a brave person to say that won’t happen.
Briefly returning to the debate over listing horses in weight (as currently happens) or ratings order for handicaps. I can see the case for both sides in this argument, but whichever method is used there will be winners and losers and it is interesting to note that I expect neither the winner Litigant nor favourite Clondaw Warrior would have got a run in this year’s race had ratings been the determining factor.
It’s again been reported that York are looking to upgrade the Sky Bet City of York Stakes and last week’s renewal should have helped the cause, with the large field looking extremely high on quality by listed-race standards, writes Graeme Smith.
Fadhayyil improved on the form she’d shown when fifth in the 1000 Guineas and second in the Jersey as she opened her account for the season. She nudged her pre-race rating up from 107 to 109 with her half-length defeat of Speculative Bid. Let’s not forget she was in receipt of the 5lb fillies’ allowance, and the runner-up’s improved rating of 113 puts the level of the form more into context.
The front two were chased home by a couple who’d earned their ratings when winning good-quality handicaps of late – Salateen ran to his pre-race 107 and Heaven’s Guest (who’d won the valuable International Handicap) was dropped 1lb to that level. Overall the form has a solid feel to it, acknowledging the fact it seemed important to race towards the far side of the pack as the field edged across in the straight.
Fadhayyil’s new figure of 109 sits tidily against Dutch Connection’s current rating of 116 from when he’d edged her out under a penalty in the Jersey. Also, it’s worth noting that she’s some way in advance of what Nakuti (100) achieved when winning a slightly substandard renewal of the Group 3 TBA Atalanta Stakes over 1m for fillies at Sandown on Saturday.
The 1m Clipper Logistics Handicap also saw a performance worthy of listed success from the top weight Chil The Kite. Hugh Morrison’s six-year-old had been placed in the last two runnings of the Royal Hunt Cup and defied a mark of 107 in a tight finish with the admirably tough Alfred Hutchinson. 113 is 1lb higher than Chil The Kite has ever been, but that level is substantiated by current reading of the form the runner-up showed when second at York in May, whilst the first six were spread out by more than six lengths.
The other two handicaps I dealt with at York look sure to prove strong form. The Eventsmasters EBF Stallions Stakes over 7f for fillies saw the market leaders come to the fore and Mistrusting’s rise to 105 (ran off 99 but was already due to rise to 100) could mean she still has her followers if turning up in a handicap again. She got home by only a neck from the progressive Dusky Queen, who found trouble, but the way she’d travelled when moving on initially will have struck plenty of analysts.
I’d mentioned how strong Spangled’s success over this trip at Newmarket’s July Festival had been proving and she’ll also have retained plenty of followers. She’ll have to leave the stalls faster than she did here, immediately on the back foot, but in the circumstances her running on into fourth could be viewed positively and the step up to 1m could also help her. For the time being she’s up 1lb to 97.
The biggest improver in any of my handicaps was My Dream Boat in the Nationwide Accident Repair Services Handicap for three-year-olds over 1m. His Sandown second to Grand Inquisitor in June continues to prove really strong and he wasted no time putting a poor show on good to firm ground behind him, showing the handicap-debutant Hathal the way at the head of a strung-out field. A 9lb rise to 101 could be enough to secure a place in the Cambridgeshire for Clive Cox’s charge, and the weights for that race are published next week.
It’s worth mentioning that Grand Inquisitor also contested that York handicap, with his connections reporting he’d been unsuited by the good to soft ground after finishing fifth. He obviously has that strong piece of form to his name from Sandown, and he remains on 95 as team policy decrees it would be unfair to apply a collateral rise to a horse who’s failed to even match that running in two outings since.
One final footnote is mention of the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville. Obviously the French handicapper has control over the figures for the first two home and the race will be discussed by the international panel at the end of the year. My current view was it was always going to be difficult for the field to uphold usual standards with the season’s best two milers, Solow (ineligible as a gelding) and Gleneagles, absent, and whereas our average winning performance from the last five years is around 125 my current figure for the impressive Esoterique (it’s worth remembering she got the fillies’ allowance) is just below 120.