Weights & Measures: Ascot
Ben Linfoot looks at how the handicapper responded to the recent action at Ascot, Haydock and Newbury.
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Ascot, January 18
1. Irish Saint>>>> Up 12lb to 152
2. Imperial Leader>>>> Up 1lb to 129
3. Bourne>>>> Remains on 125
5. The Skyfarmer>>>> Remains on 140
8. Minella Forfitness>>>> Down 1lb to 144
The combination of the longer trip and heavy ground helped Irish Saint to make a mockery of a handicap mark of 140 as he sluiced up by 11 lengths. The Betfair Hurdle was mentioned immediately in the post-race analysis by connections as he'll carry just a 5lb penalty at Newbury, and that race will probably be on his agenda now the handicapper has put him up 12lb to 152. He'll be officially 7lb 'well in' in the Betfair and though the trip looks on the sharp side for him it's probably too tempting a proposition. However, prices ranging from 8/1 to 10/1 make no appeal whatsoever. He never looked like winning the two handicaps he contested over two miles off lower marks earlier in the season, so he's not one to be on back in trip, penalised, in such a competitive affair. The Coral Cup would perhaps be a more suitable option, though he clearly thrives on heavy ground too so that would have to be taken into consideration. Like stablemate Saphir Du Rheu, though, he's looked a different animal over further, so you would have to think long and hard about backing against him the next time he tackles a distance over 2m3f+. Imperial Leader went up 1lb after a much better effort. He was well beaten on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury but he's interesting off his current mark on this evidence, as there's plenty of room for improvement in the hurdling department and he may appreciate a bit further. Bourne ran a strange race in third. He was one of the first off the bridle and looked like he might tail off at one stage, before rallying well. He would've been second but for a mistake at the last and off a mark of 125 he's undoubtedly well handicapped on his old form. The last time he won was in first-time blinkers and perhaps a change of headgear would help him travel a bit better. The Skyfarmer remains on 140 after fading into fifth. He was a bit too keen up front and gave Irish Saint a lovely tow into the race. Still, he hurdled really well and looks a decent chasing prospect for next season, while he may have another win in him over timber yet on better ground. Minella Forfitness drops 1lb in the ratings after showing nothing on his seasonal reappearance. However, he clearly hated the ground and given how well he progressed last spring, he's another one to keep an eye on when the ground gets better in the coming months.
1. Bury Parade>>>> Up 9lb to 152
2. Grandioso>>>> Remains on 147
3. Theatrical Star>>>> Down 2lb to 135
Bury Parade's refusal to race at Exeter on December 19 helps explain why he was fourth best in the market for this seven-runner affair, as his previous winning form at Kempton, when beating Hadrian's Approach and Theatre Guide, was rock solid. The first-time hood helped iron out any quirks he may have and after setting off without fuss the result was never in doubt. He travelled well, jumped well and won with authority, so a 9lb rise is no surprise. Paul Nicholls' assistant, Tom Jonason, said afterwards that Noel Fehily thought he'd get further and that he'd probably stick to right-handed tracks. With that in mind, the £100,000 Kempton Park Chase at the Sunbury track on February 22 could be his next mission. With Long Run reportedly set for the race he'd be racing off a relatively nice racing weight considering his jump up the ratings and if Fehily rides he'd be bidding for his second consecutive win in the contest. Stablemate Grandioso also travelled well and went clear with the winner approaching two out. He couldn't go with Bury Parade going to the last but this was further proof, after his promising reappearance, that he has recovered from a bout of colic - something that perhaps was questionable after a disappointing effort at Cheltenham. He stays on 147 and can be competitive off that mark, with his versatility regarding ground conditions another positive. The Paul Nicholls-trained pair were too quick and too classy for Theatrical Star who tried to make all but had to settle for third. The handicapper drops him 2lb and he'd possibly be of interest off 135 given the right race stepped back up in trip to three miles.
1. Champagne West>>>> Up 13lb to 145
2. Knock House>>>> Up 1lb to 132
3. Ceasar Milan>>>> Introduced at 117
Connections of the winner revealed afterwards that the plan was to win in order to get into the Pertemps. 'You need to be about 137 to get in the race,' said Sarah Hobbs post-race, and with that in mind he's won too well. The handicapper must've been impressed with the way he shrugged off a 10lb penalty, beating a 131-rated rival by four lengths giving him 4lbs, as he's walloped him with a 13lb rise and up to a mark of 145. That could be near top-weight in the Pertemps - Hobbs' Fair Along carried such a burden in last year's renewal off a mark of 148 - and though the Minehead handler has dominated the qualifiers, as discussed last time, his potential runners look to have already shown their hand. The Pertemps, as is usual, will in all likelihood go to a horse that has been hiding their light under a bushel during the dark, winter months. Champagne West looks a mighty fine prospect though, as he was very impressive here as you would expect for a horse that has shot up the best part of a stone in the weights. He's another novice hurdler from the Hobbs yard that has the talent and scope to make a serious novice chaser next season.
1. Highland Retreat>>>> Up 7lb to 140
2. Carole's Spirit>>>> Up 2lb to 139
3. Mickie>>>> Remains on 145
A really likeable performance from Highland Retreat who showed plenty of guts to see off Carole's Spirit, who was unbeaten in three hurdles going into Saturday. Harry Fry's mare looked sure to be overtaken by the eventual runner-up in the straight but she dug in really deep with her proven stamina for the trip and ability to perform in the testing ground coming to the fore. That last point makes Cheltenham unlikely for her - connections suggested as much afterwards - which is a real shame as she'd be one of the most likely to take advantage should Quevega's winning run finally come to a halt. A rating of 140 puts her right in the mix for the places in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle, as an average rating of 138 for the placed horses behind Quevega in the last five years shows. Prize money for finishing second in the mares' is nearly £20,000 - almost as much as she got for winning on Saturday, while the jackpot should Quevega miss out is nearer 50K. Still, if it came up soft for the Festival we'd probably see her, though such ground would certainly not inconvenience Willie Mullins' wonder mare either.
Haydock, January 18
1. Zamdy Man>>>> Up 13lb to 149
2. Un Temps Pour Tout>>>> Remains on 147
136, 138, 147, 142 and 142. The official ratings of the last five British-trained winners going into the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' and here we have Zamdy Man, unbeaten this season with three wins from three, rated 149 following an impressive Grade 2 victory. And he's 25/1. Now, the negatives are he probably needs testing ground to show his best, while making all seems to be his thing too. Getting soft ground and the lead in the Supreme Novices' seems unlikely, but it seems to me we are waiting for something to come out and stamp their authority on the Supreme market and we're running out of races. Perhaps the Betfair Hurdle will throw up the standout British candidate, while the Grade One Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown next month might shine a light on the leading Irish hope too. But we keep on saying that and it could be we've been staring at some pretty obvious candidates all along. If nothing shortens up drastically in the Supreme betting following the Betfair or the Deloitte then punters are going to start backing the winners of the trials throughout the winter and Zamdy Man has posted the best figure out of all of them. His profile is similar to that of Cinders And Ashes (who also won this race) before he won the Supreme and you couldn't help but be impressed by his attitude. The highly-touted and expensive runner-up Un Temps Pour Tout stays on 147 following a pleasing British debut. He looks more of a Neptune horse on this evidence as he didn't quite have the pace of the winner and looks sure to improve for a step up in trip. Run at a solid pace, the leading pair pulled 22 lengths clear of the rest and despite the testing ground conditions, it looks reliable form.
Other new ratings to note from the last week
Sire De Grugy was dropped to a mark of 166 after running to 162 in the Desert Orchid, but he's back up to 169 following his demolition job in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday. He's a clear second best to Sprinter Sacre in the two-mile chase rankings and there's little else to add as we've been saying that all season.
Melodic Rendezvous bounced back to form when beating Ptit Zig in the Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock. In seeing off a rival rated 159 by four and a half lengths getting 4lb he's been raised 4lb to a mark of 156. Connections have acknowledged his qualities are illuminated in very soft ground and signalled their intentions to get him out again while such conditions prevail. The Welsh Champion Hurdle and Kingwell Hurdle are possibles for him.
Wychwoods Brook won the Peter Marsh Chase from 7lb out of the handicap, so, despite going up 12lb to a mark of 142, he's effectively 5lb higher than the rating from which he won at Haydock off. Conor Ring's 7lb claim will be even more vital when he goes for the hat-trick, though he clearly relished the step up to three miles. Runner-up Vintage Star continues to improve and is up 3lb to 144, while Merry King and Katenko were nudged up to 139 and 156 respectively after finishing third and fourth.
Taquin Du Seuil stays on 147 following his confidence-boosting win at Haydock. Jonjo O'Neill says he'll be entered in the Arkle, the JLT Novices' Chase and the RSA at the Festival, but he's likely to go for the middle option as he continues to be campaigned at around two and a half miles.
Finally, some reaction from Newbury's meeting last Wednesday.
Nicky Henderson's Fred Winter hope Dawalan was raised 2lb to 133 after winning a juvenile hurdle under a penalty. He idled late on and the form of his earlier Newbury victory was boosted on Tuesday when Certification won at Wetherby.
Warren Greatrex's Cole Harden was an impressive winner of the novices' hurdle over 2m3f on the same card and has been raised 12lb to 132. He could go for the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett, but such a rating might tempt Greatrex into going for one of the handicaps - the Martin Pipe Conditionals perhaps with stable conditional Gavin Sheehan two from three on the horse?
And Restless Harry finally got the job done in a handicap chase! Rated 157 in his zenith over hurdles, a series of unlucky/hapless runs over timber and over fences saw him drop to a chase rating of 122. He'd unseated Charlie Poste when racing off an identical rating on his last two starts, when well fancied too, but the pair finally put it all together when winning by 17 lengths as easy as you like. The assessor wasn't amused and slapped a 19lb rise on Harry, who will race off 141 the next time he lines up in a handicap chase.
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