Weights & Measures: Ascot
Ben Linfoot looks at how the handicappers have responded to the action at Royal Ascot last week.
We had everything at this year's Royal Ascot.
Sensational performances, thrilling battles, high drama, record times and all of it contested on fast, safe, summer ground thanks to a sensible watering policy and some glorious weather.
As a package it was one of the best Royal meetings I can remember, but now the morning suits and top hats have been put away for another year it's time to reflect on the results from the five days in Berkshire.
The BHA handicappers published their findings on Tuesday, with official ratings released for every horse that ran at the meeting bar the juveniles (there will be a two-year-old special of this column once the first numbers are out next month.)
Below is an analysis of these ratings using historical context and hopefully it will be of some use. In some cases possible targets are identified for interesting horses and one or two ante-post bets are suggested as well.
The Irish ratings given are those awarded by the Irish handicapper - I have tried to mention any instances where they differ from the numbers come up with by their British counterparts.
Without further ado...
Royal Ascot, Tuesday June 17
1. Toronado>>>> Remains on 125
2. Verrazano>>>> Up 3lb to 120
3. Anodin>>>> Remains on 117
The opening race of the week went to Richard Hannon's Toronado who ran 3lb below his master rating of 125 when beating Verrazano by three-quarters-of-a-length. The son of High Chaparral was winning on his seasonal reappearance for the third time in three campaigns but was bouncing back to form here after finishing a disappointing sixth of six in the Juddmonte International over ten furlongs when last seen. Handicapper Dominic Gardiner-Hill saw no reason to drop him from 125 after this which makes him the joint-best older miler in Europe along with stablemate Olympic Glory. He'll go to the Sussex Stakes next, a race he won last year, though he could have a formidable opponent in Kingman (see below). He was only the fifth best Queen Anne winner in the last six years ahead of Declaration of War, with Paco Boy (124), Goldikova (130), Canford Cliffs (127) and Frankel (140) rated higher. Verrazano was judged to have improved half a stone from his Lockinge run (113-120) and if he can improve again you'd have to fancy Aidan O'Brien to win a Group One in Europe with him, something he has done with so many of the stars sent to him from overseas. It'll be tough to do so over a mile, but he could be well worth trying over ten furlongs where he has plenty of options at the top level. The race was rated around Freddy Head's Anodin who is getting better with age. He travelled smoothly and was last off the bridle and on this evidence looks worth trying over a slightly sharper trip. The Prix Maurice de Gheest, a race his trainer loves to win, could be an option at Deauville in August.
1. Sole Power>>>> Up 5lb to 119
2. Stepper Point>>>> Up 3lb to 113
3. Hot Streak>>>> Down 2lb to 115
Fast ground, five furlongs and a strong pace see Sole Power in his best light and with those three ingredients combined the seven-year-old son of Kyllachy put in a career-best performance in the King's Stand, according to the Irish handicapper at least. They raised him 5lb from 114 to 119, though the British assessor has him racing to 117+, a rise of 2lb from his pre-race rating and an identical mark to the one he produced when winning the same contest last year. The differences are only slight and what we can all agree on is that Sole Power is a high-class and consistent performer, especially when he is granted the ideal scenario. Richard Hughes was a perfect fit for him as he waited as long as he could before unleashing the winner's blistering turn of foot and he was simply too good for some top-notch rivals. He's the best British or Irish trained winner in the last decade, though Australian speedsters Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast were all awarded higher ratings by the World Thoroughbred Rankings following their wins. Stepper Point belied his starting price of 50/1 with a career-best effort that sees him rise to a mark of 113. He had already run to 112 and was just behind Hot Streak in the Palace House Stakes, so strictly on the figures this performance wasn't much of a surprise. Of course, factoring in the potential improvement of others was one reason for his huge odds and Hot Streak was expected to improve again on his ninth start following his excellent win in the Palace House Stakes. He couldn't quite match that effort and was dropped 2lb. Perhaps soft ground, as it was at Haydock, is necessary for him to show his best. A flatter track could also see this speedy three-year-old in a better light, and he may still be the one for the Nunthorpe (although a certain Sole Power might have something to say about that).
1. Kingman>>>> Up 1lb to 126
2. Night Of Thunder>>>> Remains on 120
3. Outstrip>>>> Up 1lb to 118
4. War Command>>>> Down 1lb to 117
Kingman's sensational victory in the St James's Palace Stakes was the performance of the week after attaining him a rating of 126. Not only was it the performance of the week, it was the best effort from a St James's Palace Stakes winner in the last decade, his mark of 126 beating such luminaries as Shamardal (125), Henrythenavigator (125), Canford Cliffs (122), Frankel (122) and Dawn Approach (124). Much has been made of the awesome speed he showed in the last two furlongs where he was quicker than Sole Power, who had run on the same turf just 40 minutes earlier, and such a weapon in his armoury is going to make him tough to beat in the coming months. The next test for him is tackling the older generation but he's already rated 1lb higher than Toronado and Olympic Glory with the promise of more to come. The Sussex Stakes could be the target for all three of them and what a race that promises to be. Night Of Thunder ran well, right up to his Guineas mark, despite different tactics that saw him dictate the pace from the front. His performance hinted that he might be worth trying over further and connections suggested as much afterwards. Out of a Galileo mare, there is hope he will stay ten furlongs. But such a route may be in order to avoid Kingman and some illustrious stablemates more than anything else. War Command is another one likely to step up in trip after running on well into fourth.
Royal Ascot, Wednesday June 18
1. The Fugue>>>> Up 1lb to 124
2. Magician>>>> Up 1lb to 124
3. Treve>>>> Remains on 130
The right three horses fought out the finish here but not in the order you might expect as Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Treve blotted her copybook for the second race running. Her defeat to Cirrus Des Aigles was seen as a blip considering that rival's subsequent form but she ran below par again when finishing third behind The Fugue and Magician. Subsequent tests have revealed she has minor arthritis in her back and had pulled a muscle over the top of her hind quarters, possibly after getting upset in the pre-parade ring, so she could well bounce back under ideal conditions in the autumn. Retaining her crown in the Arc, though, is going to be difficult against a talented batch of three-year-olds even on her preferred soft ground. The Prince of Wales's, however, belonged to The Fugue who is a highly-talented filly in her own right when getting her optimum conditions. Fast ground is essential to her chances, though she is versatile when it comes to trip - she seems equally effective over a mile-and-a-half. Running to a mark of 124 is just about on the average for the winner of this race in the past decade, though Rewilding (127), So You Think (125) and Al Kazeem (126) all posted higher ratings in the preceeding three years. Ouija Board (120) was the last filly to win the race and The Fugue posted a mark 4lb higher than her. Magician looks in good form and is ready to return to a mile-and-a-half. Though he hated the ground at the Curragh, this was another boost for Noble Mission's form (more on that later - see Telescope).
1. Integral>>>> Up 2lb to 117
2. L'Amour De Ma Vie>>>> ?
3. Purr Along>>>> Remains on 109
5. Sky Lantern>>>> Remains on 119
This was just Integral's seventh career start and she's a typical Sir Michael Stoute improver that has benefitted from his patient approach - and she wasn't the last example of his craft at the meeting. The daughter of Dalakhani has been beaten twice in Group 1 company but looks ready for another crack at the top level after landing this Group 2. It was her best performance to date and she did it with a touch of class, travelling well, quickening up and drawing away with relative comfort. Her owners, Cheveley Park, won the same race with another Stoute charge, Peeress, in 2005 and she had a similar profile. Success in this race, then the Windsor Forest Stakes, was the springboard to two Group 1 victories as she subsequently won the Sun Chariot Stakes and the Lockinge. Integral looks likely to go the same way and could get her first opportunity in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket's July Meeting. There looks nothing to fear from the current Classic crop (see Rizeena, below) and her biggest rival could be Sky Lantern who was five-and-a-half lengths behind at Royal Ascot, but was conceding 5lb on her seasonal reappearance. Sky Lantern remains a 119-rated filly, 2lb superior to Integral and she'll be out to right last year's wrongs in the Falmouth after coming off second best in a controversial renewal with Elusive Kate. The French-trained filly l'Amour De Ma Vie ran well in second but was brushed aside by Integral, while Purr Along didn't settle as well for Jamie Spencer as she had at the Curragh and was left with too much to do under exaggerated waiting tactics. She stays on 109, but is almost certainly capable of better.
1. Field Of Dream>>>> Up 6lb to 107
2. Chil The Kite>>>> Up 3lb to 112
3. Steeler>>>> Remains on 106
4. Sea Shanty>>>> Remains on 98
5. Ayaar>>>> Remains on 97
6. Tales of Grimm>>>> Down 1lb to 101
7. Belgian Bill>>>> Remains on 102
Field Of Dream loves a big-field handicap and added the Royal Hunt Cup to a Betfair International and Bunbury Cup after running-on strongly under Adam Kirby. Those other two notable successes were achieved off marks of 98 and 99, so he wasn't far off those ratings here from 101, but a 6lb rise could anchor him in similar races for a bit. Rated 110 at his peak when with Luca Cumani as a three-year-old, it's hard to beileve he's improving now he's seven and this could be the day the cards fell right for him again. You would think he'll need to come down a bit before his next day in the sun, but he thrives off a decent pace in a big field. There were planty of hard-luck stories in behind with Chil The Kite the only one punished by the handicapper for defeat. He cruised through the contest under a patient George Baker, but the winner got first run on him and by the time he was in the clear Field Of Dream had flown. Ayaar and Belgian Bill both travelled well but didn't have any luck in-running. The aformentioned International looks a likely port of call for the pair and they will be of interest off their respective marks. Steeler raced keenly on his first British start of the season and looks well handicapped on this evidence.
Royal Ascot, Thursday June 19
1. Leading Light>>>> Remains on 118
2. Estimate>>>> Remains on 112
3. Missunited>>>> Up 7lb to 114
A sixth success in nine years in the week's feature for trainer Aidan O'Brien, though Leading Light posted the least impressive rating from the Ballydoyle winners in that period after registering an Irish mark of 118 (1lb more than the British assessor). The great Yeats was rated either 121 or 122 during his four-year reign, while Fame And Glory hit the 120 mark on his sole success. Yet the feeling is Leading Light won a strong renewal despite the trip, with both trainer Aidan and jockey Joseph insisting he's better over shorter distances in the aftermath. Indeed, an entry in the Juddmonte International - half the distance of the Gold Cup - is an indication of which route he'll be taking for the rest of the season. Leading Light's rating of 118 is on a par with Rite of Passage who won the 2010 renewal and better than Colour Vision (117) and Estimate (114) who won in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Estimate's 2013 figure was dropped 2lb to 112 after the form failed to work out so there is strong evidence to support the view that her run in defeat here was just as good as her performance in victory last season. That it was her seasonal reppearance also bodes well for the rest of the campaign and if Leading Light does tackle shorter trips for the remainder of the season she could well strike again in one of the Cups. Missunited ran a career-best in third and was raised 7lb to 114 (112 in Britain).
1. Born In Bombay>>>> Up 6lb to 93
2. Bow Creek>>>> Up 4lb to 108
3. Hors De Combat>>>> Up 3lb to 99
4. Bilimbi>>>> Up 2lb to 92
5. Zarwaan>>>> Up 1lb to 102
6. American Hope>>>> Remains on 99
7. Madeed>>>> Remains on 89
Like all of the big-field handicaps on the straight course during the week, the high numbers drawn towards the stands' side held the advantage in the Britannia. Born In Bombay was having just his fourth start and had previously finished second to Hors De Combat. A 2lb pull at the weights in his favour helped him reverse that form, though James Fanshawe's charge deserves some credit after tracking across from stall 12 and running on well. A 3lb rise might not be enough to stop him given a suitable opportunity. Zarwaan stayed on well and should be competitive off just a 1lb higher mark as he is suitably lightly-raced, while both American Hope and Madeed deserve credit for coming out on top on the unfavoured far side. American Hope, in particular, was a real eyecatcher. This was his first start on turf and he raced keenly on the wrong side before winning 'his' race. A drop back in trip for the Bunbury Cup looks ideal and he'd be of major interest in that contest granted quick ground.
1. Elite Army>>>> Up 10lb to 104
2. Windshear>>>> Up 6lb to 101
3. Captain Morley>>>> Up 1lb to 91
8. Alex My Boy>>>> Remains on 87
The market found the best two handicapped horses in this race as 4/1 joint-favourites Elite Army and Windshear pulled away from a good field in the style of two horses with plenty in hand. Windshear kicked for home first and it looked like being a race-winning move from Richard Hughes until Kieren Fallon got Elite Army in the clear. Windshear appreciated the step up in trip and was unlucky to bump into Elite Army who was seriously well handicapped. He won at Sandown off 86 prior to this but 8lb wasn't enough to stop him and the handicapper has reacted by hitting him with another 10lb hike. Such is his rapid progression, though, even that might not be enough to halt his winning run and there's every chance his future lies outside handicap company. He's been backed for the St Leger this week and is as short as 10/1 for the Doncaster Classic, but an even better candidate at a much bigger price emerged for that race in the King Edward VII Stakes (see below). Windshear and Captain Morley ran well from their wide draws, but a special mention should also be given to Alex My Boy who finished eighth. He's beautifully bred out of Alexandrova and is thought to be well handicapped by connections. He blew all chance at the start by being slowly away from his wide draw and was well off the pace in the early stages. However, he finished his race well, suggesting there is plenty more to come and after just five starts he is well worth persevering with. Mark Johnston does very well with this type of three-year-old in the height of summer and he's definitely one for your 'My Stable' trackers.
Royal Ascot, Friday June 20
1. Eagle Top>>>> Up 26lb to 118
2. Adelaide>>>> Up 2lb to 113
3. Scotland>>>> Up 14lb to 109
4. Snow Sky>>>> Remains on 108
The King Edward VII Stakes often throws up a massive improver with many a lightly-raced three-year-old lining up and this year was no exception. In fact, it threw up two. Eagle Top was a hugely impressive winner of the race for John Gosden and his victory immediately drew comparisons with Nathaniel, who won the same race for the same trainer three years ago before he scorched to glory at the top level the following month in the King George. Nathaniel was pitched into the Chester Vase, where he finished second to Treasure Beach, straight out of maiden company and was rated 106 before lining up in this contest. He went up 9lb to 115 after beating Fiorente by five lengths at the Royal meeting and then went up a further 13lb to 128 after getting the better of the previous year's Derby winner Workforce and St Nicholas Abbey in the King George. Perhaps Eagle Top will have a similar task if Ruler Of The World and Telescope line up in the midsummer highlight next month. The son of Pivotal was rated 92 going into Royal Ascot after being beaten in a handicap at Leicester, but he left that form way behind when showing a blistering turn of foot to go from last to first here. A hike of 26lb puts him up to 118 and just 5lb inferior to Derby winner Australia - his progression is going to be watched with interest. Gosden scoffed at the idea he could run in the St Leger after this, the feeling being he's simply too good, but the third home Scotland was a real eyecatcher for the Doncaster race. He hasn't got the turn of foot of the winner, but he ran on really well - suggesting that the step up to a mile-and-six-furlongs will be right up his alley. Trainer Andrew Balding holds the Monsun colt in high regard and said afterwards he'll run in a Leger trial next. The Gordon Stakes and Bahrain Trophy are two likely options. Now on a mark of 109, he's rated higher than Elite Army (104, see above), Hartnell (103) and Century (102) who fought out the finish in the Queen's Vase and Snow Sky (108) who finished half-a-length behind him here. Yet that quartet remain shorter in the betting than Scotland for the Leger, who is a huge 40/1 in a place (25 generally). With the top of the market full of unlikely runners (Australia, Eagle Top, Kingston Hill, Taghrooda), Scotland could be a cracking bit of each-way, ante-post business.
1. Rizeena>>>> Remains on 111
2. Lesstalk In Paris>>>> Down 1lb to 109
3. Euro Charline>>>> Up 3lb to 109
4. My Titania>>>> Up 1lb to 107
With the three fillies that won the English, Irish and French 1000 Guineas missing (Miss France, Marvellous and Avenir Certain respectively) due to stepping up in trip, this looked a substandard renewal and so it proved. Rizeena bounced back to form but remained a 111-rated filly, the worst winning mark in the race this century. My Titania was keen on her return to the track after a long absence and could improve, but this bunch of fillies have it all to do if they are to give their elders races in contests like the Falmouth later in the season. It was the worst Group 1 race of the week by some distance in terms of quality, with Rizeena rated lower than some of the handicap winners.
1. Louis The Pious>>>> Up 6lb to 105
2. Horsted Keynes>>>> Up 3lb to 103
3. Watchable>>>> Up 1lb to 96
4. Bronze Angel>>>> Remains on 94
5. Jack's Revenge>>>> Remains on 95
A first Royal Ascot winner for David O'Meara courtesy of Louis The Pious who brought solid, big-field handicap form to the table. The hood has really helped him settle over seven furlongs and he has no problem with this trip when the ground isn't too testing. A 6lb hike makes things harder for him, but he is versatile trip-wise and will continue to be a threat in big fields over six and seven. A strong pace and softer ground at six or good and better ground at seven are probably ideal for him. The Ayr Gold Cup, in which he was second last year, looks a likely target and he could be a big player in that even off his new rating. Horsted Keynes is massively on the upgrade and he ran on really well on just his seventh career start. A 3lb hike is perfectly fair and he's going to be a threat wherever he goes, though he might not be much of a price. Daniel Tudhope jumped off Louis The Pious to ride Watchable and it's easy to see why he chose this talented son of Pivotal. He cruised through the contest in the manner of a good horse and has only been raised 1lb. I'd love to see him in a big sprint handicap over six with a bit of cut in the ground. Bronze Angel is now 1lb below the mark from which he won the Cambridgeshire and this was a good effort. He'll be of major interest when stepping back up in trip.
1. Arab Spring>>>> Up 8lb to 112
2. Salutation>>>> Up 3lb to 98
3. Havana Cooler>>>> Up 1lb to 98
There was a big buzz for Arab Spring in the lead up to this race and he justified favouritism in style by giving plenty of weight away to some decent horses. He had previously won at York when cruising through the Jorvik Handicap before being made to work for it in the end but he did this in much easier fashion. An 8lb rise puts him up to 112 and his handicapping days are now behind him. Peter Reynolds, manager of owners Ballymacoll Stud, was talking Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the immediate aftermath but first up he's likely to take in the Princess of Wales's Stakes at the July meeting where his handler, Sir Michael Stoute, holds a formidable record. Stoute has won the PoW nine times, most recently with Gamut (rated 118), Papal Bull (111), Doctor Fremantle (111), Crystal Capella (115) and Fiorente (108). Arab Spring would be going into that race as a more progressive horse than all of the above and is sure to be a popular selection. Mark Johnston's Salutation ran a fantastic race from the front and given his connections it wouldn't surprise if he turned up at Glorious Goodwood (he was second at the meeting last year). However, he's possibly better at a mile-and-a-half and there is a surprising lack of handicap options over that trip at the Glorious meeting for older horses. Perhaps he will drop back to 10 furlongs for the handicap won by Viewpoint last year (Johnston has won the race twice with Landaman and Drumfire in recent seasons). Havana Cooler ran on well into third and Luca Cumani suggested he could be an Ebor horse in the aftermath. He'll get in that race no problem off 98 and has track experience having finished a close third in last year's Melrose.
1. Telescope>>>> Up 9lb to 123
2. Hillstar>>>> Down 2lb to 113
3. Pether's Moon>>>> Up 2lb to 112
A brilliant performance from Telescope who came of age with a seven-length romp, giving more than a nod to his early-season conqueror Noble Mission whose form just gets better and better. Lady Cecil's charge beat Telescope twice over ten furlongs on soft ground earlier in the campaign and Frankel's full-brother could well emulate the great horse later in the season in the Champion Stakes such is his improvement. But the Hardwicke was all about Telescope, who thrived back over a mile-and-a-half on fast ground, conditions he hadn't encountered since winning the Great Voltigeur at York last season. His rating of 123 compares favourably with past winners - only Sea Moon (124) has usurped that in the last decade - and it's exactly the same as the figure Harbinger recorded when winning the race. Sir Michael Stoute trained Harbinger to put in an electric performance in the King George on his next start - a race in which he achieved a figure of 135. Telescope would have to do something freakish to achieve a rating anything like that, but the King George is likely to be his next assignment and granted similar conditions he's going to be hard to beat, even with a talented three-year-old like Eagle Top in the field.
1. Slade Power>>>> Up 1lb to 120
2. Due Diligence>>>> Up 4lb to 116
3. Aljamaaheer>>>> Remains on 115
Since this race became a Group 1 in 2002, the average winning rating has been between 117 and 118, so Slade Power's winning mark of 120 is above average despite the lack of international competition. He's improved in the last year, is versatile regarding ground conditions and is the one to beat wherever he turns up over six furlongs. However, there is a new kid on the block in the shape of Due Diligence, whose new mark of 116 takes into account the interference he suffered towards the finish. Considering this was just his sixth career start it was an incredible effort and it should be remembered he was winning a handicap off 97 last month. He also raced away from the action on the stands' side and did extremely well to get as close to the winner as he did. The impression he gave was more improvement is likely to come and with that in mind he's a danger to all in the July Cup - including the winner who sets a very high standard. Aljamaaheer ran well without ever looking like winning. Perhaps he's a bit of an inbetweener trip-wise - the six-and-a-half furlongs of the Prix Maurice de Gheest (mentioned earlier, regarding Anodin) at Deauville in August could be perfect for him too.
1. Baccarat>>>> Up 7lb to 112
2. Professor>>>> Up 3lb to 111
3. Rivellino>>>> Up 1lb to 105
4. Alben Star>>>> Remains on 104
9. Glen Moss>>>> Remains on 104
Just the 13th career start for Baccarat who put in a dominant display to win by a-length-and-a-half going away up - you guessed it - the stands' side. This was only the second time he'd encountered fast ground over six furlongs in his career and the first time was when he was badly hampered in the Sky Bet Dash. The mixture of the two looks his ideal scenario and though connections have hinted he could be stepped up in class now, the lure of the Stewards' Cup, albeit off a big weight, could be too big to resist. However, the big eyecatcher for the Goodwood race was Rivellino in third, particularly as he's only gone up 1lb. He weaved through from his middle draw under William Buick and ran on well to grab third inside the final furlong. After just seven starts on turf he remains unexposed and will be of interest if lining up in Sussex (this looks unlikely, as connections have suggested he'll be stepped up in class. However, as mentioned with regard to Baccarat, the carrot that is the Stewards' Cup pot could prove too much). Glen Moss was the eyecatcher on the far side, winning that group despite finishing ninth overall. He looks to still be competitive off 104 and might be one to consider back up in trip. Again, he goes well at Ascot and could be another one for the International Handicap over seven furlongs here in July.