Asked to nominate the likely QIPCO 2000 Guineas favourite at the start of last week, Battleground would probably not have been the most popular choice, but in the face of market weakness for his stablemate Wembley he came in for sustained support, albeit not enough to stop him being sent off the longest-priced favourite for many years.
That fact by itself suggests that the first Classic, already missing a couple of the big winter players, didn’t contain an outstanding colt, and the result – just over five lengths covering the first seven home – pretty much says as much.
The Guineas was well run thanks to Naval Power and Poetic Flare’s 121 timefigure is bang in the middle of winning Guineas timefigures this century. The result was largely a representative one on the day, but a couple of observations are still worth making.
Runner-up Master Of The Seas posted the fastest-finishing last three furlong split, well over a second faster than his stable-companion and surely Jersey Stakes bound Naval Power, whose early exertions compromised his finish effort enough to upgrade his effort by 2lb or so. One horse who ‘showed his form’ but still left the impression there is a fair bit more to come it seemed to me is Chindit.
According to data published on the Racing TV website, for all he ran the last three furlongs a shade slower than the winner Poetic Flare, he ran the last furlong faster. By themselves, those splits are good, but in view of how uncomfortable he looked on the track (something his trainer had feared publicly after the Greenham) they are better still.
Watch the race again – good old visual analysis - and you’ll see his action fall noticeably to pieces from around the three-furlong pole to the start of the climb to the line and I wouldn’t be convinced Poetic Flare would confirm the form should the pair clash at the Curragh. Sectionals that weren’t available for his Greenham win at the time we discussed his win in that race show he was easily the quickest through the last three and two furlongs of that race and a good deal better than the result.
Those questioning the form of Aidan O’Brien’s stable following his 2000 washout were slapped down in the 1000 the following day when the King of Ballydoyle won the race for the seventh time, not with talking horse Santa Barbara as the winter vibes had suggested but with race-hardened second string Mother Earth who was second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf when last seen.
Missing a couple of the big juvenile names, the field looked a bit light on quality beforehand, and a winning timefigure of 97 is the third slowest this century. That said, Mother Earth was the rightful winner on the day, running comfortably the fastest last three furlongs, and she looks a more natural miler than Santa Barbara who promises to be a different proposition over an extra two furlongs. As in the Fred Darling, Vadream wasn’t seen to best effect, running the fourth-fastest last quarter mile all day according to those same sectionals, and she’s up to winning a minor fillies Group race.
Mohaafeth was mentioned in some quarters as a Derby possible after winning the Newmarket Stakes by 5 lengths, but his trainer seemed unconvinced afterwards and a winning timefigure of just 90 allied to a slow finishing sectional (slowest of all the winners on the day by nearly half a second) suggest the form isn’t all it might look on paper.
Mystery Angel accounted for the much-touted Sea Karats in the Pretty Polly (also sponsored by Betfair) but a dictating ride that put her experience to use (winning timefigure just 71 with a small 5lb upgrade) suggests there will be more relevant Oaks trials in coming weeks.
So far as ‘trials’ for longer-term targets are concerned, if that is the right thing to say about a Group 1 race, the Prix Ganay at ParisLongchamp has a decent recent history with the last two winners Sottsass and Waldgeist going on to land the Arc. All being well, the latest winner MARE AUSTRALIS will undoubtedly turn up there, but he looks like he still has some improvement to find.
Dictating a solid enough pace to return a 110 timefigure, he saw off a below-par Mogul early in the straight and had stolen too much of a march on the runner-up Gold Trip to ever be caught. Sectionals reveal the 2020 Arc fourth Gold Trip would have given him a much closer run had he not been ridden so far back, but all in all this was more a victory for the absent Skalleti who beat the pair with some dominance in the Prix d’Harcourt as we discussed a few weeks back.
Highlights were everywhere you looked at the soon-to-be-renamed ‘Willie Mullins Punchestown Festival’, Honeysuckle’s game rally from the last in a week her stable weren’t firing and Clan Des Obeaux’s crushing of Al Boum Photo among them, but from a timing perspective CHACUN POUR SOI and ENERGUMENE merit special mention.
Since Timeform began returning timefigures over jumps, 68 individual horses have returned a timefigure of 160 or greater. Chacun Pour Soi can’t boast the most times that feat has been achieved - that honour goes to Un De Sceaux with seven – but no horse currently in training can match his haul of five, besides which he also has run a 159 twice. Chacun Pour Soi wasn’t his imperious self in the steadily-run Champion Chase at Cheltenham that he has been in every other race since announcing himself back at Naas in March 2019, but hopefully he’ll get the chance to show that run all wrong in 2022.
Next year’s Champion Chase already promises to be the race of the Cheltenham Festival with Energumene (whose win last week means he now has accumulated three 160+ timefigures) and Shishkin (three as well) heading up his list of opponents, not forgetting Greaneteen who finally posted the timefigure (167) he’d long promised when winning the Celebration Chase at Sandown on the final day of the last jumps season.
The new jumps season has already started, of course, and there were a couple of performances on Saturday that illustrated the usefulness of ‘partial’ times over jumps, as well as how pace influences how a race unfolds. The first was at Uttoxeter where the second race on the card went to the IRON PORT whose car-crash form figures were at odds with his strength in the market.
He won, not unexpectedly, but what was interesting about his performance was that he ran the distance from the last eighth-last hurdle (first in the straight in the two-mile race) to the finishing line faster than the winners of the other three hurdles on the card, who included the BHA 124-rated Havana Hermano. It’s unusual for the winner of a three-mile race to run a long section like this faster than shorter races, and even more so when the horse in question is running off a mark of just 78.
The last horse that caught my eye in similar circumstances was Christian Williams’ Five Star Getaway at Wincanton in March and he went on to complete a hat-trick off a mark 26lb higher than at Wincanton. Iron Port is almost certainly a long way ahead of his mark too, and he has an entry at Market Rasen this Friday under a penalty. The race is half a mile shorter than at Uttoxeter, but that ought not to bother him too much.
‘Use your eyes and not your ears’ was one of the first things drummed into me at Timeform and I was reminded of that instruction at Hexham on Saturday after Jante Law had upset the odds-on favourite Nobby.
Had I taken the word of the At The Races on-course reporter, former jockey Andrew Thornton, and not checked myself, I’d have processed the result thinking the race had been run at end-to-end gallop, when the reality was the complete opposite.
After covering the distance between the first two hurdles in pretty much the same time as the opening winner Paricolor, the pace then slowed so dramatically that Jante Law was around nine seconds slower approaching the second last. That was the race-winning point at which Jante Law was accelerated into the hurdle, landing running and pinching an advantage Nobby never looked like pulling back.
All in all, it was a wonderful front-running masterclass from top course rider Jamie Hamilton who used his local knowledge to outfox the higher-profile but course newcomer Tom Cannon to seal a result you fancy would not be repeated elsewhere.