Read Graeme North on City Of Troy's Derby win
Read Graeme North on City Of Troy's Derby win

Timefigure analysis from Graeme North on City Of Troy and the rest of Epsom

Our timefigure guru Graeme North analyses the big action from Epsom last week. So just how good is City Of Troy?

Two Derbies; One Oaks. I can’t say that any of the three Classics that took place across Britain and France this weekend looked vintage renewals beforehand but this great game of ours never fails to surprise and I think it’s safe to say we emerged with three exceptionally good winners. I’ll cover the action from Epsom here but will leave events at Chantilly until Sunday when my next new French-centric column, a review and preview of French Flat action for those who are unaware, is published.

‘But when all is said and done Nature intends her model horse to gallop up and down hills with facility. If a horse cannot, because of some physical malformation, however slight, gallop at his best at Epsom then no matter how brilliant he may be on a course that is straight and flat, he is not a perfect racehorse. The horse that wins the Derby is in nine cases out of ten a rattling good horse. Don’t forget, either, that he has not been upset by the hubbub of half a million people and that therefore his temperament is probably sound. Thus he is worthy to perpetuate, possibly to improve, the breed’.

So wrote John Rickman in ‘Homes of Sport: Horse Racing’ a fascinating book to which I have referred several times before and though the hubbub generated by the much thinner crowds these days – worryingly low on Derby Day itself this year - isn’t anywhere near as wild as it once was much of what Rickman wrote still holds true.

Whether City of Troy is near to deserving the accolade of the perfect racehorse after his 2000 Guineas flop might be a question best left unanswered until later in the season but his trainer Aidan O’Brien (never one to leave a hyperbolic stone unturned, admittedly) was very fulsome in his praise of the horse after the Derby, declaring him the best horse he and the Coolmore gang have ever had.

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He might yet be, of course, and while the 125 Timeform performance rating he ran to as a two-year-old (backed up by an identical overall timerating after sectional upgrades had been applied to his bare timefigure) was as good as any juvenile O’Brien has had through his hands, a 127 rating for his Derby win still leaves him shy this century of not only the mighty Galileo (who won the race in 2001 by three-and-a-half lengths) but High Chaparral and Camelot too among his Derby winners.

Camelot achieved the highest Derby timefigure of that trio – 128 compared to 126 for Galileo and 123 for High Chaparral – but City Of Troy comes in close at 124 which is the eighth fastest winning timefigure in the race this century and the fastest since Golden Horn in 2015. As regular readers of this column will know, however, bare timefigures don’t always tell the full story of a race and the Derby result takes on a different look when sectional upgrades are applied.

In what was a very strongly run affair, far more strongly run through the punishing uphill early stages than recent Derbies, the exertions of those who sat off the pace or raced too close to it manifested themselves in some very different finishing speeds and upgrades.

Those finishing speeds - 110.99 for the well-paced City of Troy, 107.65 for the runner-up Ambiente Friendly and 105.10 for the third-placed Los Angeles as calculated by Timeform from the path at the top of the straight – translate into upgrades of 0lb, 3lb and 8lb respectively and suggest on the face of things there’s much less between the runners than the result would suggest (City of Troy’s overall timerating remains at 124 while both Ambiente Friendly and Los Angles climb to 122).

That said, it seemed to me that City of Troy was value for a fair bit extra on the day having taken a hold through the early stages yet still having enough in reserve to run the fastest last furlong by 0.3 seconds (getting on for two lengths) according to Course Track. Viewed in that light, it may well be that City Of Troy retains the potential to be become his stable’s all-time great.

Among the also-rans, Dancing Gemini probably ended up running in the wrong race looking a non-stayer despite being settled well off the pace and connections will no doubt wish they had targeted the French Derby instead, not that the French 2000 Guineas form received much of a boost anywhere over the weekend, while Ancient Wisdom failed to handle the track unsurprisingly given his action and never threatened. Euphoric was another who did too much too soon and can be marked up significantly but that’s twice in a row now he’s had a very hard race from the front.

Voyage could still shine on big stage

It's a truism of this game particularly for those of us who are required put our opinions on the line that in order to look clever at times you have to be prepared to look stupid at others and at the risk of looking very stupid I’d argue that the most eye-catching performance in the Derby was that put up by the riderless Voyage.

Unseats are rare on the Flat – there have been just 20 this year in Britain and Ireland, for example – and the performances of those unfortunate to suffer that fate tend to get overlooked, in most cases understandably.

In my experience, horses that unseat on the level tend to run freely, usually running themselves out to some degree - witness Chaldean in the 2023 Greenham and Cannonball in the same year’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee- but it’s not often that you see a horse get left, overtake the whole of the field in the strongest-run part of the race (while climbing steeply uphill) and then maintain his lead all the way to the line and even threaten to increase it as Voyage did approaching the final furlong.

I suspect he’s an extremely talented horse who would have been well worth his place under different circumstances and I wouldn’t be taking him lightly when he’s next seen, though whether Ascot (he’s in the King Edward VII) will come too quick after these exertions is a question connections will have to debate.

Ezeliya wins the Betfred Oaks
Ezeliya wins the Betfred Oaks

The preceding day the Oaks (on ground that was slower than the Derby) was also strongly run and saw the winner Ezeliya return a 117 timefigure so ending the supposed hoodoo for Dubawi-sired runners in the Epsom classics (he also sired the runner-up Dance Sequence for good measure).

That’s a solid figure by historical comparison, though whether she’s quite as superior to Dance Sequence as this run might make her look is open to debate. From a stout Aga Khan staying family, Ezeliya is the much stronger stayer of the pair for sure but looking at the figures Dance Sequence ran over the last two furlongs and In particular the last furlong I’d be inclined to credit her with a 4lb upgrade which would slot her in just behind the winner and make her a big player against her own sex for the remainder of the year dropped to a mile and a quarter.

You Got To Me also comes out with a significant upgrade on this particular metric, enough for her overall timerating to be elevated to 109 rather than the bare 103 she posted, while pace-setter Making Dreams is another to whom the result doesn’t do justice. Ylang Ylang has run overall timeratings that would have put her in the mix but clearly didn’t give her running and she’d have had to run a clear career best to have beaten Ezeliya anyhow.

The Coronation Cup on the same card was run in almost identical time to the Oaks but panned out very differently with Luxembourg able to set such a steady pace that he was able to run five of the last six individual furlongs faster than Eliziya according to Course Track despite runner-up Hamish running each of the last two furlongs even faster still but a tiny upgrade on the top of a modest 104 timefigure suggests this is unreliable form.

As for the rest of Epsom, Teej A won a very weak-looking Woodcote in a slow time (67) while Two Tempting was paced perfectly from the front to land the following handicap in an up-to-scratch 95. Bolster clocked a time (103) about 10lb inferior to his form rating before the Oaks but Evade (107) showed he’s a three-year-old to be reckoned now he’s with Archie Watson (formerly with Andre Fabre) not that the best of his juvenile efforts in France were too shabby either with a faster 600m in his locker than star juvenile Beauvatier in the Prix La Rochette in his locker.

Evade edges out Native American
Evade edges out Native American

King's Gambit form franked

Persica (92) gave the form of the London Gold Cup at Newbury won easily by King’s Gambit a boost in the opener on Saturday for all he hadn’t been ridden to best advantage in that contest, settled too far back then asked to run a stupidly-fast third-last furlong according to Course Track (sub 11 seconds!) before emptying out, but even so King’s Gambit looks an Ascot winner in waiting, probably in the Group Three Hampton Court which the stable won with Time Test (who’d also won the London Gold Cup) in 2015.

Breege won the Listed Princess Elizabeth in a very useful 101 timefigure, while Royal Scotsman (finally given his head) showed his 2022 sectional efforts when easily the best horse in the Dewhurst won by Chaldean to be a powerful predictor of his ability when he took the Diomed Stakes in a smart 115 timefigure. I was very pleased to see my old friend Gemma Tutty continue her great year when landing the 3-y-o Dash with the transformed Blue Storm about whom she spoke so intelligently post-race though a 6lb rise will make his task a fair bit harder in the Palace of Holyrood.

Finally, there’s not been a more innovative addition to the racing calendar in recent years then the Sky Bet Sunday Series and there were two notable performances in the unlikely surroundings of Hamilton Park in the latest round with both the opening two-year-old winner Catalyse and the five-furlong sprint handicap winner Desperate Hero creating deep impressions.

Richard Fahey used Hamilton as a warm-up for his Norfolk winner Perfect Power and he looks to have another Ascot candidate in Catalyse. He wasn’t blinding fast on overall time – though he had been at the Goffs Breeze Up sale where he was one of the top five fastest breezers – but his sectionals were smart enough to make him a Timeform ‘sectional flag’ horse.

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Desperate Hero wasn’t deserving of anything other than a minimal upgrade but that’s hardly surprising given that he posted a 114 timefigure in the five-furlong handicap. He’s due a substantial hike in the weights for this effort but that’s a phenomenal figure for Hamilton Park and he’s clearly better than a sprint handicapper, at least on fast ground. Indeed, only six horses this century have posted a timefigure of 100 or more at the Scottish venue this century and the horse who held the previous record (113) was none other than Emaraaty Ana finished second in the Nunthorpe and won the Betfair Sprint Cup on his next two starts.

Desperate Hero might have grabbed all the headlines but further back in the field there was a very promising run from Moon Flight on his return from nearly three months off. He was left with a bit to do and never threatened but the Course Track sectionals have him running the fastest third furlong of the race by some margin (Desperate Hero ran the second furlong as well as last two quickest according to them) and in view of the resultant timefigure for the winner that’s some effort in a grade higher than he is eligible for.

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