Bayside Boy looks a progressive horse
Bayside Boy looks a progressive horse

Watch & Learn: Timefigure analysis from Graeme North on a plethora of Group races

What a weekend of action in England, Ireland and France. Check out timefigure expert Graeme North's thoughts on it all.

Where to start after a week that saw 18 Group races staged in Britain and Ireland (22 if you include France), of which were seven were Group Ones (eight if you include Sunday’s Prix Vermeille)?

Seeing as last week also saw the soon-to-be-sold Timeform House open to staff for the last time, the Cazoo St Leger meeting is the poignant answer to this one given Timeform’s long association with Doncaster (the current Vertem Futurity Trophy was founded in 1961 as the Timeform Gold Cup).

One of the books I rescued from Timeform House last week tells me that ‘It is at Doncaster that a hitherto number of backward animals find their form. Horses which have not been able to act on firm going can extend themselves on Doncaster’s much kinder turf. Even in that brick hard year of 1949, Raceform was able to report the going at Town Moor as 'fairly good’.

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I must declare here and now I wasn’t around in 1949 but the ground in 2021 is rarely allowed to get anywhere near brick hard, of course. Even so, conditions on Wednesday were rattlingly fast with the last three races all quicker than the previous best for their respective distances this century.

However, the 'kinder’ and more seasonal underfoot conditions (good to soft) referred in the book (‘Homes Of Sport’) had returned on Saturday when a large crowd saw form choice and odds-on favourite Hurricane Lane take the St Leger in good style to land his fourth Group race of the season.

Hurricane Lane’s timefigure (122) doesn’t paint quite such a rosy picture as his form rating (126) but even so it’s the second best in the last ten Leger renewals behind Capri’s 123 in 2017 and by some way a personal best, bettering the 115 he posted in the Dante.

Hurricane Lane won’t get his stamina tested to quite the same extent as the Leger in the Arc, but a six-length rout in the Grand Prix de Paris and Irish Derby win earlier this summer puts him high on the Arc shortlist regardless of the losing run St Leger winners are on running at ParisLongchamp a few weeks later.

Hurricane Lane was far too strong in the St Leger
Hurricane Lane was far too strong in the St Leger

For all that a number of the feature supporting races across the four days of the Leger meeting produced some smart performances, they were by and large tactical races run in less-than-optimal times – indeed, the second-best performance on the clock all week oddly went to another Hurricane, Ivor this time, who took the Portland in a timefigure of 117 to finally win the big sprint handicap he’d promised all year on his way to Group company.

By then, he might well have crossed swords with Caturra, who recorded the second-best Group-race winning timefigure of the meeting (107) in the Flying Childers. His best two performances have come on his last two outings at five furlongs, but that’s more to do with natural progression than trip preference as he saw out the stiff six at Newbury well earlier in the summer.

Free Wind looked a very useful filly when running away with the Park Hill (the ‘fillies Leger’) by seven lengths, a performance that would probably have seen her finish placed in the main event, but a 106 timefigure attests to an ordinarily-run affair in which she showed easily the best turn of foot.

Her trainers John and Thady Gosden were also responsible for another wide-margin Group winner on the day in the shape of Inspiral, who ran right away from some substandard rivals in the May Hill for an easy success in a timefigure of 89 to cement her place at the head of the 2022 QIPCO 1000 Guineas market.

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The father-and-son combination also landed another of the week’s Group events, the Doncaster Cup, with Stradivarius but this ended up something of a non-event (winning timefigure just 91) after the next head-to-head with Trueshan was delayed yet again.

The Gosdens had the favourite for the Champagne Stakes too in the shape of Reach For The Moon, but he had to settle for second behind Bayside Boy who had looked one of the most exciting youngsters seen out when scoring on his debut at Newbury.

Reach For The Moon had some strong form and a high timefigure, even if he might have been on the best ground when coming clear in the Solario at Sandown, so it’s to Bayside Boy’s credit that he could outsprint him from a less promising position in a very respectable 101 timefigure given the circumstances. Sectional upgrades point to him being worth a further length-and-a-quarter over the winning margin.

Bayside Boy might have lost his unbeaten record to Masekela in the Denford Stakes at Newbury in the meantime but the sectionals had him the best horse by more than a length that day too and Masekela had only been a short head behind Native Trail in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket the time before.

Native Trail, of course, landed the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday in some style by nearly four lengths from the then-2000 Guineas favourite Point Lonsdale (who had edged out Reach For The Moon in the Chesham Stakes), prompting a market reshuffle in which, oddly to my eyes, Bayside Boy is still six points longer than Point Lonsdale.

William Buick riding Native Trail to victory
William Buick riding Native Trail to victory

It was an emphatic victory, certainly, Native Trail still going further ahead of Point Lonsdale at the line having taken a while to master him, and a 117 timefigure puts him clear on the clock among the juveniles in Britain and Ireland even if it didn’t quite match those posted by Pinatubo and Quorto when winning the race for the same connections in recent years.

Ebro River’s third place under a clever stamina-saving ride from James Doyle shaped the race, and that reflects even better on Native Trail who would, I fancy, have fared even better off a stronger gallop and over an extra furlong.

July and Gimcrack winner Lusail is second in the two-year-old pecking order, though Prix Morny winner Perfect Power might have something to say about that come the Middle Park.

The highest timefigure (118) at the Curragh on Sunday was returned by Sonnyboyliston in following up his history-making Sky Bet Ebor triumph with success in the Comer International Group Irish St. Leger, so ending the recent run of success for sons and daughters of Galileo in that race.

That puts him not far off Order Of St George among recent winners and would have been a perfect Melbourne Cup Trial were it not for the difficulties of travelling horses to Australia right now which seemed to deter his trainer Johnny Murtagh in a post-race Ebor interview on Racing TV.

Ben Coen celebrates on Sonnyboyliston
Ben Coen celebrates on Sonnyboyliston

Romantic Proposal (102 timefigure in the Flying Five sponsored by Derrinstown Stud after Nunthorpe winner Winter Power teed up the race for the hold-up horses after going off too hard) and Discoveries (100 in the Moyglare Stud Stakes after turning around Debutante Stakes form with runner-up Agartha) were the Group One winners on the card.

Mention should be made of Wokingham winner Rohaan who ran some cracking sectionals (more than enough to think he would have won with a clean break) after a very slow start over an inadequate trip in the Flying Five to finish fifth. He’s in better heart than his recent form figures suggest and will be of interest back at Ascot in the Sprint on QIPCO British Champions Day.

At Leopardstown the previous day the two Group Ones, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Coolmore America ‘Justify’ Matron Stakes, went to St Mark’s Basilica and No Speak Alexander respectively in lowly timefigures of 72 and 90.

The Irish Champion was for once a domestic affair with a very low turnout, albeit an intriguing one with three of the four runners being dual Group One winners, but it turned into a dash up the straight that saw St Mark’s Basilica take the runner-up Tarnawa across the track as the pair got the better of Poetic Flare.

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According to Timeform’s own sectionals, Tarnawa ran the last three furlongs marginally faster and emerges with a slightly better upgrade that, if anything, furthered her cause for the Arc. The Matron was equally as tactical and No Speak Alexander would struggle to confirm placings on another day given Timeform logged six of those behind her running the last three furlongs faster, including Mother Earth who managed to do so despite finding all the trouble going.

It’s been a good year for juveniles whose names start with Atomic and Atomic Jones became the second of his age group this year to land a pattern race when winning the grandly-titled KPG Champions Juvenile Stakes. A timefigure of just 93 and a bunched finish attests to this being muddling form too, on top of which seemingly the most-exposed runner Howth managed to run home fastest of all.

Over at ParisLongchamp, the feature event the Qatar Prix Vermeille saw Snowfall suffer her first defeat – and a comprehensive one too – of the season at the hands of Teona who had finished tenth in the Oaks but had got back to winning ways recently in a listed event at Windsor.

The sectional data provided on the France Galop website shows that Snowfall ran the last 600m 0.16 seconds faster than the winner Teona and wasn’t helped by being held up in a race not so well run as her last three. We’ll revisit this race next week, along with the other races on Arc Trials Day.

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