Mawj gets the better of Tahiyra at Newmarket

Watch & Learn: Timefigure analysis from Graeme North

Our timefigure guru is back to reflect on the action from Newmarket last weekend and the Derby Trial at Leopardstown.

How wrong I was last week to write about the possibility of warmer weather and quicker underfoot conditions for Guineas weekend. Any warmer weather last week came in patches and lasted barely hours before being replaced by heavy cloud as has been the case so often this year, and the prospect of some welcome fast spring ground remains some way off.

Of the 60 meetings held on turf this year between the Lincoln and 1000 Guineas Day, just nine (a measly 15% of the total) have been held on ground Timeform concluded was either mostly good or good to firm while 39 (65%) were run on either soft or heavy.

Looking at Newmarket’s Rowley course by itself, where the 2000 Guineas was run for the first time this century on ground Timeform called heavy, there were no instances of Timeform calling the ground heavy at any of its meetings between 2000 and 2015 yet there have been eight instances since, suggesting to me a heavier emphasis on watering has taken hold in recent years.

Whether the controversial watering that took place at Newmarket on Thursday morning (4mm in the final mile according to the BHA website) was either necessary with so much rain in the forecast or contributed to worsening conditions on Saturday is open to debate, but the QIPCO 2000 Guineas undoubtedly lost some of its lustre because of conditions and, unsurprisingly, timefigures for the Classic weren’t straightforward to return either.

Boosted by the addition of the bet365-sponsored Mile and the Gordon Richards Stakes that had been salvaged from Sandown's card which had been cancelled due to patches of false ground, the Guineas Festival began on good ground.

The first day was slightly light on quality but wasn’t without incident with Waipiro, a horse I mentioned in this column as one to watch after the Craven meeting, withdrawn from the opener after his rider Tom Marquand had got kicked by another runner, and the closing race ending up having to be started by flag because the stalls were too dangerous to use given weather conditions.

Timeform didn’t return a timefigure for that race because a hand time suggested the race was run short of the advertised distance, but if there was a ‘headline’ figure on the day it came from the juvenile filly Soprano who posted a 91 timefigure in the same race subsequent Queen Mary winner Dramatised had taken in 2022. Soprano fell a bit short of the 102 level Dramatised reached, but she looked a decent early-season type as did the runner-up Midnight Affair who would surely have matched her had she anything like a clear run.

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Castle Way won the opening Newmarket Stakes in a 98 timefigure, always holding on after controlling the race from the front, while the two Group races, the Mile and the Jockey Club Stakes, went to Mutasaabeq and Hurricane Lane respectively in lowly 94 and 90 timefigures.

Mutasaabeq made the most of a soft lead to have the returning odds-on favourite Native Trail on the ropes a long way out, and a 24lb upgrade elevates his overall time performance to 118. That’s not good enough to win some of the top races at a mile this summer but given his speed he’d be worth a try in something like the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs.

A 10lb upgrade only lifts Hurricane Lane to 100 on time, so I’d want a bit more evidence before concluding the one-time St Leger winner is back to his best, but the 19lb upgrade given to Shouldvebeenaring in the listed King Charles II Stakes improves his overall time rating to 108. That’s not particularly noteworthy in itself, but with Yacowlef winning later at the meeting the handicap the pair finished second and third in at the Craven meeting behind Once More For Luck looks a very strong piece of form. The clock suggested it at the time and besides the winner, all of Pinafore, King's Crown, Changing Colours and Kerdos from that race are worth keeping an eye on in their next couple of starts.

After 7mm on Friday and some showers ahead of racing, Saturday began on ground Timeform called soft but changed to heavy after the Palace House and before the 2000 Guineas. Unsurprisingly given the conditions, the 2000 Guineas was run in the second-slowest time this century, only Camelot in 2012 being slower, and Chaldean’s 112 timefigure, which admittedly wasn’t the easiest to decide upon, was towards the bottom of winners in the same timeframe.


The race might have been an unsatisfactory one in the respect that several of the more fancied runners - Little Big Bear, Auguste Rodin and Sakheer to name just three - failed to give their running for various reasons, the upshot of which I imagine is that the we’ll have an even more competitive Commonwealth Cup to look forward to than might otherwise have been the case, but Chaldean still deserves some credit for beating those who did give their running, even if a couple of them (runner-up Hi Royal and third-placed Royal Scotsman) might have finished closer had they not either run a zigzag course or pulled so hard.

All the same, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that there might well be something better than him over a mile come Royal Ascot, much as Maljoom last year would have showed up those who had run in the Guineas with any luck in running. One of those horses, of course, might even be Isaac Shelby who ‘beat’ him in the Greenham after Chaldean unseated his rider leaving the stalls.

I wouldn’t take Charyn’s effort in the Guineas as evidence the Greenham form is weak, and it’s not as if he ran poorly anyway, beaten ten lengths into eighth having been drawn right away from the main action over what might turn out to be an unsuitable trip. The timefigure I returned for Isaac Shelby in the Greenham (117) was a conservative view of his winning time effort and could easily have several pounds higher, even before his upgrade is factored in. Throw out his Dewhurst effort and he’s unbeaten, and the 6/1 available about him for Sunday’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) still looks to me a very good bet.

Three other winners on the day posted a timefigure in three figures with Vadream in the Palace House Stakes scoring highest on 117. She wasn’t seen to best effect in the All Weather Finals but a return to a softer surface enabled her to confirm her Cammidge Trophy effort (114 timefigure) wasn’t a one off. Ridden from further off the pace than at Doncaster, Vadream came through late on to head the long-time leader and much improved Live In Your Dream (119) who you wouldn’t mind having on your side under faster conditions at the minimum trip.

At some point Vadream will probably bump into Azure Blue, whose win in the female-only listed sprint in 107 earlier in the afternoon suggests she’s still progressing and might yet end up turning out the better of the pair.

Conditions were less slow on Sunday after a dry night though still hadn’t quickened up enough to call the ground anything other than soft on times. Adayar unexpectedly kicked off proceedings in the Gordon Richards Stakes and the former Derby winner won convincingly without setting the clock on fire, returning a modest 100. Much more impressive in the Pretty Polly Stakes over the same distance two races later was Running Lion, who ran the mile-and-a-quarter trip not much slower than Adayar whilst running the final three furlongs around a length quicker.

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All that translates into an overall timerating of 107 which compares well with most recent winners, but her co-trainer John Gosden, who was responsible for one of the three winning fillies this century to have run a faster Pretty Polly timefigure, elected to drop that filly (Run Wild) back to a mile for her next race so it will be interesting to see where Running Lion heads next, not least given her rider Oisin Murphy mentioned afterwards he thought she would be best staying at a mile and a quarter.

Murphy ended up picking up the ride on Mawj in the big one and what a spare that turned out to be!

I’ve no doubt the 1000 form is good. A 119 timefigure is the same as Legatissimo and Winter managed and behind only Finsceal Beo and Homecoming Queen since 2000. Two of those four fillies went on to success in another Classic and Legatissimo came within a short head of doing so too, so Mawj and the runner-up Tahiyra warrant the greatest respect the going forward, not least the runner-up.

Tahiyra was confirmed late for the race and ended up running the last three furlongs over a length faster than Mawj who’d had the benefit of two runs (looking a much-improved performer) in Dubai earlier this year. She can turn the tables in the Irish 1000 Guineas at the end of this month.

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Neither the Nell Gwyn nor the Fred Darling form was advertised, but, as with many of the runners in the 2000, different conditions later in the season will show many of these fillies in a better light.

Visually, the most impressive winner of the day was Via Sistina in the Dahlia Stakes, one of many races at the meeting sponsored by Howdens. Her 104 timefigure wasn’t wildly impressive but a considerably faster last three furlongs than any of Running Lion, Adayar or Mawj managed was - and that despite her rider sitting still once she’d got to the front and easing her down. She looks high class, and no doubt has already has an engagement at the Arc meeting pencilled in.

Leopardstown’s Sunday card featured three Group races including the once-informative Derby Trial which has lost much of its importance since the days when Sinndar, Galileo, High Chaparral, Almashar and Yeats won it in successive years. The last two winners, Stone Age and Bolshoi Ballet, both ended up chasing easier targets in America after flopping in the Derby, and though Sprewell was another impressive winner on the face of it, an ordinary 94 timefigure in a time just over half a second faster than the following run-of-the-mill handicap, and a final three-furlong time that barely prompted an upgrade, suggests the form might not be up to much.

Being out of a mare who was the only top-class performer sired by the modest stallion Redback, and who won the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine, Sprewell’s connections might well have an eye on a North American campaign too and he doesn’t appeal as a realistic Derby candidate right now.

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