It seems to have changed name but let's call the Class 3 Conditions
event at Ascot the 'Garter Stakes'. For what ought to be a major early
season target at a premier course the recent winners haven't been that
strong. The 2004 winner Prince Charming came from an unusual source in
John Gosden and ran well enough at Royal Ascot and won a Listed race in
later season. Last year's race (Result)
was contested by just useful types for the most part with the later Listed
winner Fat Boy failing as favourite prior to a longish break from the track.
Some of the renewals have been thinner than that and really were the peak
of the season's performances for precocious types.
This year's field seems a good chance to consider the issue of 'Class Levels'
again. When horses of different basic levels (say OR 65, 75, 85, 95, 105)
meet in these level weight events, with penalties for winners, it is usually
a good chance to see difference in class demonstrated. Handicaps do this
at times but they are set up to bring together horses of similar abilities
and with weight differentials according to their perceived ability. In
this sort of race if you are a '75' horse running against a '95' horse
at level weights there isn't anywhere to hide and the distances will tell
the story. If you try to 'serve it up' to a horse of a better class, with
a higher cruising speed, you will just end end making the finishing distances
wider. Perhaps better to not wake-the-dragon at all and take your 2 length
beating as it wins comfortably.
[The 2007 Preview
for the race covers Conditions Races and SPs along with 'Class Ladders'
in some detail. While there is always some form of 'self fulfilling prophecy'
at work with ratings the Class Ladder Figures and end of season ratings
(B2yoR estimates) for the runners were :- Fat Boy (83-80); Battlecruiser
(Debut, 80-17, sold 3,000gns season end); Mount Pleasure (76-73); Kersaint
(74-62); Major Eazy (72-72); Littlemisssunshine (68-70); Thunder Bay (66-64);
Sauze D'Oulx (61-61). Other than Kersaint & Battlecruiser, who had
not been paddock reviewed before Ascot, the Class profile ratings held
up well enough to be in the right order and at the right levels.].
Issues such as ground suitability, style of race, fitness & condition
can bring horses together but wont make a 75er better than a 95er although
it may well make the better horse look like it's struggling to win. Leaving
aside the newcomers in the Ascot race if you were to line up the 5 who
have run before in class order you would have Sun Ship & Skid Solo
in the same sort of area with Baycat a bit lower down. Grand Honour &
First Of Forth would be lower in the below 60 (B2yoR figures) zone. In
this instance the position on the class ladder actually follows the sales
prices with Baycat at 21,000gns intermediate in purchase price to the pair
either side of him.
In essence, looking for the winner of the race isn't much more difficult
than that. We should be looking for the best athlete(s) and then checking
that they can run to that level today. Baycat was the fittest of
the three when he met Sun Ship and Skid Solo at Newbury and outstayed them
on sticky ground. He has less scope to improve than that pair and has to
give them four pounds. The going conditions may well be the same at Ascot
with heavy rain in the south but one of those behind him at Newbury should
Preference on the day is just for Sun Ship who was less ready than
Skid Solo at Newbury and has more scope to improve. Richard Hannon
has a solid record in the race and has normally run close to his best precocious
early winning colt. He has only had one male winner to date with Bonnie
Charlie and if he's as good as the vibes suggest he will probably go to
the Windsor Conditions race in mid May. If he turns up in the Lily Agnes
at Chester it would be a bad sign qualitywise. Which means that Sun Ship
and possibly Icesolator (ran in the Newmarket Conditions race in April)
are the best of his early colts.
Skid Solo lacks the strong build of Winker Watson (debuted in the equivalent
Newbury race in 2007) and this type of race looks more his level and he
should compete strongly for the win but at limited value odds. First
Of Forth hasn't put a full race together yet and ran well enough behind
two useful types last time at Kempton to suggest he can win but this type
of race looks above his physical level. He should be staying on well at
the finish but lacking the overall class. Grand Honour is well built but
very small and has struggled for pace in two AW races around bends. Switching
to turf on a straight course isn't going to help his lack of pace and he
has looked a strong finisher in his grade who will be up to winning nurseries
at 7f around OR70-74 later int he year. But that isn't the sort of class
that should matter here.
The newcomers are an interesting group but should find the runners with
experience too tough at these weights. Hannon runs a second string with
Red Rossini who was an expensive purchase given his sire Rossini's
overall record. Likely to be a good type and a solid future winner but
a 4th+ finish here.
Brian Meehan doesn't often start 2yos in conditions races and is 0-6 for
wins in the last 4 years. However, they have usually been solid winners
at least and a certain Red Rocks was one of them when ninth in a Newbury
conditions race first go. Light The Fire is an expensive son of
Invincible Spirit out of an American sprint dam. He ought to be a solid
winner in the Deadshot Keen/Major Eazy mould if he is here but wouldn't
win FTO unless real high class.
Mark Johnston ran a Sheikh Mohammed homebred in the race last year called
Battlecruiser which was on it's debut. It looked big and usable enough
to suggest it might be alright but ran a shocker. Several more runs of
the same negative promise saw him sold off at season's end for 3,000gns
by which time he looked half the size he did at Ascot in May. What was
all that about? More of the same here with a 16,000gns purchase in Pride
Of Kings. He was bred by Floors Stud for whom Johnston trained Attraction
and this one is vaguely related to her (in the sense that we are all related
to Shakespeare at some genetic level).
Now, he has been passed on to Jaber Abdullah who has long had a privileged
position with Mick Channon and often gets useful fillies passed on to him
who were bought cheaply. Look no further back than 2007 when Group winning
fillies Nahoodh & Nijoom Dubai both cost 19,000gns and raced for him
with Channon. Does he have the same position with Johnston? The sales report
on Pride Of Kings was very, that's very, negative about his chances at
2yo and you have to stick with that unless he has entirely metamorphosed
over the winter. As we saw from the 2007 escapade a Johnston debut in this
race for a major, that's major, arab owner doesn't mean much so a very
In summary, the runners from the Newbury event look higher class
than the AW pair and the best of the unpenalised pair should prevail. Interest
for the future in two of the newcomers and let's hope, for the sales reporters'
sake, Pride Of Kings is a duff one.
The Pontefract Class 4 maiden actually has a stronger roll call
of winners and participants than the Garter Stakes and it is regularly
targeted by northern trainers to introduce better types. The 2000 winner
Atmospheric was successful in the Listed Woodcote stakes and next year
Lord Merlin went on to place in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. In 2002
the giant Sanbenito won with Windsor Castle winner Revenue in second and
older Group 3 winner Naahy in third. 2003 saw the Norfolk Stakes victor
break his maiden second go. Things have got a bit more variable since but
in 2005 Strike The Band went on to place in both the Norfolk Stakes
and the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot and in 2007 Cee Bargara went on to
be 6th in the Coventry Stakes.
A race to take seriously in profile and this year's race seems to come
down to just three contenders and a long tail of lesser types who wont
be going anywhere near Royal Ascot. Art Princess didn't particularly
impress in paddock review before her Newmarket debut and was notably immature
and lary. Her lengthier, slightly narrow set-up didn't suggest she was
a real 5f type either. In that context she appeared to run quite well in
getting from 7th to 2nd with a clear centre course run in a race with a
slow early pace and a 2f sprint at the end. The actual form level is not
strong and as much was demonstrated when the 6th (Fasliyanne) got ironed
out in an ordinary Ripon auction at the weekend. On the positive side the
4th Beat Seven saw off a similarly limited group of fillies in an auction
race on Monday. A further test of the form and while setting a reasonable
standard you suspect a better colt might have too much strength & speed
for her late on.
Which brings us nicely to the other runner who has the profile to end up
much closer to Royal Ascot. Go Nani Go is Bryan Smart's first 2yo
runner of the season. He produced his best returns with juveniles in 2007
and has looked a trainer to take very seriously when he has the right material.
The debut runners are good in the first half of the season as well and
his best record is with runners at the 5-6f sprint distances. His runner's
pedigree is good for 5f and the owner an important one for the stable.
All the right boxes ticked for this being a good debut for a better type
and targeted at this important maiden.
Michael Dods debut runner Cutting Comments is the other with the
profile to be at least an average winner and he should be ready to
compete today. Probable each-way value depending upon the price but this
is stronger than the typical average maiden that he gets debut wins in.
In summary, a race lacking depth but with real interest at the top
and two who may well be Ascot material. B2yoR wasn't quite convinced by
Art Princess at Newmarket and that form may be over-rated. In that context
it is easy to convince yourself that Go Nani Go could well be value if
he is a longer price than the filly. Perhaps he'll come with a reputation
that pushes him to favourite anyway.
The first ever 2yo race at Great Leighs is more typical fare but
it will be interesting to see if The Dial House can convert his
debut promise to an easy win. He ran behind what looked to be one of the
best 2yos seen so far at Kempton on his initial run but was a comfortable
second best and a solid debut by the trainer standards. The trainer's STO
runners have not gone well in early season and he hasn't had a winner yet
(Mount Pleasure & Cee Bargara won the same day's Ascot & Pontefract
races in 2007 for his 4th & 5th successes). But, this one looked better
quality than the earlier rabbits and should win this.
Further interest because new trainer Simon Callaghan has his first 2yo
runner with Mr Kipling. He's Neville Callaghan's son which means
he has some shoulders to stand on. While Tom Dascombe is trying to get
wins out of 5,000gns purchases like Firth Of Forth early in his career
for example the younger Callaghan starts with a filly for the Sangsters
& Greens (art dealers) in partnership. Mrs Kipling cost 55,000gns
and has just an ordinary pedigree so the price was, hopefully, more to
do with her substance that that of her 'catalogue page'. Which would be
useful since she has to do the running and carrying.
The father only got debut wins with his very best 2yos to a good approximation
and his only two since 2003 were with Excellent Art in 2006 and Gaspar
Van Wittel (probably his best 2yo in 2007 running for one of the Greens).
We can perhaps assume the same for the son and this is likely to be a solid
filly who should place but find The Dial House too tough.
Trainer Ed Dunlop has his first 2yo runner of the year with the owner bred
Barbee and he does get debut winners but usually after mid season.
She is likely to be a moderate to average type out early to compete for
the win in easier company but shouldn't be up to winning this.
Raiph Beckett must think this training palaver is an easy game. You are
pretty good at what you do anyway and they make it easier for you. You
have a type you buy at the sales which you know you can get wins with and
the better versions of it you can get to rate into the OR80s. Think Concertmaster
Needs Brass. You wander along to the 2yo breeze up sales in March at
Kempton and there is another one and you manage to buy it for £15,000
which is nothing. Someone else has kept, fed and vetted the thing for 6
months longer that if you bought it as a yearling. Plus, they have had
to break it for riding and do the initial build-up training.
So, you get your £15,000 bargain home and get it out of the box and
try it out to see what's wrong with it. The answer is nothing and you have
another usable 2yo of the type & colour you like to impress an owner
with. It gets called Missile Dodger (picture)
and you enter it at Leicester but take it out because Noseda and Chapple-Hyam
have some useful kit in opposition. Instead run it at Bath 4 days later
and let it run away from an ordinary group and stand around in the winners'
enclosure looking pretty pleased with yourself. And, Why Not? Where were
all the experts when you were buying this one for £15k?