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What have we learned from the first month of racing?

ArticleImage

Timeform's Adam Houghton discusses what we have learned in each of the key divisions since racing resumed at the start of June.

*Article first published on Thursday, 9 July

Two-year-olds

What have we learned?

It’s still relatively early days for the two-year-olds, but the evidence we have so far suggests they haven’t been negatively affected by the delayed start to the season.

Admittedly, Royal Ascot was very different for them this year, with the vast majority of the 84 juveniles who lined up at the meeting arriving there having made only one previous start.

That inevitably raised some questions as to how strong the form would be, but there was no real evidence to suggest that the quality of the races at the meeting was massively down compared to usual, at least so far as Timeform ratings were concerned.

Who is top-rated with Timeform?

The pick of the Royal Ascot winners was The Lir Jet (108p), who showed form verging on smart to reel in the speedy US raider Golden Pal in the Norfolk Stakes. He had been sold privately since breaking the all-aged course record on his debut at Yarmouth, and his performance at Ascot was again backed up by the clock.

He doesn't look the out-and-out five-furlong performer that often wins the Norfolk, either, and it would be no surprise if he had even more to offer when stepping up to six, with the Prix Morny at Deauville likely to feature on his agenda this summer.

Horse to follow

Method (100P) achieved a high rating for a newcomer when winning a minor event at Doncaster last month, travelling strongly and quickly forging clear after hitting the front two furlongs out, ultimately winning easily by four and a quarter lengths.

The time provided plenty of substance to that stylish win and he looks an exciting prospect, one who will be worth his place in a higher grade sooner rather than later.

 

 

Sprinters

What have we learned?

We have been spoilt in recent years with several top-class sprinters coming along in quick succession. Since 2015, the likes of Muhaarar, Lady Aurelia, Marsha, Battaash, Harry Angel and Blue Point have all achieved ratings of 130+ on the Timeform scale, and we were treated to some quality races between them during that time, not least a memorable renewal of the Nunthorpe that saw Marsha and Lady Aurelia separated by just a nose in 2017.

Whether this year’s crop of sprinters can come up to that level remains to be seen, but the early signs are very positive, with Battaash still looking as good as ever at the age of six and several other promising sorts coming through the ranks.

Who is top-rated with Timeform?

On Timeform ratings there is no better horse in training than Battaash (136), who memorably shattered Dayjur’s long-standing track record in the Nunthorpe last season.

He didn’t need to reproduce that level of form on his reappearance to make it third time lucky in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, making all the running to land the spoils by two and three quarter lengths, in the process going one better than when chasing home Blue Point in both 2018 and 2019.

That success made Battaash the first horse since Lochsong to complete the career set of major European five-furlong events, and it goes without saying that he'll remain mightily hard to beat if on his game, still head and shoulders above the others in this division as things stand.

Horse to follow

Saturday’s July Cup at Newmarket should give us a clearer idea of the pecking order, but another interesting contender who is yet to be tested at the top level is Art Power (122p).

He has won all three starts this season and improved again when taking the step up in grade in his stride to win the Lacken Stakes at Naas on the last occasion, putting up a very smart performance to follow up his handicap success at Royal Ascot in equally emphatic fashion.

He has plenty of options now, and, with further improvement on the cards, it will be disappointing if he isn’t well up to mixing it with the top sprinters around as the season progresses.

Milers

What have we learned?

One of the main talking points in this division has been the defeats of Pinatubo (127) in the 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes. Timeform’s highest-rated two-year-old for 25 years, he was expected to sweep all before him this season, but it’s fair to say that that bubble has been burst ahead of his retrieval mission in Sunday’s Prix Jean Prat at Deauville.

He travelled in more characteristic fashion at Ascot last time but was ultimately no match for the winner late on, strongly suggesting that he hasn’t carried his outstanding two-year-old on into his three-year-old career, high class though his level of form still is.

Who is top-rated with Timeform?

Palace Pier (131) had won in the style of a potential Group 1 horse when extending his winning sequence to three in a Newcastle handicap on his reappearance, and he duly proved himself up to that level at the first attempt, showing much-improved form to get on top of Pinatubo in the closing stages of the St James’s Palace Stakes.

That form is rock-solid, and Palace Pier was arguably value for more than the length he won by, overcoming the run of the race after being held up off a steady early gallop. He may yet have even more to offer and will continue to take all the beating in the top races at a mile (and possibly further) this season.

Horse to follow

It may have been only a handicap that Khaloosy (120p) won at Royal Ascot, but the manner in which he annihilated the opposition in the Britannia Stakes left us in no doubt that he is capable of making his presence felt in pattern company, winning by four and a half lengths with plenty in hand.

His performance was backed up by the clock, too, and the fact Khaloosy could achieve it whilst still looking rough around the edges (hung across the track) identifies him as a most exciting prospect.

Middle-distance

What have we learned?

The news that Enable (129) was staying in training as a six-year-old gave everyone a boost ahead of this season, and she produced a creditable effort when second on her reappearance in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, running to a similar level as when winning that race 12 months earlier.

She should now be spot on as she attempts to win the King George for a third time, but whether she can do likewise in the Arc looks more doubtful than it perhaps did at the start of the season. Her aura of invincibility has certainly faded somewhat after two successive defeats, while a couple of other interesting contenders for the autumn highlight have also emerged in recent weeks…

Who is top-rated with Timeform?

Wide-margin wins in Germany and Dubai had offered evidence that Ghaiyyath (133) was a top-class racehorse, while a dominant success in the Coronation Cup on his reappearance provided further proof that he was a horse of the highest calibre.

The final question the powerful front-runner needed to answer was whether he was as effective when faced with a relatively quick turnaround between races, and he did so in style in the Eclipse, putting up a career-best performance to give 3 lb and a two-and-a-quarter-length beating to Enable just 30 days after his Coronation Cup success.

The five-year-old now looks like the finished article and race fitness is not enough of a reason to suggest that Enable should reverse the form next time they meet.

Horse to follow

Love (124p) showed only useful form as a juvenile last season, but she has been a completely different proposition this year, winning the 1000 Guineas by four and a quarter lengths and then landing the Oaks by more than double that margin.

Only three Oaks winners since the start of the 20th century have scored by a wider margin than the nine lengths clocked by Love, who, in line with her pedigree, relished the step up in trip.

The performance she produced was one of the best in the race this century and she is a filly to be feared wherever connections decide to aim her, with the Arc – in which she would receive 10 lb from Ghaiyyath and 7 lb from Enable – likely to feature highly on her agenda.

  

 

Stayers

What have we learned?

The Gold Cup at Royal Ascot made it abundantly clear that there is a lack of strength amongst the stayers, with only eight runners going to post, no overseas challengers and some disappointing efforts from those who did turn up.

It could have been different but for the injury to Kew Gardens, who looked set to be a big player in this division after winning last season’s Long Distance Cup at Ascot. He has since been retired, however, which leaves us desperately in need of some fresh blood to come through and pose some sort of threat to the one who comfortably sets the standard…

Who is top-rated with Timeform?

None of the above should detract from the performance produced by Stradivarius (130) to win the Gold Cup, in the process joining Sagaro and Yeats as a three-time winner of the race.

Already established as one of the very best stayers of the modern era, Stradivarius proved better than ever in sweeping aside the opposition, spurious doubts about the ground swept away, too, his victory margin of 10 lengths surpassed in the last 75 years only by Paean on testing ground in 1987.

His toughness, durability and reliability have helped elevate him to 'favourite horse' status amongst many Flat racing fans, and he's not finished yet, with a fourth successive win in the Goodwood Cup likely to be up next.

Horse to follow

We have to look to the three-year-olds in trying to identify one with the potential to do better still in this division, namely Santiago (118p), who relished the longer trip when winning the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.

Admittedly, he showed he is not just an out-and-out stayer when following up in the Irish Derby at the Curragh only eight days later, but his proven stamina and straightforward nature make the St Leger the obvious target, a race for which he currently heads the market at around 5/2.

In the meantime, trainer Aidan O’Brien has mooted the Goodwood Cup as a possible target, a race in which he would receive 15 lb from Stradivarius in a fascinating clash.

 
 

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