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TImeform Flat Awards: Pinatubo a standout in 2019

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Andrew Asquith looks back on what has been a fantastic Flat season and highlights some of the best performances of the year.

Best sprint performance: Battaash, Nunthorpe Stakes (TF performance rating 136)

When it comes to performance ratings, if there is one horse who splits the opinion more than any it is Battaash. Yes, he has been beaten twice by Blue Point in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, but when he gets his optimum conditions – a sharp track on fast ground – there is no sprinter on the planet that can compete with him from a ratings point of view.

Battaash had been a disappointing fourth in the previous two renewals of the Nunthorpe, but he righted a few wrongs in this year’s edition, winning in scintillating fashion as he once more proved himself a five-furlong performer right out of the top drawer, lowering Dajur’s long-standing track record in the process. He was aided by being towed along into the race by other speedsters on his part of the track, and he was still travelling powerfully on the bridle at halfway before going on two furlongs out and powering clear. That was the third time in his career he has posted a Timeform performance rating of 136. We know he doesn't always produce performances of that level, but in no way should that be held against him when assessing his position among the best five-furlong performers of recent memory.

Best mile performance: Benbatl, Joel Stakes (TF performance rating 129)

There has been no standout miler in the classic generation this season, hence why the best performance of the year came from the returning Benbatl in the Group 2 Joel Stakes at Newmarket in September. Benbatl had showcased his talents overseas in 2018 on a globetrotting tour which started at Meydan in January, culminating with a win in the Dubai Turf, before heading off to Munich and Australia where he was also successful in Group 1 company.

For all he had proved himself a high-class performer, there was still some scepticism as to whether he could reproduce that level of form on home soil, and that was the reason why he was sent off at 4/1 for the Joel Stakes, despite being 5 lb clear of his rivals on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings. Indeed, Benbatl proved himself a top-level performer in no uncertain terms to gain his first success in Britain since his three-year-old days, doing it in style, too, tanking along at the head of affairs before winding things up from three furlongs out and drawing clear under a hands-and-heels ride. It was a shame that conditions went against him in the QEll last time, but he will likely head on his travels again this winter, sure to be of interest when the Carnival starts at Meydan early next year.

Best middle-distance performance: Crystal Ocean, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (TF performance rating 133)

When it comes to the best performance by any middle-distance horse in Britain and Ireland in 2019, the race to focus on is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, where Crystal Ocean was beaten a neck by Enable in a thrilling finish. Enable won the race, but on the figures it was Crystal Ocean who put up the higher performance rating when taking into account the mare’s 3 lb sex allowance.

Adam Houghton took a deeper look into how Timeform handicap horses here. 

It was an epic renewal of the King George, in which stamina and willingness were tested to the full in a race run at a strong pace. The field was one of the strongest assembled this century, probably the deepest since Galileo won in 2001. The two best horses in the line-up, both trained by two masters of their profession and ridden by two jockeys at the top of their game, delivered a finish that will live long in the memory of anyone lucky enough to have been at Ascot, the tactical challenges facing Frankie Dettori aboard Enable a fascinating plot a lesser jockey was far from certain to have solved.

Best stayers’ performance: Logician, St Leger (TF performance rating 126)

Stradivarius went so close to recording another unbeaten season, but the up-and-coming stayer Kew Gardens had different plans as, fresher and more suited to underfoot conditions, he proved too strong in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October. That pair recorded a Timeform performance rating of 126, but it is another John Gosden-trained horse who takes the spoils.

Logician only made his debut in May, but he has progressed out of all recognition since, winning the Great Voltigeur and St Leger on his last two starts. The unbeaten son of Frankel stayed the mile-and-three-quarter trip well on Town Moor, for all he was plenty keen enough early before Frankie Dettori took him back and gained cover. Logician still managed to break the course record, however, and ultimately won with more in hand than the two-and-a-quarter-length margin suggests, just given one tap of the whip and quickly going four lengths clear before being eased down at the finish. His big, long stride is reminiscent of his sire and, for all he clearly stays well, he has more than enough speed and class to drop back to a mile and a half – a top-class prospect and the most exciting St Leger winner in recent years.

Best juvenile performance: Pinatubo, National Stakes (TF performance rating 134)

We have been treated some sparkling performances this season, but the star of the season – and years to come hopefully – has no doubt been Pinatubo, who has produced one of the best two-year-old campaigns in the modern era, surpassing even the likes of Frankel in terms of ratings.

He has looked something out of the ordinary, winning all six of his starts, but it was his performance in the National Stakes at the Curragh that tops the lot. A race that has been won by such luminaries as George Washington, New Approach, Dubawi and Dawn Approach since the turn of the century, all of them were eclipsed, in form terms at least, by Pinatubo who produced a performance of quite sensational authority to dismiss out of hand the winners of the Coventry and Futurity Stakes. Once again, Pinatubo's success came in a very fast time – in this case nearly 2.5 seconds quicker than the Moyglare 35 minutes earlier – and he produced the best juvenile performance since Celtic Swing's 12-length Racing Post Trophy success in 1994.

A personal highlight: Sangarius, Hampton Court Stakes, Royal Ascot

Sangarius really took the eye as a juvenile, a strong, rangy colt with scope who had three-year-old written all over him, so it was encouraging to see how much he showed in 2018, winning his first two starts before finding the Dewhurst Stakes coming too soon in his development.

Sir Michael Stoute often runs one of his better three-year-olds in the Heron Stakes at Sandown, and Sangarius made an encouraging return in that contest under a 3 lb penalty, hanging under pressure but ultimately leaving the impression he would come on for the run. Given the stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree – and the way that he shaped in the Heron – it wasn’t a surprise that Stoute ran him in the mile-and-a-quarter Hampton Court Stakes next, and he duly ran out an impressive winner. The step up in trip acted as a part-catalyst for the improvement shown, though it was his turn of foot that separated him from the pack, getting a gap two furlongs out and quickening into a clear advantage soon after.

Sangarius hasn’t been seen since – he was an intended runner in the York Stakes but connections weren’t entirely happy with him – which is a slight concern, but he remains an exciting prospect moving into a next season, and he couldn’t be in better hands, his trainer often rewarded for taking the patient approach with such types.

 

 

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