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Ratings Update: Sandown tells of Tiara's rise and Sacre's fall

Keith Melrose gives the latest ratings news from Sandown, covering both the Flat and jumps cards there last week.

When the Celebration Chase was bumped up to Grade 1 status in 2014, more cynical observers saw it as an attempt to tempt then-Champion Chaser Sprinter Sacre, who had ended his season at Punchestown in 2013.

Were they right? I’m not so sure. But if they were, they presumably see some bitter irony in the notion that the race purported to tempt the legend of Sprinter Sacre has ended up burying the legend of Sprinter Sacre.

In a race where he held no excuses- no lack of fitness, no bounce factor- Sprinter Sacre could run to only 158 and remains rated (163) on his second to Dodging Bullets at Ascot in January. Horses have bad seasons, but it’s extremely rare that a horse will run three times in a season, never get within two stone of his best, and ever return to that level. Not even Kauto Star managed that: there was only 10lb between his best run in the dip of 2010/1 and the recovery of 2011/2.

The fact we’ve talked about Celebration Chase runner-up Sprinter Sacre and not winner Special Tiara (167) is not meant as a slight. Special Tiara has confounded doubts at every turn since Christmas and deserves to be treated as a Grade 1 chaser. He might even have been champion material next year had the division remained stagnant. However, Un de Sceaux (169p) for one is unlikely to let that happen and it’s that sort of prospect that blunts hope for Special Tiara and Sprinter Sacre in 2015/6.

***

Besides the Grade 1 Celebration Chase, none of the other contests on Sandown’s season-ending card would be a reliable provider of ratings discussion- at least not until a time when they’re afforded similar status.

The highlight, the bet365 Gold Cup Chase, is a handicap and with Bobs Worth having his own Sprinter Sacre moment (he’s now rated ?) and Unioniste having too much use made of him, there were no high ratings recorded. It’s suspected that the strong pace suited the first two, Just A Par (142) and Vics Canvas (143), who were both played late. The runner-up at least deserves credit for recording successive career-bests at the age of 12.

The Oaksey Chase earlier on the card provided some of the best performances on the day, albeit without teaching us a great deal. Menorah (169) ran creditably to round off arguably the season of his career with a victory over fellow top-tier performer Al Ferof (166). However, the proximity of Third Intention (156§) and Pepite Rose (148), who’ve both been exposed at the top level, keeps the form down.

Of course, much of the interest at Sandown on Saturday centred on retiring Champion Jockey AP McCoy. Neither Mr Mole nor Box Office, his two final mounts, warrant much time here. However, we'll stop to mention that McCoy very nearly saved the best till last. Don Cossack, his penultimate winner in the Melling Chase earlier this month, was the only horse to break the 180 barrier with McCoy on its back. Until then, the best performance from an AP mount had come in defeat: Denman in the 2010 Gold Cup.

***

Sandown’s two-day meeting now includes a full Flat card on the Friday. What hasn’t changed is the variance in how interesting the Group races on the card can be. This year would probably be regarded as slightly below-average.

Only Western Hymn (120), winner of the Gordon Richards Stakes, really improved his rating and even that isn’t the most solid. We’ve taken a fairly conservative view of his success over Postponed (125) and Cannock Chase (118p), both of whom seemed less ready for the day than he was. Bigger days probably lie ahead for both, remembering the trajectory on which they both finished 2014.

Custom Cut (124) and Here Comes When (121) both picked up precisely where they left off in 2014 and, though it’s feasible either could do a little better, it would have been more exciting had the younger Shifting Power (118) delivered what was expected. As it is, all three are expected to find themselves caught in the gap between Group 2s and Group 1s.

The Classic Trial was arguably the most disappointing race of all: odds-on favourite Commemorative (108) flopped completely and Master Apprentice (105), the only runner without a classic entry, came out on top. The race was a muddling affair, with plenty of credit going to winning rider David Probert, and isn’t expected to prove a reliable form guide.

 
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