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21st May 2013 - SOCIETY ROCKS THE KNAVESMIRE
|Society Rock wins the
Duke of York Stakes
In this week's Blog, Stewart Copeland assesses Society Rock's victory in the Duke of York Stakes, whilst Stephen Hindle explains Mad Moose's rise in the weights following his second to Mount Athos in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester.
SOCIETY ROCKS THE KNAVESMIRE
Plenty of runners and plenty of quality was the order of the day in this year’s renewal of the Group 2 Clipper Logistics Duke of York Stakes, the first major turf sprint over six furlongs of the season on these shores. The weather was unseasonably cold and wet, with a strong headwind as well, which meant conditions were tough for all at the Knavesmire, both equine and human, writes Stewart Copeland.
A total of 17 went to post, and at least seven of the field had already shown a level of form good enough to win an average renewal. It was one of those, Society Rock, who triumphed on the day, which made up for a somewhat unlucky defeat in the race last year.
Society Rock’s rating of 117 meant he was the joint highest rated British sprinter in last year’s World Thoroughbred Rankings and with his victory here, he showed himself as good as ever. Carrying a 5lb penalty for his success in the 6f Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock last September, he got the better of a stirring finish with Lethal Force to prevail by a head. This meant Society Rock comes out a 6lb better horse than the runner-up, who’s rated 111 on the strength of his success in the 7f Group 2 Betfred Hungerford Stakes at Newbury last year. A rather neat fit you could say, and Society Rock’s winning performance was as good as a performance we’ve seen in this race over the past decade.
Back in third place a further one and a quarter lengths behind was the Irish-trained Gordon Lord Byron. The highest rated in the field at 118 based on his win in the 7f Group 1 Foret Stakes at last year’s Arc meeting, which also meant he had to shoulder a Group 1 penalty as well. I have him running to 113 and he emerges with plenty of credit as his low draw seemed a disadvantage, given he raced away from the main pace down the centre of the track, which the first two tracked.
Arguably the unlucky horse of the race though was Hawkeyethenoo. Travelling strongly just off the pace, he looked set to throw down a possible winning challenge when denied a clear run over a furlong out. Once in the clear inside the last he finished strongly to finish a further nose back in fourth. With an uninterrupted passage he would have surely gone close. Currently rated 112, I have him running to 108 but given the trouble he encountered I’ve left his rating unchanged.
The above may all renew rivalry in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot next month, with Society Rock trying to repeat his success of 2011, and regain the crown he relinquished to the wonderful mare Black Caviar last year. With another likely strong overseas challenge as well this year, it promises to be a fascinating affair.
THE MAD PROFESSIONAL?
In an article printed in the Racing Post on Wednesday 15th May under the headline “Mad Moose owners hit out over ratings rise”, my revised handicap mark for the gelding after his second in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester was described as “crazy” by Tom Palin from Middleham Park Racing, which owns the gelding, writes Stephen Hindle.
Another member of the syndicate, Nick Bradley, suggested via his Twitter feed that I “must have been watching a different race” to him. They didn’t bother to contact me for an explanation before blasting the change via their respective forms of communication, but for those of you who are interested in how I came to the new rating, I will do my best to explain.
The winner of the Ormonde, Mount Athos, is a high-class individual who has a rating of 117, and won as easily as his mark suggested he should given the disappointing performance of the favourite, Memphis Tennessee. Mr Bradley accuses me in the article of reading everything literally, by which I assume he thinks I have not factored in extra for the winner’s style of victory. I can assure him that I have, as otherwise the rating for Mad Moose would have been nearer 105. I certainly haven’t taken the 14 lengths back to third-placed Communicator literally, as then it would have been somewhere around 115 and the winner would have gone up.
As with many small-field non handicaps, the form is open to doubt, and it may well be that I have rated it too high or too low. Just as when Mad Moose made his Flat debut at Doncaster, however, I was committed to coming up with a figure, and to do that I not only took the ratings of the winner and the third into account, but also race averages, which are a common tool for handicappers when assessing races that are difficult to evaluate.
To understand race averages, I should quickly point out that we use “performance ratings” to help us compile our official ratings. Performance ratings are essentially a measure of a horse’s performance in an individual race relative to other horses. From 2008 to 2012 inclusive, the average performance rating of the runner-up in the Ormonde is 104. For the third it is 101, which actually suggests I’ve taken a conservative view of Mad Moose’s run.
The “crazy” part of the article refers to the fact that Mad Moose is a jumps horse now rated 100 on the Flat. He may have started his career under National Hunt rules, but as far as I’m concerned, racehorses are racehorses and should be judged on what they do on the track. Some make better jumpers and others make better Flat horses, but more often than not if a horse shows a decent level of ability in one code it does in the other too. Sticking with Chester, Ile de Re was rated 123 over hurdles before winning last year’s Chester Cup, then won off a Flat mark of 101 in the Northumberland Plate next time out. Mad Moose is currently rated 143 over fences and 139 over hurdles. He finished second to none other than Sprinter Sacre in a Grade 1 chase at Cheltenham in January.
Admittedly, “The Black Aeroplane” was, as usual, untroubled but Only Sizing Europe and Cue Card have finished closer to him this year, so is it really crazy to think Mad Moose could perform to 100 on the Flat?
I admit that a 21lb rise is a hefty amount in one go, but let’s remember we are talking about a horse who’d had only one previous run on the Flat, not one who’d been beaten off 79 in handicaps half a dozen times in succession. The less that is known about a horse’s form, and those of some of its rivals, as at Doncaster, the more the likelihood of initial assessments being wide of the mark increases. The Doncaster race has worked out very well so far, and I have gone back and raised the level twice since taking my initial view.
Apparently, the reason Mad Moose’s connections were so dismayed is because they wanted to run him in the 0-95 Ascot Stakes. Mr Bradley is quoted in the Racing Post article as saying “he won’t get in now”, which is interesting as even if he were on 95 now, they would still have to give him at least one more run on the Flat due to the value of the race.
Let’s pretend for a moment that Mad Moose’s connections had their hearts set on another race at Royal Ascot, the Queen Alexandra Stakes, and that Mad Moose were on 95 or less. That particular contest is subject to an elimination sequence if oversubscribed, and the lowest rated horses on the Flat are eliminated first. In the unlikely event that a mass of 95+ horses were entered, including Ormonde third Communicator, I wonder if Middleham Park Racing would be up in arms over the fact that Mad Moose would be at risk of being balloted out in favour of the 96-rated Communicator, having beaten him at Chester.
As public handicappers we are supposed to favour the majority over the minority. Qualified for the Ascot Stakes or not, if I rate Mad Moose 95 when I feel he is more deserving of 100, it would be unfair on the connections of other horses in the Ascot Stakes and it would deny another horse a run in the race. One of the few downsides to this job is that many owners and trainers, perhaps understandably but frustratingly for us, have eyes only for their own horses when airing their views.
GLEN'S DIAMOND SPARKLES IN YORKSHIRE CUP
In more recent news, a much easier race to assess was the Group 2 QIPCO Yorkshire Cup, with Glen’s Diamond clinging on by the narrowest of margins.
Glen’s Diamond seems to relish this contest, having turned in what was at the time a career best when finishing runner-up to Red Cadeaux in it last year. He started a 25/1 outsider of eight in both runnings, but defied those odds this time round in a thrilling finish, passing the post a nose in front of Top Trip.
There was something of an international feel to the first three, with Glen’s Diamond trained in Britain, Top Trip in France and third-home Royal Diamond in Ireland. Returning Glen’s Diamond to his previous highest mark of 113 seemed the obvious thing to do as that would have Top Trip and Royal Diamond running very close to their recent figures.
Despite being a lower class event, I rated the win of Willing Foe in the following day’s Listed JLT Aston Park Stakes more highly.
Willing Foe had looked a horse going places when taking the Ebor last year, when he had Royal Diamond back in second. He met with defeat on his final three starts of 2012 but possibly wasn’t ideally suited by the soft ground and, back on firmer turf on his reappearance, he stretched six lengths clear of the 110-rated Harris Tweed at Newbury.
I doubt Harris Tweed ran to his mark but there was little getting away from a fairly lofty figure for Willing Foe with nothing in the race, save for the 85-rated Saint Hilary in sixth, holding down the form.
Using race averages as a guide, anything above 115 would be a significantly high figure for this event. I think Willing Foe is a very talented horse, but 116 or higher would put him on a par with some of the Group 1 stayers I’ve seen over the past 12 months or so, and I felt happier slotting him in just behind those for now.