Weights & Measures: Harry’s game
Ian Ogg stands in for Ben Linfoot and rounds up the latest BHA ratings amendments following the weekend's action.
Unowhatimeanharry: Well on course to dominating the Stayers' Hurdle division
Unowhatimeanharry >>>> Up 2lbs to 167
Ballyoptic >>>> Up 3lbs to 162
Un Temps Pour Tout >>>> Down 2lbs to 154
West Approach >>>> Up 10lbs to 149
We're back to the Stayers' Hurdle from the World Hurdle but whatever the name, the race stays the same and it's one for which Unowhatimeanharry is the general 5/2 favourite.
His story is a remarkable and well documented one as he had his first start for Harry Fry in November of last year when rated just 123; seven victories later, including two Grade Ones, the eight-year-old is fully 44lbs higher on 167.
His rating is certainly high enough to win the Cheltenham contest as he's just 1lb below the rating of last year's winner Thistlecrack and higher than the three winners that preceded Colin Tizzard's star.
Visibility throughout the day all over the country was minimal as Fry drew attention to in the post-race reports saying: "We're relying on the jockey's report, but Barry said it was a proper Grade One test and he's had to work hard."
Certainly Richard Johnson felt that final flight faller Ballyoptic, who was six lengths behind Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury, would have given the winner a race although he did stop short of claiming victory was a foregone conclusion. His view has been backed by the handicapper who raised Nigel Twiston-Davies' runner by 3lbs, leaving him just 5lbs shy of the winner.
Obviously, he has fallen in two of his three starts this year but he's had just eight career starts, 12 fewer than his rival, and is arguably open to just as much improvement if not more yet he's as big as 25/1 for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
Barry Geraghty obviously feels Unowhatimeanharry is also open to yet more improvement and he's obviously surprised his jockey who said after Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle: "It was a bigger performance than we expected. We thought he had a chance, but he did it really well."
That was the first time that he'd ridden the Sir Harry Lewis gelding in a race and he seems to be warming to him, saying after Ascot: "He's very good, but he only does as much as he has to. He probably has a little more class than he lets on."
That ability to keep a little back is no bad thing and he fully deserves his position at the head of the market for all that you can quibble about the price.
The pair could lock horns again in the Cleeve Hurdle, a race which has been an excellent guide to the Stayers', and it will be fascinating to see if Ballyoptic can close the gap again.
"It's hard to escape the feeling that Brain Power is similarly flattered by his mark as relatively few runners got into the race and he was always well positioned by Danny Mullins."
The admirable Lil Rockerfeller was left unchanged on 160 but the novice West Approach, who was in fourth when unseating at the last when distracted by Ballyoptic's fall, was raised 10lbs to 149.
He had made a bad mistake in his previous race (won by Wholestone) so it's hoped his confidence hasn't been knocked but his run at Ascot certainly adds more substance to Wholestone's form. Given the way that he has been campaigned this season, it seems unlikely that he would have been going down the handicap route and he's likely to have another crack at the Albert Bartlett in which he was well beaten at 66/1 last season.
Brain Power >>>> Up 13lbs to 162
Consul De Thaix >>>> Up 5lbs to 140
Fergall >>>> Up 4lbs to 140
Chesterfield >>>> Down 1lb to 133
Jolly's Cracked It >>>> Down 3lbs to 144
Nicky Henderson has a good record in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle and saddled a one-two with Brain Power producing a dominant display that has seen the handicapper take drastic action.
A slow learner (his owner has called him 'really stupid') who has taken a while to get his act together, he's certainly on a steep upward curve but will need to be in order to live up to his revised mark. To put his new rating into some sort of context, he is now 5lbs higher than last season's Neptune second Yanworth who is 10/1 for the Champion Hurdle and as low as 7/1 for the Stayers' Hurdle.
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In contrast, Brain Power is 25/1 to lift the two mile crown so it seems that neither the bookmakers nor the betting public are in agreement with the handicapper but that race does now seem to be the obvious port of call given his rating which is unlikely to come down (assuming he fails to run to a similar level) before March.
In last year's Champion Hurdle, the only runner rated higher than 162 was Camping Ground who had earned his mark with his dominant display in the Relkeel Hurdle on heavy ground.
It's hard to escape the feeling that Brain Power is similarly flattered by his mark as relatively few runners got into the race and he was always well positioned by Danny Mullins. He's clearly a talented horse, Henderson has always said as much, but it's hard to believe that he's as good now as his current mark implies.
In contrast, there should be more to come from Consul De Thaix and Golden Spear who both raced further back than the winner and third, Fergall. The latter, who wore cheekpieces for the first time, provides a decent yardstick having finished fourth behind Sternrubin (down 1lb to 143) on his previous start but he lacks the scope of the other pair who both remain nicely treated.
The latter came from a long way back and wasn't suited by the way that the race panned out but he wasn't all that far behind the second jumping the first flight in the home straight and didn't pick up as well as the four-year-old.
Consul De Thaix may have been put up by 5lbs but he is progressing with every start – this was just his fifth – and it will be disappointing if he can't win a nice prize before the season's out. Obviously the Betfair Hurdle would come under consideration after this run and we've seen a couple of owner JP McManus' novices run well in that handicap before going on to perform equally well in novice company at the Cheltenham Festival.
At the moment, he's not quoted for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle but a mark of 140 leaves him only 5lbs below Friday's Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle winner Capitaine (raised 5lbs. Fourth home Lough Derg Spirit, 33s for the Supreme, has been allotted an initial mark of 134) who is a 25/1 chance.
Perhaps that's stretching a point but last year's Triumph, in which he was 10th on his second start in Britain at 33/1, is working out quite nicely and he's progressing well.
Several of those behind were eased and the one that takes the eye is Chesterfield, stablemate of third home Fergall.
Their trainer Seamus Mullins has also saddled Song Light to finish third in the Greatwood this season so has a useful team of two mile handicap hurdlers and this six-year-old, who was having his first start in almost two years, looks a good buy out of John Ferguson's stable.
Decent on the Flat and with very few miles on the clock, this run suggests that he retains all of his ability and 133 is a mark from which he should be competitive. On his final start for Ferguson, he fell at the last leaving Cloonacool and Violet Dancer to fight out the finish and the former is now rated 140 over fences (his highest hurdle mark was 136) while the latter won the Betfair Hurdle from a mark of 132 just two starts later.
"The hardest task of the day fell to Michael Harris in assessing the finale at Haydock, a race where no winning distances or winning time were able to be recorded."
Best of the rest
Regal Encore had failed to complete in five of his seven starts prior to winning the Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup at Ascot but he has always had ability and flew home to win the sixth race of his career (from a highly respectable 24 starts).
An 8lb rise to 150 leaves him on a career high mark which is one that he could conceivably defy as when he's good, he's very good. The obvious problem being his rather inconsistent profile.
McManus also owned fourth home Another Hero (up 2lbs to 136) who is unexposed as a staying chaser. This was a marked step up from his reappearance at Chepstow and he can continue to progress and the three mile handicap at the Festival is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Runner-up Minella Dandy (+3 to 145) was possibly an unlucky loser as he lost momentum when hampered by a loose horse at the last. Only six rising seven, this novice had won his previous two and has more to give.
Third home Tenor Nivernais (+2 to 152) has yet to convince he stays that three mile trip but ran right up to his best; he won't be easy to place.
Irish Saint also had his stamina to prove and the handicapper has given him every chance by dropping both his chase and hurdles marks to 148 and 145 respectively. This was just his second run back from a long absence – he caught the eye on the first – and the seven-year-old deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Neither Fletchers Flyer (-2 to 142) nor The Druids Nephew (-2 to 146) got into the race but both were having their first starts of the season and have stated targets further down the line with both trainers working back from the spring.
I doubt that either handler will object to their treatment and the latter is back down to the mark from which he won at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival and some 10lbs below his career high; he's starting to look very well treated.
The handicapper could do little else other than bump Yala Enki up by 10lbs (to 149) after his decisive success in the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at Haydock. He had unexposed or well treated rivals well beaten off in second, third and fourth and clearly goes well in testing ground at Haydock.
It would be no surprise to see him back at the track next month for the Peter Marsh Chase.
The hardest task of the day fell to Michael Harris in assessing the finale at Haydock, a race where no winning distances or winning time were able to be recorded.
It looked a really good race beforehand and one that could throw up plenty of winners but how it unfolded on the track is anyone's guess with the horses rarely sighted throughout!
Clyne had won his previous two and now has five wins from eight starts; he may have been fortunate to escape with a 3lb rise for his victory. Runner-up Le Rocher, was having his second start since January 2014 and a 1lb rise to 138 still leaves him 3lbs shy of his initial mark as a juvenile when he was a winner at Grade One and Two level.
Both runners have shown their best form under testing conditions and should continue to be followed through the winter but third home El Terremoto (unchanged on 132) has proved himself to be more versatile and he may not have finished improving yet.
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