Kevin Blake is back with the return of UK and Irish racing and he thinks Ghaiyyath can start to prove his critics in Friday's Coronation Cup.
" A perceived lack of reputable opposition is used as a weapon. Perhaps more so than any other, failure to deliver on the biggest days is crime that is rarely forgiven. This process has been on show in no uncertain terms in the case of Ghaiyyath."
Beware the critical eye
Followers of horse racing in this part of the world can be a very tough crowd. Unlike in other countries, such as Australia where they row in en masse behind their local stars with a fervour usually reserved for religious deities, British and Irish racing enthusiasts tend to examine their racing stars with a far more critical eye.
Any potential chinks in the armour and British or Irish racing stars tend to be ruthlessly scrutinised. Inconsistency is judged very harshly. A perceived lack of reputable opposition is used as a weapon. Perhaps more so than any other, failure to deliver on the biggest days is crime that is rarely forgiven.
This process has been on show in no uncertain terms in the case of Ghaiyyath. The five-year-old has alternated between looking like a superstar to being made to look decidedly average on a start-by-start basis in the last 14 months. This has understandably led to him struggling to capture the imagination of the tough judges of Britain and Ireland. To illustrate this, I conducted a poll on Twitter yesterday evening to gauge the sentiment of the racing public on him:
When Ghaiyyath is mentioned, which one of these thoughts most closely resembles the first that comes to your mind?? Kevin Blake (@kevinblake2011) June 3, 2020
Considering Enable (128) and Beauty Generation (127) are the only two active horses in the world currently rated higher than Ghaiyyath (126), the fact that so few consider him a superstar and so many availed of the most negative option make it clear that Ghaiyyath has some way to go before he is given the credit his world-class talent warrants.
Ghaiyyath at his greatest
There aren't any great secrets when it comes to Ghaiyyath. When he gives his running, he is exceptional. The solidity of one stand-out performance by a horse will always to open to question, but on three separate occasions Ghaiyyath has looked a world-class performer. The Prix d'Harcourt at Longchamp in April 2019, the Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden in September 2019 and when breaking the track record in the Dubai Millennium Stakes at Meydan last February.
In terms of common denominators amongst those performances, they all came off the back of breaks, with a gap between runs of 126 days being the shortest leading into those efforts.
Perhaps more significantly, all of three occasions he was allowed to pretty much do his own thing in front. It took him a few furlongs to get to the lead in the Grosser Preis von Baden, but he wasn't made to work hard to get there and soon took charge. It isn't that he needs to set below-average fractions to be seen at this best, as his two most impressive performances at Baden-Baden and at Meydan were achieved after he set what was a solid pace, he just seems to enjoy an uncontested lead.
When one examines his defeats in pursuit of further understanding of his vulnerabilities, one doesn't have to dig too deep to find legitimate excuses for him.
While his defeat in the Prix Ganay last year was seen as a major disappointment at the time, his third-place finish to Waldgeist and Study Of Man was far from a poor effort given the strength of the opposition and the fact that it came just 21 days after his electric win in the Prix d'Harcourt.
His below-form run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last October is even easier to forgive. He was made to work to get to the lead having been a bit slow to find stride from the widest stall and was then pressured into going a strong pace in the middle section of the race. This inefficient distribution of energy was always going to make it tough for him at the very highest level and he had no more to give in the straight. While it is difficult to be sure how much of a factor it was, Ghaiyyath was also encountering the softest ground he ever raced on that day and it wouldn't be a surprise if that didn't suit the long-striding colt.
Thus, I can't help but think that the British and Irish racing public have been a bit tough on Ghaiyyath so far. At his best, he has been genuinely brilliant and his two highest-profile defeats have legitimate excuses attached to them. If he is to convince the non-believers as to his world-class merit, he'll need to deliver on the biggest stages going forward. I believe he will start that process in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket on Friday.
In short, the Coronation Cup looks to have all the key ingredients that have combined to see Ghaiyyath produce his very best efforts.
Firstly, he is coming into the race fresh, with this race coming 106 days after his most recent outing at Meydan.
Secondly, it looks very likely to me that he will be allowed to do his own thing in front. There is no regular front runner amongst his rivals and between all his rivals there have only been a couple of occasions throughout their careers where any of them have showed an inclination to help force the pace in a race. Given all of them are returning from breaks with the rest of the season in front of them, it is difficult to envisage any of them being fired up to upset Ghaiyyath on the front end.
Finally, a mile-and-a-half on good-to-firm ground at a track like Newmarket could well prove to be ideal for Ghaiyyath. He is a long-striding galloper that is at his happiest doing his own thing in front. He has only run over a mile-and-a-half on two occasions and one of them saw him put up arguably his best-ever effort at Baden-Baden.
For more insight on the course at Newmarket, check out Betfair's video guide in association with Timeform.
It is also possible to pick holes in his opposition.
Stradivarius put together one of the finest winning streaks of recent times up until his defeat on Champions Day at Ascot last October, but he has made a career out of out-sprinting stayers in steadily-run contests over longer trips. This will represent an altogether different test and tempo for him over what is the shortest trip he has faced in over three years. His main target is the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and one can be certain that the last thing his connections will want is for him to have a hard race just 13 days before that target. It was a surprise to see him put in as second favourite and, as popular as he is, I would expect him to drift.
Anthony Van Dyck and Broome represent last year's below-average Classic generation and both of them will need to find improvement to be factors at the very highest level in open company. Improvement can never be ruled out with horses trained by Aidan O'Brien, particularly in the case of Broome who showed plenty of promise in a light campaign last season, but neither make appeal at this stage.
Ghaiyyath's most solid rival looks to be Defoe. He is a very likeable horse and will have no issues with trip, track or ground, but his lifetime-best rating of 119 sums up the reality that he tends to fall a shade short of what is required at the very highest level. If Ghaiyyath is on his game, Defoe won't have anything for him.
Due to his supposed inconsistency and how widespread the negative perceptions of his vulnerabilities are, many in the market will approach the race with the intention of finding a reason to oppose Ghaiyyath. That negativity can be capitalised on by those that are willing to keep the faith in him, as he looks likely to go off at a bigger price than his clear superiority over his rivals suggests he should.
While Ghaiyyath may not be one that will show his full talents every time he runs, the Coronation Cup at Newmarket on Friday looks to present him with an ideal opportunity to do so. He can be backed to silence his doubters, at least temporarily.
For more of Kevin's thoughts on the Betfair Guineas weekend, listen to this week's Racing...Only Bettor podcast