Handicappers' Corner: Strong Suit holds aces on Future Champions Day
Strong Suit wins the Challenge Stakes easily.
"Strong Suit is more likely to tackle instead the more speed-favouring Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which he will have just 1lb to find with Goldikova on adjusted ratings."
Future Champions Day was the highlight of the racing in Europe this weekend, but, with neither the Middle Park nor Dewhurst producing a commanding winner, it's most unlikely that Timeform's Champion two-year-old was in action. We may, however, still have seen a top-class colt, as David Johnson reveals.
The Challenge Stakes is rarely one of the stronger Group 2s of the season - no surprise given its proximity to the Prix de la Foret - and in terms of depth the latest renewal was again nothing special. However, it was very difficult not to be impressed with Strong Suit, who gave weight (including to older rivals) and a handsome beating, earning a rating of 131 in the process.
That rating is on the conservative side as well: race standards and prior-ratings standards point to a slightly higher figure. Third-placed Maqaasid is considered to have run close to her previous 112 figure, but none of the others was up to their best.
Strong Suit would have been well worth his place in the QEII next week but is more likely to tackle instead the more speed-favouring Breeders' Cup Mile, in which he will have just 1lb to find with Goldikova on adjusted ratings.
Goldikova went down by a head to Dream Ahead in the Foret last week, and the latter had been a nine-length winner of the Middle Park the year before. Expecting a similar performance in this year's renewal of the Middle Park was always asking a lot, and with just a length covering the first six home, it is a race that throws up as many questions as answers.
Race standards for the Middle Park give a wide range, and Crusade's rating of 114p is slightly below average. In fact, Bannock recorded a rating (113) good enough for Middle Park second when winning a listed contest at York over the same trip less than an hour later. That said, the most meritorious performance in the race came from Caspar Netscher, who's strong-finishing effort after meeting trouble suggested he was unlucky not to win, and he's been rated accordingly, earning him a rating of 115.
The Dewhurst looked little stronger, with pre-race top-rated Power some way short of the standard required for an average renewal, and there was just over a length covering the first five home, Parish Hall edging ahead of Power and the maiden winner Most Improved.
Parish Hall was Jim Bolger's fourth Dewhurst winner from the last six renewals. In truth, the colt looks more of an Intense Focus than a New Approach, particularly considering he might have had an advantage racing on the stand rail. That latter comment also applies to Autumn Stakes winner Rockinante, given a rating of 109.
The Rockfel hasn't been won by a subsequent classic winner since Finsceal Beo in 2006, but Wading looks like having a chance of putting that right. She ran to a bare figure of 112+ but is now rated 116p following her impressive beating of Pimpernel by two lengths in a time fractionally faster than Parish Hall clocked in the Dewhurst.
A good timefigure is one reason for taking a positive view of the Rockfel - the standards suggest a range of 104 to 112 - and Wading has the physique and pedigree to train on well next year.
Quite whether there were any future champions taking part in the Cesarewitch is a moot point, but Colour Vision put up an excellent effort in third behind Never Can Tell off a BHA mark of 104, earning a Timeform rating of 118. He's come a long way since finishing third to Brown Panther in a Chester handicap off just 81 in May.
A return to Chester will surely be on the agenda for Never Can Tell herself, should she stay in training, with the Chester Cup a logical target given her owner's record at the track and her two successes on it already. She ran to 103 in holding off her 33 rivals under a well-judged Dettori ride, edging out fellow pacesetter Ermyn Lodge, who earned a figure of 101.
An even more noteworthy handicap performance from the weekend was that of Sirius Prospect, who ran to a bare rating of 118 when winning the Coral Sprint Trophy at York despite being drawn away from the main action and meeting some trouble. He seems highly likely to be another sprinter to make the transition from handicaps to Group races.
Elsewhere across the globe, Black Caviar extended her unbeaten record, running to 133 in the Schillachi Stakes at Caulfield while Western Aristocrat is rated 116 after benefiting from an excellent front-running ride in the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont.
Gio Ponti ran to 122 in winning the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. Although he's Breeders' Cup bound, he's likely to be vulnerable to a strong European challenge once again.
It was all change at the top of the juvenile tree in the US, where My Miss Aurelia and Union Rags maintained their unbeaten records with authoritative victories in Grade 1s. They are now first and second among their age-group in North America on Timeform ratings, with the former (120p) just edging the latter (118p), having completed Belmont's dirt mile slightly the quicker on the day.
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