Handicappers' Corner: Patience is a virtue

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Sport isn't always about who is the best and/or quickest on the day, explains jumps handicapper Phil Turner.

"There is little doubt that Kazlian has a big handicap win in him off his current mark, particularly if granted less extreme conditions and less forceful tactics..."

Take the men's 800m final at the 1978 European Athletics' Championship, which featured the much-anticipated first showdown between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. In the event, the British pair overcooked things as Coe, being shadowed all the way by Ovett, clocked a blistering time of 49.32 seconds for the first lap - that suicidal pace took its toll in the latter stages, however, and the unfancied East German Olaf Beyer came from way back to overhaul the big two (Ovett claimed silver ahead of an exhausted Coe in third).  

Horseracing has also had its fair share of "tortoise and hare" moments down the years, with Saturday's Imperial Cup at Sandown providing the latest example, as Tom Scudamore provided further evidence that "slow and steady wins the race" clearly isn't his motto!

Unfortunately, Scudamore was arguably guilty of going for home too soon aboard Kazlian (Timeform rating h132+) when fourth in last season's Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival and it was a similar scenario at Sandown on Saturday, when connections again had to suffer the double-whammy of seeing their horse endure an extremely hard race on top of failing to win when seemingly the best-handicapped runner.

Unseasonably testing conditions, combined with a fierce gallop, ensured it was a truly punishing renewal of the Imperial Cup and favoured those ridden with extreme patience. Alas, that select group didn't include Kazlian, who filled the "Ovett" role in tracking the pace-setting Barizan (h127) early on before kicking for home in earnest after three out. An energy-sapping mistake at the next clearly didn't help his cause, but by that stage the patiently-ridden pair First Avenue (h133$) and Tanerko Emery (h139) were reeling him in and Kazlian eventually faded into a very tired third. 

There is little doubt that Kazlian has a big handicap win in him off his current mark, particularly if granted less extreme conditions and less forceful tactics (Scudamore, admittedly, may have been riding to orders at both Cheltenham and Sandown). That said, there is also a suspicion that this latest gruelling experience could well leave a mark, so a watching brief is advised should Kazlian be turned out again at this week's Cheltenham Festival.

For the reasons already explained, things rather fell into the lap of the first two, First Avenue and Tanerko Emery, so we've taken a conservative view of what they achieved for the time being. Indeed, the other horse to take from the race could well be fifth-placed Pine Creek (h132p), who shaped as if ahead of his BHA mark until those extreme underfoot conditions took their toll late on - he's one to look out for away from heavy ground before the season is out.

It could be argued that a classy Flat recruit such as Pine Creek was never likely to be ideally suited by the mud, but the EBF Novices' Handicap Final earlier on the card had already illustrated just how bad conditions at Sandown were, when an abnormally high percentage of runners (most of them with stout National Hunt pedigrees) floundered badly in the latter stages. 

Bearing that in mind, it is probably prudent not to go overboard about the form shown on the day by impressive winner Close Touch (h142) - as a result, for the time being we haven't added any extra on top of his bare rating even though he seemed to win with plenty in hand. That said, Close Touch has clearly shown improved form here, which reflects well on his Doncaster conqueror African Gold (h138).
Bearing that in mind, it is worth stressing that a big part of handicapping is to monitor past results to check how well the form is working out and, if necessary, alter the ratings up or down accordingly. For example, last month's win at Huntingdon by Tetlami (c146) looked rather workmanlike at the time, but makes for better reading now given the subsequent exploits of both placed horses - including Sunday's easy Warwick scorer Jackies Solitaire (c134). As a result, Tetlami would now look a well-handicapped runner if taking up his engagement in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham on Friday.

Similarly, the novice chase won by Wilde Pastures (c135p) at Catterick early last month seemed pretty unspectacular form at the time, but it has proved to be surprisingly strong since then. The chief flag-bearer for that race, of course, has been Wilde Pastures himself, who is now unbeaten in three starts since being fitted with cheekpieces. Admittedly, Saturday's hat-trick success at Ayr came in another small-field affair on the Northern circuit, but it would be wrong to dismiss his achievements on that alone. Indeed, Wilde Pastures should be up to holding his own in stronger company, particularly if the mud continues to fly.

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