Graeme North reflects on the latest action

Graeme North: Watch and Learn | The Craven meeting trials

Graeme North continues his new weekly column with a look at what the time figures are telling us following the Guineas trials at Newmarket's Craven meeting.

The week just gone - ‘Guineas Trials week’, the beginning of the Flat season ‘proper’ when reputations get bolstered and bubbles are burst, remains one of the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the Flat season.

Sadly, though, the four main Guineas Trials (Craven, Nell Gwyn, Greenham and Fred Darling) have increasingly little bearing on the Classics: indeed, you need to go back to 2014 to find the last time the 2000 winner ran in a trial and wasn’t making his seasonal reappearance, and 2018 for the 1000 winner.

Those two horses were Night Of Thunder and Billesdon Brook respectively, both trained by Richard Hannon who it seems has been taking on the might of Ballydoyle single-handedly in recent years.

Hannon’s record suggests we should take the claims of his Greenham winner Chindit seriously (his 112 timefigure in the Greenham was up there with the generation-leading 114 he posted as a two-year-old) but far from being bullish the trainer later suggested the undulations at Newmarket might not allow him to build up the momentum that a flatter track would elsewhere.

Even so, Chindit looks a better 2000 prospect than Craven winner Master Of The Seas whose defeat of stablemate La Barrosa looks good on paper but hardly pulled up any trees on either overall time (98) or sectional upgrades (2lb).

That said, Master Of The Seas posted a 109 as a youngster, 4lb higher than stablemate and current 2000 favourite One Ruler whose lofty position is a touch surprising given his Classic aspirations looked to take a knock in the Futurity at Doncaster when last seen.

To give an idea of where the bar has been set in recent years, the last four 2000 winners had all achieved a timefigure of at least 110 as a juvenile. That brings us back to the Dewhurst one-two, St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley (113 and 112 respectively). There is next to nothing between them on paper, but Wembley has been the slower burner of the pair so far and, being by Galileo, may have the more improvement to come.

It’s doubtful the Nell Gwyn or the Fred Darling will prove to be other than useful form. The Nell Gwyn attracted barely a handful of Guineas entries and went to a filly, Sacred, who not only went off the boil at the end of her two-year-old season but promised not to stay seven furlongs.

She was a deserving winner on the day, clearly suited by the emphasis on speed as a lowish timefigure of 95 suggests but she seems unlikely to improve for the step up to a mile. The 1000 market got a good shake up at Newbury, only she wasn’t seen in the Fred Darling.

The horse in question, Snow Lantern, is now as short as 8/1 having beaten a couple of colts, including Derab, last seen finishing runner-up to the aforementioned La Barrosa last autumn, in the opening maiden. One can piece those strands together to make a case for Richard Hannon’s filly, but though the winning time compared favourably with the other mile races on the card her winning timefigure of 89, coming with a small upgrade, wasn’t exceptional.

Quantity over quality was the order of the day in a bumper-sized Fred Darling, where only a short head separated Alcohol Free and Statement.

The pair came into the race from contrasting orbits, Alcohol Free having won the Cheveley Park when last seen and Statement a Newbury maiden, but 104 timefigures for the pair of them (though Alcohol Free managed a 107 in the Cheveley Park) suggests there’s not much to get excited about.

Pretty Gorgeous remains the standard setter in the 1000 with a pair of 113 or better timefigures to her name. That’s not to say there isn’t room at or near the top of the market for a promising unexposed type – the current favourite Santa Barbara has a Snow Lantern-esque profile too, having won a maiden in good style last season in an ordinary time – but the 1000 has been shown time and time again to be a race where a decent amount of racecourse experience is no bad thing.

A topic we discussed last week was ‘who is the leading two-year-old of the season so far?’ Dundalk maiden winner Cadamosto was our answer then and retains top spot but had we more tools at our disposal it’s likely that last Friday’s Newbury winner Berkshire Shadow would have been rated higher.

As it is, his basic timefigure of 86 gets him in the top half dozen, but it would have been very helpful to have a ‘sectional handle’ on him. A tendency to race up the middle of a very wide track together with limiting camerawork makes Newbury a difficult venue from which to take manual sectionals.

This results in the four-furlong pole being used to calculate upgrades, a far-from-ideal point to assess finishing speeds in six- and seven-furlong races, let alone five at which Berkshire Shadow raced. He looked to do well to get up at all at Newbury considering his position two furlongs out, and he’s almost certainly a fair bit better than this makes him look, but exactly how much is difficult to pin down.

Had Berkshire Shadow run at Newmarket instead of Newbury, we would know a fair bit more about him, as sectionals there are available for all races. What those from Newmarket tell us, for example, is that his stablemate Antiphon ran the last furlong marginally quicker than the winner Forca Brasil despite being unbalanced coming out of the Dip.

Forca Brasil’s winning timefigure (74) was nothing out of the ordinary, suggesting the race was fashioned more by events at the start of the race than the end, so with that in mind we can expect Antiphon and sixth-placed Ebro River (who ran both the last three furlongs and two furlongs faster than the winner) to look much more clued up next time.

The Scottish Grand National meeting was a successful one for the home contingent in so much as Irish-trained raiders for once in recent weeks went home empty handed, but with one winner and four placed efforts from a very small pool of raiders the Irish were arguably the moral victors.

That aside, the meeting threw up some suspiciously fast times over the ‘official’ chase distance of 2m 110y. It seems this anomaly can be traced back to 2017 when the chute housing the former 1m7f112y start was decommissioned and replaced by a new start shortly before the crown of the bend, since when times taken to run the 2m 110y races have been out of sync with those over 2m4f110y.

Two-mile chases are generally run in around in 15 seconds per furlong, while two-and-a-half mile chases take a little bit longer (around 15.3 seconds per furlong).

Back-of-a-fag packet calculations suggests then that Scottish Future Champions Chase should take somewhere between 60 and 62 seconds longer to run than the opening chase, yet at none of the three Grand National meetings that races over the two trips have taken place on the same day has the longer contest got within 69 seconds of the shorter one, suggesting the shorter distance is around half a furlong out.

These suspicions can usually be confirmed by referencing Google Earth and, lo and behold, the distance appears to be, to my best estimate, 2m 19y. A wide service industry has grown around accurate timing data in recent years, so it is disappointing that something as fundamental to that industry as official race distances can still be incorrect.

Hopefully, Ayr will issue a correction before their next jumping season.

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