St Mark’s Basilica has been crowned champion two-year-old in Europe for 2020, in what the handicappers admitted was not a “vintage year” for juveniles.
The Covid-19 lockdown saw the British and Irish Flat seasons delayed by two months until June, with Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board handicapper Mark Bird feeling the late start combined with “slightly muddled” form lines had seen last year’s juvenile crop rank lower than previous generations.
Nevertheless, St Mark’s Basilica achieved a rating of 120 in winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October, making him Aidan O’Brien’s 11th champion two-year-old and the seventh consecutive winner of that race to take the European crown. His rating is 8lb lower than that achieved by Pinatubo in 2019.
Stablemate Wembley, who was runner-up at Headquarters, is equal second in the classifications alongside Clive Cox’s Middle Park winner Supremacy, with a rating of 118. O’Brien’s unbeaten Derby favourite High Definition was given a figure of 115.
Bird said of St Mark’s Basilica: “We rated his effort in landing the Darley Dewhurst Stakes as marginally the best form shown by a European two-year-old in 2020 and just ahead of that shown by the 12 other Group One-winning two-year-olds in Europe this year.
“At this stage of his career, he rates higher than his half-brother Magna Grecia who won the Qipco 2000 Guineas as a three-year-old and he appears to hold every chance of emulating his sibling in winning that event in 2021, with normal progression as a three-year-old.”
Supremacy is the leading British-trained two-year-old ahead of Charlie Appleby’s Autumn Stakes winner One Ruler on 114 and the Marcus Tregoning-trained Alkumait, the Mill Reef victor, on 113.
British Horseracing Authority Handicapper Graeme Smith said: “Supremacy became the latest in a long line of Group One-winning sprinters to emerge from Clive Cox’s stable over the last decade and achieved a rating of 118 when defeating the Group One Phoenix Stakes winner Lucky Vega in a deep-looking Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes.
“Very well bought for £65,000, he was the standout British-trained juvenile from Goodwood onwards and went into winter quarters as the highest-rated two-year-old his prolific trainer has ever handled.”
The O’Brien family also provided two of the three top-rated fillies, with Joseph’s Fillies’ Mile winner Pretty Gorgeous ranking on 113 along with his brother Donnacha’s Shale, who was victorious in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
Wesley Ward’s Campanelle, winner of the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and the Prix Morny, was also awarded a mark of 113.
Sealiway emerged as the highest-rated French-trained colt on 116, following his impressive Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere victory, while Marcel Boussac winner Tiger Tanaka is the joint-highest rated French-trained filly along with Plainchant, who took the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte, on 110.
Bird added: “In summary, 2020 could not be said to have been a vintage year for two-year-olds.
“While numerically, the 44 horses that made the classifications are in line with recent averages, the truncated nature of the season and the slightly muddled nature of some of the form lines mean that the champion juveniles of the year rank at the lower end of the historical scale.”
The handicappers also nominated their ‘dark horses’ to follow in 2021, with Smith pinpointing William Haggas’ Newcastle maiden winner Sea Empress as a filly on the up.
He said: “She showed a little bit of greenness (at Newcastle), slightly on and off the bridle, but come the business end she found it all pretty easy. She ran a fairly good time and I think it’s fair to say she wasn’t 100 per cent all out.
“I put a figure of around 97 on Sea Empress on her first time out and considering she showed inexperience early on and wasn’t all out, I think that was very promising indeed.
“I think she’s by far one of the most interesting dark horses this time around.”
Smith also gave favourable mentions to the Roger Charlton-trained Love Is You, winner of the Radley Stakes, and Twisted Reality, a Nottingham maiden victor for Ralph Beckett in November.
Bird underlined the promise of the Dermot Weld-trained Shandra, who won a Curragh maiden on her only start in 2020.
He said: “Dermot has a wonderful phrase for his best horses, saying ‘they’re stayers with speed’, and I think with her pedigree, she has the raw material to develop into that type of filly. She’s a May foal by Sea The Stars and I like her a lot.”
Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Santa Barbara and Wordsworth, a full-brother to Kew Gardens, also earned Bird’s attention, with Storm Legend also predicted to do well.