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Poetic Flare seeks to uphold family tradition in St James’s Palace

Poetic Flare bids to emulate his sire Dawn Approach by adding the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot to his 2000 Guineas success.

Dawn Approach took both races for trainer Jim Bolger in 2013, and now his son seeks to maintain family honour and complete the same Group One double in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series on Tuesday.

Poetic Flare has already had four races this season – finishing sixth in the French Guineas and runner-up to stablemate Mac Swiney in the Irish Guineas since his Classic triumph at Newmarket.

Dawn Approach was having only his third start of the campaign when he edged out Toronado in a thrilling battle on Ascot’s round mile in 2013.

“It’s been an extraordinary season, with just one real hiccup (in the French 2000 Guineas) and another that was self-inflicted at the Curragh,” said Bolger.

“Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp, and we’ve drawn a line through it. He came back very quickly to finish second at the Curragh, so he’s very, very hardy – you couldn’t do that with every horse.

“The biggest trouble I have is keeping the weight off him. He’s a great doer, and he still has to do plenty at home, despite the schedule.”

Comparing Poetic Flare to his sire, the trainer added: “Dawn Approach was pretty hardy too and took it well, but he wouldn’t have been the same as Poetic Flare – but I’ve never had a colt of his quality who needed as much work as he does.

Jim Bolger saddles Poetic Flare
Jim Bolger saddles Poetic Flare (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He’s very well, and I think he has a big chance – the bookmakers seem to think so too.

“He goes on any ground too, which is a big advantage. It was good to firm when he won at Newmarket, but personally I’d prefer it if there was no firm in the description as horses last longer that way.”

John and Thady Gosden’s Mostahdaf puts his 100 per cent record on the line, but takes a big step up in class and is the least experienced horse in the field with just three runs.

However, Gosden senior is happy to pitch him in at the deep end following his victory in the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown.

“Our fellow has come the slow route – it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t run last year because he had a hiccup,” said the Clarehaven handler.

“This year he won twice on the all-weather and then the Heron. You could argue, and William Buick felt, that Highland Avenue was on the slower part of the track at Sandown near the rail, while we were more middle to left on the better ground.

“Having said that, our horse ran a great race, and I think the St James’s Palace is quite an open affair.

“I think our fellow will be fine on the ground – he’s a lovely horse, and we’ve taken this route before with Without Parole, and King Of Comedy just missed. Palace Pier came from an unobvious direction, too.”

Chindit has two Group-race successes among his four wins, with his only two defeats from six starts coming at Newmarket in the Dewhurst Stakes and 2000 Guineas.

His trainer Richard Hannon told Unibet: “I thought he ran well (when fifth in the 2000 Guineas) – he might even think he won the race, because the race was over the other side of the track away from him.

“We are going to take the noseband off. Dobbsy (Pat Dobbs) reported that he doesn’t really face it. It’s a round mile at Ascot, and we will ride him a little handier.”

Hannon knows what it takes to land this coveted prize, having saddled Barney Roy to score in 2017.

“Barney Roy wasn’t the fastest horse – he was the first one off the bridle in the St James’s Palace Stakes when he won it, but he kept going and ground them down going to the line. If this fella wins, it will probably happen in a similar way,” he added.

“We are very happy with him at home – he deserves a big one. He is a very good horse, and this is hopefully a chance to show it.”

Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O'Brien
Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O’Brien (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aidan O’Brien attempts to improve his record tally of eight victories – with a three-pronged assault of Battleground, Ontario and Wembley.

He said: “We’re hoping the better ground will suit Battleground and Wembley.

“We couldn’t run Battleground at the Curragh (in the Irish 2,000 Guineas) because the ground just got too bad. Wembley ran there, but it had gone too bad for him also.

“Both of them have been in good form since their last runs. If we can get them back to the form they showed at two, they would have a chance.”

Guineas hero Poetic Flare heads 13 for St James’s Palace date

Classic hero Poetic Flare and the unbeaten Mostahdaf are among 13 colts declared for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in early May, since when he has finished sixth in the French Guineas and runner-up in the Irish Guineas behind stablemate Mac Swiney.

Mostahdaf has won each of his three starts to date for John and Thady Gosden – completing his hat-trick in the Heron Stakes at Sandown almost four weeks ago.

The Frankel colt beat Charlie Appleby’s Highland Avenue by half a length in that Listed contest and the pair will renew rivalry at Group One level on Tuesday.

Appleby also saddles Irish Guineas sixth La Barrosa, while Jessica Harrington’s Lucky Vega also brings strong Classic form to the table, having finished third at Newmarket and fourth at the Curragh.

With William Buick siding with Highland Avenue, James Doyle is looking forward to partnering La Barrosa in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.

He said: “He ran very well in the Craven when second to Master Of The Seas and then went for the Irish Guineas on what was obviously quite testing ground. He travelled into the race really well there, but didn’t quite see it out.

“I think he’ll be seen to much better effect on quicker ground at Ascot, and on his Craven run he’s entitled to go well in what’s obviously a tough race.”

Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O'Brien
Battleground is one of three runners for Aidan O’Brien (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aidan O’Brien runs Battleground, Ontario and Wembley, with son Joseph represented by Thunder Moon.

Battleground and Wembley, who both sport first-time tongue ties, plus Thunder Moon all disappointed in the Guineas at Newmarket and Wembley has also since failed to fire in the Irish equivalent.

Bullace (Ralph Beckett), Chindit (Richard Hannon), Maximal (Sir Michael Stoute) and Naamoos (Mark Johnston) complete the line-up.

Clock Watcher: Lessons from Harrovian

After an extended pandemic break, Clock Watcher is back! This semi-regular feature aims to highlight interesting performances from a sectional timing perspective. Before we dive into those noteworthy efforts, a quick recap to set the scene.

Sectional Recap

Sectional timing aims to tell us more about how a race was run by splitting it up into segments, or sections. Moreover, we can understand more about an individual horse's performances from these splits as well; and, by comparing with history - what we call 'par' - we can frame races and runs in a much broader historical context.

The idea is to note those horses who may have been inconvenienced either by the run of the race or how they themselves ran within it, and to 'mark up' such efforts for consideration in future. Such mark ups are one more piece of the puzzle: often they'll add little or nothing, but occasionally they are the significant differentiator. Our job as form detectives is to assimilate information from which to make value judgements. Sectional information is another piece of evidence to consider in the general form evaluation case, if you feel so inclined.

Thus, on the basis of a number of previous races over a given course and distance, we can have a reasonable idea of what the optimal energy expenditure might be. A marathon runner will look to run every one of the 26 and a bit miles in a very similar time because that is the way she uses her energy most efficiently and therefore runs her best time.

Because of the configuration of racecourses and races - standing start, bends, undulations, obstacles in jumps races - the shape of a par line will never be flat; instead it will have a curve that intrinsically accommodates all appropriate considerations. It will, in other words, enable us to gauge what happened in any given race against the body of directly relevant 'case law' that preceded it.

There is oodles more insight on how geegeez.co.uk publishes these data in our user guide, here.

What are we looking for?

What we are looking for might vary from race to race, situation to situation. But, more helpfully, two obvious things to spot are fast finishers and solid composite numbers.

Fast finishers are those runners whose closing splits, when compared to their overall time in percentage terms, were quicker. This is often called a finishing speed percentage (or FS%), and a high relative FS% implies a horse finished with more in the tank, more to give. That suggests he might go better next time.

Composite ratings are an attempt to consider FS% alongside the actual speed of a race. After all, if I walk the first 26 miles of a marathon over most of a day, my ability to run the last 385 yards will be far superior to even the best athlete who has run the previous 26 miles at world record pace. My finishing speed percentage will be massive but my overall time - and therefore any attempt at combining final time and finishing speed - will betray how easily I took things earlier on.

That's an outlandishly exaggerated example to emphasise the point that horse races are habitually run steadily and won by the runner with the best combination of track position and finishing speed. Furthermore, not only can we know through sectionals which horse(s) has/have the best finishing kick but we can also overlay that knowledge onto how we perceive today's race will set up.

A horse with a lightning kick may be severely compromised by a strong early gallop but could be a fantastic bet in a paceless heat.

Sectional Examples

Examples make everything more comprehensible, so let's look at a few events since racing returned post-lockdown.

Palace Pier / Pinatubo - St James's Palace Stakes

I'll begin with a fairly banal one - insofar as punting utility goes - but one that very well illustrates the two elements we seek, the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

This was the race in which Palace Pier announced himself on the big stage, charging past last year's champion juvenile, Pinatubo, and the controlling race leader, Wichita.

The three-part OMC (Opening, Midrace, Closing) sectionals image below shows the extent to which they quickened in the final quarter mile (the orange/red rectangles) with the upgrade column on the right hand side attempting to quantify how much more each might have been able to give.

The colour bar above the result table contains the 'race' sectionals: those of the race leader at the end of each section (in this case, at the six-furlong pole, the two-furlong pole, and the finish line). The bars inline are for each individual runner.

 

This slightly more detailed five-part 'Call Points' view illustrates things further:

 

Here we can see that Palace Pier covered the final two furlongs in splits of 11.68 seconds and 11.71 seconds. That was partly a function of the (relatively) steady first three-quarters of the race but mainly it relates to his talent.

Pinatubo, for his part, has looked to me a slightly doubtful stayer at a mile, particularly in the context of his brilliant two-year-old form. He was quickest from four to one but couldn't quite see it out. A subsequent win in a seven-furlong Group 1 in France last time supports the theory, though not beyond reasonable doubt. The Breeders' Cup Mile, a race contested around a tight oval track where seven-furlong speed is ideal (think Expert Eye), looks a perfect target.

Palace Pier's Topspeed figure for this effort was 108 and relates to how quickly he got from the start to the finish. Alpine Star, the filly who won the Coronation Stakes over the same course and distance 35 minutes earlier, ran a far more even tempo and recorded a slightly faster overall time to be awarded a 110 Topspeed figure.

But Palace Pier's composite rating - a combination of Topspeed and our Upgrade of 23 - brings him to 131. Alpine Star's effort received no upgrade and therefore remains on 110.

Here's the rub: in a steadily-run race, a feature of both his runs this year, all evidence suggests Palace Pier would readily outpoint Alpine Star. But if it was likely to be more truly-run I'd be less bullish at the likely odds.

One of the main problems, as can be seen below, is that there remains - more than a year after RMG (the company in charge of Racing TV's racecourses' broadcast rights) first published data for a meeting at York - no publicly available sectional output for the roughly two-thirds of British tracks that they cover. I wish it wasn't this way, and I yearn for good news on this front soon.

A Spot of Revision for Harrovian

Another of the John Gosden phalanx of top-class equines is Harrovian, who caught the eye when winning in taking fashion at Doncaster over a mile and a quarter on 26th June. He, and second placed Archie Perkins, were almost five lengths clear of the third that day, a gap established exclusively in the final quarter mile.

I've included the 'by furlong' sectional percentage chart this time: this view helps to understand how a runner's energy was expended and can be compared to the par line - which is grey in this case due to the limited confidence afforded by only 73 races in the course and distance sample. Beneath the chart I've also included the OMC splits for Harrovian and Archie Perkins.

 

Note on the chart how the red and green lines, representing the selected runners, run close to the dark grey par line until half way (five out, 6-5 on the chart); and how they then extend away in the second half of the race. This tells us that the highlighted runners ran close to optimally (though a little slower in the first two furlongs (S-9, 9-8)) in the early stages before finishing well.

One of the reasons I chose this example is because both horses have again run in the same race since, Saturday's John Smith's Cup. Although there are no official sectionals for that race, they looked to go quite fast early (as might be expected for a 22-runner heritage handicap), which may not have suited either Archie or Harrovian.

Here is the Gosden runner's full form profile:

 

Compare that with his winning form profile, and with sectional data switched on (the box top left):

 

All three of his career wins have come at ten furlongs, on good to firm ground, and in small fields. Of the two of that trio for which we have sectional insight, both featured fast finishing fractions off even to slow earlier meters. I'll be very interested in Harrovian when he gets this kind of setup again.

 

Yarmouth Upgrades

There have been a few races of interest run at Yarmouth since the resumption. Its proximity to Newmarket is a factor in enticing very good horses, and here are two I think worthy of note.

The first of the pair was a juvenile on debut called Yazaman, who achieved the biggest geegeez upgrade figure of any horse since racing resumed (at the tracks covered by our data supplier, Total Performance Data). Ostensibly not much of a race, Yazaman was sent off 10/11 favourite in a field of four.

They went pedestrian fractions in the early part of the five furlong contest but then engaged turbo, as best as unraced juveniles can.

William Haggas's winner completed the last quarter mile in less than 21 seconds, which is really very fast indeed, especially for a juvenile debutant.

To some degree this is now ancient history, as Yazaman has run twice subsequently: first he was a gallant second in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. Sent off 20/1 that day, the cat was subsequently out of the bag when he again ran up, at 6/1 this time, to Tactical in the Group 2 July Stakes at  Newmarket's big summer meeting.

He's rapid and a drop back to five should see him just about win in minor Pattern company.

On 4th July, another two-year-old, this time Ventura Tormenta trained by Richard Hannon, rocked up having been pitched in to none other than the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on his debut. He ran a huge race there to be sixth, and had plenty in reserve when turning away Sidi Mansour and four others over six this day. As can be seen from the running lines below, Ventura controlled things throughout: an even opening quarter, a steady to slow middle quarter, and then a burst of acceleration and 'eat my dust'.

He didn't seem to get home on the July course over seven furlongs in Newmarket's Superlative Stakes but has since confirmed his class by winning the 6f Group 2 Prix Robert Papin last weekend. English-trained horses finished first and second there, French horses comprising the rest of the field, to affirm my (and many others', in point of fact) contention that French racing has lagging behind a little for a season and a half or so.

Second to Ventura Tormenta at Yarmouth, Sidi Mansour has run since and been beaten in a bigger field at Windsor. But, having covered the final half mile at the Norfolk track in the same time (46.70 seconds) as Sunday's Group 2 winner, he may go one better in a small field where he can put his pace to good use.

Looking Forward

There may be a case to answer from the after-time police regarding the above, even if a number of those highlighted have since been beaten and are suggested for another day. With no such subsequent form here is one more, at a slightly lower level, for the future.

The Yarmouth fillies' novice event won by Almareekh might work out all right: the winner has an entry at Doncaster on Saturday and the third, Viola, may run in a handicap at Redcar next Monday. But it is the fourth placed filly, Ice Sprite, who has made my tracker.

This was her second career start, and first of the season, and the William Haggas-trained daughter of Zoffany was a long way (15 lengths to be precise) behind the leader with half a mile to go. More materially, she was between three and six lengths behind the three fillies that eventually beat her at that same point.

 

As can be seen from the red bars in her result row, Ice Sprite made a big move between the four and the two, and ran the final quarter (24.01 seconds) quicker than all bar the winner (23.95 seconds). Eased off in the last fifty yards, each way backers may have felt miffed that she was beaten a diminishing neck for third; but she looks attractively rated off just 70 for a potential handicap tilt next time. With only two starts to her name, there are all sorts of reasons to believe she can do better in upcoming spins. She is entered in the 3.20 at Newmarket on Friday.