Things We Learned » Halford making hay

Halford making hay

Michael Halford has his team in fine form. From nine runners last week, he had four winners and four others who out-performed the market’s expectations.

Sunday was a particularly exciting day for Halford, as he unleashed the Teofilo colt Blue Corner on the world. Well-backed beforehand, Sheikh Mohammed’s horse (wearing the Belmez white cap as opposed to the Old Vic maroon cap with the white star) picked up nicely when Shane Foley asked him to, and he ran all the way to the line, putting a distance of ground between himself and his pursuers and giving the impression that he would improve for stepping up from this 10-furlong trip. Also, the time was really good for a debutant, over a half a second faster than the time that the similarly exciting Moyglare Stud colt Speaking Of Which clocked in winning the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes over the same course and distance earlier in the day.

As well as that, one of Halford’s other three runners on the day, Certerach, ran a cracker to finish third in the Paddy Power Handicap. Settled well back in the field in the early stages of the race, he had to make his ground six horses wide around the home turn, but he stayed on really gamely to finish third, just three lengths behind the winner Midnight Soprano, closest at the finish.

The Halling gelding was racing for just the fifth time in his life, a 4lb hike from the handicapper is not at all harsh, and there could be a big handicap in him now. On this evidence, he should stay further than this 12-furlong trip, he could improve for a step up to 14 furlongs or even two miles, and he could be a horse for the Ebor at York in August, if his trainer was inclined to target that race with him.

Camelot value

On the evidence that we have to date, it is difficult to argue that Camelot is not the most likely winner of this afternoon’s Investec Derby.  The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt was one of the best juveniles in Europe last year (if not the best), he hardly broke sweat when winning the Racing Post Trophy, the best juveniles’ guide to the following year’s Derby, and he came out this year and won the Guineas, despite the fact that, on the balance of probability, he is bred much more for middle distances than for a mile.

From a racing perspective, it would be fantastic if he could win it, become just the second horse since Nashwan and just the third since Nijinsky to win the Guineas and the Derby.  Racing needs its champions, its bridges to the outside world, and the Triple Crown talk that would inevitably ensue would surely stretch well beyond racing’s boundaries.

However, from a betting perspective, he is too short.  It is easy to pick holes in the form of this year’s Guineas.  Power didn’t handle the ground, Born To Sea raced too freely, and the horses who finished third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in the race have all been well beaten since.  As well as that, the time was not great, just the third fastest comparative time on the day, and two seconds slower than the time that Homecoming Queen took to complete the same course and distance in the 1000 Guineas the following day on ground that was only marginally quicker.

Put that with the unknowns that are the track, the distance and the occasion, and best odds of 4/6 represent poor value.

Folkestone draw

Folkestone is a long way from Epsom on Derby day (we’re talking both physical and metaphorical here), but it is still worth noting that there was an interesting draw thing going on at the Kent track on Wednesday evening, with those drawn close to the stands rail on the straight track appearing to be favoured significantly. Of the five races run on the straight track, with the stalls hard up against the stands rail, four were won by horses drawn either next to or one off the rail. More than that, of the 12 horses who filled the places in those races, just two were drawn more than three off the stands rail.

Because of abandonments, this was the first meeting staged at Folkestone since the Thursday of Grand National weekend, when they got to run just two of the seven scheduled races. Even that day, the 11-runner handicap was won by the horse drawn next to the stands rail, with the horse drawn two off it finishing third. At the previous meeting, the only other meeting staged at Folkestone this year, the first three home in the five-furlong handicap, which, with seven runners, boasted the biggest field on the straight track on the day, were drawn in stalls seven, five and four.

So what to do with this information? Firstly, look out for the next Folkestone meeting (11th June), and, in the races run on the straight track, consider backing those horses drawn high. It could be a lucrative experiment. (On Wednesday it would have yielded winners with SPs of 6/1, 7/4, 16/1 and 11/2.) Secondly, look out for the Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained Maxentius wherever he runs next, as he won the fifth of the five races run on the straight track, the six-runner two-year-old maiden on his racecourse debut from stall three, and racing out in the centre of the track. His performance was probably a fair bit better than the bare form of the race suggests.

Ispahan muddle

The problem with the form of last Sunday’s Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp – as is often the problem with the form of the top French races outside of Arc de Triomphe weekend – is that they went no gallop through the early stages of the race. All eight runners were still on the bridle, several of them still pulling for their respective heads, at the top of the home straight, two and a half furlongs out.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Golden Lilac managed to prevail in the dash for the line that took place at the end of the nine-furlong contest, despite the fact that she was keener than ideal through the early throes, given that she is a speed-endowed French Guineas winner. What is surprising is that Olivier Peslier, riding the top class Cirrus Des Aigles – who can go from the front and is proven in the highest grade over 10 and 12 furlongs – didn’t make it a greater test of stamina than it turned out to be.

The form of a slowly-run race always has to be treated with a degree of circumspection, but if there was a horse to take out of the race for the future, it was the fourth-placed 50/1 shot No Risk At All. He made nice ground from the rear off that slow pace and, with no room to progress on the rail through the final 200 yards, appeared to finish full of running. He is lightly-raced for a five-year-old, he was potentially top class as a three-year-old, and he could spring a surprise soon.

Headgear headache

Good news that the Turf Club are investigating the possibility of differentiating between different forms of headgear instead of, as is currently the case, lumping all forms under one letter (b).

Three reasons why this is good news. Firstly, gone are the days when the words headgear and blinkers are interchangeable. There is a proliferation of headgear around these days – eyeshields, hoods and woolly hats as well as blinkers and visors, and that is without getting into the intricacies of cheekpieces, which have their very own letter (p) – all with at least subtle differences in intended effect. For example, the intended effect of the hood that Born To Sea wore in last Saturday’s Irish 2000 Guineas was to insulate him from the noise, help him settle, whereas the intended effect of a set of blinkers is usually to help a horse concentrate, sharpen him up. Quite the opposite, then.

Secondly, they differentiate between the various apparatuses in Britain, so when an Irish horse who usually wears, say, a visor in Ireland – a fact that is indicated by the letter b after the horse’s name in the form book – goes to race in Britain and races in the same visor, the indication across the water is that he is racing in that particular style of headgear for the first time (remember when Gonebeyondrecall had to be withdrawn at the start of the 2010 Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham because was wearing a style of headgear that was inconsistent with that which had been declared?), and that is just plainly incorrect.

Thirdly, if a horse is racing in a woolly hat instead of blinkers, you need to know.

© The Irish Field, 2nd June 2012