Frankel was a handicapper’s wet dream. Sea The Stars was something of a nightmare. The result is Frankel is now rated a benchmark of equine excellence. And in figures terms, he is just that. But in hunch terms, if the pair were to have that metaphorical race in the sky over ten furlongs, I reckon Frankel would give STS a good lead – to the furlong pole.
Can I back that up in terms of concrete evidence? Of course not. It’s just an opinion. Just as fundamentally, Timeform’s 147 and the official handicapper’s 140 are opinions, although both have been parsed to the limit of statistical analysis. And yet, out there in my make-believe-land, Sea The Stars is still the pick.
Of course it’s a ludicrous argument, with no definitive answer possible, and none of it matters a damn really. But these marks do tend to become definitive over time. Look at Arkle’s near-mythical 212 mark with Timeform: will handicappers now get all retrospectively ‘Dancing Brave’ about the great steeplechaser?
But we are talking handicapping here. By definition that revolves on what is in front of the handicappers’ eyes. And Frankel was perfect for that. What he had was put out there. That what he had was so outstanding was all of our good fortunes. And that, the world handicappers last week reckoned, amounts to 140.
STS got 136 off them in 2009, just 4lbs short of Frankel, and a figure that fails – because it cannot – take into account what the Irish superstar had left in the tank. To criticise the handicappers for not rating reserve petrol is ludicrous. Their jobs prevent that. But the rest of us aren’t restricted to considering bare statistics.
The evidence of our eyes can take into account how Sea The Stars was ill-disposed to those wide-margin routs that send handicapper’s calculators spinning. Doing just enough was all he did. But the style of getting to the front, as in the Arc, was outstanding. Handicappers though can’t give points for artistic impression. And they can’t pay attention to what jockeys say.
Mark Prescott famously believes that when a jockey starts to talk, it’s time to turn your brain off. Even Prescott would make an exception for Mick Kinane though.
“He (Sea The Stars) ended up being officially rated 136 but it would have taken an exceptional horse to bring out what he had in him,” Kinane once told this corner. “A 140 horse would have dragged it out of him. The thing is, once he hit the front he felt he’d done enough, and all handicappers can go on is what they see.”
Some will dismiss such a statement as commercial stallion talk. But Kinane was always loathe to play that game, and was retired when making it anyway. But what he said about a 140 horse is spooky considering Frankel started racing only the following year.
And the limits of going just on bare weight and distance is illustrated by how Peintre Celebre is now on an official mark of 137.
He was an outstanding Arc winner alright, beat Pilsudski by daylight in a bravura display. But a glance back at that Arc reveals a horse niggled along well before the straight and who patently needed all of a mile and a half to put that daylight in place. Which is great in itself: but anyone who thinks the 136 STS wouldn’t have picked up the 137 Peintre Celebre in the closing stages is deluding themselves – probably.
As for the brouhaha over the handicappers recalibration: it does seem a little unfair but overall probably correct. However anyone prepared to take ratings as gospel should remember how the best Irish trained horse ever according to Timeform is Windy City.
To which one can only say, Windy Who?
There is one great racing truth and that is that the most important race is the next one. And the next real big one is the Irish Champion Hurdle where Hurricane Fly will probably be odds on to complete a hat-trick. And it’s hard to argue with the bookies’ assessment.
The Fly looked back to his imperious best over Christmas and Binocular looks too in-and-out a performer these days to back him with any confidence.
But on the whole handicap theme, it will be much less straightforward in Saturday’s Boylesports Hurdle where Inis Meain will be the theorists focus on the back of a fine winning streak on the flat since his last hurdles start. But he is likely to be very short and this is a race that finds out inexperience.
An alternative could be Discoteca at 20-1. He really needs decent going but Leopardstown dries out famously quickly and there was a lot to like about his Christmas run behind Cairdin. He also looks nicely weighted at under 11st.
That’s a 132 rating!