THE weekend started with much discussion of sabbaticals, but come the Sabbath, there was only one topic of conversation, and that was the exceptional performance of Trueshan (Alan King/Hollie Doyle), who defied an official mark of 120 and a burden of 10st 8lb to land a pulsating Northumberland Plate by half a length from Spirit Mixer (Andrew Balding/Callum Hutchinson).
It’s important to put Trueshan’s performance in its proper context, and the Racing Post’s tweet asking if it was the greatest flat racing performance of all time deserved the ridicule it received. But it remains the performance of a top-class stayer, and the lack of similar weight-carrying efforts in top handicaps of late doesn’t mean we can’t dig deeper to find more appropriate comparisons.
A good horse can concede lumps of weight to a bad horse, and the concession itself is not newsworthy, and nor does it give an indication of how good the superior animal is.
But when a top-class horse is able to give stones away to smart handicappers, the feat becomes more significant, and we still describe the greatness of Arkle in terms of his regular concession of 35lb to the majority of his rivals in handicaps.
After the weight itself, there is the consideration of the official mark defied, although it’s of limited help historically, as official handicap marks have only been published for a few decades, and there was no attempt in the early years of official figures to keep these to scale. Thankfully, Timeform have always measured performance on the same scale, and that means that performance figures from as far back as the 1940s can be used as a realistic comparator.
We don’t have to go back quite that far to find a fitting comparison, with the great Gladness winning the Ebor under top-weight in 1958, having already taken the Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup in the same season.
Vincent O’Brien’s mare was carrying almost a stone less than Trueshan but did so in a hugely competitive renewal of the big York handicap, with the next seven home all last-time-out winners.
Like Trueshan, she was a tough, proven older stayer, and her performances in that season earned her a Timeform rating of 131, compared to the 130 given to Trueshan.
The John McShain-owned daughter of Sayajirao had been allotted 10st 10lb in the Irish Lincoln on her reappearance that year, doing well to finish sixth of 21 over a trip which was woefully inadequate.
In recent times, only one horse has defied a mark of 115 or higher in Britain and/or Ireland, that being Ocean Tempest who was ridden by 5lb claimer Joe Doyle when winning at Chester in 2014.
A few years prior to that, Joanna Morgan’s mare Miss Gorica landed a sprint handicap at Navan under Pat Smullen, carrying the same weight Trueshan carried at Newcastle, and conceding an impressive 37lb to runner-up He’s Got Rhythm, from whom Sam James was claiming 7lb.
THE Group 3 Chipchase Stakes saw several runners disappoint, but it was hard not to be impressed with the manner in which 15/8 favourite Sense Of Duty (William Haggas/Tom Marquand) routed her rivals.
There was no fluke about her winning margin of four and a half lengths over Annaf (Mick Appleby/Jason Hart). Bielsa (Kevin Ryan/Kevin Stott) did best of those ridden prominently in third, beaten a total of six and a half lengths.
The runner-up carried an official mark of 95 into the race, which provides much-needed context, but the lightly raced winner clearly improved again to win by such a wide margin, and Annaf himself was almost certainly producing a career-best effort of his own.
Sense Of Duty’s previous win in the Cecil Frail Stakes at Haydock was boosted when runner-up Flotus was third in the Commonwealth Cup, and it’s clear that she deserves a crack at Group 1 company, for all her trainer has no immediate plans, and expressed himself surprised by the comfort of her win.