Clear, concise, comprehensive horseracing analysis and insight from Paul Jones, former author of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, concentrating on jump racing in addition to the best of the Flat and leading Sports events.
  • The Jumps Season Service will return for 2024/25 in late October

The Class Factor In Handicaps


A terrific finish to the Coral-Eclipse (that hyphen is the cleverest piece of punctuation from a race sponsor) and it was very pleasing to be on the right side of it with our Ante-Post Focus recommendation, Ulysses.

My first thought was that Ulysses didn’t like being in front for too long after travelling very strongly in behind horses and quickening up very smartly (just as he did when he won over C/D back in April) but, having watched the race a few times since, I've come to the conclusion that it was more of a case of Barney Roy finishing strongly. The point shouldn't be lost that the winner was giving as much as 10lb to the runner-up, but would the result have been different if 3yos were receiving 11lb, as was the case in the Eclipse up to this year?

Anyway, so much for the theory that I kept hearing before the race that Ulysses was not a Group 1 horse and was more of a talking horse. Hopefully Sir Michael Stoute’s 4yo can give us another nice-priced winner for the same column later in the season having already been recommended for an autumn prize before his run in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. This week’s Ante-Post Focus on Wednesday will centre on the John Smith’s Cup.

Ulysses’ victory has now taken the Horses to Follow column (returns on Thursday) to +22pts at SP (much higher if taking morning prices) this season with 18 winners from 40 runners.

Over at Haydock it was a 1-2 for the joint top weights off 9st 10lb in the Old Newton Cup with Dylan Mouth (25/1) emerging on top. This got me thinking about the class edge in all-aged handicaps over 1m4f+, especially after Higher Power had won the Northumberland Plate off 9st 9lb the previous Saturday.

In fact, the winners of the big five races of that ilk in Britain already run this season all carried over 9st including Thomas Hobson who also carried 9st 10lb when winning the Ascot Stakes. The other pair were Montaly winning the Chester Cup off 9st 6lb and Rare Rhythm taking the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes off 9st 2lb. If that is not eye-catching enough, the most valuable all-aged handicaps over 1m4f+ at the Guineas, Victoria Cup and Derby Meetings did likewise with victories for Frontiersman (9st 10lb), Appeared (9st 4lb) and Soldier In Action (9st 6lb). The Dante Meeting is the only major fixture not to join in the fun in this respect this season.

I wrote a chapter on the emerging class factor in handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015 and, on this evidence, it’s now something also to very much factor into our thought process for the rest of the flat season. James Willoughby was also making this point in last week’s edition of The Verdict on RacingUK and underlined the point unknown to many that three times as many top weights win handicaps compared to bottom weights and that there is a bigger class factor these days as to 20 years ago given the smaller horse population.

Surprisingly there isn’t a valuable, all-aged handicap over 1m4f+ scheduled for this week’s Newmarket July Festival​, just a small, Class C affair as the last race to be run on the final day. I will be covering every race of that meeting which starts on Thursday as part of the 30 leading days I am covering on the flat. The first day’s preview will be uploaded earlier than usual, on Tuesday, as I’m off to see Coldplay at Cardiff. The beauty of 48hr decs on the flat!

In sport, it’s a week off on the golf as Ciaran Meagher and I will be collecting our thoughts ahead of the following week’s Open Championship, Carl Redden will be continuing with his round-by-round coverage of Wimbledon and Paul Smith will previewing the second test match between England and South Africa that starts on Friday.

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