The five Classic races for three-year-olds-the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in the spring, the Derby and Oaks run at Epsom in the first week in June, and the St Leger at Doncaster in September – are the greatest events in English racing. Selecting the winners of such keenly contested races is never an easy job. The form lines are usually tangled and it is beyond the capacity of most backers to unravel them.
Having said that, however, an accurate appraisal of form must still be the key. Only horses of the highest class win Classic races, and in this fact lies the secret of consistently picking out likely winners. So if any horse comes to the big race having shown inferior form in recent runs, it must be suspect as a potential Classic winner.
There is a simple rule-of-thumb way of applying this mode of thinking to an actual race. Go down the runners and tick off only those horses which have won their last two outings. Statistics confirm that a significant percentage of Classic winners fulfil this basic form qualification.
At the same time you have eliminated perhaps three quarters of the field, but this is by no means unreasonable. How can a horse that has been beaten in lesser company in recent outings hope to succeed in races which feature the cream of British and foreign thoroughbreds? Although it will not succeed every time, application of this principle enables the backer to concentrate his attention on a handful of candidates which have a high statistical chance of success.
The first Classic race run over the Rowley Mile at Newmarket about a month after the start of the Flat season nearly always falls to a filly with top-class form as a two-year-old. So the European Free Handicap ratings which give a full weight analysis of the previous season’s juvenile form are by far and away the best guide.
Runners from the half a dozen top-rated English fillies plus the leading Irish and the leading French filly, if they contest the race, form a small group that may well include the eventual winner of the 1000 Guineas.
Since Classic trials early in the current season can be misleading because of different levels of fitness, the big race itself sometimes sees reversals of form and horses at good prices with proven form can and do succeed. The result of the 1000 Guineas has a habit of confirming the form of the Cheveley Park Stakes, the big race for fillies run at Newmarket at the backend of the previous season. One final point is that 1000 Guineas winners may triumph without the benefit of a preliminary outing in the current term, often to the amazement of backers who are unaware of the statistical records.
Again two-year-old form is the key to the first Classic for colts (although fillies are eligible to run). The top dozen animals in the Free Handicap throw up a good proportion of winners as well as many placed horses at rewarding odds.
Classic trials need to be taken with a pinch of salt and there have been many successful outsiders over the years, so the 2000 Guineas is not a race on which to plunge heavily. In many seasons an Irish or French-trained colt with high class form represents the best value in the race if only because they often have a fitness edge over their English rivals.
The Derby is the most important event in the European racing calendar and always features the best staying horses in England as well as top challengers from Ireland and France. It is rarely that an outsider can improve enough to win in such exalted company and the race is dominated most years by well-backed horses.
In recent times clear favourites have an excellent record and it would certainly be unwise to look beyond the first four or five in the betting for the likely winner. There are numerous trials for the race and winners follow various routes to their supreme triumph. However it pays to look for a stoutly bread horse that has won well in the current campaign at a distance of at least ten furlongs.
Most winners fall within this category. On the other hand in this age of specialization the 2000 Guineas is no longer a reliable guide as to what will happen at Epsom. Most Guineas winners find the edge taken off their speed by the extra half mile of the Derby and cannot compete with the genuine stayer which nearly always comes out on top. The same applies to the placed horses in the 2000 unless they have a pedigree packed with stamina.
Unlike the colts, fillies which win the Guineas do very well over the greater distance of the Epsom race and those placed in the 1000 also have a fair record in the Oaks. Sometimes, however, the race falls to a genuine stayer who has proved her stamina by winning at or near a mile and a half in the weeks leading up to the race itself. Well-backed horses have a first-rate chance statistically. As I write, ten winners have been priced at 6-1 or less in the last fifteen running.
By today’s standards the big Doncaster race is something of a marathon and results can sometimes see the form of established Classic horses turned upside down. For this reason an outsider with winning form that has followed an unconventional route to the final Classic often represents a good each-way investment.
In the main, however, the first two in the Epsom Derby and the winner of the Irish Derby deserve close attention. Also the Great Voltigeur Stakes, a recognized trial run at York’s big August meeting, usually throws up a likely candidate, and the Oaks winner has a definite chance if she takes part in the race, for autumn is the time of year when fillies produce their best form. Stamina is the decisive factor in the St Leger and the keen student of breading who applies his knowledge to the obvious form horses has really good prospects of spotting the winner.
At first sight it might seem that horses which run well in the Classics must provide excellent betting opportunities in their subsequent races. After all they have proved themselves in the best company. Surely they are worth following in lesser races. In fact this was the case up until some years ago but changed conditions have made the idea much less attractive.
Nowadays racing is international as never before and the top Classic horses regularly travel all over the world in search of prestige prizes in the most searching company. For this reason it is no longer worth following winners and placed horses after their Classic races, but for anyone who wants a few good bets on proven animals, here is a little idea that may well show a profit. You are recommended to back horses which finished second in the five Classics for the rest of the season but only when they run in this country.
If the past is any criterion, there could well be some very good years with this simple system which will only give a small number of bets.
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