Well handicapped 3-year-old horses
Middle distance prospects 2020
In this post, I’m going to highlight several well handicapped 3-year-old horses that I think are decent middle distance prospects for 2020.
I’m a fan of handicaps as a betting medium, in particular 3-year-old handicaps on the flat where there is often limited collateral form to go on.
By looking at an improvement factor, race distance, and profiling horses who are likely to rate higher once they have a greater emphasis on stamina. I’ve selected horses I believe capable of winning races from their current handicap mark.
Betting in 3-year-old handicaps
For me, handicaps are an attractive vehicle for betting,
The official handicapper makes an assessment of a lightly raced horse and assigns it a mark, it’s then down to your opinion against everyone else betting and forming the market.
Such are the complexities and mass of variables at play there are numerous approaches and angles that you can approach and try to solve the puzzle.
3-year-old handicaps are particularly appealing, I’ve heard plenty say the complete opposite, the relative lack of form I think deters people. Rather than rely on one horse’s performance measured against others, collateral form, analysis of race timings can give a big indication of the merit of a piece of form before it is verified by horse against horse comparisons.
Qualifying for a handicap mark
To qualify for an initial handicap mark on the flat in the UK most horses must run three times. However, if a horse wins on debut and then finishes in the first four on their second run then they’ll receive an initial rating.
The nature of this handicapping process means trainers are looking to get their charges on a handicap mark that underestimates their horse’s ability. There are many ways trainers can attempt to get their horses on a lenient mark and do so within the rules of racing.
One approach is running horses over a trip that isn’t their optimum. With young horses, this will usually be over a distance that will ultimately prove short of their best. When looking for well handicapped 3 year-old horses, many will have been running for their handicap mark as 2-year-olds or early in their 3-year-old careers over shorter distances.
Using a horse’s pedigree to identify those who are bred for a greater test of stamina and you can find horses who can improve ahead of their mark when stepped up in trip.
Stamina in a horses pedigree
I’m using the dosage index as a guide to the stamina potential of a horse and I’m looking for horses at the extreme of the spectrum and those who are bred to be suited by 12 furlongs as a minimum.
For dosage profiles I use the excellent free resource Pedigree Query.
The horses I’m looking at have all qualified for their handicap mark racing over distances short of what is likely to prove their best and can be considered for improvement when stepping up in distance.
Using winners of the Epsom Derby, run over 12 furlongs and St Leger over 14 furlongs as a benchmark, the average dosage profiles since the turn of the century are as follows.
Epsom Derby DI 1.04 CD 0.10
St Leger DI 1.02 CD 0.07
All the horses below have dosage index and centre of distribution figures lower than the average Epsom Derby and St Leger winners and can be expected to want a test of stamina and a distance of at least 12 furlongs to be seen at their best.
Identifying horses that are likely to stay well is straightforward, I also want horses that have been assigned a handicap mark that they look capable of winning from.
All the horses that follow I consider to have achieved a time performance that has been under-assessed by the official handicapper. This points favourably to their chances when they get the chance to compete in races with an emphasis on stamina.
Well handicapped 3-year-old horses
Afraid Of Nothing – Ralph Beckett
3-y-o b f Charm Spririt – Lady Dragon
DI 0.55 CD (0.25)
Afraid Of Nothing is an interesting horse in terms of trying to assess her potential optimum distance through her pedigree.
The dosage index is an inexact method which doesn’t always produce the results you’d expect. Still, it’s good practice to get into the detail and use this info to form an opinion.
Based solely on her dosage profile DI 0.55 CD (0.25), I’d be thinking that she is going to possibly want over 12 furlongs to be seen at her best! Yet looking at how her sire Charm Spirits’s offspring have performed, it may be that she turns out to be best suited by a little shorter?
Charm Spirit has been more influential on speed over stamina with his offspring. Some of his more notable progeny Kick On, Spirit Warning, Lydon B and Ouzu in recent seasons have all proved best at around a mile, so you might expect Afraid Of Nothing to have similar distance requirements.
That may turn out to be the case, as a 2-year-old she raced solely over 7 furlongs in her five outings, winning twice. Her final win at Epsom was a decent effort, she made all and stayed on strongly when challenged to beat Godolphin’s Lost In Time in a race that produced a very decent time performance by nursery standards.
Afraid Of Nothing then went to France for her final outing of the season where she ran poorly in a Listed race. We need to forgive her that run but freshened up for a new season, I have no problems with doing that.
The way Afraid Of Nothing stayed on to win on heavy ground at Epsom gives cause for optimism regarding her stamina. As does her dam Lady Dragon, who was 13 furlong winner in France on very soft ground. Afraid Of Nothing is Lady Dragon’s first foal to race and I’m hoping she will have passed on some of her stamina to her talented daughter.
I see Afraid Of Nothing being better when moving up in distance from 7 furlongs, whether she is going to need or be fully effective at middle distances we’ll find out. She’s certainly on a decent enough handicap mark to pick up a race or two and any further improvement brought on by a greater test of stamina will open up more options for her.
I’d particularly be on the lookout for her back at Epsom where both her wins as a 2-year-old came. She’s already shown herself capable of handling the uniqueness of the track as well as softer going conditions.
Arch Moon – Michael Dods
3 y-o b g Sea The Moon – Archduchess
DI 0.63 CD (0.14)
Arch Moon is handicapped on three runs as a 2-year-old over 1 mile and has been allocated an initial handicap mark of 83.
I don’t have him as outstandingly well-handicapped on what I saw in those three efforts but, he has strong stamina influences in his pedigree and is going to be a better horse when stepped up in distance.
By the promising stallion Sea The Moon, his progeny do well in their 3-year-old careers and he imparts plenty of stamina into his stock. Out of Archduchess, who herself was effective up to 12 furlongs, Arch Moon has an attractive pedigree and one that appeals as a horse who will be at his best at trips around 12 furlongs.
El Jefe – Brian Ellison
3 y-o b g Born To Sea – Ros Mountain
DI 0.63 CD (0.23)
El Jefe ran four times as a 2-year-old, progressive on each run he put up his best effort in a fair nursery at Pontefract on his final outing.
At Pontefract, he stepped to a mile for the first time and raced on soft ground. Missing the start, El Jefe raced in the rear until staying on in promising style up the Pontefract straight to finish third.
This was a big step up on his previous efforts and his style of running very much indicated that he would be better served by a sterner test of stamina. This is backed up by pedigree, El Jefe is by Born At Sea out of an unraced Montjeu mare.
Starting the season on an official handicap mark of 55, El Jefe looks on a decent mark judged on the time of his Pontefract effort and is very much one to improve for a step up to 12 furlongs or further.
He showed a liking for the soft ground at Pontefract, he may prove equally effective under quicker conditions but I’d be cautious until he proves himself on faster ground.
El Naseri – Michael Dods
3 y-o b c Battle Of Marengo – Dubaya
DI 0.83 CD (0.03)
The Michael Dods trained El Naseri raced three times as a 2-year-old and has been assessed with a handicap mark of 78. Judged on the final of those three runs I think the official handicapper has slightly under estimated El Naseri and he’s on a mark that will allow him to be competitive in handicaps.
El Naseri becomes more interesting given he has been handicapped on three runs over 7 furlongs. The indicators are present that suggest he is going to be a better performer over a longer distance.
By Battle Of Marengo who himself stayed well (4th in the 2013 Derby) and has been an influence of stamina in his offspring.
Watching El Naseri’s final run last season at York, he closed on the winner in the final furlong after needing urging earlier in the straight. It could suggest that on this evidence El Naseri will be suited by a sterner test.
Visual impressions can mislead, cross-referencing this impression with time analysis of the race suggests the race was run at an even tempo throughout, a true pace.
From this, my take is that the leaders weren’t slowing having gone too fast early, more that El Naseri had more energy reserves at the end of the race, stamina, and was the quickest horse through the final furlong. I think he’ll be a better performer when these reserves are called on over a longer distance.
The York going was soft, El Naseri’s best run to date and the only time he encountered soft ground. It’s worth noting both his sire and dam were at their best on soft ground conditions and it could be that El Naseri turns out to be the same.
It all lines up for a potentially decent 3-year-old season – he’s on a handicap mark better than he’s already shown, promises to be a better horse when stepped up in distance and may have a propensity for soft ground.
Secret Acquisition – Daniel Kubler
3 y-o b f Sea The Moon – Maria Letizig
DI 0.55 CD (0.25)
Secret Acquisition has a pedigree that is very much that of a middle distance performer. She had the obligatory three runs as a 2-year-old and has been allotted a starting handicap mark of 66. That’s a pretty accurate estimation of the best of what she achieved in her first season.
Bred to stay well, her best performance in 2019 was on debut. The race offered the strongest test of stamina that she has faced with a decent pace from the offset. She performed to a slightly lower level on her next start in a race run at a slower pace, before disappointing when dropped to 7 furlongs on her final start. A drop to 7 furlongs was never going to suit.
By Sea The Moon, a stallion who has done well with his second season offspring when they step up in trip and by a Galileo mare, Maria Letizia, Secret Acquisition can be expected to improve once she gets to tackle a mile and a half.
Handicapped on three runs over inadequate distances at two, while not thrown in off 65 there’s the obvious scope and a handicap to be won when upped in distance.
Sir Charles Punch – Tim Easterby
3 y-o b g Sir Percy – Russian Punch
DI 0.33 CD (0.55)
Straightforward this one, on a decent handicap mark and bred to be suited by a thorough test.
Sir Charles Punch is the first foal of the 7 furlong winning mare Russian Punch and the Derby winner Sir Percy, a stallion whose progeny stay extremely well.
Trained by James Given as a 2-year-old, he subsequently transferred to the Tim Easterby stable. Sir Charles Punch raced 5 times in his first season at distances up to 1 mile.
He ran 3rd in a decent looking Beverley novice race on his 4th start. A race run at a very decent pace, the field finished well strung out behind the promising Mark Johnston horse Dontaskmeagain. It’s worth noting that this was the only time Sir Charles Punch encountered soft ground and his best effort, this could turn out to be significant.
Sir Charles Punch looks nicely weighted off an official mark of 75 based on the Beverley run and I’d expect Tim Easterby to find opportunities to exploit that mark when stepping him up in distance.
Smuggler – Marcus Tregoning
3 -y-o b g Sir Percy – Patronella
DI 0.81 CD (0.11)
Smuggler, a Sir Percy gelding out of a High Chaparral mare raced three times as a 2-year-old at up to 7 furlongs and is handicapped on these runs on an official mark of 72.
There’s little doubt on breeding that he is going to be a better horse when he faces a stiffer test of stamina and 12 furlongs as a minimum should suit.
Smuggler’s best run last season was in an above-average maiden won by Persuasion at the Glorious Goodwood meeting. The race was contested by several promising types and returned a decent number on the clock, on that run Smuggler starts the 2020 season on a very decent mark which could look even better when the emphasis is on stamina.
I’m a little cold on Smuggler’s trainer who doesn’t have the greatest record with improving horses, that would be a negative for me. Even so, I’d expect he’ll be able to find a staying handicap or two for Smuggler at some of the lesser tracks in 2020.
Talap – Roger Varian
3 y-o b g – Kingman – Tamarind
DI 0.63 CD (0.18)
Talap raced five times as a 2-year-old and while he failed to win, he ran some decent races and was progressive throughout his first season. His final start at Wolverhampton being his best effort and sees him start the 2020 season on an official handicap mark of 80.
There’s a little juice in that mark given what he showed on his final two runs at Windsor and Wolverhampton.
A Kingman gelding, by the Group 3 winning mare Tamarind, a winner herself over 12 furlongs, Talap looks like being well suited by a step up in distance. Roger Varian has trained a number of the family, several whom have shown their best at middle distances and I expect he will have no problem finding a race for Talap of an initial rating of 80.
Viceregent – Richard Fahey
3 y-o b g Nathaniel – Simply Shining
DI 0.86 CD 0.00
A Nathaniel gelding by the stables mile handicap winner Simply Shining, Viceregent ran five times as a 2-year-old and contested two of the better 1 mile nurseries at the end of last season at Ayr and York.
The Ayr Viceregent finished 8th beaten 7 lengths, that may not scream a winner in waiting but I think the Ayr race looks to have been under-assessed by the handicapper and Vicergent has since been dropped 5 lbs. That makes him competitive, particularly if his sights are lowered a little, the Ayr race was a class 2 contest.
Given a step up in trip I fancy Richard Fahey will be able to find a handicap or two off a mark of 68 on the northern circuit with Viceregent.
Zegalo – Roger Varian
3 -y-o b c Zoffany – Mzyoon
DI 0.79 CD (0.12)
Another horse from the Beverley novice won by Dontaskmeagain. He finished 2nd but that looked unlikely for most of the race.
Dontaskmeagain made all at a good gallop from the offset, Zegalo was ridden along fully 4 furlongs from the finish, it wasn’t until the final furlong that he started to pick up when he stayed on in eye-catching style to pass two horses and make significant headway on the winner.
The impression he left was very much that he wanted a stiffer test of stamina. By an unraced Galileo mare Mzyoon, there’s stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree.
The Beverley race was his second run and points to Zegalo as being well-handicapped. He ran subsequently winning a very average Nottingham maiden and not needing to run anywhere near his Beverley form to come home a comfortable winner. Both races were on soft ground, this could turn out to be a requirement for Zegalo to show his best?
Zegalo was a big 2-year-old and looks very much the type that will be better with time. A very promising type for staying handicaps and I’m expecting Roger Varian will have no trouble winning a few handicaps with Zegalo as he steps him up in distance.
Well handicapped 3-year-old horses – middle distance prospects 2020
- AFRAID OF NOTHING – Ralph Beckett
- ARCH MOON – Micheal Dods
- EL JEFE – Brian Ellison
- EL NASERI – Michael Dods
- SECRET ACQUISITION – Daniel Kubler
- SIR CHARLES PUNCH – Tim Easterby
- SMUGGLER – Marcus Tregoning
- TALAP – Roger Varian
- VICEREGENT – Richard Fahey
- ZEGALO – Roger Varian