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Sunday 21 July 2013

May the force be with you !

I have now returned from the heat of Cyprus and I'm raring to get back amongst the winners !

The July Cup looked a great race on paper and it was dominated by Lethal Force who showed his performance at Ascot was not a penalty kick.

Below are the thoughts of the BHB Handicapper on the race so that we have a record recorded on the blog for future reference :

The words “seconds out, round three” sprang to mind as I watched Lethal Force and Society Rock parade in the paddock on a sweltering day at Newmarket’s July course, writes Stewart Copeland.

Much had been said after the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, with some suggesting Lethal Force owed his win to a good ride, rather than his ability being the decisive factor on the day. As I wrote in my blog on the race I disagreed with that view, and I’ll return to that later.

This year’s 6f Group 1 Darley July Cup was far from a two-horse race though. Half of the declared twelve-strong field had already triumphed at this level, though it was unfortunate for connections of one of them, the Bahrain-trained Krypton Factor, that he had to be withdrawn after bursting through the front of his stall.

The eleven who eventually took part meant this was the smallest field in the race since Agnes World beat nine rivals in 2000. The market was headed by the South African challenger Shea Shea, who was hoping to go one better than when runner-up to Sole Power in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot. Both though had a question mark against them for the same reason, as their best form had been achieved at the minimum trip.

There were no such doubts about Lethal Force and Society Rock, and it was fascinating to see which pair would usurp the other. Chris Nash, who oversees the top 5f horses, and myself were both of the view that the Diamond Jubilee represented stronger form than the King’s Stand, so we were hoping that would be borne out by the latter duo.

As it turned out, what was to follow not only produced a really pleasing result from a handicapping viewpoint, but hopefully put to bed those who questioned Lethal Force’s superiority at Royal Ascot, which I alluded to at the start of this piece. It’s surprising when sectional times are available, which clearly gave an invaluable insight in to how the Diamond Jubilee was run, that there was a body of opinion that Society Rock was unlucky at Royal Ascot. Quite what that opinion was based on I don’t know, but it certainly wasn’t the clock.

Lethal Force’s dominant front-running display was tremendous to watch. He displayed a high cruising speed before stamping his authority on the race from two furlongs out and, despite a slight stumble shortly after, always looked in control. His old foe, Society Rock, chased in vain to finish a length and a half back in second, with Slade Power in third faring best of the Irish challengers, a further three-quarters of a length behind. The favourite, Shea Shea, finished fourth, a neck further back.

From a ratings perspective, Lethal Force came into the race joint top rated with Shea Shea at 120, and it was a case of whether I felt he had improved upon that to win. I took the view he has, but only marginally and have revised him to 121, a view also shared across the board by my international colleagues who make up the World Thoroughbred Rankings committee. That meant Society Rock ran to his rating of 117, and Slade Power posted a career best of 115, having been 109 pre-race. Interestingly, this meant that Shea Shea reproduced the 114 my colleague had him running to in the King’s Stand, a creditable performance but still below the level he achieved over 5f at Meydan earlier in the year, which his rating is based on.

Apart from that, the form is also bolstered by the time, which was a new course record. Course records are not always a guarantee of an exceptional time, but on this occasion it is. Comparisons with the other races on the card, including the fiercely competitive Bunbury Cup, show the time to be on a par with Lethal Force’s rating, leaving little doubt that he is fully deserving of his position at the top of the European sprint ladder.

Where does this place Lethal Force historically? His rating is now on a par with Starspangledbanner who completed the same double in 2010. Interestingly, in winning the Golden Jubilee, as it was called then, Starspangledbanner beat Society Rock by a similar margin, so the pair have something in common. It also speaks volumes for Society Rock, who’s been toughing it out at the top of the sprinting tree for four seasons, and has maintained his form and enthusiasm remarkably well. We then have to go back to Oasis Dream’s 125 in 2003 to find a better performance, which puts in to context what an excellent effort it was from Lethal Force.