We are just beyond the halfway stage of the All-Weather Championships, which started at Lingfield Park on 29 October and which will reach its climax on Finals’ Day at the same venue on 25 March.
Halfway stages are often used as a time to take stock, and the half-term report on this year’s AW Championship is overwhelmingly favourable. The average Timeform rating of a winner on the all-weather between the start of November and the middle of January has increased from 77.2 before the championships existed to 80.2 for this season. That is a move in the right direction, but the beneficial effect is much more obvious at the highest level. Only 30 AW winners were rated 100 or more in that 10-week period in 2012/2013 but 69 were this term. The number has increased year-on-year since the AW Championships were instituted and shows no signs of slowing down. Among the elite, Lamar (rated 111)(pictured above) has been notable for having contested three Fast-Track Qualifiers already, winning the first two but coming only third to Volunteer Point (rated 109) in the toteexacta Fillies’ Stakes at Chelmsford City on 16 January. Lamar also managed to win a hot non-qualifier at Lingfield on 09 January, when she lowered the colours of past AW Mile Champions Captain Cat and Grey Mirage under a skilled ride from Luke Morris. Volunteer Point’s last-three-furlong sectional for that Chelmsford City race confirms that she did well, coming from last to first in a sprightly 34.25s, and she should be a live contender for the 32Red.com Fillies & Mares Final. That promises to be a much stronger race this year than previously, however, with 114-rated Cold As Ice heading the market and last year’s winner Fresles only eighth in the ante-post betting. The other FTQ recently came at Kempton Park, where Gracious John made it five wins from his last six starts with a ready defeat of the useful Field of Vision, running to a Timeform rating of 113. He seems to be in pole position for the Unibet 3YO Sprint, though it is possible he is even better at five furlongs than six. Other notable efforts in the last fortnight came from Chookie Royale at Kempton Park on 13 January and Hombre Rojo at Lingfield Park on the previous day, the former winner of three of his last four, and the latter all of his last three. Chookie Royale got quite an easy time of things up front in his race, but had to work to get there in the first place having had his blindfold removed late. He was third in last year’s Unibet Sprint but will do well to improve on that this time round with the likes of Lancelot du Lac and Pretend around. At a lower level, the AW season continues to throw up occasional nuggets for the patient time analyst. One such was the ostensibly ordinary maiden won by Telegram at Lingfield Park on 16 January. On a day of admittedly fast times – Forceful Appeal was only half a second outside the course record later on the card – Telegram ran considerably faster in relative terms than might have been expected for a horse with his profile in defeating Ragner by five lengths. Sectional times show that some of those behind had overdone things to a degree earlier in the race, and it could well be that all the next four home will be of interest at a similar level next time. Telegram, meanwhile, looks attractively treated on a BHA mark of 85 going into handicaps. Some even faster sectionals were on display in other races. A surprisingly easy-to-back Singyoursong – the fastest sectional juvenile at Kempton in the whole of 2015 – rattled through the last quarter-mile at Lingfield Park on 09 January in 22.05s on her way to victory and continues to look a filly going places. No horse broke 34.0s for the last three furlongs at Southwell in the whole of 2015, but Bring On A Spinner managed 33.5s with a degree of comfort on 14 January, admittedly on a faster-than-normal surface and with the wind behind. The next FTQ is for the 32Red.com Marathon and takes place at Lingfield Park on Saturday. The Charlie Appleby-trained Pinzolo is the best horse in the seven-runner field but has been off since winning at Chelmsford in May. If there is a chink in his armour, then his stable-companion Anglophile may be the one to benefit. Anglophile once ran the last two furlongs at this track in 21.50s: the kind of time which even good sprinters struggle to attain! Appleby also sends out Pictograph in a maiden, and the son of Lonhro promises to be well suited by the step up to a mile following a couple of notably quick sectionals at Wolverhampton before the turn of the year. The aforementioned Captain Cat is engaged in a hot Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton on Monday. Whether he runs or not, it seems long odds-on that this contest will result in yet another 100-plus rated AW Championships winner.