Ausgabe 603 vom Freitag, 31.01.2020
Following the publication last week of the International Classifications, we now have this week the publication of the German Free Handicap (Generalausgleich or GAG for short). While the former weights are in pounds (i.e. 454 grams), the latter are in kilos, but it is fairly simple to convert, and in any case the horses listed internationally are given the same (converted) ratings in their home countries.
As we saw last week, the ratings for the top German performers in 2019 were below average, but that – while depressing – was in fact in line with the worldwide trend, and in particular the level of the three-year-old crop in 2019 was well below the norm. The four-year-old Laccario (Scalo) – the ages listed in this article refer to the current 2020 ages – was the highest-rated horse trained in Germany last year, but his rating of 115 (= GAG 97.5) was the lowest for a “champion” since the current system of ratings began in 1986. He looked very promising up to his Derby victory last July but failed to win in two subsequent outings, although placed both times; he remains in training with Andreas Wöhler, who has an excellent record with four-year-olds (think Novellist or Protectionist) and is a highly interesting prospect for this year. He is likely to be aimed at the big mile and a half races in Germany and in France, almost all of which are run in the second half of the season.
French-bred Alounak (Camelot) was the top-rated older horse. Trained originally by Jean-Pierre Carvalho and later by Waldemar Hickst, he won a Baden-Baden Group Three and then ran very well twice in North America, finishing runner-up in the Canadian International and then fifth in the Breeders´ Cup Turf, two lucrative performances which earned him a rating of 114 (GAG 97). Sadly for German racing, the 5yo has now been sold and is now in training with Andrew Balding, whose stated target for him is the Melbourne Cup. It is rather dispiriting to note that Laccario and Alounak were the only German-trained horses in the top ten in the GAG for 2019 older horses. This resulted from the fact that almost all of Germany´s top races last year went abroad, mainly to British- and French-trained runners. Godolphin´s Irish-bred Ghaiyyath (Dubawi), spectacular winner of the Grosser Preis von Baden, was the top-rated horse to run here last year, although he subsequently flopped in the Prix de l´Arc de Triomphe, as did French King (French Fifteen), winner of the Grosser Preis von Berlin, officially rated the best race in Germany in 2019. Ghaiyyath is now being prepared for the Dubai World Cup meeting, while French King is going for H.H. The Amir´s Trophy in his owner´s home country of Qatar, a race that he won last year.
Ghaiyyath was the fifth-highest rated horse in the world on the strength of his Baden-Baden victory and is rated 126 (= GAG 103), seven pounds clear of French-trained The Revenant, another son of Dubawi, who won the Badener Meile and went on to win a Group Two at Longchanp and then run up in an Ascot Group One. French King is one pound below The Revenant and two pounds clear of Aspetar (Al Kazeem), trained last year by Roger Charlton, who is also Qatari-owned and going for the big Doha meeting. Communiqué (Casamento), trained by Mark Johnston and Maktoum-owned, was runner-up to French King at Hoppegarten and comes next, together with Danceteria (Redoute´s Choice); the French-bred, English-trained and Australian-owned 5yo gelding won the Grosser Dallmayr-Preis at Munich but later finished last in the Cox Plate, Australia´s top weight-for-age event. This pair were level on ratings together Laccario and with German St. Leger winner Ispolini, another Godolphin-owned son of Dubawi. Then comes Stormy Antarctic (Stormy Atlantic) who won the Badener Meile in 2018 and last year a Group Three in Düsseldorf followed by a Group Two in Rome and two poorer performances afterwards.
Waldpfad (Shamardal), the best German sprinter for several years, comes next; he is from the same Ravensburg “W” family as Arc winner Waldgeist and stays in training this year; he the only horse rated 96.5 while there are no fewer than eight rated at 96 (= international 112), including the two placed horses from the German Derby Django Freeman (Campanologist) and Accon (Camelot) and the top filly Donjah (Teofilo). She looked an excellent prospect after her good juvenile career, but missed the first half of 2019 following an injury, and did not make her comeback until the German Oaks in August, where she finished a respectable sixth behind Diamanta (Maxios). She is now rated a pound superior to that filly, but that seems justified as Diamanta did not run again while Donjah ran second to Ghaiyyath at Baden-Baden and then won an Italian Group Two very easily. Diamanta has been retired but Donjah, currently enjoying the winter at Ohlerweiherhof, will soon be back in training with Henk Grewe and could be a force to reckon with in the top races in 2020.
All the above makes it clear that the form of the top races in Germany last year did not work out well, and this is especially true of classic form. But this is true of other leading racing nations as well and Germany has no need to hang its head in shame. Obviously we must hope for better results in 2020 and in this respect Germany seems well equipped with three juveniles of 2019 given a high rating. Rubaiyat (Areion) and Wonderful Moon (Sea The Moon), both trained by Henk Grewe, are joint top-rated on GAG 96 (= 112) with Alson (Areion) on 95.5. The last-named is now trained in France by André Fabre so it is not clear if he will campaigned here – although the French maestro is a big fan of German racing, so it is not at all out of the question. However Wonderful Moon looks a good prospect for the German Derby (won by his sire in 2014) while Rubaiyat seems less likely to stay the Derby trip but could be the main German hope for the Mehl-Mülhens-Rennen, won repeatedly by U.K.-trained runners in recent years.
The above also makes clear that the average ratings of the top German races are lower than usual and obviously many of them are below the normally accepted levels for their grade. Last week´s meeting of the European Pattern Committee in London however saw the status of all of the seven German Group One races confirmed, including the Derby and the Oaks; the classics were generally below average in many racing countries last year and it seems unlikely that these two races, which have both been won by some exceptional performers in recent years, could be demoted in the near future. In fact the parameters for races open to three-year-olds only are likely to be generally lowered, as they have often fallen below the required standard, even such renowned events as the Epsom Derby.
The one German Group One in danger of demotion is obviously the Preis von Europa, run at Cologne three weeks after the Grosser Preis von Baden and normally a fortnight before the Arc. When it was first established in 1963, the Preis von Europa was not only the richest race in Germany but one of the most valuable in Europe. However that is far from the case now, prize-money is down to 100,000 euros to the winner, just about the minimum for a Group One, the race club has been struggling for years to find a proper sponsor and recent winners, with all due respect, have not been inspiring. The race was originally run in mid-October, two weeks after the Arc, but the problem is that there are now many far more valuable races run internationally in the autumn than used to be the case. The only German race that has actually been demoted this year is Baden-Baden´s Goldene Peitsche, down from Group Two to Group Three. Germany´s top sprint has an attractive trophy for the winner, literally a golden whip, but here again prize-money is at a minimum level for the grade and sponsors have been hard to hold on to, while there are valuable six furlong races all over Europe the same weekend. This writer has personally attended almost every Preis von Europa and Goldene Peitsche for the past 40 years and has experienced some great races with thrilling finishes and top class winners; we can only hope that these days of glory return, but much better prize-money will probably be necessary in both cases.