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International classifications: Regulars underpin a strong division.

ALTHOUGH numbers were down on last year's high, there is still plenty of strength in depth among the older horses, with almost a third of the 441 horses included in this division attaining a rating of 115+.

Feature of this year's Classification is the prominence of regulars Skip Away (131), making his third appearance, and Swain (129), reproducing his 1997 mark and appearing for a fourth time.

The absence of Pilsudski and Singspiel left the way clear for Skip Away to claim top honours, both in the division and overall. His rating of 131 was fully justified and confirming the resurgence of the older horses. Since American-trained horses found their way into the Classification, this division is looking far more healthy. This is their fourth year of full inclusion and Skip Away continued the trend of having broken the 10-year average on each occasion.

Top European honour goes to Intikhab, accredited with a rather miserly 130 (Postmark 133). His eight- length Queen Anne Stakes rout of a useful field was a performance right out of the top drawer, and on my figures the best recorded worldwide last year.

The Godolphin team is not surprisingly well represented, with a further four horses rated 120+ among their number. Eclipse Stakes winner Daylami (123) ranks the best of them. This, too, seems a rather mean figure, as a literal reading of his three-length King George fourth to stablemate Swain, when slightly hampered by High-Rise, would make him officially rated 125. The King George is solid form, and I am happy with Daylami's Postmark of 126.

Daylami's Man O'War Stakes defeat of subsequent Breeders' Cup Turf winner Buck's Boy (125) helped to confirm the suspicion that, when able to reproduce their best, the European middle-distance turf horses have the edge on the Americans.

Unfortunately, they were unable to do so when it mattered at Churchill Downs. Third-placed ex-English Dushyantor (120), making his third appearance in the classification-rated 117 in 1997, 120 in 1996-suggests the Breeder's Cup Turf form is far from outstanding though, something which should give heart to handlers of the better European horses this year.

Our milers also failed spectacularly at the Breeders' Cup, Da Hoss (125) making a remarkable comeback to take the Mile on only his second start since landing the 1996 running, when also accredited with a mark of 125.

Ex-English top handicapper Hawksley Hill (124) has done extremely well since going Stateside. His second to Da Hoss at Churchill Downs is rated the third best turf miling performance of the year.

As with the three-year-olds, the sprinters failed to really set the pulse

SKIP AWAY'S 1998 TRACK RECORD

5 gr h by Skip Trial (USA)-Ingot Way (USA) (Diplomat Way)

Owner: Mrs Carolyn Hine

Trainer: Sonny Hine

PERFORMANCES

Feb 7, Gulfstream Park, Donn Handicap, won

Feb 28, Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park Handicap, won

May 9, Pimlico, Pimlico Special Handicap, won

May 30, Suffolk Downs, Massachussets Handicap (Grade 3), won

Jun 28, Hollywood Park, Hollywood Gold Cup (Grade 1), won

Aug 30, Monmouth Park, Philip H Iselin Stakes (Grade 2), won

Sep 19, Belmont Park, Woodward Stakes (Grade 1), won

Oct 10, Belmont Park, Jockey Club Gold Cup (Grade 1), 3rd

Nov 7, Churchill Downs, Breeders' Cup Classic (Grade 1), 6th

nFrom page IC9

racing, with the top races starting to resemble `whose turn is it today' sprint handicaps.

Elnadim (121) was clearly the best on the European scene, finishing 5lb clear of Andreyev and My Best Valentine in his age group, and a pound clear of Tamarisk overall. His superiority is more marked on my figures however, his July Cup winning Postmark of 124 rating him 4lb clear of Tamarisk, with whose rating I concur.

There is little doubt that Elnadim has his quirks and perhaps his two subsequent failures went against him, but for my money a peak-form Elnadim was among the best sprinters of recent years. Certainly, he produced two performances last year which can be rated superior to his 1997 form, yet the International Classification would have us believe he was the same horse.

The stayers again provide some controversy, the ever popular Double Trigger again failing to secure champion status, a position that my figures support.

As is becoming increasingly common though, the champion stayer is rated on a performance at below two miles. As the sub-divisions stand, there is no doubt that Kayf Tara's (120) Irish St Leger defeat of Silver Patriarch was the best staying performance of 1998. Indeed, I rate it higher still at 123. Next best on the official lists come Celeric and Double Trigger (119), from Arctic Owl (118).

However, Kayf Tara's best Postmark at the Cup trips is 116, recorded in both the Ascot and Goodwood versions. With 2-3f sub-divisions at up to a mile and a half, perhaps it is time to introduce a further category for true stayers, that is to say performances at two miles plus.

On my figures this would see Celeric (121), whose Group 1- winning penalty just undid him in a fast-run Jockey Club Cup, heading the list from his length victor, the vastly improved Arctic Owl (120).
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Curtis, Paul
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 13, 1999
Words:856
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