Harbinger reaching for the Stars

HARBINGER’S performance in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes earned him a rating of 135 as he was announced the clear leader in the 2010 World Thoroughbred Rankings, unveiled yesterday.

Sir Michael Stoute’s colt was injured and did not race again after his 11-length triumph at Ascot but was considered 6lb better than other horses around the globe and just 1lb inferior to last year’s champion Sea The Stars.

The combined musings of the world’s senior handicappers resulted in the release of the rankings on Tuesday and Blame, who inflicted Zenyatta’s first career defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is next best on 129.

This is 1lb ahead of three-time American Grade One winner Quality Road and the top three-year-olds of 2010, 2000 Guineas hero Makfi and Workforce, who took the Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The British Horseracing Authority’s head of handicapper Phil Smith explained: “We all thought Harbinger was a horse with a fair amount of potential at the start of the year but what characterised 2010 was that the form of his races always seemed to work out, making it appear that the ratings he got through the year were appropriate.

“Obviously he was a classic improver but we never expected him to win (the King George) like that.

“The handicappers agreed unanimously on 135, which is incredibly unusual. The form had a pretty strong look to it.

“Wide-margin winners are hard to assess and you could view the King George as a fluke, caused by the demise of Workforce.

“But in our view, if Workforce had brought his Derby run to the table, he would have been beaten.

“I suspect Sea The Stars was a better horse than we were able to rate him, but 135 is absolutely sound. Harbinger is the highest-rated four-year-old since 1978 and Alleged, although some three-year-olds have been higher subsequently.”

Garry O’Gorman, the senior Irish handicapper, added: “His performance in the King George was astonishing, better than anything Sea The Stars produced, and I would not have had a problem had he been higher.”

Harry Herbert, managing director of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, owners of Harbinger, said in reaction to the news: “In winning the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot so impressively and then producing one of the greatest performances of all time to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by 11 lengths in record time, Harbinger has confirmed himself as one of the all time greats.

“All of us here at Highclere feel very proud and privileged to have raced a world champion for our owners.”

Makfi was triumphant at Newmarket last May but suffered defeat by Canford Cliffs on his next start at Royal Ascot, although he is still rated 1lb higher than that rival.

Deputy head of handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill explained: “I am not totally convinced Canford Cliffs is not a better horse than Makfi but Makfi’s performance in the Prix Jacques le Marois was superior to Canford Cliffs’ effort in the Sussex Stakes.”

Japanese-trained Arc second Nakayama Festa shares that rating of 127 while Aidan O’Brien’s Cape Blanco and Rip Van Winkle are both on 126.

They are joined at that level by dual Cox Plate winner So You Think, who is now part of the Ballydoyle set-up after leaving the care of Australian legend Bart Cummings.

O’Brien also had the top sprinter in Starspangledbanner (121) while record-breaking filly Goldikova is rated 125 following her third Breeders’ Cup Mile triumph.

Goldikova finishes with the same rating as the great American mare Zenyatta, with both dropping to lower marks despite their achievements.

O’Gorman said: “They are down from their highs in 2009 but back to their level of 2008. It’s important to stress we are not denigrating them, but in terms of actual performance level, they did not reach the heights of the previous year. That said, it would be a brave man to say they were inferior.”

Meanwhile Britain’s two-year-old handicapper Matthew Tester believes Frankel is the only horse to watch in 2011 – despite Henry Cecil’s star being granted the same mark as Dream Ahead in the European ratings.

Frankel and Dream Ahead were both rated 126 in the end-of-season figures compiled by the head handicappers from across the continent.

This is higher than St Nicholas Abbey (124) last year and level with New Approach, who in 2007 recorded a higher rating than any juvenile since Xaar a decade earlier.

But while Frankel brushed aside a clearly below-par Dream Ahead when recording his fourth and final victory of the campaign in the Dewhurst Stakes, the handicappers felt this was not an improvement in form on his ultra-impressive win in the Royal Lodge at Ascot.

“Dream Ahead and David Simcock have not got the credit they deserve,” said Tester.

“He won his maiden by nine lengths, then on his second start he won a Group One, the Prix Morny.

“Then in the Middle Park Stakes he beat the Coventry, Gimcrack, Norfolk and Prix Robert Papin winners by nine lengths.

“If he were trained by a more fashionable trainer and was by a more fashionable stallion than Diktat – if it was Aidan O’Brien and a Galileo, I’m sure people would be wondering if he was the next Sea The Stars.”

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