Lack of quality, track bias make the going tough
Saturday's Martell-sponsored Grand National meeting proved short on quality, long on track bias.
As is becoming the norm with the running rail out at Happy Valley, the weekend's action in the territory was dominated by a surface that favoured those animals produced late down the centre of the course.
The churned-up ground under the rails is simply slower than out wide, and it's a chronic situation that continues to deteriorate through the card.
The official going was reported as 'good' throughout the evening on Saturday but the race times suggest progressively slowing ground, with at least the rails runners encountering an easy surface from the opening contest.
Certainly, by the end of the evening, the city track was riding no faster than a 'soft' surface might, and yet again proved incapable of providing the level playing field that supporters of this billion-dollar sport deserve.
As for the action, track bias or no track bias there is no getting away from the overall mediocre nature of the time performances.
The evening kicked off with the Martell XO Supreme Plate for griffins and, after the quality on show from this class in recent weeks, Big Thrills' winning time of one minute and 13.2 seconds brought us back to reality with a thump, earning Wendyll Woods' mount a very ordinary 29 Topspeed rating.
Landing a punt, this win was clearly not unexpected, and Big Thrills had stepped up on his debut 22 time figure and is entitled to progress again.
However, the time still confirms the immediate impression that this was a very ordinary contest and Eastern Reserve is becoming disappointing. Having clocked a speed figure of 55 on his debut, he ran third with a 35 time rating and has now failed to land the spoils with a still inferior 29 Topspeed.
The next, the Class Six Martell Noblige Handicap, did produce a solid time performance relative to the grade of the race, with Chief Commander earning a 25 time rating for his 21/4-length defeat of Bold Print (18).
The third race, over 1,800 metres, was run at a good gallop, but the heavily campaigned Nansen (43) still recorded a figure a couple of pounds off his best this season. Win It All (54) ran his best rating to finish third and, considering he cut out the pace on the rails, is probably the one to take away from this race.
By the fourth race, the Class One L'Or de Martell Cup, the deteriorating ground was starting to show up in the race times and, although far from living up to his official handicap rating, Kowloon Pride (69) clocked his best Topspeed to date.
Danish Heights (56) is one that benefitted from the conditions, racing home late and wide to land the fifth race, the Martell Cognac Handicap, and didn't have to return his best time performance to land the 1,650-metre contest to do so.
Similar comments apply to Feodor (51), who landed the next Martell Handicap over the same trip, a race that should surely have been won by Good Tension (33) had his apprentice not kept him close to the rails.
The Chivas Regal Handicap, won by Rainbow Star, looked a particularly poor race, and a winning time rating of 14 simply confirmed that impression.