Giant leap required to figure with greats

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The Independent Online

Not much can give Giant's Causeway a race on the track, but, it seems, he would get a hiding from two of his contemporaries if a contest could ever be decided by official ratings.

Not much can give Giant's Causeway a race on the track, but, it seems, he would get a hiding from two of his contemporaries if a contest could ever be decided by official ratings.

In collecting his fifth consecutive Group One at Leopardstown on Saturday, the iron horse once again suggested that we might find pistons and hissing steam if we were able to get under his hide. If he can be stopped it will probably need an elephant gun to so do.

Yet, despite all his winning, Giant's Causeway is still rated only 126 on the British Horseracing Board scale, which is an expression in lbs of a horse's ability. At a mile and a quarter, 1lb is the equivalent of just under a length. Such a shelf puts him way behind the now retired Dubai Millennium (136) and Montjeu (135), and also behind an animal from his own generation, the dual Derby winner Sinndar (128).

Giant's Causeway is beginning to resemble Nashwan, who won four consecutive Group Ones in 1989 - the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes - but still found himself rated behind Old Vic.

There are similarities too with another Derby winner. "For my money, it's shades of Lammtarra," Nigel Gray, a handicapper for the BHB, said yesterday. "We were criticised in racing for having him at [only] 130 at the end of his three-year-old career."

It seems this is all about the modern parable - style has again taken substance to the cleaners. "The reasoning is that it's down to the style of racing," Gray added. "Lammtarra won the Derby, he won the King George and he won the Arc, but he never won by more than a narrow margin. If we'd put him on 136, then we'd have had to put Freedom Cry, whom he beat by three-quarters of a length in the Arc, on 134 and people would have said we were mad. Who remembers Freedom Cry?

"Like Lammtarra, Giant's Causeway does just what he needs to do to win and you can only rate them against what they've beaten. What you can say is that the rating does not show you the limit of his ability. He is at least that good. It is not meant to denigrate him in any way, but 126 is all that he's needed to run to to accomplish what he's done."

The definitive figures are not decided until the year's end and Giant's Causeway may by then have forced a rethink over his standing, firstly in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday week and then in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

By then it may be confirmed in figures what many people already believe in emotion: that this is the best crop of racehorses at least since the European Pattern was introduced in 1971. "We've been very lucky to see horses of such quality this year," Gray said. "We're fortunate to have these horses, particularly these older ones, who are coming out and showing what they can do when they are mature. Horses of the quality of Dubai Millennium and Montjeu really have to be savoured."

The benchmark of excellence in the modern age is to be rated 135 or more at the season's end. Since 1990 this minimum has given us Generous 137 (1991), Peintre Celebre 137 (1997), Suave Dancer 136 (1991), Cigar 135 (1996), Daylami 135 (1999), Montjeu 135 (1999) and St Jovite 135 (1992). Quality beasts such as El Condor Pasa, Helissio, Pilsudksi and Dayjur do not quite make it.

"They are a pretty select bunch, so to have one horse at 135 in a year is pretty good going," Gray said. "To have two is very fortunate and, who knows, by the end of the season, it may be even more than that.

"Dubai Millennium recorded his highest figure of 136 in the Dubai World Cup, while Montjeu was 135 in last year's classifications and would not have had to run up to that figure so far this year. He has won with ease and has not yet been stretched. For a horse to do what Montjeu has been doing in those Group Ones without being asked a question must mean that he is exceptional.

"Sinndar is currently on 128 and, like Montjeu [who will be attempting to become the first dual Arc winner since Alleged in 1977-78], you would hope he is capable of better than his current rating because he is winning easily and progressing. These are exciting times."