Racing: Dylan sets standard for Alexandrova to aim at

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The Independent Online

The assertation by Kieren Fallon after Alexandrova's stunning performance in the Irish Oaks on Sunday that the queen of Ballydoyle is as good a filly as he has ever ridden has the official handicapper champing at his own bit. Nigel Gray, in charge of the middle-distance ratings for the BHB, was captivated by the four-length annihilation of her peers by the daughter of Sadler's Wells. "She's head and shoulders above the fillies and won so well, that it's hard to know how to gauge her superiority," he said, "and the fascinating thing is going to be if or - I hope - when she takes on the colts."

Alexandrova's imperious display at the Curragh, and before then in the Oaks at Epsom, have been the most scintillating in any Classics this year in terms of sheer nonchalant class. But she cannot yet be judged mistress of all; the Derby and Guineas colts rank above her at the shakedown point of the three-year-old season. All the élite contests for the generation, bar the German Derby (on Sunday) have been run and the pecking order is taking shape.

The Derby is the key, but top of the heap is not the winner, Sir Percy, but Alexandrova's stablemate Dylan Thomas, who followed his brave from-the-front, beaten-a-whisker third with a clear win in the Irish version. He has slapped the gauntlet down and when Sir Percy returns he must do so with his lance horizontal.

"I've taken the view that Dylan Thomas has improved on his Epsom run." said Gray, "And Sir Percy may do as well, and I hope he does. He certainly ran to his high-class two-year-old figure in the Derby but Dylan Thomas ran to a better one at the Curragh."

The latest figures compiled by Gray and his colleagues across the world in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities put Dylan Thomas on a mark of 124, equal to yet another Ballydoyle inmate, the 2,000 Guineas winner George Washington. Sir Percy, runner-up on the Rowley Mile, is next-best three-year-old on 121. But at this stage the older horses hold the call, just. The André Fabre-trained pair Shirocco, five, and Hurricane Run, four, share a mark of 125 with the Japanese star Deep Impact, four.

Ratings, based on cold facts in the form of weights and distances but with a little gut feeling thrown in, are part of the cerebral fun of the sport and make comparisons possible over wide distances of time. At this stage of the campaign they are not set in stone; merit, absolute and comparative, among the élite is just starting to develop and inter-age competition not yet in full swing.

But for Gray, one of the gratifying element so far is the apparent strength of the form of the Derby. "There is no use pretending in the modern era that it's the be-all and end-all," he said, "but it is a starting point and this year's seems to be a solid one.

"It's encouraging to be able to say that more than a few of the runners have not only come out since, but come out and won and run well. Dylan Thomas, of course, but also also-rans like Papal Bull and Snoqualmie Boy. It's been as frustrating for us as for his connections that we haven't seen Sir Percy again yet.

"Sure, it was a close finish, and at the time we thought Dylan Thomas might have been flattered because of the soft lead he was allowed, but his performance in Ireland showed that was not the case. The other interpretation was that Sir Percy might be much better than his margin of victory, again because of the way the race panned out and the huge amount of ground he was able to make up.

"It will be fascinating to see if he, too, can improve. The old cliché is that if they finish together then they can't all be good, but it looks like they all just might be pretty good and some may be seriously good. The best are not far behind the older horses and there are some interesting times to come."

Alexandrova's victory on Sunday came too late for her assimilation into the worldwide list, but her pro tem rating is 117. "I hope that will not do her full justice," added Gray, "She's very exciting."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Touch Of Ivory (Beverley 2.15)

NB: Seattle Robber (Brighton 5.00)