Ratings, the beloved of sports anoraks, largely confirm only what gut feeling tells. Flat racing's annual statfest is the World Thoroughbred Rankings, by which the senior handicappers from Britain, Ireland and beyond grade the top performers.
The latest edition, the judgements on the classes of 2006, were revealed yesterday and made official that in, Europe, Teofilo was last year's best two-year-old, that George Washington and Rail Link the best three-year-olds, that the sprinters of any age were not much cop and that if Sir Percy never raced again, he would retire as the worst Derby winner for nearly a century.
And the statistics also confirm something that has been a creeping trend for a few years now, that Britain is no longer the centre of the thoroughbred universe. Last year only one home-trained performer, Eclipse Stakes winner David Junior, was an outright leader in any of the 17 distance and surface categories for which champions were decreed.
The best horse in the world was US-trained four-year-old Invasor, granted a mark of 129 on the strength of his Breeders' Cup Classic victory. Then, on 128, come two more Statesiders, the three-year-olds Bernardini and Discreet Cat, followed by their compatriot Lava Man, Japanese star Deep Impact, Ireland's George Washington and France's Rail Link, all on 127. The highest-rated runner from a stable in Britain was the late Electrocutionist, granted 125.
The status of Invasor - probably the first global champion bred in Argentina since Maradona - makes him very good, but not great. A truly outstanding horse generally has a three as the middle number in his or her rating or - in the cases of a Sea-Bird, a Secretariat, a Ribot, a Brigadier Gerard - a four.
"There was no magic 130 horse this year," said Nigel Gray, the British Horseracing Board's chief handicapper, "but there are 12 rated over 125 this year, compared to eight in 2005 and six in 2004. And several are still unknown quantities."
Chief among those is certainly Godolphin's unbeaten, unexposed Discreet Cat, whose aggregate winning distance in his six runs has been 38 lengths. The colt, who will race on this year at four, first burst on the international scene in the UAE Derby, in which Invasor finished fourth, but the latest renewal of the original at Epsom, though, has had no such impact. The last Derby winner assessed below Sir Percy's 121 was the dire 1908 winner Signorinetta, judged (albeit on a purely domestic scale) to be worth only 120.
Other vignettes from the three-year-olds-plus lists are that the best sprinters were Australia's Takeover Target and US-based Henny Hughes on 120; St Leger hero Sixties Icon shared the three-year-old stayers' title with Japan's Song Of Wind on 117; and that Pride (123) inched out Ouija Board (122) for girl power.
In detail, though, ratings are only an interpretation, a transmogrification of the beauty of a galloping racehorse into dry statistics and, as such, can be damned lies. They provide a talking point in bars, a selling point for a potential stallion and, with the brush of Monet rather than Rockwell, the means to place horses on time's pantheon.
That, though, is the past. What most of us really want to know is what to follow in the Classics this year and who better to act as guides than two of the men who can wear hooded zip-up jackets with real style.
Irish racing's senior handicapper Garry O'Gorman has no doubts; for him Teofilo, named after a Cuban boxer, is a knock-out. "He has always struck me as an embryo three-year-old and I think he will be a monster," he said. "I thought Holy Roman Emperor was up there with the best Ballydoyle two-year-olds of recent years, and Teofilo, who was a sitting duck in front but found more when he was challenged, beat him fair and square in the Dewhurst."
Or did he? Step forward Britain's two-year-old expert Matthew Tester. "I agree Teofilo will improve," he said, "but his margin of victory at Newmarket was only 1/50th of a second and for me Holy Roman Emperor's route cost him more than that."
Even if the older brigade were only ordinary last year, the two-year-olds have been judged an exceptionally promising bunch. And for Teofilo's trainer Jim Bolger, juvenile champions are like buses; he also has charge of the top filly Finsceal Beo, almost the colt's equal if sex allowance is taken into account.
Though the Godolphin operation is responsible for Discreet Cat, Bernardini and poor Electrocutionist, it is a name notable by its absence from the list of 53 juveniles above 110. But among the blues' ranks there lurks Tester's dark horse. "I think they do have a Classic winner on their hands," he said. "Look out for Measured Tempo. She's a serious middle distance talent in the making."
European Rankings: Top 20 two-year-olds of 2006
Teofilo (J Bolger, Irl) 123
Holy Roman Emperor (A O'Brien, Irl) 122
Dutch Art (P Chapple-Hyam) 121
Finsceal Beo (J Bolger, Irl) 119
Mount Nelson (A O'Brien, Irl) 119
Spirit One (P Demercastel, Fr) 118
Battle Paint (J-C Rouget, Fr) 117
Strategic Prince (P Cole) 117
Authorized (P Chapple-Hyam) 116
Captain Marvelous (B Hills) 116
Eagle Mountain (A O'Brien, Irl) 116
Haatef (K Prendergast, Irl) 116
Halicarnassus (M Channon) 116
Vital Equine (E O'Neill) 116
Wi Dud (K Ryan) 116
Admiralofthefleet (A O'Brien, Irl) 115
Cockney Rebel (G Huffer) 115
He's A Decoy (D Wachman, Irl) 115
Sander Camillo (J Noseda) 115
Yellowstone (A O'Brien, Irl) 115
(GB unless stated)
Nap: Oceanos Des Obeaux
NB: Milan Deux Mille
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