The Curious Case of Quae Supra
By Hugh Fowler, paddock expert
By way of introduction my name is Hugh Fowler. Nearly 2 years ago I decided to try and develop my enthusiasm for studying 2yo maiden race runners into a way of making a retirement income whilst also indulging my passion for going racing.
I was brought up in a family steeped in National Hunt racing and my first ventures into ownership were over the sticks. I was a partner in Thinkers Effort who won his debut race under rules at Stratford in 1999. Sadly he was injured in a training accident shortly afterwards and eventually retired without running again; although he lived a long and happy life as a huntsman’s ride with the Devon and Somerset hunt.
Other NH horses followed and I had some other winners but the rate of attrition gradually took its toll and too many tears were shed.
It was quite by chance that my interest in 2yo’s was piqued around 2001 at Goodwood where I was standing with my horsey cousin at the pre-parade ring. She and her husband immediately picked out 2 of the 2yo race as head and shoulders above anything else without recourse to the racecard. They finished 1st and 2nd well clear of the field. This was how I first became aware of the art of paddock review. The winner was Majestic Missile who was a short priced favourite but they knew none of that they simply looked at the conformation of the animal.
From then on I was hooked on the idea that you could find winners from fields of unraced maidens simply by looking at them. No worrying about handicap marks and speed ratings, simply an assessment of their physical attributes and athletic potential. I soon found that it was more complicated than that but that is another story.
Over the next few years I was lucky enough to be in several 2yo syndicates including Orpen Grey and Red Presence trained by Tom Dascombe and was also lucky enough to get to know Nick who runs the British Two Year Old Racing website – www.B2yor.co.uk. I should say at this point that an awful lot of what I have learnt has been due to this fantastic resource where anyone interested in developing paddock review skills should start.
Since the beginning of the 2013 turf season I have been attending as many 2yo races as I can, photographing the fields and rating the runners. Many of my photos from the Southern racecourses can be seen on B2yor as I send all my virtual paddocks to Nick for publication. If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert I think I am about half way there as the extended example of how I think about 2yos below illustrates.
More of my history with 2yos will be revealed in due course but first I must turn to the title of this piece….
The Mysterious Affair of Quae Supra
I first saw Quae Supra on debut at Salisbury on 29th June in a class 4 7f maiden. He cost 22k, was by Exceed and Excel and was trained by R Hannon and looked a fine fellow; yet is now a 6 race maiden rated 56 and heading south. Below is my picture of him and hopefully an explanation of this mysterious or not so mysterious affair …
After the race I wrote the following “Quae Supra – the conundrum of the race, certainly looked capable of running a decent debut in the paddock. Calm and relaxed and although not highly tuned looked fit enough to be in the ruck. 76 if there is not something wrong.”
The 76 refers to my estimate as to what OR the animal might be capable of reaching based on his physical appearance. The key here is the comment ‘if there is not something wrong’.
Quae Supra was clearly a second string to the stable’s Mysterioso, with Hughes up, as he was 18/1 and not ridden by a stable jockey. Those negatives aside the Hannon’s usually only bring decent ones to Salisbury so one would think QS should go into the notebook. However why was he soon outpaced and beaten 43 lengths? Hence the statement ‘If there is not something wrong’.
Physically he is an average sized beast, looks alright at the shoulder, possibly might be marked down for a marginally sloping croup and too rounded thigh but looks reasonably calm and although physically unexceptional certainly with the size and scope from this stable to be a season winner. If there is not something wrong.
Next time out was 16th July at Sandown, dropped to class 5 but again at a track where Hannon sends his better ones. Again he was a 2nd string at 50/1 this time with a stable jock Sean Levey up and Pat Dobbs on his stablemate who was 33/1, an odd situation for this stable at Sandown.. Beaten 19.5L this time I have two pictures of him –
It is hard to believe that they are of the same horse, in the first he looks well-muscled and mentally up for it although perhaps a little weak in the gaskin. The second of these perhaps gives the impression of a less willing accomplice looking a bit sleepy or dubious with a distinct roundness to the croup and buttock. Enough here to make one question his resolution and capability but still enough physical presence to think he may be a winner during the season. Unless I was missing something?
Below is a diagram to help with identification of the anatomy.
Next time out was a class 5 maiden at Goodwood after a two month break, yet another course where the Hannons like to send their better ones but this time 100/1 and Pat Dobbs up. The photo here appears to show an animal absolutely ready to race, gleaming in
his coat and looking to have grown and strengthened up. Second string this time to Frognal Bear who is just ok and the SP suggesting the stable have no expectations.
The result, a bit better, finishing 7th and beaten only 10L. My post-race comments were “Quae Supra – Still a conundrum, is he going to spring a late season surprise? Can’t quite understand why he is not running better. I have four pictures of him and he looks a different horse in each. Just slow or a plot? Still has the potential to be 70+”
QS then went handicapping and was backed in to 7/2 with Hughes up in a class 6 handicap at Kempton where he was beaten 14L.
I then caught up with him again at Leicester in a nursery over 8.5f on heavy, all his previous runs had been over 7f. Dobbs up this time with Hughes on a 7/1 stablemate. This was a bad race on bad ground, QS was third to his stablemate in a race run so slowly he finally could keep up. Here is his picture from that day –
All the questions posed about his back end previously come to the fore again but he is still by no means a bad looking animal. So what was wrong?
Well, it actually took me four bites at this cherry before I saw what the problem had been all along. If one looks at all the pictures he is never seen taking a decent stride. In fact in the very first photo from Salisbury he appears to have both his hind feet on the ground presenting a very poor stride at extension. At Leicester I finally saw this across the paddock and realised he minced like Kenneth Williams in a Carry On film, just not physically built to be able to stride out.
So the answers to all my questions, was there something wrong, was he just slow or was it a handicap plot were finally revealed. The reason he could not perform had been staring me in the face all the time and was a simple matter of how he moved.
One imagines that the Hannons always knew this and were simply saving transport costs always sending him with another runner in the hope that the racecourse would spark some further ability out of him.
Can QS ever win a race? Well he has run twice in nurseries since the last picture, still with the Hannons finishing 14L 7th of 10 at Leicester, then 12L 12th of 14 at Kempton Class 6 down to an OR of 56. I suppose he may eventually win something but it looks doubtful. No matter how far he comes down the weights he is never going to be able to shift himself efficiently.
– Hugh Fowler