2014 Future Champions Day Preview and Tips
The precursor to British Champions Day on Saturday is, logically enough, Future Champions Day on Friday. In a first for the two meetings, they've been connected chronologically making for an exciting two days' racing for fans of the flat.
As the name implies, the first five races are exclusively the province of the juveniles, and they include three Group 1's in their number. The card is concluded with a pair of older horse Group races, both of which have decidedly competitive looks to them.
1.50 Nursery 7f
The action gets underway with a seven furlong two year old fillies' handicap, with sixteen scheduled to face the starter. Obviously, less than that will actually run, meaning less than the four places available if they all did stand their ground. Cynicism aside, this looks borderline impossible in any case, with most of the field open to varying degrees of improvement, and unproven on deep ground.
Conjuring might be an interesting runner - one of many, granted. She was third over course and distance in a similar race on good to firm but, being out of a Shirley Heights mare, could improve for the soft turf. Staying on that last day, and actually dropped a couple of pounds for this, she might be worth an arrow in the dark.
Against her is a quartet of twice-raced last time out winners: Majestic Manner, Pulcinella, Fidelma Moon, and Deep Blue Sea.
Majestic Manner won her maiden nicely, a race which is working out well with three subsequent winners from six runners. She made all there, and with Ryan Moore taking over from Richard Hughes, she should make another bold bid. The form of her trainer - just two wins from 41 runners in the past fortnight at time of writing - tempers enthusiasm a touch.
Pulcinella represents Godolphin and specifically Charlie Appleby, a man with a brilliant late season Newmarket record. She's actually dropping down in trip after an easy win over a mile for her maiden victory, a move that doesn't look obviously beneficial. Nevertheless, connections are respected at HQ.
I'm a big fan of Joey Haynes, especially so when he teams up with Karl Burke, and this pair unite around Fidelma Moon, who won her maiden on the all weather at Wolverhampton last time. Although that wouldn't have been much of a race, she'd previously run a very solid race in second - beaten a short head - at Yarmouth on good to soft ground.
The track at Yarmouth has had problems in recent times with ridges appearing, something which is being addressed at the moment ahead of next season; and it's reportedly a similar story on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket, all of which suggests that Burke's filly will cope fine with conditions.
Whether she's good enough is another question entirely, but in a wide open race, she's another to keep onside.
Deep Blue Sea is another Yarmouth 'veteran', both her runs occurring there, and both over six furlongs on good ground. Although she's bred to get this seventh furlong, she may not be genetically made for squelchier sod, though that is far from categorical. It's a guesser's race, in truth, and your guess is as good as (or perhaps better than) mine regarding whether she'll act on soft.
Top rated on the speed figures is Karl Burke's Little Lady Katie, but her form has a pretty exposed look to it and, on balance, should not be enough to match some of this unexposed band. Conjuring comes in next on those numbers, and she'll do for me as a token nomination, with 16/1 a ready excuse for a poor showing if that comes to pass.
The truth is this is a jelly-nailing exercise and anyone with a strong opinion is probably a certified mentalist. 😉
2.25 Cornwallis Stakes (Group 3) 5f
The Cornwallis Stakes, a five furlong Group 3, has a roll of honour littered with precocious sorts that didn't really train on. Hot Streak last year was a recent exception, ridden by Jamie Spencer, and the same Qatar Racing silks will be worn by Spencer again this year on morning line favourite, Strath Burn.
On the form of his close second to Kool Kompany in the Prix Robert Papin, a five furlong Group 2 run on very soft turf, he's the one to beat. Since that effort back in July, he's had just the one outing, a disappointing showing on soft at Newbury. That was over six panels though, and it's possible he didn't get home. If that theory proves correct, and Strath Burn has continued to progress despite not being seen on the track, he'll be hard to peg back. But I'm happy to look elsewhere with a few questions emerging.
Squats is more exposed than many, with six efforts already on the board. Three of those were victories, and the most recent pair were at this trip, beating the same horse - Profitable, re-opposes today - into second each time. His most recent run was when third behind Accipiter, who also re-opposes today, and there should be little between the trio, meaning the 14/1 about your pick of the re-opposing pair is more appealing than the 11/2 about Squats.
Moonraker has the highest rating in the field, though not necessarily a very high rating for the grade, and has been beaten a few times now. He looks likely to run his race again, assuming soft ground causes no issues, but he's hard (for me) to fancy.
In a race where the home defence looks pretty weak, it might be worth taking a chance with Jessica Long's Volatile. Despite her name, Long trains in Sweden, and this lad won his only start there... by 16 1/2 lengths! It's impossible to know the merit of that form, but I can tell you two things: first, the odds on jolly was second in that race, implying it's solid enough at whatever grade it was; and second, Andrea Atzeni - who could have ridden plenty of others in this race - takes the mount. 11/1 in another guessers' race is all right by me.
Air Of Mystery is the other unbeaten runner in the field, and trainer Marcus Tregoning is in great form. She won her debut at Bath on firm ground, so this will be a totally different test, but the fact they're prepared to have a crack suggests she ought to go on it. Who knows, she may even be better for it.
I might have a couple of quid on Andrea's mount, but these first two races are not ones to be getting stuck into. At least, not for me.
2.55 Middle Park Stakes (Group 1) 6f
That's more like it. A Group 1 sprint with some very decent form on offer. Ivawood is a shade of odds on, which looks skinny. Sure, he's the one to beat on his brace of summer Group 2 triumphs, but he's been off for 78 days, and the soft turf here will feel very different to the good to firm the last days.
That said, he's a very talented animal, and has a stride which gobbles up the ground. Whether his stride will be so effective on a rain-softened lawn is a question that is not accommodated in quotes of 4/5. Not for me, at least.
One who has shown he goes on soft is Charlie Hills' Muhaarar. It was 'only' a maiden he won in the mud, but that was his début and he's since shown a good level of form behind Ivawood on faster terrain. The way he gallops on relentlessly could just see him closing at the death and, if Ivawood is not away and gone, 7/1 about Paul Hanagan's mount will be fair enough.
In between those two in the betting is Cappella Sansevero. He's danced plenty of dances this year, and got high marks on most occasions. Soft ground will also pose no problems, as he's won twice on variants of soft in Ireland and also ran a close third in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes on the same.
Charming Thought takes a big step up in class so, while he might bound forward, the price would need to be chunky to justify the risk. It's not. And I don't like the exposed Kool Kompany at the prices in a Group 1 either, even though his form ties in closely with Cappella's.
The one really quirky entry here is Aidan O'Brien's The Warrior. With no form in his three races to date to suggest a tilt at this windmill was a sane move, here he is all the same. Not as a pacemaker, for Ballydoyle have no other representation. So why? Maybe, just maybe, he's a good bit better than he's revealed on the track to date... It could be that the ground brings him to life... and it could be that he's a 'morning glory' horse. Either way, he's worth a second glance as a very odd-looking entry.
An interesting race for many reasons, and I think Muhaarar might give the jolly most to think about. I'll be pretty interested in how The Warrior runs too, and have had a cheeky fiver each way at 40/1.
RaceBets have a good offer, whereby they'll refund your stake as a free bet if your selection is second to a Richard Hannon runner. Ivawood, the 5/6 favourite, is trained by Richard Hannon.
Full terms are as follows: Day of race only / Refund applied as bonus cash / Bonus must be wagered 3 times /Max £20 total refund / Win only, or Win parts of each way bets
3.25 Fillies' Mile (Group 1) 1m
As the name suggests, this is a mile test for juvenile fillies and it's been a very good race befitting of its Group 1 status. Last year, Chriselliam won and then went on to take the Juvenile Fillies Turf at the Breeders Cup. Alas, she succumbed to illness in February of this year.
This year, Lucida is the clear form pick, and I hope she wins (mainly because I've backed her antepost for the 1000 Guineas next May). She was second to Cursory Glance in the Moyglare Stud Stakes, a Group 1, at the Curragh before winning over seven-eighths here in the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes.
The Moyglare form is comfortably the best juvenile fillies form of the season so far, with the third, Found, winning the Group 1 Marcel Boussac (fourth here, Malabar, had a terrible trip and finished in the same position in the same French race); fifth, Osaila, taking the valuable Tattersalls Millions sales race; and sixth, Qualify, hacking up in a Group 3 next time.
With scope to improve, the imponderable is the ground. Lucida won on yielding on her racecourse bow, but has faced good or quicker since. Her pedigree wouldn't necessarily give confidence that she'll go through the mud, but her trainer doesn't travel for now't. Like I say, I hope she wins.
If one improves past her, it's most likely to be Agnes Stewart, whose Group 2 mile win last time shows both class and stamina. By Lawman, she'll probably be fine on sodden too, but I'd be disappointed if she, or Marsh Hawk, beat the favourite.
Marsh Hawk does have a soft ground win, by seven lengths too, though that was in maiden company. The second that day was Fadhayyil, who was subsequently a length second to Lucida in the Rockfel. On a literal interpretation then, Marsh Hawk can win.
Of the rest, I would love to see Forte run closest to Lucida, mainly because I bumped into the bloke who owns her - and Oaks winner, Talent - in the buffet car on the Eurostar the other week. A very nice chap with a small but well formed breeding operation somewhere in the west country, some more black type would see a better stallion hop on young Forte's back in due course.
4.00 Dewhurst Stakes (Group 1) 7f
It's the turn of the boys now, and just seven furlongs this time for another juvie Group 1. Richard Hannon's progressive Dark Angel colt, Estidkhaar, is favoured, and at around even money too.
That makes perfect sense on the back of his pair of Group 2 wins at this range, especially given his proven ability to act with cut. He'll likely sit handy, taking a lead from Secret Brief I should think, and then strike as they exit the dip. At least, that's how it looks on paper.
But this is far from a one horse race. Maftool brings a robust level of form to the showdown, culminating in a recent Group 3 success. By Hard Spun, it's not certain he'll go in the ground, but that's true of plenty of others too, and his form makes him more worthy of the chance than many.
Ballydoyle have a crack with Smuggler's Cove, a son of Fastnet Rock, one of the stallions of the season. Winner of a Listowel maiden and a Dundalk Listed race, the latter by the small matter of seven lengths, this is a different - and higher class - test. But he's earned the right to be here, and is another with bundles of potential.
The rest shouldn't be good enough, though Dutch Connection might run a little better than odds of 14/1.
It's not a betting race for me - like a number of others on this card - but I think Estidhkaar will probably win unless Smuggler's Cove can leap forward.
RaceBets have a good offer, whereby they'll refund your stake as a free bet if your selection is second to a Richard Hannon runner. Estidhkaar, the 10/11 favourite, is trained by Richard Hannon.
Full terms are as above (see 2.55)
4.35 Challenge Stakes (Group 2) 7f
At last, a betting race. Established form to go at. Let's start with those who have the combination of seven furlong and soft ground form. The trio of most interest in that context are Breton Rock, Tawhid, and Al Thakira.
Breton Rock is a really likeable progressive sort, and David Simcock has done a fine job with him. Indeed, since winning the apprentice race on British Champions Day last year (and doing me a favour in the process), he's been in the frame in each of his subsequent six races. Seven on soft looks optimal, and as a Group 2 winner last time, this level holds no fears. His beating of Custom Cut earlier in the year looks ever more impressive, and is a further feather in his fedora.
The niggle is the excellent record of three-year-olds in the race, but I really like Breton Rock and I'm backing him at a best priced 6/1 best odds guaranteed.
Tawhid has had a light campaign - just three runs - and seemed to be creeping back to form last time when beaten soundly enough into second by Muteela. But that was his first run for over three months, and he'll have come on for it. He won a Listed race over seven on soft this time last year, and 16/1 is a smidge of value.
Al Thakira is a filly I quite like, but not against the boys here. All her form is in single sex races, and I reckon she'll be swamped by these: paddock judges tell me she's a pretty small animal.
The market is made by Freddy Head's French invader, Thawaany. Freddy is a shrewdie and he rarely leaves empty-handed. But he may have to wait until Saturday at Ascot to bag a gold medal, because I think there are chinks in Thawaany's armour.
True, she was second in a Group 1 last time. That was on heavy, over six and a half furlongs, and involved succumbing to renowned screw, Garswood. She has won over a mile a number of times, so stamina is not in question, but I wonder if a straight track speed test will be to her liking: Muteela will gun from the front as she always does, and a posse will be in close pursuit. There will be no hiding place, and no easy fractions. At the prices, she's opposable for me.
Pick of the three year olds might be Rae Guest's Cape Factor, second in a soft seven furlong Listed event at Baden Baden (so good they named it twice) last time. It's hard to know the merit of the form, but she was staying on and conditions look spot on. 33/1 is big for a filly that might run close to the frame.
But I make Breton Rock about the best value bet of the day. Not the most likely winner, note, but the best value, and I'm on accordingly. Nap.
5.10 Darley Stakes (Group 3) 1m1f
The longest race of the day at just nine furlongs, is the Group 3 Darley Stakes. Nine furlongs is a bit of a specialist trip so form over that range should be marked up a notch. Tinghir is three from three at the trip - two of them at Wolverhampton however - and other distance winners include 2013 Cambridgeshire champ, Educate, and Santa Anita Twilight Derby victor, Grandeur (who also won at Newbury over nine). Code Of Honor has a nine furlong win, albeit in a three horse race, last time out too.
I'd quite fancy Grandeur if it wasn't for the soft ground. Having campaigned him a fair bit in the States, where the ground is perennially firm, and noting he's been beaten all three times he's encountered softer than good, I have to reluctantly look elsewhere.
Air Pilot is the favourite, and he loves the soft. A progressive and lightly raced five year old, 'Raif' Beckett's lad routed a big field of hardy 'cappers the last day and got hoiked up fully eighteen pounds in the handicap as a result. That rendered his 'capping career terminated - for now, at least - so he has a bash at a Group 3. And it's one in which he has a decent chance, albeit a decent chance that is totally factored into the market meaning he can't be a bet. Maybe at 6/1, but not at 9/2.
Educate might be the one at the prices. After his Cambridgeshire win last year (beating Code Of Honor a short head), he went up to a perch of 112. It's one from which he's never moved more than the three pounds lower he is now, testament to his consistency over the past eight starts. He gets soft ground for the first time since beating Sheikhzayedroad (running in the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday) in May last year. That was a three runner race, only.
The time he encountered soft ground before that, however, he won the eighteen runner Spring Mile, another fiercely competitive handicap. And the time before that he won well on heavy ground.
Basically, Educate will relish the return to soft ground, and has the guts and class to go close. 7/1 with Ladbrokes is too big, and has been taken. He's my next best, again at the prices, rather than as most likely winner.
Code Of Honor, by association as much as anything else, must also have a squeak and he might be saver material at 10/1.
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