Though chinned by Profitable in the Temple Stakes on Saturday, there’s no doubting that Mecca’s Angel is one of the outstanding sprinters currently in training.
Never out of the first four in a dazzling career, she has won six of her last eight outings since the start of her three-year-old campaign in 2014. The most memorable of those victories was the stunning success in last season’s Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York. Having to give almost two stone in weight to Wesley Ward’s talented juvenile filly Acapulco, she swept to the front well inside the final furlong, storming clear at the post.
It’s now well documented that she requires soft ground to be at her best, and with conditions to suit she becomes one of the best sprinters in the business. The need for a suitable surface resulted in just three outings last year, and after the Nunthorpe success her trainer Michael Dods said: “We've looked after her and fair play to everyone involved. She's shown what she can do in her conditions and has been worth the wait. She's a serious horse. We've been saying all year she's going to win a Group 1 and things just haven't gone her way with the ground whatsoever, but she proved today she is the real deal and when she gets her toe in she's awesome.”
You’d be mistaken in thinking that pedigree played a huge part in Mecca’s love of a more testing surface. Her dam was a fair handicapper named Folga, and her six career victories all came on good ground or quicker. The damsire is Atraf, a decent sprinter in the mid-1990s owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum. He too showed a preference for a quicker surface.
Mecca’s Angel’s sire is renowned for his ability to produce high-class sprinters. Dark Angel was trained by Barry Hills, and had a terrific, if rather short career. He was retired to stud after a successful juvenile campaign that yielded £341,306. At his best over six furlongs, he took the valuable St Leger Yearling Stakes, on quick ground at York in August 2007. It was his fifth start in what was to prove a hectic campaign.
After a poor performance in the Flying Childers at Doncaster over the minimum trip, he was stepped back up to six furlongs for the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury at the end of September. He made all to take the Group 2 event, again run on ground described as good to firm. On his penultimate start at the beginning of October, he again made all in the six-furlong Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. He bravely held off all-comers to win the Group 1 event.
At the end of the month, Hills could not resist a tilt at the Dewhurst, but a combination of trip and possibly ground (good to soft) resulted in a disappointing performance. He led for much of the race before fading badly to finish ninth of the 10 runners.
Dark Angel was retired in 2008 to Morristown Lattin Stud, Co. Kildare, now known as Yeomanstown Stud. He has had a huge impact on the sprint division thanks to horses such as Lethal Force, Mecca’s Angel, Gabrial, Sovereign Debt and Bronze Angel.
Lethal Force was the outstanding sprinter of 2013, winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, before taking the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. The imposing grey, very much in the mould of his father, won his pair of Group 1s from the front. Six furlongs proved his optimum trip, and he too showed a preference for quicker ground. He accumulated over £700,000 in prize money, yet had only cost Clive Cox €8,500 at the Tattersalls Ireland sales.
Clearly Mecca’s Angel will continue to do her bit for the sire as the season progresses, but there are others by Dark Angel that have shown form in recent weeks. None more so than Log Out Island, who won a listed race at Newbury in taking fashion.
Trained by Richard Hannon, this fella had finished second at Royal Ascot in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes 12 months ago. It’s fair to say that he proved a little inconsistent at times, but finished his juvenile campaign well, with a second place finish in the Mill Reef Stakes, before a comfortable win at Redcar in their valuable Two-Year-Old Trophy.
The recent win at Newbury was pretty sensational. Leading at a scorching pace from the off, he maintained a strong gallop throughout the six-furlong contest to win, eased down, by just over three lengths. James Doyle was the man on top, and after the race he said: “We popped the hood on and dropped back in trip. I spoke to Richard in the paddock and he said 'they'll have to be going some to catch him'. He was bang right. He was in a race of his own, but I didn't feel like I was going that quick, which is usually a good sign. He wasn't pulling like he usually does, so I was saving energy all the time. It was a pretty good performance.”
Hannon was equally impressed, saying: “I'm delighted as he's a very talented horse on his day and for some reason he loses it slightly when he comes to the races. He behaved well today and I think the hood enabled him to finish his race. Whether he can hold it together at Ascot in the Commonwealth Cup I don't know, but he was pretty impressive there.”
Another Dark Angel progeny that is likely to head to the Royal Meeting is Vona, trained by Richard Fahey. The two-year-old filly has progressed dramatically from a disappointing racecourse debut at Southwell. She recently won a listed five-furlong race at York, and looked suited by quick ground and a fast gallop. She picked up really well late on, looking pretty green in the process. She lacks stature, and the Queen Mary at Ascot will prove a major test. But she’s out of a Dansili mare, and should the ground come up quick, in what is forecast to be a dry period, she could prove interesting.
Easton Angel deserves a mention, as she’s another that has started her three-year-old campaign with a win. As with Mecca’s Angel, she is trained by Michael Dods, but unlike her stable companion she is more than happy rattling her hooves off a fast surface. Arguably her best performance as a juvenile came in the Queen Mary, when finishing second to Acapulco. Her seasonal return at York was relatively low key, but she ran pretty well to win the five-furlong listed event. She’s talented and ought to win further sprints during the summer.
The Clive Cox trained Harry Angel is another that I’m looking forward to seeing next time out, after his promising debut at Ascot earlier this month. He was looked after that day, and looks an exciting prospect. Expect plenty more by Dark Angel to make an impact as the season progresses.