The Brigadier Gerard Stakes, a Group 3 over ten furlongs, is the highlight of the best night racing meeting of the year this evening at Sandown Park.
If you have the chance to get to Esher for this, you'll note that a certain Workforce is favourite for the Brigadier Gerard.
The supporting card includes the National Stakes, a flying five for the juvies; the Henry II Stakes, a Group 2 for the stayers; and, the Heron Stakes, a Listed mile contest for three-year-olds only. Nice!
The place to start is the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at 7.40, and the place to start there is Workforce, the reigning Epsom Derby and Arc de Triomphe champion.
Now the most obvious conclusion to strike would be to say, "Workforce is a dual Group 1 winner running in a Group 3 against mostly Group 3 horses".
I cannot fault a bar of the facts in that statement. But scratch a little further and you're a braver man than me to take the current best-priced 6/4 (with Ladbrokes, incidentally, which normally means the horse will drift).
If we scratch just a jot deeper, we will note Sir Michael Stoute's comments yesterday, that "I think heâ€™s going to really need this race". Are you still tempted by 6/4?
Let's keep digging and see if we can unearth anything else about Workforce's chance tonight. Although he won a Goodwood maiden on his racecourse debut as a two-year-old, he completely outclassed the opposition there. When making his seasonal return last year, he was beaten by Cape Blanco in the Dante, when - doubtless - needing the run. (He went on to cart up in the Derby itself!)
Then there is that run in the King George when he was beaten out of sight. Now, granted, the King George is a top class Group 1 and the Dante is no slouch of a Group 2 generally speaking (I believe this year was a slouch!).
But nor is the Brigadier Gerard a slouch of a Group 3. And here is the key stat that makes me want to take Workforce on tonight... In the last ten runnings of the race, only one seasonal debutante has managed to win. That was the Michael Jarvis-trained horse, New Morning, in 2005.
I'm a fan of Workforce having got him wrong twice last year, but I'm against him tonight. He's got (far) bigger fish to fry later in the summer, and this step back in trip is unlikely to be what he's been 'crying out for'.
So if the short-priced favourite doesn't win, who does?
Good question, and the first thing I'm going to do - on the basis of that trend I just mentioned - is rule out both of the other seasonal debutantes: Cavalryman and Jan Vermeer.
OK, now I've ruled out the top two in the betting and three of the top five on the basis of fitness (O'Brien's horses usually need the run badly as well, in any case, so Jan Vermeer is another high class animal who is easy enough to swerve for me, though saying all that, he did win on debut last season!).
We're left with a (not very) shortlist of six. So let's go through them in more detail.
Elusive Pimpernel is third (or second in some books) in the market. He's never won beyond a mile before, something only Take A Bow has managed to overcome in the last decade in winning the Brigadier Gerard Stakes. In fact, the only other horse not to have won at the race distance of a mile and a quarter was Notnowcato in those ten years and he'd won a nine furlong race.
So, Elusive Pimpernel has stamina reservations in my book. Quite simply, asking a horse (or a person) to do something they've never done before is a leap of faith. I'm not going to make that leap here.
Next up is Luca Cumani's Afsare. Afsare is a ten furlong horse alright, with two of his three wins coming at tonight's trip. But he has never won in this grade. The best he's achieved so far was when winning a Listed race by a short head.
Now, to be fair to Afsare, he's an improving horse who would have needed the run desperately last time (pretty much all of Cumani's horses run better second time out). But again, he's unproven at this level and that's enough of a concern for me if other horses tick all boxes. And they do, as we'll come to momentarily.
Next is Black Spirit, and I like this chap. Form students might think that a little bizarre, given what I've written already, in combination with the facts that Black Spirit has neither won at Group 3 level nor over ten furlongs... but hear me out!
Last time, Black Spirit finished second, beaten a short head, over ten furlongs in a Group 3 at.. Sandown, tonight's venue. He is by Black Minnaloushe, who is recognised as a high class ten furlong sire, and having only failed by a fag paper to notch both class and trip requirements, it's foolish to strike him out on either basis.
At a general 16/1, he makes my betting slip.
Next, Sri Putra, another 16/1 shot (stand out 18/1 with Betfred). This chap has won a Group 2 over the trip, and has bagged almost Â£400,000 in prize money. In other words, he's a very smart horse.
He may well have needed the run first time this season - again, many/most Group horses have a pipe-opener, which is why betting them on debut in top class races is such a precarious proposition - and will be spot on tonight.
Sri Putra was sent off at 7/2 for this last year and finished last. Initially concerned by that, I noted a comment in the Racing Post that "It later emerged he had got very worked up in the stables before the race, so itÂ´s probably safe to give him another chance".
Those who did give him another chance were rewarded with second in a Group 1 race over course and distance next time. He'll have no problems with the conditions tonight, he'll be spot on fitness wise, he has a clear dollop of class, and 16 or 18/1 is way too big for each way players. I'm on.
The last two are Poet and Distant Memories. Poet needs the rain to come, which it is supposed to. The bad news for him is that it's only a light shower forecast. He does have bits and pieces of form that give him a place chance at least, including a soft ground win in a Haydock ten furlong Group 3 last year. But I fancy he may just be a litle outpaced tonight. 33/1 in places is fair enough, mind.
Distant Memories is the other outsider of the field, at 25's, and is also hard to eliminate categorically. He has plenty of ten furlong Group 3 form, including a win last summer, and he's versatile as regards ground. It would far from surprise to see him hit the board either, especially given he's managed to do that in twelve of his fourteen career starts and ALL SIX of his pattern race (Group or Listed) starts.
A tremendously competitive race, which should be a fantastic spectacle can go to a big priced horse tonight. I've sided with Sri Putra and Black Spirit, and I give Distant Memories a reasonable squeak too. I know a few of you will be on Poet and he's capable of running well for you, in my humble opinion.
The first of the quartet of pattern races tonight is the National Stakes at 6.30, presumably because the babies have to be tucked up in bed by 7pm.
It's a two year old five furlong contest and has been won by some extremely precocious wee'uns in the past, including Monsieur Chevalier and Excellent Art in the last decade and, going back further, the likes of Bint Allayl, Deadly Dudley, Lyric Fantasy and Redoubtable in the nineties.
Real hardened form students will recognise how many of those were trained by Richard Hannon, and this is one race he LOVES to win. He has two of the seven contestants this evening, presumably headed by race favourite, Magic City.
This fellow was fancied on debut and didn't disappoint, winging home by a fat six lengths in a Newbury maiden, no less. Presumptions of the return of Pegasus proved premature however, when he got rolled over at odds of 1-4 next time (ouch for the money buyers), and then got duffed up again last time out at 2-5 (double ouch for the money-back merchants).
Tonight he's a more acceptable 5/4, relatively at least, but it's tough to keep making excuses for horses who've only had three runs. The form of the Newbury maiden has worked out well enough, but he faces tougher competition than he has so far, and there are plenty with more scope than Magic City...
...including stablemate Sixx. A nose win in a four runner Salisbury maiden clearly surprised connections, as Sixx was sent off 10/1 outsider that day, beating another odds on stable companion, Right Result (which I'm presuming it wasn't!)
That was only a week ago, and presumably Sixx has flourished since then to be stepping up markedly in class like this. He's a 12/1 chance with plenty of scope for improvement, which of course he'll need.
Incidentally, having watched that race again, it's my opinion that if Fallon had got beaten he would have been in trouble with the stewards. He never touched his horse with the stick, whilst the second - and 2/5 jolly from the same yard - had everything hurled at him, and still couldn't get by.
Bannock, Magic City's vanquisher the last day, reopposes and it may be harsh for him to be usurped in the betting here. Bannock is a general 5/2 shot. However, it was a bizarre run from Magic City in that Windsor contest, and Bannock definitely got first run with the frustrating jolly closing fast but not fast enough as the jamstick appeared.
Bannock is progressive and his own form has worked out well with plenty of winners emerging from behind him. The uphill finish at Sandown might just be enough for Magic City to overturn the verdict from last time, however.
Pyman's Theory is not good enough to win this in my opinion, and the form of his races so far has been muddling and mostly not as good as previously mentioned runners.
The rest probably don't count but a quick mention for Foxtrot India, who wasn't beaten far by Bannock and Magic City at Windsor, and is trained by Peter Winkworth, a man who loves winners at the Esher track. He could surprise and hit the board.
The one I'm going to side with, for very small stakes only, is Richard Hannon's Sixx. He has clearly been re-evaluated by the Hannon stable, and moved up the pecking order. He's one from one and deserves his chance to demonstrate a further big step up.
The Henry II Stakes sees the stayers grind out this Group 2 over two miles. Eight of them go to post, including a couple of old friends of mine, Akmal and Blue Bajan.
The former won this race last year and is in good nick to attempt the repeater. Last season, he ran down the field at Newbury and Ascot before his win here. This season, he's run closer at Ascot and Newbury... He's only five and obviously has the capability to win again today. 11/2 with Coral is a standout.
Blue Bajan has run two stormers this season, first when finishing like a rocket in the Chester Cup on his first start for fourteen months (and first for new trainer, David O'Meara), and then when a staying on second in the Yorkshire Cup behind Duncan.
That was over 1m6f and this extra quarter mile looks right up his alley. Third run back should see him spot on, and he deserves to win for his small name trainer and an owner who reputedly paid over Â£200,000 for him!
The favourite is Holberg, presumably on the strength of his excellent sixth in the Melbourne Cup last November. The facts that he hasn't been seen since, hasn't won at this grade, has only a single softish two mile win, is bred to be a mile and a half horse, and that the favourite hasn't won this race in the last decade, slightly puts me off this fellow...!
He might win but it won't be carrying my money at 13/8.
Caucus is more interesting, having been kept in training as a 5yo. Johnny G trains this one, and he's respected but not punting material.
The rest look candidates for a step back to handicap company, and won't be winning tonight.
For me, it's Akmal for the repeater, with Blue Bajan the danger. Good luck old boy!
The last of the Graded action is the Listed Heron Stakes, at 8.15. In truth, it's not a race that I'll be getting involved with, as they look a slightly 'much of a muchness' muddle to my eye.
Pausanius is the one I'd cross out, as only one horse has successfully carried the five pound penalty he lugs toinight.
Of the remaining foursome, Neebras slaughtered his two rivals in professional fashion in front of the Geegeez Racing Club mob (and me) on Cup Final day, and is progressive.
Fury did little wrong in the context of this race when fifth to Frankel in the 2000 Guineas, albeit beaten eighteen lengths and, if you take form literally, Pisco Sour's close up third in the Dante behind Carlton House franks the form of Fury's verdict over that chap last backend.
Personally, I think both formlines are a bit suspect, and I think Fury is plenty short enough tonight.
Tazahum won a course and distance handicap last time, which leaves him with something to find, though possibly not that much in truth. His second to Dubawi Gold last backend has a more solid look to my eye than Fury's runs and this boy would have a squeak in an open race, at around the 3/1 mark.
Loving Spirit has race three times, all of them at Newmarket, the last of which was when he was ten lengths behind Fury. Unlikely to win tonight.
By a process of elimination more than anything else, I'd make this between Neebras and Tazahum, with slight preference for a Frankie winner. I won't be betting though.
Now then, if you're still reading this, very well done! I know I go on a bit but I do my thinking out loud so even if the horses get beaten (which they generally do) you can see from where I was coming. It also gives you a chance to make your own inferences, based on points that you consider to have more or less import in the decision-making process... if that makes sense.
In any case, what I wanted to offer you hard core readers is a first glance at something I was thrilled to see so many say they wanted in the survey... I'll say no more except that you can check it out here. Hope you like it! 🙂