Flat Racing Elite set for Royal Meeting

It’s more than likely that the usual suspects will be celebrating another successful Royal Ascot.

And that’s to be expected, at a meeting where major players send their ‘big guns’. For sure, the best from Ireland and the UK will be in attendance. There’ll be a scattering of French flair, and add to that a dash of American and Australian power to maximise the international flavour.

Charlie Appleby and John Gosden appear the form duo from the home nation. The former can do no wrong, with Godolphin reaping the benefits. John Gosden has suffered an early season blow, with Enable currently on the sidelines. Nevertheless, he has a powerful team primed to inflict maximum mayhem, aided by a cocky Italian with a perfect sense of occasion.

Aidan O’Brien is sure to hold a strong hand and regularly leaves the Royal meeting as the leading trainer, though punters should resist the temptation of blindly following Ballydoyle contenders. This gathering isn’t like Cheltenham or Punchestown, where following Willie Mullins automatically leads to winners. Aidan and the boys are the dominant force on the flat, but opposition at Royal Ascot is exceptionally strong.

Andre Fabre and Jean-Claude Rouget tend to send a handful of challengers across the Channel, with a certain amount of success. Le Brivido landed the Jersey Stakes for Fabre 12 months ago, whilst Rouget’s Qemah took the Duke Of Cambridge.

Wes Ward will again lead an American assault, hoping that Lady Aurelia can achieve a trio of Royal Ascot victories. Whilst Redkirk Warrior arrives from Australia with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes the likely target.

So just who are the leading contenders from the sports elite?

Ballydoyle appear to have a hugely talented contingent, with serious challengers in numerous events. Rhododendron landed the Lockinge last time and is the current favourite for the opening race of the meeting, the Queen Anne Stakes. She’s a class act and looks sure to go close. O’Brien has had plenty of success in the Gold Cup over recent years and will have Order Of St George primed for another crack at the prize. He won the race in 2016 and went down by just a short-head to Big Orange 12 months ago.

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O’Brien’s youngsters tend to make their mark at the Royal Meeting and this year’s crop look a talented bunch. Sergei Prokofiev is favourite for the Coventry Stakes following a stunning victory at Naas last time. This son of Scat Daddy is thought to be an outstanding prospect. Also renowned for producing high class fillies, O’Brien appears to have another classy duo in Fairyland and Just Wonderful. Both could line up in the Queen Mary Stakes.

Returning three-year-olds Clemmie and Sioux Nation are also expected to go well. The former was one of the yard’s best juveniles and would have needed the run when beaten in the Irish Guineas recently. The latter is a speedy son of Scat Daddy out of an Oasis Dream mare. He’s one of the best looking colts in training, and is currently favourite for the Commonwealth Cup.

John Gosden has some of the greatest flat racing talent in his Newmarket stable. His Arc heroine, Enable, is currently out of action, but he has a sensational replacement in Cracksman. The Champion Stakes winner will be lining up in the Group One Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and is rated 7lb higher than his only serious rival, Godolphin’s Benbatl.

Gosden also has Without Parole heading the market for the St James’s Palace Stakes. I must confess that I’m not a fan. He beat a handicapper at Yarmouth in April and barely scraped home in a listed event at Sandown last time. Though this looks quite a weak renewal, I’d still fancy something from the English or Irish Guineas to have a little more class than Gosden’s fella.

The trainer does have a huge chance of lifting the Gold Cup, thanks to the talented and gutsy four-year-old Stradivarius. He has Order Of St George to beat, and one can envisage a pulsating finish with little to choose between the pair.

Lah Ti Dar missed the Oaks at Epsom but is expected to make the start for the Ribblesdale. She’ll likely have Oaks runner-up Wild Illusion to beat, though quick ground would certainly help her cause. She’s looked talented thus far, though this is a far tougher assignment.

Gosden also has a couple of classy juveniles in the yard in Calyx and Legends Of War. It seems that only the former will now be taking on Ballydoyle’s Sergei Prokofiev in the Coventry Stakes, though the clash remains a mouth-watering one.

The Andre Fabre-trained Wind Chimes is set to take her chance in the Group One Coronation Stakes. Just touched off in the French 1000 Guineas by David Simcock’s Teppal, she was possibly a little unlucky that day, and there’s every chance she’ll reverse that form. She ought to go very close.

Along with Lady Aurelia, Wes Ward is likely to send Moonlight Romance and Shang Shang Shang for the juvenile events. Bound For Nowhere looks a live contender for the Diamond Jubilee having finished fourth in the Commonwealth Cup last year. And Undrafted looks an interesting entrant in the Wokingham Stakes. He took the Group One Diamond Jubilee back in 2015 and was only a couple of lengths back in sixth a year later. Though now an eight-year-old, he remains a classy type and will run off a mark of 103.

Expect thrilling clashes between some of flat racing’s most powerful yards, at the sports most prestigious event. Jump racing has Cheltenham, whilst the Flat has Royal Ascot. It’s as simple as that.

Can a Young Rascal sink the mighty Saxon Warrior?

Having landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Saxon Warrior is a short-priced favourite to give Aidan O’Brien his fifth Epsom Derby in seven years.

The latest Ballydoyle sensation is looking to emulate Camelot in landing the Guineas-Derby double and has been treading a virtually identical path. Both captured the Racing Post Trophy as juveniles prior to winning the Newmarket Classic on seasonal debut at three. Camelot arrived at Epsom with an unblemished record of three victories from three runs, whilst Saxon Warrior heads for the Derby having won all four outings to date. Even the BHA struggled to separate them at this stage of their careers, with Camelot rated at 121 and Saxon W coming here off a mark of 120.

There’s little doubt that this year’s Derby favourite holds all the right credentials to complete the celebrated double. He’s by the Japanese racing sensation Deep Impact. Peerless at home, the colt came a close third in the 2006 Arc and has found similar success as a stallion. On the dam’s side we have yet another Galileo mare, in the 2012 Oaks fifth Maybe. The pedigree suggests the trip will be ideal, indeed, Ballydoyle have hinted that the St Leger may well be targeted should all go well at Epsom. His Guineas success coupled with the continued positive reports from the stable, points to a huge run from Saxon Warrior. He’ll take some beating.

Dermot Weld won the Derby with Harzand in 2016 and is represented by close relative Hazapour. He landed the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown last time, travelling powerfully throughout and showing the better turn of foot to defeat a couple of O’Brien runners in Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon. All three reoppose, though I fancy they’ll finish the Derby in a slightly different order. Of the trio I’m inclined to favour Delano Roosevelt, who finished particularly well last time. He’s a lovely imposing colt and his pedigree suggests he’ll enjoy a little juice in the ground.

Roaring Lion takes on Saxon Warrior for the third time and is currently two-nil down. He showed plenty of zip when winning a slowly run renewal of the Dante Stakes at York, though there must be a concern that the ground at Epsom (currently soft) will blunt that speed. The pace of the race is also likely to be far more testing, with the keen front-runner Knight To Behold likely to set decent fractions. Gosden won this race with Golden Horn in 2015, but I’m not convinced that this fella has what it takes.

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Wings Of Eagles won at 40s last year, but it’s usually the fancied contenders that prevail in the Derby. Nine of the last 10 renewals went to horses priced at 7/1 or shorter, so in searching for the winner we ought to focus on those at the front end of the market.

One colt that looked to have huge potential when winning the Chester Vase is the William Haggas-trained Young Rascal. He’s by Intello, himself a son of Galileo, out of a Clodovil mare. The pedigree suggests that he’ll love conditions and though his inexperience is a concern, that run at Chester could prove invaluable. Despite his size, he coped admirably with the sharp turns that day and though I fancy Epsom will not be ideal, his raw talent could see him running a huge race. The Haggas team are in sparkling form, as is race jockey James Doyle.

The aforementioned Knight To Behold also lacks experience and may need to settle better than he did at Lingfield last time. He was an impressive winner of the Derby Trial that day but is sure to have more company at Epsom, with Ballydoyle likely to sacrifice one of their five runners at the front end. Nevertheless, this son of Sea The Stars looks a talented sort and may be capable of landing a place at decent odds.

Despite finishing third in the 2000 Guineas, Masar appears to have been written off by many. Currently best-priced at 25/1, this son of New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare ought to be suited by the step-up in trip. The ground may have gone against him, though his form looks as strong as any bar the favourite. Godolphin have a rotten record in the Epsom Derby, but this fella certainly has a chance if coping with conditions.

It’s difficult to see past Saxon Warrior and everything points to him prevailing. Nevertheless, I’ll be putting a few quid on Young Rascal as I believe he has the potential to put in a huge performance. Delano Roosevelt looks best of the remaining Ballydoyle battalion. Good luck to those having a punt.

Haggas team flying as Epsom looms

William Haggas has had a wonderful start to the latest Flat season and heads to Epsom this week with live contenders for both the Oaks and the Derby.

A strike-rate of 27% is testament to the yard’s form, though that rises to 31% over the past two weeks, with a further double at Leicester yesterday. He’s currently top of the trainers’ championship despite having infinitely fewer runners than Mark Johnston in second and John Gosden who lies third. Few would expect him to maintain such a lofty position though there does appear to be a marked upgrading in stable quality. It’s dangerous to disregard any Haggas runner at present.

Addeybb, though disappointing on fast ground last time, remains a hugely progressive sort and is sure to bring further success to the yard before the season closes. Just a few days ago at Goodwood, three-year-old Society Power made it five wins on-the-bounce, when sweeping from last to first in a competitive handicap. He’ll likely be given a mark in the mid-100s, and now looks sure to be tried in pattern company.

In the coming days Haggas has a chance of adding to those two Classic victories of Dancing Rain in the Oaks of 2011 and Shaamit’s Derby success of 1996. Young Rascal runs in the colts’ classic, following a cosy success in the Chester Vase. The leggy youngster coped well with the tight turning track that day, and despite appearing a little green down the straight, quickened nicely to beat Dee Ex Bee with something in hand.

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A son of French Derby winner Intello – himself a son of champion stallion Galileo – he remains rather inexperienced as he heads to Epsom, though looks a colt of huge potential. Not all horses take to the track and there’s certainly a chance that this fella could become unbalanced at certain points. He may also find the infamous ‘camber’ problematic. Nevertheless, his odds of 12/1 reflect the talent we have already witnessed, and should this examination not come too soon, he may be the one to launch the greatest challenge to the O’Brien ‘good thing’.

The Newmarket handler also has a couple of fillies primed for the Oaks, though a final decision on the participation of Sea Of Class will be taken this morning. With just two career starts to her name, the trainer may feel that Epsom arrives too soon. By Sea The Stars out of a Hernando mare, the mile-and-a-half trip should hold no fears, and her last run at Newbury was certainly eye-catching. She hammered Aidan O’Brien’s Athena that day, powering clear in the final furlong. Way back in third was Sir Michael Stoute’s much touted Crystal Hope. The form looks rock solid, and should she take her chance, despite her inexperience, she appears to be a leading contender.

Give And Take is the trainer’s other runner, and she was last seen landing the Musidora Stakes at York. That was her fifth career start and she’s yet to finish out of the first two. Popular opinion is that the York renewal was somewhat sub-standard, and there’s no doubting that the field were tightly packed at the line. The pace of the race would probably not have suited this filly, so for her to win as she did was arguably more impressive. The Oaks trip should prove ideal and though possibly less classy than her stable-companion, she’s certainly more street-wise. This looks an open renewal of the Epsom Classic and she looks capable of being involved at the business end.

It’s undoubtedly a huge weekend for Haggas and the team and, though the might of Ballydoyle will take some toppling, the Newmarket handler couldn’t have his stable in better form as he takes on this huge challenge at the highest level. The dual-Classic winner gives little away when questioned but must be excited at the possibility of further Group One glory.

Rhododendron Blooms at Newbury

Aidan O’Brien’s Rhododendron got the better of Lightning Spear to land a thrilling Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Despite concerns over the drop back in trip, Ballydoyle’s filly proved she had the ‘zip’, holding off David Simcock’s talented miler by a nose. O’Brien had four runners in the field of 14, and three were prominent from the off. Deauville set the pace followed closely by Lancaster Bomber. Ryan Moore shadowed the pair aboard race favourite Rhododendron, whilst Oisin Murphy was keen to keep tabs on Team Ballydoyle, positioning Lightning Spear alongside the filly.

Moore made his move approaching the two-furlong pole, driving the favourite to the front down the centre of the track, whilst Murphy, possibly travelling slightly the better at that stage, came stand-side to make his challenge. At the furlong mark Rhododendron was half-a-length to the good, but that advantage was whittled away approaching the post. The filly clung on for victory, much to the frustration of Lightning Spear’s connections, who saw their horse clearly ahead just yards past the line.

Lancaster Bomber was outpaced by the front pair, though stayed on well for third, whilst Dutch Connection ran a belter, but ultimately failed to see out the one mile trip back in fourth.

O’Brien said of the winner: “I was delighted, we thought she’d come on from her run last time (fourth to Cracksman) and Ryan’s given her a brilliant ride. It’s a big team effort and we’re delighted.” Of future targets, especially Royal Ascot, O’Brien added: “We were thinking of coming here, then going to Ascot. She would have the option of going the mile (Queen Anne) or the mile and a quarter (Prince of Wales’s Stakes). We’ll have a good chat to Ryan and then the boys will decide after that.”

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Ryan Moore spoke to ITV Racing after the win, saying: “She’s a Group One winner at two, three and now four and she’s had an incredible career. After what happened to her in the French Oaks (bled badly), what Aidan and the team have done with her, it’s a massive turnaround. She was very good at two and could have won a lot more at three. She was unlucky in the Guineas, then ran into Enable in the Oaks. She came back and won the Opera, and had she had a draw at Del Mar she’d have won there.”

David Simcock looked gutted after losing out in the head-bobber yet composed himself and spoke to ITV Racing straight after the race: “I’ve not had the wind taken out of my sails like that for a while. I’m just a little gutted, but very proud of the horse. He was given a great ride - I thought he was going to win nearing the line. Oisin Murphy has given him a fantastic ride. It is just so frustrating.

“We're just very fond of him and he's never let us down. He's been placed in so many Group Ones, you just feel we'd like to have won one with him, but he's run a great race. They finished a good two lengths clear of the third. Fair play to the filly. I would say we'll go to the Queen Anne. It's the obvious place to go.”

Of those further back in the field, Addeybb clearly found the ground too lively, fading out of contention in the latter stages. Limato again looked a non-stayer at a mile and will surely drop back in trip with a crack at the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot likely.

Ryan Moore was winning his first Lockinge, with O’Brien landing the event for the first time since Hawk Wing in 2003. Rhododendron’s victory continued the strong trend of success for four-year-olds in the race, with 10 of the last 12 renewals now won by that age group. It is of course yet another Group One for O’Brien and his team, as he sets out on another campaign of top-level dominance.

Bomber can land telling blow at Newbury

The Group One Lockinge Stakes takes place at Newbury on Saturday, with Aidan O’Brien targeting a first success since 2003.

Excelebration was one of Ballydoyle’s classier contenders when runner-up in 2012, though had little chance of winning with Frankel in opposition. Hawk Wing landed the prize for the yard in 2003 by 11-lengths, having been kept in training following something of a ‘nearly’ season as a three-year-old. Runner-up in both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, the classy colt did manage to win the Eclipse at Sandown. Sadly, after his Newbury romp, he suffered a career-ending knee injury at Royal Ascot.

It’s fair to say that this is a race the Ballydoyle boys have tended to ignore. It’s usually a case that O’Brien’s most talented milers are sent to stud following successful campaigns at three. Last year’s Guineas winning pair of Churchill and Winter have followed that path, leaving Rhododendron as their leading Lockinge contender and current favourite for the race.

Her three-year-old campaign pretty much mirrored that of Hawk Wing back in the day. Runner-up in both the Guineas and the Oaks, she had a spell on the side-lines before a win in the Prix de l’Opera at a mile-and-a-quarter. Her return at Longchamp last month, when fourth to Cracksman, was satisfactory. She’s likely to improve for the run, though there must be a question as to whether this one-mile trip will suit. She’s looked a filly that needs slightly further, though this does look a sub-standard renewal.

Limato is next-best in the betting, though the trip for him appears a touch beyond his best. He was fourth in this race back in 2016, when looking a little one-paced late on. He similarly faltered in the latter stages of last year’s Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. Quick ground at Newbury will certainly help his cause and he’s likely to be travelling better than anything deep into the race. Harry Bentley has the task of whether to kick clear and hold on or wait to the last moment in the hope that the six-year-old has enough in the tank. I’d be taking the first option and using that devastating change of gear to put distance between myself and the rest.

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William Haggas has his team in sparkling form and is represented by the fast improving Addeybb. The four-year-old landed the Group Two bet365 Mile last month, though this will clearly be a tougher task. Those aged four have won eight of the last 10 renewals, though the race does tend to go to proven Group One performers. He lacks that high-level experience and I’d be slightly concerned over ground conditions. He’s been impressive on soft and good-to-soft thus far, and he’ll need to prove that he has the tactical speed for this race on fast ground.

Like Addeybb, the Andrew Balding-trained Beat The Bank looks a progressive four-year-old, though he did disappoint on his final outing last year, when stepped into Group One company for the QEII at Ascot. This son of Paco Boy had flopped at Ascot earlier in the campaign, so I’m inclined to forgive him those two shockers. His strongest performance came in the Group Two Joel Stakes at Newmarket, when he slaughtered a decent field by five lengths. He has something to prove at this level, though there’s surely more to come.

Like Limato, Suedois is something of a sprinter turned miler, though he has proven himself capable of seeing out the trip at a high level. He’s consistent and is likely to be in the mix especially on this quicker ground. No seven-year-old has won the race and he’s certainly vulnerable to an improving youngster. Nevertheless, 20/1 is a fair price for a horse suited by track and conditions and possessing such an amount of experience at this level.

Lightning Spear was runner-up 12 months ago, and is another that could outrun his odds. In a weak looking renewal, he has a big performance in the locker, though last season proved rather inconsistent. Another seven-year-old, he’s unlikely to be winning, but is another at a price, capable of hitting the frame.

One that should run well, if lining up, is O’Brien’s four-year-old colt Lancaster Bomber. Fourth in last year’s Guineas and runner-up in the St James’s Palace, he’s a class act on fast ground. Ryan Moore will be aboard the filly, but this fella should not be discounted if given the green light.

This is a tough race to call, with no outstanding miler apparent. I’m a huge fan of Rhododendron but I’m far from convinced that this is her trip. If he runs, I’ll be siding with Lancaster Bomber in the hope that ground and trip will suit him better than his stable companion. Though he’s too old to win, Lightning Spear can run into a place. Best of luck to those taking a punt in this tricky renewal.

Centennial Celebration Chester Vase

Chester’s May festival begins, with a special opening day, as they celebrate the 100th running of the Chester Vase.

Known as the Roodee, Chester is officially the oldest racecourse still in use. Resting on the banks of the River Dee, the racing dates back to the early sixteenth century. The eastern part of the course stands alongside the City’s ancient wall, where once Roman trading vessels would moor. These days’ crowds gather along the wall in order to obtain outstanding views of the racing, without parting with a single penny.

The first recorded race took place in 1539, authorised by the Mayor, Henry Gee. It’s thought that the term ‘gee-gee’ is derived from his name. The course is small with a length at little more than a mile. The left-handed circuit is taken at almost a constant turn, and it’s a tight track that doesn’t suit all equine visitors.

It should come as no surprise to hear that Aidan O’Brien has proved the dominant force in the Chester Vase. The master of Ballydoyle has won the race eight times since 2007. Treasure Beach followed victory here in 2011, with success in the Irish Derby. In 2013, Ruler of the World won this prior to glory in the Epsom Derby. And last year, though Wings of Eagles could only manage a second-place finish, he too, went on to Epsom glory in the ‘big one’.

Going back to the early eighties, both Henbit and Shergar managed to achieve the Chester/Epsom double. The latter of course, became a Flat racing legend due to the emphatic nature of those victories.

Last year’s gathering proved something of a stellar occasion, producing a Derby winner in Wings of Eagles and an Oaks heroine in Enable – John Gosden’s filly having won the Cheshire Oaks at this meeting.

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O’Brien has three runners as he looks to add to his outstanding record in the Centennial Celebration Chester Vase. It’s another competitive looking renewal, with Ryan Moore opting to ride Hunting Horn. The son of Camelot was third in Sandown’s Bet365 Classic Trial a few weeks back. He was behind Godolphin’s Ispolini that day, and the pair renew their rivalry.

Fresh from his success in the 2000 Guineas, Donnacha O’Brien has the leg-up on the suitably named Family Tree. This son of Galileo has only had the one outing and is very much an unknown quantity.

Ballydoyle also have a trio of challengers in the Cheshire Oaks. Ryan Moore is aboard the Galileo filly, Magic Wand. Her two career runs have come in testing ground, and being out of a Dansili mare, she may well improve plenty for a sounder surface. Gosden and Dettori join forces with the Dubawi filly Award winning. Impressive at Wetherby last time, this is clearly a huge step up in class, though Gosden must feel that she’s up to the task.

Ralph Beckett knows how to produce a talented filly, and runs the unbeaten Kinaesthesia. Alright, she’s only run the once, but she’s by Sea The Stars, so we must take note.

The opening day looks a cracker, though it’s the Chester Cup on Friday that often proves the highlight of the meeting. The largest crowd will be in attendance to witness the meeting’s most valuable race. Run at around two-and-a-quarter miles, the prestigious handicap usually attracts trainers from both codes. Nicky Henderson, Donald McCain and David Pipe have all been successful in recent times. Sea Pigeon landed back-to-back renewals in the late 70s.

The Alan King-trained Who Dares Wins will be a popular choice for punters, especially with Ryan Moore booked to ride. Paul Nicholls looks set to let Act Of Valour take his chance. The four-year-old was a classy juvenile hurdler, and is set to be ridden by the trainer’s daughter Megan.

The three day festival is hugely popular, and this week’s gathering should prove no different.

Super Saxon Storms to Guineas Glory

Saxon Warrior put in a mighty performance to give Aidan O’Brien his ninth 2000 Guineas.

Ridden by son Donnacha, the imposing colt travelled powerfully in midfield, with the pace set by stable companion Murillo. Fully two-furlongs out, the young jockey sent Saxon Warrior to the front. Showing a terrific burst of speed, this son of Deep Impact put clear daylight between himself and his nearest pursuer, race favourite, Masar. The huge outsider, Tip Two Win, also took up the chase, though none looked likely to catch O’Brien’s charge. He powered through the line a length-and-a-half to the good, with Tip Two Win a 50/1 runner-up. Masar was a close third, with Elarqam staying on for fourth.

A very composed winning jockey told ITV Racing: “A huge thanks to all the owners for giving me the chance to ride him and especially to dad for the faith in putting me on him in the first place. It's very special. Obviously, I'm winning this race and riding in big races because of the position I'm in. I'm just very grateful. He's a very good horse, he's a proper horse.

“He travelled beautiful and I thought we were the winner the whole way. I probably got a bit excited at the two pole, when I gave him a squeeze a bit early. He's an absolute monster of a horse so you never know, he could improve again. I was very impressed, I thought he was a very good horse even on his homework, we've made no secret of it, and I think he's very, very good.

“If I had to put my neck on the line I would say his optimum trip would be about a mile and a quarter, he's not slow but he's bred to stay. He's very relaxed so I wouldn't be at all surprised if he got a mile and a half but it's not my decision.”

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Paul Smith, son of part-owner Derrick, said of the winner. “It was really, really eye-catching. Donnacha said he travelled beautifully and when he quickened it was all over in a flash. When they have that speed and look like they will get further it is a deadly combination and all things point to June (Epsom Derby). That's 300 Group One wins for Aidan, and Donnacha's first Classic. They are an incredible family.”

Though Godolphin’s Masar could only manage third, his trainer was far from disappointed. “I’m still very pleased,” Appleby said. “Had you told me four or five weeks ago that we would be third in the Guineas, I’d have taken that quite happily. William went out with the mindset that we were going to go forward with him. He gave him a lovely ride and he came in and said he ran like a horse who needed a step up in trip. When they quickened, Will said he got caught flat-footed a bit and when they hit the rising ground, he was galloping back towards them to the line. We will take a strong consideration towards the Derby next. The chances are we will give him a break and go straight there.”

Mark Johnston felt that a lack of experience went against Elarqam. “Fourth is not bad in the Guineas,” he said. “You come here wanting to win, so it is a little bit of a downer. I’ve said all along that I was concerned that he was such an inexperienced horse. He beat the second horse three lengths last time out – and that one has had three or four runs since, while we just had a racecourse gallop. He dwelt for a bit and that’s not the mark of a true miler. That may just be inexperience, but at the same time the first impression is he’ll go further.

“We always thought that might be case and that’s one of the reasons we came to the Guineas, as the Guineas is the best trial to see if you need to go further. We will go back and see where we go next. The Dante was Angus’s first thought. I have not had a Derby winner. I’ve had a Guineas winner. But at the same time, I never like to write anything in stone, particularly with a horse that has only had three runs.”

Roaring Lion bounced back to form, finishing a close fifth, whilst Gustav Klimt was never able to land a telling blow in sixth.

After his impressive victory, Saxon Warrior has been installed as even-money favourite for the Epsom Derby, with Masar as short as 10s. His move up to middle-distance, coupled with Gustav Klimt’s less than impressive performance leaves something of a void in the Ballydoyle one-mile division. At Longchamp next Sunday, US Navy Flag will look to plug the gap, when running in the French 2000 Guineas, before heading to Royal Ascot for the St James’s Palace Stakes. The Gurkha trod a similar path in 2016. He’s currently a 12/1 shot for the Paris event and 14s for the date at Royal Ascot.

Prepare for a Saxon raid on Newmarket

With a pair of aces at his disposal, it appears that Aidan O’Brien has a great chance of landing his ninth 2000 Guineas.

With three victories from the last six, including two from the last three, the Co Tipperary handler has last year’s Superlative Stakes winner, Gustav Klimt, and the Racing Post Trophy hero, Saxon Warrior.

GK won that Superlative by a head having incurred trouble in running. The Charlie Hills-trained Nebo was runner-up, and he’s proved himself to be a solid yardstick. Great Prospector was half-a-length further back, and I think it’s fair to say that Klimt defeated a bunch of sprinters that day (he’s by Galileo, out a six-furlong dam). That shows just how quick he is, though possibly also shows that his opponents on that occasion were not running at their optimum trip (seven furlongs). In a slowly run race, this fella certainly has the ‘zip’, but the 2000 Guineas isn’t a race for sprinters and I’d be concerned that he may be outstayed by a ‘proper’ miler.

Saxon Warrior, on the other hand, looks a strong traveller who will be doing his best work at the end of the race. He’s more stoutly bred than Gustav, being by Deep Impact out the Galileo mare, Maybe. She was third in the 1000 Guineas and fifth in the Oaks, so Saxon Warrior ought to stay further than the mile. Of course, pedigree on paper doesn’t always materialize on the track, but the Group One Racing Post success, suggested that this fella will be ideally suited by the Guineas. Roaring Lion swept passed him a furlong from home that day, but he battled back and appeared to be well in control at the line. The pair had pulled clear of the remainder, and the form looks rock solid. He comes here without a prep-run, similarly to the last two O’Brien winners, Churchill and Gleneagles.

Masar and Elarqam head the British challenge, with the latter possessing the most exciting pedigree in this year’s renewal. Trained by Mark Johnston, he’s by the mighty Frankel out of 1000 Guineas winner Attraction. If breeding guaranteed the major prizes, this fella could be crowned the Guineas winner before the stalls opened. He won both his juvenile starts, the latter success coming at Newmarket, when stretching clear late on over the seven-furlong trip. He looked a long striding leggy juvenile, and that he was able to win so well is probably testament to his class. His lack of experience is a slight concern, though Camelot and Makfi were recent winners off the back of just two runs. He certainly looks a leading contender.

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Masar blasted his way into the Guineas picture with a stunning success in the Craven Stakes. He’s by the Guineas runner-up and Epsom Derby winner New Approach, out of a Cape Cross mare. His pedigree suggests he’ll get further in time, though his Craven performance showed he should be effective at a mile. The pace that day was modest, before Buick asked his mount for maximum effort. He galloped powerfully throughout the final two-furlongs for a nine-length success. Roaring Lion was a disappointment back in third, though lacked match fitness. He’s unlikely to get the easy lead that he enjoyed last time, though that may not stop him from putting in a huge performance.

The top four in the betting are a little clear of both Expert Eye and Roaring Lion. The latter must reverse a thumping by Masar and a narrow defeat to Saxon Warrior. I’d be surprised if he can do either. The former looked a thrilling prospect when winning the Vintage Stakes last August, though has disappointed twice since. He flopped in the Dewhurst, when far too keen throughout. And a couple of weeks back could only finish second to James Garfield in the Greenham. He should improve for the run, but I’m struggling to see why he’ll win. He may actually improve by being dropped back in trip, and I can see him becoming a six-furlong specialist in time.

Of those at a bigger price, I’d give a mention to David Simcock’s Raid. He was having only his second career start when finishing an eye-catching fourth in the Greenham last time. He should improve plenty for that, and I’d fancy that he’ll prove best of those that ran at Newbury that day. Whether he can sneak into a place is questionable, though his current odds of 50s make him a tempting proposition. This race often yields treats to the each-way punter.

One I’d likely to mention, that isn’t here, is the O’Brien trained US Navy Flag. He may yet prove to be the stables leading miler, though dodges this in favour of the French Guineas. Good or quicker ground is essential for this fella and I fancy he’ll prove to be top class.

I’ve found it quite difficult to choose between Saxon Warrior and Elarqam, but am finally swayed by the O’Brien factor. I’ll take the Racing Post winner to land this year’s opening Classic and then head for a crack at the Epsom Derby. Despite thinking he’s probably not quite good enough, I’ll be having a little each-way on Raid. He may just sneak into the places. Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Newmarket Classics taking shape

We’re just days away from the opening Classics at Newmarket, and the line-ups are taking shape.

Aidan O’Brien has been dominant, winning three of the last six 1000 and 2000 Guineas. He again appears to hold the aces, with Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior towards the head of the market for the Colts and Happily the bookies favourite for the fillies.

Gustav K won the Superlative Stakes as a juvenile and returned to action with a win in the 2000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. O’Brien spoke after the win, saying: “We’re very happy. Obviously, the ground was far from ideal, but it was nice to get a run into him as it’s a long time since he ran. Ryan said he was very impressed with the way he quickened in that ground. He’s a real good-ground horse. Newmarket is the plan if everything is well.”

The Superlative form has taken a few knocks, but this son of Galileo, out of a Danehill mare, appears to have the right kind of profile.

Saxon Warrior is unbeaten and was last seen winning the Group One Racing Post Trophy. He heads to Newmarket without a prep, as did previous winners Churchill and Gleneagles. A colt by Deep Impact, he looks sure to stay further having landed all three juvenile victories at a mile.

The home challenge is led by Godolphin’s impressive Craven winner Masar, who is trained by the in-form Charlie Appleby. Despite having a fitness edge over his rivals, it’s hard to imagine any of the Craven victims reversing the placings. Roaring Lion was almost 10-lengths back in third, giving the form a particularly strong look.

The Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam is also fancied to go well. Unbeaten in just two juvenile starts, he is the product of two Guineas winners, in the mighty Frankel and the brilliant Attraction. Johnston knows all about the latter, having trained her to that famous 1000 Guineas success back in 2004.

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The handler took the colt for a racecourse gallop at Newmarket during the Craven Meeting and was reportedly pleased with the build-up to Saturday’s Classic. “It wasn’t exactly a hard piece of work,” Johnston said, “and he hardly ended up seeing the other two horses, but he needed the experience of a day out and it’s a concern for me going into the QIPCO 2000 Guineas with only two runs under his belt.

“Elarqam has to improve but I have a lot of faith in his ability. And in a lot of ways it’s more exciting than it was with Attraction as being by Frankel out of Attraction, he’s the best-bred horse I’ve ever trained, the best-bred horse by a country mile that I have ever taken to a Classic. The implications of what sort of stallion he would be, or how popular he might be as a stallion, if he won the 2000 Guineas don’t bear thinking about.”

James Garfield recently captured the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, and it looked likely that Silvestre de Sousa would pick up the ride, but a bruised foot saw the withdrawal of Without Parole, meaning that Frankie Dettori will now be onboard. The Italian said: “He has won a Greenham, which is one of the main Guineas trials. George is very happy with him and we've got to give it a go. He is a bonny little horse and he really tries. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he should give it his best.”

Scott is thrilled to have Dettori back aboard, saying: “I feel for the connections of Without Parole, who clearly has a massive future regardless of missing the Guineas. I felt it was hugely important to have Frankie on board. He knows the horse so well and he has a lot of confidence in the horse. He is the magic man and if anyone can pull it out the bag he will.”

Assessing the 2000 Guineas, Scott added: “Although it looks a more open race this year, there is plenty of depth to it. I think Masar goes there with the best recent form. He is a course and distance winner and he was an emphatic winner of the Craven. Charlie's (Appleby) horses are flying and if we didn't win, I'd love to see Masar win as Charlie is a good friend of mine.”

Qatar Racing has a pair engaged, with the Craven disappointment Roaring Lion joined by the Greenham Stakes fourth Raid. The latter shaped as if Newmarket’s Rowley Mile would suit, and he may prove an interesting longshot. Of Roaring Lion, Gosden said: “We are going to do a little breeze (on Wednesday) and then make our minds up. I think he has come on a lot for his last race.” He’ll certainly need to, if he’s to trouble Masar.

Aiden O’Brien’s Happily is one of 18 fillies confirmed for the QIPCO 1000 Guineas on Sunday. She’s an experienced filly, having won four of her seven juvenile starts, including successive Group One triumphs in the Moyglare at the Curragh and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly. That latter success saw her defeating the boys, including Godolphin’s Masar. She disappointed on her most recent appearance at the Breeders’ Cup, though that did come at the end of a hectic two-year-old campaign.

The Ballydoyle maestro is set to send five fillies to Newmarket, including the highly touted I Can Fly. September is a notable absentee.

Charlie Appleby also holds a strong hand in the fillies Classic. He has the Group One-winning filly Wild Illusion and has supplemented impressive Nell Gwyn heroine Soliloquy at a cost of £30,000. The latter is a daughter of Dubawi and proved mightily impressive when accounting for Altyn Orda. Wild Illusion is another by Dubawi and was last seen winning the Group One Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly.

Karl Burke’s Laurens is also fancied to go well. She won the Fillies’ Mile at the end of her juvenile campaign, defeating the talented Ballydoyle filly September, by a nose. That looks a strong piece of form, and Burke has been happy with her progress, recently saying: “She did a little bit of work and did it very well. If she runs in the Guineas, she'll go straight there.” She now looks sure to take her chance.

Gosden’s Lion set to Roar as Classics draw near

Newmarket is in the midst of the Craven Meeting, supplying early clues for the opening Classics in May.

The feature event takes place on Thursday, with last year’s Racing Post Trophy runner-up, Roaring Lion, set to get his season up and running. Gosden’s youngster is currently third-favourite for the colts’ classic behind Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior. Yes, the major forces in Flat racing are set to go head to head once again.

Roaring Lion will be a short-priced favourite on Thursday with the Charlie Appleby pair of Masar and Glorious Journey leading the challenge. Speaking yesterday, Appleby said: “Masar flew in from Dubai this week and is fit and well. The combination of his unfamiliarity with the dirt surface and a wide draw means that you can put a line through his latest Meydan run, but at least he has the benefit of a run. He is a colt that has shown his inexperience in the past, but he’s done plenty of racing and travelling and he has been getting better with every race. If he brings his strong Jean-Luc Lagardere and Solario form into the Craven, it will make him a major player.”

According to the markets, his other contender has the best chance of toppling the favourite: “Glorious Journey has also been in Dubai and has done very well, but whatever he does on Thursday, there will be some improvement in him,” the trainer added. “The race he won was not the strongest of Group three’s, but he couldn’t have done any more than stay unbeaten. I walked the course on Monday and I would be amazed if it is not good ground by Thursday. We know all about the Rowley Mile’s incredible drying capabilities and it will suit Masar, who is a quick ground horse.”

The Craven has gone to classy sorts in the past, including last year’s winner Eminent, who went on to win a Group Two in France prior to a place finish in the Group One Irish Champion Stakes. Team Hannon took four Craven’s in a row from 2012 to 2015, with winners including Toronado and Toormore. The former came fourth in the Guineas, before going on to capture a pair of Group Ones. Toormore landed his only Group One as a juvenile, though had several victories in Group Two’s in subsequent campaigns, and also coming within a neck of taking the Lochinge.

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Haafhd in 2004 was the last horse to win the Craven Stakes prior to victory in the 2000 Guineas. Trained by Barry Hills and owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, he was particularly potent at Newmarket, winning on four of his five visits. The final success came in the Champion Stakes run over 10-furlongs, defeating a high-class field which included Azamour, Norse Dancer, Refuse To Bend and Doyen.

Chances are that Thursday’s Craven will fail to provide a Guineas winner, though in Masar, Glorious Journey and Roaring Lion, we have horses of huge potential, with the right sort of pedigree and high-profile connections.

But, before the Colts get their opportunity to shine, the fillies will take centre-stage in today’s Nell Gwyn Stakes. As was the case with the boys, it’s been a while since the winner of this went on to 1000 Guineas glory. The front-running Speciosa was the last to do so in 2006. Having landed the Classic in May, she failed to win another of her nine further career starts.

Frankie Dettori has an extraordinary record in the race, having won seven in total, including the last four. His association with John Gosden accounts for the last two, though today he’ll be aboard Juliet Foxtrot, trained by Charlie Hills. Testing ground probably played a part in her disappointing final juvenile display at Naas last September. Sporting the familiar silks of Khalid Abdullah, she’s by Dansili out of a King’s Best mare, and will surely appreciate a sounder surface.

The Mark Johnston-trained, Threading, also disappointed on her final two-year-old start, though that came in a strong looking renewal of the Cheveley Park, won by Aidan O’Brien’s high-class filly Clemmie. She sits at the head of the betting, having impressed in the Lowther at York, though much will, of course, depend on how she has progressed over the winter.

Jim Crowley gets the leg-up aboard John Gosden’s Nawassi. A daughter of Dubawi, the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned filly probably didn’t beat an awful lot at Newmarket in November but nevertheless looked a juvenile full of potential.
Soliloquy is also by Dubawi though owned by Godolphin. Charlie Appleby will be looking to build on an impressive winter at Meydan, and this filly could prove useful.

We’re sure to learn plenty in the coming days and hopefully get a few pointers for the Guineas meeting that’s just a few weeks away.

Dubai struck by a bout of the blues

Saturday’s Dubai World Cup proved a triumph for Team Godolphin, with the boys in blue scooping the three most valuable events.

Bob Baffert had hoped to land the Dubai World Cup for the second-year running, following Arrogate’s stunning success in 2017. West Coast was duly sent off a short-priced favourite but was firmly put in his place by the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Thunder Snow. A Group One winner at the three, the four-year-old has clearly flourished during his winter in Meydan. Sent to the front by Christophe Soumillon, he never looked in danger, romping clear in the latter stages for a five-length success. West Coast had tried to close him down in the home straight but lacked the gears to land a telling blow.

The winning trainer was clearly thrilled, when after the race he said: “This horse is brilliant. Christophe rode a great race. We spoke beforehand about what to do from the outside draw and he rode him to perfection. As soon as he was out the stalls and in a good position, I thought he would go well.”

The Thunder Snow show came little more than half an hour after Hawkbill had put in a stunning front-running performance to capture the Sheema Classic. Cloth Of Stars looked to be Godolphin’s leading hope but it was William Buick that got the fractions right aboard Charlie Appleby’s five-year-old, with the rest of he field finding it impossible to peg him back. Three lengths separated him from runner-up Poet’s Word, who battled on bravely to finish a neck ahead of Cloth Of Stars.

Buick had won the race 12 months earlier aboard Jack Hobbs and said of this impressive winner: “Physically he did well over the winter and we’ve always thought a lot of him. His run on Super Saturday got his head straight and his body right. He relaxed well in front and was in a lovely rhythm. It was going to take a good one to get past him.”

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Appleby had earlier won the Al Quoz Sprint with Jungle Cat, following the late withdrawal of stable companion and Godolphin number one Blue Point. The boys in blue then captured the Dubai Turf when Benbatl proved far too good for a competitive looking field. The winner could now be aimed at Royal Ascot. Saeed bin Suroor clearly believes the horse is going places, saying: “We have thought a great deal about this horse over the last three years and he won for us at Royal Ascot last year (Hampton Court Stakes). He broke well tonight and had a nice position all the way. I wasn't surprised he won like that, because he had been working very well. The plan will now be to go back to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales's Stakes.”

Whilst Godolphin stole the show, Aidan O’Brien also had an impressive winner on the card, when three-year-old Mendelssohn destroyed the opposition, knocking more than a second off the nine-and-a-half-furlong track record to land the UAE Derby.

“Obviously we weren’t expecting that,” said O’Brien. “We were very happy with him after his win at Dundalk, we knew there was a lot of dirt in his pedigree and that he had a lot of speed, but we weren’t sure how far his speed would carry him. We’re over the moon. The lads paid a lot of money for him.”

Ryan Moore was also impressed: “He’s a very fast horse. It was his first time in front and he was still green in places. He’s high quality; second in a Dewhurst, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s getting better with every start. He’s very exciting.”

A trip to America for the Kentucky Derby is now on the cards. He’s as low as 5/1 for the Churchill Downs renewal on May 5; the same day as the 2000 Guineas from Newmarket.

Frustration Home and Away

It’s tough not to feel a little let down by the latest Breeders’ Cup.

Concerns over the tightness of the track prior to racing appeared justified, as luck played a far too significant role in the outcome of several races. A fast break from the stalls became crucial, especially for those drawn on the wide outside. The racing did prove dramatic, though hard-luck stories became the norm, with many high-profile thoroughbreds running no sort of race.

Gun Runner certainly did run his race. The Steve Asmusson-trained four-year-old led the Breeders’ Cup Classic from the off and stayed-on powerfully to beat a pair of Bob Baffert trained colts. Last year’s star Arrogate failed to spark, starting slowly and finishing a good half-dozen lengths adrift.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf went to Europe once again, though not to last year’s winner Highland Reel. O’Brien’s colt put in another solid performance in running a close third, though it was the Andre Fabre-trained Talismanic that ran-out an impressive winner. He got the better of Chad Brown’s Beach Patrol in an exciting three-way go for the line.

The Mile Turf went to American favourite World Approval. Few sob-stories here to be fair, as the favourite pulled away from the pack for a stylish success. Lancaster Bomber finished well for second, with Ribchester a little one-paced back in fifth.

There was more European success in the Filly & Mare Turf, with Godolphin’s Wuheida defeating O’Brien’s Rhododendron. The winner received a ‘Peach of a ride’ from William Buick, but the runner-up looked a little unfortunate. Pinned on the rail, Moore found a gap a little too late to catch the winner. Queen’s Trust was another who had a luckless passage. No room, no gaps, no chance. She flew home when Dettori finally found daylight, but the bird had long-since flown.

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Frustration in America was mirrored in the UK and Ireland, with several high-profile jumpers fluffing their lines, and yet more concerns over the troubled Coneygree.

The Charlie Hall clash at Wetherby between Cue Card and Coneygree failed to materialize. The low sun was blamed for the latter’s jumping error which caused his latest injury. Thankfully he looks likely to be back in action sooner rather than later, with Newbury in early December still a possibility.

“Obviously we were desperately disappointed because Nico said he felt unbelievable over the first two and then he thinks he was just simply distracted by the sun and just dived,” said trainer Sara Bradstock. “He's overreached at the next one because he's jumped too high. The reason it worried him was because he couldn't see the fence. He's such a good jumper. It's a slice into the bulb of his heel and before we have him jumping again, we will have to make sure it's not hurting him. That can take three or four days or, in the worse situation, three to four weeks.”

Cue Card came down five from home, with Paddy Brennan at the time saying the sun was also to blame. Thankfully rider and horse were fine, and the Betfair Chase at Haydock remains a possibility. Tizzard would not be drawn on targets when saying: “He fell again at a similar stage as where he did before. We've got to get our head round all that. There's no reasoning. We've looked at the race and he was going as easily as anything when he fell. He was perfectly well this morning and trotted out absolutely fine.”

The race eventually went to Bristol De Mai, who fought off stable companion Blaklion. It was a record fifth win in the race for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, and he was as bullish as ever when talking of future targets for the winner. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “It will be the Betfair Chase next for Bristol De Mai. He should get his soft ground and he likes it there although he has run some good races on good ground as well. I think he is a very serious contender for the Gold Cup. When he ran in it last year the ground was a bit quick for him and he didn’t run his best race. If he jumps like he did on Saturday he will be right there at the finish.”

Over in Ireland, Our Duke was strongly fancied to win the Chase, but Jess Harrington’s young chaser ran a stinker, trailing home last in a race won by Outlander. He did scope badly after the race, with the trainer saying: “Our Duke is sound, he scoped wrong. He has done it once before. They took some bloods from him [on Sunday morning] and we'll now put him on antibiotics. I just don't know and I'm scratching my head. He was gone after the first fence.”

It was only his fifth run over fences, and a brave decision from Harrington to take on such experienced campaigners at this point in his development. It was left to the Gigginstown pair of Outlander and Road To Respect to fight out the finish, with Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old bouncing back to form for the win. The Lexus Chase at Christmas will be a target for both, and a chance for Our Duke to bounce back to form.

Stoute, O’Brien and Brown set for Breeders’ Turf Showdown

Aidan O’Brien has been the dominant force in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Team Ballydoyle have won the race six times, with four of those victories coming in the past half-dozen years. Highland Reel was successful 12 months ago and is back for another crack. Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit was the last horse to win back-to-back Turf’s, and the Newmarket trainer saddles Highland Reel’s main challenger, the vastly improved four-year-old Ulysses.

The race may be billed as a face-off between O’Brien and Stoute, or indeed the joint-favourites Highland Reel and Ulysses. But interestingly, the most successful jockeys in the Turf’s history happen to be Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore, with four wins apiece. The Italian picked up the ride on Ulysses, ensuring the pair have their own head-to-head in a battle for supremacy.

The leading protagonists have met a couple of times already this summer. Highland Reel impressed when winning the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on fast ground over 10 furlongs. Ulysses was no match for him that day, though ran a solid race to finish third. They met again at Ascot but were unable to land a blow on the mighty filly Enable. Of the pair, it was Ulysses this time that came off best finishing runner-up, with HR a good way back in fourth. That was at 12 furlongs, but crucially in more testing conditions.

Highland Reel is a different beast on fast ground, though he needs to have recovered fully from his exertions on Champions Day, when finding Cracksman untouchable in testing ground. That was just a couple of weeks back, and though O’Brien has said that Moore looked after the colt once the chance of victory had gone, that’s not how I saw it. Struggling in fifth a furlong out, the five-year-old was ridden right to the line, finishing a gallant third. Many believe that he’ll remain a fresh horse having missed a couple of months prior to Ascot. Nevertheless, that run could easily have left its mark.

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Ulysses on the other hand, has had a month off since a terrific third-place finish in the Arc. The ground had gone against him at Chantilly, yet he again travelled powerfully throughout and was one of the last off the bridle.

There’s little to choose between the pair, and I’m finding it difficult to favour one over the other.

Yet again Chad Brown has a leading contender for a Breeders’ Cup race, with Beach Patrol looking the best of the home team. A consistent performer, the four-year-old has finished in the first three in nine of his 11 turf starts. He was a mightily impressive winner of the Joe Hirsch Classic last time, a race that has gone to several Breeders’ Cup turf winners in the past. That looked a career best performance, and with track, trip and ground to suit, he looks a realistic shot at 8/1.

At the beginning of the year I was sure that Seventh Heaven would prove herself an outstanding middle-distance performer. Sadly, she’s spent most of the summer off the track, and has only recently returned to action, latterly finishing down the field in the Arc. She’ll have her ground this time, though the sharpness of Del Mar is not ideal. I’m not sure she’s quite ready for this, though Aidan says she’ll improve plenty for the Chantilly run.

Though favourites again have a poor record, with just one win from the last 10, this remains a race that usually goes to a fancied contender. It looks like the top three in the betting have it between them. I find myself leaning towards Ulysses for Sir Michael. The four-year-old appears to be at the peak of his powers, and can get the better of Beach Patrol and Highland Reel in a thriller. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Rhododendron looks Blooming Lovely in the Filly & Mare

The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf has proved rewarding for the European raiders over the years.

Queen’s Trust was successful 12 months ago, joining Dank, Midday, Ouija Board twice, Islington and Banks Hill, as winners from this side of ‘The Pond’. Sir Michael Stoute has won two of the last four and has three victories in total. He stands alongside Chad Brown as the most successful trainer in the race.

It’s something of a surprise that with the talent at his disposal Aidan O’Brien is yet to add his name to the roll of honour. Misty For Me came close in 2011, when having stumbled out the gate she spent much of the race in last place. L’Ancresse almost caused a 50/1 upset for the team in 2003 when getting to within a neck of Islington.

Saturday’s renewal sees last year’s top three lock horns once again. Sir Michael Stoute knows that the fast ground will be ideal for his returning heroine. Unfortunately for Queen’s Trust, the 1m1f trip, a furlong less than last year, on a trappy track like Del Mar, will certainly not. She needed every yard of last year’s mile and a quarter to get her nose ahead of Lady Eli, and it will take another Dettori masterclass to have the filly handy enough to successfully strike. She’ll be flying late-on, though maybe just too late.

Lady Eli is favourite to go one better this time. The track, trip and ground are all expected to suit this classy five-year-old, though it’s worth noting that favourites have a poor record in the race, with just a pair of wins from the last 10. She arrives off the back of a solid campaign, though rarely dazzles. She’s undoubtedly tough, and with everything seemingly in her favour, will take some beating.

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In a year when little has gone wrong for Aidan O’Brien, he appears to have a major chance of finally landing the Filly & Mare, with the talented Rhododendron. She arrives relatively fresh having spent a part of the summer on the ‘easy list’. Her latest victory at Chantilly shows that she is back to something near her best, and with further improvement likely she should mount a huge challenge. She defeated her classy stablemate Hydrangea in France, on ground that would have been plenty soft enough. She was unlucky when runner-up in the Guineas back in May. And then ran into Enable when looking a non-stayer in the Oaks.

Wuheida goes for Charlie Appleby, and the Godolphin filly is sure to find the trip and conditions to her liking. She was only just behind Rhododendron in France and prior to that ran a cracker in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. Appleby appears confident of a huge run, adding cheekpieces in the hope of extracting further improvement. She should go close, though I fancy she’ll just come-up short.

The ground will certainly suit the Roger Varian-trained Nezwaah, though I’m far from certain as to whether she has the class to win here. She was devastating in the Pretty Polly earlier in the season, though faces far tougher opposition this time. It wouldn’t surprise me if she put in a bold display.

Along with the favourite, Chad Brown has another interesting pair that look capable of springing a surprise at decent odds. Dacita and Grand Jete have been performing consistently well on the American circuit throughout the summer, though it’s the latter that I fancy could go close. Owned by Juddmonte and beautifully bred, Grand Jete was very unlucky not to win the Grade One Beverly D Stakes when trapped on the rail. She’s a powerful traveller and as a four-year-old may well have further improvement to come. With luck in running I think she’ll go close.

I’m taking on the favourite, and am hoping that Aidan O’Brien’s sensational season continues with a victory in this for Rhododendron. She’s a class act and looks sure to go close. Chad Brown has a great record in the race, though it’s his unfancied Grand Jete that I’ll be having a few quid on at 20s to run into a place. Best of luck to those having a punt. It looks a terrific renewal.

Breeders’ Cup – The Players

Just when you thought we’d done with the Flat and could now focus on the Jumps, along comes the Breeders’ Cup from Del Mar in California.

America’s two-day end of season jamboree has again attracted a wealth of talent from Europe, with Aidan O’Brien sending a battalion across the Atlantic in search of further Grade One success.

Our own Matt Bisogno (The Boss) set off in his private jet earlier in the week, and is no doubt working tirelessly from a sunbed on the Corona Del Mar Beach. It’s a meeting that Matt loves and Geegeez covers extensively.

For today’s piece I’ve decided to highlight the major players, both human and equine, in the hope of unearthing potential winners. It’s a tough gig, as we know very little about the American horses, and experience tells us that despite such a sizeable European raiding party, it will be the home team that remain dominant.

One of the most successful trainer’s in Breeders’ Cup history, is Californian handler Bob Baffert. He landed a pair at last year’s meet, including the outstanding Arrogate in the showpiece Breeders’ Cup Classic. That made it three on the trot in the Classic, and he has three leading contenders for Saturday’s renewal. Arrogate returns in hope of defending his crown, but Baffert also saddles the vastly improved Collected and the outstanding three-year-old West Coast.

Baffert said of the younger challenger: “He’s a horse that’s on the improve, he likes a mile-and-a-quarter, he deserves a shot. We know how tough these three-year-olds can be this time of the year.” The trainer’s trio of Classic winners were all aged three.

Baffert also has a tremendous record in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (dirt). With five victories over the years, he has another returning champ in Drefong. The four-year-old colt is a short-priced favourite to repeat the success of 12 months ago. He’s unbeaten in completed starts and will be ably assisted by the most successful jockey in Breeders’ Cup history, Mike Smith.

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Smith landed a hat-trick at last year’s meeting, equalling his best haul from the 2013 event. He’s a jockey that is always in demand, and the horses he rides need a closer inspection from prospective punters. One that looks to have a great chance is Unique Bella in the Filly & Mare Sprint. This enormous three-year-old is by leading American stallion Tapit, out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and is unbeaten this term. She truly is a huge beast and clearly immensely talented. The track may be a slight concern, though when she gets rolling she’s a sight to behold.

Aidan O’Brien lies third in the table of all-time most successful Breeders’ Cup trainers. He’s certainly not travelling light this year and will be hopeful of adding to his tally of 11 winners. He could get off to a great start with the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. Happily and September are a talented duo, with the former a winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly last time. Personally, I fancy the latter to run a huge race on ground that she will love. I also believe that her physique (diminutive) will be better suited to the tight turns of the Del Mar track.

Rhododendron must have a great chance of landing the Filly & Mare Turf for Team Ballydoyle. Her victory at Chantilly last time, shows that she is back to something near her best, and this 1m1f trip ought to be ideal. It looks a cracking renewal with Chad Brown’s Lady Eli a serious challenger.

Roly Poly is one of the unsung heroes of the squad and looks sure to run well in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Whilst Highland Reel aims to win back-to-back Turf’s with Ulysses and stablemate Seventh Heaven amongst the main rivals.

The aforementioned Chad Brown tends to get his fair share of winners. Just the one last year, followed on from a pair in 2015 and a treble in 2014. Lady Eli was chinned on the line in last year’s Filly & Mare, but has a furlong less to travel this time round. He also has Dacita and Grand Jete in the race, with both having claims at decent prices. I favour the latter, who is beautifully bred, and should be suited by both track and trip.

He also has a leading contender in the Juvenile Fillies Turf in Rushing Fall. Unbeaten in two starts, she was impressive last time at Keeneland, though will need to improve again if she is to defeat the Ballydoyle duo.
Wes Ward is well known to UK racefans, and though not prolific at the Breeders’ Cup, he does have the outstanding sprinter Lady Aurelia, entered in the Turf Sprint. The five-furlong trip around Del Mar should prove ideal and she’ll take some beating.

He also has interesting contenders in the Fillies Juvenile Turf and the Juvenile Turf. The filly is Ultima D, who at 25/1 is a relatively unconsidered challenger. Yet this daughter of Scat Daddy improved for a step-up in trip last time and has the speed to make her presence felt on this ‘trappy’ track. He saddles Hemp Hemp Hurray in the Juvenile Turf, a race he won in 2014 with Hootenanny. This fella also has plenty of speed and looks capable of out-running his odds of 20/1. Four European horses stand at the head of the betting, though I’d be keen to take them on.

Finally, a mention for World Approval who appears to be one of the home team’s ‘certainty’ of the gathering. He’s favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and was impressive last time when thumping Lancaster Bomber in the Woodbine Mile Stakes. Ribchester and Roly Poly should give him more to think about, though both have had hectic campaigns. Suedois could be interesting having won his last two starts at the trip. The ex-sprinter has the gears to trouble these, with O’Meara and Tudhope loving these foreign jaunts.

It’s sure to be a cracking spectacle at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable Flat racing season. Let’s hope that the European contingent land a few telling blows. And let’s all hope that Matt has a wonderful time on his ‘working vacation’ in California. Yeah, enjoy yourself Boss!