Gosden lays Foundation for Success

Only seven go to post in Saturday’s Betfred Rose Of Lancaster Stakes.

The Group 3 at Haydock was first run in 1986, when known as the Summer Trophy. The 1m2f contest is open to horses aged three and above. Sir Michael Stoute has won the event on three occasions, most recently in 2011 with Class Is Class. On Saturday he runs the six-year-old Arab Spring.

Victories in the past decade have been split pretty evenly among horses aged three, four and five. No horse older than five has ever been successful.

Stoute’s Arab Spring is returning from more than a year off the track. He was last seen getting to within a head of Western Hymn in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes of 2015. He looked a progressive sort before sidelined by niggling injuries, and the son of Monsun had proved versatile as regards trip, having won at both 10 furlongs and at a mile and a half. He’s a classy sort, and should go close if over those physical issues.

Godolphin has a victory and a third place finish from the last four renewals. Scottish is their runner tomorrow, and he looks set to be sent off favourite. Charlie Appleby took over as handler when the horse was purchased by Godolphin at the end of last season. He won a listed contest last time, and prior to that had finished third to Time Test in the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown. He was four lengths adrift of Western Hymn on that occasion, though was likely lacking match fitness.

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Mark Johnston sends Fire Fighting for another crack at the race. He was a well-beaten third 12 months ago, and this renewal looks a little stronger. He’s been kept incredibly busy since then, having run a staggering 18 times. Yes, I really did say that Fire Fighting has run 18 times in one year. He’s a winner in listed company, but I’d be surprised if he’s good enough to win this.

It’s somewhat surprising that John Gosden has such a mediocre record in the race. His only win came with Knifebox in 1993. He’s so often prolific in this type of event, being one of the best in the business at training middle-distance performers. On Saturday he puts his trust in a pair of three-year-olds, with one in particular toward the head of the market.

Foundation was an outstanding juvenile, and thought of as an Epsom Derby prospect. He was arguably unfortunate not to win the Dante at York, and was then sent to France for a crack at the Prix Du Jockey Club. However, in heavy ground he failed to spark, and is now on something of a recovery mission. He was gelded after the poor performance at Chantilly, and it is hoped that his attitude will improve as a consequence.

The Dante form has recently been boosted, thanks to Wings of Desire running such a huge race in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot. Foundation has two victories at Haydock to his name, and should enjoy the better ground conditions.

Another worth a mention is the Richard Fahey trained Gabrial. He was a decent fifth in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, and prior to that had stayed on well for third in the Group 2 Summer Mile at Ascot. He’s no stranger to this race, having finished third back in 2012. Now a seven-year-old, you’d expect a few progressive types to finish ahead of him, though he is a consistent performer at a high level.

Scottish is plenty short enough in the betting for me, and I’m not convinced he’s as good as some appear to think. Arab Spring may well be the best of these, but will he be cherry ripe after a 14 month lay-off?

I’m siding with John Gosden’s Foundation to deliver on some of that juvenile potential. His Dante form looks strong, and his weight for age allowance could prove decisive.

The Epsom Derby Merry-go-round

With just over a fortnight to go, I’m not sure I can remember a more fluid look to the Epsom Derby.

With each passing day, yet another contender is set to be parachuted in, whilst another looks set to miss the event in favour of Royal Ascot, France or Ireland. With so many arrows to shoot at the target it’s always going to be tricky to second guess Aidan O’Brien and the ‘Ballydoyle Boys’. But that’s a conundrum we’ve become used to over the years.

The lead up to this season’s Epsom Derby has become that much more bewildering thanks to a combination of factors, including; injuries, surprise results, rapid improvement from late-comers, and even a state of the art Equinome Speed Gene Test.

The case of Wings Of Desire typifies this year’s road to Epsom. John Gosden’s colt was in the Derby, then he was out, but after the Dante at York he’s likely to be supplemented back in again. The trainer made his original decision due to the colt’s delayed introduction to the racetrack. The son of Pivotal, made his debut in April with a satisfactory if not sparkling third place in a maiden at Newmarket. However, just 10 days later he ran a race full of promise at Wolverhampton, before the huge step-forward at York when winning the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes.

In a year with few standout contenders Gosden anticipates plenty to oppose his Dante winner. Reflecting on his 2007 Derby fourth Lucarno, when no fewer than eight represented O’Brien, he said: “I expect Aidan to turn up with six colts at least. US Army Ranger is a bloody good horse, as are Port Douglas and Deauville. I was at Deauville on Sunday and The Gurkha was impressive, but I think he beat Group 3 horses.”

The Gurkha’s progression has mirrored that of Gosden’s Derby hope. He also made his debut in April, finishing third, before a much improved performance 11 days later when running away with a maiden at Navan. His eye-catching victory in the French Guineas thrust him into the picture for Epsom, though he is by no means a certainty for the race. ‘The Boys’ will weigh up the options, though many believe his participation to be assured.

One that will not be supplemented for the Classic is the Dee Stakes winner Viren’s Army. Trained by Richard Hannon and owned by Middelham Park Racing, the colt could well head for the Irish Derby, where the cost to supplement is much less. Spokesman for the owners, Tim Palin said: “It took us more than a week to weigh up the pros and cons, see the rest of the trials, and get all the votes in. We fully appreciate there's only one Epsom Derby, but the £75,000 just proved too prohibitive considering our market position - we were 6-1 a place.”

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Hannon had better news of his Lingfield Derby trial winner Humphrey Bogart, whose owners look set to stump up the dosh to supplement. Hannon said: “He's been in good form and the plan still is to supplement him. He didn't do much between Epsom and Lingfield, and he's only cantered since then, but I'm very happy with him.”

Though Chester’s Dee Stakes winner is giving Epsom a swerve, the runner-up, Linguistic, is set to make his case for the Derby in either the Fairway Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, or a day earlier at Goodwood in the Cocked Hat Stakes. Gosden said of the Godolphin owned colt: “He could go to Epsom and could well be supplemented, depending on weather forecasts.” Yet another talented horse by Lope De Vega, Linguistic is out of a Montjeu mare, and though still to go beyond 10 furlongs, he has looked a strong stayer. It would not surprise me if he progressed into a St Leger contender.

From one possibly in, to another definitely out. Foundation will dodge Epsom despite his strong finishing third in York’s Dante. Harry Herbert, chairman of the owning syndicate, confirmed the colt would head for the French Derby on 5 June. “William [Buick] wasn’t able to extricate himself when he needed to, but he ran very well and was only beaten a length and three-quarters by the winner,” said Herbert of that York defeat. “William felt we should stick to a mile and a quarter for the time being. It will be very exciting for everyone involved to have a runner in the French Derby. I don’t think Highclere have ever had a runner in the race before.”

Another to suddenly arrive on the Derby scene is the Sir Michael Stoute trained Ulysses, a general 16-1 shot for the race, after breaking the maiden tag at the third attempt when storming to victory at Newbury last week. Another son of Galileo, he is out of Light Shift who won the Oaks in 2007, giving him an eye-catching pedigree for the Epsom showpiece.

“He won very nicely and has taken the race very well,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for the Niarchos family, owners of Ulysses. “As for plans, we will regroup with Sir Michael, Ryan and the racing team and see what Sir Michael thinks we should do next. He’s in the Derby, but he’s just won his maiden. We are going to give his programme good thought and when we know, all will become clear.”

Should the team feel Epsom comes too soon, then an outing at Royal Ascot may well be his next step as he holds an entry in the King Edward VII Stakes. Prior to his maiden victory at Newbury, he had been narrowly beaten by Imperial Aviator at Leicester over nine furlongs. Roger Charlton’s impressive colt won the London Gold Cup at Newbury last week. The trainer has said that the horse should avoid an undulating track, and so rather than Epsom his next target could be the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot over 10 furlongs.

Another who’s Epsom participation remains in the balance is former favourite Midterm. An injury came to light after the disappointing performance in the Dante. Teddy Grimthorpe spoke of the beautifully bred colt, saying: At least it gives us some explanation of why he was so disappointing. We have to wait quite a few days and like everything we have got to be sure, so it will be a last-minute decision. Firstly, he has to be sound and secondly he has got to please - which is slightly difficult as he is not a great worker so it is hard to gauge on how he is going.”

Should Midterm be forced to miss Epsom then he too could head to Royal Ascot for the King Edward VII Stakes.

Finally, to Galileo Gold, who’s DNA suggests a trip to Epsom is out of the question. He runs in the Irish Guineas at the Curragh on Saturday, and depending on his run there, is likely to head to Royal Ascot. His plans are not set in stone, and in this of all years, it would come as no surprise should decisions suddenly change. Hold on to those antepost Derby bets - just for now.

Showtime for Cheltenham

Cheltenham's latest addition

Cheltenham's latest addition

A small gathering in America will occupy a large portion of Geegeez time and space in the coming week, but it would be remiss of me not to focus for now on more immediate matters.

Two major points of interest over the coming couple of days have me excited, the first being the seasonal opener at Jump racings supreme venue. Cheltenham is back, and how we’ve missed it. It’s a truly wonderful setting, with Cleeve Hill as a natural backdrop creating the perfect amphitheatre. For me, it’s always a place of majesty, and this season fans will be treated to a stunning new grandstand to further enhance the race day experience.

It’s the final part of a £45million redevelopment, with Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal on hand to do the official opening at the November meeting. A number of areas have undergone changes that successfully give the racegoer a greater feel of space and grandeur.

Much has been done to improve the viewing throughout the course, in particular the parade ring and winners’ enclosure, and further bars and restaurants including the Big Buck’s Champagne Bar are sure to prove pleasing additions.

Not only are Cheltenham going all out to cater for the race fans, but they have a habit of attracting elite racehorses, trainers and owners. This opening meeting held over two days, known as The Showcase, is sure to uncover a number of quality horses that need to be kept onside during the winter that lies ahead. Last year John’s Spirit and Moon Racer won on the Saturday, whilst Vibrato Valtat and The Young Master both ran on the Friday.

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Trainer John Ferguson is currently running at an incredible 41% strike-rate, and he’ll be hoping to maintain that kind of form, despite the presence of stronger more potent opposition. There’s no doubt that he is developing a powerful Jumps team to go to war with over the coming months.

He has several exciting types entered at Cheltenham during the meeting, and will be hopeful of quick strike in the opener with the classy Penglai Pavilion. Still a little rusty over his obstacles last time at Stratford, he may not need to be foot perfect to win this. He’s a powerful galloper who should be well suited by the step-up in trip.

Ferguson then sends Qewy over fences for the first time. He impressed over the smaller obstacles reaching a hurdles rating of 142. He’ll be up against more experienced opposition including Henry De Bromhead’s Sizing Codelco, a horse that certainly has the pedigree to make a decent chaser.

On Saturday Devilment should go close in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle. A gelding by Cape Cross, he was ultra-consistent at a high level last winter, including when fourth in the Triumph before a runner’s-up spot at Aintree in the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle. This looks a very competitive renewal with Hargam and Karezak likely to prove his toughest opponents.

Monsun is a prominent sire during Ferguson’s Cheltenham challenge, and his current stable star is another of the offspring who has taken well to the change of codes. Parlour Games was exceptional over hurdles throughout last season. Winner of a Grade 2 at Prestbury Park in November, he then took the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury. Runner-up at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals, he now embarks on a novice chase campaign. If he adapts well to fences, he’s sure to take high order over the winter.

As the transition to Jumps moves on at a pace, Doncaster’s Racing Post Trophy is tasked with turning off the lights and drawing the curtains on the Flat season. It’s a race with a relatively short yet rich history, having been won by many colts that went on to achieve great things in the sport. Reference Point, High Chaparral, Motivator, Authorized and Camelot, were all top-class and went on to become Epsom Derby winners.

John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien once again clash with the former saddling the race favourite in Foundation. He renews rivalry with Ballydoyle’s Deauville, who he defeated in the Juddmonte Royal lodge Stakes a month ago. They were closely matched that day and look sure to be involved in a mighty tussle again. With rain forecast to arrive on the day, Hugo Palmer’s Mengli Khan becomes an interesting contender having looked very impressive in testing conditions at Nottingham last time, albeit in a low grade maiden.

Once again there’s plenty to get excited about as the weekend approaches, while looming on the horizon, all the razzmatazz of another thrilling Breeders’ Cup in America.

Shalaa the Star as Gosden’s Dominance Continues

Exciting Speedster Shalaa

Exciting Speedster Shalaa

John Gosden’s dominant campaign continued on Saturday and the signs are that next season could prove just as fruitful.

Foundation opened the show when running out an impressive winner of the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes. The Highclere-owned juvenile is another classy son of Zoffany, a stallion that continues to have an outstanding season with his first crop of two-year-olds. A big strapping colt, he saw off Aidan O’Brien’s Deauville to maintain his unbeaten record. Sent for home by Dettori at the furlong marker, he stayed on well and looks a decent Derby prospect.

A horse with a huge stride, he does however look lean and gangly at present, and is sure to flourish once strengthening into his frame. Back in the winners’ enclosure Gosden said: “He's a grand horse and he's still learning. He handled it well as he's quite a big, gangly horse and he was still doing quite a bit of looking about when he hit the front with a furlong to go.”

Gosden hinted that he could head for the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster as a season finale; a renowned pointer for the following year’s Derby.

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It proved to be quite a day for Gosden and Dettori, when Shalaa confirmed himself as the summer’s leading juvenile. He took the Middle Park Stakes with the minimum of fuss. Leading from the off, the result never looked in doubt with only Buratino from Mark Johnston’s yard getting within sniffing distance.

The winner looks sure to become a high-class sprinter, and is likely to be aimed at the Commonwealth Cup next summer. His sire, Invincible Spirit, was also a classy sprinter, winning the Haydock Sprint Cup as a five-year-old. An outstanding stallion, his most successful offspring include Fleeting Spirit, Kingman and Moonlight Cloud.

The F-word appeared prominently in Gosden’s post-race assessment, when he said: “He's gone very, very fast and Ryan Moore (on board fifth-placed Rouleau) said he had never been so fast over four furlongs up the Rowley Mile. I said this would be the last race of the year for him and he's not put a foot wrong. He's very, very fast - the fastest two-year-old I've trained. He's incredibly fast and we are lucky to have him.”

The trainer then likened his colt to one of his previous sprinting sensations, when saying: “He has so much speed and has that sprinters build, so he reminds us all of Oasis Dream who probably broke the juvenile record here and was not only champion two-year-old but also champion sprinter at three. He's of that mould. He looks like a pure fast two-year-old and is not crying out for a mile.”

Mark Johnston may have just missed out in the Middle Park with the classy Buratino, but his stunning filly Lumiere proved unstoppable in a thrilling Cheveley Park Stakes. The imposing grey held off Hannon’s Illuminate and the Haggas trained Besharah to take the prestigious Group 1. After the win Johnston said: “We always thought there was no shortage of stamina but we also know she's very fast and has a tremendous cruising speed. I'm very, very hopeful she can stay a mile.”

The trainer fought hard to supress his excitement but clearly sees her as a major Classic hope. The bookies were taking no chances with Paddy Power and William Hill making her an 8-1 shot for next year’s 1,000 Guineas.