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.

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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.

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.

Catterick Racecourse – Small but beautifully formed

During a short break in the Yorkshire Dales, Me and Mrs K jumped at the opportunity of a trip to Catterick Races yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Their first recorded meeting was back in 1783, but it was a further 30 years before a permanent racecourse was created. The first stand was erected 1906 and in 1923 Catterick’s Racecourse Company was formed to aid the further development for punters, owners and trainers. Today much of the original framework is evident, though ongoing modernisation and improvement is clear to see.

People can be pretty ‘snooty’ when it comes to racecourses. There’s no doubting that the likes of Ascot, York and Cheltenham are all wonderful venues, with facilities in keeping with the quantity of racegoers they attract. Meetings are often prestigious in nature, with valuable races attracting the best horses, trained by the leading handlers.

But racing isn’t all about significant events and festivals. Racing is a hugely diverse business, and needs to cater for those at all points along its hierarchy. Catterick, like so many other smaller tracks, serve the rank and file within this wonderful thoroughbred industry. The entertainment gained, and rewards gleaned are no less thrilling for those involved, or indeed for the paying public, who quite clearly enjoyed every aspect yesterday.

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Catterick has plenty in its favour. A dual-code racetrack, meetings take place throughout the calendar, indeed people can visit the North Yorkshire track every month of the year. Its size is also one of its strengths. The punters journey from parade ring, to on-course bookies, and on again to trackside action could not be easier. All aspects are just a stones-throw apart, and the ease with which a visitor can access all areas is probably taken for granted.

The set-up reminded me somewhat of Carlisle, though viewing the action is easier due to the nature of the course. Yes, there are undulations, but slight, and the tightness of Catterick ensures that the horses can be spotted throughout the contest.

There’s also an abundance of value-for-money refreshment outlets, whether it be of the three-course variety in the Winning Streak Restaurant, overlooking both the racecourse and the parade ring, or a tasty meal or snack in the Furlongs Café positioned alongside the parade ring. And there’s further options undercover in the Champions Bar and the Gods Solution Bar, both with views of the racecourse. Catterick make the race-day experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, without the huge hit on the wallet.

Another bonus of racing at Catterick is the locality. It’s easy enough to get to, sat alongside the A1, but also perched on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Richmond is within spitting distance, and is a smashing place to visit. Exit the A1 a short distance to the South and you find yourself heading West towards Leyburn and the wonderful Wensleydale area. Horse Racing Shangri-La can be found at the small market town of Middleham.

Thoroughbreds stream through the streets during the early hours, heading towards the gallops on nearby moors, sent on their way by more than a dozen local trainers.

Basing yourself at Middleham is the sensible option for any racing fan heading to Yorkshire. Not only do you have an abundance of local racing yards, but the area is home to numerous racecourses with meetings throughout the year. Catterick, Ripon, Thirsk, York, Sedgefield and Wetherby, are just a few sited along the A1.

And for those of us fortunate enough to head to Catterick yesterday, we were on hand to witness a small piece of history being made. Solo Saxophone became the first of the Frankel progeny to jump a hurdle. For much of the race his performance was less than thrilling, and at one point he traded at 99/1 on Betfair. However, turning for home he suddenly sprouted wings, storming past the opposition for a four-length success. The Skelton’s are going to have fun with this one.

There’s no doubting that Middleham is a delight, and I’m pleased to be able to confirm that though not quite as aesthetically pleasing, Catterick is also a treat, and well worth a visit.

Yearning For York

York’s Ebor Meeting starts on Wednesday, so I thought I’d use today’s piece to fuel anticipation for one of the Flat’s major gatherings.

The Great Voltigeur is one of the highlights on day one, and often serves as a pointer to the St Leger. Idaho was an impressive winner 12 months ago for Aidan O’Brien, but met with disaster at Doncaster, when stumbling and unseating Seamie Heffernan having been sent off a short-priced favourite. The horse has shown his class this season with victory in the Hardwicke Stakes and a notable third behind Enable in the King George.

Sea Moon was another that probably should have took the St Leger, having won the Great Voltigeur. His victory at York was stunning, and he was made favourite for the season’s final Classic. He endured a nightmare passage through the race, and when finally getting a clear run, finished to great effect, but all too late to win.

Despite several going close, John Gosden’s Lucarno was the last to complete the Voltigeur - St Leger double back in 2007. He stayed on strongly at Doncaster, to beat a Ballydoyle battalion. It seems an obvious thing to say, but St Leger winners need to see out the trip strongly. York and Doncaster have long straights, and horses can become embroiled in a protracted battle.

One of the great winners of the St Leger, was Ballydoyle’s Milan. Another powerful stayer, he’d lacked the ‘zip’ in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, but found York and Doncaster to his liking. He stormed clear late-on at Donny to win the Classic by five lengths. Dropped in trip for the Arc, again his lack of speed proved vital, and though he stayed on steadily from the turn, he could only manage a fifth-place finish.

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Postponed took the Voltigeur in 2014, but was not thought to have the necessary stamina for Doncaster. He returned to York two years later and captured the Juddmonte International, the highlight of the opening day of the Ebor Meeting.

The prestigious and incredibly valuable showpiece, has been won by numerous high-class colts. Frankel and Sea The Stars are the outstanding pair in recent times to land the prize. Frankel’s demolition of a high-class field was arguably his most thrilling success. His first attempt at the 1m2f trip, and yet he cruised past the opposition, destroying Group One winners Farhh, St Nicholas Abbey and Twice Over.

Sea The Stars took in the Juddmonte during a devastating three-year-old campaign, where the superstar colt swept all before him. He certainly didn’t have it all his own way at York, when having to lower the course record to see-off Ballydoyle’s Mastercraftsman. Aidan O’Brien’s three-year-old had won the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot, and proved a worthy adversary. Sea The Stars went on to win the Irish Champion Stakes before landing the Arc at Longchamp.

The Yorkshire Oaks headlines on day two, and we could see a potential great in this year’s renewal, with Enable a likely starter. Khalid Abdullah won the race with the sensational Midday back in 2010, and this filly looks every bit as good. Three times the winner of the Nassau Stakes, the Sir Henry Cecil trained heroine was a class act, though Enable has the potential to reach even greater heights.

Peeping Fawn was another terrific winner of the Yorkshire Oaks, when storming to a four-length success in 2007. Like Enable, she’d won the Irish Oaks on-route to this, though had also captured the Nassau, rather than take on the boys in the King George.

Another filly who proved good enough to beat the colts, was 2013 Yorkshire Oaks winner The Fugue. Like Enable, she was trained by John Gosden, and having won this race during her four-year-old campaign, travelled to Ireland to win the Irish Champion Stakes. She was sensational on quick ground, and as a five-year-old set a course record when winning the Prince Of Wales’s at Royal Ascot.

Expect fireworks in the Nunthorpe on day three of the meeting. Mecca’s Angel beat Limato in last year’s renewal, and we have another ‘super-filly’ entered this time around, with Lady Aurelia hoping to add this to her sensational King’s Stand success in June.

The Nunthorpe roll of honour is crammed full of sprinting stars. York’s five-furlongs is a quick one, and in recent times few were faster than Sole Power. Ed Lynam’s ‘pocket-rocket’ was often delivered late, with devastating effect. He beat Starspangledbanner to win as a three-year-old in 2010, and then had to wait until 2014 to capture the prestigious sprint as a seven-year-old. On fast ground he was mustard.

Oasis Dream was one of the best, and took the Nunthorpe in stunning fashion back in 2003. He almost lowered Dayjur’s track record, despite being eased down late-on.

Dayjur is thought by many to be the greatest sprinter of them all. He had a stunning three-year-old campaign, capturing York’s showpiece during a season of complete sprinting dominance. The Temple Stakes, the King’s Stand and the Prix de l’Abbaye were captured before his final run in America. In sight of victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, he leapt a shadow nearing the post, and lost out by a neck.

It’s sure to be a week to remember, with the hugely competitive Ebor Handicap taking place on the final day. Sadly, I can only get to York for the Juddmonte, but undoubtedly will enjoy another thrilling day at one of the UK’s greatest tracks.

Churchill to become Sussex Stakes Supremo

Ribchester takes on Churchill, in arguably the clash of the week at Glorious Goodwood today. Godolphin versus Ballydoyle adds to the anticipation, as the Flat racing goliaths go toe to toe.

Three-year-olds have a cracking record in the Sussex Stakes, having won seven of the last 10. Those winning at three and returning at four tend to lose. Though Ribchester failed to land this event last year, he came mightily close. Returning a year later, he gives the dual-Guineas winner Churchill half a stone.

Godolphin’s star miler is without doubt a class act, but numerous talented sorts have failed in the face of such a challenge. Rip Van Winkle and Canford Cliffs, lost out at four, having won the Goodwood showpiece at three. And In 2013 Toronado also succumbed to a classy youngster, having landed the prize 12 months earlier. The three-year-old weight allowance often proves too much for the older horses to handle.

Youngsters that ran well in the 2000 Guineas, have a particularly good record in the Sussex, though they don’t necessarily need to have won the Classic. Ballydoyle’s Henrythenavigator did land the Guineas, during a thrilling 2008 campaign. New Approach and Raven’s Pass proved worthy adversaries, when taking turns in chasing him home in the English and Irish Guineas, the St James’s Palace and then the Sussex at Goodwood.

A year later Aidan O’Brien produced Rip Van Winkle to win the Sussex, despite the horse having only managed fourth in the Guineas earlier in the season. The mighty Sea The Stars had proved his nemesis, but at Goodwood (in the absence of the John Oxx trained star) he proved too strong when dominant from the front in beating flashy four-year-old Paco Boy.

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Rip was back at Goodwood a year later, but was unable to hold off the fast finishing Canford Cliffs in another thrilling clash. Canford had managed only a third-place finish at Newmarket, but had then romped home in the Irish Guineas. Blessed with a devastating finishing kick, he had the perfect partner in the ultra-confident Richard Hughes.

Nevertheless, he too was unable to complete back-to-back Sussex Stakes victories when losing out to a rather special three-year-old in 2011. His clash with Frankel had been eagerly anticipated, but in the event, Sir Henry Cecil’s awesome beast did what he so often did, and simply destroyed the opposition. Frankel did return and add a second Sussex, though his 11-length success in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot a month earlier, had clearly scared off any sort of challenge come Goodwood.

In 2013 Toronado avenged his 2000 Guineas defeat to Dawn Approach, by showing an impressive turn-of-foot to defeat Bolger’s colt in the Sussex. A year later he too failed to give weight and a beating to another flashy youngster, when Kingman quickened impressively late-on to get the better of Richard Hannon’s colt. Kingman himself, had finished runner-up in the 2000 Guineas a couple of months earlier.

So what of this year’s race, and can the three-year-olds maintain their impressive record?

Billed as a clash between Ribchester and Churchill, we have the rather unusual situation of the older horse likely to go-off favourite. Though O’Brien’s dual-Classic winner has a handy weight advantage, his poor performance at Royal Ascot has punters looking to the Godolphin star as the likely victor.

Ribchester arrives having won the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, and then landing the Queen Anne at the Royal Meeting. The Richard Fahey-trained four-year-old may lack the ‘wow-factor’, but has become a rock-solid performer at a mile, and fully deserves his place at the head of the market. However, Toronado, Declaration Of War, Canford Cliffs and Paco Boy were all recent Queen Anne winners that lost out to the youngsters here.

That’s undoubtedly a concern for favourite backers, and should Churchill return to his Guineas’ winning best, the weight differential could once again prove a telling factor. On official ratings, Ribchester has just 2lbs in hand.

I’d go as far as to say, that an on-form Churchill is a Sussex Stakes certainty. His Irish Guineas victory was arguably his best performance. He’s a powerful galloper, who just maybe lacks a change of gear. Goodwood wouldn’t necessarily be his ideal track, though the same could be said for Ribchester. A stiff mile would probably be ideal for both. But it’s this 7lb that will surely prove critical.

A danger to the pair could well lie in French raider Zelzal. Jean-Claude Rouget rarely travels to the UK without landing a major prize. This four-year-old colt will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, and is likely to be doing his best work late-on. I’m not sure he’s quite quick enough to beat the market leaders, and would expect him to be battling it out for minor honours.

This is a race that goes to fancied contenders, and I can’t see anything other than a Ballydoyle – Godolphin epic this afternoon. I’d expect Ribchester to be travelling powerfully and looking the likely winner entering the final furlong. But under a power-packed Ryan Moore drive, that 7lbs age-allowance will prove an insurmountable obstacle.

It’s Churchill for me. Best of luck to all those having a punt.

A Brighton Double – Pat’ll Do Nicely

Few jockeys are riding as well as Pat Cosgrave just now. A double at Brighton yesterday, could so easily have been four or five, and he now has an impressive 23% strike-rate.

With nine victories from his last 39 rides, Cosgrave is in scintillating form. And he’s not simply guiding home well-fancied contenders. The double yesterday came on a 16/1 shot and one priced at 10s. Of his seven mounts, he was no worse than third, finishing runner-up four times.

An apprentice with Aidan O’Brien back in the day, he arrived in the UK in 2004. Based in Newmarket, he set about developing contacts, and quickly established a good relationship with Mark Wallace and Jim Boyle in Epsom. It was Boyle that supplied the ammunition for a successful Brighton trip yesterday. Things didn’t go particularly well initially, and Cosgrave headed north in search of success.

He managed 120 winners in just two campaigns, and forged a relationship with Yorkshire trainer Robin Bastiman. In 2008 he landed the ride on Borderlescott, when the horse was aimed at the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York. The meeting was abandoned and the race switched to the July Course at Newmarket. He tracked the leaders on the 12/1 shot, and managed to overhaul the South African mare, National Colour, inside the final furlong to win by less than a length, with Kingsgate Native back in third. He continued to ride for Bastiman throughout the season before a return to Newmarket.

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Cosgrave became something of a sprint specialist, when in 2010 he rode Markab to a Group 1 victory in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, having gone close in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot a few months earlier. He’d also ridden Society Rock to a runners-up spot at Ascot in the Golden Jubilee. The following year he went one better in partnership with Fanshawe’s sprinter when landing the Group 1 six-furlong sprint. A month later the pair chased home Moonlight Cloud in the Maurice De Gheest at Deauville.

Now aged 34, Cosgrave will be hoping for further high-profile victories during this successful campaign. The man from County Down in Northern Ireland has developed a strong relationship with William Haggas in recent seasons, and the combo is often worth a second look. The pair teamed-up a couple of days back, when talented three-year-old filly Tirania, romped to success at Windsor in a maiden over a mile.

The duo hope to strike again on Saturday at Haydock, when Mubtasim heads for the Group 2 Sandy Lane. Could he be yet another big sprint success for Cosgrave?

It’s fair to say that things haven’t always been rosy for the talented jock. He landed a six-month ban by the Emirates Racing Authority stewards back in 2014, following a lengthy inquiry into a race at Meydan, when it appeared that he had allowed a stablemate to gain an advantage during a Group 1 event.

He was aboard the Mike de Kock trained Anaerobio, when appearing to move off the rail, allowing Christophe Soumillion the opportunity to sweep to the front aboard Vercingetorix. Found guilty, he was slapped with a ban, though the British Horseracing Authority later quashed the ban on appeal.

During the winter, Cosgrave resumed riding in Dubai, having paid an outstanding fine to the Emirates Racing Authority. The jockey had originally refused to pay £35,000, but winters in Dubai can be lucrative, and a jockey of his ability is always in demand. Cosgrave partnered up with the likes of de Kock and Saeed Bin Suroor. He also had the opportunity to ride for William Haggas.

Back in the UK, Cosgrave is clearly reinvigorated after a winter in Meydan. Rides this week at Kempton and Goodwood, will be followed by a couple of days in the north aboard some nice sorts at Haydock. He’s likely to get the leg-up on Learn By Heart on Friday. Owned by the Queen, this son of Frankel out of the speedy mare Memory, looks an exciting addition to the William Haggas yard. It’s shaping into an exciting campaign for the Irishman, and there’s little sign of that impressive strike-rate slipping just yet.

Dettori to steal Lockinge Gold from Godolphin

The Group 1 Lockinge Stakes is Newbury’s showpiece on Saturday. First run in 1958, the race has been won by some of the all-time great milers.

Brigadier Gerard and Frankel were two of the greatest. The former was only defeated once in 18 career starts. His victories included the 2000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes, the QEII on two occasions, the Champion Stakes twice, the Eclipse, the King George VI & the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and of course the Lockinge. He was a truly astounding racehorse, all power, pace and grace. Truly a sight to behold.

Frankel was similarly astounding on the racecourse. A mighty beast of a horse, capable of galloping the opposition into the turf. His ability to travel effortlessly at high speed was thrilling to witness. It’s tough to choose one standout performance, but if pushed, his victory in the Juddmonte International was probably the most astonishing. He cruised past four-time Group 1 winner St Nicholas Abbey, before streaking clear. His Lockinge success was similarly exhilarating, with Excelebration the unfortunate horse to be brushed aside.

Both Brigadier Gerard and Frankel captured the Newbury showpiece at the age of four, and it’s this age group that have proved dominant in the Lockinge, capturing eight of the last ten renewals. Godolphin have been victorious in four of those, and have three wins from the last four, including last year, when the Roger Varian trained Belardo took the prize. It’s interesting to point out that Aidan O’Brien has only one victory in the Lockinge, and that was back in 2003, when four-year-old Hawk Wing destroyed a quality field.

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Both Godolphin and Ballydoyle are represented in tomorrow’s renewal. The Richard Fahey trained Ribchester currently heads the market. Progressive throughout his three-year-old campaign, he concluded last year with a second-place finish to O’Brien’s super-filly Minding, in the QEII on Champions Day. Prior to that, he’d won a Group 1 at Deauville, and had been a fast-finishing third in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. He had a pipe-opener at Meydan in March, and looks a worthy favourite. He’s a powerful galloper, though perhaps lacks that ‘instant’ change of gear.

It’s interesting to see that Fahey has another Godolphin owned runner in the field, and one would guess that this is to ensure a strong end-to-end gallop. Toscanini is no mug, and has strong form over shorter trips. He’s likely to be employed at the head of affairs, ensuring Frankie Dettori does not get a free hand to dictate matters aboard Galileo Gold.

More of him later, but first a look at Ballydoyle’s sole entrant, the filly Somehow. She’s undoubtedly a classy sort, and was recently an impressive winner of the Group 2 Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket. It’s fair to say that she defeated a mediocre field of fillies and mares on that occasion, though did it in style. This is a huge step-up in class, and she’d have to be just shy of Minding quality to go close. I expect a solid performance from her, but I’ll be shocked if she’s quite good enough to trouble a couple of these colts.

Back then to last year’s 2000 Guineas winner, Galileo Gold. Owned by the race sponsors Al Shaqab, and trained by Hugo Palmer, this son of Paco Boy (himself a winner of the Lockinge in 2010) was sensational during the early part of last season. He won the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot under a canny ride from Dettori, and then came close to landing the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. His form tailed off towards the end of the campaign, when twice finishing behind Ribchester.

The question for punters, is whether Ribchester improved past Galileo Gold, or whether the latter simply ran out of gas after a challenging campaign at the highest level? I’m inclined to believe the form of the Sussex at Goodwood, when the pair could only be separated by a short-head in finishing a whisker behind O’Brien’s colt, The Gurkha. If that form proves to be true, the race tomorrow should be an absolute thriller.

Of the remainder of the nine-strong field, you’d have to fancy Lightning Spear’s chance of claiming a place, having run a career best third behind Minding and Ribchester in the QEII. Now a six-year-old, he goes well fresh, as he proved when finishing third to Tepin in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot last June. He’s yet to win a Group 1, and I fancy he’ll come-off second or third best once again.

The markets look to have this spot-on, with Ribchester and Galileo Gold the stand-out candidates. They take some separating on last year’s form, with Palmer’s Guineas winner capable of a mighty seasonal debut. I fancy this track will suit him, and should Dettori make his move at the right moment, his fella has the gears to steal a length or two. Expect Ribchester to be flying late-on, but I’ll side with Galileo Gold to hold him off in a thriller.

Newmarket host a Juvenile Extravaganza

The juvenile scene is set for a shake-up over the next few days, with numerous classy colts and fillies in action.

Many are set to ‘strut their stuff’ at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire Meeting over the next three days, with a number of valuable prizes and prestigious events tempting the powerful yards to send their most talented assets.

The Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes looks a tasty renewal, with Hugo Palmer’s Escobar an eye-catching entrant. By the classy Irish Colt Famous Name, he is two from two and was impressive last time when winning a listed event at Newbury. A strong galloping sort, he looks straight forward enough and will be ridden again by Frankie Dettori. This event will be tougher to win, though seven-furlongs at Newmarket should prove ideal, and he ought to run a huge race.

Nothing should be taken for granted in these juvenile events, and Ballydoyle send over another War Front two-year-old in Whitecliffsofdover. He looked a lot straighter when winning well at Naas last time, and Ryan Moore takes the ride.

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On Friday it’s hoped that Fair Eva will be back to winning ways in the Group 2 Rockfell Stakes. The filly by Frankel could only finish third last time at York in the Lowther, but this step-up in trip looks sure to suit. She looked a little ‘tapped for toe’ last time, though battled on well behind Queen Kindly and Roly Poly. That looked a high class renewal with the front three pulling well clear of the rest.

The Cambridgeshire takes place on Saturday, but there’s a stunning supporting card, made up for the most part, of outstanding juvenile events for both colts and fillies.

The Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes was won by Frankel back in 2010, and has also gone to Shirley Heights, Mister Baileys and Benny the Dip over the years. This is a prestigious event that attracts classy beasts, and Saturday will prove no exception.

Ballydoyle have won three of the last 10 renewals and are likely to be ‘mob-handed’. Indeed, as of this morning Aidan has nine entered, with Exemplar and Capri the tastier looking pair. Hugo Palmer looks set to run Best Of Days, and this Godolphin owned Colt ought to be competitive having just been touched off at York last time in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes. Expect the Epsom Derby market to come under scrutiny after the race.

Arguably the most eagerly anticipated event of the weekend is the Cheveley Park Stakes, which sees the return to action of the Royal Ascot heroine Lady Aurelia. Wes Ward’s juvenile sensation, stormed to a stunning success back in June, recording an eye-popping time in the process. Slightly less impressive in the Prix Morny next time, though admittedly against the boys, when stepped up to six furlongs, she will nevertheless be the filly to beat on Saturday.

That said, she faces her stiffest test, with the Lowther first and second likely to be in opposition. The York race has proved a trusty pointer to this event in recent times, with three of the last five completing the Lowther-Cheveley double. Queen Kindly was impressive at York, and this six-furlong trip looks tailor-made. Aidan O’Brien’s Roly Poly is battle-hardened, and looks sure to go close again. Lady Aurelia is something of a ‘pocket rocket’, and the other pair are likely to be charging at her late-on. It’s an intriguing encounter, with the outcome tough to call.

The Group 1 Middle Park Stakes looks just as difficult to predict. Blue Point is fancied to run a huge race for Godolphin, following his thrilling performance in the Gimcrack at York. He was beaten by Mehmas at Goodwood prior to that, and is set to face Hannon’s gritty Colt once again. Six-furlongs at Newmarket could well favour the Godolphin Colt with Mehmas, as tough as he is, now looking somewhat exposed after seven outings in five months.

Aidan O’Brien looks set to send Intelligence Cross into battle, having won well at the Curragh last time. Twice beaten by Mehmas this summer, he got closest to that rival here at Newmarket in July, when finishing strongly. There’s every chance that he has improved past Hannon’s runner, though he may find Blue Point a tough nut to crack.

Always tricky from a punting prospective, these juvenile events are nevertheless a terrific spectacle, as we witness the progression of potential stars of the sport.

A Sussex Stakes Sizzler

Held at one of the most attractive racecourses in the UK, the five-day Qatar Goodwood Festival is truly glorious.

Set in wonderfully picturesque Sussex countryside, this equine extravaganza is a positive feast for all racing purists. Beauty meets beast in a truly inimitable test, with undulations, tight bends and an extravagant loop the order of the day, before a rapid downhill stretch to the finish.

Action kicked-off yesterday, with Godolphin landing a one-two in the feature Group 2 Lennox Stakes, thanks to Charlie Hills’ Dutch Connection and Hugo Palmer’s Home Of The Brave. Palmer also trained third home Gifted Master, and continues in a rich vein of form. As for Godolphin, this is proving to be an outstanding campaign as they fire in winners from all angles.

Today it’s the milers that take centre-stage in the prestigious Qatar Sussex Stakes. Team Godolphin will be hopeful if not confident of success with two contenders, whilst Hugo Palmer runs his 2000 Guineas hero, Galileo Gold. He will be looking to add the Sussex to last month’s victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. That win came in very different conditions to those likely to be encountered today.

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On that occasion Galileo Gold was given a peach of a ride by Frankie Dettori, stealing vital lengths in front, before eventually finishing more than a length ahead of Ryan Moore and the French Guineas victor The Gurkha, with Irish 2000 Guineas winner Awtaad back in third. There’s little to choose between the trio of three-year-olds, and it’s no surprise to see them at the head of the betting. It’s also tough to gauge which will be better suited by a sounder surface, with all three having coped admirably with more testing conditions.

The only certainty, is that the winner will be adding their name to an impressive roll of honour. The event has a rich history, and is a race that has been won by numerous high-class thoroughbreds. Originally a race for three-year-olds when launched over a mile in 1878, it eventually extended to four-year-olds in 1960. In 1975 the upper age limit was scrapped, though only a handful over the age of four have found success. Indeed, it is three-year-olds that have remained the dominant force in the Sussex Stakes.

It’s somewhat surprising then, that only two Newmarket Guineas winners have followed up with victory in the Sussex during the past decade. Henrythenavigator and Frankel are the pair in question, though Canford Cliffs and Kingman had taken the Irish equivalent before striking here.

A pair of five-year-olds have won in the same period, and in 2006, course specialist Court Masterpiece, became only the second horse to win at the age of six. Ed Dunlop’s colt was somewhat unfashionable, having progressed from handicaps as a three-year-old, to capturing his first Group 1 at the age of five. Nevertheless, his winning time in the Sussex was among the quickest in the history of the race. He defeated the mighty mare Soviet Song, and the Irish Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes winner Araafa. It was a magnificent performance.

Only the greatest of them all, Frankel (winner twice, in 2011 and 2012), can be said to have a better record in the race than the wonderful mare Soviet Song. James Fanshawe trained her to win the race in 2004. She went on to finish runner-up in both 2005 and 2006. Carrying the familiar silks of the Elite Racing Club, she was a truly sensational racehorse.

She won nine of her 24 career starts, finishing placed in a further eight. She took on the very best fillies and colts over a mile, and was a match for them all. She amassed more than a million in prize money, not bad for a mare with sore feet. She took five Group 1s, and in 2004 was awarded every accolade going, including ‘Highest rated older filly in the World’.

Sadly, in November last year at the age of 15, Soviet Song was put-down, after continuing and debilitating health problems. She was an incredible mare.

We can only hope that today’s race compares favourably with those of the past, and produces a suitably exceptional winner. I’d say we have every chance.

Tony Stafford: Trainers, Stallions, and Multi-Millions

Galileo has fathered the next generation of stallions

Galileo has fathered the next generation of stallions

Six trainers have dominated the UK championships over the past 20 years with successively Sir Michael Stoute, Saeed bin Suroor, Aidan O’Brien, Richard Hannon, senior and junior and John Gosden taking his turn, writes Tony Stafford.

They have all clocked up impressive top prize money figures during that time, Sir Michael’s 2003 tally of £3,754,850 from his best numerical score of 115 setting a high benchmark. That was improved upon by bin Suroor for Godolphin, the following year with £4,319,646 from the same number of winners.

O’Brien, the only non-British-based member of this exclusive club had an optimum figure of £3,819,986 from his 13 wins in 80 runs in 2013, while the Hannons, father and son, both broke the £4m barrier in successive seasons in 2013 and 2014. Senior’s £4,532,465 earnings in his final campaign were accrued from 235 victories and 1,412 runners. Junior exceeded the money element with £4,749,470, but was slightly down on wins, 206 from 1,404 runs.

British prizemoney is not regarded as in any way equivalent to the level of ability needed to win races compared with elsewhere, but the major events have steadily increased in value so that in 2015 John Gosden’s 133 wins from 577, including Golden Horn’s great achievements, propelled him to a record domestic seasonal tally of £5,277,651.

This year, Messrs Gosden (£1.8m) and Hannon (£1.57m) are some way off their record schedules, but with lavish money available - especially at Goodwood this week - there is still time for them to get back on track.

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But it is most unlikely that either will get within shouting distance of the remarkable O’Brien, who sneaked within £3,000 of his 2013 figure when collecting the £652,165 for the Coolmore partners for Highland Reel’s front-running display in the King George at Ascot when he took full advantage of Postponed’s enforced absence, and a bonus £65,000 for Sir Isaac Newton’s fourth.

With a possible £560k in prospect for The Gurkha in Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes and an even more probable £340k for the flawless Minding in Saturday’s Nassau, it is not unrealistic to project that O’Brien might be pushing the £5m mark by the end of the week, and then there’s all those big juvenile prizes to target later on, not to mention Champions Day at Ascot in the autumn. The record must be his for the taking.

There’s an unbreakable thread through the past 50 years at Ballydoyle, begun by Vincent O’Brien, principally parlaying Robert Sangster’s Vernons Pools inheritance and then most tellingly O’Brien’s son-in-law John Magnier’s innovative input, through to Aidan (no relation) O’Brien for the past 20-odd years.

The human thread echoes the equine. The original Coolmore brains trust identified the wonderful Northern Dancer at the beginning of his stud career after his 14 successes from 18 on the racetrack which featured an ultra-tough juvenile campaign and the first two legs of the Triple Crown, unique for a Canadian-bred and –based racehorse.

O’Brien bought such as Nijinsky, The Minstrel, El Gran Senor and Storm Bird, all champion sons of Northern Dancer in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s while Sangster bought the mare Fairy Bridge and sent her to Northern Dancer, producing Sadler’s Wells.

While not quite the best of his generation, Sadler’s Wells did win the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Champion Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes, before going on to make a pretty good imitation of his sire by winning 14 championships (13 in a row), interrupted only for a single season by Danehill Dancer, also from the Northern Dancer male line through Danzig and Danehill.

Sadler’s Wells came along in 1981 when his father was 20. His own son Galileo was a little quicker to arrive, in 1998. Galileo was a most impressive winner of the Derby and since his holding court at Coolmore, he and fellow Sadler’s Wells product, Montjeu, have dominated the Derby with seven wins between them.

Like Sadler’s Wells before him, Galileo has become almost an automatic champion sire every year since appearing at stud and, apart from the Derby winners and brilliant juveniles, he has the distinction of having produced the highest-ever rated racehorse, the sublime Frankel, winner of all 14 of his starts.

Frankel was a product of the inspired Galileo – Danehill “nick”, Danehill’s daughter, Kind, providing the leavening of Galileo’s considerable basic talent. Interestingly, Highland Reel, never really considered a player by the racing establishment even after his King George, is also by Galileo out of a Danehill mare. After Saturday, perhaps surprisingly, he stands third in prizemoney terms for any of Galileo’s progeny with £2.42m with six wins in 15 starts, behind only Frankel £2.99m (14/14) and Cape Blanco, also O’Brien-trained with £2.57m from nine wins in 15 starts.

With Ashford Stud in Kentucky to focus their American business, Messrs Magnier, Tabor and Smith have invested strongly in War Front, with excellent results and now control American Pharaoh, last year’s US Triple Crown winner. Sadly, Scat Daddy, their at the time upwardly-mobile stallion, sustained an injury which caused his untimely death before the start of the 2016 breeding season.

It would be easy to under-estimate the ability of Highland Reel, who is shaping up as a possible successor as a global money-maker to Montjeu’s son St Nicholas Abbey, who drew stumps with a jot under £5m in career earnings.

Meanwhile the “other” Galileo –Danehill representative, Frankel, has already started his stud life with a string of promising first-season representatives. Saturday’s Princess Margaret winner, Fair Eva, who was untroubled yet still got within 0.08sec of Henrythenavigator’s juvenile track record is leading the way with early favourite quotes for 1,000 Guineas glory.

There were plenty of people willing to stump up the £125,000 which has been required for Frankel’s services in his first four years at Banstead Manor and the ante is sure to be upped for 2017. It would be entirely in character for the Coolmore brains trust to have targeted Frankel as a potential addition to their portfolio. Prince Khalid Abdullah allowed them into Danehill when he was already a top stallion, winning three UK titles and siring 349 stakes winners, a record. Why would the Prince not listen if Coolmore were to come calling? The last association did nobody any harm, after all.

Godolphin hold the key to Lockinge success

The Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury is the highlight of this weekend’s action.

The one-mile contest forms part of the Qipco Champions Series, which sees three-year-old’s kept away from the older horses until the generations clash in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. From Newbury’s showpiece, attention will turn to Royal Ascot and the Queen Anne Stakes, won last year by the season’s outstanding miler Solow.

First run in 1958, the Lockinge Stakes was raised to Group 1 status in 1995 and has gone to numerous outstanding milers in its illustrious history. In 1972 the race was won by one of the greatest milers of them all, Brigadier Gerard. In a dazzling career over three seasons, he was only defeated once in 18 starts. Trained by Major Dick Hern and ridden in all his races by Joe Mercer, the horse became a phenomenon, with arguably only Frankel matching his astounding achievements.

Sir Henry Cecil’s extraordinary champion won all 14 of his career starts, though it was not just the victories that impressed, rather the style of those victories. Frankel was a monster on the racetrack, and his win in the Lockinge of 2012 typified that destructive manner of success. On that occasion he crushed an outstanding miler in Excelebration. Given the perfect tow into the race from stable companion Bullet Train, the mighty colt was sent on by regular pilot Tom Queally just inside the two-furlong mark. Frankel devoured the turf, pulling five lengths clear at the post.

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This legendary pair were as good a miler’s as we are ever likely to see, though most that win the Lockinge are top-class and become multiple Group 1 winners. Last year’s race went to the 2014 Guineas winner Night of Thunder. That victory made it two in a row for trainer Richard Hannon, having taken the 2014 renewal with Olympic Glory.

Between them, Hannon senior and junior have trained four of the last six Lockinge Stakes winners, and Godolphin have become the most successful owners, thanks to two victories in the last three renewals. Tomorrow the teams unite with Toormore looking to go one better than 12 months ago, when he was pipped at the post by Night of Thunder. He’s likely to go off as favourite having won his seasonal return at Sandown in the Group 2 Bet365 Mile. He’s undoubtedly classy, though his only Group 1 success came as a juvenile in the National Stakes at the Curragh.

His latest win came at the expense of another Godolphin pair in Dutch Connection and Belardo, though it would come as no surprise should that form be reversed. At Sandown Dutch Connection travelled like the best horse through the race before tiring late on, whilst Belardo was given a rather mediocre ride, being left with far too much ground to make up in the latter stages. Charlie Hills trains the former and is adamant that soft ground will be far from ideal. The opposite is true of Roger Varian’s son of Lope De Vega, and I’d expect a huge run from Belardo should the ground at Newbury remain testing.

Ground conditions are sure to play a huge part in proceedings. Limato was strongly fancied before the rains arrived, and is now drifting considerably in the markets. He’ll be tackling a mile for the first time, and has never run on ground officially slower than good. His trainer, Henry Candy, will walk the course on Saturday before committing the horse to the race.

Kodi Bear on the other hand, will love conditions if they remain testing, and has been backed accordingly. His stunning success in the Group 2 Celebration Mile last August came in testing ground, though he failed to reproduce that kind of form when stepped up to Group 1 company in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day. As much as conditions look set to suit this fella, I fancy he’s not quite good enough to win at this level.

In a race that has been dominated by four-year-olds in recent times, Ger Lyons has an intriguing contender from Ireland in the form of Endless Drama. Another son of Lope De Vega, he was a close second to Gleneagles in the Irish Guineas last May, before injury put an end to his three-year-old campaign. Returning in a Group 1 is far from ideal, but his pedigree suggests that conditions should be fine, and he had Belardo behind him in the guineas. He’s a huge beast and remains an exciting prospect.

But it’s Godolphin that appear to hold the strongest hand, as they look to add to their six previous victories. Favourites have a great record in the Lockinge, with five of the last six successful. Nevertheless, I have a feeling that the form of Toormore’s Sandown win will be turned on its head. I’ll likely back both Dutch Connection and Belardo, with both four-year-olds having the potential of improving past the likely favourite. I fear Ger Lyons Irish raider, though the lack of a prep-run will stop me from backing him.

Many of these will head to Royal Ascot, when the ground is likely to be much quicker. I’d be surprised if Dutch Connection and Endless Drama don’t prove to be the best of the bunch as the season unfolds.

Juddmonte Hope For Midterm Joy

Racing at the Knavesmire dates back to 1731, though horses raced in and around York some 2,000 years ago thanks to those ingenious Romans.

Today one of the greatest tracks in the UK host their three day Dante Meeting, renowned for its quality, and knack of producing future Classic winners. Just a year ago the Musidora Stakes went to Star of Seville before she travelled over the Channel to take the French Oaks. Golden Horn was also at York, winning the Dante Stakes before landing the Derby in stunning fashion.

Over the years the Dante has played a major part in many glorious campaigns. Shirley Heights took the race in 1978 before two dramatic victories in the Irish and English Derby’s. Reference Point was another cracking racehorse that won the Dante, his victory coming in 1987. It was the start of a stunning summer campaign that saw him take the Derby, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Great Voltigeur and the St Leger.

Other famous Dante winners include; Sakhee, North Light, Motivator and Authorized. All went on to become exceptional middle-distance racehorses. It’s fair to say that this three-day meeting is often a springboard to greater achievements for both colts and fillies.

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One such horse with the potential to take high order is the beautifully bred Derby contender, Midterm. Owned by Khalid Abdullah and carrying the famous silks of the mighty Juddmonte operation, the colt is by Galileo out of the exceptional mare Midday. He’s only had two career outings thus far, with his last run coming at Sandown over 10 furlongs. He was made to work for the victory that day, but the way he knuckled down to the task was eye-catching, having travelled stylishly through the race.

There are 12 runners in Thursday’s Dante, and it looks a tasty renewal. Foundation runs for John Gosden, and is another with huge potential. He’s a stunning colt to look at, and if the ground remains quick he could put in a huge performance.

Midterm may or may not prove to be something special for the Juddmonte team, but he is certainly not the only horse to have caught the eye this spring for the powerful connections.

Sir Michael Stoute is renowned for his ability in finding improvement in racehorses that stay in training. Exosphere looks to be another that’s made a huge leap from three to four. His reappearance in a Group 2 at Newmarket was quite spectacular, when thrashing dual Group 1 and St Leger heroine Simple Verse. He looks more than capable of landing further valuable contests at a mile and a half during the summer, and could well be one for the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Swiss Range is another that could make an impact at a high level. The three-year-old filly romped home in the Listed Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket last time. She possesses a stunning change of gear, and though far stiffer tasks lie ahead she could prove to be a special filly. The French Oaks at Chantilly was mentioned as a likely target, though Royal Ascot will also come under consideration. There’s every chance that the Juddmonte International in August will prove tempting, with trip and track likely to suit. Khalid Abdullah, who sponsors the race, took the event in 2011 and 2012 thanks to Twice Over and the mighty Frankel.

However, Swiss Range isn’t the only Juddmonte filly to have caught the eye this spring. Though still a maiden after three starts, Moorside was last seen at Chester chasing home one of Aidan O’Brien’s Oaks prospects, Somehow. Trained by Charlie Hills, Moorside is a gorgeous filly with plenty of size and scope. She’s instantly spotted in the pack with a striking white face and a huge raking stride. Chester’s tight bends would not have been ideal, and she still looked a little green when being run down late on by O’Brien’s filly. The Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot looks a sensible option, and I think she could be a cracker.

With Time Test and New Bay yet to return to action, Team Juddmonte look set to play a major role in middle distance events throughout the summer. In recent years the likes of Flintshire, Noble Mission and, to a lesser extent, Snow Sky have all landed valuable prizes. Along with Kingman and Frankel, Khalid Abdullah has had a thrilling spell at the head of affairs, and the potential is certainly there for that to continue for some time to come.

Qipco Champion Stakes – Is Jack Flash Enough?

The Stunning Jack Hobbs

The Stunning Jack Hobbs

Will the trip make a blind bit of difference to Jack Hobbs, when he aims to add the Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes to his Group 1 Irish Derby success?

Tapped for toe by Golden Horn in the Dante back in May, he visually made more of a race of it when stepped up in trip for the Epsom Derby. Indeed, had he not been slightly squeezed up on the rail that day, he would surely have got nearer to his outstanding stable companion.

Arguably his best performance came at a mile and half in the Irish Derby, when staying on powerfully to pull well clear of Storm The Stars. There’s no doubting this powerful colt is a smooth traveller, but it appears to be his sustained finishing effort, rather than a burst of acceleration, that is his greatest asset.

Having said that, his only career defeats have come at the hooves of one of the best colts of a generation. Golden Horn is an outstanding champion and it’s pretty clear that Jack Hobbs is the second best three-year-old colt over mid-distance trips. It does slightly niggle however, that this son of Halling could be vulnerable to a speedier type over this 1m2f trip.

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Noble Mission took last year’s race, and he was undoubtedly better at 10 furlongs than 12. Farhh won in 2013 and never ran beyond 10 furlongs. Frankel was famously running at the trip for only the second time when winning in 2012. Twice Over rarely ran at any other distance, whilst New Approach may have won a Derby but had won the Irish Champion before success here.

My point is clear, in that it invariably takes a 10 furlong specialist to win the Champion Stakes. A mix of speed and stamina appears to be crucial with emphasis on the former. So does Gosden’s colt have enough ‘Va Va Voom’ to win Saturday’s showpiece?

His pedigree remains a concern for me. He’s a son of Halling, and although his father was a terrific 10 furlong exponent, the offspring have invariably proved better over further. On the dam’s side of the family we find the wonderful Swain. Twice a winner of the King George, successful in the Coronation Cup and the Prix Foy, he did also win the Irish Champion Stakes, but was undoubtedly at his best at 12 furlongs. Earlier in the campaign I felt sure that Jack Hobbs would develop into a St Leger contender.

So if he was to be vulnerable to a speedier type, who in Saturday’s field is capable of taking advantage? The betting suggests that Aiden O’Brien’s Found is best placed to pounce. She certainly has the class to go close having finished a close runner-up to Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes. There’s also speed in the pedigree on the dam’s side with the influence of Red Evie, who in her pomp won Group 1’s in the Matron Stakes and the Lockinge.

She was stepped up in trip for the Arc and would surely have gone close with a clear passage. But this trip should prove perfect for a filly that was only just touched off in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes over a mile at Royal Ascot back in June.

The Corsican is another that should be suited by the trip, though he would probably have preferred a slightly quicker surface. Arguably his best performance this summer came when fourth in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. On that occasion Jim Crowley found himself trapped behind a wall of horses, and by the time he had switched wide the front two had flown. He lacks instant acceleration, but is a powerful galloper, and if in touch and in the clear nearing the two furlong pole, he’ll make his presence felt.

Finally any horse sent over by Dermot Weld deserves the utmost respect. His Free Eagle was third in the race last year, and this time round he looks set to run Fascinating Rock. Sure to be suited by the trip, he split Al Kazeem and Postponed when runner-up in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup in May. That performance gives him every chance here and it would come as no surprise to see him in the shake-up.

Jack Hobbs is clearly an outstanding racehorse, and the market reflects that. John Gosden has swept all before him this summer, especially in middle-distance events. However, the colt was clearly being prepared for a tilt at the Arc before ground conditions at Longchamp ensured Golden Horn’s participation. Jack Hobbs may well have come here anyway after racing in France, but for much of the summer the target was undoubtedly a race across the channel at 12 furlongs.

It would come as no surprise to witness an unstoppable Jack Hobbs on Saturday, but likewise I would not be shocked to see him pipped at the post by a swifter opponent. It’s set to be a cracker.

Frankel and Trêve feature at Deauville yearling sales

Frankel's first progeny sell this weekend

Frankel's first progeny sell this weekend

Frankel and Trêve feature at Deauville yearling sales

The Arqana yearling sales are one of the star attractions of the Deauville August racing festival, writes Nigel Howard. Scheduled for 15-17 August, neatly slotted around the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-Le Buffard - Jacques Le Marois on Sunday 16 August, this year's sale is again brimming with quality and brings together 374 blueblood colts and fillies.

In what is now a familiar format, the sales are conducted in two distinct instalments. The first takes place between Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 August (after the day’s race meeting is over, of course) with each session proposing 94 quality lots aimed unashamedly at wealthy international buyers. The second round takes place on Monday 17 August and includes 186 lots of high quality stock but generally more accessible to the domestic market.

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The yearling sales have been an integral part of the August festival since 1887; however Arqana was formed as recently as 2006 through the merger of auctioneers L’Agence Française de Vente du Pur-sang and Goffs France. It was the Aga Khan who initiated the merger and indeed he retains the majority shareholding in the operation. Eric Hoyeau, CEO of Arqana, explains the appeal of the August sales to buyers around the world, "the reputation of the August sales continues to grow worldwide thanks to the unique cocktail that is offered: yearlings of the finest quality, a festive and convivial atmosphere and an ideal positioning around one of the most prestigious race meetings of the year".

There is little doubt that the Prix Jacques Le Marois provides the perfect side show to this event with the sales ring just over the road from the Hippodrome. Furthermore, chronologically, these sales are the first in the European calendar to offer selected yearlings. As a result, investors are itching to get their hands on the star lots and hence potential classic winners of the future.

This year's event sees the first progeny of Prince Khalid Abdullah's invincible Frankel. By Galileo out of the speedy Abdullah-owned Kind, trained by Rodger Charlton, Frankel boasted fourteen victories in as many outings of which ten were Group 1 events.  Six of his first crop are due to enter the ring, most notably lot 159, a half-sister to Stacelita, herself winner of six Group 1 events including the Prix Diane and Prix Vermeille, presented by the Haras des Capucines. Also lot 165, entered by the Haras du Mézeray, a half-brother of Naaqoos, winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère (Group 1).

Other highlights include the first French progeny of champion Australian sire and multiple Group 1 winner, Redoute's Choice. A son of the phenomenal international sire Danehill, he was shipped to France in 2013 where he stood at the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval.  Over the year he covered the likes of unbeaten 2008 European Horse of the Year, Zarkava, and Born Gold, dam of the mighty Goldikova. Sixteen of his progeny are up for grabs, including lot 182, a colt out of the Aga Khan’s Vadawina, a daughter of Unfuwain and winner of the Prix Saint-Alary (Group 1) and placed in the Prix Diane.

However, top billing will surely be reserved for lot 176, registered for Sunday's sale and entered by the Haras de Quesnay. A filly by Motivator out of Trévise means she is a full sister to dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Trêve. The Haras de Quesnay, owned and managed by Alec Head and family, also have some classy lots from first season sires Excelebration, winner of the Prix Jacques le Marois in 2012; Nathaniel, a son of Galileo and winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in the same year; and, ex-Australian champion So You Think, a son of the now deceased Derby hero High Chaparral. He was famously purchased by the Coolmore machine back in 2011 for a reported 25 million Australian dollars. Campaigned in Europe at the age of four and five, he went on to prove himself a true champion by winning the Coral Eclipse Stakes in 2011 and the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot the following year.

With this year’s catalogue awash with progeny from the likes of Danehill Dancer, Dubawi, Galileo, Invincible Spirit, Oasis Dream and Pivotal, as well as popular French sires Siyouni, Kendargent and Le Havre also represented, the sales are sure to prove as popular as ever. Moreover, if Trêve, who herself passed through the Deauville October sales back in 2011, goes on to lift her third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the reputation of the Arqana sales will only be further enhanced across the globe.

Handicapper’s Decision Sparks Rating’s Debate


The Stunning Dancing Brave

The Stunning Dancing Brave

The Saturday ‘big handicap’ is always one of the great puzzles for race fans. Many hate the prospect of trawling through the field in an attempt to find the well handicapped good thing. For others the task is one that they thrive on, and for the likes of Tom Segal of the Racing Post, it’s a challenge that has brought a fair degree of success and notoriety.

The handicapping system is designed to give each horse an even chance. The highest rated (or best) horse in the race is given the largest weight to carry; and the inferior horses will carry lower weights. For many owners and trainers the handicaps offer their best chance of success on a race day.

The BHA has a team of eleven Handicappers whose job it is to study the form and allocate the appropriate rating to the horse. They publish a list every week based on performances on the racecourse. Should a horse be rated 120 and another 110, then it is deemed that a difference of 10 pounds in the weights that they carry would see them hit the line virtually side by side.

Most handicaps are restricted to horses with similar ratings in a particular range, 0-60 for example. The rating of the horse determines the weight he or she will carry along with the race it can enter. A victory for the horse is likely to see a rise in the rating. A series of poor performances will result in a lowering of the handicap mark, hopefully giving the horse a chance of attaining that elusive success.

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The very best horses rarely run in handicaps on the Flat but they often take their chance in competitive handicaps over the Jumps.

The BHA handicappers work with international colleagues in selecting entrants for top races worldwide. Back in February Louis Romanet, the Chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) announced the appointment of Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping for the BHA, as co-chairman of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee. Smith said at the time: “I am honoured to be appointed Co-Chairman and am looking forward to working closely with Nigel Gray who was my manager at BHA and its predecessor BHB for more than ten years. I have been helped hugely by my team of Handicappers at BHA as between us we now assess every Pattern Race run in the world every week. I hope to be able to help to develop further the service that the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings provide to the racing industry worldwide.”

At the end of every season the International Flat Handicappers produce a rating for the top horses in the world rated at 115+ based on the season’s performances. Over the years these ratings have been the cause of great debate, as fans compare racing heroes from different eras. The great Australian sprinter Black Caviar was rated 132 in 2011 and then 130 for both 2012 and 2013. Sea The Stars was awarded a lofty rating after his stunning 2009 campaign. A mark of 136 was surely warranted after his series of Group 1 victories.

The wonderful French filly Treve was given a rating of 130 after her second Arc success in October. It will be interesting to see if she can improve on that as she looks for the historic treble.

A blog on the BHA website gives a terrific insight into the thoughts behind the handicaps awarded to horses. During Glorious Goodwood Dominic Gardiner-Hill wrote that whilst it was disappointing that the best three-year-old miler in Europe, Gleneagles, couldn’t take his place in the Qatar Sussex Stakes, the best older miler, Solow, continued his impressive winning streak with his eighth straight success and his 11th in his last 12 starts.

He added that Solow appears to be a horse that does no more than necessary and, as in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, he was more workmanlike than spectacular in the way he triumphed. With a pre-race rating of 124, based on his success in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan, he went in to the Goodwood race with 3lb and more in hand of his rivals but probably only needed to run to 119+ to win.

It’s interesting to read how a handicapper assesses a race before giving a verdict on the handicap mark the winner has achieved.

Two mighty horses, Dancing Brave and Frankel, were rated within a pound of each other after their stunning careers. The former reached a mark of 141 after his sensational win in the Arc of 1986. The field he defeated at Longchamp that day was one of the contributory factors for the exceptional rating.

Of course it’s tough to compare generations when reaching a handicap mark, but the people entrusted with the role have to remain objective. Frankel may not have defeated horses of the calibre of those beaten by Dancing Brave, but the style of his victories, and the consistently high standard he achieved resulted in a rating of 140. Interestingly, the handicappers then decided to adjust Dancing Brave’s mark to 138.

The British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping Phil Smith caused a stir recently when awarding Golden Horn a mark of 130. John Gosden's charge became the first horse to achieve the Dante, Derby and Eclipse treble. For many race fans the rating appeared generous based on the horses he has defeated. Many will look to his performances over the latter part of the season to see if such a mark is justified.

And so the debates rage on, as they always will. It’s a tough gig for the handicapper, but a crucial one. Their decisions will continue to ignite discussions and hours of deliberation.

Stunning Start for Stallion Canford Cliffs

Oozing Class - Canford Cliffs

Oozing Class - Canford Cliffs

Canford Cliffs has made an instant impact at stud and is already approaching 20 winners with his first crop of juveniles. Talent on the track can never guarantee a successful career as a sire, but the latest addition to the Coolmore roster is already making his mark.

His career on the racecourse was an illustrious one. Trained by Richard Hannon senior, he made a stunning debut as a two-year-old when winning a maiden at Newbury by seven lengths. His romp at Royal Ascot in the Coventry Stakes marked him down as a top-class juvenile. He streaked clear to win by six lengths before a slightly under-par trip to France when only third in the Prix Morny.

His return in the Greenham Stakes at three was rather less than stunning when he was beaten by his stable companion Dick Turpin. They finished in the same order in the 2,000 Guineas though both failed to get the better of the French raider Makfi. Canford Cliffs then appeared to blossom. His form soared as he took a trio of Group 1’s. He trotted up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas before taking the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, finally getting one over Dick Turpin in the process.

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His three-year-old campaign was completed with a thrilling victory in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. A devastating burst of speed saw him overhaul Rip Van Winkle inside the final 100 yards.

Kept in training as a four-year-old, he took the Lockinge with relative ease before heading to Royal Ascot for a hugely anticipated clash with the French mare Goldikova. Peslier took up the running two from home, but Richard Hughes shadowed the mare’s every move. He proved too strong in the final furlong stretching a length ahead at the line. It proved to be as exciting as all had hoped; a truly thrilling race.

All eyes then turned to Goodwood and a likely encounter with a new superstar by the name of Frankel. Undefeated in seven starts, Sir Henry’s colt had taken the Guineas in stunning fashion before a less than impressive victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Ascot. Nevertheless, the younger horse was installed as race favourite and fans sat back anticipating another thriller. Sadly Hannon’s charge proved no match, though he hung badly late on suggesting he may not have been at his very best physically.

It proved to be Canford’s final outing and just weeks later he was retired to stud due to a leg injury. A stunning career had gleaned seven victories from 10 starts, including five at Group 1 level.

That stud career may well prove to be as successful if the early signs are anything to go by. A host of decent types have already hit the track, including group winners Painted Cliffs and Most Beautiful. The former runs for Ballydoyle and was very impressive in winning a Group 2 at the Curragh last time. Most Beautiful is a lovely big filly trained by David Wachman, and was also impressive at the Curragh last time out.

The Hannon team has Wall of Fire in their care. He won at Ascot on debut and is owned by the same connections as last year’s top juvenile Ivawood. Canford’s presence is also felt in France. Aktoria looks a filly with an exciting future after her success as Deauville over the weekend. Al Jazi is another who won well on debut at Maisons Laffitte. Her trainer Francois Rohaut had a winner at Glorious Goodwood last week.

It’s an exciting time for the stallion. Expect plenty more promising types before the season is over. That flash of brilliance that lit up many a racecourse looks sure to be passed on to a number of his offspring, to thrilling effect.