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Fillies set to dominate major events

Another exciting weekend of racing sees major action from both sides of the Irish Sea.

We head north to Haydock for a pair of Group 2s. The Sandy Lane Stakes over six-furlongs has the look of a hors d’oeuvre to the main course, the prestigious five-furlong sprint, the Temple Stakes.

The latter has been won by sprinting greats over the years, including a number of top-class fillies and mares. Look Busy was the last to land the prize in 2009, but a year earlier the wonderful Fleeting Spirit was victorious.

Trained by Jeremy Noseda, she was a sensational sprinter, romping to victory by two lengths, and breaking the track record in the process. Often a sluggish starter, she was possibly a little unfortunate not to add the King’s Stand a few weeks later. She went on to finish runner-up in three Group 1s, whilst landing the Darley July Cup over six-furlongs at Newmarket.

Airwave was another fabulous filly, who won the event as a three-year-old when the race was held at Sandown. She then came within half a length of capturing the Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot, before a third place finish in the Darley July Cup.

Arguably the best of the lot was Lochsong, the winner of the Temple Stakes back in 1994. That victory came during an incredible period of dominance, which saw the filly win the Nunthorpe, the Abbaye and the King’s Stand Stakes amongst others.

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Hoping to add her name to the stunning roll of honour is another classy filly, Quiet Reflection. The winner of seven of her 10 starts, including a pair of Group 1s, she is running over the shorter trip for the first time since her juvenile campaign. She’s no slouch, though would have preferred a little rain prior to the stalls opening.

She took the Sandy Lane at the corresponding meeting last year, and was finishing powerfully on that occasion. Her trainer, Karl Burke, sounded concerned over drying conditions when speaking to At The Races earlier in the week: “Unfortunately there’s such a dry forecast we’ll have to keep an eye on the ground. If she doesn’t go to Haydock because the ground is too quick, we’ve got an option in France the following weekend. She’s done nothing but bloom these last few weeks.”

We could get lucky on Saturday, and witness a clash of two outstanding fillies, with the possibility of Aidan O’Brien sending Acapulco over to Haydock. She was a stunning winner of the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot as a two-year-old, when trained by Wes Ward. She returned to action at the Curragh in May, when winning a listed event over five furlongs. That run should have blown away the cobwebs, and should she land on these shores, she’s sure to go close.

Over in Ireland, O’Brien will be hoping to capture an Irish Guineas double, to match the Newmarket set achieved in May. Churchill is odds-on to win the 2000, with Michael Halford’s Irishcorrespondent the likely danger. It would come as a shock should the favourite not prevail, and O’Brien has a terrific record in the race, having won six of the last nine. Churchill has a look of Gleneagles about him, and is set to follow the same path. A victory here, and then a trip to Royal Ascot to capture the St James’s Palace appears the plan.

Winter looks to make it a 1000 Guineas double, and is odds-on to do so. She was impressive at Newmarket, and doesn’t have Rhododendron to beat this time. Michael Halford again looks to supply the main danger, in Aga Khan’s Rehana. She was impressive at Naas last time, and ought to go close. Nevertheless, the favourite is clearly the one to beat.

And on a weekend when fillies may well make the headlines, it’s fitting that I conclude this piece with a comment or two on Ballydoyle’s Minding. She goes in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, and looks nigh-on a certainty. The bookies see it that way, with her currently trading at around 1/3. She was sensational last season, when winning five of seven, including a QEII verdict over Ribchester. Ballydoyle have such a wealth of talent at their disposal, and this lady is one of the best.

Let’s hope the main players take to the field. If they do, it should prove a cracking weekend.

Dettori and Moore set for ‘Tussle in the Turf’

Top Jocks - Dettori, Moore and O'Brien

Top Jocks - Dettori, Moore and O'Brien

Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori are regulars on the Breeders’ Cup Turf roll of honour.

Magician and Conduit did the trick for Moore, whilst Dettori struck with Daylami and Fantastic Light for Saeed bin Suroor before wins on the Meehan pair Red Rocks and Dangerous Midge.

The Italian is rejuvenated thanks in no small part to his association with John Gosden. The horse to put Frankie back in the limelight is of course Golden Horn. The jockey understandably loves the colt and is hopeful of ending the campaign on a high. Speaking recently he said: “He’s the sort of horse who thrives on his racing, he takes his races really well and I think he is getting better. He's very tough - most of the great ones are. He always has something to give.”

Brilliant in the Epsom Derby, Golden Horn was scintillating in the Arc, but conditions are likely to be less favourable at Keeneland. Gosden remained unfazed when saying yesterday: “It is soft, good to soft in places. We are in a period of hopefully 48 hours of dry weather. It will improve all the time. We are making it clear we plan to run.”

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A season spent asserting that the colt was at his best on a sound surface suggests that he will be vulnerable on Saturday. There’s every chance that Ryan Moore will be best placed to capitalize.

Back on track after spending much of the season on the side-lines, Moore is ‘top-dog’ for Coolmore and has several high profile rides during the Breeders’ Cup. Aidan O’Brien’s filly Found, will be one of his better chances of success. She’s high-class, though has endured a rather frustrating campaign.

Her second place to Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes gives her every chance in the ‘Turf’ especially if the favourite fails to run to form. Her last performance, when given plenty to do in the Qipco Champion Stakes confirmed her ability to challenge the colts at the very highest level.

Only two fillies have won the race since its inception in 1984, though O’Brien does have a good record with his three-year-olds. Son Joseph spoke yesterday of the filly, saying: “Found has handled a bit of juice in the ground before, so it mightn’t be as big a problem for her as for some of them. She takes her racing with a great attitude.”

Aside from the ‘Tussle in the Turf’, the two jocks have every chance of adding to their Breeders’ Cup winning tally. Both have mounts for Wesley Ward in the Turf Sprint, though Dettori has the plum ride on Undrafted. Moore then partners Legatissimo in the Filly & Mare Turf, whilst Frankie gets the leg-up on Miss France for Fabre.

Moore’s final ride is on Gleneagles in the Classic. He’s an intriguing challenger to the mighty American Pharoah. Untested competitively on dirt, and stepping up in trip for the first time, much appears to be against him. But this colt is a duel Guineas winner and O’Brien clearly holds him in the highest esteem.

Arguably two of the greatest jockeys in recent times are set for a thrilling weekend on the international stage. Their coming together is just one of numerous captivating Breeders’ Cup narratives.

The ‘Best of the Best’ Dazzle on Champions Day

Simply Sensational

Simply Sensational

They’d been doing it all season, so no one should have been surprised to see Muhaarar and Solow come out on top in their respective Champions Day events.

Charlie Hills’ outstanding sprinter may have run his last race, but if that is the case he certainly ended his racecourse career in style. Storming to the front nearing the furlong pole, he quickly put the race to bed with Henry Candy’s previously unbeaten Twilight Son the best of the rest.

“I just want to do it again. It went in a flash. I think that was his best performance,” was the reaction of jockey Paul Hanagan. A thrilled trainer commented: “He’s been a privilege to train. He has the will to win, the most beautiful temperament and great looks.”

Another who scores highly on the good looks chart is French sensation Solow. The strikingly powerful grey was again far too good for the opposition in winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Never flashy, the five-year-old merely does enough to win and was recording his ninth victory on the bounce, five of those at Group 1 level. Hitting the front a furlong from home, he was always doing enough, and had around a length to spare at the post.

The race had been billed as a showdown with the 2,000 Guineas winner Gleneagles, but sadly the match-up never fired. Months on the side-lines, coupled with unfavourable ground conditions prevented the colt from showing his best. Once again the antics of trainer Aidan O’Brien will not have endeared him with race fans. ‘Will he run or won’t he run’, has become a tedious side show during the summer, and the trainer dragged out the latest decision virtually until the opposition were heading to the stalls.

In his piece in the Racing Post, Alastair Down called it ‘as unfathomable as it was irritating’. Such ‘dilly-dallying’ has clearly not helped the horse. Continually being ‘stoked up’ ready for a run, to then be ‘eased off’ after yet another withdrawal, has been one of the few disappointments of the Flat season.

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Just half an hour later, the Ballydoyle team suffered further frustration when yet again Ryan Moore gave Found a mountain to climb in the Champion Stakes. As in the Arc a few weeks earlier, Moore decided that his best chance of success was to place the filly plumb last and wait as long as possible before making any kind of forward move. The tactic failed at longchamp, and failed again at Ascot. Dermot Weld wasn’t about to complain as his Fascinating Rock took full advantage.

His successful colt, ridden by a man at the peak of his powers in Pat Smullen, found plenty in the final stages to hold off O’Brien’s filly along with favourite Jack Hobbs. Smullen made his move two furlongs out and crucially got first run on Moore. The four-year-old never looked like being caught, appreciating both ground conditions and the trip.

Weld has become a master at landing such a successful foray. “I like this place,” he said after the win. “Fascinating Rock is a very good horse. He always had the potential to do what he did today. I have been planning this race for about six months.” With the plan landed, sights will now be set on a similar plot next season.

For Jack Hobbs the future also looks bright. Unable to fend off a more mature winner, he looks sure to be at his best after a winter of strengthening into that powerful frame. “He’s a big overgrown kid, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with him,” said Gosden after the loss.

Simple Verse took the female lead role on the day, with a thrilling success in the Fillies and Mares. It took every yard of the mile and four furlongs to get on top, but her win backed-up the terrific victory in the St Leger. Her improvement throughout the season has proved nothing short of staggering, though we should not be surprised as trainer Ralph Beckett is as good as any in producing top class fillies.

An excited trainer said after the win: “I’m thrilled for all the team. We were worried that the track doesn’t really suit her, because the straight is too short.”

Hugo Palmer pointed to conditions being against his star filly Covert love, when saying: “She’s been beaten two and a half lengths on ground she loathed. The world will be her oyster next year.” In all fairness the Prix De l’Opera winner has had a busy campaign, and may not have been at her absolute best on Saturday. She has proved to be one of the leading lights during a dazzling summer.

The weather gods played their part in delivering a wonderful Champions Day. Scheduling will always be a contentious issue, but all would agree that Saturday’s spectacular proved to be exactly that.

Solow Head’s Overseas Raiding Party

Solow - So Good

Solow - So Good

Gordon Lord Byron and Charm Spirit flew the flag for the non-GB raiders at last year’s Qipco British Champions Day.

Freddy head’s miler coped best in holding conditions to defeat Hannon’s Night Of Thunder and Toormore in a tight finish to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Tom Hogan’s wonderful sprinter had his ideal conditions, and made the most of it to take the Champions Sprint.

Gordon Lord Byron returns in an attempt to defend his crown, but this year’s renewal looks tougher. The Singapore trained Emperor Max is the other foreign contender in the field. It’s an ambitious challenge from Stephen Gray and connections, and though the six-year-old is talented, it’s hard to imagine him standing proud in the winners’ enclosure after the race.

So if not the sprinters, where will the main overseas challenge come from on Saturday? The Long Distance Cup has proved a happy hunting ground for the marauding Irish in recent times. The boys from over the Irish Sea have won the last four. Dermot Weld has trained two of those winners, with Forgotten Rules successful last year and Rite of Passage taking the race in 2012.

The former is a likely runner this weekend, and Weld is ably supported in his assault by Willie Mullins, who looks set to have a few runners in the Group 2. Wicklow Brave is the shortest priced of the Mullins brigade. Set to be ridden by Ryan Moore, the gelding was second to Litigant in the Ebor at York and then put in a decent performance to finish third in the Irish St Leger. Any cut in the ground is sure to assist the dual-purpose horse.

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Andreas Wohler is another hoping for ground on the soft side if he is to risk Alex My Boy on Saturday. Formerly trained by Mark Johnston, he is two from three for the German handler on testing ground in France. He won a Group Three at Longchamp and then took a Group Two at Deauville when beating Oriental Fox. He’s not without a chance should he take up his entry.

We mentioned that Charm Spirit took last year’s QE2, and it’s that renewal that appears to have attracted the strongest overseas challenge. Indeed, should Gleneagles fail to line up, it would come as quite a surprise should France not repeat last year’s success.

Solow is a well-fancied favourite for the race, and he certainly arrives with all the right credentials. Undefeated in his last eight runs, Freddy Head’s five-year-old, owned by Wertheimer brothers, has proved the dominant force throughout the summer. He took the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot before winning the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. He’s undoubtedly the horse to beat.

Andre Fabre sends his 2,000 Guineas runner-up Territories, and there’s no doubting that the colt arrives with a huge chance. Three-year-olds have a great record in the race, having won seven of the last nine renewals. He’s a classy sort and his sire, Invincible Spirit, was responsible for last year’s winner.

The Qipco Champion Stakes remains Saturday’s showpiece and was captured by Cirrus des Aigles back in 2011. The old warrior is likely to take his chance again, but he has failed to shine this year, and it’s hard to imagine him being involved in the finish.

Aidan O’Brien could carry the strongest threat from the overseas challengers. Found looks set to take her chance, and her run in the Irish Champion Stakes gives her every chance here. Jack Hobbs will take some beating, but O’Brien’s filly has the class to go close.

Another intriguing contender is the German trained Palace Prince. He looked a non-stayer in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden last time (a race won by Novellist and Danedream in recent years), when fading late behind Prince Gibraltar. He finished second in the German Derby back in July, and will be ridden by the Champion Jockey-elect Silvestre De Sousa.

As always, it’s terrific when such a high profile meeting attracts talent from overseas. Qipco British Champions Day has a way to go on that front, but the event is certainly heading in the right direction. Those that take the plunge are sure to enjoy a magnificent occasion.

It’s a Ballydoyle Blitz

A 'Force' of Nature at work

A 'Force' of Nature at work

Aidan O’Brien has his team in sparkling form as the season draws to a close.

Gleneagles proved the stable star over the summer, though it’s probably fair to say that Ballydoyle failed to dominate in middle-distance events as they have in the past. John Gosden’s outstanding colts Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs have proved a cut above the rest, and though O’Brien sent out Qualify to cause a huge upset in the Epsom Oaks, the likes of Pleascach, Covert Love and Legatissimo have proved the outstanding fillies.

The Ballydoyle team will be hoping that Found can fulfil her potential before the season closes. She ran well in the Irish Champion Stakes and then looked unfortunate in running at Longchamp in the Arc. She may well be taking on the fellas once more with the proposed run in the Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

But it was the Dubai Future Champions Festival at Newmarket that revealed the huge potential for continued success over the coming seasons. It came as no surprise to see the Coolmore operation bossing the main events, yet even O’Brien himself could not have anticipated the gulf between his leading pair and the rest.

First Minding slaughtered a strong looking field in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile. A daughter of Galileo out of the Group 1 winning mare Lillie Langtry, she had already defeated the stables hotshot Ballydoyle in a previous run at the Curragh. She appeared to improve further for this step-up to a mile winning by more than four lengths with the minimum of effort.

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Ryan Moore had the steering job and was clearly impressed, saying: “She's a truly exceptional filly. She travelled well all the way through. As soon as I pulled her out the race was over in seconds.” Minding was installed favourite for both the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks at Epsom. She looks exceptional, and has the pedigree to match.

On Saturday it was the turn of an O’Brien colt to provide the headlines, when Air Force Blue stormed to victory in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes. Billed as a duel with Emotionless it was unfortunate that Appleby’s stable star failed to perform to his best. The Godolphin colt was never travelling, and when Moore sent the favourite to win his race Emotionless was unable to respond. Found to be lame after the race, the horse has a minor knee injury and will undergo an operation. Appleby hopes to have him back in action ready for a tilt at the 2,000 Guineas.

As for the winner, the son of War Front proved unstoppable. He drew well clear in the closing stages and is now a short-priced favourite to win the Guineas next spring. The American stallion was responsible for a previous winner of the Dewhurst when War Command took the event in 2013. He too proved an impressive youngster, having earlier won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot by six lengths. He finished his juvenile campaign with four wins from five starts.

However, he failed to make an impact when down the field in the 2,000 Guineas the following spring. He also put in a disappointing performance in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, before his final lacklustre outing in the Coral-Eclipse. He was certainly an exceptional juvenile, but sadly War Command failed to carry that level of performance into his three-year-old campaign.

And there-in lies the million dollar question; will Air Force Blue be as dominant at three? His sire remains unproven at the highest level. Declaration Of War is arguably the outstanding offspring to date, and although War Front is without doubt a stallion in great demand, his progeny have yet to reach the heights that many would have anticipated.
Aidan O’Brien appears in no doubt that he has a star on his hands, saying: “Everyone has been over the moon with him and he's been so impressive. Joseph got off him the last day and said he'd ridden nothing like him. He's getting bigger and stronger. He's something like we haven't had before.”

Then asked if Air Force Blue was the best juvenile he had trained, O'Brien added: “I'd say no doubt. The size of him and the scope and the way he travels. When you let him go he delivers. In February he was totally an unfurnished baby, but was head and shoulders above everything else.”

Time will tell if the trainer’s lofty opinion proves justified. One thing is however certain, and that is that O’Brien and the team at Ballydoyle remain the most powerful outfit in Flat racing. Their recent performances prove that to be the case, and at Ascot in less than a week’s time, we are likely to be provided with further evidence.

Classy Juveniles head for Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere

Rock Of Gibraltar

Rock Of Gibraltar

Won last year by Gleneagles before his dramatic demotion after a stewards’ enquiry, the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere is the juvenile showpiece at Longchamp on Arc day.

Often a pointer to the following year’s Guineas in France, Britain and Ireland, the race attracts leading prospects from around Europe and is usually a target for the most powerful yards. The likes of Andre Fabre for France and Aiden O’Brien for Ireland regularly provide leading contenders with O’Brien in particular having a strong record in the race.

Defeat for Gleneagles last October handed the race to Criquette Head-Mareek’s Full Mast, with Andre Fabre’s Territories awarded second place. Fabre’s colt went on to chase home Gleneagles in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May, whilst O’Brien’s horse has become this season’s leading three-year-old miler.

Established in 1853 the race was originally named the Grand Criterium. Run over varying distances through the years, the decision was made in 2001 to bring the race back to seven furlongs, and in 2003 was given its present name in memory of Jean-Luc Lagardere, a prominent figure in French racing.

In the early part of the 21st century Ballydoyle gained a stranglehold on the event with five victories from 2001 to 2006. Rock of Gibraltar was a sensational winner in 2001. Ridden by Mick Kinane, he showed incredible acceleration to storm clear of the opposition for an easy success. One of the modern-day greats, he was dominant as a three-year-old, winning seven consecutive Group 1s including the English and Irish Guineas’.

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Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon Senior brought recent success in the race for Britain with Wootton Bassett and Olympic Glory. Sadly for Fahey his sensational juvenile, who went through 2010 undefeated, was never the same at three and was retired after a poor performance in the Haydock Sprint Cup.

Hannon’s Olympic Glory did manage to build on his successful juvenile campaign. Tried at the highest level, he won the QEII as a three-year-old, and at four took the Lochinge and the Prix De La Foret back at Longchamp.

The betting for Sunday’s Lagardere is dominated by British and Irish challengers, with Aidan O’Brien’s Johannes Vermeer currently favourite. With such a wealth of talent at Ballydoyle it’s always difficult to predict just who will turn-up on the day. He currently has seven entered; with Shogun and Vermeer more likely than not to make the start. The former, a colt by Fastnet Rock, will appreciate the better ground having struggled in the mud behind Jim Bolger’s Herald The Dawn last time.

Bolger’s colt is also an intended runner on Sunday having chased home the highly-touted Air Force Blue last time. The son of New Approach looks a classy type and is sure to run a huge race.

Richard Hannon has Ventura Storm entered, and the son of Zoffany could be an interesting contender. It’s been one hell of a season for the sire with Foundation his latest high-profile success last weekend at Newmarket. Hannon’s colt is two from three and was visually very impressive last time at Salisbury. This is a huge step up in class, but any Hannon contender has to be respected.

Another Brit who’s having a season to remember is Hugo Palmer. He has a talented juvenile in Galileo Gold, who was last seen winning the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood. He defeated Ibn Malik that day, and although he has since been thrashed by a potential superstar in Emotionless, the form remains strong. Owner’s Al Shaqab Racing will be hoping for a successful day, and this fella is not without a chance in what looks an ultra-competitive renewal.

Finally the home team look set to depend on Andre Fabre to repel the overseas invaders. Cloth Of Stars appears his leading contender. Godolphin came close last year with Territories, and this son of Sea The Stars was impressive last time at the track over a mile. His breeding suggests he’ll develop into a Derby horse, so whether he possesses enough speed to win this is questionable. He does however look a classy contender.

If the fancied runners all arrive at the start, this could be a real thriller, with many of these developing into high-class three-year-olds.

Coolmore and Darley go Toe-to-Toe

Darley's Dubawi

Darley's Dubawi

Coolmore’s Galileo remains King of the Stallions, with valuable high profile victories over the weekend confirming his status.

There were St Leger wins on either side of the Irish Sea for Order Of St George and Bondi Beach, both sons of the mighty Galileo, and an impressive performance in the Moyglare Stud Stakes from juvenile filly Minding. Away from Team Ballydoyle, David O’Meara travelled to Canada and took the Woodbine Mile with another son of Galileo in the much improved Mondialiste.

And though many may have soon forgotten what he looks like, the stallion’s most successful offspring of the season to date is Aidan O’Brien’s dual Guineas’ winner Gleneagles. His earnings have played a major part in maintaining his sires place at the head of affairs.

But there is one horse in particular that has challenged Coolmore’s finest over the summer. The team at Darley will be thrilled with the successful season that Dubawi is having. Resident at Dalham Hall, his career at stud continues on a steep upward curve. With 20 Group winners in 2015 alone, he had further success at the weekend in the form of Arc hopes New Bay and Postponed.

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Luca Cumani’s colt has already tasted Group 1 success with victory in the King George at Ascot in July. He took Sunday’s Qatar Prix Foy in typically gutsy fashion, and in a faster time than Treve produced in winning the Prix Vermeille. New Bay won the French Derby in May and looks to be his country’s leading middle-distance colt. He stormed to victory in the Prix Niel.

Al Kazeem has arguably been the stallion’s standout offspring to date. He took the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Coral-Eclipse before his final career victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh back in May. He finished just ahead of Postponed on that occasion, though sadly picked up the injury that forced his retirement.

Further Group 1 victories have come during the summer thanks to Erupt in the Grand Prix de Paris, not to mention the stunning success of Arabian Queen in the Juddmonte International at York. She certainly has the speed more typical in Dubawi progeny, though her habit of failing to settle in a race prevented her from running to her best behind Treve in the Prix Vermeille on Sunday.

Such success on the track ensures that the demand for Dubawi’s services at stud has soared. His offspring command enormous fees in the sales rings. With a world leading average of £647,000 in 2014, his 2015 yearlings have broken records at Arqana. An incredible €2.6 million was paid for a Dubawi colt at the Deauville August sales.

Galileo versus Dubawi is set to rumble on for many more years. In a season where much anticipated clashes have failed to materialize, the greatest of them is already taking place. Two of Europe’s powerhouses have been slugging it out throughout the summer, and that battle for supremacy between Darley and Coolmore shows no sign of abating.

Arabian Queen strikes a blow for the ‘Fairer Sex’

Arabian Queen defeats Golden Horn

Arabian Queen defeats Golden Horn

Just how soft was the ground at York yesterday? John Gosden called it ‘dead’ and Aidan O’Brien deemed it testing enough to take out his dual Guineas hero Gleneagles. Yet the shock winner’s finishing time matched that of 2014 winner Australia and was less than a second slower than Frankel posted in 2012.

Arabian Queen is clearly a talented filly. She improved for a step up in trip when chasing home Legatissimo in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. Prior to that she had finished behind Ervedya at Royal Ascot and failed to settle when last to Amazing Maria in the Falmouth; both races at a mile. Yesterday she was able to settle far better; ironically after taking a lead from Golden Horn’s pacemaker.

Dettori settled the favourite in third, just a couple of lengths behind the filly. Turning in, De Sousa made his move on Arabian Queen and stretched that gap to around three lengths. Golden Horn had to be bustled along to gain, but by the furlong pole looked to be getting on top. However, David Elsworth’s diminutive charge found more, delivering one of the greatest upsets in the races’ history.

Gosden stuck to the ‘dead ground’ line after the race, saying: “Frankie just felt that he was hard to settle the first six. He didn't run in the King George obviously and was a very fresh horse since the Eclipse and he's rather gassed himself out in the ground. He's gone in front of the filly and then just tired in what is dead ground. There's no doubt he's a much better horse on fast ground as we know which he has always run on.”

Chances are that Golden Horn was a little fresh early in the race, but he still pulled clear of The Grey Gatsby, beating him by the same distance as in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. Connections clearly favour fast ground for the Derby winner, but this obviously restricts his options going forward. The likelihood of him traveling to Paris in October now appears incredibly slim.

The result also questions the positioning of the colts against the fillies and mares. Arabian Queen had been swept aside by Legatissimo at Goodwood. Surely David Wachman’s filly would have gone close in yesterday’s showpiece. She could well be the best mile a quarter horse out there, though the chances of us finding out may rest with her participation in the Irish Champion Stakes in September. Sadly the Matron Stakes on the same card at Leopardstown looks the more likely target.

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In France at the weekend Esoterique struck another blow for the female of the species. She proved too strong for stable companion Territories in testing conditions at Deauville. She’d previously chased home Muhaarar over an inadequate six furlongs and prior to that got within a length of probably this season’s best miler, Solow.

Yet she looks some way off the outstanding Amazing Maria, who has been blazing the trail at a mile during the summer, with Group 1 wins in the Falmouth at Newmarket and the Prix Rothschild Stakes at Deauville. She has looked more than capable of putting it up to the colts should connections take the plunge.

Golden Horn’s defeat yesterday also raises doubts over Jack Hobbs’ prospects of launching a serious challenge in the Arc come October. He has been thumped twice by his stable companion and though he appears to have scope for further improvement, he’ll probably need to progress past his Epsom Derby conqueror if he is to have any chance of defeating the outstanding European mare, Treve.

Today it’s the turn of Covert Love to test her credentials as a potential star filly, when she takes on her own sex in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks. The winner of the Irish Oaks has progressed dramatically through the campaign, and a dominant performance today could see her thrust into the mix for the major end of season middle-distance events.

Trainer Hugo Palmer is clearly pleased with her progress since that Curragh success, saying: “She has been great since the Irish Oaks – I’m absolutely delighted with her. The strong pace in Ireland suited her but she has made her own running and is very amenable – we have never had to think too much about how she’s going to be ridden. Up until now a different jockey has ridden her in every race, and none of them have done anything wrong, but Pat (Smullen) is the man that has won a Group 1 on her so he keeps the ride.”

Of course the fillies and mares have their own schedule of Group 1 races to aim at, including on Champions Day at Ascot in October. But the Arc has gone the way of the ‘fairer sex’ in five of the last seven renewals, and a trip to Paris could become a very tempting proposition.

Golden Horn’s defeat in yesterday’s Juddmonte was a major shock, despite doubts over ground conditions. However, connections of Arabian Queen should be applauded for taking a plunge. The result once again proved that the girls are more than capable of downing the boys at the highest level. Let’s hope the result sparks an end of season ‘clash of the sexes’.

Such encounters could prove to be ‘clashes’ worth waiting for.

York Juddmonte International Day Preview, Tips

York Ebor: Day 1 preview tips

York Ebor: Day 1 preview tips

Day 1 of York's Ebor meeting features the flat race of the season so far, the Juddmonte International. A stellar cast which includes a dual Guineas winner, a Derby and Eclipse winner, an Irish Champion Stakes winner, an Australian Group 1 winner, and a fast improving Royal Ascot winner, promises fireworks aplenty.

As well as that fabulous Group 1, we are treated to a supporting card that includes an established St Leger trial and a solid juvenile Group 3. We start with a big field of sprinters in the...

1.55 Symphony Group Stakes (Handicap, Class 2, 5f 89 yds)

Twenty reputably rapid racers will charge down the straight track for a stride or three beyond five furlongs, and it will be a braver/more foolhardy player than me who goes 'all in' here.

Pace is fairly proportioned across the piste with perennial trailblazers Tangerine Trees (20) and Midlander (2) almost bookending the field. Meanwhile, in the centre of the course, another frequent early flyer, Meadway bounds from stall eight. In other words, wherever your fancy is drawn, there should be some toe to track.

Although it won't do a lot to whittle the field, it is worth noting that in the only year (from six) that a Northern-based trainer didn't win this race, they finished second, third and fourth. Locals will be expecting to bag the swag.

Kevin Ryan has spoken of this five and a half furlong range being a 'specialists' trip', and he should know having taken the last two renewals. He saddles 2013 winner (and last year's sixth), Bogart, and in-form Distant Past. Drawn very high and very low, Team Ryan will have a squeak whichever side is favoured.

With rain on the eve of the Ebor meeting, the going has eased to good to soft or thereabouts, and it will make the trip a touch more testing. The low drawn Distant Past may then have the edge on his older stable mate, with the springier turf a plus.

Huntsmans Close and Dutch Masterpiece vie for market leadership, but I'm far from convinced the former wants this shorter trip, despite an excellent run in the Stewards' Cup last time off the same rating. Conversely, Dutch Masterpiece has been running as though an extended five is perfect; for him, though, the middling draw is marginally off-putting.

There are stacks in here with legitimate claims, as 10/1 the field attests, and my two pokes in the murk are Silvanus and Caspian Prince. It is easier to make a case for Silvanus than the Prince, this fellow arriving on a hat-trick after going away wins over the minimum. He's got a decent enough draw in seven, and acts fine on the soft side of good.

Paul Midgley's team of sprinters have been in bobbydazzling form this season so 16/1 on this old buzzard appeals to small beer, especially with Graham Lee keeping the ride.

Caspian Prince requires a leap of faith, but in an open race and at 33/1, it's permissible to attempt such a lunge. A speedster drawn five, he has been running well in Group company, and his Class 2 handicap form reads 00321626005. That recent '5' was in the hyper-competitive Rockingham Handicap in a field of 21, and he could outrun his odds for an in-form trainer with a very good long term York record.

Fourteen more that I haven't mentioned with varying degrees of credible cases to be made, but I'll roll the dice with a pair of big'uns in Silvanus 16/1 e/w and Caspian Prince 33/1 e/w.

Hills, Betfair and Racebets are all paying five places, and the exchange sportsbook are joint-top price on both, if you can get a bet on with them.

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2.30 Acomb Stakes (Group 3, 7f)

When the hurly burly of that first race is done, we'll face up to an altogether different puzzle as ten promising babies look for some stallion appeal in this Group 3 seven furlong heat.

Nine of the ten won last time, but the one that didn't, Adventurer, holds solid claims. Fourth at Goodwood to Shalaa - this season's top juvenile to date - he was said to have been ill at ease on the Sussex (ups and) Downs and yet ran a fast time in defeat. The Mark Johnston team circle in and out of form on an almost weekly basis and this week they look to be in good shape.

Those with a single prior seven furlong win have an impressive 24% win and 46% place strike rate since 1997, and that is a tick for seven of the field which, unfortunately, means it is not of much utility to us. To the form book then, such as it is at this fledgling stage in these fellows' careers.

Mohab was incredibly impressive when hacking up by eight lengths in what may, granted, have been a weak Catterick maiden. Still, he was a good third on his only previous start, over course and distance, and his trainer, Kevin Ryan, won this in 2005.

The form of David Barron's Bing Bang Bong has worked out well, his initial bronze medal race throwing up three subsequent winners so far, and his win last time already franked by the second and the sixth. That was a soft ground Newmarket maiden where he was three lengths and more too good, so any further rain would be to his liking.

When are John Gosden's horses not to be respected? That, of course, is a rhetorical question, as the answer, as you very well know, is 'never'. Cymric was sufficiently highly regarded to début in the Listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and, while that was too much too soon, he got the job done on his sole subsequent spin, in a race where the fourth and eighth have won since from just three to race again.

Similarly unnecessary is a response to the question, "when does Willie Haggas run a horse at York without a chance?". He's hit a fine streak of form in... well, he's actually got a 25% win rate over the last six months, so at least that long! Recorder flies the ex-pat Yorkshireman's flag in the Acomb, and the Galileo colt does it for Her Maj.

It was a soft seven when he got home last time, and it may not be too different underhoof this time. The third and fourth were both huge prices there, but both have gone on to win their sole starts since, giving the form a robust appearance.

Dream Mover has taken plenty of support in the early exchanges, with Marco Botti's colt clearly expected to improve for the step up to seven furlongs. He's proven with give but looks to have plenty more to find to test the best here. Naturally, as with every other in the field, he could bound forwards but I like the chance of others more. Not a lot more, mind, in a very open heat.

Recorder and Adventurer, and possibly Mohab as well, make my placepot perms. I do not have to have a win or each way bet, and will be exercising that right on this occasion. Unless you have a strong view, it might be prudent to follow suit.

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3.05 Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f)

A race with a rich heritage, both in terms of identifying St Leger winners, and high class older horses. The latter point is emphasized by the last two winners, Telescope and Postponed, who both went on to at least place in Group 1 company, Postponed claiming last month's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

This year's field boasts the usual array of late-blooming Classic crop stayers, testament to which is the fact that Derby 4th and Irish Derby 3rd, Giovanni Canaletto, is only 8/1 FIFTH favourite in a field of seven.

He finished a place behind the re-opposing Storm The Stars in both Classics, and that one went on to a hat-trick of 'Derby' places by adding third in the (to some) French equivalent, the Grand Prix de Paris, a race threatening to usurp the Prix du Jockey Club's historical status.

There ought to be little between them again, which makes the gulf in odds - STS is 7/2, GC is 8/1 - somewhat mystifying, particularly in light of the hard season the shorter-priced has had.

Whether Giovanni Canaletto is the pick of three runners from his Ballydoyle stable is another question. The other pair, Aloft and Bondi Beach, have both been showing their talents over longer trips than this mile and a half, and have advertised their St Leger claims in the process.

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Aloft won the two mile Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot, a weak enough race normally; and he took fourteen and a half of the sixteen furlongs to get to the front that day. Of course, he could have arrived sooner, but whether he has the pace to live with Derby placed animals I don't know.

Similar comments apply to the similarly unexposed Bondi Beach. Unraced last year, he kicked off his career with a facile short head win over odds-on stablemate, Bantry Bay, in a mile and a half heavy ground maiden. Stepped up to Listed class next time over the same distance, he couldn't quite reel in Radanpour.

An extra quarter mile put that right in the Group 3 Curragh Cup last time out, a race in which he just prevailed. He seems to do little more than is asked and is clearly a fine talent so, with the ground presumed in his favour and only three runs on the board, he could step forward a fair bit. Trainer's son, Joseph O'Brien, takes the ride on a live one.

Tashaar, unbeaten in two, steps out of handicap company having absolutely scooted up at Glorious Goodwood last time. Whilst this is undoubtedly tougher he could not have won more readily there, and he's quite attractive at 9/2. Sometimes the visual impression of a race is striking, this being one such occasion, so while I can't put a heap of meat on the bones of his case, especially given he's taking on hardened Group horses, I like him.

To a lesser degree, I like Balios, a horse that is already a mile and a half Group 2 winner, too. He took a retrograde step last time, but retains plenty of scope after just four career starts.

And one I think is over-priced, perhaps because I've backed him for the Leger, is Medrano. His run in the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood was all wrong: sitting out the back off pedestrian fractions, he was never put into the contest. Prior to that he'd bolted up on soft ground in a Listed race, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he ran into the frame. 14/1 probably understates his ability, though I'd again worry about the pace.

Storm The Stars will presumably cut out the donkey work, with Gio Can tracking. But the rest all want to sit and wait, so there's a chance the rabbit could nab it. A messy old heat.

Such was the eye-catching nature of Tashaar's win last time, and such is his upward trajectory, I've had a smallish bet on him at 9/2. Plenty of others with interesting profiles not least of which is Medrano but seven runners does not normally a compelling each way bet make.

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3.40 Juddmonte International (Group 1, 1m2f 88yds)

What a race. What. A. Race.*

*assuming Gleneagles runs...

You know you're looking at a hot contest when a Group 1 winner just three starts back, running over his right trip and ground, is quoted at 40/1. That's the case here with a horse called Criterion, who may have it to do to come home in front but is surely available at heavily inflated odds.

Sadly, it looks like the rain will scupper Gleneagles' participation and, if it does, reduce the race to seven runners. With an odds on favourite, that removes a LOT of the betting appeal of the contest and bookies have their work cut out to get creative. As is often the case in such races, the 'without the fav' market is playable, and we'll come to that in due course.

First, to the cast. With or without dual Guineas (and quadruple Group 1) winner, Gleneagles, this is the equine equivalent of a WWE Royal Rumble.

Golden Horn is the headliner, being an unbeaten Derby and Eclipse winner. Those two wins came on good to firm, and his course and distance Dante win was on good. He did win his maiden on good to soft, but it is far from a given that he'll act on soft. So, at 4/6, and a lot shorter if Gleneagles comes out, he's got to be taken on somehow.

The doubtful runner must have his chance compromised to some degree even if he does start, and at a drifting 5/1 he's thoroughly opposable for me, stretching out to an extended ten furlongs for the first time.

If those are genuine nicks in the prospects of the top two - as opposed to artificially imagined reasons to oppose - then we have ourselves a punting proposition.

The highly impressive Time Test is a 1/2 shot without the front two in the market, and Roger Charlton, his trainer, is bullish about his chance in a race that his owner sponsors and has won twice in the last four years. This son of Dubawi at least has some soft ground influences in his pedigree (out of a Dansili mare) and hosed up in his maiden on good to soft, a race which is working out extremely well.

The flip side is that his most recent win, and the one on which his aptitude for this assignment is based, has not worked out. The third horse, Mustadeem, has been tonked twice since; fourth placed Disegno looked no better than Listed class when six-plus length back in the G3 Gordon Stakes; and the sixth and seventh have been beaten out of the frame in two subsequent starts each.

Indeed, of the eight subsequent runs from the Tercentenary Stakes field, they have managed no more than two places. That's not Time Test's fault. He was mightily impressive. But it does cast a shadow over the merit of what he beat that day and, in the context of a race like this, it's enough to look elsewhere, especially when there are two Group 1 winners still to consider.

The first is the admirable The Grey Gatsby, winner of the 2014 Dante and second in this race last year. He's a dual Group 1 winner at this trip and though he has to concede eight pounds weight for age to the three-year-olds, the frame is more probable than possible to my eye. I would be worried about the ground for him if it comes up soft, but on good to soft he should be able to run his race and that means hitting the first three.

The other is the aforementioned Criterion, a southern hemisphere raider who has 'wintered' in our summer... if you see what I mean. He won a Group 1 in Australia over this trip on soft ground three starts back. That race was worth £1.3 million! All his wins have come on good or softer, and he has run with great credit in two races since that G1 victory, the third of his career (all on soft or heavy).

On his penultimate start, on unsuitable good to firm ground, Criterion was a close up third in a million pound Group 1 race in Hong Kong. Then, last time, he ran at Royal Ascot, again on unsuitable good to firm ground, in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales's Stakes. The jockey, Chad Schofield, was easy enough on him there, and he comes here a fresh horse after a two month break.

I'm not suggesting he is the most likely winner, nor even that he can win at all. But at 40/1, or 22/1 without Golden Horn (two places paid), or 12/1 without Golden Horn and Gleneagles (two places paid), he's more attractive than many given he is more likely to get the conditions he wants than many.

I've backed Criterion at 12/1, each way two places, without Golden Horn and Gleneagles. Prices are unaffected whether Gleneagles runs or not, as he - and Golden Horn - are essentially non-runners. I also like The Grey Gatsby's proven ability at 12/5 in the same market, where the upwardly mobile Time Test makes the book at two's on. These markets are all with bet365 only at time of writing.

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4.20 Handicap (Class 2, 2m 88yds)

A very good, ultra-competitive handicap over an extended two miles. It'll take some getting, with York's interminable home straight offering the prospect of a heavy ground Hexham lookalike finish.

I'm without clue in the main here, but Gabrial's Star looks the sort to bounce back to form with a bit of cut in the turf. His three turf wins have all been on soft, at between twelve and fourteen furlongs, and he was second in a good Wolverhampton handicap over this distance in February. Decent apprentice, Jack Garrity, knocks three pounds off Gabrial's Star's back.

At 20/1 he's no more than a stab in the dark in a fiendish race.

The other I was mildly drawn to is Lucy Wadham's Noble Silk. A good horse trained by a good trainer, this lad ran a cracker when fourth in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was over two and a half miles so there are no stamina concerns, though the ground wouldn't want to go too boggy.

As always in the Festival handicaps, there are oodles of others with chances, including the Tony Martin plot, Heartbreak City, and the latest formerly smart beast to be rejuvenated for a switch to David O'Meara, Big Thunder.

On a day of penny punt interests (Juddmonte 'without' bets aside), I'm happy to side with the italicised pair above, each way at 20/1 GS and 11/1 NS, and much more in hope than expectation.

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4.55 Nursery Handicap (Class 2, 6f)

If you're still going on the placepot, you've probably done very well, but your toughest assignment remains. A twenty runner nursery handicap is as close to impossible as doesn't matter!

Here's what I can tell you:

Ravenhoe has the top speed rating but ran last night.

Reputation, first time in a handicap for John Quinn, has the next top rating and masses of scope. John Quinn is only 3-38 with handicap debutants in the last two years.

Shawaahid has won twice with cut in the ground, and stays further, a probable asset in what should be a very fast race for the conditions.

Sir Roger Moore looks like the plot for his in form yard: considered good enough to run in a Group 2 on his second start, and third over course and distance in a Class 3 maiden earlier in the year. He could raise a few eyebrows if winning. (Geddit?!)

Dark Defender is probably better than he showed last time and, while having less scope than some, looks fairy reliable.

Pace might just favour high draws, which points more towards Shawaahid than most, and he's a tentative each way selection at a general 14/1.

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The very best of luck with your Day 1 York bets. It's a fascinating card with the prospect of a magnificent race at 3.40. But, from a wagering perspective, it is waaay too hard. Save some money for Jinsha Lake in the 7.50 at Killarney 😉

Matt

York set to stage the Clash of the Summer

 

The Wonderful York Racecourse

The Wonderful York Racecourse

With a week still to go, the line-up for this year’s Juddmonte International has time to change considerably. Rain may still play a major part in the make-up of the event. But for now, the hope of a Gleneagles - Golden Horn clash is just about as exciting as it gets for a flat racing fan.

The Epsom Derby hero taking on a dual Guineas winner is a mouth-watering prospect. Gleneagles has been a shining light for the Ballydoyle yard and the same can be said for Gosden’s Classic winner. The clash is exactly what this campaign has been waiting for. The pair are the outstanding three -year-olds of the summer, and it’s pretty difficult to say with any certainty as to who would be best suited by next week’s trip on the Knavesmire.

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O’Brien’s dual-Guineas winner was doing all his best work at the end of the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last time. And the same can be said when he stormed clear nearing the finish of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. It’s true he’s not short of speed, but he’s been finishing his races like a horse that would enjoy a step up in trip. His breeding would certainly fill O’Brien with confidence that this race could actually be more to his liking.

O'Brien told the Racing Post yesterday: “The plan was for Gleneagles go to Deauville on Sunday but, with the rain that they've had and the forecast, that won't be happening now. We've discussed things this afternoon and if the ground at York is good to firm then we will let him take his chance in the Juddmonte International.” O'Brien added: “I've always considered Gleneagles a true miler but he needs good, fast ground to be seen at his best therefore York will probably be his next race as we are running out of options with him. It's a very sporting gesture by his owners.”

Of course we already know that Golden Horn will love the trip and he has the experience of winning at the track when devastatingly impressive in the Dante Stakes back in May. His win in the Eclipse at Sandown confirmed his status as a truly top-class thoroughbred. He’s a horse with gears as he showed when scooting past Jack Hobbs in the Derby, but he’s also capable of ‘knuckling down to it’ as he proved when breaking The Grey Gatsby at Sandown.

Chances are that Frankie will be first to commit on the Derby winner, with Gleneagles playing the stalking role. I’d be surprised if the two aren’t a lot closer in the betting as the race draws near. I’m finding it incredibly difficult to side with one over the other. Interestingly, and probably coming as no surprise, it’s O’Brien that has dominated the race in recent times, with four wins from the last seven renewals. Two of those winners were sons of Galileo, the sire of Gleneagles.

John Gosden is yet to win the ‘Juddmonte’ since its inception in 1972.

Sir Henry’s Sussex Stakes Stunners

Cecil's Stunning Frankel

Cecil's Stunning Frankel

The Qatar Sussex Stakes is the highlight of today’s card at Glorious Goodwood. The one mile showpiece started life as a race for two-year-olds in 1841. In 1878 it became a mile contest for three-year-olds, but took a further hundred years to evolve to its current form, now open to both sexes aged three and above.

The late great Sir Henry Cecil is the events leading trainer with seven victories including the mighty Frankel’s double in 2011 and 2012. It’s worth recalling that he won those races by a combined 11 lengths, destroying the multiple Group 1 winner Canford Cliffs on the first occasion and then pulverising the future Lockinge and Champion Stakes winner Farhh. He truly was an incredible racehorse.

Another one of Cecil’s great milers was the 1979 Sussex winner Kris. He swept through his juvenile campaign undefeated before announcing himself as a quality colt at three when winning the Greenham Stakes at Newbury.  He became favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, despite reports of a few training issues leading up to the Newmarket showpiece. In the event he came off second best to the 20/1 outsider Tap On Wood.

That proved to be something of a blip in an otherwise outstanding season. At Royal Ascot he was an impressive winner of the St. James's Palace Stakes. Kris swept to the front two furlongs from home and held off a persistent challenge from the Lockinge winner Young Generation.

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His victory in the Sussex Stakes was one of his most stunning. Starting the race as a short-priced favourite he again was sent to the front by Joe Mercer two furlongs out. On this occasion he stormed clear to beat Swiss Maid by a yawning five lengths.

He continued his dominance in three further events, winning the Group Two Waterford Crystal Mile, now the Celebration Mile, at Goodwood before another scorching success back at Ascot in Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Carrying seven pounds more than the weight-for-age allowance he again drew clear in the final stages of the race to win by five lengths.  He closed his three-year-old campaign with victory in the seven furlong Challenge Stakes at Newmarket, breaking the course record in the process.

His following season was somewhat disrupted by niggling injuries, though he still managed to break Newbury’s course record in winning the Lockinge Stakes. His final career run proved to be a thriller, and one of his rare defeats. Attempting to win his second Queen Elizabeth II Stakes he was overhauled by the 2,000 Guineas winner Known Fact. The two had battled head to head all the way up the straight before the younger horse got up in the shadow of the post.

A successful career at stud followed where he sired the wonderful filly Oh So Sharp. Kris died at the grand old age of 28.

Outstanding milers such as Kris and Frankel have graced this wonderful race at Goodwood over the years. Sadly the 2,000 Guineas winner Gleneagles was withdrawn from this season’s line-up, leaving the French colt Solow as the leading candidate most likely to add his name to the illustrious roll of honour. His victory in last month’s Queen Anne Stakes may have been a solid rather than spectacular performance, but he appears the class act in today’s field.

The Lockinge winner Night Of Thunder disappointed at Royal Ascot and is capable of much better. The bookies have him down as the danger to the favourite and they are probably spot on. Despite the absence of the best three-year-old, the race still looks an exciting renewal.

Bigstone was the last French winner back in 1993. Freddy Head’s outstanding grey looks primed to follow suit.