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Dark Angel speedsters – Aged to perfection

Galileo is undeniably the modern-day King of Stallions, but if it’s a sprinter you’re looking for, there’s no better sire than Yeomanstown Stud inmate, Dark Angel.

Retired somewhat prematurely after a successful juvenile campaign, this son of Acclamation has become an outstanding sire of high class speedsters. The all too brief racing career came in 2007, when trained by Barry Hills. He proved to be a high-class youngster, winning four of nine starts including the six-furlong Group One Middle Park Stakes.

An instant hit in his new profession, Dark Angel resides at Yeomanstown Stud near Naas, just a stone’s throw from Dublin. Established in 1923, the business has been in the hands of the Callaghan family since 1981. A famous name in Ireland’s breeding industry, generations of Callaghan’s are famed for producing top class racehorses. Gay and Annette have now handed the running of their business to son David. And speed is certainly the name of the game at Yeomanstown, with Scat Daddy’s son El Kabeir, a Sandy Lane winner Camacho and former top-class juvenile sprinter Gutaifan, all keeping Dark Angel company.

But it’s the latter that has certainly produced the goods in recent times. Two current stars of the speed division look set to further enhance the stallion’s reputation over the summer. Battaash and Harry Angel will head to Royal Ascot in a couple of weeks as strong fancies to land the most prestigious sprint events. Though somewhat disappointing as a juvenile, Battaash stormed onto the scene at three, winning four from five starts, culminating in the demolition of a high-class field at Chantilly when landing the Prix de l’Abbaye. His seasonal return was impressive, and he now heads the market for the King’s Stand Stakes.

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Harry Angel only ran twice at two, though one was a victory in the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes. He too came to the fore as a three-year-old, winning three of his six starts, including a pair of Group Ones. Also impressive on his return to the track, he is currently favourite for the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, though interestingly he’s yet to win at the course despite visiting on four occasions. He only has four career defeats.

Mecca’s Angel was another top-class Dark Angel progeny. She was also something of a slow burner during the early part of her career. Winner of a Group Three at three, she stormed to prominence as a four-year-old, landing the Group One Nunthorpe at York. She was just as impressive at five, again winning the Nunthorpe in sparkling fashion.

But it was very much Lethal Force that began the Dark Angel dynasty when hitting the racetrack in 2011. He too followed a similar path of being somewhat underwhelming as a juvenile. That’s not to say that he didn’t hint at a bright future, finishing fourth in the Coventry Stakes at the royal meeting and filling the same berth in the Group Two Vintage Stakes. As a three-year-old the progression continued, capturing the Group Two Hungerford at Newbury, though it was at four that his career truly took off. During a thrilling campaign, he mixed it with the elite sprinters, winning the Diamond Jubilee and the Darley July Cup.

These four have certainly advertised the stallion’s influence in the sprint division, though he is also responsible for last year’s QEII winner Persuasive, along with other familiar names in Gabrial, Sovereign Debt and Bronze Angel. He’s also the sire of this year’s 2000 Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win. Trained by Roger Teal, we are yet to discover this classy three-year-old’s optimum trip, though he is being primed to take in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and with his Guineas nemesis missing (Saxon Warrior), he must stand a great chance of going one better.

There’s little doubt that in the coming months others will showcase the appeal of the Dark Angel pedigree. Lansky is an interesting three-year-old. Now with sprint guru Robert Cowell, the young colt showed a decent level of form as a juvenile, and as we’ve seen, the progeny usually improve significantly with age. He’s entered in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot and could be a horse to follow.

Yafta won a couple of low key events as a juvenile and is another progressive looking sort, having won well last time at Newmarket. He’s another to keep on side and is likely to be running at Newmarket on Saturday. Trained by Richard Hannon and owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, he looks Pattern class and could have a productive summer ahead.

Though it seems the offspring are not always reliable as juveniles, any that land a prominent finish in a Group event ought to enter the notebook. Tom Dascombe’s Jackstar may be a youngster to keep an eye on. His absence of late suggests he may have met with a setback, but he’s already proved on the track that he has a fair level of ability. The same can be said of the Mark Johnston-trained Deep Intrigue. He defeated a nice juvenile of Richard Fahey’s last time at Beverley. He could prove to be a tasty sort.

I’ll also be interested to see how Paddy Twomey’s Decrypt progresses during the campaign. A fine second on debut at the Curragh last time, he looks sure to improve plenty for the outing and had several Ballydoyle runners in behind.

I’d be cautious at getting heavily involved in Dark Angel juveniles at Royal Ascot. It seems clear that his progeny progress steadily with racing and are likely better followed at three or even four. Nevertheless, the notebook will be readied, and should one make eye-catching progress in the latter stages of the Coventry or the Queen Mary a record will be made. Dark Angel speedsters can be exceptional.

Can Dynamic Duo carry O’Brien to Ascot Glory?

I may have been a little hasty in saying that it’s a matter of time before Aidan O’Brien matches Bobby Frankel’s Group One winners record.

Champions Day at Ascot would surely prove the ideal scene for such an achievement. But a closer look at the meeting, his options, and more interestingly his record at the event, shows that the Ballydoyle master still has plenty of work to do.

With four Group One’s up for grabs, you’d expect O’Brien to seize his share, especially the way the horses are running at present. Yet Fame And Glory, Minding and Excelebration are the only Ballydoyle winners at the meeting since its inception at Ascot in 2011, with the latter duo both taking the Group One QEII.

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Indeed, recent history suggests that the one-mile showpiece will be O’Brien’s best chance of Group One glory. With three victories in the past 10 renewals, he may decide to drop Churchill back in trip in the hope that the dual-Guineas winner can regain the winning thread. He’s lost his last three, including two at a mile-and-a-quarter. The three-year-old is entered in the Champion Stakes, though that appears the tougher assignment, with Cracksman, Barney Roy and Ulysses all set to take their chance. The mile race is no spot-kick, with Ribchester in opposition, but it does look winnable.

There’s also optimism over the chances of Caravaggio, currently second-favourite for the Champions Sprint, a race O’Brien hasn’t won since 1998 (then the Diadem Stakes). He has a rather formidable opponent to overcome in the Clive Cox trained Harry Angel. He has of course defeated Godolphin’s speedster once before at Ascot, when getting up late to take the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting in June. However, since that success his form has tailed off somewhat, whilst Harry has become a sprinting sensation. There is a glimmer of hope, with HA currently nought from three at the track.

Hydrangea looks likely to be O’Brien’s only representative in the Fillies and Mares, with both Rhododendron and Seventh Heaven waiting for the Breeders’ Cup. It will be her first attempt at a mile-and-a-half, and she’s far from certain to see out the trip. She looked a non-stayer in the Nassau at 10 furlongs, though came close to landing the Prix de l’Opera over the same distance at Chantilly. Her best performance came at a mile when winning the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. She’s no mug, but this looks a tough challenge.

Should Churchill revert to the mile, Ballydoyle’s hopes in the Champion Stakes will rest with Highland Reel and Cliffs Of Moher. The former would have a decent shout if the ground remained decent. The faster the better for HR, and it’s worth remembering that he won the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over course and distance back in June, beating Ulysses in the process. He’s a player if the rain stays away.

Cliffs Of Moher is much harder to fancy. Twice hammered by Ulysses over the summer, he was then well beaten in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. He was a place ahead of Cracksman at Epsom, but has failed to improve, whilst Gosden’s colt looks hugely progressive. This is another race to have eluded O’Brien over the years.

It was a surprise to many when the name of Winter was missing from the Champions Day declarations. Failing to spark at home since her Arc run, her omission is a blow, and had she been entered in either the QEII or the Champions Stakes she would undoubtedly have been well-fancied.

Despite such a successful summer, and the wealth of talent at his disposal, O’Brien now appears dependant on a pair of colts that were the leading lights as juveniles a year ago. Plenty of water has passed under plenty of bridges, but if O’Brien is to surpass Bobby Frankel’s world record this weekend, he is likely to need Caravaggio and Churchill to return to their brilliant best.

Go for Garfield in Mill Reef Puzzler

As I write my Friday piece, Saturday’s card at Ayr has just been abandoned, and so I’ve decided to preview the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes form Newbury.

Established in 1972, and named after one of the greats, the six-furlong contest has been won by future high-class milers, along with thoroughbreds destined for stardom as sprinters.

Excellent Art was victorious in 2006, and the following year became an outstanding miler. Having finished an unlucky fourth in the French Guineas, he landed the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, defeating dual-Guineas winner Cockney Rebel in the process. He was then unfortunate enough to finish runner-up in the Sussex Stakes, the QEII, and the Breeders’ Cup Mile in America. He was retired to stud after a disappointing performance in Hong Kong.

Dark Angel won the 2007 Mill Reef, and went on to take the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. Barry Hills seemed pretty sure he had a potentially high-class sprinter on his hands, but in his final juvenile outing, the grey son of Acclamation was stepped up to contest the Dewhurst. He failed to see-out the trip and faded badly late on. Sadly, he was never seen on a racetrack again, though made a stunning impact at stud. Lethal Force, Mecca’s Angel and Harry Angel are just a few of his outstanding progeny.

Almost a decade later another future top-class miler was adding his name to the Mill Reef roll of honour.

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Ribchester had finished second in the Gimcrack prior to winning at Newbury. As a three-year-old he was stepped up to a mile, and finished a creditable third in the Guineas at Newmarket. He then won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, before again taking on the best milers at Goodwood in the Sussex Stakes. He finished powerfully, though ultimately was unable to catch The Gurkha and Galileo Gold. He then won a high-class event at Deauville before chasing home Minding in the QEII at Ascot. Ribchester has again proved his class at four, landing the Lockinge, Queen Anne and Prix du Moulin.

A year after Ribchester’s Mill Reef success, we were back to a tip-top sprinter winning the event. For 2016 saw the arrival of Harry Angel, announcing himself as a colt with huge potential when comfortably winning the Newbury Group Two. Now at three, he has fulfilled that early promise, winning the Sandy Lane Stakes, the July Cup, and then trouncing the field in Haydock’s Sprint Cup.

It would be lovely to think Saturday’s field contained the next Ribchester or another Harry Angel, but in all honesty, the entrants look a little exposed, with the favourite having run six times, and only won twice. That’s not to say that the field is devoid of talent. Nebo is a two-time Group Two runner-up. Invincible Army was runner-up in the Molecomb Stakes and the Gimcrack. Whilst James Garfield lost the Group Three Acomb Stakes by a whisker. But whether we have a truly outstanding colt in the line-up remains to be seen.

Invincible Army is likely to go off favourite and is trained by James Tate. The Newmarket handler almost landed the Group Two Champagne Stakes last week at Doncaster when his Hey Gaman was chinned late-on by Seahenge. He’ll be hopeful of going one better this weekend, though his juvenile is reliable rather than exceptional. He proved no match for Sands Of Mali in the Gimcrack at York, though stayed on well enough for second. He also put in a decent performance at Goodwood in the Molecomb at five-furlongs, when runner-up to the talented Havana Grey. In a Mill Reef that probably lacks a standout, he looks sure to go close.

James Garfield is next best in the betting, and was mightily unfortunate not to have landed the Group Three Acomb Stakes at York last time. He came off second best to Wells Farhh Go in a thriller, losing out by a nose. Prior to that he’d finished fourth to the exceptional Expert Eye at Goodwood. Stepping back in trip here, he doesn’t look short of pace and should be fine on what is set to be quick ground. Frankie Dettori was onboard last time and retains the ride. He should be involved at the finish.

Jeremy Noseda’s Lansky was almost four-lengths back in the Acomb, but that was only his second run, and there’s plenty of room for improvement in this handsome looking colt. A son of Dark Angel out of a Zafonic mare, his action suggests a sounder surface would suit. I fancy he’ll finish much closer to James Garfield this time. Jamie Spencer is onboard, so expect to see him arrive late on the scene.

Enjazaat is prominent in the market and looked impressive at Ripon last time. Prior to that he had finished behind Invincible Army in a hot looking Group Two at Newmarket. He’s certainly bred for the task, being a son of Acclamation out of a Green Desert mare, and trainer Owen Burrows is in the midst of a good spell. Carrying the silks of Hamdan Al Maktoum, much will depend on whether he’s improved enough physically to reverse form with Invincible Army. It’s certainly possible.

Nebo was disappointing last time in the Gimcrack, but is possibly better judged on his performance when second to Gustav Klimt in the Superlative at Newmarket in July. A repeat of that performance would see him go close, and Ryan Moore is booked to take the ride. A rapid six furlongs looks ideal for this son of Kodiac, and he’s another that should be in the shake-up.

Staxton is another that cannot be dismissed. Slowly away in the Gimcrack, he was always having to claw back ground and did well to finish a close fifth. He has a couple of lengths to find on Invincible Army, but with a cleaner break has every chance of doing so. Nebo was behind him that day and at 16/1 he could be the each-way value in the race. Trained by Tim Easterby, along with the aforementioned Wells Farhh Go, this fella has every chance of running a huge race.

It’s a competitive renewal and the winner will be hard to find. I’m edging towards James Garfield, though am far from confident. Staxton looks a fair each-way shout at the odds. Best of luck to those risking a punt.

Monday Musings: Better to have loved and lost?

I often wonder what the seller of a good horse feels when that animal goes on to do ever better than expected, writes Tony Stafford. What for instance were Peter Ridgers’ emotions as his one-time pride-and-joy Harry Angel stormed away with Saturday’s 32red Sprint Cup through the Haydock Park mud on Saturday?

Equally, how do David and Emma Armstrong react every time Ribchester, twice beaten in their colours after a 105k Euro purchase from the Irish National Stud, wins yet another major race, as he did in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (and £220,000) in the same Godolphin colours now sported by Harry Angel.

And on a similar theme, imagine the inner turmoil every time either horse turns out with their normally spectacular results in championship races, experienced by John Ferguson, the man who sourced both top-class animals for his former employers.

Ribchester was a notable coup, after those two initial second places, but as the latter had been as a 25-1 shot in the Gimcrack Stakes, the risk was probably at worst only a sporting one. Big Dave got the cash, and Godolphin the future winner of the Jersey, Jacques le Marois, Lockinge and Queen Anne before yesterday’s prize.

Harry Angel’s sourcing came in the spring after he broke Haydock’s track record with a scintillating display over the same six furlongs he graced in such devastating fashion over the weekend. He was beaten by Blue Point at Ascot before that, but gained revenge over his new ownership-mate when runner-up to Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and had him well behind on Saturday.

In between, Harry Angel also avenged his Ascot reverse with Caravaggio in the July Cup at Newmarket. Cox will have been an interested observer at The Curragh yesterday when the Aidan O’Brien colt resumed winning ways (he is now seven for nine) in the Group 2 Flying Five following a messy run in Deauville’s Prix Maurice de Gheest. A summit-meeting rematch between the pair beckons with most of the momentum behind Harry Angel.

Trainers who buy at the sales – Cox acquired Harry Angel for £44,000 at Doncaster’s Premier Yearling sale – need to follow a system with so many youngsters to assess and as the trainer stated in an interview, “it helps when you know the families”.

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Clive certainly knew Harry Angel’s family as he had bought the colt’s older brother Golden Journey, who also ran for Mr Ridgers, for 70,000 Euro as a yearling in Ireland. One win (at 10 furlongs) from nine runs might have been sufficient encouragement to buy him, but the eternal conundrum of race breeding is how far up the ability scale different members of a family might go. The pair may have expected more speed from a Dark Angel rather than a Nayef, but a champion sprinter, and potentially an outstanding one – probably not!

On a stellar weekend for the handler, Lady Macapa, who joined the Lambourn stable after being sold from William Knight’s team for 88,000 guineas at the end of her three-year-old season, gained her first victory for Cox in the Group 3 Prix du Petit Couvert at Chantilly, stepping up on all previous form.

Then another Cox discovery, the juvenile Snazzy Jazzy, retained his unblemished record, adding to Goodwood and Windsor victories by collecting 147,500 Euro for his defeat of 28 other juveniles in the big Tattersalls sales race at The Curragh. He cost 65,000 Euros at the qualifying auction and no doubt the trainer will have that venue high on his shopping agenda again this autumn.

Ascot holds its first full-blown yearling sale tomorrow and one colt I’ll have a metaphorical eye on is the Sepoy youngster, owner by Jack Panos, out of Anosti. Sadly, Raymond Tooth’s Tarnhelm, that colt’s half-sister has yet to win, but connections, as the saying goes, remain optimistic. Her trainer, Mark Johnston, will not be in attendance, as he has joined the annual migration to the Keeneland September sale – wish I was still able to get there – but he promised Jack when they met at Ascot on Saturday, that he’ll have him looked at.

Not everything that Clive Cox gets his hands on automatically goes over the line in front, and Raymond’s first meeting with him the previous day, also at Ascot, preceded a last of ten finish for his giant home-bred colt, Nelson River. Predictably green, he finished a satisfactory 10 lengths or so behind the winner, Herculean, one of three sons of Frankel that offered great optimism for the future over the long weekend.

Herculean, a big, flashy chestnut home-bred of Khalid Abdullah’s, trained by Roger Charlton, carried plenty of cash and strong recommendations before the race. He came home comfortably ahead of another Frankel product, Wadilsafa, trained by Owen Burrows. Ryan Moore, at the start of what might have been, for others less sanguine, a traumatic weekend, reported him a fine prospect, and it didn’t take long for talk of the Classics to emanate from the bookmakers and media. Then yesterday Elarqam justified Johnston stable confidence with a fluent debut victory at York.

No doubt that elusive Group 1 will soon be forthcoming for the stallion and quite possibly from Cracksman, who did his Arc de Triomphe prospects no harm with an albeit routine (and slow) win in yesterday’s Prix Niel at Chantilly.

There was more substance to the Prix Vermeille success of French-trained Bateel and she could emerge as a longish-price each-way shot on October 1. It seems the Arc is on the agenda again for Order of St George, third last year, and now a dual Irish St Leger winner having possibly been the recipient of Ryan’s general ire when driven well clear to win unchallenged.

Having been mugged late on in the Matron on Winter by 20-1 stablemate Hydrangea, and similarly foiled close home by another former mount, Happily, on Magical in the Moyglare yesterday, he seemed not in the mood for similar frustration on the champion stayer. It probably would not have mattered if Big Orange had stood his ground, and those of us who could not believe “George” had not picked up Michael Bell’s favourite at Royal Ascot, felt reassured here.

Another of Ryan’s weekend reverses came behind a Frankel, namely Nelson, trained by Aidan for ‘the lads’. Ryan was on the favourite, Delano Roosevelt, but was never going well enough as the winner set a strong pace. No doubt he’ll be on this nice colt next time.

Going back to Ascot Friday, we got plenty of encouragement going forward to longer trips for Nelson River. When Alan Spence saw him at the stable Open Day in the spring, he suggested we’d have to wait at least until the autumn. Isn’t it annoying when someone tells you something unsolicited and is proved right?

Of course, Mr Spence was another beneficiary of John Ferguson’s talent spotting for his old boss, Sheikh Mohammed and apparently is still counting the notes from the sale of Profitable last year. He smiled when Priceless, still in his colours, finished ahead of the older horse when they were fifth and sixth in the Nunthorpe. Has he booked that cover to Galileo yet, or will it be Frankel?

On a slightly lower level, Ray’s lightly-raced filly Betty Grable runs off bottom weight at Catterick (0-80) tomorrow and do not be surprised if she proves competitive. I’ll be there rather than Ascot or Keeneland and Wilf has done well to get Sammy Jo Bell to ride at 7st13lb. The old boy’s playing a big part in her rehabilitation after that bad injury.

- Tony Stafford

Tasleet can win a Sprint Cup Slog

Hold on to your hats folks, as this weekend we’re treated to a feast of high-class racing in England, Ireland and over the Channel in France.

Harry Angel, Winter, Churchill and Ribchester are just a few of the stars on display, as they contest an array of prestigious events.

It’s the Irish Champion Stakes in Ireland, with a couple of thrilling days racing from Leopardstown and the Curragh. Churchill is even-money to capture the feature for Aidan O’Brien, with Eminent looking the main danger after his recent impressive Group Two success at Deauville.

Winter has had an outstanding campaign to date, and is another short-priced Ballydoyle favourite, as she looks to add the Matron Stakes to the four Group One’s already under her belt. She faces a field of classy fillies including stable companion Rhododendron, who looks to get her season back on track after being pulled-up in France last time. Prior to that, she had finished runner-up in a pair of Classics and could prove a huge danger to the favourite.

The juvenile scene could be in for something of a shake-up, with the Moyglare Stud and the Vincent O’Brien National taking place at the Curragh on Sunday. Gustav Klimt is all the rage for the latter, but I’m in the Beckford camp. And I will not hear of defeat for Clemmie in the Moyglare, assuming she’s allowed to take here chance on soft ground.

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Over in France, Ribchester returns to the track in the Prix Du Moulin. He’s by no means a certainty with Inns Of Court, Taareef, Zelzal and a resurgent Massaat, all capable of a massive performance. The French have won the last five, and this looks a hugely competitive renewal.

Back on home turf, attention turns to the Sprint Cup at a soggy Haydock on Saturday. Plenty more rain is forecast to fall before the flag drops on tomorrow’s Group One, and it’ll be interesting to see if all 12 declared stand their ground. Harry Angel is currently favourite to add this to the July Cup he took at Newmarket, though clearly conditions will be completely different.

Clive Cox appears confident that the three-year-old will cope, and being out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare gives hope. He won the Mill Reef with plenty of cut in the ground last September, and his action suggests he’ll be fine. Nevertheless, he’d have been an even-money shot on quick ground, and as a punter we remain somewhat in the dark until he actually proves he can cope.

Brando has been popular with punters this week, and certainly impressed in France last time. He was no match for Harry Angel in the July Cup, though he did finish well for third. He is 4lb better off at the weights for that two-length defeat, and though the younger horse may well have strengthened further in the two months that have past, the weight differential is quite substantial in a sprint. Assuming there’s no repeat of the burst blood vessel that occurred at York in May (ground was again testing), he looks sure to go very close.

Tasleet won the race in May, coping admirably with the testing conditions to win impressively under Jim Crowley. Like Harry Angel, he too is out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare, and beat some decent horses that day, including Magical Memory, The Tin Man and Growl. He disappointed at Newmarket last time, but with both track and ground likely to be ideal, he looks a huge danger to the favourite. A strong pace will help him settle, and if Crowley can get the best from him, he could take all the beating.

As well as the favourite, Godolphin are represented by the talented Blue Point. Off the track since running a close third in the Commonwealth Cup, he also has to prove he can go on the ground. He’s by Shamardal, which gives some hope, but of the Godolphin pair I’d be siding with Harry to come out best, as he did at Royal Ascot when beaten by Caravaggio.

The Tin Man ran a cracker in this race 12 months ago, when runner-up to Quiet Reflection in similarly testing ground. Likely to be coming with a rattle late-on, he’s a tough fella to predict, and though it would come as no surprise should he win, he could just as easily finish down the field. He’s a 7/1 shot, and though that is tempting I’ll probably steer clear, hoping not to regret the decision.

A three-year-old filly won this race last year, and Richard Fahey hopes to follow suit with the beautifully bred Queen Kindly. She’s by Frankel, and her Mum Lady Of The Desert, was runner-up in this race back in 2010. She’ll certainly need to step-up on what she’s been doing so far this season, but I’ve seen her name mentioned in several places this week, and at 40s there’ll be plenty taking an each-way punt.

Three-year-olds have a strong recent record, with five victories from the last 10 renewals, and I’d give a mention for Aidan O’Brien’s Spirit Of Valor. With Caravaggio staying in Ireland, this fella looks to be Ballydoyle’s best hope, in a race the team have largely ignored over the years. The ground is undoubtedly a worry for this colt with an American pedigree, but he’s not without a chance, having run well this summer, especially when a close second in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. He showed plenty of speed that day, and if coping with conditions could run a big race at 33/1.

On decent ground I’d be with Harry Angel all day long. This track is ideal for him, and I fancy he would have demolished this field with a display of devastating speed. However, in testing conditions I’m going to take him on. Tasleet showed in May that he thrives in soft ground, and he’s the one for me. I’ll also risk a few quid each-way on Spirit Of Valor, though conditions are clearly a concern.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Rain to cause Sprint Cup Shuffle

Haydock hold the prestigious Sprint Cup on Saturday, and though a classy field is assembled, the weather is set to impact on the eventual line-up.

It’s a race that has been won by sprinting goliaths since its inception in 1966. Green Desert took this in 1986, along with the July Cup. He then became one of the most influential sprint stallions of the modern era, with offspring including Invincible Spirit and Oasis Dream.

Danehill was another terrific sprinter to capture the Haydock showpiece, before becoming an exceptional stallion. The list of high-class thoroughbreds sired by Danehill is endless, but includes; Danehill Dancer, Dylan Thomas, Duke of Marmalade, George Washington and Rock of Gibraltar.

A year after Danehill’s success, Haydock was treated to the devastating talent of Dayjur. The year was 1990, and Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s diminutive colt was simply irresistible. He won every sprint worth winning, including the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp. Dayjur is viewed by many as the greatest sprinter of them all.

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Dream Ahead was arguably one of the most outstanding recent winners of the Sprint Cup. Trained by David Simcock, the son of Diktat had a liking for testing conditions, and when he got his ground he was incredibly tough to beat. He defeated Bated Breath to win the July Cup at Newmarket, and defeated the same adversary in a thriller at Haydock. He then put in arguably his best performance to take the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, defeating the mighty Goldikova in the process.

This year’s Sprint Cup market is headed by the July Cup victor Harry Angel. Clive Cox appears adamant that rain will not dent the chances of his classy three-year-old. Speaking at a media gathering earlier this week, the trainer said: “He won on good to soft ground when he won the Mill Reef at Newbury last year. I wouldn't say there is doubt in him running as he has performed on a softer surface, I just obviously realised how potent he was on a drier surface.”

Cox added: “I think being by Dark Angel and with any sprinter, maturity means the potential is there for more improvement. He has grown up and even watching him this morning, he is enjoying the attention. I believe there is still more to come from the horse. It won't be up to me if he races next year, but I am just really enjoying this year. I think potentially he could get stronger.”

Rain may not deter Cox and Team Godolphin, but there’s no doubting that July Cup runner-up Limato would dodge a rematch if the rains come. “In an ideal world, he’d run on Saturday and then go on to the Foret,” said his trainer Henry Candy. He went on: “It would need to be genuine top of the ground for him to run.”

The Tin Man disappointed at Newmarket, but had previously run an absolute cracker to win the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot. James Fanshawe sounded hopeful rather than confident of a decent performance when saying: “At Newmarket he didn’t run so well, but he’s had a nice break since. He was second in this last year on very soft ground and we’re looking forward to taking him back.”

Money has come for Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Tasleet, who put in arguably a season’s best performance on soft ground at York, when winning the Group Two Duke Of York back in May. He appears to struggle on Newmarket’s undulations, and should be more suited to Haydock. A strong gallop would also aid his chances.

Brando was an impressive winner at Deauville last time, and Kevin Ryan’s five-year-old is second best in the betting behind Harry Angel. He has form on soft ground, though burst a blood vessel when disappointing at York behind Tasleet in May. Nevertheless, Ryan’s assistant and son Adam, sounded bullish earlier in the week when saying: “It sounds a bit daft but even though he's a five-year-old he's still improving. He hasn't had that many runs and he's quite a raw horse, and still on the upgrade. He's come out of the French race great and we couldn't be happier with him.”

He added: “It's a Group One and it's far from a two-horse race. But if Brando puts up the same sort of performance as he did in France he should be there or thereabouts.”

Ballydoyle’s Caravaggio was all the rage earlier in the campaign, but has disappointed since his stunning success in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. Though he holds an entry at Haydock, O’Brien has confirmed that he is more than likely heading to the Curragh the following day.

Flash Harry is not for catching

Too slick, and far too quick. It was Harry Angel’s time to shine at Newmarket on Saturday afternoon, as the Clive Cox trained ‘pocket-rocket’ stormed to victory in the Darley July Cup.

On a track that suits a speedier type, it was the Godolphin youngster that had the required ‘zip’ to fend off a classy looking field, and capture one of Europe’s most prestigious sprints. At the front end throughout, Adam Kirby set sail for home inside the two-furlong pole, and never looked likely to be caught. Limato threatened briefly, but always appeared held by the youngster, who was in receipt of a crucial 6lbs. Brando ran a cracker in third, whilst Caravaggio, sent-off the short-priced favourite, was never able to get within striking distance, and had to settle for a ‘staying-on’ fourth.

Clive Cox had won this race in 2013, with the wonderful Lethal Force. The handler was clearly thrilled to capture the prestigious event again, when saying of the youngster: “This is one of the best July Cups I’ve seen in my lifetime and I’m very proud of the horse and everyone at home. He’s become a man today. He was extremely well and a little bit fresh going into Ascot. It was an achievement that day to be beaten three-quarters of a length by Caravaggio and I'm very pleased we've taken his scalp today. With maturity, he's becoming the finished article and I think today was pretty special.”

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Kirby was understandably thrilled and certainly wasn’t holding back on the praise when adding: “He proved how good he is today and I’m delighted. He’s a machine, the best you will see for a long time - I truly believe that.”
The Sprint Cup at Haydock appears the next logical step for the winner. He was an emphatic winner at the track in May, and three-year-olds have a terrific record in the race, having captured four of the last six.

Time may prove that trying to give Harry Angel almost half a stone was an impossible task. I’m not yet convinced that Limato is quite as good as last year, though his runner-up finish left his jockey Harry Bentley in no doubt, when saying: “He has run a great race, a fantastic race. I am very happy with how everything went during the race. He picked up fantastic for me and has given me a wonderful feel. We have beaten some fantastic horses today and those who were on top at Royal Ascot (in the Diamond Jubilee) and we’ve managed to turn that around.

“I don’t think we could have done anything differently. If I had been told beforehand that was where I would be off that pace, I would have taken it every day of the week, so I am delighted. It was a slightly different race to last year. But he has given me that feel again that I got off him last year and at Chantilly. He feels back to his best. We can look forward to the future with him now – he is such a solid performer. There are options for him, but that will be up to the owner and trainer.”

For the previously undefeated Caravaggio, attention may now turn to France, and a slight step-up in trip. I remain convinced that O’Brien’s colt needs a stiff six furlongs or further. He was outpaced on Saturday, and by the time Ryan Moore had him rolling, it was all too late. Talking yesterday of the vanquished Caravaggio, O'Brien said: “He's good. I thought he ran very well. He ran a good race and we should be praising the winner Harry Angel as well as Clive, Adam and Sheikh Mohammed. It was one of those days, they are only flesh and blood and we'll look forward to him the next day.

“The lads will obviously decide what's next, but John (Magnier) was just saying that we might have a look at the Maurice de Gheest. He was just saying that to me this morning, but we'll see how he is after a week or 10 days. I think the Everest (in Australia) is still on the table.”

Whilst Newmarket’s July Cup proved to be a real thriller, over in Ireland John Gosden’s Enable was turning the Irish Oaks into a procession. Sensational at Epsom, the daughter of Nathaniel was no less impressive at the Curragh, and now looks a realistic Arc prospect. She cruised through the race, and when asked by Frankie Dettori to go through the gears, the response was electric. Speaking after the success, the Italian said: “She's amazing. She's got a good cruising speed for a stayer, she can quicken and she gets the distance really well. They're all the things you want. I was able to give my shoulder a rest in the last 100 yards and ease our way to the line. She felt great. As long as she travels, her well-being is good and she produces performances like that, we don't have to worry too much.”

Enable is currently available at 7/1 for the Arc, a race won by the fillies on five of the last six occasions.

Limato to be crowned King Of Speed

Saturday’s Darley July Cup could prove to be as good a sprint as we’ve witnessed in many a year.

Newmarket’s July Festival showpiece has attracted a stellar cast, and it appears to be Caravaggio that has landed the leading role. Ballydoyle’s undefeated three-year-old is said to be the fastest Aidan O’Brien has ever trained. And he arrives at Newmarket fresh from a stunning success at Royal Ascot in the Commonwealth Cup. That victory came against his own age group, but tomorrow he is to be tested against his elders.

There’s no doubting that Caravaggio has been impressive to date, and though appearing slightly outpaced during the race at Ascot, he was well on top when it mattered. He renews rivalry with Godolphin’s lightning quick Harry Angel, and may well find himself a few lengths adrift heading into the latter stages. The testing final furlong of the July course will certainly play to his strengths, as he looks to maintain his unblemished record. This race is usually run a couple of seconds quicker than the Royal Ascot six-furlong features. Caravaggio is a powerful finisher, but he’ll need to be in striking distance coming out of the dip, if he is to land the honours.

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Harry Angel is all about speed, and he’s likely to be at the head of affairs heading into the final stages. Much of the July course is downhill, and I can envisage the Clive Cox trained speedster holding a decent advantage as the field hit the rising ground. If Adam Kirby can steal enough of a lead, the youngster could take some pegging back.

The first three home in the Diamond Jubilee are set to take on the youngsters, and it was The Tin Man that came out on top at Ascot. James Fanshawe’s classy sprinter has a stunning finishing kick, and is likely to be played as late as possible by his jockey Tom Queally. He’s yet to run at Newmarket, though his trainer appears confident that he’ll handle the track. He’s another that will be coming hard and fast at the business end, and looks sure to go close.

He beat Tasleet by a neck at Ascot, and the pair look closely matched. He’s yet another who is sure to be coming home with a wet sail. Trained by William Haggas, Tasleet is a progressive four-year-old owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum. Connections won this race with Muhaarar in 2015, and this fella certainly looks to have the class to go close. He has quite a high knee action and is not averse to softer ground, and it would worry me that a drying surface may see him slightly outpaced when it matters. Nevertheless, he’s a leading contender, and remains open to further improvement.

Third home in the Diamond Jubilee last month was Limato. That looked a huge effort from a horse returning from a small injury. Henry Candy’s classy five-year-old took this race last year, and would be the first since the 1950s to achieve back to back victories. He needs quick ground to be at his best, and if getting his conditions, he’ll take all the beating. He was devastating last year, travelling powerfully through the race, before scuttling clear inside the last two furlongs. There’s no doubting that he stays further, but he has the natural speed to maintain a prominent position during what is likely to be a furious pace.

Trends point to a fancied runner winning the race, with five favourites successful in the last 10 renewals. Four-year-olds have a strong recent record, though plenty aged three and five have captured this prestigious event.
Caravaggio is the obvious choice, but his price is plenty short enough for me, and I worry that he’ll be outpaced and have too much ground to make up. I can see Harry Angel reversing the Commonwealth Cup placings on this track, but he remains vulnerable to a fast finisher. Limato is the classiest horse in the race, and he’s the one for me. Proven on the track, and with the tactical speed to keep tabs on the lightning quick Godolphin youngster, I see him forging clear late on.

It has all the hallmarks of a truly memorable renewal. Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Flash Harry can dash to Commonwealth Glory

Short on history, but huge on impact, the Commonwealth Cup has proved a major success at the Royal Meeting.

The Group One was introduced in 2015, and aimed at those classy three-year-olds that possessed plenty of speed, but perhaps not quite the stamina to see out a mile and thereby challenge for the St James’s Palace. It also ensured that these relatively inexperienced youngsters were not thrown in at the deep end, and forced into taking on their seniors in the Diamond Jubilee. Some argue that this has diminished the quality of the latter, though few three-year-olds had managed to capture the race in recent times, with Kingsgate Native and Art Connoisseur the only winners since the turn of the century.

Muhaarar won the inaugural running of the Commonwealth Cup for trainer Charlie Hills and owner Hamdan Al Maktoum. He’d finished down the field in the French Guineas, but back at six-furlongs proved a revelation. Limato and Profitable were left in his wake at Ascot in a stunning performance. He then went to Newmarket, and in a thrilling finish got up late to win the Darley July Cup. Next came a trip to France, and a stunning success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest, defeating Andre Fabre’s Esoterique. He completed a scintillating campaign with victory back at Ascot on Champions Day.

Last year’s Commonwealth winner, Quiet Reflection, also came from the top-drawer. She had proved far too good for a strong field in the Sandy Lane at Haydock, romping home by more than three lengths. Sent off favourite at Royal Ascot, she swept to the front inside the final furlong to defeat Kachy and Washington DC. She then ran with great credit in the Darley July Cup, finishing third to Limato on ground that was undoubtedly too quick for her. But arguably her finest performance came back at Haydock, when thumping a strong field in the Group One Sprint Cup. Over the top by the time Champions Day came around, she remains a top-class sprinter, especially with conditions to suit.

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And so to this year’s renewal, and what looks to be a thrilling clash between the ‘usual suspects’ of Godolphin and Ballydoyle.

Aidan O’Brien trains market leader, and thus far the undefeated Caravaggio. An outstanding juvenile, and impressive on seasonal debut at three, he looks to have all the attributes to become a top-class sprinter. He’s by American stallion Scat Daddy, which suggests ground conditions will prove ideal. His pedigree does hint at him being effective over further, though the team had Churchill pencilled in for the Classics at a mile. He’s a powerfully built colt, and was impressive in winning the Coventry Stakes last year, when forging clear late-on. He’ll be putting in his best work in the latter stages, and if close enough will take some holding.

Godolphin have a dynamic duo in opposition, in the shape of Blue Point and Harry Angel. The former was also a high-class juvenile, capturing the Group Two Gimcrack Stakes, and runner-up in both the Richmond and the Middle Park. He lost out to Churchill and Lancaster Bomber on his final start last year, when looking a non-stayer at seven furlongs. His return to action in May at Ascot was impressive, when staying on strongly to beat the Clive Cox trained Harry Angel. He was in receipt of 4lbs from the runner-up that day, and I fancy those placings will be reversed.

Harry Angel then went to Haydock, and like Quiet Reflection a year earlier, scorched his way to victory in the Sandy Lane in a lightning quick time. Purchased by Godolphin, he is likely to be the biggest danger to Caravaggio, and is quite possibly a speedier colt. He’s by Dark Angel, a source of numerous top-class sprinters including Mecca’s Angel, and Lethal Force. There’s no doubting his liking of fast ground, as proved at Haydock. I fancy he’ll be streaking ahead at some point, and it will then be a case of holding off a fast finishing Caravaggio.

Bound For Nowhere is Wes Ward’s representative, and it’s impossible to dismiss anything the American runs at Royal Ascot. He’s already sent-out a pair of winners this week, though this fella is a very inexperienced racehorse, and this looks a huge ask at this stage of his career. He has just two runs under his belt, his last coming in a three-runner affair at Keeneland. He’s clearly showing enough at home to warrant an entry, but his odds of 8/1 are based on the trainer’s name rather than on-course evidence.

One that could out-run his odds is Aidan O’Brien’s second-string Intelligence Cross. On all known form, he’ll probably come-up just short. But he’s a War Front colt, and as such will likely love the track, trip and ground. He ran well in the Middle Park as a juvenile, and was staying on strongly at Navan last time, proving his well-being. He’s been outpaced at times in the past, but I’d expect him to be finishing with a rattle, and he’s currently available at 33s.

It’s a cracking renewal, and I’ll be siding with Godolphin’s Harry Angel to hold off the fast finishing Ballydoyle pair for victory. Intelligence Cross has to be the each-way punt at 33/1. Best of luck to those having a punt.