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.
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.