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Mulholland Pair to Master Ayr

The transition from Jumps to Flat is now well underway, and this weekend we are treated to quality racing from both codes.

Ayr host the Scottish National on Saturday, whilst at Newbury Expert Eye makes his eagerly anticipated seasonal bow in the Group Three Greenham Stakes.

Vicente returns to Ayr searching for a third-straight win in the Scottish Grand National. The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old was set for a crack at Aintree but was withdrawn due to the testing conditions. With just three outings this winter, he should arrive fresh and ready for another huge performance. There’s no doubting the race suits, and he’s only 4lb higher in the handicap. He’s again partnered by Sam Twiston-Davies and it’s hard to imagine a finish without his involvement, though no horse has won with a rating higher than 146 in the past 10 years.

Vintage Clouds also missed out on an Aintree trip, missing the cut by one place. The eight-year-old has had a fine season, winning once and finishing in the top four from his five starts thus far. He was a gutsy fourth in the Welsh National, proving his ability to see-out these marathon trips. He was seventh here last year, though is a more mature and stronger horse this time around. His handicap mark has crept up to 141 (134 last year) and though he’s in off a nice race weight of 10-12 it would be wrong to say that he’s well-handicapped. I fancy he’ll go close, though he lacks gears and is always likely to find one or two with a little more zip at the business end.

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Doing Fine is towards the head of the betting, and providing the rain stays away, looks to have a great chance at the weights. Trained by Neil Mulholland, this 10-year-old has twice finished in the top four of the London National at Sandown. He’s another that’s sure to arrive fit and well having not been sighted since December. Like Vintage Clouds, he’s likely to get a little outpaced at some stage, but I can see him finishing with a rare old rattle. He looks sure to go close.

It’s hard to ignore Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell. Fresh from a successful Cheltenham Festival and a famous victory in the Grand National at Aintree, the pair are reunited, with novice chaser Fagan taking his chance. The eight-year-old has clearly had his health issues, with just five runs since his Albert Bartlett runner-up spot in 2016. Four outings over fences is hardly ideal when faced with 27 obstacles over a marathon four-mile trip, and his last run was way back in October. Taking on Elliott and Russell is a dangerous business, but I can’t see this fella winning.

Ballyoptic is a talented novice who arrives here following a creditable fourth place finish in the RSA at Cheltenham. The eight-year-old is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and looks the sort that will thrive over this marathon trip. His race mark of 149 is plenty high enough for this, though looks fair on what he has produced thus far. He lacks a little experience with just five outings over fences, though his preparation for this, as opposed to Fagan’s, has been a smooth one. He looks a leading contender.

The Young Master is another Mulholland entrant with a realistic chance. His handicap mark has dropped like a stone, and it seems incredible that at the age of nine (far from past it), he’ll run here off 132. A year ago he ran in the Grand National at Aintree off a mark of 150, and his last run at Cheltenham, following a wind-op, suggested he has much more to offer. Sam Waley-Cohen takes the ride, claiming 3lbs and bringing his race weight down to 10-0. He reminds me of the classy Wayward Prince, who won the race in 2015 having been similarly dropped by the handicapper.

The Young Master last won a chase in April 2016, when landing the bet365 off a handicap of 148. I can’t resist taking him to win this off 132, especially at odds of around 20/1. It could prove quite a day for Mulholland as I also fancy Doing Fine to go very close. However, despite having to carry 11-7, Vicente must be other Keeling punt. Twice a winner of this, he’s sure to go close again, and his odds of 9/1 make him a cracking each-way proposition.

Whilst the stayers slug it out in Scotland, Newbury play host to potential Classic contenders. Arguably the most exciting of these is Expert Eye trained by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Ryan Moore. Simply stunning in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last year, he then failed to spark in the Dewhurst at Newmarket. That run was too bad to be true, and Flat racing fans will be hoping for a return to form on his seasonal debut.

Hey Gaman could prove his toughest challenger, having looked a more than useful juvenile, finishing runner-up in the Group Two Champagne Stakes. He’s beautifully bred, being by New Approach out of a Dubawi mare and looks a real danger to the favourite.

The Fred Darling also looks a tasty renewal, with plenty of fillies hoping to put themselves in the 1000 Guineas picture. Gavota looks as exciting as any, and like Expert Eye, will carry the famous Khalid Abdullah silks. She performed well as a juvenile despite looking jus a shell of a horse. One would anticipate plenty of improvement from two to three, and a big performance here would not be surprising.

Classy Juveniles gather at Newmarket

The Arc meeting at Chantilly is understandably receiving the lion’s share of attention this week. Nevertheless, there’ll be plenty of interest in Newmarket over the coming days, as the Cambridgeshire meeting takes centre-stage.

On Friday the Group Two Rockfel Stakes is the headliner, and an event that has been won by numerous high-class juvenile fillies in its time. A handful have captured this and gone on to win the 1000 Guineas the following spring. Finsceal Beo was the last to do so, when completing the double in 2006 and 2007. Speciosa had achieved the same a year earlier. Other classy sorts to capture the valuable prize in recent years include Music Show, Just The Judge and Lucida.

The Roger Charlton-trained Gavota may prove the star attraction in this year’s renewal. An impressive winner at Lingfield last time, the daughter of Bated Breath is out of a Galileo mare, and clearly appreciated the step-up to seven-furlongs when romping home by six lengths. She carries those famous silks of Khalid Abdullah.

Mark Johnston’s Nyaleti sets the standard, having won a Group Three and finished prominent in a pair of Group Two’s. She does however, look a little exposed having run six times already this season. Nevertheless, it will take a classy filly to beat her.

Aidan O’Brien may run two, with Butterscotch looking to be his main hope. She was runner-up to Clemmie last time at the Curragh. Lightening Quick is another Irish challenger, though she is trained by Ger Lyons. This daughter of Frankel won a competitive maiden at Leopardstown on debut, though this is undoubtedly a much tougher proposition.

The Cambridgeshire Handicap takes place on Saturday, but again it’s the juveniles that will attract attention, with three prestigious renewals.

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The Cheveley Park Stakes always attracts talented fillies, and though it tends to uncover classy speedsters, it has occasionally been won by a future Guineas heroine. Special Duty was one such lady. She was yet another to sport those famous Khalid Abdullah silks, when winning impressively in 2009.

Clemmie looks likely to head the betting, and has looked high-class in winning her last two races, including the Group Two Duchess Of Cambridge at Newmarket back in July. She’s defeated Nyaleti and Butterscotch in those recent starts, both of whom are fancied to go well in the Rockfel on Friday.

This Cheveley looks a tasty renewal, with the Royal Ascot winner Different League among the contenders. Third in the Prix Morny last time, connections expect her to go well on a track that ought to suit. Her trainer Matthieu Palussiere said: “She will be my first runner at Newmarket. She ran very well in the Prix Morny and could easily have finished second. She’s a fine big, strong filly with a great nature and she looks a picture at the moment.”

Of the track, he added: “The Morny is run over an easy six furlongs, and I think that the stiffer course at Newmarket will be better for her. She handles most ground and if it came up soft it wouldn’t worry me.”

Heartache is arguably the quickest juvenile filly, and her trainer Clive Cox is hopeful that the six-furlong trip will not prove troublesome. He said: “She is in tremendous form. I think and hope that the step up to six furlongs in the Cheveley will be within her boundaries, especially if conditions on the Rowley Mile remain as they are now. She’s a very well-balanced filly, and I hope that she will handle the course well.”

Though the Cheveley Park looks a cracker, it’s the Group One Middle Park Stakes that could prove the race of the meeting. Sands Of Mali, Unfortunately and Sioux Nation are all vying for favouritism. The former was an impressive winner of the Gimcrack last time, comfortably accounting for last week’s Mill Reef runner-up Invincible Army.

The Karl Burke-trained Unfortunately won the Prix Morny at Deauville and prior to that took a Group Two at Maisons-Laffitte. Aidan O’Brien’s Sioux Nation held off Gordon Elliott’s Beckford to win the Group One Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last month. He’s by Scat Daddy out of an Oasis Dream mare, and will need the rain to stay away if he is to be seen at his best.

Elliott sends Beckford over the Irish Sea, and is hoping for a big performance from his talented sprinter. He said: “Beckford has come out of the National Stakes well. He didn’t get home over seven furlongs on a testing surface that day and this drop back to six on better ground should be in his favour. Newmarket is a proper racecourse and I don’t think he will have any problem handling its undulations.”

The trainer added: “It would be very nice to win a Group One on the flat but don’t worry, there is no chance that I will be switching my attention away from jump racing.”

The Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes forms part of Saturday’s supporting cast, and appears to be another potential cracker. Frankel famously took this as a juvenile, and Khalid Abdullah has a leading contender on Saturday. The wonderfully named Herculean is a son of Frankel and trained by Roger Charlton. He was a relatively comfortable winner at Ascot on debut, and many will be hoping he can emulate his famous father.

Charlton’s charge faces a Royal Lodge field stacked with talented juveniles. Godolphin’s Masar was an impressive winner of the Solario Stakes at Sandown earlier in the month. He’s bred to appreciate every yard of the one-mile trip. Ballydoyle’s Nelson is progressing at a rare old rate, and looked good at Leopardstown last time. He’s another from the Frankel conveyor belt.

Roaring Lion and Elarqam also look exciting prospects going into the race. The former is trained by John Gosden, whilst the latter is yet another son of Frankel out of the dual 1000 Guineas winning mare Attraction.

It looks sure to prove a thrilling and highly informative meeting, and act as the perfect appetiser, with the Arc to follow on Sunday.

Can Expert Eye Halt Ballydoyle Juggernaut?

Newmarket’s Dubai Future Champions Festival has created a fair amount of the news over the past few days.

On October 13 and 14, the juveniles take centre-stage with the Fillies’ Mile and Dewhurst Stakes, whilst the Cesarewitch is one of the season’s handicap highlights. Aidan O’Brien proved dominant 12 months ago, with Rhododendron taking the fillies event and Churchill landing the Group One for the juvenile colts.

Over the last three years Ballydoyle have captured five of the six contested Fillies’ and Dewhurst’s. Together Forever and Minding joined Rhododendron on the Fillies roll of honour, whilst Air Force Blue took the 2015 Dewhurst. O’Brien’s War Command also captured the juvenile colts feature in 2013.

Gustav Klimt and the impressive Champagne Stakes winner Seahenge, have Expert Eye to contend with if they are to maintain O’Brien’s outstanding record. Though the season’s most exciting juvenile, and main opposition, is still far from certain to line up. Ruled out of the National Stakes due to a dirty scope, the Dewhurst was then named as the likely target for next year’s Guineas favourite.

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Earlier this week, Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, said: “Expert Eye is in good shape now, he's coming back. He did a little bit of work on Saturday, nothing too strenuous, and Michael (Stoute) seemed happy with him. He's got to progress and please us in the next few weeks if he is going to make the Darley Dewhurst.”

He was simply sensational when winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood when last we saw him, and had Seahenge some seven lengths adrift on that occasion.

Happily, Magical, September and Clemmie dominate the betting for the Fillies’ Mile, with any of the quintet potentially capable of extending Ballydoyle’s dominance.

One that could prove to be the fly in the ointment, is the Karl Burke trained Laurens. She’s by the leading French stallion Siyouni, who’s responsible for several high-class milers including Ervedya, Le Brivido and Volta. She got up late to win the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster last week, and is a lovely big scopey filly. Size is not always an advantage at Newmarket of course, as how she copes with the infamous ‘dip’ before the final climb to the finish will prove vital.

Earlier in the week Burke spoke of his exciting juvenile: “We are pretty keen to run Laurens in the bet365 Fillies’ Mile but it will all depend on how she’s performing at the time, she has to be in top form – it is probably 70-30 in favour of her running at the moment. I am 100 per cent happy with how she has come out of the May Hill but she is just having a quiet week, then we will start building her up again.”

The Yorkshire trainer added: “It was a great performance by her in the May Hill as she won it despite the way the race was run. We wanted a good gallop for her, but instead there was a slow pace and she did very well to get her head in front. She is more of a long-term project than her Group-winning stablemates, she is a huge filly – in fact she was huge as a yearling – and she was always going to be a three-year-old type. That’s why we have taken our time with her and only given her three runs. I’m pretty sure that she can take one more but we don’t want to force her. She will be a mile and a quarter or even a mile and a half filly next season.”

Currently a 7/1 shot for the Newmarket event, the betting suggests that she is the only one capable of stopping the Ballydoyle juggernaut.

Yearning For York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acclamation – Rathbarry Stud Star Stallion

There’s been a fair amount of chat on social media in recent weeks surrounding the performance at stud of Frankel and Sea The Stars.

Still very much in their infancy as budding Stallion superstars, the attention they are attracting is understandable after such illustrious careers on the track. Galileo remains the ‘daddy’, but the likes of Frankel, Sea The Stars and Nathaniel are exciting recent additions to the bloodstock brigade.

Another Sire having a season to remember, is Rathbarry Stud inmate Acclamation. From their base in Co Cork, the Cashman’s house several outstanding stallions of both the Flat and National Hunt scene. Presenting and Robin Des Champs are standouts of the winter game, responsible for the likes of Vautour, Quevega, Denman and War Of Attrition.

Acclamation was formerly a high-class sprinter, placed in the Temple and the King’s Stand Stakes in 2003. Later that year he finished third to the exceptional Oasis Dream in the Nunthorpe at York, before ending his career on the track with a fourth-place finish in the Abbaye and a fifth-place spot in the Hong Kong Sprint.

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He has proved an exceptional sire for numerous years now, and it’s no surprise that the bulk of the success has come with sprinters. His list of winning progeny includes; Equiano, Dark Angel, Harbour Watch, Mehmas and Hitchens. With more race wins than any other sire in Europe during the 2016 campaign, his lofty stud fee of €30,000 is quite understandable.

He remains at the peak of his powers, continuing to be responsible for high-class thoroughbreds. Marsha was undoubtedly the flag-bearer in 2016, with several sparkling performances, culminating in a stunning success at Chantilly in the Prix de l’Abbaye. Sir Mark Prescott’s filly has retained that outstanding form during 2017, with a win and three placed finishes at the highest level. She looks sure to be competitive in a thrilling looking Nunthorpe Stakes at York later this month.

Daban is another filly with huge potential, and could have an exciting latter part of the campaign. Third in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she was arguably slightly disappointing when sixth in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. She’s a possible for the Hungerford at Newbury in a couple of weeks, and remains a filly with a bright future. Trained by John Gosden, it would come as no surprise should she head to America later in the year.

Without doubt the star-turn from the Acclamation bloodline this summer has been the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Expert Eye. Owned by Khalid Abdullah and sporting those famous Juddmonte silks, this exciting juvenile produced a stunning performance in winning the Group Two Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last week. He’s a powerful looking sort, blessed with plenty of speed and clearly ample stamina to be effective at seven-furlongs. He’s favourite for next year’s 2000 Guineas, and certainly has the potential of adding his name to the select list of Acclamation Group One winners.

Another who could finish the season strongly, especially with juice in the ground, is Martyn Meade’s Aclaim. The four-year-old ran a cracker in France over the weekend, when a close second to Brando in the Maurice De Gheest. He finished last season with three victories on the spin, and looks the type that thrives on his racing. Seven-furlongs appear his ideal trip, though a stiff six on soft ground would also suit. There’s a big race victory in him, I’m sure of it.

Finally a mention for a couple of juveniles that are creeping along nicely, and look set for further success as the campaign progresses. Regulator has a win and two seconds from three career starts. Trained by Richard Fahey, the Cheveley Park colt probably found Chester plenty sharp enough last time, and back on a more galloping track should again be visiting the winners’ enclosure.

I’d also keep faith with Ismail Mohammed’s Wasim, who proved disappointing last time at Doncaster. He was giving weight all-round that day, and had previously run a hugely promising race at Haydock. He finished ahead of Mutakatif on debut, and that horse had split Expert Eye and Barraquero in June. That form is strong, so keep an eye-out for Wasim over the coming months.

Personally, I’ll be keeping a watchful eye for any Acclamation youngsters, especially over trips from six-furlongs to a mile.

O’Brien and Gosden set for Classic Clash

A week of Derby and Oaks trials has left me just as puzzled with Epsom less than three weeks away.

One thing that is becoming clear, and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, is the power at the disposal of both Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden. Ballydoyle have been the dominant force for more than a decade, but there’s little doubt that Gosden, assisted by the outstanding Frankie Dettori, is launching a mighty challenge in an attempt to disrupt the status quo.

O’Brien has captured three of the last five Epsom Derby’s, and has an identical recent record in the Oaks. I’ve spoke of the Galileo production line in recent articles, and the Stallion’s hoof-print is again prominent in June’s Classic contenders.

Cliffs Of Moher took the Dee Stakes at Chester for Team Ballydoyle, battling on strongly to defeat the Charlie Appleby trained Bay Of Poets. He took some time to hit top gear, but was well on top at the post, and should be suited by the step-up in trip at Epsom. He’s currently second-favourite for the Derby, though O’Brien has a battalion to choose from.

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Venice Beach was another impressive winner, when landing the Chester Vase from stable companion Wings Of Eagles. Ryan Moore appeared impressed with the Colt, though his price of 20/1 for the Epsom feature, suggests he may be down the stable pecking order. Nevertheless, he proved he stays the trip and coped well with Chester’s tight turning track, giving hope that he’ll adapt well to Epsom.

The yard also has the 2000 Guineas winner heading the market for The Derby. We remain in the dark as to whether Churchill will take his chance, and a team meeting in the next week to 10 days is likely to provide further clues.

The Dante Stakes at York later this week, will give connections further food for thought, with more names thrown into the Epsom melting pot. It’s likely that O’Brien will send plenty to contest a race that he’s surprisingly not won since 2010.

O’Brien’s loss has proved to be John Gosden’s gain in recent times. Golden Horn won the Dante in 2015 prior to his Derby success. Last year it was Wings Of Desire that got the better of O’Brien’s Deauville in a thrilling finish.
The Newmarket trainer has a leading contender for Thursday’s renewal, with the Epsom Derby third- favourite Cracksman. The son of Frankel took the Epsom Derby Trial in April, getting the better of Permian and Bay Of Poets.

That form appears to put him on a par with Cliffs Of Moher, but this fella only has two career starts to his name, and ought to improve plenty for his last outing. Owner Anthony Oppenheimer will be hoping the three-year-old can emulate Golden Horn, in winning this before heading to The Downs in June.

Thursday’s race will also see the third career start for Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean. Punters have been clambering to get on this son of Sea The Stars, and his Derby price has plummeted. In April he won a maiden at Nottingham, and the runner-up has since franked the form. This is a huge step-up in class, though he looked mightily impressive last time, and is certainly being guided by the right man.

A Gosden/O’Brien duel may also be on the cards in the Oaks. Rhododendron heads the market for Ballydoyle, but Enable proved an impressive winner of the Cheshire Oaks last week, and Gosden sees her as his most likely Epsom Classic challenger. She’s by Nathaniel out of a Sadler’s Wells mare, and looks a class act.

He also has the potentially high-class filly Shutter Speed, again owned by Khalid Abdullah, but with a pedigree that suggests the Epsom trip could take some getting. She’s due to run in the Musidora on Wednesday, with connections then having to decide on who heads to Epsom.

Much has yet to be determined, and hopefully things will become a little clearer following the Dante Meeting at York. The one certainty is the strength in depth at both O’Brien’s yard and that of John Gosden. Moore versus Dettori is a cracking sub-plot as the next Classics draw ever closer.

Juddmonte Hope For Midterm Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deauville test for Arc hope New Bay

French Derby winner New Bay

French Derby winner New Bay

There’ll be plenty of interest in Newbury’s race card on Saturday with the Group 2 Betfred Hungerford Stakes and the Group 3 Betfred Geoffrey Freer the highlights. York’s Ebor meeting is also on the horizon with the potential clash of the summer between Gleneagles and Golden Horn.

However, for today’s piece I’d like to focus on action in France. Just a week ago Muhaarar was thrilling fans over the channel at Deauville when winning the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Without doubt the summer’s number one sprinter looks to have earned himself a break, before a likely return in October’s Champions Day meeting at Ascot.

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This weekend the French track hosts more high-class action, with a three day meeting which includes the Group 1 Prix Jacques Le Marois on Sunday. Andre Fabre’s Territories is a short priced favourite in an international field which could include Toormore and Estidhkaar. On Saturday attention turns to the potential French stars of the middle-distance. We are likely to see movement in the Arc market as Andre Fabre’s New Bay takes on his stable companion Ampere.

Ground is set to be quite testing this weekend, and there’s every possibility that this could be replicated in October’s Arc. Fabre and owner Khalid Abdullah have decided to keep New Bay to his own age group for the Prix Guillaume d'Ornano, which is run over 1m2f. The trainer said: “He will run in Deauville and he can act on any ground. ”

Beaten in the French Guineas when probably given a little too much to do, New Bay then swept passed the whole field to win the Prix Du Jockey Club at the end of May. A clash with Golden Horn in the Coral-Eclipse appeared on the cards, but Fabre feared a trip in the heat and the quick ground at Sandown would prove to be against his colt.
Both trainer and owner have a strong record in the Arc, though their last success together was back in 2006 with Rail Link. Khalid Abdullah has won the race twice in the last nine years. Workforce, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, took the event in 2010. Tomorrow’s event looks to have enough quality to test New Bay’s credentials as a serious Arc prospect.

His main challenge is likely to come from stable companion Ampere. He was beaten by the impressive Erupt in last month’s Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris. He didn’t get the clearest of runs that day, and though the winner did it well, Ampere remains very lightly raced and open to plenty of improvement. Storm The Stars was back in third that day, and he sets a decent standard.

Dariyan has also seen the back-end of Erupt this summer, when fourth in the Group 3 Prix du Lys Longines at Chantilly. He has since taken a Group 2 at Maisons-Laffitte, giving the form some credence. The Aga Khan’s colt is not without a chance on Saturday, but should find Fabre’s pair a little too classy.

Treve remains the favourite for the Arc in October with the aforementioned Erupt the other leading French challenger. With Golden Horn’s participation questionable, a strong performance from one of Fabre’s colts tomorrow should see them take high order in the market for Europe’s leading middle-distance event.

Golden Horn set for King George Glory

The Mighty Golden Horn

The Mighty Golden Horn

Taghrooda stormed to victory last year and Novellist won in similarly stunning fashion a year earlier.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was first run in 1951 and has gone to some of the greats of the sport. In a magical period during the 1970’s the illustrious roll of honour included Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Grundy, The Minstrel and Troy.

Shergar, Dancing Brave and Nashwan took the race in the 80’s. In the 1990’s Lammtarra, Swain and Daylami played starring roles, and in more recent times Montjeu, Galileo, Hurricane Run, Dylan Thomas and Danedream added their names to the dazzling winners list.

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For many, the King George and the Arc remain the most prestigious middle-distance events of the Flat racing calendar. Winners from France, Germany, Ireland and the UK give the event an international feel which only adds to its lofty reputation.

Spice is further added to the mix with the opportunity of seeing the season’s top three-year-olds again taking on their elders. Four-year-olds have the upper hand in recent years though two of the last four renewals have gone to the youngsters.

This Saturday’s running is set to be as thrilling as ever, with the Derby winner Golden Horn again stepping into the arena. His stunning victory in last month’s Coral-Eclipse sent his BHA rating into the stratosphere. He remains undefeated, and the style of those victories has been truly eye-catching. He had to battle hard to win the Eclipse, but showed he possesses the resilience to go with his undoubted class.

At the weekend he will face challengers from Italy, France and the UK. Stefano Botti is set to send Dylan Mouth over from Italy. Ribot became the only Italian winner of the race when thrashing the opposition in 1956. Twice a winner of the Arc, he remained undefeated in 16 career starts and is rated by many as one of the all-time greats.

Andre Fabre runs the classy and ultra-consistent Flintshire. Second to Treve last time in France he is sure to run a huge race. Teddy Grimthorpe, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s racing manager, said on Monday: “We were a bit disappointed to say the least with Flintshire in the Coronation Cup. He didn’t really seem to spark at all, but he came back and ran a really good race in the Grand Prix de St Cloud and gave Treve a little bit of a fright. His form with Treve is probably superior to anything in Europe of the older horse brigade and now we’ll see the mettle of a very, very good Derby winner.”

Sir Michael Stoute’s Snow Sky has been supplemented for the race and also runs in the famous silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah. Grimthorpe appeared optimistic when saying: “He is slightly different. He ran a super race in the St Leger last year and he’s progressed through this year nicely.” Of his win in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot he added: “You can make the odd excuse but for me, he had them fairly stone cold on the turn coming into the straight. He certainly deserves a crack at a Group One and this fits perfectly into his schedule.”

It’s set to be another glorious renewal of one of the sport’s greatest races. History tells us that class usually shines through in this Ascot showpiece. It would come as a major surprise if Saturday’s race proved an exception to this ‘Golden’ rule.

Sir Michael Stoute – Strong Royal Ascot Challenge Expected

Sir Michael Stoute

Sir Michael Stoute

He may have started the season rather slowly but expect a change of gear when Sir Michael Stoute and his team arrive at Royal Ascot next week.

With four winners at last year’s royal meeting and three in 2013, the great man had one of his finest training moments when saddling the Queen’s horse Estimate to take the 2013 Gold Cup.

Born in Barbados soon after the end of the Second World War, he arrived in the UK in 1964 at the age of 19. He began training on his own in 1972 and has tasted success throughout the globe. A multiple winner of the Classics, he has been Champion Trainer ten times. Sir Michael Stoute is undoubtedly Flat racing royalty.

It’s fair to say that Freemason Lodge Stables have a habit of producing high-class middle distance performers. Over the years Stoute has sent out some of the greats at around a mile and a half, including such stars as Shergar, Singspiel, Pilsudski, Kalanisi, North Light, Harbinger and Workforce. It’s a dazzling list of names and last June’s Royal Ascot winners went some way to confirming this particular niche of success.

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Arab Spring took the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes in taking fashion and has already stepped up a level this spring by winning the Group 3 John Porter Stakes. Cannock Chase was an impressive winner of the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes 12 months ago, and though he’s tasted defeat in his two outings this term, he still looks a horse worth following. He has won or been placed in all six career starts.

The headliner last June was undoubtedly Telescope, when he stormed to victory in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. At his very best on a sound surface, he is yet to capture that elusive Group 1, though it took a stunning performance from the wonderful filly Taghrooda to deny him in last year’s King George.

All three are set to run next week, with Telescope the most fancied of Sir Michael’s runners. He will take some beating in the Hardwicke, though the trainer could have several others in the race. The aforementioned Arab Spring is entered, as are Hillstar, Gospel Choir and Snow Sky. All are established Group performers and more than capable of running into a place.

Cannock Chase looks likely to contest the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, though he’ll need an exceptional performance to take a hand in what looks a strong renewal. It’s not a race that Stoute has a particularly great record in, though he did take it in 1991 with Stagecraft and in ’81 with Hard Fought.

The trainer does have another short-priced favourite for the meeting in his classy mare Integral. She looks set to take her place in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, a race she won last year. She will carry a penalty, but does look the most likely winner. She couldn’t quite cope with the colts in the Lockinge last time, and this looks the sensible option.

Stoute will be double-handed in the event with Khalid Abdullah’s Bragging set to take her chance. She took the Group 2 Dahlia Stakes in May, but then disappointed at York when stepped-up in trip. Top Irish jockey Pat Smullen takes the ride.

Consort is another notable runner for the Newmarket trainer, and is fancied to run a huge race in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Not quite ready in time for a tilt at the Guineas, he was impressive against lesser opposition at Sandown a few weeks back. Coming off a strong pace could really suit this son of Lope De Vega, and though he’ll do well to beat the likes of Gleneagles and Make Believe, he should be storming home at the finish.

There could be others capable of enhancing Stoute’s Royal Ascot record. Dissolution is interesting in the King Edward VII Stakes, a race the trainer took with Hillstar in 2013. The son of New Approach is out of a Kingmambo mare and could well improve for this step up in trip. If Sympathy was to take up her entry in the Coronation Stakes, it would surely be some statement from the trainer. She has yet to run this season and has only had two career starts. You could certainly assume that she’s been showing plenty at home.

Once again Sir Michael Stoute’s team looks a strong one. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to have another stunning Royal Ascot. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

Dominant Fabre takes French Derby with New Bay

Andre Fabre's New Bay

Andre Fabre's New Bay

New Bay swept to victory in the Prix Du Jockey Club at Chantilly, making this a spring to remember for trainer Andre Fabre.

He now has three outstanding colts capable of winning major prizes throughout the summer, having already taken the French Guineas with Make Believe and saddled the runner-up in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket with Territories.

New Bay had shown great promise when second to his stable companion in the Guineas at Longchamp earlier in the month. This step-up in trip appeared to suit as he powered from virtual last to first in the home straight. Aiden O’Brien’s Highland Reel showed great improvement to come home second.

After the race, owner Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said of the winner: “Again he has shown that really good turn of foot which would encourage us to think he might stay a mile and a half as well. He is still an inexperienced horse and he has proved today he is a class above. We will have to see but the Arc will have to come into the equation, which is nice.”

For the winning handler, this was another wonderful victory at his local track. Andre Fabre is based at Chantilly and has been one of Europe’s outstanding trainers for more than 30 years. He was born in Spain, the son of a diplomat, and started his career in racing as a jump jockey, winning more than 250 races including the Grand Steeplechase de Paris in 1977. In the same year he obtained his training licence and soon established himself as a dominant force in French jump racing.

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Fabre also enjoyed success with a small string on the flat, notably in 1982 when winning the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan with Al Nasr. In 1983 Andre Fabre’s training career stepped up a level when the Rothschild family chose him to take over the care of their Flat horses following the death of legendary handler Francois Mathet.

The success that followed caught the attention of Sheikh Mohammed, one of the driving forces behind the Godolphin operation. The pair began one of the great partnerships that would bring a host of major victories. Soviet Star set the ball rolling when winning the Prix de la Foret in 1987. It was the year that Fabre took his first French trainers' crown, a title he would win for 21 consecutive years until 2007.

The son of Nureyev also made successful raids to Britain, winning the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood and the following year taking the Group One Darley July Cup at Newmarket. He then defeated the superstar filly Miesque to win the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp.

Whilst Soviet Star rattled off Group 1’s in Britain and France, Fabre was also training Mill Native to win the Arlington Million at Woodbine. Now very much an international success, the flow of major prizes in Europe and the States continued through the late 80’s into the 90’s.

Fabre and Sheikh Mohammed were at it again when In The Wings took the Coronation Cup at Epsom, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and then the Breeders’ Cup Turf in America during a stunning campaign in 1990.

Subotica became the next star for Fabre and his team. Second to Suave Dancer in the Prix du Jockey Club of 1991, he then took the Grand Prix de Paris and the Prix Niel before illness caused him to miss the Arc. However, just 12 months later he returned to Longchamp to take Europe’s greatest middle-distance event.

Zafonic became another stable hero when ridden by Pat Eddery to take the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1993 for owner Khalid Abdullah. In a sensational 1994 Fabre appeared to win virtually every Group race going, concluding the year with wins for Pennekamp in the Dewhurst Stakes, Carnegie in the Arc and Raintrap travelling to America to take the Rothmans International. Pennekamp returned to Britain the following spring for a scintillating victory over Celtic Swing in the 2,000 Guineas.

The likes of Swain, Peintre Celebre and Sagamix continued the French trainer’s monopoly of major prizes, though the former moved to Godolphin. Dansili, Valixir, Hurricane Run and Shirocco are just several of the stars that have shone for the great French trainer in relatively recent times.

In 2008 Sheikh Mohammed purchased Fabre’s main yard in Chantilly and became the principal owner in the process. The following year the trainer sent out his first runner in the beige silks of Godolphin France, when Mojave Moon came second in the Group Two Darley Prix Kergorlay at Deauville.

Cavalryman had already won the Grand Prix de Paris before becoming Andre Fabre’s first winner for Godolphin, when scoring in the Group 2 Prix Niel at Longchamp in 2009. The colt then ran a terrific race the following month to take third in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe behind the mighty Sea The Stars.

Fabre registered a 22nd French trainers’ championship in 2010, and gained a 23rd in 2011, the year he finally trained the Epsom Derby winner when Pour Moi swooped late for success under a famous ride from the young Mickael Barzalona.

Miss France brought further British success when winning the 1,000 Guineas in 2014, whilst Flintshire struck on the World stage when taking the Hong Kong Vase. This latest classic, adding to the earlier impressive French 2000 Guineas success of Make Believe, confirms that Fabre’s dominance shows no sign of waning.

No doubt a raid on Royal Ascot is next on the agenda, with the St James's Palace Stakes high on the list. It’s possible that both Make Believe and Territories could travel over to take on O’Brien’s Gleneagles. One thing is for sure; France’s leading trainer is set for another sensational season, taking many of the major prizes along the way.

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