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Palace Pier preps for Lockinge date with Sandown outing

Palace Pier is the star attraction in the bet365 Mile at Sandown on Friday.

A dual winner at the Esher venue as a juvenile, the Kingman colt made his mark at the highest level last season with Group One victories in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville.

He met with defeat for the first time when only third behind French ace The Revenant on his final start of 2020 in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, but will be widely expected to make a successful return to action for the father-son team of John and Thady Gosden.

Thady Gosden said: “The plan was to go straight to the Lockinge (at Newbury), but we have decided to give Palace Pier a run at Sandown as he seems quite fresh at home.

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“He started life off last season in a handicap at Newcastle and ended up winning two Group Ones, so he did well throughout the season, but he had previously shown some good form as a juvenile.

“He lost a shoe coming out of the gate at Ascot on Champions Day. Although he had won on soft ground, the ground at Ascot was bottomless and it was a bit too deep – finishing third was a credit to him.

“He has been working nicely, he appears to be enjoying himself and seems to have improved from three to four.

“I’m sure there will be some nice three-year-old milers emerge, but hopefully he can be among the best of the older ones.”

Palace Pier’s biggest threat appears to be the Roger Varian-trained Khuzaam.

A gelding operation during the off-season appears to have done the trick for the five-year-old, who was thoroughly impressive on All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield three weeks ago.

Angus Gold, racing manager for the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell operation, said: “Taking on Palace Pier is certainly no easy task, but it will tell us where we are with the horse.

“He’s gone the right way. We gelded him at the end of last year and he has come out and won well twice.

Khuzaam on his way to victory at Lingfield
Khuzaam on his way to victory at Lingfield (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We want to see where he fits in by running him on Friday.”

Andrew Balding’s Happy Power, who won in Group Three and Group Two company last term, steps up in distance after finishing ninth in the Qipco British Champions Sprint when last seen.

David Simcock’s Bless Him completes the line-up.

Palace Pier returns on star-studded Sandown card

Palace Pier is the star attraction on what promises to be a fascinating afternoon at Sandown on Friday.

The Kingman colt was unbeaten in his first five starts for John Gosden, including Group One triumphs in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville last summer.

Palace Pier tasted defeat for the first time when rounding off his campaign with a third placed finish behind French star The Revenant in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October, but will be a hot favourite to make a successful return under Frankie Dettori.

His three rivals in the Group Two bet365 Mile include the Roger Varian-trained Khuzaam, who ran out an emphatic winner on All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield three weeks ago.

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The quartet is completed by Andrew Balding’s Happy Power and Bless Him from David Simcock’s yard.

The first of three Pattern races on the card is the Group Three bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes, for which seven horses have been declared.

Gosden, who now trains in partnership with his son Thady, again has a leading contender in the form of Waldkonig. The one-time Classic hope steps up in class after making a winning reappearance in a Pontefract handicap earlier in the month.

Sir Michael Stoute saddles Highest Ground, who beat Waldkonig in a novice event at Haydock last season, before finishing second when odds-on for the rescheduled Dante Stakes at York. He disappointed on his final start of 2020 in the Darley Stakes at Newmarket.

Thunderous after winning the Dante Stakes at York
Thunderous after winning the Dante Stakes at York (Dan Abraham/PA)

Mark Johnston’s Thunderous makes his first appearance since winning the Dante in July, while Hollie Doyle’s mount Extra Elusive – trained by Roger Charlton – returns to turf action after finishing well beaten but on dirt in February’s Saudi Cup.

Desert Encounter (Simcock), Hukum (Owen Burrows) and Winter Reprise (David Menuisier) are the other hopefuls.

Yibir and Adayar give Charlie Appleby a strong hand in the Group Three bet365 Classic Trial.

The Godolphin handler has made a flying start to the season with his three-year-olds and will be hoping one or both of this pair can throw their hat into the ring for the Derby at Epsom in early June.

Yibir is one of two Charlie Appleby-trained runners in the Classic Trial
Yibir is one of two Charlie Appleby-trained runners in the Classic Trial (Megan Ridgewell/PA)

William Buick is aboard Yibir, who won a conditions race at Newbury when last seen in September, with James Doyle taking the ride on runaway Nottingham maiden winner Adayar.

Trawlerman is a third Godolphin representative, trained by the Gosden team.

Martyn Meade will have high hopes for Lone Eagle, who won three of his four starts as a juvenile including the Group Three Zetland Stakes, while Irish hopes are carried by Aidan O’Brien’s Sir Lucan.

Recovery Run (Balding), Etonian (Richard Hannon) and Belloccio (Menuisier) also feature in what should be prove an informative affair.

Palace Pier tops Sandown hopefuls

Palace Pier is the star name among eight entries for the bet365 Mile at Sandown.

The four-year-old, who represents John and Thady Gosden, won his first five starts – including the St James’s Palace Stakes and Prix Jacques Le Marois – before meeting with his only defeat to date when third behind The Revenant in the QEII Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot.

Palace Pier boasts a rating of 125, which puts him 9lb ahead of the next best in Friday’s Group Two – Roger Varian’s All-Weather Mile Championships winner Khuzaam and John Quinn’s Safe Voyage, who was last seen at the Breeders’ Cup meeting.

The Group Three bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes has drawn nine possibles on the same card, including the Gosdens’ one-time Classic hope Waldkonig – who returned to winning form at Pontefract this month.

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Dante first and second, Thunderous and Highest Ground, could renew rivalry for Mark Johnston and Sir Michael Stoute respectively – while St Leger fifth Hukum and Saudi Cup also-ran Extra Elusive also feature.

The bet365 Classic Trial is Friday’s other Group Three and has 20 contenders, headed by Zetland Stakes winner Lone Eagle for Martyn Meade.

Trawlerman and Uncle Bryn feature for the Gosden team – while Charlie Appleby has three possibles in nine-length Nottingham winner Adayar, Yibir and Wirko.

David Menuisier is also planning to unleash Belloccio, who is unbeaten in two starts but unlikely to take up his Qipco 2000 Guineas entry next month.

The Sussex trainer said: “He won’t be running in the Guineas – we’ll give him a French Derby trial instead.

“He’s going to Sandown for the Classic Trial, then we might look at a French Derby trial next month or the Dante, if he shows he’s good enough.

“His form last year was good. He won at Salisbury, and the second (Aleas) has won twice since and the third (Mohaafeth) won at Newmarket earlier in the week.

“Then he won a Listed race at Toulouse, and the placed horses there had some nice form too. He’s a nice horse, but I think a mile would be too short for him now, so we’ll move up to 10 furlongs.”

Aidan O’Brien has Hector De Maris and Sir Lucan in the mix, with Joseph O’Brien entering Southern Lights and Isle Of Sark.

Etonian would be a notable contender for Richard Hannon after winning the Solario Stakes at the track last term, while Johnston’s dual all-weather winner Sea The Shells and Hugo Palmer’s Irish Legend are so far unbeaten.

Gosden bids fond farewell to magnificent Enable

John Gosden and his staff at Clarehaven waved goodbye to Enable for the final time on Thursday, as the great mare left for her new home at Banstead Manor Stud.

It had already been announced the dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner will be covered by Kingman, also owned by Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms operation.

The daughter of Nathaniel was retired last week, with connections resisting the temptation for one last hurrah at Ascot or at the Breeders’ Cup after the brilliant mare was bogged down by heavy ground bidding for a third Arc win.

Enable won the King George at Ascot for the third time in July
Enable won the King George at Ascot for the third time in July (Bill Selwyn/PA)

“Enable goes to the stud today, she’s just had a wind down after the Arc and actually it’s very pleasurable as she’s leaving happy and sound, very full of herself and very contented,” Gosden told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

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“It’s wonderful to have had all that racing at two, three, four, five and six and retire her sound. Mr (Frankie) Dettori was here, popped the silks on and sat on her, like the old pictures we have in the yard.

“The ones you really love are the ones that try, give everything and want to work with you. She was the most fantastic filly for her sheer appetite and joy for training.

“It’s like working with people, when you have someone with a positive mindset it makes it more pleasurable.”

He went on: “Of course, she had an international following so I will probably sleep a little better now she’s gone as the weight of responsibility will be lessened somewhat.

“In a sense there was a bit of relief when the decision was made to retire her. We all know what happened in France, that’s life, there had been talk of Ascot but looking at the ground I’m glad we ruled that one out.

“The other option was to go to Kentucky, she’s won a Breeders’ Cup but Churchill has a longer stretch than Keeneland which suits her style of running, so while she is in great nick, we decided we’re not going to go any more.”

Palace Pier lost his unbeaten record on Champions Day
Palace Pier lost his unbeaten record on Champions Day (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Gosden endured a rare blank on Qipco Champions Day, which in part he put down to the testing conditions, but four of his beaten stars will be back for more next year.

“Palace Pier pulled a shoe off leaving the stalls and was quite sore, he hasn’t been ridden since. He probably did very well to finish third, but he’ll be all right for next year,” said Gosden.

“Mishriff will come back as well, he found the ground too deep. Lord North will hopefully be back and the great Stradivarius will try to win a fourth Gold Cup.”

Gosden also mooted his possible Breeders’ Cup squad.

He said: “At the moment we’re considering Lord North for the Turf, he hated the ground at Ascot. We have Terebellum, who didn’t run at Ascot thank goodness, she could go for the Filly & Mare and we’re also looking at that for Mehdaayih, who actually ricked her back in the Prince of Wales’s so has only had one run since.”

Palace Pier seeks crowning moment in QEII

Palace Pier bids to crown a perfect year by taking his unblemished record to six in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, sponsored by Qipco, at Ascot.

Group One triumphs in the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Prix Jacques le Marois have set the Kingman colt up as the champion miler in Europe.

Trainer John Gosden’s patience with the late developer has reaped dividends with a meteoric rise – and Saturday’s QEII is the final piece in this season’s jigsaw.

“We’ve planned this race since the Jacques le Marois, and he is coming into the race fresh and well. We’ve been happy with him in his pre-race preparation,” said Gosden.

“He ran well on the round mile in June – this is on the straight mile. It is different ground to the one he had in Deauville, but we have been pleased with the horse coming into the race.

“It was hard to judge if his run in Deauville was better than his Royal Ascot run, given the ground. He was impressive at Deauville, but I thought he was impressive at Royal Ascot because he came strongly on the bridle, and I think Frankie (Dettori) had a good hold of him at the end to win in good style.

“He would have been a Guineas horse, but we weren’t able to have a prep in the Greenham, so I went to Plan B. I wasn’t prepared to run him first time up in the Guineas, having missed last autumn, because we had planned to run him in the Lagardere on Arc day.”

Gosden also saddles the Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Nazeef, who has had a terrific season with Group One victories in the Falmouth and Sun Chariot Stakes.

“She has improved remarkably this year,” he said.

“She is a very good filly with a great attitude that won well the other day. She handles the slower ground.

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“She is a course-and-distance winner, and the owner felt she had every reason to be in the race. I think this is probably a better option than America (Breeders’ Cup) for her, and I’d say that is now unlikely for her.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s other runner, Molatham, has stamina doubts to overcome.

Racing manager Angus Gold said: “We think he handles easy ground.

“Whether he stays the trip has different opinions, but I think he will.”

Circus Maximus was beaten five and three-quarter lengths when third to Palace Pier in the Marois, but some of his best performances have come at Ascot.

Circus Maximus (right) has won the Queen Anne Stakes over Ascot's straight mile
Circus Maximus (right) has won the Queen Anne Stakes over Ascot’s straight mile (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Trainer Aidan O’Brien is hoping Circus Maximus’ love for the track will stand him in good stead.

“He won the St James’s Palace and the Queen Anne there, so he does love Ascot,” said the Ballydoyle handler.

“He’s a very hardy, tough horse who loves a strongly-run mile, which is what he usually gets at Ascot.

“The Jacques le Marois was a very strongly-run race – and we were forward, whereas Palace Pier was taking his time. The ground was very deep as well – and Deauville is a Flat track, while Ascot is stiffer.

“We’re very happy with the horse and we’re looking forward to the race.”

Royal Dornoch and Lancaster House complete O’Brien’s three-pronged attack.

The Revenant was runner-up 12 months ago and made a belated return to action when repeating last year’s win in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein at ParisLongchamp.

“He has had no physical issues since last year,” said trainer Francis Henri Graffard.

“I had him ready to run at the beginning of the season; then lockdown came, and we had no idea how long it would last and feared that it would force him to run on summer ground that he does not like.

“We decided to turn him out and wait until the autumn. He came back in July to allow us to get him ready for this race and the Wildenstein.

“The Revenant has come out of his Prix Daniel Wildenstein victory very well. He needed the race badly, so he will come on a lot.

“The softer the ground the better for him. Last year it was very soft, which helped us. It would be great if he runs a similar race – and, with humility, I see Palace Pier as the one to beat, and if we were placed again it would be a very good performance.”

Jockey James Doyle expects Century Dream to run a decent race
Century Dream will appreciate the soft ground (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Century Dream outran his odds of 25-1 when third to Roaring Lion in this race two years ago.

Simon and Ed Crisford’s six-year-old will be ridden by James Doyle, who said: “The more rain the better for him – he’s run well in the race before a couple of years ago when he wasn’t beaten far by Roaring Lion.

“He’s in good shape himself, he’s been running well this season and won nicely at Goodwood when he got his preferred surface.”

Trainer David O’Meara is happy with Lord Glitters
Trainer David O’Meara is happy with Lord Glitters (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Lord Glitters has good course form, having won the Queen Anne in 2019, but has finished behind Century Dream in the last two renewals of this race.

David O’Meara reports the grey to be all the better for his run behind Addeybb at Ayr.

“We were happy with his run at Ayr, when he probably took too long getting out but flew home,” he said.

“It’s a very hot QEII, but Ascot suits him and hopefully he can end up in the prize-money.”

Palace Pier puts unbeaten record on line in QEII

Palace Pier will face 13 rivals as he bids to maintain his unbeaten record in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Qipco British Champions Day.

John Gosden’s lightly-raced colt stepped up from winning a handicap at Newcastle soon after racing’s resumption in June to winning the St James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting.

He then travelled to France to beat Europe’s best milers in the Prix Jacques le Marois and is an odds-on favourite to take his record to six from six.

Gosden also runs the filly Nazeef – who has been a star for connections this season, winning at Royal Ascot and also at the highest level in the Falmouth and Sun Chariot Stakes.

Palace Pier’s main rival could be last year’s runner-up The Revenant, who only made his seasonal reappearance at the recent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting when winning the Prix Daniel Wildenstein for a second time.

He found only King Of Change a length and a quarter too good 12 months ago, and will once again have the soft ground he so loves.

Aidan O’Brien runs Circus Maximus, the ultra-consistent four-year-old, but he has plenty of ground to make up on the favourite from their run in France two months ago.

O’Brien will also be represented by Lancaster House and Royal Dornoch.

Century Dream will run in the race for a third time, having finished third two years ago and seventh last year, while Lord Glitters will also be making his third appearance in the race.

Dark Vision, Escobar, Roseman, Sir Busker, Molatham and Sir Michael Stoute’s Veracious, last year’s Falmouth winner, complete the list.

There was no sign of Benbatl in either this race or the Champion Stakes, for Saeed bin Suroor.

Palace Pier goes through his paces at Newmarket

Palace Pier stepped up his preparations for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot with a gallop before racing at Newmarket on Saturday.

The John Gosden-trained Kingman colt will put his unbeaten record on the line in the mile prize next weekend, when bidding for a third straight Group One success.

Working over six and a half furlongs under Frankie Dettori, the St James’s Palace Stakes and Prix Jacques le Marois hero moved past his lead horse entering the closing stages of the exercise, before finishing about four lengths clear.

Dettori said: “It was routine work over six and a half furlongs.

“It was just good to get him on the grass and I had not ridden him since Deauville.

“He seems in good form and we were not doing anything too crazy as we are only a week away from Ascot.”

Enable in fine form ahead of historic Arc hat-trick bid

John Gosden gave an update on some of his stable stars during the first virtual Henry Cecil Open Weekend.

While the Newmarket event will not take place in its traditional format due to the coronavirus pandemic, several popular elements are being shown online to support Racing Welfare, British Racing School and the Racing Centre.

Gosden is one of many of Newmarket’s top trainers to feature, with visitors to www.thehenrycecilopenweekend.co.uk also able to enjoy free-to-view stable tours with William Haggas, James Fanshawe and Charlie Appleby, among others.

The undoubted equine star of the town is Enable, who Gosden reported firmly on track for her bid for a historic third victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in a fortnight’s time.

Gosden said: “Enable is very happy and well. She has been fine since the race at Kempton (September Stakes). She enjoyed that outing.

“It’s (the Arc) a massive task, a big mountain to climb again. If it had gone quite right last year, she obviously wouldn’t be trying to do it this year.

“It looks a fantastic race, Aidan O’Brien is fielding a wonderful filly in Love, who naturally being a three-year-old gets all the weight, which Enable benefited from when she won as a three-year-old, and there are some great older horses.

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“It is very exciting – she is in great form to attempt the impossible. Frankie (Dettori) will hopefully be here next week to ride her in some work and help bring her up to the race.”

Enable is set to be joined in the Arc by illustrious stablemate Stradivarius.

The star stayer was narrowly beaten by Anthony Van Dyck in his recent Arc prep run in the Prix Foy.

Gosden added: “In the Prix Foy, Mickael Barzalona was riding Anthony Van Dyck and he went nice gentle fractions. In the French trials they do not like to overdo them, they come into the straight and then kick.

“I thought for a two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Gold Cup winner he showed great acceleration down the straight. The other horses behind never got to them. I thought both horses ran lovely races and he came up a neck short. I could not have been happier with him.”

Looking further ahead, the Clarehaven handler confirmed Palace Pier and Mishriff on course for Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot.

Palace Pier is another Gosden star
Palace Pier is another Gosden star (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Palace Pier will put his unbeaten record on the line in the QEII at Ascot, while Mishriff is bound for the Champion Stakes.

“We are very much looking at the QEII with Palace Pier. We were very happy with the Jacques le Marois – we wanted that straight mile for him. They did have an excessive amount of rain, so it was very soft, but he handled it well,” said Gosden.

“The form got franked strongly in the Prix du Moulin. It was always the plan to go to the QEII and we will stick with it. He is certainly giving us all the right signs at the moment.

“There is a strong possibility that he stays in training as a four-year-old, in which case it will probably be his last run of the season as we are getting deep into October.

“I didn’t really want to be whizzing him off to Hong Kong or America at this stage, maybe we will do that sort of thing next year. Hopefully he runs a big race in the QEII, and we will be waiting to run him again as a four-year-old.”

Of Mishriff, he added: “We thought about the Arc. We looked at the pedigree and to me, he is not fully furnished and strengthened yet. He is still improving and the Arc at this stage of his career could do more harm than good.

“We decided we will stay at a mile and a quarter and he will be going to the Champion Stakes. I’d expect him to put up a pretty big show.”

Gosden also provided a positive update on Logician following his recent successful comeback at Doncaster.

Last year’s St Leger winner had been sidelined for 12 months after suffering a life-threatening illness last winter, but proved he retains plenty of ability on Town Moor.

Gosden said: “He came back – it was a two-horse conditions race, but what a lovely way to come back at Doncaster, where he had won the St Leger the year before. He took the race well.

“I don’t think we will try to do anything too flash this autumn. I think if we stay sensible, something like the Group Three Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot. Try to nurse him back up the ladder a little bit, then hope that he will be in good order for next year.”

Monday Musings: Lies, Damned Lies, and…

Don’t look now, but York starts on Wednesday and every year for me that means the beginning of the end of summer, writes Tony Stafford. The nights start to draw in; evening race meetings begin at 4 p.m. and if they want to stage ten-race cards as they have been doing recently, they’ll need to be over by 8 p.m. at the latest, except on all-weather.

I’m still not going racing, instead waiting for the day that, like the French, the British (and Irish) public can attend. Harry and Alan are going up to York and have got a great deal in the Marriott at the mile and a half gate. All they need now are some of the highly-regulated owners’ badges to go their way. Wednesday looks good apparently, but some of the other days are more questionable. It might be a case of watching on the hotel telly.

There’s been a fair amount of goalpost-moving lately. I’m delighted that I can get back from today to ice-rink chauffeuring. In the end Mrs S and her skating chums didn’t have to resort to chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings like latter-day suffragettes to get their pleas heard. Now she needs to see if she can still skate after six months off since her latest leg operation.

But the biggest movement, and one more than relevant to someone who has meticulously – as you all will be aware – kept the Covid-19 UK daily death figures since mid-March, immediately after the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival, is how they are reported.

Spikes and the now seemingly-defunct “R” number have kept us all in check – bar the odd quarter of a million on Bournemouth, Brighton or Southend beaches when it got really hot. But in the middle of last week, suddenly the Government finally proved that there really are “three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics” as commonly attributed to the American writer Mark Twain, though whose true origin may predate that great wordsmith.

Back in mid-April, in the week to April 12 there were 6,425 recorded Coronavirus UK deaths, an alarming figure that mercifully began to reduce steadily. By mid-July we were in the realms of below 500 a week and still falling. During the same period, testing was increasing exponentially from the starting point of barely 10,000 tests – in other words, at that time people were really only tested when it was obvious they had the virus. But, by July, between 100,000 and 200,000 tests were available every day.

Then suddenly last week, the Ministry – amid renewed local lock-downs where clusters of positive tests were revealed – concluded it would no longer count as Coronavirus deaths, anyone tested as having the virus but who died more than 28 days afterwards.

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So from July 31, when the brave new world came in, and when positive tests were going back up again to 1,000 plus each day the daily deaths in the UK were not. Starting on the last day of July the number of deaths has been 5, 1, 18, 14, 18, 12, 3, 5, 17, 14, 20, 18, 11, 3 and 5. Those numbers are probably smaller than many other routine causes of deaths in a population of 60 million. In all honesty, if that is the basis by which it’s judged, shouldn’t we be getting back to normal?

If they don’t yet have a vaccine ready, shame on them. There have been plenty of people willing to act as paid guinea-pigs, especially if their jobs have disappeared. You might even say if the figures can be presented thus, what’s all the fuss been about?

To the racing. It’s expected to be fast ground at York – amazing news for anyone who has been waiting for the action to start at the Test match at Southampton over the past few days, and they are the conditions I prefer to see on the Knavesmire. Frankie Dettori won’t be there but as the great man approaches his 50th birthday in December, he is showing a rare facility for making correct choices.

While the racing goes on at York, he’ll be staying in Deauville having had the news on Friday that the newly-re-imposed 14-day self-isolation period for people returning from France and some other countries has been modified for elite sportsmen. They, it seems, need only face a seven- or eight-day spell under specific conditions in self-isolation at home before resuming full activity.

Frankie was anxious not to miss either Mishriff, the French Derby winner, impressive again at Deauville last Saturday, or the unbeaten St James’s Palace hero Palace Pier in yesterday’s Prix Jacques Le Marois. That fast-improving colt came through to beat Alpine Star with the older horses led home by Circus Maximus, and best of the home team, Persian King, well beaten off. He is now being lined up for the QE II Stakes at Ascot in the autumn.

Alpine Star had been narrowly pipped in the French Oaks by the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Fancy Blue who went on to take the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood with authority. Jessica Harrington trains Alpine Star, and the two Irish fillies – along with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Peaceful – comprise a formidable trio of mile/ten-furlong star sophomores.

None of them will be at York, but the best of the lot among the Classic generation of females will be.

Potential opposition to Love in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks again seems to fall principally on Frankly Darling, who disappointingly failed to provide much of a test at Epsom for the Coolmore filly as she added the Oaks to her 1,000 Guineas honours in spectacular style. The four-year-old Manuela De Vega is smart but conceding lumps of weight? Hardly! Dettori’s absence from York – he’s staying en France an extra week – tough! – to wait for a Wesley Ward runner in next weekend’s Prix Morny.

That will still give him time for the requisite eight and a few more days before teaming up with Enable in Kempton’s September Stakes, a cleverly-thought-out target from John Gosden which obviates the need to tackle Love before the Arc. Enable won the September Stakes two years ago as a prelude to her second win in Paris in October. How they would cherish a third as a six-year-old after the shock of being caught close home by Waldgeist last year.

The York meeting opens with another Gosden star, Lord North, the major loss this week for Dettori judged on the four-year-old’s upward-mobility this summer. Winner of six of his nine career races with two seconds and a luckless eased last of eight in the other, Lord North has progressed from a laughably-easy Cambridgeshire winner to outclassing his Prince Of Wales’s Stakes opponents at Royal Ascot. James Doyle is the beneficiary, as he was at Ascot when Dettori rode Mehdaayih. Who’s to say Lord North cannot progress enough to beat Ghaiyyath, as well as the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko and possibly Magical in the Juddmonte International?

We won’t have Saturday’s Ebor Handicap runners until around 1 p.m. today and I can’t wait to see which potentially top-class horse Messrs Gosden, Haggas or Varian will have lined up to win it. Even though the total prize pool has been slashed from £600,000 to a relatively frugal £250,000 I’m sure there will be enough horses to fill the 22 available stalls. It would be great if a hard-knocking horse from the North could see off the aristocrats from Newmarket.

Another race that I’m looking forward to is Friday’s Nunthorpe Stakes, not least because Wesley Ward is bringing a lightly-raced but clearly talented juvenile to tackle Battaash, Art Power and A’Ali. His Golden Pal, runner-up after making the running to The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes will be going there as a maiden with form figures of 22, having earlier been beaten when favourite for a Gulfstream Park maiden in the spring.

He will be echoing to a large degree the pre-Nunthorpe record 13 years ago of the John Best-trained juvenile Kingsgate Native, a 66-1 debut runner-up in the Windsor Castle Stakes and then second again in the Molecomb at Goodwood.

Backed down to 12-1 (among many, by me!), Kingsgate Native easily beat Desert Lord with future stallions Dandy Man and Red Clubs the next two home. I note the weights will be unchanged from then, so Battaash carries 9st11lb; three-year-olds Art Power and A’Ali 2lb less and Golden Pal only 8st1lb. He will have Andrea Atzeni, who rode him at Ascot, back on board.

I know the other three are highly-talented, and it would be another feather in the Charlie Hills cap if Battaash could win a second Nunthorpe, but I’d much prefer Wesley’s undying love for British racing to get a reward after a couple of less than wonderful years. He certainly seems to have all his ducks in line this time.

So in conclusion, I say enjoy York, if you are, like Harry and Alan, fully documented-up. If not, the wonderful coverage – free and flourishing on ITV though I still doggedly stick to Racing TV – deserves watching for all four days. Please then, start taking off the restraints, Mr Boris. Five months using only two tanks of fuel has been sacrifice enough.

Clock Watcher: Lessons from Harrovian

After an extended pandemic break, Clock Watcher is back! This semi-regular feature aims to highlight interesting performances from a sectional timing perspective. Before we dive into those noteworthy efforts, a quick recap to set the scene.

Sectional Recap

Sectional timing aims to tell us more about how a race was run by splitting it up into segments, or sections. Moreover, we can understand more about an individual horse's performances from these splits as well; and, by comparing with history - what we call 'par' - we can frame races and runs in a much broader historical context.

The idea is to note those horses who may have been inconvenienced either by the run of the race or how they themselves ran within it, and to 'mark up' such efforts for consideration in future. Such mark ups are one more piece of the puzzle: often they'll add little or nothing, but occasionally they are the significant differentiator. Our job as form detectives is to assimilate information from which to make value judgements. Sectional information is another piece of evidence to consider in the general form evaluation case, if you feel so inclined.

Thus, on the basis of a number of previous races over a given course and distance, we can have a reasonable idea of what the optimal energy expenditure might be. A marathon runner will look to run every one of the 26 and a bit miles in a very similar time because that is the way she uses her energy most efficiently and therefore runs her best time.

Because of the configuration of racecourses and races - standing start, bends, undulations, obstacles in jumps races - the shape of a par line will never be flat; instead it will have a curve that intrinsically accommodates all appropriate considerations. It will, in other words, enable us to gauge what happened in any given race against the body of directly relevant 'case law' that preceded it.

There is oodles more insight on how geegeez.co.uk publishes these data in our user guide, here.

What are we looking for?

What we are looking for might vary from race to race, situation to situation. But, more helpfully, two obvious things to spot are fast finishers and solid composite numbers.

Fast finishers are those runners whose closing splits, when compared to their overall time in percentage terms, were quicker. This is often called a finishing speed percentage (or FS%), and a high relative FS% implies a horse finished with more in the tank, more to give. That suggests he might go better next time.

Composite ratings are an attempt to consider FS% alongside the actual speed of a race. After all, if I walk the first 26 miles of a marathon over most of a day, my ability to run the last 385 yards will be far superior to even the best athlete who has run the previous 26 miles at world record pace. My finishing speed percentage will be massive but my overall time - and therefore any attempt at combining final time and finishing speed - will betray how easily I took things earlier on.

That's an outlandishly exaggerated example to emphasise the point that horse races are habitually run steadily and won by the runner with the best combination of track position and finishing speed. Furthermore, not only can we know through sectionals which horse(s) has/have the best finishing kick but we can also overlay that knowledge onto how we perceive today's race will set up.

A horse with a lightning kick may be severely compromised by a strong early gallop but could be a fantastic bet in a paceless heat.

Sectional Examples

Examples make everything more comprehensible, so let's look at a few events since racing returned post-lockdown.

Palace Pier / Pinatubo - St James's Palace Stakes

I'll begin with a fairly banal one - insofar as punting utility goes - but one that very well illustrates the two elements we seek, the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

This was the race in which Palace Pier announced himself on the big stage, charging past last year's champion juvenile, Pinatubo, and the controlling race leader, Wichita.

The three-part OMC (Opening, Midrace, Closing) sectionals image below shows the extent to which they quickened in the final quarter mile (the orange/red rectangles) with the upgrade column on the right hand side attempting to quantify how much more each might have been able to give.

The colour bar above the result table contains the 'race' sectionals: those of the race leader at the end of each section (in this case, at the six-furlong pole, the two-furlong pole, and the finish line). The bars inline are for each individual runner.

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This slightly more detailed five-part 'Call Points' view illustrates things further:

 

Here we can see that Palace Pier covered the final two furlongs in splits of 11.68 seconds and 11.71 seconds. That was partly a function of the (relatively) steady first three-quarters of the race but mainly it relates to his talent.

Pinatubo, for his part, has looked to me a slightly doubtful stayer at a mile, particularly in the context of his brilliant two-year-old form. He was quickest from four to one but couldn't quite see it out. A subsequent win in a seven-furlong Group 1 in France last time supports the theory, though not beyond reasonable doubt. The Breeders' Cup Mile, a race contested around a tight oval track where seven-furlong speed is ideal (think Expert Eye), looks a perfect target.

Palace Pier's Topspeed figure for this effort was 108 and relates to how quickly he got from the start to the finish. Alpine Star, the filly who won the Coronation Stakes over the same course and distance 35 minutes earlier, ran a far more even tempo and recorded a slightly faster overall time to be awarded a 110 Topspeed figure.

But Palace Pier's composite rating - a combination of Topspeed and our Upgrade of 23 - brings him to 131. Alpine Star's effort received no upgrade and therefore remains on 110.

Here's the rub: in a steadily-run race, a feature of both his runs this year, all evidence suggests Palace Pier would readily outpoint Alpine Star. But if it was likely to be more truly-run I'd be less bullish at the likely odds.

One of the main problems, as can be seen below, is that there remains - more than a year after RMG (the company in charge of Racing TV's racecourses' broadcast rights) first published data for a meeting at York - no publicly available sectional output for the roughly two-thirds of British tracks that they cover. I wish it wasn't this way, and I yearn for good news on this front soon.

A Spot of Revision for Harrovian

Another of the John Gosden phalanx of top-class equines is Harrovian, who caught the eye when winning in taking fashion at Doncaster over a mile and a quarter on 26th June. He, and second placed Archie Perkins, were almost five lengths clear of the third that day, a gap established exclusively in the final quarter mile.

I've included the 'by furlong' sectional percentage chart this time: this view helps to understand how a runner's energy was expended and can be compared to the par line - which is grey in this case due to the limited confidence afforded by only 73 races in the course and distance sample. Beneath the chart I've also included the OMC splits for Harrovian and Archie Perkins.

 

Note on the chart how the red and green lines, representing the selected runners, run close to the dark grey par line until half way (five out, 6-5 on the chart); and how they then extend away in the second half of the race. This tells us that the highlighted runners ran close to optimally (though a little slower in the first two furlongs (S-9, 9-8)) in the early stages before finishing well.

One of the reasons I chose this example is because both horses have again run in the same race since, Saturday's John Smith's Cup. Although there are no official sectionals for that race, they looked to go quite fast early (as might be expected for a 22-runner heritage handicap), which may not have suited either Archie or Harrovian.

Here is the Gosden runner's full form profile:

 

Compare that with his winning form profile, and with sectional data switched on (the box top left):

 

All three of his career wins have come at ten furlongs, on good to firm ground, and in small fields. Of the two of that trio for which we have sectional insight, both featured fast finishing fractions off even to slow earlier meters. I'll be very interested in Harrovian when he gets this kind of setup again.

 

Yarmouth Upgrades

There have been a few races of interest run at Yarmouth since the resumption. Its proximity to Newmarket is a factor in enticing very good horses, and here are two I think worthy of note.

The first of the pair was a juvenile on debut called Yazaman, who achieved the biggest geegeez upgrade figure of any horse since racing resumed (at the tracks covered by our data supplier, Total Performance Data). Ostensibly not much of a race, Yazaman was sent off 10/11 favourite in a field of four.

They went pedestrian fractions in the early part of the five furlong contest but then engaged turbo, as best as unraced juveniles can.

William Haggas's winner completed the last quarter mile in less than 21 seconds, which is really very fast indeed, especially for a juvenile debutant.

To some degree this is now ancient history, as Yazaman has run twice subsequently: first he was a gallant second in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. Sent off 20/1 that day, the cat was subsequently out of the bag when he again ran up, at 6/1 this time, to Tactical in the Group 2 July Stakes at  Newmarket's big summer meeting.

He's rapid and a drop back to five should see him just about win in minor Pattern company.

On 4th July, another two-year-old, this time Ventura Tormenta trained by Richard Hannon, rocked up having been pitched in to none other than the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on his debut. He ran a huge race there to be sixth, and had plenty in reserve when turning away Sidi Mansour and four others over six this day. As can be seen from the running lines below, Ventura controlled things throughout: an even opening quarter, a steady to slow middle quarter, and then a burst of acceleration and 'eat my dust'.

He didn't seem to get home on the July course over seven furlongs in Newmarket's Superlative Stakes but has since confirmed his class by winning the 6f Group 2 Prix Robert Papin last weekend. English-trained horses finished first and second there, French horses comprising the rest of the field, to affirm my (and many others', in point of fact) contention that French racing has lagging behind a little for a season and a half or so.

Second to Ventura Tormenta at Yarmouth, Sidi Mansour has run since and been beaten in a bigger field at Windsor. But, having covered the final half mile at the Norfolk track in the same time (46.70 seconds) as Sunday's Group 2 winner, he may go one better in a small field where he can put his pace to good use.

Looking Forward

There may be a case to answer from the after-time police regarding the above, even if a number of those highlighted have since been beaten and are suggested for another day. With no such subsequent form here is one more, at a slightly lower level, for the future.

The Yarmouth fillies' novice event won by Almareekh might work out all right: the winner has an entry at Doncaster on Saturday and the third, Viola, may run in a handicap at Redcar next Monday. But it is the fourth placed filly, Ice Sprite, who has made my tracker.

This was her second career start, and first of the season, and the William Haggas-trained daughter of Zoffany was a long way (15 lengths to be precise) behind the leader with half a mile to go. More materially, she was between three and six lengths behind the three fillies that eventually beat her at that same point.

 

As can be seen from the red bars in her result row, Ice Sprite made a big move between the four and the two, and ran the final quarter (24.01 seconds) quicker than all bar the winner (23.95 seconds). Eased off in the last fifty yards, each way backers may have felt miffed that she was beaten a diminishing neck for third; but she looks attractively rated off just 70 for a potential handicap tilt next time. With only two starts to her name, there are all sorts of reasons to believe she can do better in upcoming spins. She is entered in the 3.20 at Newmarket on Friday.