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Rhododendron Blooms at Newbury

Aidan O’Brien’s Rhododendron got the better of Lightning Spear to land a thrilling Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Despite concerns over the drop back in trip, Ballydoyle’s filly proved she had the ‘zip’, holding off David Simcock’s talented miler by a nose. O’Brien had four runners in the field of 14, and three were prominent from the off. Deauville set the pace followed closely by Lancaster Bomber. Ryan Moore shadowed the pair aboard race favourite Rhododendron, whilst Oisin Murphy was keen to keep tabs on Team Ballydoyle, positioning Lightning Spear alongside the filly.

Moore made his move approaching the two-furlong pole, driving the favourite to the front down the centre of the track, whilst Murphy, possibly travelling slightly the better at that stage, came stand-side to make his challenge. At the furlong mark Rhododendron was half-a-length to the good, but that advantage was whittled away approaching the post. The filly clung on for victory, much to the frustration of Lightning Spear’s connections, who saw their horse clearly ahead just yards past the line.

Lancaster Bomber was outpaced by the front pair, though stayed on well for third, whilst Dutch Connection ran a belter, but ultimately failed to see out the one mile trip back in fourth.

O’Brien said of the winner: “I was delighted, we thought she’d come on from her run last time (fourth to Cracksman) and Ryan’s given her a brilliant ride. It’s a big team effort and we’re delighted.” Of future targets, especially Royal Ascot, O’Brien added: “We were thinking of coming here, then going to Ascot. She would have the option of going the mile (Queen Anne) or the mile and a quarter (Prince of Wales’s Stakes). We’ll have a good chat to Ryan and then the boys will decide after that.”

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Ryan Moore spoke to ITV Racing after the win, saying: “She’s a Group One winner at two, three and now four and she’s had an incredible career. After what happened to her in the French Oaks (bled badly), what Aidan and the team have done with her, it’s a massive turnaround. She was very good at two and could have won a lot more at three. She was unlucky in the Guineas, then ran into Enable in the Oaks. She came back and won the Opera, and had she had a draw at Del Mar she’d have won there.”

David Simcock looked gutted after losing out in the head-bobber yet composed himself and spoke to ITV Racing straight after the race: “I’ve not had the wind taken out of my sails like that for a while. I’m just a little gutted, but very proud of the horse. He was given a great ride - I thought he was going to win nearing the line. Oisin Murphy has given him a fantastic ride. It is just so frustrating.

“We're just very fond of him and he's never let us down. He's been placed in so many Group Ones, you just feel we'd like to have won one with him, but he's run a great race. They finished a good two lengths clear of the third. Fair play to the filly. I would say we'll go to the Queen Anne. It's the obvious place to go.”

Of those further back in the field, Addeybb clearly found the ground too lively, fading out of contention in the latter stages. Limato again looked a non-stayer at a mile and will surely drop back in trip with a crack at the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot likely.

Ryan Moore was winning his first Lockinge, with O’Brien landing the event for the first time since Hawk Wing in 2003. Rhododendron’s victory continued the strong trend of success for four-year-olds in the race, with 10 of the last 12 renewals now won by that age group. It is of course yet another Group One for O’Brien and his team, as he sets out on another campaign of top-level dominance.

Bomber can land telling blow at Newbury

The Group One Lockinge Stakes takes place at Newbury on Saturday, with Aidan O’Brien targeting a first success since 2003.

Excelebration was one of Ballydoyle’s classier contenders when runner-up in 2012, though had little chance of winning with Frankel in opposition. Hawk Wing landed the prize for the yard in 2003 by 11-lengths, having been kept in training following something of a ‘nearly’ season as a three-year-old. Runner-up in both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, the classy colt did manage to win the Eclipse at Sandown. Sadly, after his Newbury romp, he suffered a career-ending knee injury at Royal Ascot.

It’s fair to say that this is a race the Ballydoyle boys have tended to ignore. It’s usually a case that O’Brien’s most talented milers are sent to stud following successful campaigns at three. Last year’s Guineas winning pair of Churchill and Winter have followed that path, leaving Rhododendron as their leading Lockinge contender and current favourite for the race.

Her three-year-old campaign pretty much mirrored that of Hawk Wing back in the day. Runner-up in both the Guineas and the Oaks, she had a spell on the side-lines before a win in the Prix de l’Opera at a mile-and-a-quarter. Her return at Longchamp last month, when fourth to Cracksman, was satisfactory. She’s likely to improve for the run, though there must be a question as to whether this one-mile trip will suit. She’s looked a filly that needs slightly further, though this does look a sub-standard renewal.

Limato is next-best in the betting, though the trip for him appears a touch beyond his best. He was fourth in this race back in 2016, when looking a little one-paced late on. He similarly faltered in the latter stages of last year’s Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. Quick ground at Newbury will certainly help his cause and he’s likely to be travelling better than anything deep into the race. Harry Bentley has the task of whether to kick clear and hold on or wait to the last moment in the hope that the six-year-old has enough in the tank. I’d be taking the first option and using that devastating change of gear to put distance between myself and the rest.

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William Haggas has his team in sparkling form and is represented by the fast improving Addeybb. The four-year-old landed the Group Two bet365 Mile last month, though this will clearly be a tougher task. Those aged four have won eight of the last 10 renewals, though the race does tend to go to proven Group One performers. He lacks that high-level experience and I’d be slightly concerned over ground conditions. He’s been impressive on soft and good-to-soft thus far, and he’ll need to prove that he has the tactical speed for this race on fast ground.

Like Addeybb, the Andrew Balding-trained Beat The Bank looks a progressive four-year-old, though he did disappoint on his final outing last year, when stepped into Group One company for the QEII at Ascot. This son of Paco Boy had flopped at Ascot earlier in the campaign, so I’m inclined to forgive him those two shockers. His strongest performance came in the Group Two Joel Stakes at Newmarket, when he slaughtered a decent field by five lengths. He has something to prove at this level, though there’s surely more to come.

Like Limato, Suedois is something of a sprinter turned miler, though he has proven himself capable of seeing out the trip at a high level. He’s consistent and is likely to be in the mix especially on this quicker ground. No seven-year-old has won the race and he’s certainly vulnerable to an improving youngster. Nevertheless, 20/1 is a fair price for a horse suited by track and conditions and possessing such an amount of experience at this level.

Lightning Spear was runner-up 12 months ago, and is another that could outrun his odds. In a weak looking renewal, he has a big performance in the locker, though last season proved rather inconsistent. Another seven-year-old, he’s unlikely to be winning, but is another at a price, capable of hitting the frame.

One that should run well, if lining up, is O’Brien’s four-year-old colt Lancaster Bomber. Fourth in last year’s Guineas and runner-up in the St James’s Palace, he’s a class act on fast ground. Ryan Moore will be aboard the filly, but this fella should not be discounted if given the green light.

This is a tough race to call, with no outstanding miler apparent. I’m a huge fan of Rhododendron but I’m far from convinced that this is her trip. If he runs, I’ll be siding with Lancaster Bomber in the hope that ground and trip will suit him better than his stable companion. Though he’s too old to win, Lightning Spear can run into a place. Best of luck to those taking a punt in this tricky renewal.

Stoute’s Mirage is no Royal Ascot illusion

Ascot's Victoria Cup proved a tough puzzle to crack, with the front three coming home at odds of 20/1, 28/1 and 40s. Yet the trends for the race remain pretty much intact, with seven of the first eight carrying less than nine stone and the first seven home aged four or five.

Having hung up her whip in 2015, Hayley Turner once again proved she has plenty more to offer from the saddle, as she navigated her way through the field with a beautifully timed run, to snatch victory on the David Elsworth-trained Ripp Orf. Last year’s third, Zhui Feng, looked likely to hang on for a stunning success under the burden of 9 stone 10lbs. But as the post approached Turner’s mount kicked in the overdrive, and with just 8 stone 1lb to hold him back, swept to victory.

Clearly delighted, the winning jockey told ITV Racing: “That was amazing. What a legend of a horse. They gave me some good orders to ride the horse with confidence. The big field suited him and a strong gallop. He just liked weaving through them. I'll be looking forward to my dinner.” Of her return to race riding, she added: “It’s been tough, but Michael Bell, Tom Dascombe and Marcus Tregoning – the old boys who used to help me – have given me a leg up and I appreciate it. Hopefully I’m not letting them down.”

Keyser Soze was sent off the 9/2 favourite but lost all chance of success with another shocking exit from the stalls. Rooted at the back of the field in the early stages, Jamie Spencer began to weave his way through the pack, yet always had far too much ground to make up. The horse is on a winning mark, and if he gets the start sorted, he’ll be winning big before too long.

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In my Friday piece I’d given Firmament my confident backing. Sadly, the draw was unkind, and though he ran a solid race, he was always up against it on the stands side of the track. He too looks to be on a tasty mark and should be followed, especially when the ground is rattling quick.

Earlier in the day Roger Varian’s Barsanti put in a strong performance to fend off Sir Michael Stoute’s Mirage Dancer in a mile-and-a-half listed event. Runner-up in last year’s Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, it’s hard to imagine he’ll improve substantially from five to six, but he’s undoubtedly a solid Group Two performer. Varian arguably has a slightly classier sort in Defoe, though I’d fancy both are just shy of top class.

I’d be slightly more interested in the prospects of Mirage Dancer. He’s a lovely big colt by Frankel, out of a Green Desert mare, and looks sure to improve during the campaign, especially when encountering ground with a little more give. Stoute has a reputation for transforming his four-year-old middle-distance runners, and this fella could be interesting when lining up at Royal Ascot next month. The Hardwicke is a favourite of Sir Michael’s, having landed seven of the last dozen renewals.

In France yesterday, Aidan O’Brien’s US Navy Flag came home a slightly disappointing fifth in the French Guineas. Drawn widest of all, Ryan Moore was keen to get a good position, driving the colt to the front, and possibly doing a little too much in the process. He faded slightly in the final furlong, as Olmedo finished strongest to win. Jean-Claude Rouget's colt is without doubt a classy sort, though this looked a step in the right direction for Ballydoyle’s charge. Moore proved himself human, and should he get the fractions right next time we may yet see this son of War Front capture another Group One.

Centennial Celebration Chester Vase

Chester’s May festival begins, with a special opening day, as they celebrate the 100th running of the Chester Vase.

Known as the Roodee, Chester is officially the oldest racecourse still in use. Resting on the banks of the River Dee, the racing dates back to the early sixteenth century. The eastern part of the course stands alongside the City’s ancient wall, where once Roman trading vessels would moor. These days’ crowds gather along the wall in order to obtain outstanding views of the racing, without parting with a single penny.

The first recorded race took place in 1539, authorised by the Mayor, Henry Gee. It’s thought that the term ‘gee-gee’ is derived from his name. The course is small with a length at little more than a mile. The left-handed circuit is taken at almost a constant turn, and it’s a tight track that doesn’t suit all equine visitors.

It should come as no surprise to hear that Aidan O’Brien has proved the dominant force in the Chester Vase. The master of Ballydoyle has won the race eight times since 2007. Treasure Beach followed victory here in 2011, with success in the Irish Derby. In 2013, Ruler of the World won this prior to glory in the Epsom Derby. And last year, though Wings of Eagles could only manage a second-place finish, he too, went on to Epsom glory in the ‘big one’.

Going back to the early eighties, both Henbit and Shergar managed to achieve the Chester/Epsom double. The latter of course, became a Flat racing legend due to the emphatic nature of those victories.

Last year’s gathering proved something of a stellar occasion, producing a Derby winner in Wings of Eagles and an Oaks heroine in Enable – John Gosden’s filly having won the Cheshire Oaks at this meeting.

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O’Brien has three runners as he looks to add to his outstanding record in the Centennial Celebration Chester Vase. It’s another competitive looking renewal, with Ryan Moore opting to ride Hunting Horn. The son of Camelot was third in Sandown’s Bet365 Classic Trial a few weeks back. He was behind Godolphin’s Ispolini that day, and the pair renew their rivalry.

Fresh from his success in the 2000 Guineas, Donnacha O’Brien has the leg-up on the suitably named Family Tree. This son of Galileo has only had the one outing and is very much an unknown quantity.

Ballydoyle also have a trio of challengers in the Cheshire Oaks. Ryan Moore is aboard the Galileo filly, Magic Wand. Her two career runs have come in testing ground, and being out of a Dansili mare, she may well improve plenty for a sounder surface. Gosden and Dettori join forces with the Dubawi filly Award winning. Impressive at Wetherby last time, this is clearly a huge step up in class, though Gosden must feel that she’s up to the task.

Ralph Beckett knows how to produce a talented filly, and runs the unbeaten Kinaesthesia. Alright, she’s only run the once, but she’s by Sea The Stars, so we must take note.

The opening day looks a cracker, though it’s the Chester Cup on Friday that often proves the highlight of the meeting. The largest crowd will be in attendance to witness the meeting’s most valuable race. Run at around two-and-a-quarter miles, the prestigious handicap usually attracts trainers from both codes. Nicky Henderson, Donald McCain and David Pipe have all been successful in recent times. Sea Pigeon landed back-to-back renewals in the late 70s.

The Alan King-trained Who Dares Wins will be a popular choice for punters, especially with Ryan Moore booked to ride. Paul Nicholls looks set to let Act Of Valour take his chance. The four-year-old was a classy juvenile hurdler, and is set to be ridden by the trainer’s daughter Megan.

The three day festival is hugely popular, and this week’s gathering should prove no different.

Dubai struck by a bout of the blues

Saturday’s Dubai World Cup proved a triumph for Team Godolphin, with the boys in blue scooping the three most valuable events.

Bob Baffert had hoped to land the Dubai World Cup for the second-year running, following Arrogate’s stunning success in 2017. West Coast was duly sent off a short-priced favourite but was firmly put in his place by the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Thunder Snow. A Group One winner at the three, the four-year-old has clearly flourished during his winter in Meydan. Sent to the front by Christophe Soumillon, he never looked in danger, romping clear in the latter stages for a five-length success. West Coast had tried to close him down in the home straight but lacked the gears to land a telling blow.

The winning trainer was clearly thrilled, when after the race he said: “This horse is brilliant. Christophe rode a great race. We spoke beforehand about what to do from the outside draw and he rode him to perfection. As soon as he was out the stalls and in a good position, I thought he would go well.”

The Thunder Snow show came little more than half an hour after Hawkbill had put in a stunning front-running performance to capture the Sheema Classic. Cloth Of Stars looked to be Godolphin’s leading hope but it was William Buick that got the fractions right aboard Charlie Appleby’s five-year-old, with the rest of he field finding it impossible to peg him back. Three lengths separated him from runner-up Poet’s Word, who battled on bravely to finish a neck ahead of Cloth Of Stars.

Buick had won the race 12 months earlier aboard Jack Hobbs and said of this impressive winner: “Physically he did well over the winter and we’ve always thought a lot of him. His run on Super Saturday got his head straight and his body right. He relaxed well in front and was in a lovely rhythm. It was going to take a good one to get past him.”

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Appleby had earlier won the Al Quoz Sprint with Jungle Cat, following the late withdrawal of stable companion and Godolphin number one Blue Point. The boys in blue then captured the Dubai Turf when Benbatl proved far too good for a competitive looking field. The winner could now be aimed at Royal Ascot. Saeed bin Suroor clearly believes the horse is going places, saying: “We have thought a great deal about this horse over the last three years and he won for us at Royal Ascot last year (Hampton Court Stakes). He broke well tonight and had a nice position all the way. I wasn't surprised he won like that, because he had been working very well. The plan will now be to go back to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales's Stakes.”

Whilst Godolphin stole the show, Aidan O’Brien also had an impressive winner on the card, when three-year-old Mendelssohn destroyed the opposition, knocking more than a second off the nine-and-a-half-furlong track record to land the UAE Derby.

“Obviously we weren’t expecting that,” said O’Brien. “We were very happy with him after his win at Dundalk, we knew there was a lot of dirt in his pedigree and that he had a lot of speed, but we weren’t sure how far his speed would carry him. We’re over the moon. The lads paid a lot of money for him.”

Ryan Moore was also impressed: “He’s a very fast horse. It was his first time in front and he was still green in places. He’s high quality; second in a Dewhurst, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s getting better with every start. He’s very exciting.”

A trip to America for the Kentucky Derby is now on the cards. He’s as low as 5/1 for the Churchill Downs renewal on May 5; the same day as the 2000 Guineas from Newmarket.

Stoute, O’Brien and Brown set for Breeders’ Turf Showdown

Aidan O’Brien has been the dominant force in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Team Ballydoyle have won the race six times, with four of those victories coming in the past half-dozen years. Highland Reel was successful 12 months ago and is back for another crack. Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit was the last horse to win back-to-back Turf’s, and the Newmarket trainer saddles Highland Reel’s main challenger, the vastly improved four-year-old Ulysses.

The race may be billed as a face-off between O’Brien and Stoute, or indeed the joint-favourites Highland Reel and Ulysses. But interestingly, the most successful jockeys in the Turf’s history happen to be Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore, with four wins apiece. The Italian picked up the ride on Ulysses, ensuring the pair have their own head-to-head in a battle for supremacy.

The leading protagonists have met a couple of times already this summer. Highland Reel impressed when winning the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on fast ground over 10 furlongs. Ulysses was no match for him that day, though ran a solid race to finish third. They met again at Ascot but were unable to land a blow on the mighty filly Enable. Of the pair, it was Ulysses this time that came off best finishing runner-up, with HR a good way back in fourth. That was at 12 furlongs, but crucially in more testing conditions.

Highland Reel is a different beast on fast ground, though he needs to have recovered fully from his exertions on Champions Day, when finding Cracksman untouchable in testing ground. That was just a couple of weeks back, and though O’Brien has said that Moore looked after the colt once the chance of victory had gone, that’s not how I saw it. Struggling in fifth a furlong out, the five-year-old was ridden right to the line, finishing a gallant third. Many believe that he’ll remain a fresh horse having missed a couple of months prior to Ascot. Nevertheless, that run could easily have left its mark.

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Ulysses on the other hand, has had a month off since a terrific third-place finish in the Arc. The ground had gone against him at Chantilly, yet he again travelled powerfully throughout and was one of the last off the bridle.

There’s little to choose between the pair, and I’m finding it difficult to favour one over the other.

Yet again Chad Brown has a leading contender for a Breeders’ Cup race, with Beach Patrol looking the best of the home team. A consistent performer, the four-year-old has finished in the first three in nine of his 11 turf starts. He was a mightily impressive winner of the Joe Hirsch Classic last time, a race that has gone to several Breeders’ Cup turf winners in the past. That looked a career best performance, and with track, trip and ground to suit, he looks a realistic shot at 8/1.

At the beginning of the year I was sure that Seventh Heaven would prove herself an outstanding middle-distance performer. Sadly, she’s spent most of the summer off the track, and has only recently returned to action, latterly finishing down the field in the Arc. She’ll have her ground this time, though the sharpness of Del Mar is not ideal. I’m not sure she’s quite ready for this, though Aidan says she’ll improve plenty for the Chantilly run.

Though favourites again have a poor record, with just one win from the last 10, this remains a race that usually goes to a fancied contender. It looks like the top three in the betting have it between them. I find myself leaning towards Ulysses for Sir Michael. The four-year-old appears to be at the peak of his powers, and can get the better of Beach Patrol and Highland Reel in a thriller. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Record Breaking O’Brien is a Donny Dazzler

Doncaster played host to history in the making, as Aidan O’Brien broke Bobby Frankel’s record when landing the 26th Group One of the season in the Racing Post Trophy.

Saxon Warrior proved a worthy favourite when bravely fending off what had looked a race winning surge from the John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion. Ryan Moore had hit the front at the two-furlong mark, but looked set for the runner-up spot as Oisin Murphy swept past. As Gosden’s talented youngster wandered off a true line, it was Moore who galvanised his mount for a renewed effort, and as the line approached Saxon Warrior responded tenaciously.

O'Brien said of the winner: “He travelled very strong and Ryan gave him a brilliant ride. When John's horse went by him you thought he was beaten, but he found plenty and we're delighted. Ryan said he'd have no problem being a Guineas horse, so we could start off in that and go on, but there's plenty of stamina in his pedigree. I think he'll be comfortable at anything from a mile to a mile and a half. He's a very special horse, we think. He's done everything we've asked of him and he's only been a baby.”

Moore was also impressed, saying: “He's a beautiful horse and he gave me so much confidence the whole race. It wasn't going right, but he's very good and that's the difference - they're beautiful horses that are beautifully prepared. When the other horse came, I hadn't asked my lad a question.”

Saxon Warrior’s performance was understandably overshadowed by the history making trainer. O’Brien was modest as ever, though clearly thrilled with the achievement, when saying: “It's incredible. I'm so delighted for everyone, I'm thrilled. You just don't expect it, all you can do is your best. I feel so proud for everyone. It's a privilege to be working with such special people. We're in a very lucky position and we're a small link in a big chain.

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“It is so hard to win Group Ones that I never expect it. We've just got a great team, that's at the heart of it. The lads (Coolmore trio of John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor) do a great job breeding and buying the horses and it is our job not to damage them. It's been a funny year really. A lot of horses have progressed and progressed. There were so many horses like that, it was unusual. A lot of very well-bred horses just got better and better.”

The record had stood since 2003, and the master of Ballydoyle had come close on numerous occasions. But after a quick-fire opening to the 2017 campaign, O’Brien managed to maintain the momentum throughout, thanks to a stunning array of thoroughbred talent.

Churchill got the show on the road back in May when landing the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Just a day later it was the turn of Winter to prove herself the outstanding three-year-old filly at a mile, as she romped to victory in the 1000 Guineas. The pair went on to repeat the feat in Ireland at the end of May, ensuring that the race to 26 was well and truly on.

His Classic generation proved exceptional, especially the fillies. Along with the outstanding Winter, Roly Poly weighed in with vital Group One victories. And then came a late rattle from another dazzling duo in Rhododendron and Hydrangea.

But it is the dominance of the Juvenile division that truly sets O’Brien and the Ballydoyle Boys apart. In Clemmie and Happily they have a pair of Group One fillies with the potential to reign supreme at three. And then there’s the young colt’s U S Navy Flag and of course Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy winner Saxon Warrior.

Both past and present have been wonderfully glorious for all connected to the ‘Ballydoyle Bandwagon’. And with history now made, the future looks set to be just as triumphant.

O’Brien’s Doncaster Date with Destiny

Could Saturday prove to be Aidan O’Brien’s ‘date with destiny’ as he saddles four in a bid to capture the Racing Post Trophy and finally break Bobby Frankel’s record?

Currently standing on 25 top-level winners for the season, the Ballydoyle master is set to launch a powerful assault in search of the magic 26. With three victories from the past eight renewals, this is a race that O’Brien often targets with his elite juveniles. Camelot won in 2011, and in Saxon Warrior and The Pentagon he has a pair that currently head the market for next year’s Epsom Derby.

Favourite for tomorrow’s renewal is Saxon Warrior. He’s unbeaten in two starts, having landed a maiden at the Curragh, and then capturing the Group Two Beresford Stakes at Naas. That last victory came on soft ground, though he’s by Deep Impact and should appreciate a sounder surface. He’s a powerful looking youngster, with the size and scope to progress nicely in time. This race often goes to lightly raced juveniles, with favourites having an impressive recent record of seven wins from the last 10. Ryan Moore takes the ride.

The Pentagon appears to be the stable’s number two, though Seamie Heffernan makes a habit of winning on the supposed second-string. Off the track since July, his bare form is possibly a little shy of what is required to win this. He beat the Jim Bolger trained Theobald last time, and that colt has since been thrashed on two occasions. Moore clearly thinks Saxon Warrior is the better of the pair, and he may be right.

The markets suggest that Jim Bolger’s Verbal Dexterity is the main danger to Team Ballydoyle. His impressive victory in the Group One National Stakes last time looks to be the strongest piece of form. That success came on heavy ground, and there’s a danger that he was somewhat flattered by the inability of others to cope with conditions. His pedigree lacks the ‘wow factor’, and if the rain stays away I fancy he’ll be outgunned by one or more of O’Brien’s colts.

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John Gosden has had another sensational campaign, and his Royal Lodge winner, Roaring Lion, looks a leading contender. He got the better of Aidan O’Brien’s Nelson on that occasion, despite finding Newmarket’s undulations a little unsettling. He’s a beautiful looking son of American stallion Kitten’s Joy, and though this is certainly his toughest assignment, he looks capable of a huge performance.

Aidan’s Seahenge is another Group Two winner, having captured the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in September. He came up a little short in Group One company when third to another Ballydoyle colt, U S Navy Flag, in the Dewhurst a few weeks back. He’s certainly not without a chance, though it would be a surprise if he were the best of the Ballydoyle boys.

Jockey Andrea Atzeni is going for an incredible five Racing Post Trophy victories on the trot. He gets the leg-up on Martyn Meade’s Chilean. The youngster was an impressive winner of a listed event at Haydock last time. That came in testing conditions, and the form took something of a knock when the runner-up flopped at Pontefract earlier this week. Nevertheless, he has an exciting pedigree, being by Iffraaj out of a Duke Of Marmalade mare. The stallion’s standing was well advertised by Ribchester and Nathra in last week’s QEII. A drop of rain wouldn’t do his chances any harm, and at 14s he could be the each-way play.

Godolphin have supplemented Loxley, though the Charlie Appleby trained colt has only had one run in public. This gorgeous looking son of New Approach got going late, when dead-heating with a fair yardstick at Goodwood. He looked green that day, and though this race has favoured unexposed types, he’ll need to be far more streetwise to win. Nonetheless, that debut was full of promise, and connections clearly think plenty of him.

I fancy the ‘main man’ will get his record-breaking victory. Opposing O’Brien in juvenile Group One’s is a futile exercise. Saxon Warrior is beautifully bred and has the right kind of profile. I’m pretty sure that Roaring Lion will run a huge race, but at 14/1 I’ll take Chilean to hit the frame for each-way punters.

Cracksman Shines Brightest on a Grey Day

It was a case of ‘like father like son’, as Cracksman provided the show-stopping performance of Champions Day 2017, to capture the Champion Stakes.

So often during his illustrious career we witnessed Frankel powering clear of the opposition, winning his races by a country-mile. And so, what a thrill to see Cracksman mimic his ‘old man’ at Ascot yesterday. It wasn’t always that way for Gosden’s talented colt, but this late season version has packed on the power and is able to maintain a relentless gallop despite testing conditions.

The question is whether he possesses the gears to be as effective on a sounder surface, but there’s no doubting that he is a machine in the mud.

Frankie Dettori had him tucked in behind the leaders in the early stages yesterday, but on turning for home the jockey struck-out for glory. Cracksman immediately put lengths between himself and the field, and with stamina aplenty powered clear in devastating fashion. He hit the line a yawning seven lengths clear of Poet’s Word, with Highland Reel third.

“He’s improved through the year and grown up a lot,” said a thrilled John Gosden. “If he was a middleweight earlier in the season, he is a light heavyweight now. He's really progressed and to do this against older horses, he's a fast-improving horse.”

Dettori was completing a stunning Champions Day double, and said of Cracksman: “I’m thrilled for everyone. It’s Frankel’s first Group One [in Europe], my first Champion Stakes, a lot of firsts and a great performance. The Champion Stakes is a colossal race, my father came close, I came close a couple of times, it’s been bugging me a long time to put it to bed with a great performance.”

He went on: “I didn’t expect Persuasive to win, I didn’t sleep very well because of Cracksman, I really felt the horse was in tip-top shape. When the rain came I was delighted because I knew it would make it a test of stamina, the headwind helped because it makes it even harder to get to the end, it stacked up towards my side, but the horse still had to deliver, and he did. I’m made up.”

When asked of next season’s selection dilemma, Dettori added: “To have Enable and Cracksman in the same year, well done John Gosden, he’s a genius. We’ll tackle the bridge next year. It’s Cracksman’s day today, let him have the glory!”

It proved to be a sensational day for Gosden and Dettori. They caused something of an upset earlier in the day, when Persuasive swooped late to take the QEII. Ribchester had looked the likely winner at the two-furlong pole, when moving stylishly to the front. But he began to flounder in the testing ground and approaching the furlong mark Dettori launched an attack aboard the grey filly. She handled conditions better than the rest for a huge victory, with Ribchester and Churchill chasing her home.

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Thrilled, though clearly surprised to have won, Dettori said: “To be honest, looking at the line-up I thought God, she'll have to run well as there were Group One winners all over the place. But the key thing was that she had got the ground.”

Gosden said of the winning filly: “He (Frankie) was saving and saving, trying to keep her together. He went for a run on the inside and got blocked, so had to take her back and swing out. She'd have been an unlucky loser. When she got out she flew down the middle of the track.”

Richard Fahey, trainer of runner-up Ribchester, cursed the ground for the defeat: “It's deja vu, the ground has beaten him again. He's a horse that's won on soft ground, but he's such a good moving horse. William (Buick) felt he came there to win and win well and he just gets blunted in the dead ground. He just doesn't put it to bed and the winner coped with the conditions better. That's twice he's been beaten in desperate conditions.”

A successful Champions Day is the icing on the cake for Gosden, having had a glorious 2017 campaign. The firepower at his disposal can only be surpassed by one other trainer. And many Flat racing fans had arrived at Ascot in the hope of seeing Aidan O’Brien break Bobby Frankel’s Group One winning tally. Team Ballydoyle have yet again set the standard for others to follow, and though Caravaggio and Churchill came mighty close, it was another outstanding filly that gave them the Group One success they so desperately sought.

Hydrangea, like Cracksman, is another talented racehorse from a Pivotal mare, and as such had no problem coping with the testing ground. The issue was whether she would see-out the trip, having never previously attempted the mile and a half. When French filly Bateel loomed large at the furlong pole, Hydrangea’s stamina was put to the test, and she responded admirably to Ryan Moore’s urgings. Pulling out plenty for pressure, she battled on bravely to win by two-lengths.

On drawing level with the record, O'Brien said: “It's incredible for everyone, they all put in so much hard work, day in day out. We're a small link in a big chain and I'm delighted for everyone, it's a magic, special day. She's by Galileo and they will not stop, their will to win is incredible. She pulled out more and it was Ryan's idea to run her as he thought there was a chance she'd get the trip. We weren't sure, but she did.”

Moore echoed the thoughts of his trainer, when saying: “What Aidan O'Brien has done this year is remarkable and it is a massive team effort. Everyone who looks after these horses, they put in so much time. The filly has been on the go all year and has got better and better. I thought she had a good chance. I'm delighted for Aidan.”

O’Brien also landed the opener, when Order Of St George produced a battling performance to take the Long Distance Cup. He needed every yard of the straight to get his nose ahead of Jess Harrington’s Torcedor. John Gosden’s well-fancied three-year-old Stradivarius, produced another performance full of promise in finishing strongly to take third. He remains a young horse with a huge future.

Harry Angel’s Ascot hoodoo continued when he made it 0-4 at the track in the Champions Sprint Stakes. He’d travelled wonderfully well through the race, but possibly struck for home a little early at the two-pole. The writing was on the wall as he entered the final furlong, with Tasleet attacking to his right and Librisa Breeze to his left. As Harry crumbled it was Dean Ivory’s grey Librisa, that found plenty for pressure, pulling a length clear of Tasleet at the post. Caravaggio got going too late, but managed to pip Harry A for third.

Winning jockey Robert Winston told ITV Racing: “It means a hell of a lot. My career was finished, only for this horse, and that's being honest. I was packing up last year, I gave my notice to Dean, but this horse and Mr Bloom have kept me going. Dean is a great man to ride for, he has great staff and brilliant owners, including Mr Bloom.” Of the winner, Winston added: “He'd get a mile-plus, but has so much natural speed and is so genuine. I know I have been criticised a couple of times this year when he should have won, but that's the way you have to ride him.”

For Ivory, a winner on Champions Day was clearly a huge thrill: “I could not believe it. The ground and everything went right for us. He has been off a long time, seven weeks, and he has been so unlucky this year. We have got the luck when it mattered. That was the hardest field in the last 10 years and to come out and do it like that, I'm thrilled. He is a horse that has never had a clean run. This year is his year and I've seen him grow into a proper horse. Robert Winston believes in the horse as much as we do.”

The final race of the day went to yet another grey, when Lord Glitters came with a thrilling late rattle to nab Europe’s most valuable handicap, the Balmoral. Stuck out the back with nowhere to go, Daniel Tudhope switched the David O’Meara trained four-year-old to the wide outside with just a furlong remaining. In the clear, he thundered home, hitting the line a neck ahead of yet another Gosden runner, Gm Hopkins.

It was a suitably thrilling finale to an exhilarating Champions Day.

O’Brien Four-midable in Dewhurst Romp

Aidan O’Brien landed the Dewhurst at Newmarket on Saturday, as he closes in on Bobby Frankel’s world record Group One haul.

Just one more top-level success is required for O’Brien to reach 25 in a season, and match Frankel’s amazing achievement. After an unsuccessful trip to Canada last night, Team Ballydoyle will now head to Ascot for Champions Day next Saturday in search of the history making victories.

U S Navy Flag proved a stunning winner of the Dewhurst, which saw O’Brien colts filling the first four places. You need to bring your ‘A’ game to stand any chance of wrestling Group Ones from the clutches of Aidan and the boys. Sadly for favourite backers, Expert Eye was some way short and ultimately hugely disappointing. Sweating profusely, then restless in the stalls, Sir Michael Stoute’s exciting prospect did himself no favours by running with the choke out. He was one of the first beat before being eased down in the latter stages.

The winner could not have been more impressive. Drawn wide, Ryan Moore switched to the rail and controlled the race from start to finish. He kicked clear just inside the two-pole, comfortably holding off a battalion of stablemates. The outsider of O’Brien’s quintet, Mendelssohn, finished a surprise runner-up, followed by Seahenge, with Threeandfourpence completing the Ballydoyle Blitz.

Moore appeared impressed with the much-improved U S Navy Flag, when saying: “He’s got better through the year. He’s a very honest horse who keeps finding a bit more each time he comes to the track. It’s a credit to Aidan to do what he’s done today, the first four home, and they’re all nice horses that should be better next year.”

O’Brien was, as ever, humble in victory, saying: “It’s a big team effort all the way along, from the people that are involved very early with those horses as foals, and before they are even born, all the way to the people directly involved today. It’s great satisfaction for everybody, a massive team effort with lots of cogs in the wheel.”

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When asked about Bobby Frankel’s record, the trainer added: “It would be massive for everyone but we don't think about it really. We take one race at a time but it would obviously be a massive achievement for our team. We would be very honoured, but we will take one day at a time.”

That magic 25 could have been landed at Newmarket, had September had a clearer path in the Fillies’ Mile. When a gap finally appeared inside the final furlong, Seamie Heffernan was unable to make up the ground on Karl Burke’s gutsy filly Laurens. An ever-diminishing nose was all that separated the pair at the line, much to the delight of winning jockey PJ McDonald.

It was a first Group One success for the talented jock, and he was clearly thrilled when speaking to ITV after the win: “It’s absolutely amazing, all those years, I’m 35-years-of-age now, and all that hard work. The relief when that number got called out, it’s amazing. I was praying I had it, but I hadn’t got a clue.”

PJ then praised the handler, who was moved to tears: “All credit goes to Lucy, she rides this filly every day, and has done since she came in. You know, it’s a massive team effort and everybody has played their part.” When asked by Rishi Persad for a quick word on what the success meant, the tearful handler said: “Just everything, I can’t even speak.”

There’s little doubt that the winner is both talented and tough. She also has the physical scope for further improvement, and the pedigree to stay further as a three-year-old.

The runner-up is a much smaller filly and improved considerably for the return to a sounder surface. She’s also bred to get further, being by Japanese Stallion Deep Impact out of the Irish Oaks winner Peeping Fawn. It’s an exciting pedigree, though connections will be hoping for a growth spurt or two over the winter.

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical had been sent-off favourite, but ran a little flat in finishing fourth. This race may have come a little soon after her exertions in Chantilly, when filling the same spot in the Prix Marcel Boussac.
Magic Lily ran a cracker in third on only her second career start. She’s another with the physique to progress as a three-year-old, giving Godolphin hope of breaking the Ballydoyle stranglehold on the one-mile filly division.

For now, it’s onwards and upwards for O’Brien and his team. Attention turns to Ascot and a re-writing of those record books.

Snow time like the present – As Meade launches Cesarewitch assault

I’d pondered over looking at the Dewhurst for this week’s Friday Preview piece, however I’m finding it impossible to flag-up a challenger to the odds-on shot Expert Eye. If the colt that romped to victory at Goodwood arrives here at Newmarket in that form, the result is a formality.

So instead I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and have a crack at the Cesarewitch. Just the 34 runners go to post, so finding the winner shouldn’t be that difficult. Having said that, it’s proved a tough summer for the handicap followers. The Cambridgeshire a couple of weeks back was the perfect example. A 50/1 shot landed the pot, followed home by a 100/1 outsider and another at 50s. The tricast paid a staggering £90,344.98.
Nevertheless, the winner is amongst the 34, so let’s try and find him or her.

As an avid follower of trends, my first port-of-call is the likely age of the prospective winner. Four and six-year-olds have the best recent record with five victories apiece from the past 20 renewals. A pair of three-year-olds have been successful, whilst a single five-year-old has won in that time. A trio aged seven, a pair at eight, one aged nine and one winner aged 11 have also landed the prestigious prize in the period. The conclusion to draw from this snapshot, is that a horse of any age can win the Cesarewitch. Great Start!

Maybe there’s more to glean from the price of previous winners? Perhaps fancied runners have a decent record? Perhaps not. Over the past 10 years, we’ve had a pair of winners priced at 50/1, two at 66/1, one at 25s and a winner at 16s. Only one favourite has obliged in that period. Goodness me!

Weight carrying is often a point of reference when attempting to find a winner in these ultra-competitive handicaps. Thankfully this is also the case in the Cesarewitch, with just four winners carrying 9-4 or more to victory in the past 20 renewals. Sadly, that stat only takes six contenders out of the reckoning on Saturday. Just the 28 runners left to choose from then.

National Hunt trainers have a decent record, having struck nine times from the past 20. In 2015 Alan King’s Grumeti took the prize at 50/1, following the success of Phillip Hobbs in 2014. Evan Williams, Willie Mullins and Alan King head the market for tomorrow’s renewal, with dual-purpose trainer Karen McLintock responsible for the horse currently fourth in the betting.

Mullins has three contenders, and has been joined on his trip across the Irish Sea by Noel Meade and Tony Martin. Dr Richard Newland, Nigel Twiston-Davies and David Pipe all have entrants loitering in the lower regions of the handicap. This truly is a clash of jump racings finest and the best from the flat.

I’m not sure the above has got us any nearer finding the winner, though there’s a fair chance the first home may be carrying 9-4 or less and be trained by a National Hunt exponent. It’s now a case of finding the well-handicapped contender capable of maintaining a strong gallop for the full 2m2f. Most of this race is run in a straight line, with little chance of a jockey getting a breather into his mount. This is a thorough examination of both the horse’s stamina and attitude, hence the reason ‘tough-nuts’ from the Jumps do so well.

The Evan Williams trained John Constable heads the market and will be ably supported by the outstanding Jim Crowley. The six-year-old has not run on the flat since 2014, but has been in great form over the jumps, winning his last run at Market Rasen off a mark of 150. That came towards the end of July, so he ought to be as fit as a fiddle. He was rated 94 when last running on the flat at the Curragh, and gets in here off a mark of 88. He won the 17-runner Swinton Hurdle back in May by a country-mile, so has the ‘big field’ experience. It’s easy to see why he’s favourite, and he should go well.

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The Willie Mullins trained Lagostovegas is next best in the betting, and is another with a progressive hurdles record. He has good recent form on the flat, but is somewhat inferior to John Constable in ratings over timber. Of course, the two codes are not necessarily compatible, nevertheless I’d certainly favour the favourite, despite Mullins having Ryan Moore booked for the ride.

Who Dares Wins is next best according to the bookies, and was last seen winning the trial at Newmarket. He’s trained by Alan King and should certainly appreciate both the trip and the decent ground. He’s gone up 4lbs for that last win, and that’s sure to prove a tough ask. He also needs to reverse form with Endless Acres from their run behind Thomas Hobson at Ascot in June. King’s fella is without doubt a contender, but he’s not for me.

Dubawi Fifty looks a progressive four-year-old who should be suited by the step-up in trip. He finished strongly to win at Nottingham last time over an inadequate 1m6f. He’s up 5lbs for that success, but at four the improvement may be there. He’s trained in the north by Karen McLintock and owned by the Rooney’s. You could argue that he lacks experience, especially in a field of this size, but with Graham Lee on top, I fancy he’ll run well.

Time To Study is an interesting three-year-old trained in Yorkshire by Mark Johnston. He won a decent handicap at Doncaster last time, but was then ‘pulled’ from the trial at Newmarket, with the ground (good) given as the reason. It’s a puzzler, because he ran well on good to firm in the Queen’s Vase at Ascot behind Stradivarius. He had Shrewd behind him at Doncaster and that form stacks up quite nicely. He’s unproven at this trip, which is clearly a concern. Add to that, the slight worry over the ground, and he’s possibly one to overlook. Though I’m slightly nervous to do so.

Withhold is a hugely consistent four-year-old trained by Roger Charlton. He’s won or been placed in six of his eight career starts, though has only run the once so far this season. That came at Newbury, when third at an inadequate 1m4f trip. He should improve for the outing, and his proximity to Weekender gives the form a solid look. I’m not wholly convinced that he’ll see out this trip, though he has won at two-miles. He does have an attractive race weight of 8-8, and is hard to dismiss.

Endless Acres is another four-year-old with a serious chance. Runner-up in the Ascot Stakes to Thomas Hobson, he was also second to Flymetothestars back in May, which again looks strong form. He’s had a light campaign and there’s no doubts over him seeing out the trip. He looks a leading contender, though creeps over the desired weight at 9-5.

One that I am interested in, is Jim Goldie’s Euchen Glen. Third at York in a valuable two-mile handicap when getting no sort of run, he’d previously beaten Byron Flyer at Ascot, again at two-miles. He looks to be on a fair mark judging by the York performance and should run well.

London Prize keeps performing well on the flat, but is on much worse terms with Withhold on their 2016 meeting. He also has a mountain to climb if his jumps form with John Constable translates to the flat.

Another that I very much like is Noel Meade’s Snow Falcon. He’s a high-class staying hurdler, good enough to come within two-lengths of Yanworth at Aintree on good ground in April. He’s run well on the flat over the summer, including a comfortable win at Killarney in August. He’s right on my 9-4 limit and I’m convinced he’ll run a huge race.

Byron Flyer is another that certainly has a clear chance on the form book. Handicapped to at least be on terms with Time To Study and Euchen Glen, he’s a consistent performer at around two miles, though has a habit of finishing second in tight finishes. Ryan Moore was aboard last time at Doncaster, and having travelled beautifully throughout, he would have been left scratching his head as to how he was beaten. He may well be in the vicinity late on, but you’d have to anticipate him finding one or two ‘wanting it’ a little more in the final furlong.

In a year when handicap winners have gone in at huge odds, I’d give a squeak to Star Rider. Trained by Hughie Morrison, the five-year-old ran a shocker at York last time and didn’t run particularly well the time before at Goodwood. However, she was a decent sixth in the Ascot Stakes when suffering interference, and was eighth in this race last year. In three visits to the Rowley Mile, she’s won twice. Morrison took last year’s race with the mare Sweet Selection, and on decent ground Star Rider is interesting.

For those having a punt it has to be worth spreading the cash across a few entrants. John Constable may well be ‘thrown-in’, and at 8s, even in a race this competitive, is probably fair value. However, I’ll avoid the temptation of tipping-up the favourite and look elsewhere.

Euchen Glen was an eye-catcher last time at York, and looks to have a great chance. He’s one to have at 16s. I can’t resist a few quid on Snow Falcon at 20/1. I’m convinced that Noel Meade’s classy stayer will love the trip and put in a huge performance. Finally, I’ll have a little each-way on Morrison’s mare Star Rider. Can lightning strike twice? Best of luck to all those having a punt in this hugely competitive race.

Roly Digs Deep for Group One Glory

Roly Poly displayed guts along with a fair splash of class to take the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.

Despite a hectic campaign, Aidan O’Brien’s filly showed no sign of fatigue, as she fought off the challenge of race favourite Persuasive, to land her third Group One. Ryan Moore took her to the front from the off, setting a sensible pace. Headed by Dawn Of Hope at the two-furlong pole, Moore refused to panic, instead gathering his mount for a renewed effort as they met the rising ground. Persuasive threatened to land a blow, but Roly Poly found plenty for pressure, hitting the line more than a length ahead.

This was O'Brien’s 23rd Group One victory in yet another glorious campaign. He said of the win: “Ryan gave her a class ride. She's a great filly, with a great heart. She's tactical and tough, amazing really. She's a great pedigree, out of a very good Galileo mare and by War Front, and the lads do a great job with her at home.” When asked if a trip to America was on the cards, he added: “I think so, the lads will decide what they want to do, but herself and Rhododendron could be trained for the Breeders’ Cup fillies race.”

John Gosden trained the second and third home in the Sun Chariot, and said of Persuasive and Nathra: “They both ran superbly well. The winner on this ground was too good for us. With a bit more juice in the ground, both of our fillies would have troubled the winner. They have run true and honest right to the end of the season. I think that will probably be it for both of them and the breeding sheds beckon.”

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Chris Richardson, the managing director of Persuasive's owners, Cheveley Park Stud, hinted that one last hurrah remained a possibility, saying: “She ran a blinder, she just needs a bit of juice in the ground. We are just going to keep the door open for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. If it came up soft and she was still in good form, it could be an option and we might just give her one more whirl.”

The strong French challenge failed to materialize, with Usherette proving best of the raiding party, staying on late for a fourth place finish. Likewise, Qemah was also doing her best work in the latter stages, though could only finish sixth.

O’Brien is now within touching distance of Bob Frankel’s single-season Grade One world record, and said of the challenge: “It would be incredible for everybody, but the horse always comes first. That's the important thing. After every race, the lads sit down and have a chat and see what race they want to pick. They have a big discussion with the people around them, make a target and we go with that. It's race to race, but the horse always comes first and we're doing our best in every race, it's all we can do.”

The trainer will now focus on the Future Champions Festival at Newmarket on Friday and Saturday, as he searches for further Group One glory. A year ago, Team Ballydoyle took both juvenile features, with Rhododendron winning the Fillies’ Mile and Churchill landing the Dewhurst. The stable have been responsible for the last three winners of the fillies’ race, and have Happily entered on Friday. O’Brien has also won three of the last four Dewhurst’s, though Sir Michael Stoute’s Expert Eye is a short-priced favourite for Saturday’s renewal.

Enable – Queen of Chantilly

She’s proved peerless throughout the summer, and now John Gosden’s Enable heads to France to be crowned Queen of Chantilly.

A short-priced favourite for Sunday’s Arc, the dual-Oaks heroine has won her last five starts, including four at Group One level. She’s dished out punishing defeats to those of her own sex, and at Ascot in July proved devastating in defeating the boys in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes. That victory came in testing conditions, though this stylish mover had arguably looked more impressive at the Curragh, when winning the Irish Oaks on quick ground.

She’s won going left-handed and she’s won going right. She’s been destructive on galloping tracks, stiff tracks and those that were tight. She’s been ridden prominently throughout the campaign, possessing a high cruising speed, but then when asked for her effort has shown an abundance of stamina in pulling clear of all opposition. I would envisage Frankie Dettori keeping things as simple as possible. He’ll likely settle the filly in behind the leader, before making his move with around three-furlongs to go. She’ll take some catching.

Ulysses is likely to be the one giving chase. Sir Michael Stoute’s progressive four-year-old was unable to live with the filly at Ascot, though he’s 3lbs better off, and the ground may well be less testing on Sunday. He’s a powerful traveller, and there’s likely to be a point in the straight when an upset appears on the cards. Jim Crowley rode him beautifully in the Juddmonte International at York, when waiting as long as possible before asking for maximum effort. The question is whether Ulysses can ‘creep’ close enough to Enable, to allow him to land a serious blow. There also remains a doubt over his ability to see-out this trip effectively.

Chances are that Aidan O’Brien’s battalion will be doing their utmost to unsettle the favourite. His three colts have an abundance of stamina, and will need a thorough end to end gallop if they are to have any chance of success. Order Of St George may be the one to take it on from the front, though Idaho could also force the issue. Despite both being high-class thoroughbreds, I’m struggling to envisage either having the ability to trouble the favourite. Quite simply, they both lack the speed to get Enable out of her comfort zone.

Ryan Moore surprised many by opting to ride dual-Guineas winner Winter. Clearly he believes she’s the only Ballydoyle entrant capable of beating Gosden’s filly. Though a four-time Group One winner, the worry for Winter fans, is whether she’ll see-out this extended trip. Her victory in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood will give hope, and she’s given the impression throughout the campaign of being a ‘tough as teak’ sort. You have to go back to 1990 to find a winner of the Arc who was attempting the trip for the first time. There’s no doubting the magnitude of the task, but she’s hugely talented.

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Though France has captured the lion’s share of Arcs, their recent record is no more than mediocre. They have four wins from the past 10 renewals, with Treve accounting for two of those.

French Derby winner Brametot is arguably their best hope this time, though he has to overcome a poor last run, when trailing home fifth in a Group Two at Deauville. Jean Claude-Rouget appears confident that the colt is back on track, and he certainly looked a classy sort earlier in the campaign. He defeated Waldgeist at Chantilly, though the form took a knock when Andre Fabre’s colt could only manage fourth in the Irish Derby. Brametot is a horse with gears, and without doubt a contender. He’s also two from two at the track.

If the French are to be successful, I rather fancy that Alain de Royer-Dupre will be heavily involved. Twice the winning trainer with Aga Khan inmates, he runs four-year-old Zarak, a son of 2008 winner Zarkava. Runner-up to Almanzor in last year’s French Derby, it was a little surprising that he wasn’t then aimed at the Arc. He stayed-on well to win the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time, and at around 16/1 he looks a decent each-way proposition.

Danedream won the Arc for Germany in 2011, and they have a leading contender this time in the four-year-old colt Dschingis Secret. His form at three was ordinary at best, but he’s improved a ton this year. He defeated Hawkbill in a Group One in Germany, and earlier this month looked good in winning the Prix Foy at Chantilly. He has to be on the shortlist for a place finish.

Finally, I feel that I have to mention Aidan O’Brien’s Seventh Heaven. I’m a huge fan of the filly, though her preparation for the Arc has been a disaster. Off the track since a stunning success in May, I was looking forward to her return at the Curragh three weeks ago, but she ran an absolute stinker. Practically tailed-off throughout the Group Two Blandford Stakes, it could be argued that her odds of 33/1 are actually a little skinny. Nevertheless, O’Brien has decided to send her over, and I could not resist a few quid each-way.

Fillies have a terrific recent record in the Arc, as do three-year-olds. The British and Irish have won five of the last 10, and though favourites haven’t got the best of records, I cannot see any other than Enable winning on Sunday. I would love to see her put in a stunning performance, and believe she will. Winter and Brametot are potential dangers, and I also expect Ulysses to go close. I’ve already backed Zarak and Seventh Heaven each-way, but if pushed would have Enable, Ulysses and Zarak as my one-two-three.

Best of luck to all of those having a punt. Let’s hope the filly does the business.

Classy and Courageous Capri lands thrilling Leger

The St Leger proved to be the cracker many had anticipated, with the Aidan O’Brien favourite Capri landing the odds in a thrilling finish.

He’d looked the standout on form, having captured the Irish Derby at the beginning of July. And so it proved, though he had to show grit and determination to hold off a strong challenge from both Stradivarius and the highly talented Crystal Ocean.

Ryan Moore had kept Capri near the front-end throughout, seemingly confident that the colt would get every yard of the St Leger trip. Speaking to ITV immediately after the success, Moore said: “He’s a very good horse, an Irish Derby winner and was a Group Two winning two-year-old. He dug in and fought very hard, and it was a very good performance in a very good Leger.

Aidan O’Brien was securing a fabulous fifth St Leger, and said of the winner: “The lads did a great job. We had a little blip around York time, so were a bit worried coming here. But Ryan gave him a class ride, and I can’t tell you how happy we all are. He’s a horse with a lot of class, like obviously we saw in the Irish Derby.” When asked about the challenge from Crystal Ocean he added: “I’m always worried, and until they go past the line you never know what’s going to happen.”

O’Brien went on to say that Capri could now head for the Arc at Chantilly, assuming he comes out of the race fit and well. Kingston Hill finished fourth in the Arc of 2014 just weeks after winning the St Leger. I’m guessing Capri could run into a place should the ground run on the soft side, though no one should underestimate just how punishing Saturday’s Classic victory would have been.

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Crystal Ocean had loomed large at the two-pole having travelled beautifully throughout. Crowley got him to within a length at the furlong pole, but Capri found plenty for pressure, and at the line had a half-length to spare. “I'd prefer to have won it, but he ran a great race, we're thrilled with him,” was Stoute’s verdict of his classy runner-up. “I thought he was going to win, but we won't run him beyond a mile and a half again. It was always a danger that he was a mile-and-a-half horse and that's his trip. Jim (Crowley) gave him a lovely ride and I always felt he might win. Jim reported he was always pretty confident, but he was just outstayed.”

With Stoute’s ability of improving a racehorse from three to four, Crystal Ocean may prove a revelation next season. It seems just a matter of time before he captures a Group One, and with the yard insisting he’d be much stronger next year, he looks to have a sparkling career ahead of him.

Stradivarius battled bravely to the line for a third-place finish, and having already won the Goodwood Cup and Queen’s Vase, looks destined for a crack at next year’s Ascot Gold Cup.

I also felt Rekindling was something of an eye-catcher back in fourth. He was caught a little far back when Capri struck for home, and had to follow Crystal Ocean in cutting through the pack, before finally getting a clear run to the line. He stayed on powerfully, and looks another capable of taking high-rank in the staying division.

As for Coronet in fifth, it appeared she found the trip to be just beyond her. She’ll now head for the Fillies and Mares at Ascot on Champions’ Day, and is sure to be a major player in a race won by John Gosden 12 months ago.

The undoubted disappointment of the Leger was Roger Varian’s Defoe. The progressive colt had been fancied by many, and indeed elected by myself as a major danger to Capri in my Friday piece. Drying ground wouldn’t have helped his cause, but in the end he was simply outclassed. Atzeni was rowing away before the pack turned for home, and as the main contenders stepped on the gas, his challenge fizzled out.

In the final analysis, it was once again the ‘big-guns’ that dominated on the main stage. O’Brien, Stoute and Gosden are the powerhouses of middle-distance events, and though many will say the St Leger suits the stayer, the first two home on Saturday will ply their trade at a mile-and-a-half next season.

Stat of the Day, 12th September 2017

Monday's Result :

2.35 Perth : Johnny Go @ 4/1 BOG RACE VOID, stakes returned : Fell and sadly fatally injured at first fence, causing race to be abandoned...

A sad day at Perth on Monday for all concerned and the thoughts of everyone here at Geegeez are with connections of Johnny Go.

Tuesday's pick goes in the...

4.25 Leicester :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

War Glory @ 7/2 BOG

Why?

This 4yr old gelding has certainly been banging on the door of late, finishing 322 in his last three outings and was only beaten late on by half a length last time out when outpaced to the line at Chester 10 days ago.

That race was at a higher grade and over half a furlong than today, so it is hoped/expected that the drop in both grade and trip will do the trick today, as he certainly wouldn't be winning out of turn!

Another bonus comes in the shape of the booking of the ever-reliable Ryan Moore to take the ride, as he continues to churn out those winners at a rate of 1 in 4, whilst here at Leicester, his strike rate is even better at 26.4% via 47 winners from 148 over the last nine seasons.

Trainer Richard Hannon is 22/154 (14.3% SR) overall here at this track and whilst that's a reasonable strike rate, it's not quite enough to show a profit from blindly backing all his runners, but if we focus on those priced at Evens to 8/1, we have 21 winners from 100 (21% SR) for profits of 9.86pts (+9.86% ROI).

Those 100 runners include...

  • those carrying 9st 3lbs or more : 12/52 (23.1%) for 14.4pts (+27.7%)
  • those last seen 6-20 days ago : 14/46 (30.4%) for 30.5pts (+66.4%)
  • those racing over 7 furlongs are 8/36 (22.2%) for 8.8pts (+24.3%)
  • and those dropping down a grade are 8/28 (28.6%) for 20.2pts (+72%)

And finally...2012-17 / Flat / 7f / 3-4 yr olds / top 3 finishes in each of last three races / 2nd or 3rd LTO in last 25 days = 61/289 (21.1% SR) for 159.4pts (+55.2% ROI), with those racing at Class 3 winning 9 of 28 (32.1%) for 56.8pts (+202.8%)...

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on War Glory @ 7/2 BOG, which was offered by Bet365, Paddy Power, SkyBet, SunBets & 10Bet at 5.45pm on Monday, so, as ever, the choice is yours! For what it's worth, I'm on with SkyBet, but to see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 4.25 Leicester

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!