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Monday Musings: Stoute and Fleet wins the King George

It rained on Friday, but not enough for Cracksman to run in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot the following afternoon, writes Tony Stafford. John Gosden’s colt’s absence, together with the late defection of Ballydoyle’s principal hope Kew Gardens, seemed to leave the midsummer feature at the mercy of Sir Michael Stoute and so it proved.

Many of the King George’s since Stoute’s first victory with the ill-fated Shergar in 1981 have featured fancied runners from the Freemason Lodge stable. Poet’s Word, in beating stable-companion Crystal Ocean in a memorable tussle nine lengths clear of the rest, was Stoute’s sixth in the race, which started life in 1951.

Poet’s Word recorded the second-best time ever in the race, bettered only by the German colt Novellist in 2013. Track records at Ascot are generally considered only valid since 2006 when the home straight was remodeled with the construction of the present grandstand, but there has been little apparent difference in overall race times compared with pre-2006.

The fastest times for Ascot’s mile and a half have generally come in fast-run King George’s and for a while the record was held by the Race of the Century in 1975 when Derby winner, Grundy, overcame Bustino after Dick Hern’s use of two pacemakers almost defeated Grundy with the previous year’s St Leger hero.

That time stood for a relatively short period and unusually it was broken in the Hardwicke Stakes of 1983 when the Irish mare Stanerra, trained by the part-time handler and Dunnes Stores family member Frank Dunne, more usually an owner with Jim Bolger, won two races within three days at Royal Ascot.

Relishing the lightning-fast ground at the meeting, the five-year-old won the Prince of Wales by four lengths as a 7-1 shot and then rolled over Electric by a length and a half in the Hardwicke with Be My Native, the Coronation Cup winner from the previous month, 12 lengths back in third in a time 0.03sec faster than Grundy’s 2min26.98sec.

More recently, another Stoute winner, Harbinger in 2010, recorded 2min 26.78sec. The fastest-ever King George time was set three years later by the German colt Novellist, whose talent has never been fully recognized over here. In an 11-race career, Novellist suffered the first of only two defeats after four wins, when runner-up to Pastorius in the German Derby. That was followed by a fourth behind the 2012 King George heroine and fellow German, Danedream, in the Grosser Preis von Baden five weeks after that filly’s Ascot triumph.

From then it was wins all the way for Novellist, who went through 2013 with victories at Baden-Baden (Group 2), in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and then Ascot before putting right the Grosser Preis von Baden defeat of the previous September with a workmanlike win at odds of 1-6, after which he went off to stud in Japan, with so far unspectacular results.

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What was spectacular, though, was the five-length romp away from Trading Leather, Stoute’s Hillstar and favourite Cirrus des Aigles at Ascot in 2min24.60sec. Poet’s Word’s time of 2min 25.84sec (2.66sec fast) stands up well after Friday’s rain on a day when no other race was run in anywhere near standard time.

Although on the day, the O’Brien team made only a minor impact on the eventual result, the fact that second string Rostropovich – number one Hydrangea found the ground much too fast – set a strong gallop and sustained it until well into the straight, played to the Stoute pair’s strengths. Fifth behind Coronet and Salouen hardly flattered him.

When William Buick on Crystal Ocean, the St Leger runner-up to Capri last year, went into a two-length lead on Saturday, few in the stands expected him to be reeled in, but as in the Irish Oaks James Doyle again came fast and late to gain a memorable win on his first ride in the race.

Doyle’s rise to prominence will have pleased one television pundit. In his early days, Doyle was often championed by James Willoughby as a jockey out-performing his opportunities, and that remains very much the case, although the opportunities are now much more numerous.

The days when the King George was the unchallenged midsummer target for Europe’s best horses are long gone, although the fact that two high-class and still-improving stayers such as Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean were on show, adds some much-needed gloss. The fact remains, though, that prizemoney here has been fairly static in face of dramatic rises elsewhere.

The King George winner earned considerably more on his first race of the year when runner-up to Hawkbill in the Dubai World Cup. His career, typically with Stoute, has been a case of gradual improvement and after Saturday, more credence will have been afforded Poet’s Word’s defeat of Cracksman and the aforementioned Hawkbill in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last month.

While it is hard to imagine Goodwood 2018 being in any way comparable to last year when incessant rain so disrupted the going, the sight of a leaden sky for the first time for a couple of months as I looked out from my office towards the Olympic Stadium just after dawn today, suggests caution.

If the heatwave returns leaving the ground to stay on the fast side, I’ll be going with the Brian Meehan-trained Bacchus in the Stewards’ Cup on Saturday. The Wokingham winner got what looked a less-than-inspired ride (unusually) from Frankie Dettori at Newbury just over a week ago, but is reportedly in fine fettle. There is a slight chance that he might go instead for the Maurice de Gheest over an extra half-furlong, so it might be wise to wait until final declarations on Thursday morning before committing.

I’ll be at Goodwood for the first four days of the meeting, but will switch to Newmarket on Saturday where Laxmi will tackle the valuable fillies’ nursery for Tooth, Siddiqui, and Sharma from what we hope is a fair mark. Ray’s colours will also be on show half an hour later with My Law, who deserves a break after her Newbury stumble out of the gate which deposited Fran Berry on the ground.

As Steve Gilbey said after that latest kick in the teeth (or Tooth):  If we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.

Harrington filly shines brightest at Royal Ascot

John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien completed a hugely successful Royal Ascot, though it was arguably Irish racing royalty Jess Harrington, that stole the show.

Better known for exploits during the winter months, Harrington is responsible for this summer’s ‘wonder-filly’ Alpha Centauri. Runner-up in last year’s Albany Stakes, this powerfully built three-year-old now stands head and shoulders above her peers. Destructive in the Irish 1000 Guineas a month ago, she was simply magnificent on Friday, when annihilating a high-class field to take the Group One Coronation Stakes, giving her trainer a first Royal Ascot success.

Sent to the front over a furlong out by Colm O’Donoghue, this mighty filly simply powered clear, storming through the line in record time. Mark Johnston’s Threading backed up her stunning performance at York, with another terrific effort, though was simply no match for the outstanding winner, some six lengths back in second. Newmarket Guineas heroine Billesdon Brook lacked the gears to land a blow, though battled on bravely for fourth.

“I’m relieved because I definitely got very wound up,” Harrington said. “I was nervous today. I know she was very good. We were under the radar in the Irish Guineas, whereas today, there we are as the favourite and we are there to be shot at.

“The ground is key to her. As you can see there, she is a very big filly, she weighs 520kgs. I think when she is on soft ground she physically can’t get her feet out. What she wants is good ground. She is a big striding filly and Colm did not want to break her stride at all.”

There’s no doubting that this was a hugely impressive performance from a filly who looks more than capable of taking on, and beating, the boys at a mile.

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The opening day of the meeting had belonged to John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. The dynamic duo struck a stunning trio of victories, with Without Parole the highlight in the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes. Dettori struck for home nearing the furlong mark, and though Gustav Klimt closed him down late on, the victory never looked in doubt. Calyx had shown his class earlier in the day, when winning despite being drawn on the wrong side of the track. This is a hugely talented juvenile son of Kingman and looks a thrilling prospect.

Stradivarius was another terrific winner for the pair as he out-battled French raider Vazirabad to win the Gold Cup. Having already landed the Yorkshire Cup, you can imagine this fella going through the campaign unbeaten in top level staying events.

It came as something of a surprise when Gosden’s star performer Cracksman, could only manage a second-place spot in the Prince Of Wales’s. The quick ground may not have been ideal, as he had no answer to the speed of Sir Michael Stoute’s Poet’s Word. The pair pulled well clear of the remainder in a quick time, with the five-year-old winner yet again proving just how good the trainer is at improving these middle-distance types.

To show he’s not just a master with progressive older horses, Stoute sent out the winner of the Commonwealth Cup, when Eqtidaar caused something of an upset in defeating Sands Of Mali. The winner ran a cracker, though it was the runner-up that caught the eye, and was arguably unlucky not to have get up late on. Fahey’s three-year-old looks a class act and could be the one to take out of this race as the season unfolds.

Stoute has an outstanding record in the Hardwicke Stakes and it was no surprise to see his classy Crystal Ocean land the Group Two with something to spare. This fella looks capable of taking on the very best mid-distance types throughout the season.

Team Ballydoyle rarely leave these events empty handed, and on this occasion it was an O’Brien sprinter that shone brightest for the yard. Merchant Navy had proved top class in Oz and has carried that promise to the next level for his new trainer. The three-year-old showed real guts to hold off the French-trained City Light in a thrilling finish to the Diamond Jubilee. Harry Angel was the disappointment of the race. Following a shocking start, he was never able to become competitive, and was eased down some way out. He’s now nought from five at the track.

Magic Wand was another success for Ballydoyle. She seemed to outstay Wild Illusion when comfortably winning the Ribblesdale Stakes. With Oaks winner Forever Together skipping the event, Charlie Appleby’s filly had been sent off the favourite. She put in a solid performance, though maybe a drop back to a mile-and-a-quarter would suit.

Despite winners being tricky to find at times, the Royal Meeting completely lived up to the hype. The best in the business came and conquered, with a special lady from Ireland rather fittingly providing a moment of pure majesty.

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.

Mulholland Pair to Master Ayr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Rhododendron looks Blooming Lovely in the Filly & Mare

The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf has proved rewarding for the European raiders over the years.

Queen’s Trust was successful 12 months ago, joining Dank, Midday, Ouija Board twice, Islington and Banks Hill, as winners from this side of ‘The Pond’. Sir Michael Stoute has won two of the last four and has three victories in total. He stands alongside Chad Brown as the most successful trainer in the race.

It’s something of a surprise that with the talent at his disposal Aidan O’Brien is yet to add his name to the roll of honour. Misty For Me came close in 2011, when having stumbled out the gate she spent much of the race in last place. L’Ancresse almost caused a 50/1 upset for the team in 2003 when getting to within a neck of Islington.

Saturday’s renewal sees last year’s top three lock horns once again. Sir Michael Stoute knows that the fast ground will be ideal for his returning heroine. Unfortunately for Queen’s Trust, the 1m1f trip, a furlong less than last year, on a trappy track like Del Mar, will certainly not. She needed every yard of last year’s mile and a quarter to get her nose ahead of Lady Eli, and it will take another Dettori masterclass to have the filly handy enough to successfully strike. She’ll be flying late-on, though maybe just too late.

Lady Eli is favourite to go one better this time. The track, trip and ground are all expected to suit this classy five-year-old, though it’s worth noting that favourites have a poor record in the race, with just a pair of wins from the last 10. She arrives off the back of a solid campaign, though rarely dazzles. She’s undoubtedly tough, and with everything seemingly in her favour, will take some beating.

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In a year when little has gone wrong for Aidan O’Brien, he appears to have a major chance of finally landing the Filly & Mare, with the talented Rhododendron. She arrives relatively fresh having spent a part of the summer on the ‘easy list’. Her latest victory at Chantilly shows that she is back to something near her best, and with further improvement likely she should mount a huge challenge. She defeated her classy stablemate Hydrangea in France, on ground that would have been plenty soft enough. She was unlucky when runner-up in the Guineas back in May. And then ran into Enable when looking a non-stayer in the Oaks.

Wuheida goes for Charlie Appleby, and the Godolphin filly is sure to find the trip and conditions to her liking. She was only just behind Rhododendron in France and prior to that ran a cracker in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. Appleby appears confident of a huge run, adding cheekpieces in the hope of extracting further improvement. She should go close, though I fancy she’ll just come-up short.

The ground will certainly suit the Roger Varian-trained Nezwaah, though I’m far from certain as to whether she has the class to win here. She was devastating in the Pretty Polly earlier in the season, though faces far tougher opposition this time. It wouldn’t surprise me if she put in a bold display.

Along with the favourite, Chad Brown has another interesting pair that look capable of springing a surprise at decent odds. Dacita and Grand Jete have been performing consistently well on the American circuit throughout the summer, though it’s the latter that I fancy could go close. Owned by Juddmonte and beautifully bred, Grand Jete was very unlucky not to win the Grade One Beverly D Stakes when trapped on the rail. She’s a powerful traveller and as a four-year-old may well have further improvement to come. With luck in running I think she’ll go close.

I’m taking on the favourite, and am hoping that Aidan O’Brien’s sensational season continues with a victory in this for Rhododendron. She’s a class act and looks sure to go close. Chad Brown has a great record in the race, though it’s his unfancied Grand Jete that I’ll be having a few quid on at 20s to run into a place. Best of luck to those having a punt. It looks a terrific renewal.

Champions Day Chat

His pedigree (by Frankel out of a Pivotal mare) suggests that the 10 furlongs of the Champion Stakes should prove ideal, yet the trip is touted by many as a concern for Cracksman. His last four outings have all come at a mile-and-a-half, and he looked a powerful stayer when winning both the Great Voltigeur at York and the Prix Niel last time at Chantilly.

Frankie Dettori appears confident that the trip on Saturday will not inconvenience his mount. Speaking on Racing UK he said: “I think he'll be fine over 10 furlongs, he's getting stronger and if the rain comes it will help him and disadvantage some of the others, like Highland Reel and Ulysses. It will make it more of a test of stamina, so I'm praying the rain comes. John (Gosden) has done a brilliant programme for him this year bearing in mind we've got next year to look forward to as well. We're going there with lots of confidence and hoping for the best.”

France have a decent record in the Champion Stakes and have a live contender in the French Guineas and Derby winner Brametot. Racing manager for Al Shaqab in France, Rupert Pritchard-Gordon, said of Jean-Claude Rouget’s runner: “He did his last piece of work on Monday morning in Deauville and all the signs are good. He looks like he's taken the Arc very well and I think a truly-run mile and a quarter will really suit him. He comes into the race relatively fresh having only run twice since June and everything points to a good performance.”

Rouget’s Almanzor won last year’s race, though he was exceptional. Brametot is undoubtedly talented, but has something to find if he is to beat Ulysses. And the French three-year-old form in general looks a little below par this year.

The amount of rain that falls in the next few days may well dictate whether Ulysses takes his place at the start. The main target for Stoute’s classy four-year-old has always been the Breeders’ Cup, and should the ground become testing at Ascot, the Eclipse and Juddmonte winner may well head straight to the States.

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“We’ve said from a long way out the aim is Del Mar,” said the Niarchos family racing manager, Alan Cooper. “It was natural to leave him in this after the Arc. The other thing is the ground and we will have to see what the weather is doing.” Stoute has always said that a sounder surface is ideal, and with just two weeks separating Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup, his participation has to be in some doubt.

A pair that look certain to take up their engagements at Ascot are Ribchester and Barney Roy. The Godolphin owned duo are fancied to go close in their respective races, with Barney, hopefully, set to clash again with his old adversary Ulysses. Pipped in the Eclipse, he was beaten further in the Juddmonte, though tactics look sure to change this time around.

Richard Hannon is clearly looking forward to the day, saying: “He’ll go to Ascot in great nick having had a break. He’s fresh, he’s a very exciting horse. Ride him a little bit differently and anything can happen.” Barney’s last visit to Ascot resulted in victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes, and he is yet to finish outside of the first three in six career starts.

Ribchester is favourite to land the QEII, having finished runner-up to Minding 12 months ago. Richard Fahey sounded happy with his outstanding miler when speaking earlier in the week: “Everything has gone according to plan. He’s a very easy horse to train with no issues, touch wood. He tends to go on any ground. When he got beaten at Goodwood, I’m not blaming the [heavy] ground, I’m blaming the conditions. It was blowing a gale and pouring down with the rain. It was a horrible day. But he’s bounced back and won a Group One in France since, so we are very happy and comfortable with him.”

It could be an exciting day for John Gosden. Along with Cracksman, he has a pair of talented fillies lined up for the Fillies And Mares Stakes. Speaking earlier this week, he said of Journey and Coronet: “Journey’s in great form. She ran a blinder in France when she ran into a filly (Bateel) who loved that ground more than she did. It will be her swansong, she goes to stud after this.”

Of Coronet he appeared just as enthusiastic, saying: “Coronet ran an exceptionally good race in the Yorkshire Oaks to Enable and just found the pace and distance too far in the Leger. She’s a very good filly and she’s getting better all the time. She seems to be racing more alertly now than she used to, so fingers crossed, they will both run good races. I haven’t got as far as riding arrangements. I’ll talk to Mr Dettori, who likes to tell us what to do. If he gets it wrong then it’s his fault, not mine.”

Stoute has an Expert Eye on the Dewhurst

The Future Champions Festival begins tomorrow at Newmarket and promises to be a thriller.

Aidan O’Brien is just two shy of the world record Group/Grade One winners for a calendar year, set by American trainer Bobby Frankel in 2003. With fancied runners in the Fillies Mile on Friday and the Dewhurst on Saturday, there’s a chance the master of Ballydoyle could draw level on 25 winners.

For that to come to fruition, he would have to defeat one of the summer’s most exciting juveniles, and current favourite for the 2018 Guineas, Expert Eye. Sir Michael Stoute’s youngster put in a devastating display last time at Goodwood in winning the Group Two Vintage Stakes. With just a couple of runs under his belt, he’ll be up against more experienced two-year-olds, including O’Brien’s Group One Middle Park winner, U S Navy Flag.

Stoute sounded confident in the ability of his youngster, when saying: “He seems in good shape. I contemplated going to the Curragh but he had a bit of an issue when we scoped him. That knocked that out of the way so we trained him for the Dewhurst. We've had precocious two-year-olds, but we don't seem to get them nowadays. This fellow just came along and was naturally precocious. You would have to say that he’s the best two-year-old that I have had for quite a while. He’s been pretty natural from the beginning.”

The trainer added: “Before we ran him we knew that he was pretty smart as he has always shown speed and been very athletic. And then, when we were preparing him for Goodwood, we began to realise just how good he was. The form has worked out but this is quite a while later. We have had plenty of time to prepare him for this so there will be no excuses.

“The Dewhurst looks a tough race. In the past we never had to go up against a battalion like Aidan’s, it’s quite incredible really. Let’s just see what happens on Saturday. Andrea Atzeni will again be riding him, but I would be surprised if he gets beyond a mile as a three-year-old. I am having a resurgence. I am very happy with the way that the summer has gone and my whole team has done a great job.”

John Gosden is another trainer having a season to remember, and he has a leading contender in the Hamdan Al Maktoum owned Emaraaty. He’s a well-fancied third-favourite for the race, despite this being a completely different proposition from the race he won at Newbury.

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The owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold, said: “I watched Emaraaty work on the Limekilns on Saturday morning and he is in fine physical shape. Jim Crowley rode him and was very pleased with him. It is a big step up from a maiden to a Group One and I would be stupid to assure you that he was going to beat horses like Expert Eye on Saturday. But he’s a very quick colt with great potential and we are very hopeful that he will be a Group One horse at some point in his career.”

A day prior to the Dewhurst, it’s the fillies that take centre-stage. Following her success at Longchamp, Aidan O’Brien’s Happily looks a worthy favourite for the Group One Fillies’ Mile. Doing her best work at the end of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, the final climb to the finish on the Rowley Mile should prove ideal.

September is also set to take her place for Team Ballydoyle, and should be better suited by conditions having got a little ‘stuck in the mud’ on her previous two starts. She was mightily impressive on quick ground at Royal Ascot, when comfortably accounting for a classy pair in Nyaleti and Masar.

If O’Brien is to be beaten, then Godolphin’s Magic Lilly may be the one. It’s a tough ask for one with so little experience (one career outing), but her performance on debut at Newmarket was eye-catching. She’s exceptionally bred, being by Derby winner New Approach, out of the Oaks winning mare Dancing Rain.

“Magic Lily is a filly we were confident would run a nice race on her first start, but she ended up winning very impressively and seeing out the one-mile trip really well,” said trainer Charlie Appleby.

“She did a nice piece of work on Saturday and that made our minds up to supplement her. She has worked together with my recent Prix Marcel Boussac winner, Wild Illusion, and worked well. The Dubai Future Champions Festival is an important festival for the whole Godolphin team. I’ve been lucky to have winners there in the past and it’s good to have a few live contenders, including Magic Lily, this year.”

Though the highlight of the two days is undoubtedly the juvenile events, we also get the opportunity to see one of the most talented sprinters back on the track. It’s proved a frustrating campaign for five-year-old Limato, but his trainer Henry Candy will be hopeful of a change in fortunes tomorrow.

With drier conditions at HQ, he looks to run his stable star in the Group Two Challenge Stakes at seven-furlongs. “It has been infuriating to have a horse of his calibre and not be able to do anything with him," Candy said. “I am very happy with his condition at the moment and looking forward to running him on Friday. His defeat in the Lennox Stakes was 80 per cent down to the ground, which was riding soft. We talked ourselves into running him that day when we shouldn’t have.”

The trainer added: “At least it’s been no problem keeping a lid on him at home without a race, as he is a very free worker and keeps himself pretty fit. This seven-furlong trip should be fine. I think he is capable of winning Group races at anything between six furlongs and a mile, and I don’t see any problem with him handling the Rowley Mile as he is very light on his feet. This is likely to be his final start of the season and, although we are toying with the idea of trying him over a mile again next year, we will go wherever the ground is right.”

Majestic Enable Crowned Queen at Chantilly

Enable was duly crowned Queen of Chantilly, winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with a performance of sheer majesty.

We hoped and prayed that Gosden’s outstanding filly would arrive in France at the peak of her powers. And it proved a five-star performance all-round, as she made it five Group One victories for the campaign, giving Frankie Dettori his fifth success in the Arc. Owner Khalid Abdullah was also securing his fifth victory in Europe’s most prestigious race.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and that man was the enigmatic Italian Lanfranco Dettori. Tactics were always going to play a huge part in the Arc, especially with a Ballydoyle ‘bunch of fives’ doing their utmost to spoil the party.

As anticipated by many, and no doubt by Frankie, a pair of O’Brien colts were immediately sent to the front in hope of unsettling the favourite, maybe even trapping the filly on the rail. Dettori was alert to such a manoeuvre, and having shadowed Idaho in a move towards the head of affairs, she was then switched outside of Order Of St George, as he made his move alongside his stable companion.

That piece of quick-thinking from the Italian enabled Enable a perfect ‘posi’ outside of the Ballydoyle boys, ensuring a clear passage once the moment came to strike. At the two-furlong mark Dettori could wait no more, and with a ‘Whoosh’ the flying filly was gone. She stretched four-lengths clear in the blink of an eye, with the Juddmonte International winner Ulysses doing his best to stay in her slipstream. Resistance proved futile and at the line Andre Fabre’s Cloth Of Stars ran on strongly to snatch second from Stoute’s courageous colt.

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An emotional John Gosden said of his phenomenal filly: “She’s very special. She was well positioned by Frankie in order to show her sheer class and brilliance.” And of the future he added: “I think it would be hard on the filly to go to the Breeders’ Cup. If she’s in great form, we should consider next year. It would be wonderful to go to Longchamp, for the opening of the new Longchamp, and try and do it again.”

Dettori was as exuberant as ever after the thrilling success, saying: “She won like I expected. She’s an absolute freak. I said to John last week that she’s the best she’s ever been. He’s a genius to keep this filly 100% for the whole season. I got in position A, and knew I had no weight, and I know she stays, so I kicked and she gave it to me and I put four lengths and the race was over.”

Sir Michael Stoute appeared satisfied with third-home Ulysses, saying: “He's run his race and there are no excuses regarding the ground as it rode well. I don't think he's had too hard a race and, if that's the case, we will take him to the Breeders' Cup Turf again.” His jockey Jim Crowley was also pleased with the performance, adding: “I had a lovely position throughout, tracking Enable. He picked up well for me when I asked him in the straight, but the winner must be an exceptional filly.”

Order Of St George proved best of Ballydoyle in fourth. Aidan O’Brien summarised by saying: “That was probably far enough for Winter and we might go back to a mile and a quarter for the race at Ascot (Qipco Champion Stakes). Seventh Heaven is getting better and Idaho was probably lit up a bit. Order Of St George ran very well and we might look at the two-mile race (Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup) at Ascot.”

As for Enable, the thrill of victory was almost matched by the possibility of a return to action next season. She has proved herself peerless, and the prospect of witnessing such power and elegance during another summer campaign is simply glorious.

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.

Can Expert Eye Halt Ballydoyle Juggernaut?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Battle-hardened Capri can prove Leger hero and defeat Defoe

Saturday’s St Leger is set to be an absolute cracker, with many of the 11 starters looking to have a realistic chance of landing the season’s final Classic.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Capri and Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean currently head the market at around 4/1. Ballydoyle’s leading hope captured the Irish Derby at the beginning of July, beating the Great Voltigeur winner Cracksman in the process. It was a gutsy performance that day, suggesting he’ll likely cope with the demands of the extended St Leger trip. He’s proven on all types of ground and there’s no doubting that the Irish Derby victory is the strongest piece of form of any contenders.

Crystal Ocean was a comfortable winner of the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last time. That win came on soft ground, and he looks a progressive sort who ought to get the trip. He was placed in the Group Two Dante at York earlier in the campaign, and then placed again in the Group Two King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. The slight concern is the trainer’s insistence that the horse needs to ‘fill his frame’, and that he remains somewhat weak. Such comments suggest he may not be ready for a gruelling 1m6f war of attrition.

Throughout the week money has piled in for Defoe. Roger Varian won the St Leger of 2014 with Kingston Hill, and has had a terrific meeting thus far. In Andrea Atzeni he has a jockey who simply loves Town Moor. The horse is yet to be beaten as a three-year-old, and was a stylish winner of the Geoffrey Freer last time. He travelled powerfully in testing conditions, and kept on strongly to see out the mile and five furlongs. The St Leger distance holds no fears, and punters must now decide whether this son of Dalakhani is classy enough to land the Donny showpiece.

John Gosden has won three of the last 10, and is double-handed this time round. Stradivarius looked to be his main contender, though Frankie Dettori has chosen to ride stable companion Coronet. James Doyle comes in for the ride, and must be thrilled to be on one of the market leaders. The colt won the Goodwood Cup last time and the Queen’s Vase prior to that. His abundance of stamina is undoubted, but the worry for punters, and clearly Dettori, is how he will cope with soft ground. The Italian’s defection has to be seen as a huge negative.

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Coronet is the beneficiary, and the only filly in the race. She’s seen the back end of Enable several times this season, but has been getting closer on each occasion. She battled on bravely to finish runner-up in the Yorkshire Oaks last time, handling soft ground well. She looks a gutsy sort, and I fancy this extended trip should suit. I’m not convinced she has the gears to win a Leger, and she may have to settle for a place finish at best.

Joseph O’Brien took the race as a jockey in 2013, and has a decent contender in Irish St Leger runner-up Rekindling. He took a beating from Order Of St George at the Curragh, but there’s no shame in that. He was a place behind Crystal Ocean in the Dante at York before disappointing at Epsom. With trip and ground to suit, my concern would be whether he is able to stay close enough when the taps are turned on. He may find himself outpaced at some stage before staying-on again at the death.

A St Leger contender that has finished ahead of Enable this season is the Brian Meehan trained Raheen House. That came in April, when runner-up to Shutter Speed at Newbury. He was a close fourth in the King Edward VII Stakes at Ascot, when a place behind Crystal Ocean. His last run came at Newmarket, when winning the Bahrain Trophy. That form looks a little shy of what’s required to win this, and though Meehan appeared bullish in the week, I’m less convinced that his horse is good enough.

In an ultra-competitive renewal, Capri has the outstanding form and I’m taking him to have the class and the battling spirit to win this St Leger, despite slight reservations over the trip. Crystal Ocean may prove to be the best of these in the long term, but he remains a work in progress, and susceptible to a ‘hardier’ type. I fancy Defoe will prove the biggest danger, though he may just lack the class to get the job done.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Competitive look to Doncaster Classic

The World’s oldest Classic, the St Leger, takes place at Doncaster on Saturday, and may well prove to be one of the most competitive for many a year.

As ever, Aidan O’Brien is set to send a battalion across the Irish Sea, with Irish Derby winner Capri the leading hope. With the ground likely to stay on the soft side of good, conditions look to be ideal for the Ballydoyle hopeful.

It seems likely that he will be ridden by Ryan Moore, and speaking earlier in the week, the trainer appeared hopeful of a strong performance, saying: “Capri missed his intended run in the Great Voltigeur at York, but he seems fine now and I am happy with him. His work has been good at home. He won the Beresford last year on heavy and he has plenty of form with cut in the ground so I would say that the going at Doncaster, if there is some ease in it, will not be a problem to him.”

Venice Beach was thrashed by Cracksman in the Voltigeur, but O’Brien has said that the horse would ‘come-on’ for the run. He appeared confident that the Chester Vase winner would see out the extended trip well. Nevertheless, his form looks a fair bit shy of that of his stable companion.

As the rains came earlier in the week, so did the money for Roger Varian’s Geoffrey Freer winner Defoe. He was impressive that day, travelling powerfully through the testing ground and finishing off the race strongly. With a pair of winners on the opening day of the Leger Meeting, stable confidence will be high leading into the weekend showpiece.

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Andrea Atzeni has won the Donny Classic on two of the last three occasions, and sounded confident when speaking to At The Races yesterday: “He's in great form, I'm looking forward to riding him. He needs to improve, which I think he has. The ground should suit him, and we'd be very hopeful.”

Roger Varian is convinced that conditions will favour his horse, saying: “Testing ground should suit our guy and I’ve been very happy with him since Newbury. I love how he’s come up through the ranks and he’s been very straightforward to train all year. He’s got good stamina, he’s got a great mind and he can quicken – he’s not just a galloper. We’ll find out on the day whether he is good enough, but I think that’s really the only question. Everything else ought to be in his favour.”

Sir Michael Stoute last won the race in 2008 and his Crystal Ocean is jostling for favouritism. He impressed on soft ground in the Gordon Stakes last time, yet the team believe better ground would aid his chances. Stoute's assistant James Horton said: “We were very pleased with Goodwood and we're very pleased with where he is now. He's still a big, weak, frame of a horse who we think is going to be a better horse next year. He won on soft ground at Goodwood, but stepping up against a better class of opposition, the better the ground the better for him.”

The bare form suggests Raheen House has a little to find with Crystal Ocean, yet Brian Meehan remains confident of a strong showing from the son of Sea The Stars. He looked impressive when winning the Bahrain Trophy last time at Newmarket, and the trainer said of his challenger: “He’s a very generous price. I thought he’d be shorter. He’s in great form at home, his preparation has been good and everything has gone to plan.”

Meehan added: “Raheen House doesn’t mind a bit of cut. Soft ground is fine for him but some of the others would want it better. Capri and Stradivarius stand out on form but my horse has a huge chance. Confidence is definitely high. We’ve been careful with him with this in mind. He has the pedigree for it and 12-1 is big.”

John Gosden has won three of the last 10 renewals, and looks set to fire two shots at the target. Stradivarius won the Goodwood Cup, though Gosden has voiced his concern over conditions should Town Moor get further rain. Coronet is the only filly in the race, and booked her place in this with a decent performance behind Enable in the Yorkshire Oaks. Speaking at a St Leger press event, Gosden's wife Rachel Hood said: “The plan is to run both Stradivarius and Coronet. We're not worried about the ground for her (Coronet). I think she's very ready for the race.”

Is Ulysses able to catch Enable?

Enable, Cracksman and Ulysses were arguably the standout performers at last week’s York Ebor meeting.
John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute have been producing outstanding middle-distance racehorses for decades, and it’s no surprise to see the pair so dominant once again.

Gosden claims that Enable is the best mile-and-a-half filly he has ever trained, and her Yorkshire Oaks romp cemented her place at the head of the market for the Arc at Chantilly. Making her own running throughout, Frankie Dettori asked her to stretch the field turning into the straight. Queen’s Trust attempted to lay-down some sort of challenge, but was unable to land a blow. And having had the audacity to get within a few lengths at the two-furlong pole, she barely had the legs to cling to a third-place finish at the line.

I’m far from certain that this was Enable at her stunning best, and indeed the proximity of runner-up Coronet, suggests that Gosden’s star filly may welcome a short break from the track. She’s been kept reasonably busy over the past few months, with stunning victories at Epsom, the Curragh and in the King George at Ascot. I’m convinced that she’s a far better filly on faster ground, as she showed when scintillating in Ireland. She’ll likely win the Arc whatever the weather, though the inclusion of Ulysses at Chantilly would prove interesting.

Stoute’s four-year-old continues to improve, though the question remains over whether he’s quite as effective at 12 furlongs. His stunning success in the Juddmonte International came at 10-and-a-half, though he certainly wasn’t stopping. Given a peach of a ride by Jim Crowley, Ulysses was simply too good for Churchill and Barney Roy. The pair of youngsters were getting half a stone, but were unable to make it count, as Stoute’s ace cruised into contention, before forging clear inside the final furlong.

He’s already been beaten by Enable, when four-lengths shy of the filly in the King George. That defeat came in testing conditions, and there’s no doubt that giving lumps of weight away would be slightly less challenging on a sounder surface. I’m not saying that Ulysses can reverse King George placings at Chantilly, but should the ground ride good or quicker, I fancy he’ll get considerably closer. He travels powerfully through a race, and is likely to get plenty of cover in the Arc, giving Crowley the chance to pounce late-on. Whether he can get near enough to Enable to land a telling blow remains a doubt, but he’s still available at 12s, and that’s a tempting proposition.

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The Breeders’ Cup Turf remains the main target for Stoute’s fella, though he looks sure to also take in either the Arc or the Champion Stakes at Ascot beforehand.

Either of those events are also on the radar for Gosden’s Great Voltigeur hero. Cracksman had been placed in a pair of Derby’s and was an impressive winner on the opening day of the Ebor meeting. There’s no St Leger date for him, but the trainer confirmed that he’s a possible for Ascot or Chantilly.

I’ve thought for some time that plenty of juice in the ground would suit Cracksman. He’s out of a Pivotal mare that loved the mud, and has the right knee action for the task. Whilst his opponents clearly faltered in the testing conditions, Gosden’s colt galloped remorselessly to a Voltigeur victory. Rather than a devastating change of gear, I believe we witnessed a powerful stayer aided by both conditions and a galloping track.

Though impressed, Frankie was quick to question the suitability of Chantilly: “He put up a good performance there, because I asked him early enough to get into top gear and stretch them out. The last two furlongs he was galloping right away from the field and I was very impressed. I think Chantilly could be a bit sharp for him at this stage.”

The performance of Cliffs Of Moher in the Juddmonte further dented the overall strength of the Epsom Derby form. There’s a growing opinion that this season’s mid-distance three-year-old colts are slightly one-paced and unlikely to prove a match for Gosden’s flying filly. Any realistic Chantilly challenge may well rest with that vastly improved four-year-old from the Stoute camp.