2.30 Musselburgh – The Edinburgh Gin’s Scottish Sprint Cup Handicap Stakes
Big-field sprint handicaps are devilishly difficult to solve as a rule and the Scottish Sprint Cup has perennially proven one of the most competitive in the racing calendar. This year’s renewal looks no different with a whole host of contenders holding realistic chances.
With races of this ilk, history and previous renewals are often a good guide and there are a couple of races in recent weeks that have had a solid bearing when it comes to the Scottish Sprint Cup down the years.
The Epsom Dash would seem the best place to start having supplied the first, third and fourth last year. However, there is just the one week between the two races this year, rather than the usual fortnight, so Caspian Prince and Dark Shot are the only representatives in this year’s renewal. They were the 1-2 in last year’s Dash with the former now 1lb lower than that winning mark. However, he has to concede a lot of weight all round and may be up against it at this stage of his career. Scott Dixon’s runner has a plum draw on the rail in 17 and arrives in grand form so appeals a great deal more. If he benefits from a good break, he could have the run of the race and has a decent shout of finishing in the money.
However, the valuable Sprint Stakes at York a week earlier has tended to yield better results and that could well be the race to focus on here with a couple of top contenders lining up. Fendale and Excessable were well beaten that day but it is the second and fourth that immediately appeal as having leading claims here. Major Jumbo has been ultra-competitive throughout his career and has put in some top efforts already this year. However, he has had to play second fiddle to EL ASTRONAUTE on their last two meetings and may have to settle for the minor honours once again.
The five-year-old has been better than ever this season with placed efforts in valuable handicaps at Pontefract and Chester before scoring at York’s Dante Festival and just being touched off by Mr Lupton latest. He lines up here off the same mark of 101 so is effectively 2lb well-in as he is due to go up to 103 after this and it could well be a case of striking when the iron is hot. Being drawn in stall 14 is a bonus and although I’m not normally enthused by horses as short as him in these kind of races, there just doesn’t seem to be many (if any) negatives so he surely rates the one to beat.
Stablemate Soie d’Leau could well be a danger if managing to get over to the lead from stall 5. The speedster normally breaks quickly and did so on his first start for John Quinn at Thirsk last month, making every post a winning one and holding off the challenge of Blue de Vega late on. A 3lb rise makes things more difficult as it puts him 2lb above his last winning mark but this has been the main aim for both of the Quinn runners and I expect him to be there or thereabouts.
Orvar finished 1 ¾ lengths adrift of him last time and looks the least likely to get involved of bang-in-form Paul Midgley’s trio here. Last year’s winner Line of Reason arrives here without a great deal of solid form to his name although his staying on seventh behind the selection at York was at least an improved effort. His string of average displays have seen him plummet in the weights though and he lines up here off a 7lb lower mark than last year and 10lb lower than his last winning mark. He tends to pop up once or twice a year with a big win out of the blue (and this was one of those last year after I had given up on him!) so it would be folly to rule him out completely.
Move In Time completes the Midgley triumvirate and he looks to be back in form this season at the grand old age of 10 having had a couple of years in the doldrums. The 2014 Abbaye winner wasn’t far behind Major Jumbo on his penultimate start and absolutely hosed up last time. Granted that was a pretty weak contest but it was the way in which he seemed to be enjoying the game again that captured the imagination and on old form, a 7lb rise to a mark of 90 would still see him thrown in. He’ll have to back that up now but is eminently capable of doing so with only the draw in stall 3 that looks to be against him here.
2.35 Newmarket – The Margaret Giffen Memorial Handicap Stakes
This looks for all the world like one of those sprint handicaps where those in the top half of the race, the higher rated animals, should simply be too good for those towards the bottom, even though the weights should in theory level the playing field.
Double Up heads the weights, but doesn’t look unfairly handicapped on his best form. He may have been very well beaten behind Kachy at Chester last time out, but that horse’s efforts in defeat to Bataash allow us to make a ‘fair enough’ comment. He’s better judged on his last three efforts in handicap company and although he won well at Kempton over Intisaab in February, his efforts on turf haven’t quite been as good. The tight all-weather tracks suit him well and this track is much harder for front runners to get away on, as well as the fact that he’s not won on turf since 2015, so he could be there to be shot at.
An interesting contender is the Ed Walker-trained Ultimate Avenue, who made a promising reappearance after a break and wind surgery at Newbury in May. He finished fourth after looking a threat a furlong out, but didn’t pick up well enough, looking in need of the run. He could come on plenty for that and has been dropped a pound in the weights so may go well, but there is the sneaking suspicion that 7f is his trip – it’s the only trip he’s won over so far and his pedigree suggests that 6f is always going to be too sharp. Still he travels well and could be involved, although he may find one or two too quick for him.
Baron Bolt was two places ahead of him in that contest and with Paul Cole’s yard in flying form at the moment, he has to be very strongly respected. He’s finished second by less than a length on all four of this last four starts and has gone up 5lb in the weights for that, but shows no sign of his improvement stopping. While this race does look the toughest he’s faced so far, he should still go well with trip & ground in his favour but I do wonder whether there are a couple better handicapped.
One such horse is surely Richard Fahey’s EASTERN IMPACT, who despite finding 7f too far last time, looks well-handicapped and is surely ready to go in for the first time since August 2015. He put in two decent efforts this season over six furlongs on the Rowley Mile off a 3lb higher mark and looked as if he was coming to the boil. This return to the July course, where his record reads 21365 (the 3 and 6 being in the Group 1 July Cup), is a huge plus, as is the smack between the eyes booking of Ryan Moore. He’s a tough, consistent horse who has to be on a winning mark now, 10lb lower than when seventh in last year’s Wokingham at Royal Ascot, and if the leaders go a decent pace, which looks likely here, he’ll certainly be staying on strongly late on.
EASTERN IMPACT – 1pt win @ 5/1 (bet365)
2.40 Beverley – The Trucking By Brian Yeardley Two Year Old Trophy Conditions Stakes (Plus 10 Race)
This used to be a good guide for the juvenile races at Royal Ascot and although it may have lost its way in a ‘trial-sense’, Prince of Lir and Cardsharp have brought it back into the limelight somewhat by finishing first and third respectively in the Norfolk Stakes in the last two years.
It’s the Only Way brings arguably the strongest form to the table but has a double penalty to contend with and may find it difficult to concede weight all round to some unexposed types. I expect a much better showing than his latest outing in the Woodcote now dropping back to five furlongs but that may not be enough to see him regain the winning thread.
At the other end of the spectrum, Midnight Sands gets in with a 3lb allowance having not been seen on a racecourse before, not in a competitive capacity in any case. The American-bred colt was snapped up for €90,000 at the Arqana May Breeze-Up Sale by current connections, who have had a penchant for scoring in these type of contests with unraced types in very recent history. The Cool Silk Partnership were responsible for Chica La Habana, winner of last year’s Hilary Needler, and the 2016 winner of this, Prince of Lir, so are obviously well versed in picking out juveniles capable of getting in the mix at the first time of asking. Whilst I can’t really recommend him, he certainly looks an intriguing proposition.
The one that really catches my eye in this line-up though is LIFE OF RILEY. Karl Burke’s colt showed his inexperience pre-race on debut at Hamilton and probably didn’t live up to expectations for a yard that weren’t firing on all cylinders at the time. I still don’t think Burke’s string have completely hit their straps again yet but Laurens did at least win the Prix Saint-Alary a fortnight ago and the son of Showcasing is his only other winner in that timeframe. When scoring at Ripon, he showed himself to be a lot more streetwise and kept on well to win nicely from a previous winner and fair-looking sort of Archie Watson’s, Rockin Roy. This will take another step up, and the draw in 9 isn’t ideal, but connections had mooted a crack at the Windsor Castle on the back of that run so they obviously think a fair bit of him and taking this could well be the stepping-stone he needs before moving on the big-time.
The remainder are all a much of a muchness with probably Victory Command holding the best chance of making the frame. He won impressively at Doncaster on his penultimate start but may have found the step up in trip and class too big a leap at this stage of his career last-time-out at Pontefract. The drop back in trip could well help him but he will need to improve nonetheless.
Jungle Inthebungle showed up well as an early season two-year-old when narrowly winning at Lingfield but disappointed when beaten at Kempton next time. He hasn’t looked the easiest ride on either occasion but still can’t be completely discounted from the Mick Channon yard who have been going great guns this season, especially with juveniles, and who have landed this race twice in the past nine years, including with his sire Bungle Inthejungle back in 2012.
LIFE OF RILEY – 0.5pt e/w @ 12/1 (bet365)
2.50 Haydock – The Betway Pinnacle Stakes (Group 3)
This Group 3 normally goes the way of an improving filly with three of the last four winners having subsequently picked up a victory in Grade 1 company and this year’s field looks to plenty of depth to it.
William Haggas has his stable in fine form at present and is doubly-represented by Mam’selle and What A Home here. The former is the higher-rated of the pair and shaped with plenty of encouragement when third on her seasonal reappearance at Goodwood. On the back of that effort she was fancied to run well at York last time but she failed to find much off the bridle and she comes here with something to prove. It could be that she found 1m6f stretching her stamina last time and it could be significant that James Doyle is riding this filly rather than her stablemate.
Having said that, for all that she is only rated 88, it wouldn’t take too much of an imagination to see What A Home run well here. A winner of her final two starts last season, she was well-backed for the race in which Mam’selle was third but ran well below expectations, finishing seventh at the line. The weight of market support that day suggest that wasn’t her running and this half-sister to Venus De Milo could still be open to improvement on just her sixth outing. One negative for her on Saturday could be the ground as she has raced almost exclusively on good to soft/soft ground to date and she will need to show she is as effective on much quicker ground.
One of the highest-rated fillies in the field is Titi Makfi, who finished ahead of What A Home in second at Goodwood back in May. That was a big run from Mark Johnston’s filly who was carrying a 3lb penalty for her Listed success on the all-weather last November. She was expected to win at Ayr last time but may just have found 1m2f on the sharp side and she was run down late on by Keith Dalgleish’s Euro Nightmare. I think she will improve for the return to 1m4f and it looks significant that Richard Kingscote has been booked, given his fine record at Haydock, particularly when riding from the front. She sets a solid standard and whilst I expect her to be thereabouts, she could be vulnerable if there is a real top-class performer in the field.
That filly could be GOD GIVEN who won her maiden here last season before going on to Listed success at Newmarket. She also got her head in front in Group 3 company at Deauville last summer before running a shade disappointingly when stepped up into Group 1 company on her final start. However, there is enough in her pedigree and on the evidence of her seasonal reappearance to suggest she could yet have her time at the top level, having finished fourth behind Barsanti in the Listed Buckhounds Stakes. She raced keenly that day and with the yard’s runners normally benefitting from their first runs, she was far from disgraced. The form of that race is working out well with the second Mirage Dancer having won next time and the third Salouen was only narrowly beaten in the Coronation Cup last week. This filly is also a half-sister to Postponed, who as we know got better with age and although her price is on the short side, I think she is the one to beat here.
If there is a horse out of left field to keep an eye on it could be the German raider Fosun, who won in Listed company for the second-time last month. Markus Klug’s filly was only narrowly successful on that occasion and I suspect she will need to improve on that form to figure here but another German raider Nymphea was second in this race in 2013 so this filly warrants some respect.
GOD GIVEN – 2pts win @ 2/1 (General)
3.05 Newmarket – The Animal Health Trust Handicap
This looks a tricky little 3yo handicap to solve and the weights are headed by Rufus King. Mark Johnston’s gelding lasted tasted success in October when winning a handicap on the Rowley Mile off a mark of 97. He has been in and out of form since then and even with Ryan Moore booked, off a mark of 103, he looks vulnerable to less exposed rivals here.
Also towards the top of the weights is Yafta, who has won three of his last four starts and the only time he has finished outside of the first two was on his racecourse debut last May. Richard Hannon’s colt has showed steady improvement and the way he reeled in the leader late on last time suggests that the step up to 7f should hold no fears. He is up another 7lb here but it hard to rule him out given his obvious improvement in recent months.
William Haggas’ Cavatina is likely to be towards the head of the market here having got back to winning ways at Leicester a couple of weeks ago. She was dropped in grade on that occasion and having failed to produce her best in more competitive races on two starts prior to that, she could be vulnerable here having been raised 9lb by the handicapper.
Kevin Ryan has always held Stormbringer in high regard and although he would have been disappointed with his seasonal reappearance, he showed up much better at Ascot last time. He finished a close third to Society Power on that occasion who has won again since but he was collared close home for second that day and I’m not totally convinced that he really sees out the 7f. The July course has a stiff finish like Ascot and whilst I think he could show up well for a long way, I think connections may drop him back in trip after this.
In terms of juvenile form, there aren’t many colts who ran in better races than Grand Koonta. He ran in the Group 2 July Stakes here and the Mill Reef at Newbury and although that was probably flying a bit high, this is quite a drop in grade. He was well-backed for a similar contest at Goodwood a couple of weeks ago but suffered some interference in running and was eased down once his chance had gone. This more conventional track should show him in a better light and he could run better than his odds suggest.
However, the one that makes most appeal is GEORGIAN MANOR who got off the mark at the fourth time of asking at Beverley last time. Sir Michael Stoute’s gelding was a close second to Emblazoned on his seasonal reappearance and with John Gosden’s colt having won again since before finishing third in the Sandy Lane, that form looks strong. Emblazoned is now officially rated 106 and whilst that horse has clearly improved since, on form, Sir Michael Stoute’s three-year-old should be able to win off his current mark of 87. The form of the yard is slowly starting to improve and in receipt of nearly a stone from Yafta, I think he has strong claims.
GEORGIAN MANOR – 1pt win @ 5/2 (General)
3.15 Beverley – The Hilary Needler Trophy Fillies’ Conditions Stakes
One of two juvenile races on Saturday’s card at Beverley, this fillies’ contest looks to have attracted a strong field, many of which will have aspirations of running at the Royal meeting should all go well here.
The first thing to mention is that I think the horses drawn low are favoured here and the stats back that up with all of the last three winners having come from stalls 1 to 3. At Beverley, there is a camber from low to high which is quite noticeable on the head on angle and if anything that seems to exaggerate the bias, particularly if a horse jumps to its left on leaving the stalls.
Occasionally a horse drawn high can get over to the rail and one of the leading fancies who will have to do so is No Lippy, who will break from stall 12. Mark Johnston’s filly has won three of her four starts to date, her only defeat coming when pitched into Listed company at York. She had to overcome some trouble in running to win at Musselburgh last weekend but even taking that into account, I think she could struggle from her high draw.
Drawn one stall outside her is Vikivaki, who represents last year’s winning stable, that of Robert Cowell. She is still a maiden but was a close second in what looks a good race at Ascot at the beginning of May. All four runners finished just about in a line that day but Aidan O’Brien’s colt who finished fourth has won since (albeit he forfeited about five lengths at the start).
Richard Fahey has two runners drawn towards the inside, the first of which is Good Tyne Girl, who will break from stall 1. The Requinto filly got off the mark at the second attempt at Leicester a couple of weeks ago and although the runner-up failed to frank the form next time, it looked a good performance on the day. This is likely to be a good deal tougher and whilst she can step forward, I get the feeling she could find one or two too good.
Her stablemate Kodyanna is still a maiden but she showed enough on her racecourse debut at Nottingham to suggest that she can take a hand here. She looked as though she would improve physically for the run but she showed up well for a long way, only beaten late on by three-quarters of a length. If she can step forward from that run then she shouldn’t be too far away and being a half-sister to smart 2yo Darkanna, she could be a filly to keep an eye on as the season goes on.
Another drawn low is David Evans’ Lady Prancealot and although she has only had four runs, she is starting to look a little bit exposed. The heavy ground may well have been a valid excuse for a below-par run at Salisbury at the end of April but she also struggled next time when stepped up into Listed company. She has plenty of early pace so she should be able to make use of her low draw but she could be vulnerable if there are some potential Group fillies in the field.
Only one trainer has saddled more than one winner of this race in the last decade and that is Kevin Ryan, who saddles Dame Gladys here. She missed the break on her debut at Ripon but showed plenty of ability to finish second behind a Tom Dascombe filly held in high regard by connections. She improved enough on that outing to get her head in front at Nottingham next time albeit by a short head but needs a big step forward to go close here.
With all that in mind, the one who makes most appeal is WEDDING DATE who wasn’t beaten far in the Listed National Stakes at Sandown a couple of weeks ago. Richard Hannon’s filly was taking on the colts that day and having been disadvantaged by a wide draw, she ran well to finish fifth behind some horses likely bound for the Royal meeting. She should find it easier now back against her own sex and from stall 5, she should be able to slot in wherever she likes. At this stage, the Queen Mary and Albany at Royal Ascot both look viable targets for her and on form alone, she looks the one to beat here.
WEDDING DATE – 1pt win @ 11/4 (BetVictor)
4.00 Haydock – The Betway John of Gaunt Stakes (Group 3)
A Group 3 that doesn’t always attract the star quality it perhaps deserves, mainly due to the proximity to Royal Ascot, but this year’s renewal looks bang up there with the best in recent times.
Bringing top-level form into this contest, DUTCH CONNECTION would have to be high on any shortlist and gets the vote here. Consistency hasn’t been his forte over the years but the way he travelled into the Lockinge last time was hugely impressive and to finish a close fourth over a trip a furlong further than his optimum was a huge performance, especially considering the last time we saw him was when pulling up lame in the Challenge Stakes back in October. Seven furlongs and fast ground are what really makes him tick and he looks set to get both here. Like 2016 winner Home of The Brave, he is a true 7f specialist and if turning up at the top of his game, he will take all the beating.
Fellow Godolphin-owned contender D’bai will likely have his followers and for good reason. The four-year-old landed a valuable seven furlong handicap at Meydan back in January and returned to these shores still at the top of his game when second to The Tin Man in the Listed Leisure Stakes last month. That was over an inadequate six furlongs so it was no surprise that he was doing all his best work at the finish. However, I still think a mile could be his optimum and he may find things happening a bit too quickly for him at this level.
With that in mind, although Tabarrak has a couple of pounds to make up on the selection on these terms, he still rates the biggest danger on the back of arguably his best effort to date in the Listed Spring Trophy over course and distance a month ago. He needs quick ground, which he will get here, and proved his versatility trip-wise last year with Listed wins at today’s trip and over a mile. A fast pace to aim at would certainly aid his cause but I’m not sure he’ll get that here so may have to settle for the minor honours.
Of the remainder, Emmaus must be considered although it remains to be seen whether he acts on ground this fast. The four-year-old is much less exposed than his rivals with just the four runs under his belt and created a very good impression when landing the Listed King Richard III Stakes at Leicester back in April. It’s difficult to compare that form to this contest though given the vast difference in underfoot conditions and the fact remains that all of his three wins to date have come over the same seven furlongs at Leicester. He clearly has ability but I think the percentage call is to err on the side of caution until we see him produce in his best away from the Midlands track.
DUTCH CONNECTION – 1pt win @ 9/4 (General)
4.15 Newmarket – The Porsche Centre Cambridge ‘Confined’ Fillies’ Novice Stakes
Despite the presence of a couple of interesting newcomers running in the Michael Tabor and Highclere silks, this looks a contest that revolves around a very well-bred filly from the Ballymacoll Dispersal.
AIM OF ARTEMIS was bought by Godolphin for a million guineas at the sale in December and sent into training with John Gosden and this will be her first run for the master trainer since then. She’s a half-sister to the excellent Abingdon and her dam is closely related to Islington, who herself was out of a Yorkshire Oaks winner. There’s class in the bloodline and judging by her two runs so far, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. She was a close third on unsuitably soft ground at Newbury on her debut in August 2017, but made no mistake at Leicester on her second start, where despite needing a bit of persuasion, she stayed on powerfully to beat Shepherd Market a bit cosily, a horse now rated 96 and John Gosden’s own Tivoli, now rated 87. You would think that kind of form and performance would be more than enough to win what looks a fairly weak race and on her first experience of quicker ground, which should suit being a daughter of US Champion Leroidesanimaux, she should be able to take this. The only worry would be that she’s almost certain to want further in time, but if she’s ridden prominently enough, there shouldn’t be an issue, even under her winner’s penalty. She still has a Coronation Stakes entry and that’s reflective of the regard with which AIM OF ARTEMIS is held.
The standard set by those with experience isn’t too taxing, with Regina Pacis the best of them after her a/w win at Newcastle but she’s got plenty to do to match the standard of the favourite and there’s no guarantee that she’ll be as good on turf being related to some decent all-weather horses.
Perhaps a newcomer will be the biggest threat, with Turning Heads having the assistance of Ryan Moore for trainer David Elsworth. This Declaration Of War filly is a half-sister to a winner in Sweden and out of a useful dam who won between 7f and a mile and a quarter. She’ll have to be very useful indeed to win here, but may play a hand in the Michael Tabor colours.
Flamenco is the only other horse that appeals and this 150,000 guineas yearling is in good hands with William Haggas. The daughter of Showcasing may not be related to anything particularly sharp, but her pedigree is decent and her price almost doubled from foal to yearling, so there’s obviously some physical qualities there. But, similarly to Turning Heads, she’ll have to be very useful indeed to trouble the selection.
AIM OF ARTEMIS – 2pts win @ 8/11 (bet365)
7.05 Stratford – The Mark Nield Wealth Management Handicap Hurdle Race
Firstly, as this is a Flat service, I should apologise for selecting a jumper, but Cause Toujours was one of my ‘Leading Prospects’ in last season’s Jumpers To Follow and he looks on an attractive mark for tomorrow’s handicap debut.
On the back of an impressive debut success at Warwick, the six-year-old was sent off favourite for the 2017 Champion Bumper, in which he travelled strongly for a long way, appearing not to get up the hill. Things didn’t exactly go to plan on his first couple of starts over hurdles, appearing to weaken in the finish after doing a bit too much early on.
He has since had a wind-op and has moved from Dan Skelton to Ian Williams, for whom he made a winning start at Kempton last month. He has a lot more on his plate tomorrow evening, but I will be disappointed if he can’t win a race of this nature from a mark of 121 and conditions look just about ideal. A sharp track and good ground appears to be what he needs and, with the stable continuing to send out winners, everything looks in his favour. He also wears a first-time hood, which his new trainer suggested might happen after his bloodless Kempton success. Hopefully there is some pace in the race, which will also help him settle.
Just the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.