Preview: Lockinge Stakes

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Almost exactly 365 days ago it was Olympic Glory who scooted clear to land the Lockinge Stakes. He can’t defend his crown today and is much likely to enjoy a tumble in the hay with a lovely filly right now. Though the runner-up Tullius is here….. as a 25/1 long-shot!

That says, this years renewal seems a much stronger race – and that’s not only because we have twice as many runners going to post this time. It’s an ultra-competitive race which shapes as the clash of proven class versus improving contenders. Who’s going to prevail? Let’s find out!

The Favourite: 

Without a shadow of a doubt Night Of Thunder is the horse they all have to beat. He. the 40/1 shock winner of last years 2000 Guineas, now in the blue Godolphin colours, makes his return as a four year old. He wasn’t able to win another race last season, but three placed efforts at the highest level franked the form.

Today we’re going to find out if he has trained on or if he even can improve with age. His camp is quietly confident, expecting a big ride and him to be fit and ready to go. Well, let’s see. He has to be at his best if he wants to prevail in this strong field.

The Contenders:

Smart filly Integral has a good chance on last years form. She was wonderfully progressive, a true star for the Stoute yard. She’s a multiple Group 1 winner and her only poor run came on bottomless ground in her final start last season. If Integral has come well over the winter, then she should go close. Though taking on the boys first time out isn’t an easy task.

The best Irish chance is Custom Cut. His form for the last seven starts reads: 1-8-1-1-1-1-1! Of course he’s a big runner. He won the Sandown Mile last month with a gutsy performance from the front. If you let him dominate a race, he’ll be hard to peg back. Newbury is a different beast though. Not quite a track favouring prominent horses as much as Sandown does.

The once world-class juvenile Toormore is fancied by many to deliver today. As short as 8/1, he a stupid price in my mind. I really liked him as a 2 year old and expected big things in his classic season. However he has been a huge disappointment. To his credit, his 3rd in the QEII, which was his final start last season reads really well – but one shouldn’t forget this was on heavy ground. I don’t think he’s good enough to feature here today.

Marco Botti’s Moohaarib is an intriguing contender. Still not too many miles on the clock and improving all the time. He looked fantastic when he took an Ascot listed event last month. More is required here today, but there is no reason why he couldn’t improve again.

Here Comes When ran out a fine 2nd behind Custom Cut at Sandown on his seasonal reappearance. He’s entitled to progress and Newbury might be a track more suitable for his running style. He’s already a Group 2 winner and therefore clearly a fair contender today.

The Outsiders:

Former Queen Anne runner-up Aljamaaheer did not badly over sprinting trips last year, but it didn’t quite work out as well as hoped. He hasn’t won in almost two years and even when dropped to Listed level found a way to get beaten recently. He’s a frustrating sort, albeit a talented one.

Lightly raced Arod was 2nd in the Dante Stakes last year. The drop in trip to 1m may not be the test he wants. Tulius was runner-up in this very same race 12 months ago. This is much tougher today though and he’s up against it. Albeit he has place credentials once again.

Generally lightly raced Hors De Combat finished second behind Moohaarib recently. A fine performance in its own right but one that’s hardly good enough today. It’s hard to see him able to turn the table with this rival. Multiple Group 3 winning miler Captain Cat deserves his chance but may be just below the level required to feature.

He’s visually a stunner, but at the racetrack his best days are over – Top Notch Tonto is a ‘cult character’ but will be found out for class today. Same goes for Breton Rock, who is more suited to the shorter 7f trip, and Cable Bay, who was bit unlucky at the Curragh recently, but may prefer it a bit shorter either.

The Value Pick:

This is obviously highly subjective and I can imagine how people shaking their heads right now. But I give Ballydoyle’s Cougar Mountain the benefit of the doubt today. He looks a massive 25/1 shot and could potentially have a much better chance then that.

Now here’s why: Cougar Mountain was quite a decent sprinter last year. He finished not far beaten in hot Group 1’s behind top class individuals. That after he got off the the mark in impressive style on his debut at Naas. I believe his lightly raced profile – mind you today is only his sixth career outing – gives every opportunity to see him an improved individual as a four year old. Grown and more mature, there could be easily more to come.

Not only that, but I really liked his comeback run at Leopardstown. He tried the 1m trip for the first time, in desperate conditions that day. Clearly he was never in it to win. Ridden well off the pace, he was in an impossible position turning for home, and was obviously minded by Joseph O’Brien. But as clearly as that, he gets the trip alright. Cougar Mountain finished the race quite nicely, running all the way to the line, even after some slight interferences over 1f out. He quickly found his stride again and kept going.

No doubt, he has trained on. That says it is not a given that he is up to this task today. Much more is needed. But he may well improve to a level that sees him going close. Better ground is sure to suit today and one would expected him to come on for the last run. He looks a massive price in my eyes, with 4 places at 1/4 odds!

Selection: Cougar Mountain at 25/1 Bet365 – 2.5pts e/w

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