1.55 Ascot: British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Group 1)
I’m a big fan of lightly raced Sea Calisi who seems to have the right traits to land this Group 1. She has been progressive all year, making the transition from Group 3 to the highest level seamingless. A Group 2 winner in her native France in June, followed an impressive performance in the Yorkshire Oaks where she was unlucky not finish closer than her third place, one and a half lengths beaten by Pleascach.
Sea Calisi was a long-shot in the Arc Trial Prix Vermeille last month, but ran a big race when third behind Treve – who that day, was from another planet.
There is every reason to believe that this likeable three year old filly can still improve – I certainly believe a big victory is due! Her high cruising speed will allow her to make the progress from the back of the field from 4f out where it’s usually the crucial point for those held up.
Sea Calisi @ 13/2 Betfred – 5pts Win
2.30 Ascot; Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1)
Still unclear what the situation is with Gleneagles. The ground is against him, so much is sure. Sollow in contrast is certain to run and will appreciate the underfoot conditions. On form he’s very hard to beat here. But Territories is an interesting alternative. The three year old with the weight advantage, has very strong form and should love the trip on slightly easy ground.
3.05 Ascot: Champion Stakes (Group 1)
Difficult race. I believe Jack Hobbs is not as much a clear favourite as the odds say, for the reason of his poor draw and the ground not really what he wants.
However from the older horses Fascinating Rock is a fascinating contender. He’ll love the ground and the trip, has been in excellent form this season and proved his class at this level – he should be right there when it matters.
Both Territories and Fascinating Rock have good chances to go close and be placed at least. They offer some “each-way-value” combined as a double.
Territories+Fascinating Rock @ 164/1 Paddy Power – 2.5pts E/W
Saturday 5.45pm – The race that promises to be the race of the season won’t be what we all hope it will be. The clash of Gleneagles vs. Golden Horn is unlikely to materialize yet again as the weather god doesn’t want to comply with the prayers of racing fans. The rain arrived in Dublin early Friday afternoon. Since then it was a mix of drizzle and lashing. It’s hard to see the word “soft” not being part of the going description at Leopardstown….
That’s the worst case scenario. But hey, this is Ireland! You can’t trust the weather gods. What about a bit of Indian summer on Saturday? Well, we’ll wait and see.
A hopefully more or less dry night should ensure at least that John Gosden feels encouraged to let Derby winner Golden Horn take up his assignment in the Irish Champion Stakes. Gleneagles – we can be sure – is going to be withdrawn by midday latest, should the rain persist.
Now, that might be sad and disappointing, but thankfully doesn’t mean that the race turns into a dull affair. Not at all! One could argue the rain adds to the intrigue.
Assuming Golden Horn runs, he’s obviously the horse to beat, despite his recent defeat in the Juddmonte International. No, he’s no superstar, though still a really good horse. It’s been his only below par run – if you can call it that way; a runner-up effort, beaten by a neck, in a muddling affair, which is what the International was.
But Golden Horn won the Derby and Eclipse in convincing style. The memories of him putting away top class Jack Hobbs at Epsom are certainly still fresh. Without the shadow of a doubt, John Gosden’s “starrider” warrants the upmost respect.
High class yet fragile – these are the attributes of Dermot Weld trained Free Eagle. He has been one of the start attractions on each of the last two Irish Champions Stakes days at Leopardstown. In 2013 he went off the 2/5 favourite in a Group 3, having earned dramatic quotes for next years Epsom Derby after an impressive debut win. However his hops where shattered that day…. by a certain horse called Australia. Subsequent injury problems made him lose almost an entire season then.
He came back after a year long absence and smashed a fine field in the Group 3 Enterprise Stakes on the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend. Heavy ground was against him in the British Champions Stakes subsequently, but after another lengthy absence he made a winning return at Royal Ascot to land the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
While this form gives him a big chance in the Irish Champion Stakes, given that he probably wasn’t 100% at Ascot, and may well improve again, it is the ground that really worries me. Free Eagle is clearly best suited by fast conditions. So any rain must count against him.
Found is one of those horses I find difficult to assess. She has done well over a mile this year. Just beaten in top class company by narrow margins. She then stepped up to 10f and won in tremendous style – albeit only in Group 3 company. Personally I wasn’t sure about her stamina given her dam side not instilling too much confidence.
But question mark, more than anything else, is whether she is good enough in this extremely deep race. It’s by far the toughest test of her career and while the ground may not be a problem, I fear she’s likely to fall short over this trip against this classy opposition.
If you want, you can make plenty of excuses for The Grey Gatsby this season. He’s never encountered his ideal conditions, albeit performed still with plenty of credit on most occasions. But it seems that everything has to fall right for him in order to win these days. He’s out to defend his crown, which he won in such dramatic style twelve month ago. I’m surehe won’t down with a fight once more, but it’s been too many excuses for The Gray Gatsby now to make me believe he has what it takes to regain his title.
Cirrus Des Aigles has been a legend for a number of years now and there are no signs of him slowing down. His most recent performance when finishing last at Longchamp can easily be ignored as he lost a shoe during the race. He won the Group 1 Prix Ganay earlier this year though and judged on that performance appears to be as good as ever.
Whether that is good enough to win the Irish Champion Stakes remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: He’ll appreciate any single drop of rain. The more the better for him.
Fillies should find it tough in this deep field – however Jim Bolger’s hardy filly Pleascach can’t be underestimated. A winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas and the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, she has top class form in the book and acts on any kind of ground. However it seems she might be even better with a bit of cut in the ground – so any rain falling is hardly an inconvenience for her.
She has obviously a bit to find on official ratings, however may well be able to progress further. With conditions sure to suit, she rates a big danger for anyone in this field – in my book at least – and I feel she doesn’t get the credit she deserves.
The same could be said about Highland Reel, who is back in Ireland after a successful stint in the USA where he won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes. First time lasix and fast ground clearly worked wonders. But he won’t find the same conditions here for obvious reasons and is clearly an underdog.
What if – against all odds – Gleneagles does run? Well, it would mean we have at least good ground. And that can only be a good thing! As it offers the fairest conditions for everyone.
He’s been the star three year old this season. Overshadowing Golden Horn in my mind. He’s been ultra impressive as a juvenile and continued where he left of last year. Question is: what did he actually beat in those races since? There seems not too much high quality around the mile division in the current generation of three year olds, to be fair.
But you can only beat what is put in front of you. And Gleneagles has mastered all challenges so far – even when things went against him, as happened in the Irish 2000 Guineas. But does he stay the trip? Well, fair question. As a son of Galileo you would hope he has a fair chance to do so. Though his dam was never successful beyond 6f and the dam sire has a stamina index of 7.7f. Gleneagles full-sister Marvellous also failed to stay trips beyond a mile.
What does this mean for Gleneagles? We don’t know. Only time will tell. That’s why it would be so intriguing to see him racing.
Conclusion: It’s all hangs on the Irish weather and how much rain Leopardstown takes. The track usually drains well. A dry night and and a dry, warm Saturday morning later and we may have less of a problem with rain softened ground. Irregardless of that, Pleascach is the one I side with as I believe 16/1 is way too generous. She won’t mind whatever ground we get, has top class form in the book, is hardy and tough and is sure to give the boys a run for their money.
The first day of Royal Ascot is done and dusted! It’s been pretty spectacular, although it didn’t quite open with big the bang we all expected. But one could say the big guys from Godolphin and team Ballydoyle will be happy at the end of the day – they clearly wrote some of the most important stories. So let’s have a look at what happened and wrap it up…
Solow wins; Able Friend flops
I admit: My initial reaction was disappointment. Of course, the horses I sided with got stuffed. Instead the French star Solow won.
From a racing fan perspective: It was a bit of a let down. We didn’t get the eagerly anticipated clash of the superstars in the closing stages. Instead it was somewhat disappointing, given the fact that some of the ‘lesser’ opponents have been able to finish so close.
Of course is was a good performance, nonetheless. Solow just won the most prestigious 1 mile race in the world. But it was not a super impressive monster like performance, which I would have hoped we would see from one of the horses in the race, given all the hype surrounding them – which I wanted to believe. It was a good performance. Nothing more but nothing less either.
Able Friend was not himself unfortunately. He just didn’t handle the track, was very sweaty in the preliminaries as well. He seemed to settle but not to travel. There were no signs of his trademark turn of foot today. Shame that we didn’t get the race we all wanted so badly. But then this just shows that we are dealing with animals and not machines.
Buratino rocks the Coventry
A big winner for Godolphin – Buratino justified strong market support in the Coventry Stakes and followed up on his tremendous Epsom performance a fortnight ago. He travelled much the best, enjoyed the rattling pace, got a dream run through guided by William Buick and quickened when it mattered. A sharp, precocious juvenile he is, he may have a very bright near future.
Hat-trick denied for Sole Power
It was not the result many would have hoped for in the King’s Stand Stakes. Sole Power lacked the sparkling turn of foot of former days but also wasn’t quite advantaged by the way the race was run. Not quite a blistering pace, the first three where all close up. Goldream won it – the horse I called out from the bigger prices in my preview. But of course didn’t back it.
A 20/1 shot who beat a 50/1 shot in thriller – that’s the way it can go in these sprint races from time to time. But what is highly unusual is the fact that Medicean Man achieved a career best at the grand age of nine! He was a runner-up denied in a photo, but clearly this was his best ever performance. Some training performance from Jeremy Gask!
Gleneagles the star that keeps giving and giving….
I was prepared to take him on, but there was absolutely nobody able to match strides with him in the closing stages today! Gleneagles travelled like the winner throughout and put the race to bed like an odds-on shot should do it. He’s a real star and you simply can’t fault him. He’s done it all. Stepping him up to 10f now? That’s the question Aiden has to answer.
Consort tried to be positive and I thought that was the right move. He wasn’t good enough in the end. Disappointed with Make Believe, who I would have expected to try to make all. But he faded as soon as the pace heated up. Something didn’t seem right with him.
Clondaw Warrior stays the trip
Willie Mullins and Ryan Moore teamed up to win the big marathon Handicap. The eight year old Clondaw Warror, who was last season already quite prolific on the flat, clearly proved to stay every inch of the 2m 4f trip and eventually prevailed in a tight finish under the typical Moore drive! He went off a rather short 5/1 favourite but justified all the market support.
Washington Dc saves the day
It could have been disastrous, but thankfully Ryan Moore and Washington Dc saved the day. He won the final race on the card, the 5f Listed sprint. The US filly went off like mad, seemed to think it’s a domestic 4.5f sprint on the dirt. Fair play, she did really well, but it also suited Washington Dc who fend off the challenge from Areen in the closing stages. This completed a 54-1 treble on day for the man who many believe is the best jockey in the world.
Would it be foolish to oppose Gleneagles in the St James’s Palace Stakes? Well, you would think so, given how impressive the Aiden O’Brien trained inmate was when he completed the English & Irish 2000 Guineas double. Undoubtedly he is a world class miler; according to his trainer, the best they ever had.
Yet I feel there is the possibility that there are horses capable of improving past him at some point this season – as pointed out on a couple of occasions in the past. He had already eight career starts, was mad busy as a juvenile and didn’t slow down with two tough races this year.
Gleneagles is as short as 1/2 to land the St James’s Palace Stakes – a price so short – I’m happy enough to oppose him, given that this race may well turn into a tactical affair and that he takes on two lightly raced but extremely promising individuals with Consort and Make Believe.
I was keen to see Consort making his seasonal reappearance. He missed the Guineas, but fullfilled the promise shown on his sole start last season when kicking off the new campaign in a good Listed event at Sandown. The manner of his success that day was impressive and no doubt, there is much more to come.
Make Believe in contrast, won both his starts as a two year old, was only beaten by the tightest of margins on his comeback run this year and followed on from there to deliver a first classic success for his prominent daddy Makfi when winning the French 2000 Guineas in style.
He clearly enjoyed the better ground that day when he went off from the front, setting a good pace. Turning for home jockey Olivier Peslier asked him to stretch his legs and he responded promptly. Make Believe produced a stunning change of gear and kicked clear in a matter of strides to win by 3 lengths eased down towards the line. These are the traits of a talented horse.
Verdict: I find it relatively easy to oppose Gleneagles here and think – given the prices on offer – one can’t do much wrong with French raider Make Believe. An improving sort, a Group 1 winner, who should relish the better ground. Consort may well up to this level as well, but has still to prove it.
This looks a wide open contest and I find it hard to get warm with the favourite Aces. Clearly a talented individual and open to improvement, but that could easily be said about half of the field.
I’ve decided to go with one my ‘tracker horses’: Hail The Hero. This Former aiden O’Brien inmate cost 500k as a yearling and is extremely well bred. He didn’t quite fulfil the promise of his pedigree yet and remained a maiden in three starts as a juvenile – though he showed talent when close runner-up behind Vert De Grece, who subsequently finished less than a lengths beaten by Gleneagles and ended the season with a Group 1 success in France.
Hail The Hero has changed yards over the winter, is now with David O’Meara. He was excellent on his debut for new connections back in March when he landed a Doncster maiden in impressive fashion. He meat in-running trouble that day but was still able to produce a blistering turn of foot when finally in the clear and won easily.
Upped in class subsequently, he couldn’t land a blow in either the Craven Stakes nor the Guineas. But now dropped in Listed class, he may have a more realistic target. The drop back to 7f should suit as well, so will the ground.
On the verge of the Irish 2000 Guineas Aiden O’Brien seemed to become overwhelmed by his emotions. He ennobled Gleneagles, hailing him as “the best miler we have ever had”. That is some achievement in its own right, especially given the amount of classy horses passing through his hands year in year out.
This statement came just minutes after Gleneagles completed the 2000 Guineas double. He had to fight hard for it and it was a much closer finish than at Newmarket, where absolutely everything went to plan. This time, Gleneagles, boxed in on the rails, had to show an awful lot of class to win. He did exactly that.
But does it make him the best ever? Well, who am I to object his handlers experienced opinion. He, who has seen it all! Though, one could get the feeling that Aiden uses the term “best ever” a bit too loosely these days. Anyway, Gleneagles is certainly a very good colt. A true miler. A world-class miler.
Pearl Secret Lands A Big One
Sprint races can sometimes be a bit like lotto: Draw a number or throw a pin and wherever it lands that’s the horse to win. Admittedly, now I’m cynical. Yet there is some truth in it! These big sprint races are so much down to day form, it doesn’t always honour the actual form book. Run the same race ten times and you’ll almost certainly get ten different results.
So happened in the Temple Stakes at Haydock on Saturday. Pearl Secret was a slightly surprising winner of the Group 2 sprint. Yes, he was runner-up in the very same race last year, but back then on bottomless ground and before Saturday he only managed to win at Listed- or Conditions Stakes level. Now he has “a big one” on his CV!
Pearl Secret was followed home by Jack Dexter, who hasn’t won since November 2013, and 40/1 shot Wind Fire. Favourite Hot Streak finished sixth, but in truth never landed a blow. So much about the Lotto theory…
Jim Bolger The Magician
The County Kilkenny handler had it spot on: he knew his main contender for the 1000 Guineas wasn’t a miler. So he employed two pace makers, to ensure there would be no dawdling around. The good, consistent pace helped Pleascach in a way to relax but also to offset her lack of tactical speed and instead have a race with emphasize on stamina. It worked to perfection.
Pleascach took up the lead from two furlongs out and stayed strongly to line, fending off all challengers, including the one of red hot favourite Found. The stiff uphill finish at the Curragh clearly suited her cause too.
The next Jim Bolger star is already lined up. His Round Two won the Listed Marble Hill Stakes in comprehensive style at the Curragh on Saturday, overcoming question marks about his speed over the minimum trip as well as a wider than ideal draw. The Teofilo son can only get better with time and distance. He seems the ideal favourite for the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot next month.
Found Is No World-Beater
Hot Irish 1000 Guineas Favourite Found wasn’t able to land the odds in Sunday’s big race and instead had to settle for second. She didn’t get the clearest of runs as she was in a pocket over 2f out. The eventual winner, Bolger’s Pleascach, got first run and fend off Found’s charge gamely in the closing stages.
In the aftermath not everyone thought the best horse won – and I tend to agree to an extend – yes, Found was slightly unlucky, but that says she got out into the clear at the two furlong marker and had all the time in the world to make up the ground. She didn’t quicken rapidly enough, though, needed almost a full furlong to hit top gear. She clearly is no world-beater. At least not over the mile trip.
Compare her run to the one of Gleneagles in the 2000 Guineas – he had even less time to finish off his race once in the clear. But he did it in the manner of a true mile champion. He found a way to win, quickened when it mattered.
Nonetheless, Found’s Guineas performance is encouraging. She’ll be better over further. It may turn out that 1m 2f is her optimum, but the Oaks distance is very much possible and she now goes to Epsom as one of the favourites.
Endless Drama A Chaser In The Making
Just kidding. But you’ll laugh, there was more than one person suggesting the idea of giving him a spin over the big fences. And you can see why. He is a very big boy, indeed! I was slightly overwhelmed when this huge thing passed me in the parade ring for the first time.
I mean, there you have all these good looking three year olds walking around, very much looking like three year olds should look like. And then suddenly you have this monster of a horse walking towards you – is this still the Curragh or already Aintree? Guineas or Grand National Day?
In my 2000 Guineas preview I voiced slight disappointment to see Endless Drama running over 1m yet again. He didn’t look like staying thus far in two previous attempts over 6f+. On pedigree he seems a rather dubious stayer too. Add all the early speed he usually shows and you could easily come to the conclusion that he is actually a sprinter.
On Saturday, though, different tactics and better ground seemed to work wonders. He finished the Guineas well enough to suggest he can be a good miler. A close second behind Gleneagles is surly a very strong piece of form. Yet, I’d love to see him over six furlongs. I think he could be a force over that sort of trip.
Al Kazeem’s Second Spring
It’s never been straightforward for him. Al Kazeem lost almost his entire Classic season, but came back stronger than ever the following season, when he beat Camelot in the 2013 Tattersalls Gold Cup. That’s now exactly two years ago. He went on to land the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and Coral Eclipse the same year and was subsequently retired to stud as potentially hot property for all the lovely fillies in the world.
Didn’t work out in the breeding shed. He was soon back in training and after a couple of respectable efforts he finally muscled his way to another heroic Group 1 victory – Sunday at the Curragh, beating some serious opposition in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.
He’s the kind of horse you won’t find enough of in flat racing. But these classy veterans are what the sport is craving for. Fans want to follow horses over more than one or two season. What is part and parcel in jump racing, is much more difficult at the top end of the game on the flat. So it’s great to see Al Kazeem, a seven year old now, as good and happy as ever!