Well, we had a 14/1 winner last week (which is rarer than hen’s teeth) so not all bad by any stretch of the imagination, and hopefully we will have more success this week, but before then we need to traverse the minefield of racing politics.
This is the part where I have to add that all opinions are my own (in case of solicitors nosing in) before we discuss the scandal in American racing after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug on the prohibited substance list. A second test seems sure to be ordered, but if that proves positive as well, then we will see the winner stripped of his title and the prize money that went with it.
I am no chemist, I struggle to open a bottle of paracetamol, but the fact is this is not the first time the Baffert stable have been in testing trouble, though it has been interesting reading both sides of the argument. Top horses Gamine and Charlatan both tested positive for lidocaine, though the trainer had both of those disqualifications overturned having proved cross-contamination via a pain relief patch worn by his assistant.
On the one hand, the anti-Baffert brigade are rightly wondering why these “mistakes” seem to happen more to his horses than they do elsewhere and are arguing that he is surely running out of excuses, on the other, I have read that the amounts needed to test positive are so small that they make the whole problem ridiculous if any member of staff goes with a yard of a horse if they have taken any medication themselves – we can take either side as we see fit.
The latest news sees Bob suggesting any contamination may well have come from a treatment for dermatitis for the horse, and that he was unaware of its contents, but I will be surprised if that works with ignorance no excuse in the eyes of the law. Something is clearly amiss in American racing, be that either excessive and unrealistic testing or worse, and I will be watching the outcome with interest as it seems sure to send ripples throughout the racing world.
Next up, I was interested to read an article by trainer Mark Johnston about field sizes in the UK which we have discussed here on a weekly basis, and I was intrigued to see that Mark puts it down to too few decent hoses in comparison to the races available for them.
We all know prize money has been dropping over recent years and Mark pointed out that in one race at Ripon that managed to attract a miserly three runners, the prize money has dropped 56% from 2015 to 2021, and although the bottom line figure looked attractive enough to me, I can fully understand connections looking for better money elsewhere, and picking and choosing their targets accordingly. With more and more of our better horses being sold to race in other jurisdictions thanks to their better prize money, racing in the UK is certainly at a crossroads. As long as the going or transport links can be blamed for the poor fields they will continue to be rolled out to the media as excuses as racing tries to put a sticky plaster over a gaping wound.
That said, and red rag to a bull as this comment may be, does it really matter to either the average racegoer or punter if the best horses aren’t racing in the UK, that may well have been the case for many years now, we would never know, as long as we get competitive racing? Perhaps it is now down to the powers that be to reframe certain races to attract bigger fields, downgrading qualifying conditions if necessary, not an idea to suit the purists, but one that could see bigger fields and more betting turnover which in turn funds the industry we all love.
Next up we had some pretty serious Derby and Oaks trials this week at York (as well as in Ireland), but did we see a likely classic winner I wonder. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but who would have thought a Ryan Moore ridden Aidan O’Brien trained daughter of Deep Impact would go off at 14/1 for the Musidora Stakes, certainly not me. Now as short as 6/1 for the Oaks I will not be snapping that up as she had the run of the race here, making all at a fairly pedestrian pace before staying on strongly, while those in behind pulled too hard for their own good. The time was slow enough to not take the form at face value, and if the entire field turn up at Epsom I foresee a different result, with Teona the one I felt looked as if the race would do her the most good for trainer Roger Varian.
On Thursday we had the Dante Stakes, and with a strong field it was certainly a worthwhile renewal, though once again the softened ground causes me concerns as I am hoping for far better (quicker) going at Epsom. It intrigues me the way the media are all over third placed High Definition (who is a fine specimen of a Galileo colt), and ignoring the winner Hurricane Lane and although I can see the arguments the form could be turned around over further, that is anything but guaranteed. I was quite taken with the winner who did the job well enough to keep his unbeaten record and looked as if he would continue to learn from the experience, and it will be interesting to see what order they finish in at Epsom with my own view being that I am far from convinced that either of them will appreciate the track.
On to the racing…
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I rarely if ever even look at Australian racing but as someone kindly pointed out, if I advocate the international racing scene I ought to put my money where my mouth is now and then! With well over £300,000 to the winner their prize money puts ours to shame, though who would have guessed the going would be on the soft side, and I thought it never rained down under (Sean - remind me to talk to you sometime about this - Editor). Naturally, I have researched on Australian websites (the Racing Post International form has huge chunks missing and is not to be relied on), and it looks, on paper at least, to be a battle of the generations. On all the form I can find it is close to impossible to oppose Eduardo, Joseph Pride’s seven-year-old gelding whose recent efforts include wins in the Challenge Stakes and the Galaxy before a brilliant third in the T J Smith, one of Australia’s premier sprints. Nothing else in this field can boast that sort of form and if he arrives with his A game I can see him making all and coming home a few lengths clear. If he has an off day (unlikely) then the improving three-year-old Wild Ruler could be the one best suited to take advantage with the excellent James McDonald in the saddle. Five wins from ten starts for a 50% success rate takes some doing in the competitive world of Australian sprinting, with a win in the million dollar Arrowfield last time out a sign of how quickly he is progressing, but he was behind Eduardo at Rosehill Gardens in late March in similar conditions, and looks best used in any forecast bets you may have this weekend.
Three-year-olds only over the six furlongs here and with just the three winning favourites in the last ten years, surprises are certainly an option. Not one jockey has won this twice in the last decade, and with ten different trainers as well, we have no choice but to revert to the form book which is no bad thing.
Creative Force is an improving son of Dubawi with a three wins from four starts record so far, though it has to be noted that all three have been on good to firm going, and conditions look likely to be riding considerably softer by race time here. He can take a bit of stoking up before he hits top gear and is upped in class after taking a couple of Class Two handicap at Newmarket, but ran on strongly over this trip last time and may even be able to use that extra stamina here on the rain softened turf. His half-sister Persuasive handled the conditions well enough, winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in 2017, and if he is as good as she was, we can certainly expect even more improvement.
Tactical looks to be his biggest rival and is in fact rated nine pounds his superior according to the handicappers after winning the European Free Handicap last month, leading close home over a furlong further despite failing to get a clear run. Owned by The Queen, he would be a popular winner (shame the crowds aren’t back just yet), but two of his four defeats have been on softer ground and I am worried we will not see him at his best in these conditions.
Just the six runners for this mile and a half Group Three event and one huge question – how fit is Logician. John and Thady Gosden’s five-year-old is the class act in this line-up having won six of his seven starts to date including the St Leger in 2019 with a new track record, so this is effectively below his pay grade. He did win on his debut, as well as first time out last season which have to be seen as positives, though he did suffer a life threating illness which saw a curtailed 2020 with just the two starts including when beaten at long odds on at York in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. He is by far the best horse here but has his issues (nothing came to light for his poor run last time out), which means I will suggest him as the most likely winner, but I will not be backing him myself just in case he is not 100%. Al Aasy is a massive danger after a course and distance win last time out in the John Porter Stakes and will take full advantage given half a chance, while I also expect a decent run from Thunderous who could also hit the frame with the in-form Ryan Moore in the saddle.
Racing never ceases to amaze me. The 2.25pm looks relatively competitive and has a small six horse field, yet a race later we have perhaps the best miler in Europe on show, yet eleven other horses are more than happy to take him on – go figure? Despite being odds on, it is really difficult to bet against Palace Pier winning as the Gosden’s four-year-old is rated a massive eight pounds superior to all his rivals, and win as he pleased on his return to action at Sandown when running away with the bet365 miles by eight lengths. Although the media went mad about that performance, he didn’t actually beat much (the 105 rated Bless Him was second at odds of 28/1), while the time was over three and a half seconds slower than standard and good as he is/was, I refuse to get carried away just yet.
He is the right age group as a four year old (they have taken seven of the last nine renewals), but 4/6 is a skinny enough price and I will use him in an acca with Logician if nothing else. Looking for better value isn’t always the best thing to do so I am stuck with the jolly, but Lope Y Fernandez stands out at 6/1 or bigger for and could prove hard to keep out of the frame. Although not viewed as one of the Ballydoyle superstars, his form stands up to close scrutiny and includes close up places behind the likes of Space Blues and Pinatubo, as well as a length third to Order Of Australia in the Breeders Cup Mile and a very easy win in lesser company at Leopardstown last month. His issue may well be the softer ground expected here which puts me off, and in the end I have decided to side with Palace Pier, obvious as he may be.
What a race this could be with nine runners, six of them unbeaten after just the one start, and five making their debuts as three-year-olds – so who has trained on and who hasn’t (who knows)? Whatever we do comes with risks attached as always, and in my view, the form shown by those seen already this season doesn’t quite look up to that needed to win this, though of course they do arrive with that fitness advantage.
Roger Varian has his horses in fine fettle of late and I expect a much improved run from maiden winner Eshaada, while Gloria Mundi overcame a slow start here for a course and distance win last month for the Gosdens and is another likely to make a big play for the prize money. Both are highly respected here but the word in Newmarket is that William Haggas has a potential star on his hands with Sea Empress, a daughter of Sea The Stars who won her only start as a two-year-old by a length from Teona, an unlucky third in the Musidora at York on Wednesday and clearly a decent sort. We do have to take her fitness on trust, and on the dam’s side, her stamina too, but she is already sitting high up in the Oaks betting and will need to win this and do so impressively to take her place in the Epsom contest.
I am a massive fan of trainer Ed Dunlop who has kindly allowed me in to his yard on more than one occasion, and I genuinely wish John Leeper all the very best here, I just cannot quite work out how a Class Five Newcastle success on the All-Weather sees him trading as short as 11/8 for this Listed contest. He was impressive and he did win by a very easy four lengths that day, but the form hasn’t been tested and adds up to precious little, on paper at least, while the time was nothing to write home about. He could well improve considerably and take this in his stride, but on what we have seen so far I prefer the chances of Fancy Man at a better price. More experienced than the favourite with five starts and two wins at Haydock, I thought he ran a blinder when third in the Group Three Chester Vase, leading two out before getting headed late on over the mile and a half plus. If he has the pace to lay up with them early here then the drop back to a mile and a quarter looks ideal, and as trainer Richard Hannon won this in 2015 and 2016, he knows exactly the sort needed today to land the hat-trick.
Another race full of ifs and buts and a surprisingly wide differential in the market for a six runner race – from 13/8 all the way up to 33/1. Devilwala is the highest rated in the field but hasn’t lived up to expectations so far this season with a fourth and a twelfth here, the last of those two in the 2000 Guineas when weakening two furlongs from home. I cannot pretend he doesn’t intrigue me dropped in class trip and wearing first time blinkers, but he has to show he can do it on the track and for now (famous last words), he won’t be carrying any of my money unless I play the forecast. Rank outsider Bellissime made all the running at Chelmsford to win a Class Five filles’ event and obviously needs to do more, but she is lightly raced and going the right way and shouldn’t be 33/1 – if only we had more runners for each way purposes.
Cloudbridge has been gelded since his fast finishing second over shorter in the Group Three Sirenia Stakes at Kempton and if the market speaks in his favour, he will do for me. With a good chance that Bellissime and possibly Devilwala will join favourite Bellosa at the head of affairs and burn each other out, this could be handed on a plate to a closer and therein lies my logic. Of course, Bellosa could make me eat my words and run them all ragged from the off after hacking up over course and distance to take her maiden, but the second and third were both 40/1 shots suggesting the form may not add up to a hill of beans, and at the early prices I am happy enough to take Group form against potential.
Some of you like your handicaps, though by now I would be guessing you are only looking for my suggestions so you can either lay them, or simply rule them out. Three-year-olds only here, so no edge to be gained via age groups, and with winners from 3/1 to 22/1 all things seem possible. Stats time once again (I has to work sometime, surely), and I note that in double figure fields for the last ten years, only one winner has come out of a stall higher than eight, so that’s a good way to decimate the field for research purposes. Next up I note that only one winner in recent years arrived here having finished outside the first eight home on their last run, so we now lose Operatic, while nineteen of the last twenty-three winners have come from the first seven in the betting, and if that holds water for tissue prices (all I have), then I am left with three – Perotto, Bickerstaffe, and First Folio – simple isn’t it. As my success in handicaps is, shall we say, minimalistic, I will play all three in forecasts and a tricast just in case I get lucky, though if I have to stick my neck out, at least Bickerstaffe is open to plenty of improvement after just the four starts and is the each way price of the trio at 12/1.
All eyes on the Wordsworth express here as Aidan O’Brien’s son of Galileo looks to build on his Curragh maiden success on his way to bigger and better things. He did not exactly set the world alight that day with a workmanlike more than electric success, but that was over ten furlongs and the step up in trip is fully expected to see him in a better light here. Serious dangers do look pretty thin on the ground to be honest with the possible exceptions of Naas maiden winner Party House who will have learned a lot from his debut success, and perhaps Anner Castle who went in to my notebook when fourth on debut at Tipperary and seems sure to win a race or two this season, but possibly not this afternoon.
With the poor publicity surrounding the Kentucky Derby the media seem strangely muted ahead of the Preakness tonight, the second of the American Triple Crown series and where current Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit who at this moment in time, has not been disqualified. He is trading favourite as I write and perhaps rightly so on that form, but he is no Justify and I would not be in the slightest bit surprised if he fails to follow up after a pretty tough race.
Earlier in the season I had a feeling that Bob Baffert thought a lot more of Concert Tour than he did of Medina Spirit, though the son of Street Sense missed the Derby (some say to avoid the large field), and was deliberately aimed here instead. An odds-on third in the Arkansas Derby saw his bubble burst regardless and we can now see if that was a blip – or was all the talk just media hype in the first place.
Neither of the Baffert horses can be called value I’m afraid so I will be having a small each way tickle on Crowded Trade, who has to improve, but looks overpriced at 12/1. Chad Brown’s lightly raced son of More Than Ready has a bit to find on the book, but his trainer is a master of his trade and if he runs him, then he has a chance. A maiden win was followed by a second in the Gotham Stakes and a third to Bourbonic and Dynamic One in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, so he does need to do better but race four may be the making of him and I expect a decent run. Of the others, keep an eye on France Go De Ina who is better than he looked in Dubai last time out, while rank outsider Ram is looking for his hat trick for legendary trainer D Wayne Lukas and may do better than his odds imply.
An all Irish Sunday to look forward to, and our first race is a Listed sprint over five furlongs and run in honour of the great Sole Power. Just the three runnings so far and three different successful trainers so no patterns emerging there, though four year olds have won this twice and that points to Back To Brussels, the only runner representing that age group this season.
I will not be ignoring his chances but others do appeal far more including Romantic Proposal who represents Ed Lynam, who would surely love to win a race named after his stable stalwart. Not seen since coming home seventh in similar company at The Curragh, he could sneak in to a place, but the one I really like is Steel Bull, Michael O’Callaghan’s three-year-old son of Clodovil who won his first two starts as a youngster including the Molecomb Stakes at Glorious Goodwood before his form tailed off with a close up fifth in the Flying Childers at Doncaster and a poor run at Dundalk when possibly over the top after a long season. Naturally, ahead of his return, there is no proof he has or hasn’t trained on which is a risk his supporters have to take, but I am hoping he may be better than Listed class, and as he won first time out last year, my hopes are pretty high.
A small field sprint for juvenile fillies next and a happy hunting ground for UK raiders over the years with Richard Hannon Snr, Richard Hannon, and Richard Fahey all taking home first prize in the last eight years, so being a Dick seems a good thing, though not this year as our horses have unsurprisingly stayed at home. Contarelli Chapel certainly impressed on her debut over course and distance late last month with a breathtaking five and a half-length success, though naturally we have no idea of how good or bad that form is as yet. Royal Ascot is her target so they clearly think a fair bit of the daughter of Caravaggio, and as she looked as green as grass, she can only get better with experience. I don’t expect a decent price (sadly), but it hard to suggest her colours will be lowered Sunday afternoon meaning I will add her to my short priced acca if nothing else. Of her rivals, word is that Hermana Estrella can go a bit at home but they all ought to be playing for the places if the suggestion is as good as she looked.
Another sprint next but this time we are restricted to three-year-olds as Aidan O’Brien looks to take this contest for the fourth time in a row after success with Carravagio, Sioux Nation, and So Perfect when this was last run in 2019. Once again the stable come here double handed with Giorgio Vasari and Lipizzaner with the latter the mount of Ryan Moore and presumably the first choice. Third to Measure Of Magic at Navan last month he sems a bit of a character, but if he keeps on the straight and narrow here, he won’t be far away at the death. A Case Of You is officially rated the best horse here off a mark of 108 and can be easily forgiven a last of twelve behind 2000 Guineas winner Poetic Flare when failing to see out the seven furlongs at Leopardstown and will be far better suited back at the six here, and he will be my each way call, though I will also be carefully watching the market to assess the chances of Power Under Me who will be having just his third start here, and is expected to keep on improving.
Our longest race of the day at seven furlongs, but at least with these older horses we have a lot more form to work with. Mick Halford has won two of the last four runnings meaning we need to sit up and take notice of Sindhia in 2021, though she needs to improve considerably on what we have seen so far, including an eighth in a Gowran Park handicap last time out, nine lengths adrift of the winner with no obvious excuses. Not for me I am afraid and I far prefer the chances of Admiral Nelson for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore. Yet to live up to his illustrious breeding (by Kingman out of an Exceed And Excel mare) with a maiden win at The Curragh his only success, I am hoping that he will make up in to a better three year old, though if I do have a bet it will be very small as we await proof he has trained on over the winter.
Fancy Man 2.05pm Newmarket Saturday
Cloudbridge 2.40pm Newmarket Saturday