Highlights of York so far?
Roaring Lion was one for sure.
He may have had the run of the race. The move by Christophe Soumillon on leader Thunder Snow all the way over to the stands rail in the home straight, towing the entire field along behind him, may have transformed Roaring Lion’s position from a good one to a very good one, while simultaneously converting Poet’s Word’s from a good one to a poor one.
Even so, it is difficult to argue that John Gosden’s horse was not the best horse in the race on the day. And Oisin Murphy was superb on him.
Old Persian battled on bravely to land the Great Voltigeur under his 3lb penalty, and Kew Gardens ran a fine Leger trial too behind him under his 5lb penalty. There may not be much between them again at Doncaster. Hopefully they both get there fit and healthy and well and ready to go again.
Fairyland was game in the Lowther Stakes on Thursday and Poet’s Society (who has now run 26 times in 2018 and a remarkable 11 times in the last two months) was gutsy in bringing up Mark Johnston’s record-breaking win, and Sea Of Class was all, well, class. Then there was Lah Ti Dar 40 minutes later. These top class three-year-old middle distance fillies are like buses: deluxe buses with Ferrari engines.
Highlights to come?
The Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday for starters. It’s speed and class all rolled into one. It’s not the Epsom Dash, a handicap, downhill faster than your legs can carry you for as long as you can, but it’s York’s five furlongs, it’s fast and it’s Group 1 all the way.
Battaash is fast. So fast, in fact, that they are talking about Dayjur and records. And if he puts it all together, all of that could happen. But that is the quandary: whether or not he will put it all together.
These sprinters are coiled springs, and Battaash is more coiled than most. That is from whence his brilliance springs, but it is also the source of his vulnerability. It was all too much for him before last year’s Nunthorpe, and he didn’t run his race. Sheikh Hamdan’s horse ultimately finished fourth behind Marsha and Lady Aurelia and Cotai Glory.
He got it together for the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp in October, however, and he was brilliant. Five lengths behind Marsha in the Nunthorpe, he beat Sir Mark Prescott’s filly by four lengths in the Abbaye. A nine-length turnaround. And he was at least as good in winning the Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood last time under his Group 1 penalty.
But Blue Point is very fast too. The Godolphin colt stalked and pounced in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, and he beat Battaash by a length and three quarters. Battaash may have gone too fast too early at Ascot, and Ascot’s five furlongs is a much stiffer five furlongs than York’s five furlongs. That said, the fact remains that, on the one occasion on which the two speedsters met, Blue Point came out on top.
Battaash has since won that Goodwood race, and Blue Point has since been well beaten in the July Cup at Newmarket. But Charlie Appleby’s horse was keener than ideal that day, he never looked comfortable. Interestingly, on the other two occasions on which he raced at Newmarket, both times on the Rowley Mile course, he came up short.
By contrast, the Shamardal colt is one for one at York. He won the Gimcrack Stakes at this meeting as a juvenile, beating Mokarris by three lengths and putting up one of the best performances of his juvenile year. That was over six furlongs, but he is faster now. He appears to be at his ease sitting behind five-furlong pace.
The draw makes it all even more fascinating. Blue Point is drawn 16 of 16, next to the stands rail, Battaash is drawn 14, and fireball Caspian Prince is drawn between them. This is going to be very fast. You don’t want to be standing too close to the stands rail as they whoosh past.
There may not be much between Battaash and Blue Point again. From a betting perspective, it is correct that Battaash is favourite, but you can argue that Blue Point should be closer to him in the betting than he is. The disparity in their respective odds is probably greater than it should be and the Godolphin colt could be the value of the race at around 5.8.
Just as Battaash has dominated the Nunthorpe preamble, so Stratum has dominated the Ebor chat. Will he get in or won’t he? He’s in all right, number 19 of 20, by the skin of a saddlecloth.
And just as Battaash is the correct favourite for the Nunthorpe, so Stratum is the correct favourite for the Ebor. Willie Mullins’ horse was seriously impressive in winning the all-new JLT Handicap at Newbury last time off a mark of 94, and an 8lb hike does not appear to be harsh.
That was just his second run on the flat for Ireland’s perennial National Hunt trainer. He had run a big race in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot on his first, when he did well to finish third, just over two lengths behind his stable companion Lagostovegas, despite the fact that he didn’t have the run of the race. His Newbury run was a nice step forward from that, and it would not be surprising if he stepped forward again, but stall four is not ideal and he is very short in such a competitive handicap.
Sea The Lion is interesting, Jarlath Fahey’s horse is up 11lb for winning the Ragusa Handicap for the second year running at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend, but he battled on well to win that day and the front two pulled clear. That was his third win in three runs this term, and he could step forward again.
Teodoro is well handicapped, he is 9lb well-in racing under just a 4lb penalty for his Rose of Lancaster win, and Blakeney Point was an obvious eye-catcher when he came from an improbable position to finish fifth in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock on his penultimate run.
That said, Crowned Eagle may represent the value of the race. Marco Botti’s horse ran a big race last time in that Old Newton Cup. Always prominent, he hit the front three furlongs from home, and he only gave way to Royal Rebel deep inside the final furlong, going down by just a neck in the end with the pair of them finishing nicely clear.
The handicapper raised him by 5lb for that run to a mark of 107, but he could still be a well handicapped horse on that mark, given how well the Old Newton Cup is working out. Rainbow Rebel won at Chester next time under a 6lb penalty and is now rated 13lb higher than he was at Haydock, while fourth-placed Teodoro is also rated 13lb higher than he was then after his afore-mentioned win in the Rose of Lancaster Stakes.
Crowned Eagle has good form at York too. On his only run there, in a 12-furlong handicap at the Dante meeting in May, he went down by just a head to Hamada, giving him 7lb. The Godolphin horse won his next two races, a Newmarket handicap by seven lengths and the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes by an easy two and a half lengths. He is now rated 18lb higher than he was in May, and he is among the favourites for the Melbourne Cup.
It is probable that Marco Botti has had the Ebor in mind for Crowned Eagle for a while – although he is probably not alone in the field on that point – probably since his run at the Dante meeting at the latest. He could improve again for the step up to a mile and six furlongs – he is a half-brother to King George runner-up Eagle Top and to Park Hill winner The Lark – and his draw in stall 19 is a positive. Nine of the last 10 Ebor winners at York were drawn 10 or higher, and eight of them were drawn 14 or higher. Crowned Eagle could run a big race.