Where do you start with the Dubai Cesarewitch?
A 34-runner, two-and-a-quarter-mile handicap, run over two near-straight courses, a one-mile one and a 10-furlong one, with a 90-degree bend joining the two?
You start with Willie Mullins, that’s where. The perennial Irish champion National Hunt trainer has seven of the 34 runners, and four of the top six in the market.
We’re getting used to this: Willie Mullins and the big staying handicaps on the flat in Britain.
This year, he had the 1-3-4-5 in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot, he won the all-new JLT Cup at Newbury in July with Stratum, and if the same Stratum hadn’t been snookered on the rail at the two-furlong pole in the Ebor, who knows?
(Mullins also had the 1-2 in the Group 2 Doncaster Cup, which wasn’t a handicap, and he had the 1-2 in the Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend, which wasn’t in Britain, and he had the 1-2 in the Connacht Hotel amateur riders’ handicap at the Galway Festival in July, which wasn’t either.)
You can understand why Stratum is favourite for the Cesarewitch. He was a little unlucky in finishing third in the Ascot Stakes off a mark of 92, he bolted up in the JLT Cup off a mark of 94, and he probably would have at least gone close in the Ebor with a clear run off a mark of 102.
He gets to compete off the same mark of 102 on Saturday. He stays well, he goes well on good ground, and there is every chance that he is still a well handicapped horse off that mark. He has raced just three times on the flat for Mullins.
He is short. That’s all. There aren’t many other negatives. But it is difficult to argue that he is value at around 7.0.
Uradel is more than twice his stable companion’s odds. Luke McMahon’s horse won that Connacht Hotel amateur riders’ race at Galway, under a superb ride from the owner’s son Aubrey, getting the better of his stable companion Limini, with the pair of them clear. And Limini enhanced the form of that run last time when she got home from another stable companion, Law Girl, in that Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown.
Uradel and Limini meet on identical terms to the terms under which they met at Galway, without taking riders’ claims into account, and there may not be much between them again. They are both 13lb higher in the ratings than they were then, but they are still both players in Saturday’s race.
Southern France is also a player.
His route to the Cesarewitch is not a well-trodden one: fourth in the Irish St Leger Trial, third in the St Leger. But Aidan O’Brien’s horse is a high-class and progressive young stayer, and he deserves his place towards the top of the market.
Second behind Kew Gardens in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, he did even better when he finished third behind his stable companion in the St Leger. The two horses who finished ahead of him that day, Kew Gardens and Lah Ti Dar, are high-class performers, and Southern France finished nicely clear of other talented three-year-olds in Dee Ex Bee, Old Persian and Raymond Tusk.
Only one three-year-old – Darley Sun, 2009 – has won the Cesarewitch since the turn of the millennium, but not many try and, as long as his St Leger exertions have not taken their toll, Southern France could run a big race.
Vis A Vis could also run a big race. Neil Mulholland’s horse stayed on well last at Kempton in August to beat Just In Time by almost three lengths. Just In Time has enhanced that form since by winning twice, last time landing the Mallard Handicap at Doncaster off a mark of 94. Alan King’s horse is progressive, but his 4lb penalty takes him up to a mark of 98, 15lb higher than the mark off which he raced at Kempton.
Vis A Vis was raised by 8lb for his Kempton win, but a hike of that magnitude was to be expected and because he hasn’t run since, he actually meets Just In Time on 7lb better terms, despite the fact that he beat him by almost three lengths.
The Dansili gelding is only four and he has raced just 10 times in his life and just twice for Neil Mulholland, so there could be plenty more to come. This has obviously been his target for a while, and Silvestre de Sousa is a great booking. The champion jockey has won three of the last five renewals of the Cesarewitch, and Vis A Vis could represent the value of the race.
Two of the Ian Williams horses, Stars Over The Sea and Speedo Boy, are also worth noting.
The former put up a remarkable performance to win the Cesarewitch Trial last time. Pat Cosgrave kicked him off in front, and he just went further and further clear of his rivals. You rarely see a flat race that is effectively over as a contest before they reach the four-furlong marker, but this was one of those.
The handicapper raised him by 8lb for that run, so he is 4lb well in on Saturday under just a 4lb penalty. You nearly have to see it again to fully believe it, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he will pull off similar tactics on Saturday.
Speedo Boy was a little unlucky in the Mallard Handicap last time. He was staying on nicely when he was short of room at the furlong pole. He only finished fifth in the end, but he was only beaten a total of a length and three quarters and, had he got a gap, he might have gone close.
He should do even better now that he is stepping up from that trip of one mile and six furlongs, and he could improve significantly stepped up to this extreme trip for the first time.
He has five lengths to make up on Here And Now on their running at York in August, but he raced out in the centre up the home straight that day, and he is 7lb better off with Ralph Beckett’s horse now. That gives him a chance.
Also, Speedo Boy ran really well on his only previous run on the Rowley Mile, splitting subsequent Dante winner Permian and subsequent Cocked Hat Stakes winner Khalidi in the Listed Newmarket Stakes last year. He could out-run big odds.
It’s a fascinating contest but, at current odds, Vis A Vis and Speedo Boy could be the two who represent the best value.