Your route into this year’s Haydock Sprint Cup will be hugely influenced by how you view Harry’s Angel’s chance of winning the race again.
There are lots of positives. Clive Cox’s horse is one of the outstanding sprinters of recent times. He won the July Cup last July and he won the Haydock Sprint Cup last September and he won the Duke of York Stakes last May. The form book says that he was well beaten in the Diamond Jubilee at Ascot last time, that he finished 11th of 12, but we all know that there were very valid excuses for that. Well, you try to win a sprint after getting your foot caught in the starting blocks.
Ascot hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for him, he is zero for five there, but he is five for five away from Ascot. And he is two for two at Haydock. As well as his win in this race last year, when he looked seriously impressive in putting up one of the best performances of his career, he also won the Sandy Lane Stakes there as a three-year-old.
And he is the highest-rated horse in the race, he is 7lb clear of the next highest on official ratings.
Negatives? There are some. For starters, there is the fact that this will be his first run since that Ascot debacle. He can’t have had a happy experience that day, and this will be his first time to race since. You can be sure that Clive Cox will have him well prepared, and Cox is a top trainer who appeared to be happy with his horse in dispatches during the week, but it still has to be at least a slight concern.
Soft ground is not a concern on the face of it. It was heavy when he won the race last year. That said, the ground was a worry going into the race last year, and the Godolphin colt is all speed.
He is so good on fast ground. Soft or heavy ground could serve to blunt his speed, and that is not a positive. And his draw in stall three may not be ideal on the ground.
There is also the nature of the Haydock Sprint Cup.
The last four renewals of the race have been won by three-year-olds. And, a little bizarrely, when an older horse wins it these days, it tends to be a horse who is older than four. Five-year-olds and even a seven-year-old (Markab) have won the race since the last four-year-old won it, Red Clubs in 2007.
That isn’t that big a concern, mind you, because 10 four-year-olds have finished in the places from 45 runners in the last 10 years, but it is still in the back of your mind.
And there is the slightly anomalous fact that no horse has completed back-to-back victories in the Sprint Cup since Be Friendly won the second running of the race in 1967, having won the inaugural running in 1966.
Harry Angel could win out of the park. If you knew that he was going to put up a performance like the one that he put up last year, when he beat Tasleet and The Tin Man by four lengths and one and a half lengths, then he would be way over-priced at 2.25. But, with the information that we have, as things stand, he is short enough.
The favourite faces several really interesting rivals. Speak In Colours is one. He was having just his fourth run for Joseph O’Brien at The Curragh last time when he put up the best performance of his life in winning the Group 3 Phoenix Sprint Stakes. He beat Gordon Lord Byron by over a length that day, and Tom Hogan’s veteran proved the merit of that form when he went to York last time and chased Expert Eye home in the City of York Stakes.
The Excelebration colt won twice on easy ground as a juvenile when he was with Marco Botti, so the Haydock ground should hold no fears. He could out-run decent odds.
Donjuan Triumphant could also out-run big odds on the ground. Andrew Balding’s horse ran no kind of race last time in that City of York Stakes, when he was a beaten horse a long way out, so you have to forgive him that. And he hasn’t won since he won a heritage handicap over this course and distance last September. However, he has put up some good performances in defeat in the interim, including in the Group 2 Lennox Stakes at Goodwood in July, when he was beaten just a total of a half a length by Sir Dancealot, who is about one-quarter of his price.
The Dream Ahead horse goes well on soft ground and he goes well at Haydock, where his record reads 22011.
Tasleet is also very interesting. William Haggas’ horse finished second to Harry Angel in this race last year, and he followed up by finishing second behind Librisa Breeze in the British Champion Sprint Stakes at Royal Ascot, when he had Harry Angel behind him in fourth, with The Tin Man, Brando and Donjuan Triumphant even further behind.
Sheikh Hamdan’s didn’t run again until he made his debut this season, when he finished third behind Merchant Navy and Spirit Of Valor in the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend.
He hasn’t run since then, but he goes well on soft ground, he is probably well drawn in stall nine, and he ran a cracker in this race last year on his only run at Haydock.
That said, slight preference is for The Tin Man.
James Fanshawe’s horse did well to get as close as he did in this race last year. He missed the break that day, he was buffeted around a little through the first furlong of the race, and he had to come from further back than ideal.
Winner of a listed race at Windsor on his debut this season, he didn’t have a lot of luck in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. He got squeezed out of it a little as ultimate runner-up City Light made his ground just as the pace was increasing. He had to switch to the near side and re-generate his momentum, and he did well to run on as well as he did to take fourth place, just over a length behind the winner Merchant Navy. He would have been closer with a cleaner run through his race.
The Equiano gelding can also be marked up at least a little on the bare form of his run in the Prix Maurice de Gheest last time.
It is probable that there was an advantage to be gained from racing towards the centre of the track that day, so the high-drawn horses were probably favoured. Again, he did well to take third place, racing, as he was, from a low draw. The first seven horses home that day were drawn, respectively, 13, 20, 3, 17, 11, 19 and 18. He was the horse who was drawn in stall three.
He has raced just twice at Haydock, both times in this race, both times on soft or heavy ground, and he has finished third and second. This race has probably been on his trainer’s radar for him for a while, and Oisin Murphy is riding out of his skin these days. There are lots of positive, and he looks over-priced at around 9.8.