Guineas winners don’t normally return at 40/1.
It’s not like the Grand National where everyone’s ‘shocked’ to see a supposed rag roll in at a big price but no one’s really that surprised.
Not the Classics though.
The irony of course here was that Night Of Thunder was no rag. Personally, as I quoted a few weeks back, I had him down as a possible French Guineas horse. Why then he went off at the price he did is quite astonishing. Of course there was the Greenham form to reverse with the mighty Kingman but, if you were to presume it a good Greenham, 40/1 was very decent price value.
Places were of course not all King Kieron Fallon had on his mind last Saturday, as was proven with the supreme ride he gave the winner. A quick glance at the sectional times shows the patience with which the experienced head held his mount.
In the final furlong Night Of Thunder quickened by over half a second compared to that previous, and that was despite venturing across half the track in the process. Kingman on other hand appeared only managed to accelerate by 0.12 seconds, leaving the figures of his final 2 furlongs pretty similar. Did the experienced head tell? Maybe in the bluster of it all young James Doyle pushed the button too soon aboard the favourite.
One to take out of last Saturday’s spectacle was the third placed Australia, who surprised me and I thought ran out of his skin. I never expected him to possess so much speed. He clocked pretty similar speed figures to Kingman, although at the trip you would have expected him ridden a lot closer to the pace in the manner he was. No blame on young Joseph’s shoulders from me, just a thoroughly decent Derby workout. No wonder he’s now 7/4 for Epsom.
That leads us nicely onto this weekend’s cards – a Derby/Oaks trial double from Lingfield and the Victoria Cup handicap from Ascot. Ever the gent, I’ll say ‘ladies first’ and start with the Oaks trial….
As has become the norm in this race over the years, many of the market protagonists for Epsom have shirked the challenge. We’ve still been left with a decent looking field though with several Oaks entries, including a longshot for this one, the once raced Madame Chiang.
Despite only being seen the once, the visual impression on those watching that day was striking. She was never going a yard but burst through like she’d been stung by a bee to win handsomely, eased up. The bad ground that day may have been the cause for her awkwardness and her pedigree suggests she’ll improve for a sounder surface. Despite the manner of victory, from the little we know about her would give you little confidence in backing her for this. Worth the watch but I couldn’t back with confidence.
Ralph Beckett has taken this twice in the past, including last year with the extremely smart Secret Gesture. This year he saddles Moonrise Landing, another who’s just been seen the once and left a fair mark in that run. Unlike Madame Chiang, she was in against the boys that day, a mighty hard task for a filly to overcome on debut. She travelled well though and put the race to bed with a powerful turn of foot, leaving little doubt that a step up in class was required.
She goes into this however as one without an Oaks entry, leading me to question whether she’s be up to this. I’ll look elsewhere.
Should Queen’s Prize be successful here then we could have another royal Classic contender on our hands, once again for Sir Michael Stoute. She’s another who left a clear impression to onlookers on her debut, quickening markedly inside the final furlong to win cosily in the hands of Tom Queally. She didn’t appear to beat much that day but she’s stoutly bred and could be an improver this term.
For my money the one they all have to beat in this has yet to shake off her maiden tag, Andrew Balding’s Casual Smile. Her record of 232 from last season does tells only half the story. In her first outing the penny didn’t seem to drop until late on, where she finished fast and was unlucky to be held at the line. She was upped to a conditions race next time out where her and a rival had a barging match right to the line which impeded both of their chances. On her final outing her and the eventual winner, current Oaks favourite Taghrooda, pulled clear of the field and she was just touched off by a quarter of a length.
Being by Sea The Stars she’ll almost certainly progress well from 2 to 3 as many of his first crop already have this year. She’ll prefer the top of the ground, which she’ll probably encounter here. Andrew Balding is also currently bang in form and I imagine she should take some beating in this.
In the colt’s equivalent, Aidan O’Brien looks to continue his good record in the race. As per usual he’s made it pretty hard for the Tom Boardman’s of the world by firing a few bullets at the initial entry stage. His two most likely candidates here though would probably be Mekong River and Blue Hussar.
The former is the top rated in the race, having won four of his five starts at 2 (one of those wins as a result of first past the post being disqualified). His fourth in his final start in France seems better than first appeared after the winner, Prince Gibraltar, rattled home in the Prix Greffulhe. Despite having clear claims for this it really is difficult to say who he’ll send over at this stage. I’ll leave him out on that basis.
His stablemate Blue Hussar is another from the once-raced maiden winners list we’re so often bumping into here, but my did he make an impression. He would have been on very few peoples’ radars up until that Leopardstown success but I’m sure he entered a few people’s minds after it, coming from last to first in the blink of an eye to win by three quarters of a length. Unfortunately he is another that I just couldn’t guarantee making the trip across, so on those grounds he won’t be my fancy here. If either of these two Ballydoyle runners do line up though, they’re worth taking seriously.
One who’s definitely being targeted at the race is John Gosden’s Munjaz. With this horse it’s much more about potential than what he’s actually achieved so far, as on literal form he has no chance. He’s another well bred son of Sea The Stars though, so better ground and the progression from 2 to 3 should have brought him along. He broke his maiden tag last time out, albeit narrowly from a horse worth following called Venezia.
Gentleman John’s taken his time with this horse and seemingly expects a lot. Could it be another Gosden-trained Al Maktoum-owned Epsom hotpot? It’s doubtful, but I think he’ll come out on top in this.
Onto Ascot now and it’s the Victoria Cup. 7 furlongs and countless runners, it doesn’t get any easier! We’ll start with the current favourite, one who I’m very keen on for the season ahead, Horsted Keynes.
He’s another who’s had the benefit of a patient trainer on his side. Roger Varian has bided his time with his 4 year old, so far limiting him to just six runs, five of them on the all-weather. It was certainly no coincidence that his turf debut last time out saw his finest display to date, travelling typically strongly (a wonderful trait of this horse) throughout and making mincemeat of his rivals. He looks way ahead of the handicapper and will surely progress as the year goes on. A slight concern for me would be his inexperience. In a big field like he’ll encounter Saturday it could count against. Whatever happens I think he’s definitely one worth keeping on side.
One of his market rivals, Brownsea Brink, comes here with a really strong chance in my opinion. The form of his third in the Spring Cup last time out looks rock solid, with winner Gabrial’s Kaka going on to finish second off a higher mark and the horse behind him, Ocean Tempest, winning in listed company. He also, for me, holds a strong advantage over fellow rival Purcell, in that he met him as recently as March, going down by just a head but on 8lbs worse terms. The Richard Hannon horse looks a rock solid punt in this for me.
One from left field who could run a big race at a price is Majestic Queen. The Irish filly has often met conditions unfavourable to her, but in a 7 furlong handicap last summer on decent ground she made light work of her opposition. When reappearing this term, in a two runner event she beat a smart filly of Mick Halford’s convincingly, giving her 10lbs in the process. Trainer Tracey Collins has been looking to step her up in grade and must fancy her chances as it’s very rare that she’ll send one to these shores. 25/1 looks like decent each-way value to me.
Lingfield (2.20) Casual Smile
Lingfield (2.55) Munjaz
Ascot (3.50) Brownsea Brink, Majestic Queen (each-way)