The Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Group1) 6f Ascot Saturday, a preview from Oddsguru

When run in it’s previous incarnation, as The Cork and Orrery Stakes, the contest was a happy hunting ground for Irish yards, with the names, John Oxx, Noel Meade, Dermot Weld, and Vincent O’Brien figuring regularly on the board of honour. However since it’s elevation to Group1 status in 2002, and renamed The Golden Jubilee, and ten years later, The Diamond Jubilee, trainers from across the Irish Sea have only managed to hit the back of the net on two occasions, a stat that Tipperary Maestro, Aidan O’Brien, (won with Starspangledbanner in 2010) will be hoping to improve on with recent Australian import, the 4yo son of Fastnet Rock, Merchant Navy.

This talented and improving young animal won five of his first six starts including at Group1 level when taking the 6f Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington last November, when despite appearing to have plenty to do one and a half furlongs out, he came with a wet sail to beat the useful Invisible Star by a head. Beaten a Shd and a Nk in a Group2 over an inadequate 5 1/2F in February next time out, he put up a terrific performance a month later in his last race down under, when finishing a close third to Saturday’s opponent, Redkirk Warrior in the Group1 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington (6f Good March 18). Held up, he finished really strongly to go down by a rapidly diminishing Shd and a Hd. He moved to the Northern Hemisphere to the Ballydoyle academy a month later, and showed that he had rapidly acclimatised when winning the Group2 Greenlands Stakes by 1L from stablemate Spirit Of Valor, with the joint favourites, Tasleet and Brando a further 1 1/2L and a Nk behind. Merchant Navy meets the winner of that Flemington Newmarket Handicap, the 7yo Redkirk Warrior on 12lbs worse terms on Saturday, and on paper looks to have it all to do, but foaled in November 2014, he is still five months shy of his 4th birthday so has much the greater potential for improvement, and it won’t come as a great surprise if placings are reversed.

Heading the market at the time of writing is the Clive Cox trained Harry Angel, and a repeat of his defeat of Brando in last months Duke of York Stakes at the eponymous course, would see him go close. Taking it up 2f out he kept on well to beat Kevin Ryan’s excellent yardstick by 2L, giving him 5lbs. Twice a winner at the top level, (Newmarket’s July Cup Gd/fm and Haydock’s Sprint Cup Hvy) the son of Dark Angel clearly handles most ground, and the only slight reservation one might have is that none of his four visits to the track have yet yielded a victory. Indeed in view of his subsequent exploits at Newmarket and Haydock his 3rd in The Commonwealth Cup to the O’Brien trained Caravaggio at last year’s meeting was disappointing.

Third in that heat was Tuesday’s King’s Stand winner, (5fGd/Fm) Blue Point, and if turning out again over Saturday’s one furlong longer trip would have to be considered. He has two course and distance wins to his credit including a 1 1/2L victory over Harry Angel in the Group3, Pavilion Stakes in May last year when in receipt of 5lbs. Having won The King’s Stand so impressively he will be a potent force if fully recovered from his exertions only four days later.

The James Fanshawe trained, The Tin Man, won last year’s renewal by a Nk and 3/4L from Tasleet and Limato in what was a pretty rough contest where none of the first three home had a straightforward passage, but perhaps Limato was the most sinned against. The Tin Man was well beaten in all three of his subsequent starts last term but made a bright start to this year’s campaign four weeks ago, when readily beating D’bai in a Listed Windsor heat. The runner up’s win in the Group3, John of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock next time out does the form no harm at all, so with the likely fast ground in his favour, and a very solid record at the track the Fanshawe 6yo is another to consider.

In view of American trainer, Wesley Wards excellent record at the Royal Meeting his lightly raced, Bound For Nowhere is worth a second look. He was a respectable 4th in last year’s Commonwealth Cup over Saturday’s course and distance on only his third racecourse appearance, and well beaten in The Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville was retired for the season. He is two from two in both races this year and last time was impressive when winning a Grade2 at Keenland by 4L from Bucchero who finished 4 3/4L behind Blue Point in Tuesday’s King’ Stand. He looks an improved performer.

Selection: Merchant Navy

E.W. : Bound For Nowhere

John Gray

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Queen Anne Stakes (Group1) 1mile Str Royal Ascot Tuesday

royal ascotOur selection last week, God Given, stayed on well, and found plenty to give Luca Cumani his second Pinnacle Stakes at Haydock, and another success for the Oddsguru team, so here’s hoping we can keep the ball rolling in the opening heat of next week’s Royal Ascot Jamboree, The Queen Anne Stakes. First run as The Trial Stakes in 1840, it was renamed in 1930 in honour of Queen Anne who founded the Berkshire Track way back in 1711, and her race was belatedly given Group1 status in 2003. Prior to receiving it’s top level status, Sheik Mohammed’s Godolphin operation won the contest four times, and since becoming a Group1 race, they have registered a similar number of victories, all of which has to make their contender next Tuesday, Benbatl, of particular interest.

Unraced as a 2yo, Benbatl won two of his seven starts as a 3yo, including the 10f Group3 Hampton Court Stakes at last year’s Royal Meeting, but it is only since turning four and being campaigned in Dubai, that he has really begun making hay. He has won three of his four race in the Emirate, beginning with a smooth victory in January in the Group3 Singspiel Stakes, followed by another facile victory in the Group2 Al Rashidiya Stakes at the beginning of February. He followed this with a good second to Blair House in The Group1 Jebel Hatta Stakes, five weeks later, but it was his performance last time, when winning the hugely valuable Group1 Dubai Turf (worth well over £2.5 million pounds to the winner) that stamped him out as a very serious animal indeed. He won the 9f heat very easily by 3 1/4L from the Japanese horse Vivlos and had his previous conqueror, Blair House 12L back in 10th. Beautifully bred, by the great Dubawi, out of the top class mare, Nahrain, ( won twice at the top level, The Prix De Lopera 2011 and Belmont Park’s Invitational in 2012), Benbatl has had a nice 11 week break since his Dubai exertions, and if handling the one furlong drop in trip will make them all go.

Aidan O’Brien has won the race three times and his best chance of landing a fourth would seem to lie with his 4yo daughter of Galileo, Rhododendron. She needed every yard of Newbury’s straight mile to win the Group1 Lockinge Stakes four weeks ago, (Oddsguru’s Selection), mounting a strong challenge entering the final furlong she got up to beat the gallant Lightning Spear in the shadow of the post. This was the filly’s third Group1 success, two of them achieved over a straight mile, (won The Dubai Fillies Mile over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile as a 2yo) so despite a second in The Oaks, and a win in the 10f Group1 Prix de L’Opera Longines, her optimum trip does seem to be a strongly run mile. Her dam, Halfway To Heaven who won the Irish 1000gns in 2008 and the Group1 Sunchariot Stakes over a mile at Newmarket was certainly best at the trip and her full sister, Magical was best at seven furlongs.

Following a good 3rd to stable companion, Rhododendron (beaten 2 3/4L) in The Lockinge, the much travelled, Lancaster Bomber, got off the mark at the top level for the first time when winning the 10f Tattersalls Gold Cup from stablemate Cliffs Of Moher twenty three days ago. Having made all he found plenty for pressure and ‘won by 2L, and had the hot favourite, Defoe, a further 1 1/2L back in 3rd. A cautionary note is added as he did have his own way out front and the time was slow for the conditions but as a son of Warfront he thrives on fast ground, and it’s worth remembering that he was only collared inside the final furlong by Barney Roy in last year’s St James’s Palace Stakes when attempting to make all.

The French trained filly, Recoletos has won six of her ten starts, including last time, when she was quite impressive winning the 9f Group1 Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp, where she beat the 113 rated Almodoran easily by 1 3/4L. This talented filly was only beaten a length in last year’s 10f Group1 Prix Du Jockey Club where she was only headed 50yds from the post, and in her first race this term she put up an excellent performance winning the Group2 Prix Du Muguet very readily from the proven Group2 performer Jimmy Two Times. The C Laffon-Parias trained 4yo does seem to have progressed over the winter and it wouldn’t take much more to put her in the mix. A slight concern would be that she has never raced on anything faster than good.

The American trained Yoshida would be an interesting contender if turning up. Lightly raced with only eight runs under his belt the 4yo son of the very successful Japanese stallion, Hearts Cry didn’t exactly set the world alight in his first six races, and it was only at the seventh time of asking that he was successful at Graded level. He won the Grade3 Hill Park Stakes at Belmont Park last October and then seemed to have significantly improved over the winter when winning the 9f Grade1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on his reappearance in May. He beat the three times Grade1 winner Beach Patrol” by 3/4L in the style of an improved performer and could be interesting for his hugely successful trainer, William Mott.

Selection: Benbatl.  If abs Rhododendron
E.W.         : Yoshida

John Gray

Betway Pinnacle Stakes (Group3) 1m4f Haydock Saturday

Following the heady brew of last Saturday’s Derby this weekend’s offerings are of a much thinner beer, but nevertheless, Haydock’s Pinnacle Stakes looks an interesting and competitive heat, so let’s hope we can find the winner. The race was first run in 2003 as a Listed contest for fillies and mares, but was elevated to Group3 status in 2012 when it was won by Roger Varian’s 5yo mare, Shimmering Surf. The 2004 renewal was won by Luca Cumani with the 4yo Pongee, and he will be hoping for a second success with another filly of the same age, the beautifully bred, God Given.

By Nathaniel out of the Dubai Destination mare, Ever Rigg, she is a half sister to the fantastic, Postponed, (winner of almost £5,000,000 in prize money). It’s a safe bet she won’t be climbing similar heights but she has won three of her eight starts, including at Group3 level, at Deauville last August, when winning the Prix Minerve over 1m4 1/2f. She made all and found plenty when pressed at the furlong marker and won going away by 1 3/4L and a Nk from Calayana and Lady Montdore, with the well backed favourite, Elas Ruby a further Hd behind. In the context of Saturday’s race this was pretty strong form as the John Gosden trained Elas Ruby had previously got to within 1 1/4L of the Group2 winning Strathspey. Upped to Group1 level in the last race of her 3yo career, God Given wasn’t disgraced finishing 6th, 7 3/4L behind Bateel, in The Prix Vermille at Chantilly. She made her seasonal debut following a 35 week break, in The Buckhound Stakes, (Ascot May 12 1m 4f Gd/Fm) where, racing very freely she faded in the final furlong to finish 4th, 4 1/2L behind the winner, Barsanti, but it’s worth noting, was only 2 1/4L behind Salouen, who so nearly stole last week’s Group1 Coronation Cup. With the weather set fair for the weekend a serious concern would be the ground as God Given has done all her winning on a soft surface, although she did seem to handle Good/Firm in the Buckhound at Ascot, and her half brother, Postponed was fine on it.

A winner of six of her twenty starts, The Marc Johnston trained Titi Makfi has largely been campaigned at distances shorter than Saturday but she looked as if a step back up to 1m4f would suit when a staying on 3rd in the 10f Rothesay Stakes at Ayr seventeen days ago. Perhaps her best performance to date was indeed over 1m4f when running the useful Isabel De Urbina To half a length in the Listed Warwick Fillies Stakes at the beginning of May. She handles most surfaces and coming from this yard has to be worth considering.

The Roger Charlton trained Cribbs Causeway has won five of her thirteen starts and ran well last time tackling Group3 company for the first time. In the 1m6f Dubai Bronte Cup Fillies Stakes at York, she appeared to have every chance at the furlong marker but edged left, and finished 3rd, 2L behind the winner, Precious Ramotswe. This was a very promising run on her first outing for 205 days as she had Isabel De Urbina 2L behind in 4th. The drop back in trip to 1m4 1/2 furlongs could well be in her favour, as she impressed when winning a valuable Class2 Newmarket Handicap over 1m4f from the useful Teofonic last October, and her half brother, Voyager Blue is best at around a mile.

The Kevin Ryan trained 5yo, Company Asset has never raced beyond 1m2 1/2f but looked ready for a step up in trip when finishing 4th in The Rothesay last time. Having her first run for 213 days she was slowly into her stride and made some progress over a furlong out but despite not having the pace to challenge, did keep on well.

The Keith Dalgleish trained 4yo, Euro Nightmare, won the 10f Rothesay pretty comfortably with Titi Makfi and Company Asset, as we saw, well held, but I’m not so sure she can repeat the performance over Saturday’s trip. While she has been placed over 13 and 14 furlongs at a lower level, her optimum distance does seem to be 10f.

The Willie Mullins trained 5yo, Law Girl, with only a single modest victory from nine starts on the flat in France, was purchased by The Ricci’s with a hurdling career in mind. However with just one win in a Roscommon Maiden from her five starts over hurdles the future didn’t look particularly bright until, coming back from a 226 day winter break, she ran a promising race to finish 3rd in a modest contest at Killarney (May15 1m6f) and confirmed connections hopes nineteen days later when winning another modest affair at Listowel, very easily indeed. Saturday represents a huge step up in class but coming from this yard I suppose anything is possible.

Selection : God Given (if abs) Cribbs Causeway

E.W. : Titi Makfi

John Gray

Tattersalls Irish 2000Gns 1 Mile Curragh Tips Saturday

First run in 1921, The Irish 2000Gns has been dominated by Aidan O’Brien who has won the Classic an amazing eleven times, and indeed has hit the back of the net eight times in the last ten renewals. Nine animals have brought off the Newmarket and Curragh 2000Gns double, including the O’Brien trained Churchill last year, but with this year’s Newmarket Hero, Saxon Warrior, staying in his box we won’t be seeing a tenth this weekend. However, the Master Of Ballydoyle, with five declared runners at the time of writing, holds his usual strong hand, and while it is dangerous to ever ignore a contender from the yard, the two to concentrate on appear to be Gustav Klimt and US Navy Flag.

Gustav Klimt was disappointing in The 2000Gns, finishing 6th, 3 3/4L behind his impressive winning stablemate, Saxon Warrior, but in his previous race, The Leopardstown 2000Gns Trial, he had impressed when beating Saturday’s opponent, Imaging, by a comfortable 1 3/4L, and he had also done well to overcome difficulties to win last year’s Group2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket. (7f Gd/Fm). He is a real Blue Blood, by Galileo out of The Danehill mare Massarra,(a cross much favoured by Coolmore) and his Grand dam, Rafha, has produced the two outstanding Stallions, Invincible Spirit and Kodiac so a victory in Saturday’s Classic would certainly hugely enhance Gustav Klimt’s value and guarantee his future as a stallion.

US Navy Flag’s record of 4 wins from 12 starts, isn’t that impressive at first glance, but two of them were achieved at the top level last Autumn, when he won the 6f Middlepark and the 7f Dewhurst both at Newmarket. He was always in command in the latter, making all, and staying on strongly, to beat his stablemate, Mendelssohn by 2 1/2L, but then disappointed badly three weeks later, when attempting similar tactics in The Breeders Cup Juvenile on Dirt (1m100yds). Well beaten behind Gustav Klimt at Leopardstown on his reappearance he was more convincing next time in The French 2000Gns when leading inside the 3f marker he stumbled badly, but regaining his balance kept on but was headed over 1f out, and faded into 5th place. This was a decent effort in the circumstances, and it won’t surprise if this son of Warfront, whose dam, Misty For Me won four times at the top level including the Irish 1000Gns in 2011, is involved at the business end at the weekend.

The Dermot Weld trained Imaging, having been put in his place by Gustav Klimt at Leopardstown, was quite impressive next time when winning the 7f Listed Tetrarch Stakes at Naas on better ground. Short of space from 1f out, and denied a clear run, he quickened well between horses to win going away by 3/4L from Would Be King. By Oasis Dream, out of a mare who was a Listed winner at 1m2f, Imaging will be well suited by the step back up to a mile and is considered.

CURRAGHJames A Stack, (Fozzy) is the son of Tommy, who steered the Immortal Red Rum to his third Aintree victory and would love to make his own bit of racing history with his rapidly improving son of Choisir, Zihba, on Saturday. A winner of his only start as a 2yo,(Dundalk AW Maiden) he won again at the same venue on his reappearance, but there was little to suggest that we had seen a future Classic winner. However 51 days later he took a giant step forward when winning The Group3 Amethyst Stakes at Leopardstown. He took it up inside the final furlong, and kept on well to win by 1 1/2L. Further progress will be required to get involved on Saturday, but this son of Choisir, out of a Galileo mare, is clearly improving at a rate of knots.

Our selection for the Newmarket 2000Gns, Elarqam was a little disappointing in only finishing 4th but his hugely talented trainer was not dismayed feeling that his inexperience and freshness hadn’t helped his cause. He did suffer some slight interference, and seemed to hesitate coming out of Newmarket’s Dip, but then ran on again. He had been impressive in both starts prior to the 2000Gns, particularly in the Group3 Tattersalls Stakes last September where he beat the subsequent 2000Gns runner up Tip Two Win by 2 1/2L. The son of Frankel is out of the wonderful mare Attraction who can count victory in the Irish 1000Gns in 2004 amongst her five top level success’s, and with The Mark Johnston operation firing in the winners, Elarqam looks the one to beat.

Selection: Elarqam

EW. : Imaging

John Gray

Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes Tips (Group1) 1Mile Newbury Saturday

It is fifteen years since Aidan O’Brien has won The Lockinge (with the brilliant Hawk Wing) and indeed he has drawn a complete blank with all eleven contenders, failing to even secure a place, but he mounts a serious looking challenge this year with four entries at the time of writing, War Decree, Deauville, Lancaster Bomber, Rhododendron. Of the four, if the vibes are correct, the two to concentrate on are the the son of War Front, Lancaster Bomber, and the daughter of Galileo, Rhododendron.

Despite having only a single victory from his sixteen starts, a Leopardstown Maiden in August 2016, on his C.V. Lancaster Bomber has managed to amass prize money approaching £1000,000 from some excellent performances at Group1 level. He was only 1 1/2L behind stable companion, Churchill, when finishing 4th in last year’s 2000Gns, and finished a length second to Barney Roy, putting in a top class effort in the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot. He could also count seconds in The Woodbine Mile and The Breeders Cup, together with a close fifth in the Hong Kong Mile, all Group1 contests, amongst last terms achievements so is a proven Group1 player. He disappointed at Meydan on his reappearance, but drawn 12, had to race wide the whole way and is easily forgiven. A son of War Front the key to Lancaster Bomber is the ground and given a fast surface at the weekend must have serious prospects of getting win number two on the scoreboard.

Rhododendron_oddsguruHaving won twice at the top level, and finished second in both the 1000Gns and Oaks last year, Rhododendron (pictured) is clearly out of the top drawer, and put in another excellent effort when runner up in the Breeders Cup over a mile last November. Probably needing the run, she put in a satisfactory performance when finishing 5th behind Cracksman at Longchamp on her reappearance 20 days ago over 10 1/2f which should have put her spot on for Saturday. She won the Group1 Dubai Fillies Mile as a 2yo on Good/Firm ground very comfortably from stable companion Hydrangea so should find Saturday’s test ideal and looks the one to beat.

The Henry Candy trained 6yo, Limato has won nine of his nineteen starts, two of them at the top level. His first Group1 success was in the 2016 July Cup at Newmarket and he followed up by winning the 7f Group1 Prix De La Foret at Chantilly the same year. Reported to be fit and well and with ground conditions likely to be in his favour the big question mark concerning Candy’s speedster has to be his failure to ever win over a mile. However he was 4th behind Belardo in the 2016 renewal and the way he has won over 7f does suggest that Saturday’s trip should be within his compass.

Having won five of his seven starts, the Andrew Balding trained 4yo, Beat The Bank’s career is clearly on a sharp upward trajectory. Unraced as a 2yo, he won his first race, a lowly Dundalk Maiden on the All Weather in February 2017, and six months later found him in the Newmarket Winners Enclosure having won his fifth race, the Group2 Shadwell Joel Stakes by 5L from The Aidan O’Brien trained Sir John Lavery. Having been on the go for seven months he can be excused his poor run in the Queen Elizabeth 11 a month later, and if the son of Paco Boy has maintained his progress over the Winter, Beat The Bank will be a threat to all.

Another animal whose best days are probably ahead of him is the Roger Varian trained 5yo Zabeel Prince. Very lightly raced, he has only had the six starts, and was quite impressive in the last of them, winning the Listed, Doncaster Mile, pretty comfortably from the front, eight weeks ago. Having his first run for 154 days, he made all, and pulled clear in the final furlong to register his fourth success. While Saturday’s test is a big step up, Roger, who won with Belardo two years ago, feels that it is only now, as a 5yo that Zabeel Prince is reaching his full potential, and it won’t come as a surprise to see him involved on Saturday.

Connections of the 4yo Addeybb, clearly knew they had a Group horse in the making when he trotted up in The Lincoln, landing a substantial gamble, and so it proved five weeks later when the son of Pivotal won the Group2, bet365 Mile at Sandown quite impressively. He is now on a mark of 117 which puts him right in the mix for Saturday but firm ground would be a concern. Four of his five victories have been achieved with soft in the going description, and the fifth, (Ascot July 17 Good) was won in a time suggestive of a slower surface. However he looks to be an animal going places, and while plenty of horses by Pivotal do handle soft ground really well, it is by no means a prerequisite for his offspring.

Selection: Rhododendron

E.W. : Lancaster Bomber

John Gray

Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle Tips 1m7 1/2f Haydock Saturday

As Welsh Maestro, Evan Williams has won three of the last five renewals of this valuable contest, his two contenders, John Constable, and Silver Streak, have to be of particular interest. The former won last year’s race by an impressive 14L racing off a mark of 134, and went on to defy a 16lbs higher mark in Market Rasen’s Summer Hurdle next time out. Raised another 6lbs to Saturday’s mark of 156 has seen him confined to conditions events with little success, including last time, when he finished 41L behind Buveur D’Aire in The Champion Hurdle in ninth place. Considering a mark of 141, ( Nicky Henderson’s Eradicate in 2011) is the highest rating of any winner in the last twelve years, John Constable clearly has a mammoth task on his hands, so perhaps Evan’s best chance of landing a fourth Swinton lies with the 5yo, Silver Streak.

A winner of three of his ten starts over hurdles, his highest winning mark to date has been 122, but he did run really well when finishing 2nd off a mark of 130 in the very valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last December. If top weight and stable companion, John Constable, takes up the engagement, Silver Streak will only have the featherweight of 10-2 to carry and with his preferred good ground at the weekend almost assured, has to be worth considering.

Nicky Henderson won back to back runnings of The Swinton with Eradicate in 2010 and 2011 and fields two strong looking candidates, the 6yo mare, Verdana Blue and the 7yo Whatswrongwithyou this time around. The mare has been unplaced in her last two races but was a decent 3rd in that Racing Welfare heat at Ascot in December, and is 3lbs better off with the runner up that day, Silver Streak. Nevertheless, she looks high enough on her mark of 143, and preference is for the year older Whatswrongwithyou.

Lightly raced, he has only run four times over timber, finishing 2nd on his debut in December, winning a Novices next time from the useful Ok Corrall, and then winning his first venture into handicap company very easily off a mark of 133. He was beaten last time at Sandown off a mark of 139 but there were excuses as he was caught behind a wall of horses turning in, and did run on to finish 9L third of fifteen. We are unlikely to have yet seen the best of the 7yo, but a concern would be the likely top of the ground conditions at the weekend as he has never won on a surface with good in the going description before. However the messages from his pedigree are positive as his sire, Bienamado, won three times at the highest level on either Firm or Good to Firm, and his half brother, Gvs Irportensa has won and been placed on Good.

Philip Hobbs won the Swinton with Dreams end way back in 1994, and doubled up three years ago with War Sound, so certainly knows what is required, and he fields a likely looking candidate in the tough handicapper, Sternrubin. Mixing the flat, chasing and hurdling, the 7yo has won four of his sixteen starts over timber, (including a 4L victory over John Constable in Nov 2015) but has only raced four times over the smaller obstacles since beating Instant Karma in a Class1 Ascot Handicap Hurdle off a mark of 142 in October 2016. His last two runs have been quite promising, 10/24 in The County Hurdle, and 3/15 last time at Aintree, 11L behind Havana Beat, Racing off a mark of 140. Competing in large field handicaps holds no fears for the 7yo, who should have his preferred ground on Saturday, and running off a mark of 139, with the Hobbs operation firing in the winners at present, is well worth a second look.

Having fallen in The Henry V111 Novices Chase behind Sceau Royal in December, the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine reverted to hurdles 130 days later, and finished a respectable 5/15 at Cheltenham in April, racing off a mark of 139. The 6yo has been dropped to a mark of 137 (12lbs below his Chase mark) which looks pretty generous for an animal that won an Ascot Grade2 in December 2016. He likes good ground and has form over the course so could just fill in a significant gap in the P. Nicholls C.V.

Another reverting to hurdles following a highly successful stint steeplechasing is last year’s runner up, Optimus Prime. Since then the Dan Skelton trained 6yo has made serious progress over fences, winning three of his four starts, and finishing runner up, albeit at a respectful 12L, to superstar Footpad, at The Punchestown Festival. He is now rated 147 in that discipline and if he has made similar progress over hurdles would look very well treated on Saturday’s mark of 140.

Having been held up off the pace in last year’s contest, the Alan King trained William H Bonney started to improve from before the third last, and but for having to swerve to avoid a faller at the last, might have been placed. His last four races have been disappointing, although he did look as if he might deliver at Cheltenham in November in the Greatwood Hurdle, when he looked a possible winner at the last, but faded up the hill to finish 6th off a mark of 137. His master trainer has always felt that the 7yo has what it takes to win one of these valuable handicaps and has certainly been given a chance by the handicapper, racing off a mark 4lbs lower than last year, and 8lbs lower than for the Greatwood. Odds of 33/1 available at the time of writing.

Selection: Capitaine

E.W. : Sternrubin and William H Bonney

John Gray

Qipco 2000Gns Tips 1mile (Rowley) Newmarket Saturday

Rock The Kasbah gave us a good run for our money in last week’s bet365 Gold Cup but the ground had gone against him, and he did well to hold onto second place behind the runaway winner Stepback to whom he was conceding a stone. The dreadful weather has had a huge influence on results all through this winter so let’s hope the forecasters have got it right, and the first Classic of the year on Saturday is run with the Sun shining on a decent racing surface.

Aidan O’Brien, with an astonishing eight wins in the race, (an all time record), won four of the five British Classics last season, including the 2000gns, (with Churchill) and will be hoping to get off the mark again this year at the first time of asking. Of his quartet of entries at the time of writing, the two to concentrate on are Gustav Klimt, and last year’s Group1, Racing Post Trophy Victor, Saxon Warrior.

The former has won three of his four starts, including the Group2 Superlative Stakes (7f Gd/fm) over The July Course, where despite being hampered and losing his place at the 2 furlong marker, he battled back to win by a head from the useful Nebo. He was quite impressive on his reappearance, winning The Leopardstown 2000gns Trial (7f Hy) putting 1 3/4L between himself and the runner up, Imaging, in the last 150yds. By super stallion, Galileo, out of the Danehill mare Massarra, (a cross much favoured by Coolmore) Gustav Klimt hasn’t had the opportunity to race at the top level yet, (withdrawn from the Group1 National Stakes because of a stone bruise last September),but his full brother, Mars, was placed at the top level and finished 6th in the 2013 renewal of Saturday’s contest. Of further interest from a breeding point of view is that the grand dam, Rafha has produced the two outstanding stallions, Invincible Spirit and Kodiac.

Saxon Warrior has raced three times and won all of them, including last time, when he won the Group1 Racing Post Trophy from Saturday’s opponent, Roaring Lion last October. He was headed by the Gosden horse, who tended to hang left inside the final furlong but gamely fought back to win by a head. There are mixed messages from his pedigree as he is by the very successful Japanese stallion, Deep Impact out of The Galileo mare Maybe, who didn’t seem to train on after a terrific two year old career. She won all five of her starts as a 2yo, including at the top level, but never beyond 7f. She was beaten 10L, finishing third behind Homecoming Queen in the 1000gns and never again troubled the judge in her career. Her only other offspring, Saxon Warrior’s full brother, Pavlenko, has only managed a single maiden victory from eleven starts.

While the Charlie Appleby trained Masar did win two of his six starts as a 2yo, including the Group3 Solario Stakes at Sandown, his overall form didn’t suggest that he might win a 2000gns, an impression reinforced by his first run as a 3yo, where he finished 10th on the dirt at Meydan in March. However, last time he put up a real eye catching performance in The Craven Stakes, Racing over Saturday’s course and distance, he made all to come home 9L clear of White Mocha, with the Racing Post Trophy runner up, Roaring Lion, the 8/13 favourite, another 1/4L back in third. While visually very impressive it’s worth remembering that the runner up was rated 13lbs inferior to masar and the time, 3.1 seconds slower than standard on good ground, was nothing to write home about. However his winter in the sun has obviously done him good and he’s worth a second look.

We can only assume that Roaring Lion didn’t run his race in The Craven but based on his Racing Post form, and his win over Aidan O’Briens’ talented Nelson, in The Royal Lodge last September, he has to be of interest. However that poor performance last time is a serious concern, so perhaps Gosden’s best chance of landing a first 2000gns lies with the lightly raced son of Frankel, Without Parole.

He didn’t see a racecourse until last December when he dotted up in a lowly Class5 on the AW at Newcastle, and was again impressive when winning another Class5 at Yarmouth eleven days ago. The form doesn’t amount to much and Saturday represents a huge step up in class, but it’s worth noting that half brother Tamarkuz has had a hugely successful career, albeit on the AW, winning at the highest level, and banking more than £1.2 million in prize money.

Since winning with Mister Baileys in 1994, Mark Johnston has drawn a blank in the 2000gns but must entertain serious hopes of landing a second with his talented son of Frankel, Elarqam. He is out of that wonderful mare, Attraction, who won five Group ones, including the 1000gns in 2004 for Johnston, and Elarqam has been impressive in winning both of his starts, at York and Newmarket. The form of his win at Headquarters has been franked, with the runner up, Tip Two Win, easily winning his next two races, including a local Group2 in Doha last time. Elarqam not only has his inexperience to overcome, as well as the rest of the field, but coming from this yard, it won’t surprise if he does.

Selection: Elarqam

E.W. : Masar

John Gray