A winner by any Name!
Sky Sports News HQ presenter Alex Hammond looks ahead to the feature racing and has a strong fancy at Ripon.
What did you make of the feature action in Deauville on Tuesday and it's bearing on the big end of season races?
Well there are two obvious talking points; the disappointing runs from both Almanzor and Brametot.
If you haven't followed the dreadful fortunes of trainer Jean-Claude Rouget this season I'll give you a brief resume. France's leading trainer saw a virus strike one of his yards back in the spring. It was so deadly that he lost two horses to it and it effected the yard that housed Almanzor. The barn was home to 57 horses and it had to be quarantined, his description of the symptoms at the time sounded horrific as the virus attacked the nervous system. Needless to say that put a halt to his season and will no doubt have tested the patience of everyone involved. When a virus strikes a stables it can be frustrating and baffling and all you can do is wait for the storm to pass.
It would appear that Brametot wasn't affected at the time as he won the French Guineas and Derby in spring/summer, but Almanzor was moderately unwell and last year's leading three-year-old has subsequently had other training setbacks. Even accounting for his long absence from the track you would have expected to see a better performance from last year's French Derby, Irish Champion Stakes and Champion Stakes winner. He looked a shadow of his former self and it will be interesting to see if he is persevered with, or sent to stud now.
Brametot doesn't help himself with his sluggish exit from the stalls and he never got into things after a very slow start on Tuesday on his first outing since winning the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) in June. There were positives to take from the card though, namely the performance of Eminent who finished almost 10 lengths in front of Brametot.
Martyn Meade's son of Frankel showed us what he was made of with an impressive front running win under Ryan Moore to put himself back in line for a tilt at some of the big autumn targets. He hasn't always looked straightforward, in fact do you remember when he put his work rider in hospital before the Eclipse? As a son of Frankel you wouldn't be hugely surprised to see he has a spark about him, but his team appear to be channelling it in the right direction and letting him stride on at Deauville clearly agreed with him.
So, a step back up in grade is on the cards now and he's been cut to a best priced 10/1 with Sky Bet for the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October and before that is 12/1 for the Irish Champion Stakes should he go there. He's also 14/1 for the Arc, but if this week's events showed us anything, it's that Enable is looking mighty hard to beat in the middle distance showpiece at Chantilly on 1 October for which she's now 5/4 favourite.
We saw one popular innovation in the Shergar Cup last weekend and this Saturday we've another in the Grey Horse Handicap. Are you a fan?
I'll admit I found the Shergar Cup a slow burner, but there's no doubt it has its place in the racing calendar now and I quite enjoy all the razzmatazz surrounding it. You have to give racegoers what they want and this event has been embraced by thousands of new followers to the sport. Children must be entertained and encouraged and Ascot have got that balance just right. The Grey Horse Handicap doesn't have quite the same appeal, but again it's a spectacle and my non racing friends love seeing the flying greys fan across the track at Newmarket. How many times have you heard the casual follower of the sport say they are backing the grey? What's interesting is that only a very small percentage of racehorses are actually grey, so it's fun to see so many of them line up for this 6 furlong contest. It's very tempting to ask which 'shade of grey' people fancy! Moving on!
Do you have a fancy for the race?
Well at this early stage Clive Cox's Dark Power is one of the protagonists, but he is also entered in another more valuable handicap on the card so it will be interesting to see which route he takes. If he takes this option he will have to carry top weight and take on older horses whereas he has a handier racing weight in the other contest, which is restricted to three-year-olds. He's a progressive horse, but hasn't tackled ground as fast as Saturday's likely conditions which could be a slight concern. I like the look of Syrian Pearl for trainer Chris Wall. Wall won one of the big races in Deauville on Tuesday and is always a trainer I like to have on my side. This mare has dropped to an attractive handicap mark, in fact the same rating she ran off when winning this race last year and I'm hoping for a repeat performance. I imagine Cheval Blanche will be popular thanks to her name alone mind you! Having said that she may appreciate the drop back to 6 furlongs here.
The feature handicap of the weekend is the Great St Wilfrid at Ripon, who is on your short-list?
It looks like last year's winner Nameitwhatyoulike could be back for another crack at this super-competitive 6 furlong handicap and Bryan Smart's horse is 1lb lower than when taking this 12 months ago. He goes incredibly well at Ripon and has been fairly highly tried since that win. He was trained for this race last time and I've no doubt that has been the plan again and he's certainly on my short-list. At 16/1 with Sky Bet, I'll certainly be getting involved. I wouldn't want the ground to dry out too much for him mind you.
It promises to be an open and competitive renewal of the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury, can you mark our card please?
Dropping back a couple of questions, I'm going to stick with the grey theme! Librisa Breeze is the horse I backed to win the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. That didn't work out after a shocking run of luck that saw him hampered more than once and I think he can gain compensation here. He was drawn wide at Goodwood and the race didn't go to plan, in a race won by 50/1 shot Breton Rock. He's versatile and talented and deserves to be Sky Bet's 4/1 favourite and I am confident he can turn the tables on the Goodwood winner with a clearer run. I'm also a fan of Sir Dancealot and think he will pop up at some point. David Elsworth's charge is 16/1 and if he runs I'll be hoping a return to 7 furlongs will be what he wants. Finally, Daban could be a real danger to the aforementioned if she can put a slightly disappointing run in the Jersey Stakes behind her. She won the Nell Gwyn and then wasn't beaten far in the 1000 Guineas behind Winter, but was only 6th at Royal Ascot. She is not one to dismiss and her price of 8/1 reflects that.