Alex Hammond: Celebration time!
Sky Sports News HQ's Alex Hammond looks ahead to Saturday's feature race and talks herself into a cheeky tenner on the jockeys' title.
Zonderland is Alex's fancy for the Doom Bar Celebration Mile
Racing lost an iconic figure this week with the death of leading broadcaster and journalist Tom O'Ryan. What are your memories of him?
It's been a few years since I frequented the northern racecourse press rooms, but way back when I started at the Racing Channel Tom was a regular fixture at many of the same venues as me. I must have looked like a young clueless girl to some of the guys that had been working on course for many a year, but Tom never let that show and was always incredibly helpful and encouraging.
He was fun and always ready with a quip or two and made you feel at home in an environment which at the time could have seemed quite intimidating. As the years went on I didn't see as much of him, but always enjoyed reading his work and watching his punditry on TV. He was a down to earth Yorkshireman, something I can relate to and respect. He was much admired and will be very sadly missed.
A cracking four-day Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival last week – what were your highlights?
The four day fixture got off to a bang with the impressive performance of Postponed in the Juddmonte International which emphasised his position as the leading turf horse in Europe. Credit to trainer Roger Varian in light of subsequent comments made by the horse's owner; there was a man under pressure! Postponed only shook off the virus that has afflicted so many horses in Newmarket a couple of weeks before the Ebor meeting and for Varian to get him ready in time to beat what looked like a high class field was impressive. There is obviously an element of ill-will given the owner removed his horses from former trainer Luca Cumani for allegedly not following plans not long after winning the King George with this horse, but in my mind that only added to his new handler's responsibility. Controversy aside, it was a great performance, from a great horse and Varian now 'just' has to get him ready to go straight to the Arc at Chantilly on 2nd October for which he is now 3/1 favourite with Sky Bet.
On Thursday we had the battle of the Frankel babies in the Sky Bet Lowther Stakes. All eyes were on Fair Eva who was sent off 4/11 favourite to maintain her unbeaten record for trainer Roger Charlton, but there was another Frankel baby in opposition in Queen Kindly and I backed her at the more attractive odds (she returned a 9/2 shot). Richard Fahey isn't leading trainer at York for nothing and he was gutted when she was beaten in the Albany at Royal Ascot, which it turns out is now her only defeat to date as she galloped majestically clear of Roly Poly with Fair Eva's bubble burst in third. Queen Kindly will head to the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket next month for which she is 11/4 second favourite behind impressive Prix Morny winner Lady Aurelia who will be a tough opponent, but it should make for an exciting contest.
"The four days ended well for me with the win of Heartbreak City in the Ebor. I had backed the Tony Martin trained horse in the week when I saw talented apprentice Adam McNamara booked to ride and also tipped him up on the day."
Despite the fact she beat my selection, you can't fail to be impressed by the glorious Mecca's Angel. She pulverised her rivals in Friday's Coolmore Nunthorpe beating my tip Limato and in doing so won in a scintillating time. The rain that fell was obviously in her favour and helped her cause, but she is a magnificent mare, probably a once in a lifetime horse for connections and we have to enjoy her while we can as she's going to be packed off to the paddocks next season. It'll be interesting to see her offspring when they reach the track as it's sometimes the case that race mare's with her sort of ability rarely produce mini mes.
The four days ended well for me on Saturday with the win of Heartbreak City in the Ebor. I had backed the Tony Martin trained horse in the week when I saw talented apprentice Adam McNamara booked to ride and also tipped him up on the day. I was concerned about his wide draw, but having spoken to both Jason Weaver and Hayley Turner in the At The Races studios on Saturday morning felt more confident about the draw as they assured me there was plenty of time to get organised. The plan came off in style and the meeting ended on a happy note for his supporters.
Ryan Moore returns to the saddle at Newmarket on Friday – how important is it for the Ballydoyle team to have him back for the autumn?
Well Ryan is simply the best jockey in the world, so he's a huge asset to any stable and that's no detriment to anyone else riding for Ballydoyle. He is a class apart from anyone else riding and it's good to see him back after his hip problem. Ryan plays his cards close to his chest as he has every right to, so we didn't know how long he would be out, but whilst he has missed some smart winners, there is plenty to come and some important autumn targets for the Coolmore crew particularly some of the prestigious international races.
The Doom Bar Celebration Mile is the feature race this weekend – what takes your eye there?
There may only be five horses in the race, but you couldn't rule any of them out and the market reflects that. Sky Bet's favourite is Thikriyaat at 7/4 after the Sir Michael Stoute trained three-year-old was supplemented for the race earlier in the week. He won at Goodwood last time out in Group 3 company and showed a resilient attitude. He looks progressive and deserves to be market leader, but he's short enough.
Clive Cox and Frankie Dettori team up with Zonderland who won for the trainer at Salisbury last time out in the Sovereign Stakes, also a Group 3. Clive Cox has done this before with Kodi Bear who won the Salisbury race before going on to win the Celebration Mile and having backed the horse at Salisbury I won't be deserting him now on his step back up in class. He is progressing and has no problem with the trip; at 5/2 he appeals more than the favourite.
"Jim also has super-agent Tony Hind managing his rides and when 'Boney' sets his heart on a title he rarely fails. He's the Dave Roberts of the flat and will dedicate the next month or two to unearthing every possible winner for his man."
Toormore is next best in the betting for Richard Hannon and he drops back in grade having finished fourth behind The Gurkha, Galileo Gold and Ribchester in the Sussex Stakes. It was tough for him there against some crack three-year-olds and we know the track holds no fears for him, but he has to give weight away to his rivals which will be tough. The Qatar Racing duo of Lightning Spear and Arod make up the field for David Simcock and Peter Chapple-Hyam with the former the likely first string. Both have a bit to find with the aforementioned and I'm sticking with my mate Zonderland.
Can Jim Crowley mount a serious title challenge over the next few months or is Silvestre De Sousa going to be impossible to catch?
I'd love to see Jim Crowley win a first title and it would be another boost for former jump jockeys, although he did switch codes some time ago now. He will certainly be giving it his all, but Silvestre has powerful yards behind him and that could be telling in the last month. Silvestre is hot favourite to retain his title, but Jim has ridden for many top yards and is being supported by some of the bigger stables of late. Of course a lot of it depends on suspensions and injury, but given a clear run Silvestre will possibly be hard to beat.
However, at 2/5 with Sky Bet his price doesn't encourage you to get stuck in, so it might be fun to cheer on the underdog and have a small investment on Jim winning at the more appealing 2/1. It isn't beyond the realms of possibility with some of the Newmarket yards that Silvestre rides for not firing on all cylinders and Jim is getting a wider spread of rides, he has ridden a winner or more for 38 different trainers this campaign.
Jim also has super-agent Tony Hind managing his rides and when the man known as 'Boney' sets his heart on a title he rarely fails. He has overseen the careers of Richard Hughes and Jimmy Fortune and also still looks after Ryan Moore. He's the Dave Roberts of the flat and will dedicate the next month or two to unearthing every possible winner for his man. He took on Crowley last August after the gap left by the retirement of Hughsie and Boney loves the challenge; he'll be in his element.
In fact I've just talked myself into it and I'm having a cheeky tenner on Crowley to win!