Get with Ay’ up at Haydock
Sky Sports News HQ presenter Alex Hammond talks Game Of Thrones, Glorious Goodwood and looks ahead to Ascot and Haydock.
What did you make of Glorious Goodwood? The revamp with three Group Ones headlining the first three days, the winners themselves – Stradivarius, Here Comes When and Winter – and the weather?! Was it glorious for you?
Wow, lots to get stuck into there!
The week was a real rollercoaster for punters with some unexpected winners, a reversal in the very first race courtesy of the stewards and the small matter of more rain in one day than the course had ever seen on a race day. That said, there were some great memories to take away from the week on the Sussex Downs. It was a shame that Big Orange couldn't become the first horse to win three Goodwood Cups back-to-back, particularly as it was the first year the stayers race had been run as a Group One.
He ran his heart out though and was a brave runner-up to a horse half his size in the pocket sized shape of John Gosden's Stradivarius. Like his namesake, the winner is a quality bit of kit and the Leger looks on the cards now, for which he's 9/2 with Sky Bet behind Capri and another of the Goodwood winners Crystal Ocean (both 7/2 joint favourites). Stradivarius shouldn't be inconvenienced by the drop back to 1m 6f at Doncaster as he won the Queen's Vase over that trip at Royal Ascot.
Let's be honest, Here Comes When was fortunate to win the Sussex Stakes. Fortune favours the brave though and fair play to Andrew Balding for letting the horse take his chance in the Group One when he had an easier looking option at the meeting. Here Comes When is a gelding, so the win has no bearing on a future career at stud, but the first prize of well over half a million was a nice little pot to scoop.
When Churchill was taken out of the race on account of the ground it looked like the mile contest was Ribchester's for the taking, but he stayed on all too late in the hands of William Buick and just failed to get up. There will be another day for Richard Fahey's stable star, but it will have been a tough day at the office for the popular trainer. Here Comes When loves those ground conditions and it was great to see the seven-year-old win his first race at the highest level.
I've just started to watch popular TV series Game Of Thrones (a bit late to that particular party I know) and there is much chat about winter and that it "is coming". Apparently winter has finally arrived in series 7; well racing fans can vouch for that after Aidan O'Brien's superstar was the impressive winner of the Nassau Stakes.
I'm not alone in feeling that her performance was the best of the meeting, but goodness me, she was incredible. I felt when I watched the race live, that she was a bit 'on it' in the early stages. There was a fleeting moment when I thought her exuberance might be her undoing over two furlongs further than she has tackled before, in conditions that were stamina sapping at best and downright exhausting at worst. How wrong I was. She fairly flew when Ryan Moore asked her to extend and her position at the top of the Cartier Horse Of The Year standings looks fairly solid. King George winner Enable is just behind her at the moment, can you imagine if we get the opportunity to see the star females of their generation take each other on later in the campaign?
Battaash looked out of the very top drawer when winning the Group Two Qatar King George Stakes. Are you with him or Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe?
There's no doubt the unruly kid has grown up, thanks to a gelding operation according to connections. I took him on in the King George with runner up Profitable, but that was an error on my part. He'll have to give Lady Aurelia 3lbs in the Nunthorpe later this month though and I don't think he will be able to do that despite his rapid progress up the sprinting ranks. The Wesley Ward trained filly is a monster and slammed Profitable in the King's Stand at Royal Ascot. Her trainer called her a horse in a lifetime after the Ascot win and she will be hard to beat on the Knavesmire on the 25th of August. She's Sky Bet's 6/4 favourite with Battaash at 7/4 second best. It should be a real corker at one of my favourite meetings.
It was great to see Kevin Ryan's Brando land the Group One Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville on Sunday. Do you think he can strike again at the top level back in England in something like the Haydock Sprint Cup or the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot?
Both races will be top notch, but there's no reason why Brando shouldn't be one of the protagonists in either race. He has apparently bled in the past, but trainer Kevin Ryan appears to have got on top of that now and he's a horse with a huge amount of ability. He's a five-year-old so should be reaching the peak of his powers as he strengthens up further and I'll respect him wherever he rocks up later this season. Ryan did mention the Champions Sprint as a race he would be keen to aim at, but the horse also has course and distance winning form at Haydock. Wherever he goes, he enjoys ease in the ground, so bear that in mind.
Plenty of action in Britain and Ireland this weekend. Any horses on your radar for Haydock, Newmarket or the Curragh?
I'm mostly looking forward to seeing Beckford run in Sunday's Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh. Gordon Elliott was very nearly champion jumps trainer in Ireland last term and is keeping things 'ticking over' in the summer with a handful of flat horses including one of the best juveniles seen so far this season. Not bad hey?! Beckford is a gorgeous colt and is doing everything asked of him so far with two wins from two. This is his first foray into Group One company, but I doubt Elliott is having too many sleepless nights about the assignment. It might be a slight concern that Aidan O'Brien has won the 6 furlong contest a remarkable 16 times, but he may have to play second fiddle to the jumps trainer on this occasion despite having 7 of the 12 entries.
There is also plenty to look forward to domestically on Saturday and I'm hoping a return to a softer surface can see a revival for Roger Charlton's Ayrad. He ran a decent race on his first start of the season (and since a gelding operation) when he finished fifth in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot, but then disappointed a tad in a Listed race at Sandown when only fifth last time out. His best form has come with some form of cut underfoot and his ante post price of 12/1 with Sky Bet is tempting me after a wet week. I'd feel more confident if the Rose Of Lancaster was over 12 furlongs rather than 10 ½ furlongs, but at that price he represents a bit of each way value in an open looking race. If it is really soft, my old mate What About Carlo could pop up again for his in-form trainer Eve Johnson-Houghton; he's an 11/2 shot with Sky Bet.
And finally it's the Shergar Cup. Is there a particular jockey that you think will take the meeting by storm on Saturday, even without knowing the rides?
Well, given her love for the fixture and her current revival, you would have to say Hayley Turner. She's a late substitute for Josephine Gordon who will be heading to Newmarket to ride for Hugo Palmer instead. Turner was on the winning team at the popular meeting in 2015 and said she prefers the day to Christmas! Obviously, it will all depend on what horses she gets drawn to ride, but confidence can be worth a pound or two and I'm sure there will be plenty of trainers keen to secure her services in the ballot.