1st Quarter Review 2018 – Horses starting to fly
Welcome to our first review of the year. Unlike 2017 when we made a relatively fast start, 2018 has been different, as the snow hung around for ages and was still with us in April. We missed a lot of the grass work we do in March and April, and since then it’s been a heatwave! The last couple of weeks have seen an upturn in our fortunes, however, and hopefully that will be a spring board for a successful second half of the season with plenty of fresh and sound horses to go to war with.
Pride of place in our 2017 autumn roundup went to Cesarewitch winner Withhold and he takes centre stage again this time after winning the Northumberland Plate on his seasonal reappearance. Withhold had been raised 12lb by the official handicappers after his Cesarewitch rout but that race turned out to be one of the hottest Heritage handicaps of the season from a form perspective with three of those just behind Withhold winning next time out, while Lagostovegas gave the form another timely boost when turning up at Royal Ascot a week or so before the Northumberland Plate and wining the Ascot Stakes off a 2lb higher mark than when behind Withhold at Newmarket. The plan had always been to go straight to Newcastle, though we were rather surprised his fitness didn’t get tested as he ended up getting things very easy in front. It was clear approaching the straight that he was going to be very difficult to catch and as soon as Robert headed for the faster strip up the middle and asked him to go and win his race he was never going to be caught. The Melbourne Cup has to be the target now. Withhold satisfies the entry conditions having won two Heritage handicaps but his new BHA rating of 107 probably leaves him just short of the standard required to ensure he gets in, although the Australian handicappers have him higher. We will work out if he needs to run again and where that might be, if he does. Being such a tall horse at nearly 17 hands and by a noted sire of late-developing horses, Champs Elysees, there’s a very good chance he still has more progress in him yet. If anything, his run at Newcastle showed he is developing more speed as he gets older, so it’s fair to say he has all the attributes one would look for in a realistic Melbourne Cup contender.
It’s hard to believe that Projection hasn’t won a race since 2015. Owned by The Royal Ascot Racing Club, his summer targets for the last two seasons have been at the Royal meeting and he has run with great credit there both times, finishing third in the 2017 Wokingham when drawn on the wrong side and fifth in the latest Diamond Jubilee when he finally had the race run to suit him. Good efforts before that behind The Tin Man at Windsor and Brando at Newmarket on the back of a close second to subsequent King’s Stand winner Blue Point at the end of last year point to him being better than ever. In a normal year, a tilt at the July Cup might just be fanciful but he was only beaten just over two lengths in the Diamond Jubilee and he might well meet a different (and slightly weaker field) at Newmarket, so we will monitor all running plans closely. The uphill finish at Newmarket will suit him given he likes a lead in his races and to come through late. In any event, the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury the following weekend is a decent alternative.
Second Step (pictured below) quickly became a yard favourite after joining us and he added a third Listed race to his tally since we have had him when winning the Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket at the end of June. He’s a very consistent horse in his old age, finishing 1st or 2nd in his last 8 starts. Asif is doing a great job riding him, exploring lots of the Beckhampton gallops to keep him interested in the game. He ran very well to finish second to Hardwicke winner Crystal Ocean at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance when our horses weren’t firing, so something like the Group 3 Glorious Stakes at Goodwood will probably be within his compass. There used to be a suspicion he was best on easier ground but it was very fast at Newmarket and the ground doesn’t seem to bother him nowadays.
Almodovar joined us from David Lanigan but we weren’t able to get him on the track last year. He had some good form to his name, including a third-place finish behind Dartmouth in the 2016 Hardwicke Stakes, and was working very well before his reappearance at Sandown in the Gordon Richard Stakes. Things didn’t really go his way there as he was too keen in a slowly-run race, but he showed more like what know he is capable of in the Prix d’Ispahan at ParisLongchamp when second to Recoletos who is one of the best four-year-old in France. Unfortunately, Almodovar has been temporarily sidelined again but given how impressive he was on his only run on Polytrack at Kempton, the September Stakes in the autumn has to be on the radar if he is ready in time. A long-term plan would be to look at the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan in March. The 1m 1f trip is probably his ideal.
Blakeney Point is a another favourite and he earned himself a crack at a Listed contest at Goodwood on his reappearance after winning three handicaps last season. The pair that beat him at Goodwood both ran very well in the Wolferton Stakes at Royal Ascot, so the form looks very solid. He was due to run at Ascot himself in the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap but unusually got very worked up on the way to the races and he had to be withdrawn. Perhaps he was bitten. We feel he has improved again this year but he will need to if he is to be competitive in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock this weekend given he was fourth in the race last year off a 10lb lower mark. The ground at Haydock is usually very well watered so conditions should be ideal for him. Harry Burns takes the ride and claims a valuable 7lbs. Also heading to Haydock is Atty Persse who is favourite for the race at the time of going to press. He’s been gelded since he was last seen in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York last August and hopefully that along with the step back into handicap company will allow him to build on his win in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot last year.
Aspetar has been our star three-year-old this season so far and is currently having a break until the autumn after finding the ground much too firm in the Prix Hocquart at Chantilly last time. He had been working very well last year as well as before his Windsor debut where it took a while for the penny to drop. The turn of foot he showed was something special and he fully vindicated the decision to step him straight up to Listed company by winning the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood. He’s by our former favourite Al Kazeem so we were very keen to promote him but he has quite a round action and couldn’t handle conditions in France. He’ll stay beyond a mile and a half, so the St Leger may yet be a possibility, but his campaign will be ground dependent.
Extra Elusive was one of our more promising two-year-olds last year having won a Newbury maiden in taking fashion on his only start. We have been looking forward for some time to getting him back on the track as he is a very exciting horse and he didn’t let us down at Nottingham with what was ultimately a smooth victory. The form doesn’t amount to a great deal and the handicapper has given him a chance of winning a handicap by allotting him an opening mark of 86, but we hope he’ll be better than that and he has been given an entry in the Great Voltiguer. He’s a very good-looking individual with a lot of size about him but he’s still got a lot of learning to do as aspects of his Nottingham run showed. There’s much to look forward to with him this year and hopefully even more next year.
Herculean is another three-year-old with whom we are looking forward to the rest of the season. He made a promising start at Ascot last year beating Wadilsafa on his only start and he crossed swords with that horse again on his reappearance at Newmarket when he was second conceding him 7lb. Wadilsafa wasn’t beaten far subsequently by Hunting Horn in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot and we’d like to think that Group 3 level is where Herculean will be sooner or later. His full sister Fair Eva won at that level as a two-year-old but Herculean is a different type of horse altogether. She was very quick whereas Herculean, like many Frankel’s, will be well suited by stepping up in distance. He has a long stride and the dip at Newmarket wouldn’t have been ideal for him, so we will look forward to getting him back on a flatter galloping track. He’s a big, strong, backward type, so is another that ought to be even better as a four-year-old.
We had very few runners in the early months of the year but one horse that improved so fast he merited a run at the All-Weather Championships was Breathless Times. His sire Bated Breath was a top-class sprinter for us and he has inherited much of his speed, so much so that he would have won the Sprint had he got anything like a clear run, finishing nearly twice as fast as anything else. He’s had one run on the turf since but that is not a race to judge him on – there was a significant bias over the course of the two-day meeting against the stand side where he spent most of the last two furlongs and interestingly the only other horse in the race who raced where he did was subsequent Commonwealth Cup winner Eqtidaar. He’s been given a break since and will be back on the track soon and his BHA mark of 96 looks a good one. He will head to the July meeting next week for the 3yo 6f handicap.
Gavota had some very good form as a two-year-old notably when just touched off in the Oh So Sharp Stakes by subsequent Nell Gwyn runner-up Altyn Orda. Her reappearance run in the Fred Darling at Newbury when she was very backward in her coat came at a time of year when our runners had still to get going and other yards were more forward, and she then had a terrible draw at Carlisle last time in a Listed contest and didn’t get the run of the race. The track at Carlisle almost certainly wasn’t ideal for her either given she’s a long, striding filly and hopefully she will get back on the rails at Sandown this weekend.
Buffer Zone (above) (another by Bated Breath) looked a promising sprinter when winning at Kempton at the end of last year and he carried on where he left off by winning a confined novice at Windsor on his reappearance. The horse he beat that day, Buridan, went on to win a handicap readily next time so there are good grounds for thinking Buffer Zone can win one too. He’s already tried once back at Windsor but that run shouldn’t be taken at face value – there was a big advantage on the night on being on the rail and he was caught out in the middle after fluffing the start. He has the size and scope to progress, so hopefully he will put that run behind him next time.
Polish (Pictured below) and Guild are both progressive recent maiden winners that look set for a good finish to the season. Polish is a Teofilio half-brother to Ply who won several races at Kempton for us last year and left his Ascot debut behind when stringing out a field of decent maidens at Salisbury. He got better the longer the race went on and will have no trouble stepping up to a mile and three quarters. Somewhere galloping like Doncaster or York with a long straight will suit him ideally. The same can be said of the well-bred Guild who is by Frankel out of a mare that won over just short of two miles. He was much the strongest stayer in his maiden at Bath but also showed a decent turn of foot. Several of his half-brothers or sisters showed a high level of form, so it would be nice to think he can reach a similar level too.
Savaanah has done very well for us since joining us from Roger Varian. She’s a good traveller as she has had to be to undergo long journeys North to Ripon, Redcar and Wetherby. Her latest win was a timely boost for Adam Mcnamara whose opportunities have unfortunately been curtailed this season because of an injury he picked up riding out earlier this year. He can still claim 3lb and it’s easy to forget he won the Ebor just a couple of years ago, so he can will be a great asset to us. Savaanah won very well at Wetherby and given her liking for fast ground she’s very much the sort that can pick up another couple of races this summer, and she could be heading to Salisbury at the end of next week for a valuable fillies handicap.
Kassar deservedly got his head back in front at Yarmouth on his most recent outing. A winner at Kempton last autumn, he was suited by the strong pace at Yarmouth and settled better in second-time blinkers. His form has a steadily progressive look to it this year and now he has got his head in front again hopefully he can take another step forward. Regina Pacis also won a race for us at Newcastle back in March. She was then off the course for around three months and we had to be pleased with her comeback run at Newmarket under a big weight.
Not many three-year-olds by Galileo make their handicap debut off a mark of 67 but that was the case with Low Profile at Wetherby and stepped up to a mile and three quarters he rather made of a mockery of it in first-time blinkers to give our apprentice Harry Burns his first winner for us. As one would expect with his pedigree Low Profile will stay further and he looks the type that might run up a little sequence. Another horse we have by Galileo who hasn’t won yet but made a very promising debut at Windsor was Galileo Silver. We knew beforehand that he wouldn’t enjoy the course – he has a very long stride – and that a mile and a quarter would be too sharp and that he would be doing all his best work at the finish and that’s pretty much how things panned out. He was in a hopeless position turning in, but he came home in eye-catching style and will have learnt a lot from that race. We gave him a speculative entry in the Queen’s Vase and he ought to be very hard to beat next time out.
We are only just getting going with our two-year-olds and have only run four at the time of writing. Momkin (another son of Bated Breath) ran very well to finish third at Salisbury but the others were more in need of the experience. One of them, Bercheny, was the last ride Kieran had for us before his horrible fall at Lingfield. Twelve broken ribs and a punctured lung aren’t going to mend quickly or make his life comfortable for a while but fortunately nothing else was broken and we look forward to having him back with us when he is ready.