Meydan Thursday’s

Thursday afternoons rarely have a purpose other than bringing the workforce another half day closer to that Friday feeling. That is unless you’re a fan of quality flat action as those wealthy fellas out in the Emirates are about to host another weekly Carnival of racing- I have been counting down the days until I can switch from Leicester and Ludlow to Meydan!

Never short of a grand idea or two, the Dubai Racing Club turned Nad Al Sheba from wasteland in 1991 to hosting the world’s richest race four years after the racecourse was officially opened. The Dubai World Cup remains the centrepiece of the final day of the Carnival and the race’s value has increased to over eight figures, quite ridiculous in comparison to some of the Group Ones run in front of us on European soil. Since Cigar was wooed into taking part in – and winning – the inaugural World Cup in 1996, Dubai has witnessed some outstanding races as the fields have grown in quality almost year on year- Dar Re Mi’s Sheema Classic struck me personally as being one of the best Group Ones I had seen in a long time. Below the top level the value of the handicaps week in week out ensures that there is high-quality representation from Europe and the rest of the world – almost every race run at the Carnival would feature prominently on a Saturday afternoon in Britain – and with horses from places like South America, the US and Australia clashing with our own recognisable animals there is almost always an interesting feature of every race. More than likely this sounds like PR for the DRC, but I find the whole thing fascinating- I wrote on Student Racing about how I completed most of my dissertation in Ladbrokes watching what was probably the first year of racing at Meydan, and I do think that without it on the LBO screens the 10,000 words might have sent me over the edge.

The most famous race/performance at the Carnival is still Dubai Millennium’s sensational effort in the 2000 World Cup, and to be honest they could probably race in the desert for another hundred years without seeing anything like it. It’s still on YouTube and well worth replaying a few times! An immensely athletic beast who was only beaten once when a blatant non-stayer in the 1999 Derby, Dubai Millennium would in my opinion have given Frankel an awful lot to think about. My own personal favourite race from the Emirates was much more low-key and in fact when I look back at it on the Racing Post site now it was only a 40k conditions race. The event was a one mile race featuring even money favourite and established high-class performer Eagle Mountain as well as four other horses rated 110 or better. 95-rated maiden winner Skysurfers made them all look like they’d been nailed to the Tapeta and I think he became my favourite horse in training there and then. I think we were on a bit of an all-dayer at uni at the time which would probably explain the overreaction to what I thought I’d seen but I was still pretty gutted when he couldn’t beat the likes of Yaa Wayl and Penitent back on turf in Britain.

While Skysurfers was only making waves inside my flat near Headingley, today’s card features one of the most universally popular horses at the Carnival in Barbecue Eddie. The now nine-year-old Eddie lines up in the first round of the Makhtoum Challenge over a mile at 5.20 and is the general second favourite on early prices in the shops. The old boy will complete a four-timer should he get his head in front on the jam stick in the Group Two event but there is intriguing competition from Godolphin entries Out Of Bounds and Fulbright as well as another Hamdan runner in Mufarrh. BBQ backers will be hoping his fitness edge can help him overcome ex-American Out Of Bounds- a colt who apparently looked very smart when taking a Grade Three on the dirt over the pond- and also Mufarrh who was second to my boy Skysurfers in the 2011 Godolphin Mile but has only been seen once since when below his best. Fulbright brings Group Two turf form to the table and seeing as his jockey will be wearing blue it’s hard to rule out him being even better over there on his Tapeta debut. I’m not sure the Newmarket form is that great, however those colours really improve a couple of pounds out here… Marco Botti may well have travelled over in First Class after the gamble he landed at Leafy the other day and Fanunalter could go well at a double figure price despite running poorly on his last two starts. I’m not inclined to have a bet in the race but will be watching Out Of Bounds with great interest given his profile and the fact I have no idea about him. If forced then a couple of quid each way on Fanunalter could be the way to go considering he won the Summer Mile off a similar break to the one he’s had before today’s race but I doubt any roubles will be leaving my pocket this afternoon.

The rest of the card contains plenty of interesting runners:

3.05: Akeed Wafi– Looked potentially smart when he won his maiden in Ireland for John Oxx and was second fav for a Irish 2000 Guineas trial over there when second to Furner’s Green. Fifth (and last) to Takar in dismal ground the only other time he’s been seen and his mark of 102 is likely to be higher by the end of the Carnival.

Oasis Dancer – Much more thoroughly exposed than Akeed Wafi and had a rocky 2012. Had threatened to be better than a 102 horse when winning an all-weather Listed sprint in the early part of the year but form collapsed in a bit of a heap over the same trip afterwards. Gave a glimmer of hope that he was turning a corner when beaten four lengths by Belgian Bill over 7f at Kempton last time and could pop up in Dubai.

3.40: A couple in the race from abroad who can be filed in the ‘could be anything’ bracket in Govinda (Germany) and Benji’s Empire (Hong Kong). The market prefers the Asian challenger and to be honest I don’t know anything about either so couldn’t say if either is well handicapped.

Temple Meads: Looked a sprinter with loads of potential when he won the Mill Reef in 2010 but had a horrid 2012 after missing the whole of 2011. Ran alright behind Ballista at Leicester in September and on old form 105 would be very appealing.

Bear Behind: Very smart for one who has only won once. Mark of 104 looks fair considering his exploits behind Ballesteros and slightly in front of Hamish McConagall (when disqualified and placed second) and as with plenty before him he found everything happening too quickly on fast ground in the Epsom Dash. May need it today but could make up to be a very nice type.

4.15: Rocks Off and Farrier have tidy form figures out in the Middle East and could both be well handicapped. Again I’ve got no real grasp on the form out there so I’d be guessing but no surprise if one of them was good enough. Mark Johnston’s Universal was progressing very nicely until possibly undone by the heavy ground at Chester on his last run and 9/1 is quite appealing. Kassiano is similar to Rocks Off and Farrier in that his form figures (completed hat-trick last time) look nice but I really don’t know about their worth while one of the other Godolphin runners Royal Empire has only had five runs and is likely to end the Carnival off a mark a fair bit higher than 100. The rest are exposed to varying degrees except for Mushreq at the top of the weights, and while he’s been running in Group Ones he’s been beaten far enough. Start Right would interest me at 20/1 on the piece of form he produced at Goodwood but the Tapeta isn’t overly conductive to hold-up tactics and if I were to have a punt I’d probably side with Universal at 9/1.

4.50: Sharestan: has the potential to be really smart for Godolphin having looked good in winning Listed races in Ireland last year. Ran Famous Name to a head and on the figures is a worthy 11/8 shot. although after his absence I’d rather not be involved. While plenty of horses improve dramatically in these colours at the Carnival more than the odd one has tailed off completely so I’d rather watch in this case.

So Beautiful: Unexposed French Group Three winner. That’s about what I know so far having never seen her race. None of the three to chase him home did too much for the form next time but he adds another interesting element to the race.

Red Duke: Could benefit from the ease in grade as he’s competed in much better races than the rest of these – bar Al Shemali – according to the book. Maybe surprising that he’s an each way price and is one of the few tempting bets on day one.

6.00: Just a fair ending to the day by the looks of things. Amanee won a Grade Two in South Africa and a mark of 102 could wildly underestimate her if similar past Mike De Kock runners are anything to go by. Otherwise the highly regarded Arnold Lane is of interest off 105 having been third in the Newmarket Group Two won by Fulbright and Don’t Call Me’s first and second in big Ascot handicaps at the end of the turf season suggest he could keep improving at six-years-old. Lockwood – the Godolphin second string – has a French Group Three on his CV and was highly regarded enough to be sent off 6/1 for the Maurice de Gheest. 9/1 off 109 is semi appealing.

King George 2012 Preview

26th December 2005 was the first time the family really had to face up to the fact they had lost me to racing. The whole extended family on my mum’s side gathered at the local carvery for what was becoming a traditional Boxing Day lunchtime meal- everyone that is except me; I was sat in the car park with a handheld radio listening to Impek finish a distant third to the King of Kicking. Still not sure why I didn’t back him each way… I may have returned in disgrace halfway through the starters but I had made my point – Boxing Day was from now on about Kempton (or as was the case in 05- Sandown) and not much else.

The recent King George roll of honour is dominated by that famous dressage horse Kauto ‘Five Kings’ Star and his regular partner in Christmas cheer Ruby Walsh. A glance at Kauto’s winning distances for the race – 8L, 11L, 8L again, 36L and finally 1.25L as an 11yo – confirm just how superior to the rest our favourite dancing horse was at the Sunbury venue. Kauto’s tally of five Boxing Day wins is one ahead of the four earned by Dessie in the late 80s and a look back through the past winners of the race shows a number of dual and triple winners- fact is there have been just 18 different victors in more than 30 races since 1978. Some horses just love Kempton.

Pre-Kauto, the early 2000s saw some real deserving winners of the contest:

2001: “Can Florida Pearl win the King George??” Simon Holt asked as the Irish raider and Best Mate approached the last in the second renewal of the new millennium- he could, finally securing top honours after a number of placings in Britain’s best staying chases.

2002: Ridden with more confidence in his stamina than the previous year, Best Mate got his revenge on Florida Pearl to add the George to his first of three Gold Cups secured in March. Matey needed every last drop of staying power in a gruelling race, beating off Marlborough after an almighty scrap after the second last. A true chasing great!

2003: French raider Jair Du Cochet fluffed his lines in a big way as 2000 Champion Chase winner Edredon Bleu made all in a below-par renewal. In some cases though it’s not the strength of form that matters – in ’03 the rousing performance of a hugely popular veteran made the race a truly memorable one.

2004/05: Kicking King was good enough to win two King Georges and a Gold Cup, but with Best Mate’s hat-trick at Prestbury Park proceeding his efforts and the Kauto/Denman rivalry following not long after his retirement Tom Taffe’s champ will probably not get the recognition he deserves in future. He ran a quite outstanding time in ’04 in beating strong stayer Kingscliff and won despite being below par at Sandown in ’05.

This season’s renewal of the race is typically intriguing despite the loss of a potentially key player in Al Ferof this week. The Paddy Power has thrown up Gold Cup winners Imperial Commander and Long Run in recent years and John Hales’ grey looked a live contender to further enhance the standing of the Cheltenham handicap. Instead we are left with the winners of a King George and Gold Cup (Long Run), a Champion Chase and a Melling (Finian’s Rainbow), a Ryanair (Riverside Theatre), the Gold Cup second (The Giant Bolster) and a couple of 2012 Grade One novice winners (Sir Des Champs and Menorah) – this without mentioning Grade One winners Grands Crus, Captain Chris and Kauto Stone. Oh and Hunt Ball. And Cue Card, who is around the 4/1 mark despite never winning at the top level…

dark blue, light blue hoop, checked sleeves and capCAPTAIN CHRIS (Philip Hobbs): Stamina and no shortage of class won him the Arkle in 2011 after which he was considered a real contender for the top staying chases in future- Hobbs was inclined to mention the King George of 2011 straight after his Cheltenham victory. Well beaten behind Kauto that year but went straight from tipping up at the last in the Haldon Gold Cup – this time he’ll line up off the back of a fairly smart effort when winning at Ascot. Hard to make too much of the form of that race considering the ground and the fact none of the quartet would’ve been happy on it, and with Chris running a bit of a “Tidal Bay” type race in the Ryanair it’s not set in stone that he truly gets home. Has about a stone to find with an in-form Long Run.

black, purple sleeves, red spotsCHAMPION COURT (Martin Keighley): Rarely runs away from Prestbury Park. Returned at Ascot last month over a little more than two miles and time may tell that he ran an absolute screamer giving lumps of weight to William’s Wishes over a trip short of his best. That run came on heavy ground – the fact he appeared to handle things okay will be in his favour but the extra mile would be of much more concern. His trainer mentioned the King George straight after finishing second to Silviniaco Conti at Aintree in April and also felt his horse wasn’t operating at 100% at Liverpool. Taking that into consideration he’s clearly a smart, progressive horse having also chased home the re-opposing Sir Des Champs at the Festival. Question is whether he can improve the stone+ that he may well need to from that Cheltenham effort? A massive ask, however there will certainly be worse 25/1 shots than this seven-year-old should he truly stay.

royal blue, pink star on body and cap, royal blue sleeves, pink starsCUE CARD (Colin Tizzard): No disrespect meant but Cue Card at (at biggest) 9/2 for a King George? Can he stay three miles in what could be desperate ground come Boxing Day? It would certainly be a surprise to me as he appears to be a 2 1/2 miler, albeit one with a huge amount of natural ability- giving Bobs Worth 7lbs and being beaten a short head was some effort over 20 furlongs at Newbury last year. That natural ability means that I’m loathe to totally write him off but I’m very much of the opinion that these conditions will not see him at his best, and as a front-runner it is vital jockey Joe Tizzard does not get things wrong pace-wise. He also has Junior to bother him up front- I imagine Pipe’s horse isn’t going to be taking things slowly either. I would want him to be a fair bit bigger than double the price of guaranteed stayer Long Run before entertaining him as a betting proposition.

white, black capFINIAN’S RAINBOW (Nicky Henderson): If Cue Card isn’t going to stay then what to say about Finian’s? Just a couple of quotes from Nicky Henderson –
“When he is really good he is a two miler” – after the Champion Chase this year
“… we haven’t learnt anything at all except not to run him on soft ground again” – after finishing last of four on heavy ground at Ascot.
Errrr what more to say about a race on probably heavy ground over three miles? Ton of ability, huge engine… deep ground stayer? Unlikely, although Henderson did allude to the fact the horse was ‘learning how to race’ after winning over 2 1/2 miles at Aintree. Would he be running in this race if it wasn’t for Sprinter Sacre? Unlikely, and despite his obvious talents I imagine he will struggle to finish in the top two of the runners from his own stable on Boxing Day.

red, pink hoop and armlets FOR NON STOP (Nick Williams): When I rang The Duke this morning bemoaning my failure to find a confident selection for the race he gave this horse a mention but he’s another who may be treading water come the second or third last. Like Champion Court he is by no means a rank outsider having hosed up at Aintree in October and with form in the past that doesn’t put him too far behind Cue Card or Al Ferof. Does though have a lot of ground to make up on Sir Des Champs based on their running at Chelts in March and his form and the opinion of his trainer suggests that he’ll not be happy in the guaranteed soft ground. Ran well enough in the mud behind Captain Chris at Ascot but that form may well be worthless in hindsight with none of the runners enjoying conditions- nice horse who appears to have progressed over the summer though looks likely to be found wanting up in trip in the wet.

purple, yellow triple diamond, yellow sleeves, red armlets, red capGRANDS CRUS (David Pipe): My idea of the winner after his round in the Feltham last season. A year on and that confidence has been severely dented, if not by an expected reverse in the RSA then by the pretty lifeless effort in the Paddy Power on ground he will meet again at Kempton. Back when the Pond House license was in the name of M.C. Pipe there would be a lot less concern about a horse arriving for a big race on the back of being pulled up – Our Vic, Paddy Power, 2005. Now though the Pipes are not ahead of the game with getting their horses fitter or better prepared than the rest and Grands Crus’ only win in genuine soft ground came in a novice hurdle at Plumpton back in 2010. Another though with a huge amount of ability and unlike a fair few of these he has form over three miles round here- form which has been strengthened by the subsequent exploits of Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti, two of the favourites for the Gold Cup. The ground is the nagging doubt, and the addition of Junior from the same stable is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help to Grands Crus considering he has been entered to make the most of his stamina. Needs to improve on his Feltham form and whether has or not is anyone’s guess considering he’s not had his ideal conditions – has had a breathing op.

red, yellow hoops, light blue sleeves, red capHUNT BALL (Kieran Burke): His progress last season has been well documented, as have the exploits of his owner who appears, quite frankly, to be a bit of a wazzock! Pulled up alongside Grands Crus in the Paddy Power and connections were adamant that the ground was to blame – if so then he’s another who will be going nowhere fast come the business end in the King George. Did prove he was deserving of a place at the top table when rounding off an incredibly busy season by being Grade One placed at Aintree but that race doesn’t really compare too well with this line up. Likely to give his best but come up short.

light blue, orange epauletsJUNIOR (David Pipe): On the face of it Junior is well out of his depth in a King George but on closer inspection there have been far worse examples of tilting at windmills. Likely that he’ll go to the front and try and stay there, and should his young jock get things right in front it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have one or two of the more fancied runners in a lot of trouble. Unlikely, however, that he will have all of his opponents still trailing him come the winning line as despite him being able to handle conditions and be a stone cold guaranteed stayer he has been operating at a much lower level than these over fences. With the number of dubious stayers/horses disliking the ground he could possibly, maybe, potentially hold on for fourth but any closer would be a major surprise.

light blue, dark blue chevrons and sleeves, dark blue and light blue quartered capKAUTO STONE (Paul Nicholls): Nicholls’ only representative has the enviable job of stepping up to take the place of his half brother now that Al Ferof is out of the contest. A good horse in his own right, he’s still only six-years-old and appeared to see out the trip well when winning the JNwine in Ireland- until then he had been very disappointing after chasing home Sizing Europe in the Tingle Creek over a year ago, and the fact he went off 4/1 for the Irish race despite form figures of 7F7 suggests it wasn’t a particularly strong Grade One. Along with the vanquished First Lieutenant running a strong race in the Hennessy, what is in his favour is the race was over three miles on soft ground – unlike a large proportion of his opponents he has proven he is at home in such conditions. An interesting contender whose form suggests he’s an early season horse.

brown, orange sleeves, quartered capLONG RUN (Nicky Henderson): As desperately dull as this selection is, in my opinion 5/2 Long Run is an outstanding price. In the last two seasons Long Run has run to marks of 181 at Kempton after a slightly below-par reappearance effort – after a similar return to action in the Betfair Chase last month the horse (still only seven years old) should be primed to run to a similar figure come the big day. Despite my feeling that Long Run has turned into a bit of a grinder in comparison to the sparkling novice we saw three years ago he would not need an exceptional performance to win this race and would almost certainly not need to improve on his last two King George runs. It boils down to the fact that one of his opponents is likely to need to run to 178+ in order to beat him- I am struggling to find a rival who is likely to do so.

dark blue, light blue hoop, checked sleeves and capMENORAH (Philip Hobbs): Made a sketchy start to his fencing career having been good enough to go off 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle in 2011, failing to complete twice in his first four novice chases before being beaten miles when third to Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham. Did win the Grade One novice chase at Aintree but has been disappointing again twice since. Out of his depth on first try over three miles on ground he won’t enjoy.

red and white diamonds, white sleeves, red armlets, red capRIVERSIDE THEATRE (Nicky Henderson): Ran a horror race last time out at Aintree on his third appearance in under two months – Henderson has since said it is important to keep him fresh to see him at his best. Chased home Long Run in the “2010” running of this race but was a long way behind and hasn’t improved on the figures since. Won a competitive Ryanair Chase in March without needing to find that improvement and will be vulnerable to a 100% Long Run on all the evidence but has a solid each way chance as a 170-rated horse with form on soft ground.

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starSIR DES CHAMPS (Willie Mullins): Hugely exciting Irish novice last season when he won at both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals- the Punchestown Grade One was a poor excuse for a top level race but he’s obviously got a proper engine the way he won the Jewson. A five-length defeat to Flemenstar on his reappearance saw his unbeaten record go west over a trip that suited his highly talented opponent, although the major concern with this race in mind would be his preference for a sound surface. Three miles looks like it will bring out further improvement from the son of Robin Des Champs Like a couple of others in the line-up Sir Des Champs has the raw ability to scale the heights, however taking on Long Run in conditions favourable for Nicky Henderson’s horse he is going to need to extract every ounce of potential if the prize is going to head back over the Irish Sea. [NON RUNNER 22/12/12]

red and white check, black and white check sleeves, royal blue capTHE GIANT BOLSTER (David Bridgewater): Appeared to show his Gold Cup effort was no fluke by finishing fairly close to Silviniaco Conti and Long Run at Haydock. His RPR over three miles on soft ground in that race suggests he is a much better bet than his 14/1 price suggests- that’s even without considering that he should improve for the run. Did show improvement with every run last season and is still only seven-years-old – a real cliche but if he were trained by a household name then it’s unlikely he’d be nearly twice the price of Kauto Stone and three times the price of Cue Card! A cracking each way bet at the prices.

dark blue, light blue hoop, checked sleeves and capWISHFUL THINKING (Philip Hobbs): Completes the trio of Hobbs/Whateley horses and will probably finish second of the three while some way behind the rest. First try at three miles having never been further than 2m5f before and it’s very unlikely to unlock enough improvement to win this. Likely to be taken on for the lead by Junior and possibly Cue Card as well.

VERDICT: Incredibly difficult to oppose LONG RUN on the basis that he has improved for his reappearance in his last two campaigns and the unexposed horses in the race all appear to have probable issues with either the trip or the potentially deep ground. The Giant Bolster appears to have been underrated in the market at 14/1 in comparison to several horses quoted in single figures and looks an excellent each way bet if backing the 5/2 favourite is not your thing. It would be no surprise to see For Non Stop or Champion Court outrun their odds but the most likely to complete the tricast would be Riverside Theatre, while Grands Crus and Sir Des Champs have the ability to win this but there are doubts about fitness and the ground respectively about the best folding rowing machine.

Win: LONG RUN at 2-1 with Bet365, PaddyPower, StanJames
EW: THE GIANT BOLSTER at 12-1 with PaddyPower [/notification_box]


King George VI & QE Stakes 2012 Preview

Sea Moon winning at Ascot

The King George, the mid-season highlight of the British flat season, has arrived amidst the unseasonal rains and many racing enthusiasts will just glad for the meeting to go ahead. Heavy ground and abandonment have become the norm for the past few weeks, and while Sandown survived the threat of the weather it’s show piece event the Eclipse was still run on very testing going. The July Cup may well be one of the most forgettable Group Ones in recent times, due to a threadbare field which was mostly dictated by the weather but also due to the lack of depth in British Sprint racing. Fortunately this weekend’s King George looks to be offering a glimpse of what the 2012 flat season could still become.

Ascot’s mile-and-a-half Group One is one of the most prestigious all-age flat races in Europe, along with the Arc. Unlike many of Britain’s famous races the King George (full title, if you so wish, “The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes”) does not have a history stretching back into the 19th century, but in the race’s 61 year history it has been won by some of the greats of the turf. Just a few are listed here…

1956 – Ribot
1970 – Nijinsky
1971 – Mill Reef
1972 – Brigadier Gerard
1975 – Grundy (beating Bustino in one of the great races of all time)
1981 – Shergar
1986 – Dancing Brave
1989 – Nashwan
2000 – Montjeu
2001 – Galileo

Recent winners may not have quite the same reputations as the above named, but have still produced some great races. in 2006 Hurricane Run followed up his Arc success of 2005 with a gutsy success under fine ride from Christophe Soumillon, and Harbinger put up a visually stunning display when routing the field in 2010 – unfortunately the true level of his ability was impossible to gauge as he never raced again.

Last year’s renewal of the race was instantly forgettable. The death of Rewilding cast a shadow over the event, although it did allow an opportunity for the winning horse’s trainer John Gosden to give one of the finest interviews I’ve personally witnessed. The winner of course was Nathaniel, who returns fresh from his determined success in the Eclipse looking to become the first back-to-back winner since Swain in the late 90s. He and his opponents are covered below…

[frame_center src=”” href=””]Nathaniel winning the 2011 renewal bids to defend his crown…[/frame_center]

BROWN PANTHER – Better from him last time after a hugely disappointing return at Chester, but on the face of it that Listed race form would have to be built on considerably to take a hand in a race like this. Showed a huge amount of potential last season when running away with the King George V handicap at Royal Ascot and running second to Masked Marvel in the Leger. Will appreciate the give in the ground (by Shirocco, Listed success was on soft) and not a forlorn hope if he can build on that Pontefract form, but his price is about right.

DUNADEN – Soft ground over 1m4f around Ascot is a very different proposition to the Melbourne Cup that Dunaden won, but showed he’s far from just a stayer when following up in the Hong Kong Vase. What this horse does need is an end to end gallop, something which he didn’t get when beaten at odds-on at Chantilly but enjoyed when second to Sea Moon over course and distance in the Hardwicke. I think he would’ve given Sea Moon something to think about if he have managed a clear run that day, as he was almost stopped to a walk when coming with a strong run up the centre. Prices are not as different as I thought they might be however and while he is likely to get the strong pace he requires, he has less scope to improve than Sea Moon.

MASKED MARVEL – St Leger winner last season when they went a brutal clip and he stayed the strongest of the field. Dropped back in trip and finished last in the Arc, second last in the Jockey Club at Newmarket and finally showed something like good form when third (beaten a long way) behind St Nicholas Abbey in the Coronation Cup. Will need them to go Nunthorpe pace up front if he’s to pick them off, and as such he’s very likely to be outclassed. Strange to see the horse still running in mile-and-a-half group races when he looks ripe for a staying campaign.

NATHANIEL – Got me into trouble when I seriously questioned his chance in the Eclipse last time, but I am still convinced the only reason he won the race was because of the soft ground. The renewal of this race he won last year was borderline farcical, although the guts he showed when winning the Eclipse cannot be questioned and he is a runner who is certain to appreciate the likely soft going in this race. Comes up against a much stronger field than at Sandown, but is also running over a more suitable trip himself. Should he win this race then I may finally have to accept he’s as good as I’ve been informed he is (Fred) but until then for me the jury is still out on Nathaniel.

RELIABLE MAN – Won the French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club) last year and maintained an unbeaten record in doing so. Not so good since then (although that may be underestimating his run in the Prix Niel) until an excellent effort when fourth to So You Think in the Prince Of Wales’ at Royal Ascot. In between he was well beaten in the Arc and first time out this season in the Prix Ganay, but there were definite positives from Ascot as he was given a lot to do on ground that would have suited others more than him. Soft ground is preferable but whether or not he truly wants a mile-and-a-half in it is unproven, despite being by Dalakhani out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. His sire’s best two sons both improved with age (Conduit and Duncan) and there’s a feeling we are yet to see the best of Reliable Man – definitely of some interest at around 20s.

ROBIN HOOD – Unlikely to enhance the reputation of the character Kevin Costner did proud in Prince of Thieves. Pacemaker.

SEA MOON – The type of horse he trainer has excelled with in the past, Sea Moon stepped up on his return at Goodwood to run up to his best in the Hardwicke where he had the re-opposing Dunaden in second. As I’ve said I do feel his 3 1/4 length advantage would’ve been cut down considerably had Dunaden had a clear run, but Sea Moon is still lightly raced enough to improve and his two runs in Group company with give in the ground have been his best performances on the book. Still not certain genuine soft ground would be exactly what he wants, but has some of the best 2012 form in the book and any improvement would have him in contention. Personally think he’s still behind St Nicolas Abbey as things stand.

ST NICHOLAS ABBEY – A horse I think Joey O’Brien has taken a while to get to know. Regularly ridden by his young jockey as if he had an instant turn of foot, he’s been made to look a little naive on a couple of occasions (in this race last year and in the Sheema Classic at Meydan) although his electric performances at Epsom last time and in the Breeders Cup Turf probably go some way to show why Joseph has that faith. I do think that he does need to be asked for his effort slightly earlier than O’Brien has asked him on occasions in the past, but at the same time I also think he’s the best horse in the field and if given the best opportunity to win I think he will. A bit of a concern is that since winning the RP Trophy he’s run four times with ‘soft’ in the going description and not won. Holds Sea Moon on Breeders Cup form, and while Sea Moon has apparently improved since the same can be said about St Nicholas Abbey. Major chance.

WINDSOR PALACE – Had his moment when beating St Nic in the Mooresbridge, but his stablemate was considerately handled and is a certainty to reverse placings on the big day. Pacemaker.

DANEDREAM – Any filly that wins an Arc by five lengths has got to be taken very seriously, but she has been pretty disappointing since. Finished sixth in the Japan Cup on ground that to be fair would have been on the fast side for her, but more worryingly she was last at Saint-Cloud in her prep for this race which was far from ideal. What is in her favour is the ground, as in her last race before the Arc she won the Grosser Preis Von Baden on very soft going, and would probably be the only one of the principles to really relish it should the Ascot ground not dry out. Probably not as good as her Arc performance makes her look, but the going brings her into calculations should the Berkshire venue continue to see rain.

SHARETA – Second in what wasn’t a reliable renewal of the Arc, but got closer to Danedream out in Tokyo and isn’t devoid of ability. Fact she’s only won at Group Three level and been beaten in every race since the Arc doesn’t suggest she’s about to win a King George, but the fact she’s bred to stay and will handle soft ground means she’s not a total no-hoper. Still feel that connections would be delighted should she beat more rivals than beat her.

DEEP BRILLANTE – Comes over to Europe to attempt what his famous sire couldn’t manage and try to win a European Group One. Despite not being at the same level as Deep Impact on the track, the colt won the Japanese Derby last time out and the increasingly impressive record of horses travelling from Japan for major races means he has to be considered. Does look to have plenty to find in a race like this though, and on ground that he’s unlikely to have experienced (won on soft as a 2yo but unlikely this soft). Has the 3yo allowance but will need to improve if he’s to get close to the likes of St Nic and Sea Moon.

After a couple of below-par Group Ones in recent weeks it’s great to have such a competitive looking field lining up for the George. The winners of the Arc, Breeders Cup Turf/Coronation Cup, Melbourne Cup, St Leger, Jockey Club and Japanese Derby will all be present at Ascot, as well as the defending champion and Eclipse winner. Personal preference would be for St Nicholas Abbey, who produced a performance as good as anything we’ve seen from him at Epsom last time and I believe if ridden right that he’s the best horse in the race. However with the ground the way it is SEA MOON could turn the tables on Aidan O’Briens runner having shown he handles at least a certain amount of give in the ground. Reliable Man and Danedream will both need considering, with preference at the prices for the former.

1. Sea Moon
2. St Nicholas Abbey
3. Reliable Man [/notification_box]

Favourite Racehorses – Dubawi

Anyone who’s been in this game for a while knows about how attached you can get to your ‘favourite’ horses. George Washington, Zarkava, Shawanda, Rio De La Plata, and even that enigmatic gelding Our Vic have all been on my personal radar since I really started getting into racing.

Dubawi however is something a little bit different for me. Before I really go into my own personal attachment to Dubawi though it’s important to remember that he was a fine racehorse, who’s three defeats could all be attributed to factors beyond his control..

Dubawi’s trademark turn of foot was evident throughout his juvenile career, especially on his first foray into Group One company in the National Stakes at the Curragh, where he cut down what was admittedly a below-par Group One field to take his two-year-old record to a perfect three from three. The quirks he had displayed in his maiden success were apparent in the Emerald Isle, as Dubawi jinked both ways when going clear in the final furlong- a trait Dettori convincingly put down to greenness.

The first major test for the colt was to be the 2000 Guineas of 2005. Shamardal, a star juvenile for Mark Johnston, had wintered as favourite for the Classic but new owners Godolphin rerouted him to Dubai in preparation for a crack at the Kentucky Derby. This left Dubawi as the outstanding candidate for the Newmarket contest, but come the day he faced an unusually lightening quick Rowley Mile- something connections considered to be very much against their horse. In the circumstances it was a fair performance from the colt in finishing fifth to the never-seen-again Ballydoyle runner Footstepsinthesand, but nevertheless it was disappointing to see Dubawi lose his unbeaten status.

His performance in routing Oratorio in the Irish 2000 Guineas was much more like the Dubawi we had seen as a youngster, as he made easy headway and quickened right away from the well-backed Oratorio, who would go on to prove himself as a genuine Group One horse in the Eclipse. This was the first real sign that Dubawi could be a star, and he was immediately aimed at Epsom, where his ability and, much more worryingly, his stamina would be tested to the maximum. Having travelled enthusiastically throughout the first mile of the mile-and-a-half trip, it was no surprise to see the colt failing to make an impression on the stoutly-bred Motivator after swinging round Tattenham Corner, and it was apparent that he would be seen in a better light back at a mile.
[frame_right src=”” href=””]Dubawi winning the Prix Jacques Le Marois[/frame_right]
In defeating a small but high quality Jacques Le Marois field at Deauville, Dubawi confirmed that he was the top-notch miler of his crop. Behind him that day were Whipper (winner of the race in 2004), Valixir (dual Group One winner) and the darling of French racing Divine Proportions, who up until that defeat had a nine-from-nine career record.

Unfortunately the final race of Dubawi’s career became a bit of a disaster, with Frankie ignoring instructions to follow his pacemaker and ending up in the middle of the track in the QEII. Eventually re-joining the stands side group, Dettori had allowed Starcraft an advantage which he was unable to recover and Dubawi finished an unlucky second.

All of the above adds up to a very smart career, but on figures a rating of 123 does not put Dubawi in anything like the top category. As well as enjoying a smart performer in action, the reason I was so gutted that Dubawi failed to get passed Starcraft is in his background.

First of all Dubawi is by one of the great racehorses of the last generation. What Dubai Millennium did to his rivals in the 2000 Dubai World Cup was visually incredible, setting a gallop that would see most horses crying enough after about six furlongs and visibly quickening off it with two furlongs to run. He followed up by thrashing Sendawar in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes back on turf, and had he not suffered a career-ending injury he could well have become the first true world champion on dirt and turf. Because of his injury and subsequent death due to grass sickness, Dubai Millennium only produced one incomplete crop at stud… the best of which was Dubawi.

This is where the emotional connection to Dubawi starts to really develop. Dubai Millennium’s owner was Sheikh Mohammed, a man who’s involvement in British racing has probably saved the sport’s existence as we know it. Dubai Millennium was the apple of the Sheikh’s eye (he famously quoted that he “could see the winds of heaven” between the colt’s ears) and his highness was present during the operation in which the colt lost his battle with grass sickness. This was a man who had everything in life, but who cared deeply for his horses and was now focused on finding a son of the one that mattered most to him who was good enough to fill his father’s box at Dalham Hall.

As by some way the best of the crop, the small, compact son of Oaks winner Zomaradah carried the dreams of one of the weathiest men on the planet every time he set foot on the racecourse. Instead of potential covering fees or winners prizes Dubawi’s victories brought with them the raw emotion of having found a worthy successor to his great sire. I couldn’t help but find it amazing that such a powerful man could be so wrapped up in the performances of this small bay individual!

It helps that as a stallion Dubawi has been a phenomenon. His Group winners from five furlongs to a mile-and-a-half include 2000 Guineas winner Makfi, Dubai World Cup winner Monterosso, and QEII winner Poet’s Voice, while he is also responsible for this season’s Ascot Gold Cup fourth Gulf Of Naples. Standing at stud for £75,000, Dubawi is part of an elite band of stallions in Europe alongside the likes of Galileo, Dansili & Oasis Dream, as well as the recently deceased Montjeu.

For me Dubawi represented everything that is good about racing. He was small, genuine, ridden by the greatest jockey of my lifetime and owned by a man who has the world (and an amazing wife…) but to whom Dubawi meant so much. He ran his heart out to finish 5th in the Guineas when all at sea on the ground, he was still trying entering the 12th furlong of a race that was blatantly too much for him at Epsom, and when he came alongside Starcraft in the QEII it was as if a pony had ranged up beside a shire horse. But did the colt shy away from the challenge? Like his owner, Dubawi did not know how.

Coral Eclipse 2012 Preview

The Eclipse, named after one of the great 18th-century racehorses, is the first opportunity for the Classic generation to take on their elders at the top level. The race’s roll of honour is littered with the of greats of the turf- Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerrard in the 70s, Sadler’s Wells, Dancing Brave and Nashwan the decade after, and more recently names like Daylami, Giant’s Causeway and Sea The Stars flow through it’s history as a reminder of what it takes to compete in such a prestigious event.

Since Giant’s Causeway’s typically pulsating win in 2000 only three three-year-olds have managed to serve it up to their elders, which immediately highlights the challenge ahead of the younger horses, namely Andrew Balding’s Dante winner Bonfire. When comparing Bonfire to Hawk Wing (brilliant on his day), Oratorio and the champion Sea The Stars the immediate reaction is to discount him on grounds of not being in the same class, but this may go down as one of the weaker Eclipse fields in recent years and it’s not easy to ignore any of the line-up.

This year’s renewal has lost some of it’s appeal with the late withdrawal and subsequent retirement of Ballydoyle’s So You Think, a horse who may not have lived up to his giant reputation gained down under but who’s performances in the Northern Hemisphere probably haven’t received the credit they deserve. The loss of the slight odds-on favourite has left Godolphin’s Farhh as the market leader, and he has really split opinion in the racing community after his luckless passage in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes. Rivalling him as the jolly was John Gosden’s Nathaniel until Gosden himself looked to lower expectations by suggesting the colt was not fully would up and would be seen to better effect in the King George. Twice Over dances at almost every dance when Group One’s over 10 furlongs are concerned, while Cityscape put up a serious visual performance in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan and Monterosso’s last run/win was in the nothing less of a race than the Dubai World Cup. We’ll have a look at the field in a bit more detail…

CITYSCAPE – For a horse who started out over a mile at two and was second to the strong-staying Jukebox Jury in the Royal Lodge, it’s maybe a surprise that it’s taken so long for Cityscape to run over 10 furlongs. As a half brother to Bated Breath out of a mare who won two seven furlong Listed races the pedigree suggests otherwise, however on the Selkirk colt’s only run over further than a mile he won the Dubai Duty Free by four-and-a-half-lengths. However from experience form in Dubai is almost impossible to take literally, and it’s likely that Cityscape still has a couple of lengths to find from somewhere to be involved at the business end judged on his form over a mile.

CITY STYLE – This gelding improved by about a stone in Dubai over the winter, and finished third behind Cityscape in the Duty Free after getting a far worse trip throughout the race. His five-length beating in the Prince Of Wales’ can probably be cut in half after he found trouble, and that performance showed he was capable away from Godolphin’s back yard. In a far from vintage renewal it’s quite surprising to see him as big as 40/1

CRACKERJACK KING – The unknown quantity of the race, the Shamardal colt won the Italian Derby but a month later trailed in second last at Chantilly when travelling to France for the Jockey Club. He otherwise has a perfect record of seven from seven in Italy, a country responsible in recent years for Ramoni, Electrocutionist and Rakti all of whom had the ability to have a major chance in this renewal. Unwise to write off, although a concern that the only time he left Italian shores/encountered soft ground he was beaten a long way. Now trained by Marco Botti who on balance will have needed to find a few lengths improvement if he’s to win.

[frame_right src=”” href=””][/frame_right]FARHH – Not sure i’ve got anything left to say about Farhh after pouring my heart out on Twitter, but I believe he would have won the race at Ascot had anything gone right for him. That’s just a personal belief, can’t make any defining statements on why he would’ve won and not saying for sure he would have, but this colt in my opinion is the real deal and has done absolutely nothing wrong in his four races to date. It’s worth remembering that going into Ascot he’d run three races in his life, and has got so much potential it’s frightening. No matter how many lengths he may or may not have lost through interference at the Royal meeting the fact that such an inexperienced horse put his head down and flew right to the line cannot be ignored. Visually and on the clock he could go all the way to the top, and I will be gutted if he doesn’t win what is a below-par Eclipse.

MONTEROSSO – Monterosso did what we’ve seen several Godolphin horses do in recent years and raised his game considerably on World Cup night. The fact he won the World Cup itself suggests it was either a substandard renewal (likely) on the basis of his previous form or that he’s just a better horse over in the desert- in my opinion probably both. The fact he’s 12/1 for this race despite having won the world’s richest event suggests that the layers agree with at least one of those scenarios, and although it can’t really go down as a huge shock if he’s good enough to play a part in the finish, from experience it’s rare for Meydan form to stand the test of time.

NATHANIEL – Nathaniel is a horse who I strongly believe wants a mile and a half (preferably around Ascot), as I think he lacks the tactical pace for a 10 furlong Group One. Again because of the nature of this line up he may well get away with it, but I think that after John Gosden’s comments suggesting he wasn’t fully tuned up I would be surprised/disappointed if he was good enough to win even a weaker G1 over ten this weekend. I believe that the King George that he won should be ignored totally as a race due to A) Rewilding breaking down B) Workforce only wanting to run sideways and C) St Nicholas Abbey receiving a poor ride and not running to form anyway. That left Nathaniel to basically run around to win, and until he’s shown that he’s better than a 121/122 horse I cannot consider him at the prices to win a race like this. Strong opinion that may well look very silly tomorrow afternoon…

SRI PUTRA – An absolute enigma in that he seems to run his best races at the top level and cannot take advantage of easier opportunities in lesser races. Drop to a mile saw him but that right to some extent at Kempton in May, but followed that up with a tame effort in Italy behind Crackerjack King before a typically better performance at Royal Ascot. Yet to win at the top level but was second in this two years ago, and while he may again run a big race compared to his price he is an unlikely winner.

TWICE OVER – Most five-time Group One winners have a higher profile than Twice Over, but the races he’s won in the highest grade tend to have been short on depth. This is another such contest to be fair, and his last run can be ignored considering the ground was atrocious at best so he wouldn’t be without a chance of running better than his 16/1 price suggests. Depends how you view his form in beating Midday in the Juddmonte last year – personally don’t think its particularly good but still may give him a squeak in this if he can reproduce the goods in a race he won two years ago.

BONFIRE – Represents the Classic generation, but comes into the race having been stuffed by Camelot in the Derby. Won the Dante but had a pretty hard race in the process, while connections and some respected judges commented that Epsom on Derby day did not play to the colt’s strengths. While that’s possibly true I get the impression that despite the weight-for-age scale being very much in favour of the three-year-olds he is likely to come up short in his first race against his elders. The three-year-old crop looks weak at the top end (bar Camelot) and I don’t get the impression that this son of Manduro is about to change that idea. Again this is not a strong collection of four-year-olds but he is another that I would be very disappointed if Farhh couldnt beat.

COGITO – Ran a cracker to win what looked a warm listed race here at the end of May on fast ground, and wasn’t beaten that far behind Most Improved in a messy running of the St James’ Palace. Not really the profile of a Group One winner waiting to happen, especially against his elders, and the three-year-old miling crop looks even weaker than the mid-distance performers. A real surprise if he goes close for me, and not sure why he’s a shorter price than City Style.

Conclusion: A disappointing field for a race with such a fine history, but the presence of Farhh and Bonfire in particular still make this a very interesting race to take in. As i’ve said I’d be very disappointed if Farhh got beaten, but the price doesn’t appeal to me and with Nathaniel drifting I don’t particularly fancy laying him either. At bigger prices I wouldn’t mind having City Style running for me the way he performed at Ascot and with him priced at 40/1- I think that him being 10 times Nathaniel’s price despite City Style’s form being maybe only a couple of pounds off him is wrong. Twice Over has shown he is capable of winning sub-standard looking Group Ones and could be thereabouts, but he is getting on in years and isn’t sure to produce his best form, so I personally will be watching Farhh with everything crossed while having a small each-way bet on City Style at the 40s, although further rain will temper any enthusiasm in that wager.