Value Backing Review

Hi and welcome to July’s review

This is the time of the season when a three-year-old can make rapid strides and we saw an example of that with Top Tug, who won the 1m 2f 76-95 handicap at Newmarket. In the end the son of Halling was all out to reverse recent form with Cloudscape, but I liked the way he was staying on at the finish and having won here off 84 he will probably be rated around the 90 mark in the coming weeks. That could be just high enough to allow him to contest some decent races off a fair weight, but either way he looks a tough sort with the potential to improve for a step up to a mile and a half.

Earlier on the same day Bitter Lake showed a bright turn of foot to win the 6f maiden and looks one to follow. Wonderstruck, who beat the promising Forever Now in a decent maiden, should also be up to winning a nice pot or two later in the year.

Kool Kompany showed great tenacity to win the Listed race at Naas. After racing keenly in the early stages it looked unlikely that he would last home, but he kept sticking his neck out to hold the persistent challenge of Toscanini, with War Envoy three-quarters of a length back in third. War Envoy started 8/15 to win this and Aidan O’Brien said afterwards he might have left the colt a little short. This looks decent form and the race should work out well for the rest of the season.

Looking back to the Oaks the unlucky filly of the race was Inchila, who was an outsider I looked at on the day. She was left a long way out of her ground and would have been a clear second but for being hampered twice inside the final furlong. The winner was always going to stay well and her next target is the Irish Oaks. By the way I think she was given a classy copybook Epsom ride by Paul Hanagan.

Volume did well to keep plugging away for third, vindicating the decision of Luca Cumani to let her take her chance.

In my view we saw one of the better Derby’s of recent years at Epsom. As they say it was the right horses in the frame, with Australia just staying on well enough to repel the persistent challenge of Kingston Hill. The two colts pulled over three lengths clear of a progressive colt in third, with Arod over three lengths further behind in fourth.

The time of the race was impressive – beating standard by just over a second – on ground that was probably riding generally good. Australia has not yet done enough to vindicate Aidan O’Brien’s claims that he is the best flat horse he has ever trained. He will need to win a few more Group 1 races, over a variety of trips, to warrant that accolade, but this was a step in the right direction following what I think we can now say was his misfortune in the 2,000 Guineas.

Looking back and taking note of O’Brien’s comments about the health of his horses, in my view Australia was not at his best at Newmarket.  The trainer did say that the colt had, like many of his others, been laid low with a virus but that “some had recovered quicker than others”. It was clearly a tussle preparing him for Newmarket and it would not surprise me, in times to come, to hear someone say the colt was physically under par for the Guineas. That said, he might still have won had he had something to race against in the final quarter mile.

O’Brien insists that the colt has loads of pace – we have been told many times about that four-furlong workout in 44 seconds – and so for that reason, and commercial ones also, I would now expect him to be aimed at a Group 1 race over a mile and a quarter. The Coral-Eclipse may be an option, with the Irish Champion Stakes a race they have favoured over the years. They may decide on an Arc challenge later, but they will initially be keen to try and get Group 1 form over a mile and a quarter, and perhaps a mile, to his name.

Runner-up Kingston Hill might have won had the ground been softer. Australia did not have much in hand of him at the line, while third-placed Romsdal will have the St Leger as his autumn target. Peter Chapple-Hyam says Arod wants fast ground while True Story, under a good ride from his poor draw, ran well until fading. He does not seem to stay as far as his pedigree would suggest.

I cannot remember when I last saw a three-year-old colt show the turn of foot we witnessed from Kingman in the St James’s Palace Stakes. There was a point, two furlongs from home, when I thought Richard Hughes had stolen the race from the front on Night Of Thunder but then, as in the Greenham, the race was over in a few strides as Kingman quickened past and immediately drew clear, lugging right such was his momentum before eased down to win with plenty in hand.

This was a staggeringly impressive performance and I will be surprised if there is a horse to beat him over a mile this season. His next run may be the Sussex Stakes, where he could meet Toronado who, a short while earlier, won the Queen Anne Stakes.

War Command made encouraging late headway and may be coming to hand.

I thought Hootenanny was most impressive in the closing Windsor Castle Stakes. Wesley Ward’s colt had made his debut on the Polytrack at Keeneland before finishing third in the mud at Pimlico. It took him a while to pull up and there was talk afterwards that he might take on older rivals in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

I thought Postponed was a little unlucky in the Tercentenary Stakes although his problem is that he lacks a turn of foot. I expect we will see him over a mile and a half before long.

Cannock Chase, who had worked very well with Telescope last week, was confidently supported to win this and may well prove capable of competing at Group 1 level in time.

Leading Light was my lay of the meeting but his class and tenacity enabled him to get home in the Gold Cup. He went out to almost 30 in running on Betfair when Joseph O’Brien reached for his whip turning for home, but he then stayed on strongly and actually won with a little bit in hand.

I kept my eye on Zee Zeely in the last but he was very weak on Betfair before the race – never a good thing to see with horses from this yard – and at no point was he placed to challenge. It was all rather strange.

Sir Michael Stoute had a great week, with Telescope relishing the fast ground in the Hardwicke and Arab Spring continuing his upward curve in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes. Handicaps will now be a thing of the past for Arab Spring, who won this off 104 and will now be rated around the 112 mark.

The one from the yard that most intrigues me is Cannock Chase. Rated on 97 going into the race, he was up to 12lb wrong with the highest-rated of his rivals yet the market confidence behind him was compelling. Starting 7/4 favourite, he powered away to win by a length and a half to beat the 107-rated Mutakayyef.

The coming weeks will see his mark rise to around 112, perhaps a pound higher. I gather he was working very well with some of the yard’s other Ascot winners and it will be very interesting to see where he next runs.

With the exception of Friday I think I have to say that results at Royal Ascot went very much the way of punters.

This is, in part, due to the consistent ground both in the fortnight or so leading up to the meeting and the week itself. That was not always sure to be the case, with the going officially expected to be on the soft side of good for the first day, but the times soon revealed that it was good racing ground, with course records falling like skittles.

Thankfully the records will show that my Value Backing service once again came good at another big meeting with profits on every day I had a bet.

Hopefully this will continue on to Glorious Goodwood later this month.

So that is it for another month and I have to say that Royal Ascot was a very good event this year on a personal note, but more than that it shows that UK racing is still the best at putting on a big show piece event.

Carl Nicholson

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