Weekend Racing previews
Paul Jones previews the weekend's big races.
This Group 3 1m4f race has a long tradition and it has attracted a big field. Given how Sir Michael Stoute improves his horses from three to four, I will be surprised if Harbinger isn't the best of these later in the season but if he is going to be vulnerable it could be first time out as the stable's horses often need a run to put them cherry ripe. Harbinger could be good enough to get away with winning first time out on pure class grounds and the impression given last season was that they rated him out of the top drawer so were disappointed with his two closing efforts. He didn't run as a juvenile so has great scope for improvement and the Stoute stable has fared well in down the years. Akmal and Manifest can prove to be his biggest dangers as the former never stopped improving last season and his trainer's runners looked magnificent in the paddock at the Craven Meeting so he is likely to be close to spot on whilst the latter could be anything and has only had three starts to there is plenty more to come. Purple Moon is officially the best horse in the race but is a 7yo so it will be disappointing if one of these can not improve past him.
There might be three higher-rated novices in this five-runner field than Fiendish Flame but two miles on decent ground around a circuit like this when he can attempt to put his rivals' jumping under pressure could easily suit him and he could cause a mini upset. French Opera and Kangaroo Court both missed their intended engagements at Aintree and Cheltenham respectively over the last seven days and are class acts notably the former who has a big experience edge being a second-season novice. The worry is that he had a hard race when second in the Grand Annual on testing ground when always in the van so the fresher Kangaroo Court is of more interest. The pace could suit him too as Fiendish Flame, Tchico Polos and French Opera all like to make it or race right on the pace and he can take a tow off them watching for the most part. The Lavelle yard had a good winner with Ouzbeck earlier in the week and 2m4f on good ground could suit him better than French Opera who could be a two-miler pure and simple.
The 24-runner Spring Cup is likely to see a relatively warm favourite in Irish Heartbeat who was impressive in the consolation William Hill Lincoln race and the same yard took this race last year with the 20/1 shot Extraterrestrial who was second in that same race at Doncaster before winning here. Last year's winner runs again off a 5lbs mark but this time they are claiming 7lbs off him so he is also right in the mix alongside his stablemate and he could be better value, certainly from an each-way perspective. The top weight Cityscape could easily be much more than a handicapper. Well fancied for last season's 2000 Guineas when he finished in midfield after running second in the Greenham, he was a high quality two-year-old that could still make a high quality four-year-old. Manassas could easily have been laid out for this race on his seasonal debut as we know he goes very well fresh as he won last season's William Hill Spring Mile on his first start of last season so is another to consider as is the William Hill Lincoln third Mull Of Killough as a big run in that race has been important for this race down the years.
Arcalis ran a blinder when second in the County Hurdle and has his ground again so is respected but that is twice is he has been ridden from too far out of his ground in that race and that would worry me on a faster track like Ayr. I prefer Eradicate who bypassed the competitive 2m handicap hurdle at Aintree for this and he will have his good ground and speed track which suits him so well. Impressive on his seasonal debut at Musselburgh, given he is a speed horse, it was a little surprising they went to the County Hurdle with him but, back on a flat track he can prove to be the one to beat and is also fresh at this late stage of the season which can be important having raced just twice this campaign. His stablemate First Point is also a big player especially with the talented David Bass taking off 7lbs and Nicky Henderson has used his claim very well this spring. He returns back to hurdling after being beaten in a novice chase last time but his previous run over timber was a good sixth in a very valuable handicap hurdle at Newbury. Tito Bustillo was a disappointing favourite in the County Hurdle but Paul Nicholls' novice is more than capable of bouncing back from that and is another with a good chance in a competitive race as is the hat-trick chasing Overturn and the surprise 2008 winner of this race, Border Castle.
This looks like an up-to-scratch running of this 1000 Guineas trial featuring some of last season's top 2yo fillies notably the Princess Margaret Stakes and Lowther Stakes winner Lady Of The Desert. Brian Meehan's Classic prospects do tend to come on for a run though. In opposition is the Albany Stakes winner Hibaayib but she didn't really progress from that and was easily beaten by Misheer in the Cherry Hinton on her next start and the winner then went on to finish second to Special Duty in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes with the re-opposing Puff not too far away in fourth which is strong form. Add to that the good form of the Clive Brittain yard and this could be Misheer's day and she looked much better towards the end of her 6f races than anywhere else so it is likely she will improve for the step up in trip (was beaten for sheer pace when dropped to 5f in between those two races last season). John Gosden usually does well at the Craven Meeting but had a disappointing meeting by his standards so that would worry me regards Deirdre but Mick Channon's string were in good form and I always take note when he runs young horses at Newbury so it wouldn't be a total surprise if his Hairspray was a surprise package.
My three against the field would be Mobaasher, That's Rhythm and Meanus Dandy though Theatrical Moment also worries me though I suspect he is better right-handed. I'm not so fussed about Poker De Sivola as felt he had a very hard race when winning the NH Chase and winners of that contest are usually well fancied here but have failed to deliver. Mobaasher is a funny fish, there is no doubt about that, but a test of stamina on decent ground is what he likes and I can see him creeping round and delivered late to go very close if not winning. That's Rhythm also catches the eye as he was travelling well on the final circuit in this race last year until crashing out so looks like he has been trained for this race ever since and his record on decent ground is most consistent so ignore his last run which was on a testing surface. He is very lightly-raced for a ten-year-old and a big player. Meanus Dandy is the shortest priced of my three fancies and it is only his price that tempers enthusiasm slightly. Impressive last time for the Champion Trainer, this novice has sneaked in off 10st 1lb and has the in-form Paddy Brennan riding so he has to be short list material. Theatrical Moment does worry me as he represents the in-form yard of Jonjo O'Neill that was won two Nationals in recent weeks and was a fair sixth in a hot handicap last time but I do feel he would have been better in next week's big handicap chase at Sandown as his profile is that of a right-handed track horse. Scots Dragoon has the assistance of the very talented David Bass meaning he will only carry 9st 7lbs and he is a better horse on good ground so did well to give Shillingstone a good race at Newbury on Hennessy day so he is another to take note of.
A terrific renewal of this 2000 Guineas trial which features a re-match between the Prix Morny first and third, Arcano and Canford Cliffs, and it is likely to be a matter of which is fitter who will come out on top. Both are realistic 2000 Guineas contenders and maybe Arcano didn't receive the credit he fully deserved for winning the Prix Morny (the top class Special Duty was second) but we are being told in the press that he will come on plenty for this run so maybe Canford Cliffs could be the one on this occasion as he looked exceptional on his debut on this course at two and again early-season at Royal Ascot. Dick Turpin is far from out of this having been classy enough to win the Richmond Stakes in exhilarating fashion but I have little doubt the Hannon camp rate Canford Cliffs in another league as they called him the best horse they have ever trained! That's saying something given they have won the 2000 Guineas three times and this year' Classic is looking like a vintage running.