Athos and Suit to take centre stage
There is plenty to look forward to this weekend with racing at Newmarket, Newbury and Ripon to name but three.
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Let's focus firstly on the quality card at Newbury and there are some smart horses set to line up in the Group Three Geoffrey Freer. The market is likely to be headed by Michael Owen's Brown Panther who is the highest rated for this 1 mile 5 furlong contest.
The horse ran the race of his life to finish 2nd in the Leger last year, but he is yet to reproduce that form this season. So far he has finished last in Chester's Ormonde Stakes, then came back with a win in a listed race at Pontefract and then ran well to be seventh in the King George on his most recent outing.
His trainer Tom Dascombe feels he has him back to his best ahead of Saturday's race, a race in which he finished second 12 months ago.
Luca Cumani runs Mount Athos who has the Melbourne Cup as his main target this Autumn. He needs a bold showing from the horse to bump up his rating as he needs to be a bit higher in the handicap in order to get a run at Flemington in November. He showed a good turn of foot to win the John Smith's Silver Cup at York over this sort of trip last time out and comes here in the form of his life.
John Gosden runs Masked Marvel who hasn't won since his Leger triumph last September. Like Brown Panther he was down the field in the King George last time out and this drop in grade will suit him. Before that run at Ascot he had finished third in the Coronation Cup at Epsom and a reproduction of that form would clearly stand up well in this company.
However, there is a bit of rain around and if it were to ride on the soft side of good that wouldn't suit him. Harris Tweed won the John Porter here over a mile and a half in the spring for William Haggas. He enjoys some cut in the ground so that wouldn't faze him, in fact he would prefer it to be on the soft side. A penalty makes his life tough in this company though.
Modun is showing Saeed bin Suroor some good form in his recent gallops. He has been largely disappointing since joining the boys in blue from Sir Michael Stoute but on his best form would have a shout here, he won a Group Three at Kempton last September.
"I'm going to go with an in form Mount Athos who is a horse I have followed a lot over the last couple of seasons, so I hope he can prevail here for his first win at Group level."
I'm going to go with an in form Mount Athos who is a horse I have followed a lot over the last couple of seasons, so I hope he can prevail here for his first win at Group level.
The Hungerford Stakes is run over a specialist trip of seven furlongs. It's a trip that suits the likely favourite Strong Suit who is three from four over the trip. Richard Hannon's colt has an easier task than on his last couple of outings this season which saw him finish well beaten behind Frankel in the Queen Anne and then drop back to 6 furlongs and finish eighth in the July Cup.
Connections are keen he should win a Group One before he retires to stud, he was bought by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's Pearl Bloodstock operation last Autumn. A return to this trip and the lower grade should see him back to winning ways but he wouldn't want too much rain.
His main danger could be Soul, the former Australian-trained sprinter who is now in the care of Saeed bin Suroor. Since joining the Godolphin team he has won in Dubai at the International Carnival and then scored again in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury on heavy ground last time out. Significantly he also finished a close up fourth in the Diamond Jubilee to Black Caviar which makes him well capable of making his presense felt in this Group Two company.
He has won one over seven furlongs when trained in Australia, which to date is his only start over the trip.
"Connections are keen Strong Suit should win a Group One before he retires to stud, he was bought by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's Pearl Bloodstock operation last Autumn. A return to this trip and the lower grade should see him back to winning ways. "
Libranno also hails from the Richard Hannon stable but is second string with Jimmy Fortune in the saddle and Ryan Moore on Strong Suit (Richard Hughes is banned this weekend). However, he is also very effective over this trip and has been in great form lately so can't be ruled out.
Pastoral Player hails from Hughie Morrison's stable and probably needs to be at his very best to beat the protagonists. John Oxx sends Alanza over from Ireland but she also has a bit to find. So, providing there isn't a deluge at Newbury overnight it's Strong Suit for me.
The Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon is wide open as you would expect from this valuable six furlong handicap. So, plenty of value to be found then! The ground at the time of writing was expected to be good with the odd shower around on Friday after plenty of rain at the Yorkshire track.
You tend to want to be drawn where the pace is and the least favourable draw would be bang in the middle of the 20 runner field as the field will split in two, but it's hard to predict where the ideal draw is.
Richard Fahey's Alben Star is Sky Bet's clear favourite at 7/1 after his recent sixth in the Stewards' Cup at Glorious Goodwood. Fahey is having a great year and by the time you read this he could be 100 for the season. Alben Star is well capable of winning a decent handicap like this so let's hope his draw of three is a kind one.
Fahey has another chance with Johannes (12/1) who is drawn the other side in 17. He's certainly not without a chance after 2 wins in his last 3 outings including in the Stewards' Sprint Stakes at Goodwood but as a consequence he is going up the weights.
Barnet Fair is next best at 9/1 for Richard Guest. The horse won at Ascot last time out on firm ground over 5 furlongs and he sneaks in at the bottom of the handicap here. There could be more to come from this 4 year old. Louis The Pious is a 10/1 shot and his trainer Kevin Ryan has four runners in the race, the excellent Graham Lee rides this horse.
Lexis Hero, Captain Ramius and Our Jonathan are his other runners. Pepper Lane won last year beating Our Jonathan and both take their chance again. Singeur needs cut in the ground so all the showers will help his chance. He is held in some regard by his trainer Robin Bastiman but the horse has had a few physical problems hence his need for a bit of ease in the ground.
Bertiewhittle is a leading fancy for David Barron who has four runners including Colonel Mak, Bosun Breese and Elusive Prince who goes well at this track.
Front runner Es Que Love represents Mark Johnston and has also been in top form. However, as Elusive Prince loves this course and distance, and at the price, I think he's a must for each way punters - his draw of eight shouldn't be too much of a problem with the favourite also drawn low.
There is also plenty of top class racing at Deauville on Sunday with the likes of Snow Fairy, Reckless Abandon and Sir Prancealot in action for British trainers.