Alex Hammond: On War footing
Alex Hammond reflects on On Demand's Salisbury debut and looks ahead to the big weekend races.
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This weekend there's top class racing on both sides of the Irish Sea with the Sprint Cup at Haydock and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
I'm going to kick off this week's blog though with a word about the Sky Sports News racehorse, On Demand. We were delighted with her debut run at Salisbury on Thursday and it looked very encouraging for the future.
As I pointed out last week she would benefit for the experience and the ground was a touch too quick for her. Despite that she showed plenty of speed and looks to have a good attitude.
It's always a nervous time when a two-year-old makes its debut because they can get overwhelmed by the occasion. That proved to be the case for one of the runners who unshipped her jockey in the paddock beforehand and had to be withdrawn.
However, our filly behaved perfectly, loaded into the stalls without fuss, stood quietly and jumped out well. She was forced to race handily from her good draw and just tied up a bit in the last couple of furlongs with jockey David Probert saying she got a bit tired.
Trainer Andrew Balding was pleased with her and thinks seven furlongs is ideal for now and is looking forward to seeing her on more autumnal ground. She will have learned plenty for the experience too and I'd be very hopeful she could win next time out.
Probert said the race rode like a decent contest and I think she is a nice filly. Well done to all the team at Balding's Park House Stables who did us proud.
Sky Bet have some racing specials for her including 5/1 for her to win on her second racecourse appearance and 2/1 to win any race before the end of the turf season.
On to Haydock now then, and although we got a marvellous day at Salisbury the weather has since broken and you can expect rain-softened ground this weekend.
The Group One Sprint Cup has attracted a field of 15 runners headed by the Clive Cox-trained Lethal Force. Cox is concerned about the ground though and is hoping there isn't as much rain in the North West as forecast.
If there is, and it looks that way at the moment, then it opens the race up considerably. Lethal Force has had a great season so far winning two Group One races, the Diamond Jubilee and July Cup and then running well behind Moonlight Cloud in Deauville last time out.
Although he has form on easier ground, he prefers it fast and at the time of writing it had changed to good with more rain forecast. Cox was also due to run Reckless Abandon but he has been declared a non runner as he's lame.
"This horse is capable of winning given some luck. He has only run eight times and won the Lennox over seven furlongs at Goodwood last time out under Ryan Moore and he rides again. He is a progressive three-year-old and is hard to ignore"
Alex on Garswood
Gordon Lord Byron and Garswood on the other hand will relish the conditions and have shortened in the market due to the change in conditions. The former was second in this race last year and should go well again.
Garswood is fancied by trainer and fellow columnist Richard Fahey who must have been doing a rain dance this week.
This horse is capable of winning given some luck. He has only run eight times and won the Lennox over seven furlongs at Goodwood last time out under Ryan Moore and he rides again. He is a progressive three-year-old and is hard to ignore.
Slade Power is becoming a regular fixture in these races and he will enjoy conditions too. He didn't run particularly well in the Nunthorpe last time out and got quite edgy beforehand.
There are several familiar names in the line up too including Stewards' Cup winner Rex Imperator who ran well on soft ground at York last time out and has claims.
The ground may have gone against Swiss Spirit though who was staying on much too late in the Nunthorpe.
Hawkeyethenoo hasn't won since last year's Stewards' Cup and while Kingsgate Native might just appreciate going back up to six furlongs, the ground is a worry for him.
It's Garswood for me as he will handle conditions and his trainer continues in good form. Gordon Lord Byron is his main danger.
Staying at Haydock and the Old Borough Cup is a competitive handicap over a mie-and-three-quarters.
Joint top weight Pallasator will be popular for Sir Mark Prescott after the recent rain. He bypassed the Ebor due to a combination of reasons, a bad scope and forecast fast ground. This will be just his fifth start, he's won his last three.
It's encouraging that he won over this course and distance last time out on heavy ground and he looks a typical Prescott horse. The bookies will be running scared! Although he won't be a massive price which can look a bit stingy in a race of this nature, I'd be happy enough to back a 4/1 winner so I hope he runs well. He is in the Cesarewitch and also holds a group entry on Champions Day at Ascot.
Luca Cumani excels in these types of contests too and he runs Semeen, Richard Hughes rides. He has had a similarly successful season but this will be his first try at this trip and he wouldn't want cut in the ground as he prefers it fast.
The Ralph Beckett-trained Poyle Thomas is another improving type who has also won three of his five starts. He didn't run until this year and as he is a four-year-old that was a late start. He needs to keep improving, but that looks likely and he's also in the Cesarewitch.
Tropical Beat was only beaten a head in this race last year when in the care of John Gosden, he is now with David O'Meara and made an encouraging return to action at Musselburgh last month. He is five pounds higher, but is unexposed at this trip. O'Meara also runs Blue Bajan who can't be written off either.
Platinum has had a much busier season and won on three occasions. He will like the rain softened ground and has no problems with stamina for trainer Philip Kirby.
Cousin Khee is another who should be considered for Hughie Morrison and Ryan Moore and he ran well on the all weather last time out. It's clearly a competitive handicap and several can be considered. I think Pallasator looks like a 'group horse in a handicap' and I hope he can win this.
There's an equally competitive handicap at Ascot, the Ladbrokes Mobile Handicap for three-year-olds only over a mile and a half. Café Society and Special Meaning are both vying for favouritism.
Café Society caught the eye last time out over this course and distance. He was staying on strongly and looked an unlucky loser and he should go well if getting more luck on Saturday. He's a horse held in high regard by David Simcock and will improve with time.
Special Meaning is a typically tough Mark Johnston trained handicapper. She has won her last four starts and shouldn't need as much luck as her main rival as she happily made all at Hamilton last time out. She has a superb pedigree and is a half sister to 1000 Guineas winner Speciosa amongst many other winners so may be able to progress beyond handicap company. She has been given a good draw in stall four and can bounce out and hopefully make all again.
Elhaame is another in form runner having won his last two for Luca Cumani and he steps up to this trip for the first time having won two over a mile and a quarter. He's progressive and is versatile regards the ground.
Pether's Moon has top weight for Richard Hannon and Jimmy Fortune rides as Richard Hughes is up at Haydock. This horse is a decent staying prospect who won at Goodwood last time out. His trainer feels he could be a Cup horse in time, so top weight in this handicap shouldn't be too much of a burden. I'm going with Special Meaning as she's on a roll and keeps improving.
In Ireland the Champion Stakes is the feature. Roger Charlton will be hoping that Al Kazeem can bounce back on his favoured softer surface after a disappointing effort to finish third behind another of his rivals Declaration of War in the Juddmonte International (on fast ground) last time out.
The question is what will the ground be like by race time? At the moment it's still on the quick side, but there is rain forecast Friday and overnight which could alter things.
Officials seem a bit uncertain about how much rain could fall, if any, so Roger Charlton will hope the journey isn't a wasted one. So, ifs, buts and maybes which makes life tough when trying to analyse the race.
So, if it does rain then Al Kazeem has a great chance providing his disappointing York effort was purely down to the ground. If it doesn't rain The Fugue and Declaration of War are obvious selections, although I don't think soft ground will be a massive disadvantage to the latter.
I really like Aidan O'Brien's colt and was kicking myself when I let him go unbacked at York last time out. I'd made a good case for him, but got swept along by the hype with the favourite. He's effective from a mile to ten furlongs but wouldn't probably want to go further than that.
Fast ground is pretty important to The Fugue as she proved in the Yorkshire Oaks last time out. She is of the highest class, but I wouldn't fancy her if they get lots of rain. Decent good ground isn't an inconvenience, but she doesn't want it any worse than that.
Irish Derby winner Trading Leather was second in the International at York which was probably his best effort to date. Aidan O'Brien also saddles Kingsbarns who is a fascinating runner. He is unbeaten in two starts, but they were both at two and he is yet to run this season.
His juvenile wins came in a Navan maiden and the Group One Racing Post Trophy, both on soft ground. He needs some give, so is another that you will need to be on weather watch for if you want to back him.
I may be chasing my tail here, but I'm going with Declaration Of War. Although he is more exposed than some of these, he's a tough and genuine horse who has every chance once again. If it rains his stablemate Kingsbarns is a real danger.
The Matron Stakes, over a mile, is the other Group One on the card. French raider Kenhope is an interesting runner for trainer Henri-Alex Pantall. She seems versatile ground-wise and has run well on her last couple of starts despite not winning.
She was second to Sky Lantern in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot before finishing third behind Elusive Kate and Duntle in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville last time out (two older fillies).
Aidan O'Brien runs Say who drops back from nine furlongs having won the Dance Design at the Curragh last weekend. She hasn't had the best season but this sort of trip suits and if that race hasn't taken its toll she should acquit herself well again.
Fiesolana won a seven furlong Group Three at Tipperary last time for trainer Willie McCreery. She uncomplicated and effective over this trip and should be right in amongst them once again.
With Seamie Heffernen on Say, Joseph O'Brien rides Just Pretending who you therefore presume is the pick of the Ballydoyle trio (Aidan also runs Magical Dream). Just Pretending hasn't won since May, but was only beaten four-and-three-quarter lengths in the Nassau last time out. That said she isn't an easy filly and drops back to a mile here.
Lady Jane Cecil sends Chigun over for the contest. She hasn't had a busy season and the mile trip suits well. She's been a bit disappointing on her last two starts but has claims if reproducing her spring form.
It's a classy contest and the French raider is of obvious interest. I like the straightforward nature of Fiesolana though and she gets my vote.
Finally, I'm also looking forward to seeing Free Eagle in action on the Leopardstown card in the Group Three juvenile contest over a mile. Dermot Weld's charge was hugely impressive on his debut over the same course and distance. He is currently Sky Bet's 8/1 favourite for next year's Investec Derby and this is the next step towards next year's classics.
Garswood in the Sprint Cup @ 13/2 with Sky Bet
Pallasator in the Old Borough Cup @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Special Meaning in the Ladbrokes Mobile Handicap @ 5/1 with Sky Bet
Declaration of War in the Irish Champion Stakes @ 5/2 with Sky Bet
Fiesolana in the Matron Stakes @ 13/2 with Sky Bet
On Demand to win next time out @ 5/1 with Sky Bet