Mighty Fugue to Eclipse rivals
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt is back to preview Saturday's action at Sandown and Haydock.
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Ground conditions complicate any preview of Saturday's Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown as much of the field will be best suited if the rain stays away whereas Derby runner-up Kingston Hill may not run if conditions become too jarring.
Andrew Cooper, the Clerk of the Course, anticipates that the forecast precipitation will make little difference to the going (at the time of writing, described as 'good to firm') and, indeed, was more inclined on Thursday to suggest a quick ground meeting.
Such conditions would be perfect for recent Royal Ascot winner THE FUGUE who glides across a fast terrain and a repeat of her impressive defeat of Magician, a below-par Treve and Mukhadram in the Prince of Wales's Stakes 17 days ago could well be good enough.
On the downside, the Eclipse has been won by only two fillies in the last 50 years and John Gosden's five-year-old was very disappointing here 12 months ago having had a similar preparation at Ascot where she finished third behind Al Kazeem and Mukhadram.
Clearly, The Fugue was well below her best on that occasion, a point she proved when going on to land the Yorkshire Oaks and the Irish Champion Stakes before two honourable seconds at Santa Anita and Sha Tin.
The race revolves around her ability to repeat her effort at the Royal meeting where, to these eyes, she looked a top-class racehorse at full maturity.
In an intriguing clash of generations, Night Of Thunder and Kingston Hill are the leading three-year-old contenders.
Night Of Thunder's 2000 Guineas win from Kingman and Australia (Kingston Hill eighth, War Command ninth) could not have been better advertised subsequently but the step up to a mile and a quarter here is unknown territory for a horse who has shown such a fine turn of foot at a mile.
Indeed, the son of Dubawi was ridden for speed in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last time when Richard Hughes deployed cunning front-running tactics, setting a modest pace with the intention of kicking away up the home straight.
The ploy was very well executed but Night Of Thunder, while having the rest of the field beaten quickly (the reopposing War Command eventually stayed on into fourth) could not repel the brilliant Kingman who swooped past him in magnificent fashion.
One suspects that Hughes will ride a very different race here over the longer trip and the rematch with Kingston Hill, should the latter be allowed to take his chance, will be a further indicator as to the pecking order amongst the younger horses.
I am a big fan of Kingston Hill, a three-time winner with cut in the ground as a juvenile, who battled on supremely well when chasing home Australia in the Derby (True Story seventh) and there is no reason to think that he won't be equally effective over a mile and a quarter. But it was very clear that, after a sluggish start, everything happened too quickly for him over a mile in the Guineas.
Roger Varian's colt could be a big threat to The Fugue under Frankie Dettori (who replaces Andrea Atzeni) but the son of Mastercraftsman has the option of being rerouted to the Grand Prix de Paris in which ground conditions may be more suitable. Varian will delay a decision until as late as possible.
Given the choice between Verrazano and War Command, Ryan Moore has opted for the former who represents the Queen Anne Stakes form at Royal Ascot where he finished a creditable second to Toronado with Tullius nearly two lengths further back in fourth.
Verrazano has run really well in both starts for Aidan O'Brien since being imported from the States and he looks sure to grab a big race this side of the pond. A four-time winner over nine furlongs on dirt back home, he ought to stay the trip well enough and this imposing four-year-old has adapted well to turf.
War Command, winner of the Coventry and Dewhurst Stakes last year, should not be discounted as he shaped as if some extra ground would suit him behind Kingman and Night Of Thunder at the Royal meeting and, like a few of his trainer's horses this season, may have been a bit slow to come to hand.
Fellow Irish raider Trading Leather could also be over-priced on his best form and, while held by The Fugue on their meeting in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last September, he had previously finished in front of last year's Eclipse winner Al Kazeem when a fine second to Declaration Of War over this trip in the Juddmonte International at York.
Jim Bolger's colt was much too fresh on his reappearance at Newmarket in May and better can be expected of him here especially if conditions remain quick.
At Haydock, it could be worth giving another chance to the promising MIGHTY YAR in the Bet365 Old Newton Cup.
Lady Cecil's giant grey put up a super performance to beat subsequent Epsom winner Miss Marjurie at Newmarket in early May and a line through fourth-placed Salutation suggests he may just have the edge over Havana Cooler and Dashing Star who chased home that horse behind the very smart-looking Arab Spring at Royal Ascot.
Mighty Yar didn't show quite the same sparkle next time (again at Newmarket) but was beaten only two lengths into seventh behind the reopposing De Rigueur (now 4lb worse off) and, entered in the Irish St Leger, remains a horse of great potential.