Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to the Cesarewitch at Newmarket on October 13 and identifies a Willie Mullins-trained 20/1 chance as the best bet.
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Stratum is a solid and clear market leader ahead of the Dubai £500,000 Cesarewitch Stakes on the back of a luckless run in the Sky Bet Ebor, but he wasn’t alone in suffering a troubled passage at York last month.
Also-rans Dylan Mouth and Teodoro were quite badly hampered as the field bunched up in the home straight on the Knavesmire but following another look at the replay, the eye is immediately drawn to Stratum’s stable companion and eventual staying-on sixth, WHISKEY SOUR.
Something that’s also worth reiterating is that Whiskey Sour was a really well-backed second-favourite on the day of the Ebor, going off 6/1 compared to Stratum at 3/1, and that helps me form the opinion that the former is simply way over-priced at a current 20/1 (General) for the Cesarewitch.
This race also looks all but certain to be his next port of call, with plans around fellow Willie Mullins entrants Limini, Chelkar, Low Sun and Uradel perhaps a little more up in the air heading into Newmarket.
Uradel (14/1, General), in the same Luke McMahon silks as Whiskey Sour, has plenty of upside, having beaten Limini over two miles and a furlong at the Galway Festival, and been given a confidence-boosting run back on the level after being brought down in a handicap hurdle on his second Galway appearance of the week.
There is a 38lb discrepancy between his current Flat and hurdles mark but with a jumps rating of 143, Whiskey Sour is competing from a full 40lb lower on the level and there’s a strong feeling that he has another big pot in him in this sphere before he goes back hurdling over the winter.
He was a fine third in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and contested four Grade One novice events around that appearance, so he’s clearly highly thought of and his first Flat run this season confirmed as much as he was a close fifth under Christophe Soumillon in the Ascot Stakes, when just a length behind third-placed Stratum when giving him 8lb.
They reoppose here with Whiskey Sour 7lb better off than at the Royal meeting and while it has to be considered that Stratum’s Newbury success in the JLT Cup represented a significant step forward from the five-year-old, he still has it to prove off his revised rating.
Mullins has had little luck in the Cesarewitch so far but clearly launches a strong hand as he seeks a first win, currently responsible for the top four in the market, and it's Whiskey Sour at a much bigger price who appeals most on everything we've seen this year.
The eventual shortlist of one wasn’t easy to whittle down, with Just In Time another to the fore.
His trainer Alan King has had a tremendous time of things with his Flat horses, and stayers in particular, this season and the Mallard Stakes winner should arguably have won his last four.
It’s hard to know where his progression will end, given he started out in handicaps rated 60 last August, but it’s more of a concern over the step up in distance which tempers enthusiasm, rather than the latest 3lb rise for scoring at Doncaster.
Ian Williams has advertised his ability with stayers in a big way this year, too, and Mallard fifth Speedo Boy might be well suited to this kind of test if there’s plenty of rain around, though he does need delivering right at the death which isn’t an easy tactic to execute in such a gruelling race.
Hughie Morrison and Roger Charlton have done their bit for the Flat trainers in this historically National Hunt-dominated race by winning the last two editions, and Andrew Balding’s Cleonte could spearhead the challenge for the Flat boys this time around.
Rated 101 when joining Balding from Andre Fabre in France, he’s reasonably well treated from a mark of 95 now having been raised 3lb for winning the Stayers’ event at the Shergar Cup.
That form didn’t look much at the time but the second, third and fourth – Stars Over The Sea, Byron Flyer and Soldier In Action - have all won since which leaves Cleonte looking potentially well-in, especially if Balding turns to Josh Bryan to take off an extra 3lb (presuming Jason Watson’s claim will be a thing of the past by October 13).
But Cleonte’s price – 16/1 generally - doesn't scream antepost value, whereas Whiskey Sour looks to have the potential to seriously rival the market leaders on the day, and for that reason he stands alone in the staking plan.