Mark Crehan and George Boughey won the Woodcote with Oscula
Mark Crehan and George Boughey won the Woodcote with Oscula

Graham Cunningham on Adayar's Derby victory, York tips for the weekend and Royal Ascot pointers

Derby weekend is done and dusted but the royal meeting is looming with two days of York action sandwiched in between.

Looking back is the key to solving what’s to come and this week’s Cunningham File starts with a memorable day on the Knavesmire before moving on to key talking points relevant to Epsom, Royal Ascot and Chantilly.

Nothing fake about Scott’s Knavesmire Sheikh

Pat Eddery on Sheikh Albadou leads the field to win the 1991 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs
Pat Eddery on Sheikh Albadou leads the field to win the 1991 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs

When a leading trainer asks you to switch your recording device off before saying “this is a potential G1 horse and I think he’s thrown in at York” it tends to stay with you.

The trainer was a livewire Alex Scott, a coming force in Newmarket and already responsible for one crack sprinter in Cadeaux Genereux; the setting was his HQ base for a Timeform Black Book interview; the recorder was one of those fossilised cassette jobs the size of a small suitcase; and the horse was Sheikh Albadou, who duly bolted up to land a hefty Timeform office punt in York’s William Hill Golden Spurs under Pat Eddery before adding a Nunthorpe, a BC Sprint, a King’s Stand and a Haydock Sprint Cup to his dance card.

It’s scary to think that was thirty years ago this week. And it’s even scarier to wonder what heights Scott might have scaled had he not been shot dead by a disgruntled employee just weeks after introducing subsequent Derby hero Lammtarra to make a winning debut at Newbury in August 1994.

Ascot to reveal whether Adayar is real deal

Derby winner Adayar is on course for the King George
Adam Kirby endured a rollercoaster ride before the stalls even opened

What do you do when those you respect tell you something is gold and you can’t help having nagging doubts that it might be silver or bronze?

I was at Epsom for Adayar’s runaway Derby win last Saturday to help anchor the World Pool Simulcast show and left finding it tricky to process all the twists and turns of one of the most turbulent Derby weeks in ages.

Others were less cautious and, once all the returns were in some of the most articulate analysts around gave Charlie Appleby’s powerful colt their seal of approval.

Various time, form and breeding experts used different shades to paint the picture but all agreed that Adayar has to be rated as an up-to-scratch Derby winner, while a new Timeform rating of 125 marks him as Europe’s leading three-year-old.

So why am I less convinced? Maybe it’s because the absence of the customary Coolmore squad helped him travel first class up the inner throughout; maybe it’s because hot favourite Bolshoi Ballet came back injured and likely second and third favourites High Definition and Mohaafeth were scratched; and maybe it’s because a clutch of recent Derby winners, admittedly less visually impressive ones, just didn’t go on with it subsequently.

Thankfully, the King George was created largely to help settle debates like this. It’s great to hear that is Adayer’s high summer target. But I suspect the Ascot showpiece might prove a tougher task, especially if Coolmore’s planning leaves a little more to the Boot Room and a little less to the Boardroom.

Lope a live one if Ascot ground stays fast

Check out the details ahead of Royal Ascot 2021

Five sleeps to go until Royal Ascot - or ten if the early birds down your way start chirruping as early as those round mine - and time for a few early predictions.

  • Watering will be back on the agenda if the hot spell continues and – given that the Ascot straight course is one of the widest in Britain – it could result in talk of actual or imagined golden highways.
  • High numbers dominated Tuesday and Wednesday handicaps in 2020 but conditions will be faster this time and any perceived bias can reduce or even switch as the week progresses.
Lope Y Fernandez chases home Pinatubo at Royal Ascot
Lope Y Fernandez chases home Pinatubo at Royal Ascot
  • Day one Queen Anne banker Palace Pier has never encountered genuinely fast conditions on turf. But, for all that he’s 0-9 in G1 company and flopped behind PP in the Lockinge, Lope Y Fernandez appeals. Aidan O’Brien’s colt hasn’t had fast ground often but his unlucky BC Mile third shows that such conditions suit him perfectly and this might just be the ideal summer stage for him.
  • Battaash will join old nemesis Blue Point and Sole Power as a dual King’s Stand winner if he’s spot-on after a ten-month break. The fact that his first-up record reads 11111 is hard to ignore but he did have a setback earlier this year and three smart northern lasses – namely Nunthorpe second Que Amoro, blazing York winner Winter Power and last year’s King’s Stand third Liberty Beach – are all heading south primed for a big day out.
  • This is a complete speculator but I wonder if Ascot handicaps will contain even more dangerous lurkers than usual? The logic behind the theory is simple. And it hinges on the suspicion that certain canny operators may have thought “why should we blow a good mark before the big day for prize money that’s been hit hard by Covid cuts?"
Timeform Race Passes offer

The march of the youngsters (1)

Dettori and Moore continue to set the bar high but their tendency to cherry pick on big weekends nowadays leaves the stage set for the younger brigade to shine and Oisin Murphy, Tom Marquand, Hollie Doyle and David Egan all excelled at Epsom.

The march of the youngsters (2)

Oisin Murphy's brilliant commentary of the Cazoo Derby: As it happened!

Murphy showed true trouper spirit to call home the Derby finish for Sporting Life after losing the ride on the winner and it’s also worth putting in a good word for apprentice Mark Crehan. The fact that George Boughey put the young Irishman up on Oscula in the Woodcote even though he couldn’t claim is telling, while a record of 31 winners at a strike rate of 22 per cent this season marks Crehan as one to keep onside this summer.

The march of the youngsters (3)

And it isn’t just rozzers and jockeys who are getting younger. With big beasts like Gosden and Stoute without a single runner on Derby weekend several younger cubs were on the prowl, with Archie Watson (2), David Menuisier and Boughey all on the mark.

The march of the syndicates

Boughey’s Mystery Angel ran a belter at 50/1 to chase home runaway Oaks winner Snowfall in the Nick Bradley Racing silks on a weekend when Rhoscolyn (Horse Watchers), Mehmento (Hambleton Racing) and Oscula (Bradley again) also flew the syndicate flag proudly.

Add in a Diomed Stakes for the mighty Oh This Is Us in Team Wallop colours and Pyledriver’s thrilling Coronation Cup success for the La Pyle Partnership and it’s clear the global juggernauts can be knocked off course briefly if a few minis source the right horse and place it in the right garage.

The march of the money

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But the problem with being in a good syndicate horse is that juggernauts tend to have immense fuel tanks. David O’Meara said he hoped his fast-improving filly Twilight Spinner could “go to the very top” after she demolished a useful field in Hambleton silks at Haydock last month.

But if she does so it may well be in new colours as David O’Meara has informed the Cunningham File that Twilight Spinner has attracted interest from American investors and has left his York base with a move to Joseph O’Brien seemingly in the works.

The (stately) march of St Mark’s

For a horse who has captured two Classics after sealing Champion Two-Year-Old honours with a Dewhurst win, it’s taking a while for St Mark’s Basilica to earn much love with most of the racing media and public.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt sealed the French Guineas with a telling turn of foot and that same asset settled Sunday’s Prix du Jockey Club in a few strides as he bounded clear under Ioritz Mendizabal.

Now rated 124p by Timeform, he’s been campaigned as if connections may be concerned about his ability to shine over a mile and a half so far. But he’s bred along very similar lines to Sottsass – by Siyouni out of a Galileo mare – and that colt got the trip well when thwarting Enable and co in last year’s Arc.

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