Presuming it’s onwards and upwards in terms of trip for French Guineas-Derby hero St Mark’s Basilica, the door appears ajar when it comes to three-year-old miling supremacy.
It would be a touch harsh on those who starred in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and the Irish 2,000 Guineas to suggest the early exchanges in this division have proved inconclusive, especially when one of the horses – Poetic Flare – has been so heavily involved in both finishes.
Jim Bolger’s colt edged out Master Of The Seas by a short-head at Newmarket and suffered defeat, by precisely the same margin, at the hands of stablemate Mac Swiney at the Curragh. Between that his busy spring campaign, which began in the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial on April 11, included a trip to France when below his best in sixth behind St Mark’s Basilica at ParisLongchamp.
The current markets make Poetic Flare a best 100/30 favourite for the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot next week but, as Epsom has once again reminded us, the overall three-year-old picture can change radically almost in an instant.
So who is the potential Snowfall or Adayar lurking among this crop of three-year-old colts? Will one of last year’s leading juveniles – Battleground, Chindit, Lucky Vega or Wembley – show they’re now more man than boy, or is the new wave coming?
The Guineas horses have nearly always been the ones to focus on when it comes to this race but the last three seasons have witnessed a definite shift in that regard, Without Parole justifying 9/4 favouritism in 2018 after winning a Yarmouth novice and the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown en route, and Circus Maximus taking a few by surprise the following year having arrived via the Dee Stakes and the Derby.
Twelve months ago there was Palace Pier, undefeated at the time but a Newcastle handicap winner just a fortnight prior to his party in the Palace.
The horse very much hiding in plain sight when you consider both Palace Pier and Without Parole are/were trained by John Gosden is seemingly this year’s Heron Stakes winner from the same stable, Mostahdaf, and it’s no real surprise some layers are running for cover with the Shadwell-owned son of Frankel as short as 9/2 at Betfair and Paddy Power (he’s 6/1 with Sky Bet).
Unbeaten horses are clearly very popular with punters – what’s not to like, after all – and perhaps the winner was ‘only doing enough’ when getting to the front in his last race, but there are significant reasons to believe Charlie Appleby’s Heron runner-up HIGHLAND AVENUE was the best horse on the night.
Firstly, there’s the cold, hard fact that the grey was carrying a 3lb penalty following his striking Feilden Stakes success at Newmarket and was beaten just half a length, but of greater importance in my view is where they made their challenges on the track.
There was loads of rain around on May 20 and, with the ground riding soft (at best) at Sandown it was clear from race two that jockeys were electing to come up the centre of the course, and being handsomely rewarded for doing so.
Zinc White powered home in the mile and six handicap, after angling to the middle right from the bottom of the straight, while Highland Avenue’s jockey William Buick brought Siskany centrally when making all in the 10-furlong three-year-old handicap.
After the feature, Ensured was on the far side of the first three in the 10-furlong novice but was still slap bang up the centre of the track, while fillies’ handicap winner Urban Violet was initially towards the inner when turning in before sprouting wings once getting onto the golden highway up the middle.
Drawn in stall one and without a whole lot of room to manoeuvre as the race developed around him, perhaps Buick felt he had no real choice but to stick to the rail on Highland Avenue, but after getting past long-time leader Nando Parrado inside the two-furlong marker, the writing was on the wall as Mostahdaf and eventual third Bullace were building momentum – you guessed it - down the outside of the field.
Mostahdaf showed a bright change of gear in the conditions and is less exposed than the Godolphin horse having had the three runs to his five, but Highland Avenue looked a horse going places fast when storming home over nine furlongs in the Feilden and nothing at Sandown suggested he can’t now fulfil that promise as a leading miler.
He clearly handles ease underfoot, as you’d expect given he’s by Dubawi, but his dam Lumiere was brilliant at times on really fast ground and there’d be no issues over much drier conditions come next week.
Appleby and the Godolphin team are on the crest of a wave after Adayar’s Derby heroics and, despite the betting suggesting otherwise, they may just have one of the most exciting three-year-old milers on their hands as well.
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