Racing: Nicholls to scoop main prize with Gift Horse

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The Independent Online

The last to carry more than nine stone to victory was King's Signet 12 years ago who, with 9st 10lb on his back, shares the avoirdupois record with the 1984 winner, Petong. The lightest burden ever carried successfully, incidentally, was the 5st 4lb of the boy Irvine that Psalmsinger barely noticed in 1845, four years after Oliver Twist first asked for more gruel in Dickens' eponymous social-conscience novel. Today's fatties can enjoy the luxury of a full English before they get the leg-up ahead of their minute or so's gallop towards prizes totalling £100,000.

The draw for this most competitive of handicaps is always under scrutiny. The perceived wisdom is that a high-numbered berth on the far side is a plus and, indeed, 11 of the past 20 winners have come from the upper third, with six of the past ten drawn 27 or higher. Five during that time, including last year's victor, Pivotal Point, from the number one box, have had a single-figure position, so the message seems to be to avoid those positioned in the middle.

Despite its open nature, the six-furlong dash is a pretty good one for favourites and fancied horses, with only Guinea Hunter (33-1), Shakari's Son (40-1) and Madraco (50-1) obliging the pin-stickers in recent years.

This year's hot-shot in the market has been Lafi, whose credentials stand close inspection. He is trained by Dandy Nicholls, who has made valuable sprints such as this a specialist subject; he ran an excellent trial at Newbury six days ago, when a closing second over five furlongs from an unfavourable draw, and goes on easy ground.

He has already been placed at Group 3 level and the fact that he holds entries in the Nunthorpe Stakes and Haydock Sprint Cup suggests that he is regarded in a progressive light.

But then, so does his stablemate Gift Horse (3.45). This five-year-old has stepped up a notch since being dropped back in distance by Nicholls, who acquired him for 25,000 guineas at auction last October. From three outings the Cadeaux Genereux gelding has won twice - most recently at Epsom, another downhill track, on Derby day - and finished third at York in a very decent contest. Kieren Fallon gave him a masterful ride at Epsom and is back in the saddle today. He can help the Yorkshire stable to a second Stewards' Cup win, after Tayseer, a horse with a similar profile, five years ago.

Others to consider are the Richard Fahey pair Mutawaffer and Fonthill Road, who sandwiched Gift Horse at York, and last year's third, High Reach, and Connect among the low-drawn brigade.

Class today comes with the meeting's second Group One contest, the Nassau Stakes. There are no riches to be gained by so doing, but it seems impossible to look beyond globetrotting Alexander Goldrun (3.10), one of the most consistent and admirable of performers at this level. Her past nine outings - in her native Ireland, France, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Britain - have been in the top grade, and yielded three wins, three seconds, a third and a fourth. Last time out, in the Falmouth Stakes, only miling queen Soviet Song proved her mistress and she will relish the return to 10 furlongs.

Sir Michael Stoute has sent out the past three Nassau winners - Favourable Terms, Russian Rhythm and Islington - and his charge Red Bloom is the obvious danger. She was caught a little flat-footed when second to Alexander Goldrun at the Curragh in May and, as a daughter of Selkirk, should appreciate the opportunity to race on soft ground.

The Oaks has produced three recent winners, Islington, Zahrat Dubai and Hawajiss. This year's Classic is represented by Something Exciting, second, and Virginia Waters, fourth, but the evidence suggests that the Classic filly generation, with the notable exception of French-trained Divine Proportions, who turns out tomorrow at Deauville for the Prix d'Astarte, may be vulnerable this year.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Alexander Goldrun (Goodwood 3.10)

NB: Nuit Sombre (Doncaster 3.30)