Racing: Smart is sure his colt has class for Mill Reef Stakes

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The Independent Online

The most valuable race in Britain this week is at Ayr but the most informative contests are likely to be at Newbury. By this stage of the season the markets for next year's Classics are active and the focus on the youngest generation of racehorses is intensifying.

The most valuable race in Britain this week is at Ayr but the most informative contests are likely to be at Newbury. By this stage of the season the markets for next year's Classics are active and the focus on the youngest generation of racehorses is intensifying.

The running of £100,000 Ayr Gold Cup, a 28-runner sprint handicap, may bate punters' breath for a little over a minute on Saturday but longer-term dreams will begin to unfold further south on Friday with the running of two juvenile events, the Mill Reef Stakes over six furlongs and the Haynes, Hanson And Clark Conditions Stakes over a mile.

The Mill Reef Stakes was founded in 1972, the year after the eponymous champion paid his sole visit to the Berkshire track to win the Greenham Stakes. Those closest to Mill Reef always considered him something to brighten the morning and when Bryan Smart looks at his charge Monsieur Bond he can relate to those sentiments.

No-one is saying that Monsieur Bond is as good as the horse whose European record of six consecutive Group 1 races fell only ten days ago but Smart feels he is perfectly entitled to his place in Group 2 company against the might of the major players.

The Danehill Dancer colt, a 46,000 guineas yearling purchase, has won two of his four races. Smart considers it should be three; after traffic problems under Jamie Spencer in his most recent outing, the St Leger Yearling Stakes at Doncaster a week ago, Monsieur Bond was beaten a shade over a length into fifth.

"They said he was arguably unlucky, but there was no arguably about it," said the Upper Lambourn trainer. "He was stopped three times. It was one of those split-second things; if Jamie had gone one way and not the other he would have had a clear run. The second horse had won the July Stakes and it was a group race in all but name. I was gutted."

Smart took a deep breath when he saw some of Friday's other entries [there are eight still in the race from Ballydoyle, though neither of David Loder's pair, Country Reel and Meilland, are likely to run] but stands by Reg Bond's colt.

"I haven't had one like him since Sil Sila [winner of the French Oaks six years ago]. He is a lovely horse, full of class, and there is a lot more to come. In fact, after the Doncaster race I took the 66-1 about the 2,000 Guineas." Mill Reef famously did not win the Newmarket Classic and only the inaugural winner of 'his' race, Mon Fils, went on to succeed where he failed, at 50-1. In fact, for a contest so nobly named, it has been something of a disappointment in highlighting talent, with only seven others emerging from its ranks to score at the top level in their second season, most recently Observatory, last of four three years ago.

A more reliable pointer is the race that follows it on the card, now in its 24th year. The first running went to subsequent Derby winner Henbit, followed 12 months later by Shergar. Since then the roll of honour from those who won, were placed or just took part has been the Group 1 performers Rainbow Quest, Sharastani, Unfuwain, Snurge, White Muzzle, King's Theatre, Daliapour, Millenary and, two years ago, Nayef.

Marcus Tregoning, trainer of the last-named, has a credible candidate lined up this time round, too, the twice-raced Albareq, who will be tackling the distance for the first time. A decision about the son of Kingmambo's definite participation will be made this morning, but his trainer said: "I feel he's ready to go and a mile should be all right for him. We've had some coughing but he is one who has stayed healthy all the way through."

One of Albareq's rivals, Dhabyan is, like Monsieur Bond, a horse with a point to prove after an unlucky run last time. The Silver Hawk colt, trained by Ben Hanbury, finished like a train when less than a length third in the Solario Stakes at Sandown last month, and, if his work on the Newmarket gallops yesterday is a guide, will take a deal of beating on his recovery mission.

Ambition, though, is the preserve of all and two horses from smaller yards due to try their luck are dual winner Mysterinch, from Nick Littmoden's Newmarket stable, and Snow's Ride, trained by William Muir in Lambourn. Snow's Ride, third on his sole appearance, holds an entry in next year's Derby. "He's definitely a horse with a future," said Muir, "and whatever he might do this year will be counted a bonus."

* The West Ilsley trainer Mick Channon celebrated his first domestic century of winners yesterday after Najeebon won at Yarmouth. Channon said: "I'm looking forward to running Zafeen in the Mill Reef Stakes on Friday at Newbury and we've got three live candidates for the Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday in Budelli, Kulachi and Pic Up Sticks."

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