Chris McGrath: Seville can make Murtagh rue his decision to run with the Hounds instead
Saturday 23 October 2010
Seven days after "the best two-year-old race ever", only the most catatonic of Frankel's admirers will fail to heed the reproof implicit in the one staged at Doncaster today.
The last two winners of the Racing Post Trophy, Crowded House and St Nicholas Abbey, were both deemed to have lapped their rivals –quite a feat, over a straight mile – but neither has since managed to win so much as a pony club rosette.
Having said that, the final Group One prize of the British campaign has also volunteered three subsequent Derby winners since 2001, in High Chaparral, Motivator and Authorized. And whatever the substance of Frankel's form at Newmarket last Saturday, his trainer is among many to doubt his stamina for a mile and a half next season. In theory, then, it remains conceivable that the winners of both the 2,000 Guineas and Investec Derby could announce themselves in a bare week.
But life's not like that, is it? Especially with horses. Frankel may be many things, including a future Guineas winner, but he certainly didn't win the best two-year-old race of all time. The possibility of Dream Ahead running below form, just 15 days after winning the Middle Park by nine lengths, was transparent to the clumsiest of seers – even penetrating these columns last week – never mind to those who discerned his physical regression in the parade ring beforehand.
Saamidd, meanwhile, simply had a shocker. To attribute his performance to loose ground, as connections apparently did, borders on the fatuous – though you can pardon anyone a helpless remark on such a disappointing afternoon. It was bad enough for the Godolphin team to have to explain why Poet's Voice had been stepped up to 10 furlongs, in the Champion Stakes, squandering all their excellent work in getting him to last even a mile.
Regardless, the failure of Frankel's big rivals for the Dewhurst left the podium to Roderic O'Connor and Glor Na Mara, neither of whom would have exceeded the credentials brought to Doncaster by the next Irish raiding party. Roderic O'Connor arrived with only a maiden win to his name, just like the two colts representing Ballydoyle today. Glor Na Mara, in fairness, did run Pathfork to a length and a half in the summer – and that does not put him far behind today's favourite, Casamento, who met his only defeat to date in a photo with that colt for the National Stakes last month.
Mick Halford has certainly made the most of his first chance for Sheikh Mohammed with Casamento, who has since outclassed and outstayed inferiors in the Beresford Stakes. The booking of Frankie Dettori may well imply that the colt will be transferred to Godolphin after today. Recent history suggests that might be the end of his Guineas prospects, at least, but Halford can do no more than turn one of the less expensive animals in the Maktoum empire – he cost €54,000 as a foal – into a Group One winner. The one reservation is that Casamento has achieved a lot in a month of racing, soaking up his duel with Pathfork to win the Beresford just a fortnight later, and it is asking a lot for him to dig deeper again now.
The other big Irish fancy, Dunboyne Express, shaded Master Of Hounds on his debut back in June and then thrashed three rivals over six furlongs before disappearing with a heel infection. He is bred to get the extra distance, but it is difficult to know just what to expect, in a very different challenge over three months later.
Johnny Murtagh has perhaps been influenced by that form with Dunboyne Express in siding with Master Of Hounds, not least because Roderic O'Connor, third that day, then came out to beat his mount on their next start. But some at Ballydoyle favour the less experienced Seville as having more in the way of raw talent. Considering that Aidan O'Brien has won the race five times already, and the preponderance of the middle-distance pedigrees in his stable since the emergence of Montjeu and Galileo, he had begun to find this race a surprising struggle until St Nicholas Abbey won last year. Murtagh's choice, however, may qualify Seville as the best value in the race. His jockey, Colm O'Donoghue, confirmed his rising status as Ballydoyle by winning a Grade One prize in Canada last weekend on Joshua Tree.
The home defence is led by two unbeaten colts whose form, as it stands, looks inadequate. But Titus Mills can be measured against some useful juveniles at home as an indolent type who will raise his game off a strong gallop. And Native Khan hurtled through traffic before idling at Sandown last time. At 20-1, however, Dubawi Gold is much more interesting, having shown strands of promise earlier in the season and suddenly threaded them together at Ascot last time.
Now that he is settling better, he could find more improvement over the extra furlong. He would not fit the classic mould for this race, unlike Seville or Casamento. But there is a theory that it has played to different strengths since the renovation of the track. And if that is the case, you don't have to worry about the lack of hype preceding Dubawi Gold. He's no Frankel, and he may not beat Seville – but you can bet he'll run better than Saamidd or Dream Ahead.
Handy rating can boost Mille Chief as Europe awaits word on Workforce
Whatever the public might witness on the racecourse, perhaps the most momentous development of the weekend will hinge upon a private telephone conversation between two very private men. A decision is imminent on a Breeders' Cup challenge for Workforce, the Derby and Arc winner, and Sir Michael Stoute and Prince Khalid Abdullah know that their deliberations will have infectious consequences, for better or worse, in European morale at Churchill Downs a fortnight today.
In the meantime, the quality of the jump racing improves week by week and a two-day meeting at Aintree hosts rising stars and old favourites alike. In the former category, none is more arresting than Cue Card, runaway winner of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. He was 40-1 that day but there wasn't the faintest hint of a fluke about it, and he is already favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle back at the Festival in March. It is one of the most gratifying features of jump racing that a horse like this can emerge from a good, old-fashioned family yard in Dorset, and all neutrals will be wishing the Tizzards well. The 10 rivals declared against Cue Card include some very nice prospects in their own right, none more so than Captain Chris. But his priority is an engagement at Chepstow today – one he will only take up if the ground is considered suitable.
As for today's action on Merseyside, top of the bill is Monet's Garden, seeking his third success in the Totescoop6 Old Roan Chase. But he will have to be good to give 12lb to Tartak, assuming that one is back on song. Medermit, very useful over timber, makes his chasing debut later on the card but a more attractive bet is his stablemate Mille Chief, who could prove a good deal better than his initial handicap rating in the opener.
Turf Account: Chris McGrath
Alazan (4.40 Doncaster)
Lightly raced in Ireland but took well to hurdles after joining Philip Hobbs and, typically for the stable, proved well ahead of his mark when restored to the Flat at Sandown last month. Beat a subsequent winner decisively that day, and the extra distance this time could prompt further improvement.
Dear Maurice (9.15 Kempton)
Has been dropped in trip by his new trainer, and that looks like proving fertile ground judged on his comeback at Lingfield three weeks ago. Given the slip by only one rival that day, he pulled clear of the rest and can run off the same mark. A rails draw is the icing on the cake.
One to watch
Arizona Jewel (H R A Cecil) had more exciting things happening in her family tree last week – she's closely related to the dam of Frankel – but promised to blossom in time when third on her Yarmouth debut, cruising into contention before floundering on heavy ground.
Where the money's going
Toolain is 16-1 from 20-1 with William Hill for the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster today; Dubawi Gold is 16-1 from 25-1 with Paddy Power. The latter firm also offers 10-11 that Richard Hughes draws a blank on his return from suspension at Newbury today.
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