Crackerjack King can lead European Million raid

weekend preview

Given everything that has happened since – from the Breeders' Cup to Dubai, from Hong Kong to Royal Ascot – it is a significant anniversary not just for a race that dismantled so many frontiers, but for the international sport as a whole. And, if arguably lacking vintage quality, the European raiders convening for the 30th running of the Arlington Million have no precedent when measured by quantity. The further expansion of Chicago's international turf carnival, through the inauguration of an American St Leger, has lured no fewer than 14 horses across, requiring an extra quarantine barn on the back stretch here.

A race on grass over "one mile and 11 sixteenths" palpably plays to European strengths, and has duly prompted Marco Botti, John Gosden and Mikael Magnusson to fly over Jakkalberry, Zuider Zee and Bridge Of Gold respectively. But the three established races, all Grade Ones, must themselves be counted as congenial an "away" fixture as might be devised, over 10 furlongs of a generous turf course.

Top challenger for the Million itself is Crackerjack King, who is Jakkalberry's half-brother and was exported from Italy earlier this summer by his former trainer, Stefano Botti, to join his sibling, Marco, in Newmarket. Crackerjack King had just confirmed his elite calibre on home soil, beating Afsare in a Group One race in Rome in May, but suffered only the second defeat of his life on his British debut in the Eclipse. On the face of it, fifth of nine seemed pretty disappointing, but the going was probably softer than ideal and he did manage some menace during the most demanding passage of the race.

This looks a characteristically astute choice of target, by his new trainer, with the going drying out quickly after a spectacular thunderstorm on Thursday. Though Afsare has dauntlessly followed him over the ocean, Crackerjack King can give Colm O'Donoghue the biggest success of his career outside the service of Ballydoyle.

His usual patrons are represented by Treasure Beach, on whom O'Donoghue won the Secretariat Stakes on this card last year. The colt has since switched to the colours of Jim and Fitri Hay, and will be ridden this time by Jamie Spencer, who won the 2011 Million in their silks, on Cape Blanco. Treasure Beach has lost his form, however, and sadly the same seems true of Wigmore Hall, on whom Hayley Turner will be hoping for better breaks than when a fast-finishing fourth to Cape Blanco last year. Connections of the 2010 winner, Debussy, are likewise back for another crack with Colombian, but he needs a career best. The home defence is led by Boisterous, representing a Hall of Fame trainer in Shug McGaughey III, if not a terribly intimidating standard in indigenous turf form.

The home team does field a prolific turf runner in the Secretariat Stakes, Silver Max having reeled off six wins by an aggregate of 22 lengths since switching surface. But O'Donoghue again has sound prospects, this time for Aidan O'Brien, with Daddy Long Legs. The UAE Derby winner finished tailed off on his last visit to these shores, evidently resenting the dirt in the Kentucky Derby, and was ridden with too much gusto when setting up the Irish 2,000 Guineas for his stablemate, Power. He should be nicely freshened up for this.

O'Brien and O'Donoghue also have each-way prospects in the Beverly D with Up, who ran well at the Breeders' Cup and may appreciate a return to this environment. Joviality also seems to prefer a sound surface, but the value could be Kapitale, a smart German filly who has been laid out for this.

It is an important weekend in Botti's burgeoning career. Tomorrow he fast-tracks Moohaajim, an impressive debut winner at Ascot, to Group One company in the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville. Other cross-Channel raiders include Reckless Abandon, who won the Norfolk Stakes for Clive Cox before a successful French reconnaissance in the Prix Robert Papin; and two from Richard Hannon, Sir Prancealot and Alhebayeb. O'Brien meanwhile sends over Parliament Square and George Vancouver.

On the same card, Snow Fairy makes her belated return in the Prix Jean Romanet, having been sidelined with injury since her latest Japanese success last November.

The turf account

Chris McGrath's nap

Maastricht (5.00 Doncaster)

Next best

Rakaan (3.40 Newbury)

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