With prestigious Group One prizes on offer 160 miles, a stretch of water and two hours, 20 minutes apart, flying will be the order of this afternoon for two leading jockeys. And given that one of them is Frankie Dettori, there is the distinct possibility that a flying dismount – if not dismounts – may also be part of the schedule.
Dettori, on the outsider Soul, and William Buick, on the favourite Ortensia, are both due to compete in the £225,000 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock. Then expect another burst of speed as the pair head for a helicopter and a flight due west across the Irish Sea to Leopardstown to partner Snow Fairy and Nathaniel, respectively, in the €750,000 Irish Champion Stakes.
At first glance, it is Buick who has the more obvious chance of landing the day's top domestic contest. Paul Messara's charge Ortensia, one of Australia's speediest, has proved herself one of the northern hemisphere's as well, adding last month's Nunthorpe Stakes at York to her top-level victory at Meydan in March.
But in elite sprints this season it has been a case of taking turns; Ortensia was the fifth different winner in as may Group One contests in the division. She takes on several old rivals this afternoon, including Bated Breath, beaten by a couple of pixels last year. The Roger Charlton-trained five-year-old has now been second four times at the top level and today, with the ground finally in his favour, may be his day.
Strong Suit, being reinvented as a sprinter, has been well-supported to give the champion trainer, Richard Hannon, his first Group One success of the year. Last time out at Newbury, with the run of the race against him, the four-year-old only just failed, and a strongly run six furlongs should suit him well. But at 16-1, the value today may be Soul (3.25). The ex-Australian Godolphin recruit lost a shoe and so could not show his best when only sixth in that Newbury race, but before that had followed his close fourth to Black Caviar at Royal Ascot with a runaway success in a Group Three sprint.
In the charisma stakes this season, Frankel is as far ahead as he usually is in his races, with Camelot due to make a bold challenge for second spot today week at Doncaster, when a St Leger victory would make him a rare Triple Crown hero.
Otherwise the top of the middle-distance division has been the province of a selection of tough, classy, closely matched older horses, three of whom line up for the Irish Champion Stakes. Neither St Nicholas Abbey (trained by Aidan O'Brien), Nathaniel (John Gosden) nor Snow Fairy (Ed Dunlop) is a household name, yet they have won 12 Group or Grade One races and earned more than £7.5m between them in seven countries.
St Nicholas Abbey, who lost little in defeat behind Frankel at York last time, is going for an eighth win for O'Brien in today's 10-furlong contest and a third in a row after Cape Blanco and So You Think. On his last run Nathaniel had a second King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes snatched from him by the Arc heroine Danedream only in the last stride, with St Nicholas Abbey a closing third.
Snow Fairy (5.45) also had St Nicholas Abbey behind her when she was third in last year's Arc under Dettori, having previously given So You Think a fright in today's race. She has been nursed back from an injury late last year but looked as good and as determined as ever on her return at Deauville 20 days ago. Once again, Buick's mount will be favourite, but the star mare can become the first raider to take the valuable prize since Godolphin's Grandera 10 years ago.
Chris McGrath's Nap
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