Top tipster with his big race fancies for August
Paul Ferguson thinks Willie Mullins can carry off the Ebor
Off the track since finishing third in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, the Willie Mullins-trained LIMINI is very much one to have onside, if returning to action during August.
The high-class hurdler – won the Dawn Run at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival before finishing third to Buveur d’Air at Aintree – holds an entry in the Ebor at York on Saturday, August 25 (currently a 16-1 shot).
Yet to race on the Flat in Ireland, she was a smart performer on the level when trained in France, winning twice over this sort of trip (1m4f and 1m5f) in the summer of 2014. The daughter of Peintre Celebre was handed an entry in a staying handicap on the Flat back in June and the Irish handicapper has given her a potentially lenient looking mark of 89. She didn’t take up that engagement and I half expected to see her turn up in the Ascot Stakes, in which Mullins saddled no fewer than five runners. She wasn’t needed, as he saddled the first, third, fourth and fifth and it is pleasing to see that she has been handed an entry for the valuable contest on the Knavesmire.
Firstly, it shows she must be back in work and ready to go and also as she would look attractively weighted if travelling over, even allowing for the fact that the British handicapper might give her a mark in the 90s. In fact, she might need to win before the weights are allotted to have a chance of getting into the race and there are sure to be opportunities for her domestically, in the interim. The Galway Festival springs to mind and she has to be taken seriously in any handicap – despite the lay-off – from a mark of 89, as we know from her form over hurdles, she could make a mockery of that.
Before we reach August and Glorious Goodwood, Ascot stages the prestigious King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Saturday July 28). Regular readers of my column will know that I have been a fan of Crystal Ocean for some time now and this seems the perfect opportunity for him to land his first Group 1.
A course-and-distance winner in the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting, Sir Michael Stoute’s four-year-old has looked good all season and it should be remembered that he finished in front of Gold Cup winner Stradivarius, when runner-up in last year’s St Leger at Doncaster. Incidentally, the winner of last year’s final Classic Capri holds an entry in the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown (August 9) and it will be good to see Aidan O’Brien’s grey back on a racecourse, given how that form has worked out this season.
Back to Crystal Ocean, who is versatile in terms of ground conditions and should be difficult to beat in this midsummer showpiece.
Glorious Goodwood gets underway three days later and Stoute has a good chance on day one with Expert Eye who bounced right back to form at Royal Ascot in the Jersey Stakes. The logical next step is to go up to the Group 2 Lennox Stakes over the same trip and given the impression he created when winning the Vintage Stakes at this meeting 12 months ago, he clearly handles the course.
The highlight on the opening day is the Goodwood Cup, in which the aforementioned Stradivarius will be difficult to beat. He won the race as a threeyear-old last year and has gone from strength-to-strength this year. The shorter trip won’t pose any problems to the Ascot Gold Cup winner, as he shows so much speed, and I thoroughly expect John Gosden’s Sea The Stars colt to follow up. He is priced up at 5-4 at the time of writing, but is sure to be sent off odds-on, if turning up.
One to note at bigger odds will be Withhold, who did us a good turn last month when running away with the Northumberland Plate. It was an imperious performance – albeit after being allowed his own way out in front – and though he holds an entry in the Ebor, I think connections might chuck him in here. If he is allowed to take his chance, he shouldn’t be underestimated and would certainly warrant respect for place purposes.
The following day the Sussex Stakes is the feature race, for which Gosden is responsible for another market leader, in the shape of Without Parole. The son of Frankel maintained his unbeaten record in the St James’s Palace Stakes and while that might not have been the strongest renewal, there doesn’t appear too much depth to the mile division this season, perhaps with the exception of Alpha Centauri who next heads to France. My initial thought after Ascot would be to take him on here, but looking at the entries it is hard to see what with and he might well be capable of stretching his unbeaten run to five.
The action moves to York later in the month for the Ebor meeting – the big race having been touched on above – with the highlight on day one (August 22) the Juddmonte International. Last year’s leading three-year-old Enable holds an entry in both this contest and the Yorkshire Oaks, a race she won 12
months ago. At the time of writing, it has yet to be confirmed when or where she will make her belated reappearance, but when the time comes – and if the vibes are positive – I would be more inclined to look at backing her to repeat last year’s success in the Arc. Currently a best price 11-2 and generally a 5-1 shot, on her best form she stands out and should she make a successful return, she would bound to shorten considerably for big race in Paris.
If she skips the International – which would seem likely, as I would think the Yorkshire Oaks would more likely be the starting point if lining up at the meeting – the race could be a re-run of the recent Eclipse Stakes, in which Roaring Lion got the better of 2,000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior. Derby winner Masar was, of course, a non-runner in that event and with him threatening to be even better over this 10-furlong trip, he could be the one to side with, should the trio of three-year-olds line up as we had hoped at Sandown. He finished in front of Roaring Lion three times earlier in the campaign, although we know Roaring Lion acts over this particular course-and-distance, having run away with the Dante here back in May.
Prince Of Wales’s Stakes winner Poet’s Word is the other likely contender, but I didn’t think that looked the strongest of Group 1s and it was obvious that Cracksman performed below par. Therefore, I would favour the threeyear-old generation and we will have to wait and see which of them turns up.
The Great Voltigeur also takes place on the opening day of the meeting and that is reportedly the next target for recent Bahrain Trophy winner Wells Farhh Go, who stayed on strongly on the July course over 1m5f. He will obviously be popular among the Yorkshire race-goers (hailing from the yard of Tim Easterby), but he finished only sixth in the Dante here in May and has a fair bit to find with runner-up Mildenberger and Mark Johnston’s colt would be a very interesting runner.
We’ve not seen him since then – did hold entries at Royal Ascot – but he is expected to return before too long and has always given the impression that he will come into his own over middle-distances. He is certainly bred to stay well and he is less exposed than many of the entries here, having had just the two starts this term.
Aidan O’Brien has entered no fewer than 21 colts here, so it is impossible to attempt to guess which will line up. One that I am looking forward to seeing, however, is Amedeo Modigliani, who created a really good impression when winning a maiden at Galway last August. He picked up a setback earlier in the campaign, but is expected to return in the second half of the season. This would be a huge ask on return, but he also holds an entry in the Group 3 Desmond Stakes over a mile six days earlier and wherever he turns up, he is a colt to monitor closely, with the closing months of the season in mind.
Of the other entries Sleeping Lion would have little chance in this grade at this stage, but he is a horse that impressed me when winning rather cosily at Newbury recently, having earlier scored with a bit in hand at Kempton. A keen-going sort, he looks to have a valuable handicap in him at some stage and it could be that he is aimed at the Melrose Stakes on the final day of the meeting – put him in the notebook.
Finally, for this month, I thought Battaash ran a blinder in the King’s Stand Stakes and would be the one to beat in the Nunthorpe. He also holds an entry in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood – a race he won last year – but would be forced to carry a Group 1 penalty there, so might well wait for York.
Charlie Hills’ Dark Angel gelding showed blistering pace at Royal Ascot and had everything in trouble, before going down to the strong finishing Blue Point. He probably did a bit too much in the early part of the race, but ridden with a bit more restraint, it will take a good one to lower his colours wherever he goes next over the minimum trip.