Horses To Follow » Crowded House


Crowded House turned what looked beforehand like a competitive renewal of the Racing Post Trophy into a rout at Doncaster last Saturday. Held up out the back by Jamie Spencer in the early stages, he found himself behind a wall of horses and fully five lengths behind the leaders two furlongs out. Once Spencer switched him to the near side and asked him to pick up, however, the response was impressive. Three lengths down at the furlong pole, he picked up stablemate Shanky Biscuit and Jukebox Jury (almost literally in the case of the former) and surged clear to win by almost four lengths.

Visually impressive performances such as this one are often over-hyped and sometimes lack substance. This one isn’t and doesn’t. The presence of Jukebox Jury in second place gives a sense of solidity to the form. Mark Johnston’s colt’s was a worthy winner of the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes on his previous outing, and the only other horse from the Royal Lodge who has run subsequently to date, On Our Way (third at Ascot), ran out an impressive winner of a conditions race at Newmarket on Champion Stakes weekend. Jukebox Jury was making ground on the far side inside the final furlong of the Racing Post Trophy, and looked a likely winner before Crowded House arrived and simply swamped him for speed. The time of the race was also impressive, the fastest comparative time on the day and almost equal to the Racing Post par.

There is a real chance that this performance has been under-valued. Jukebox Jury was not a fashionable horse before he won the Royal Lodge, and Brian Meehan, Crowded House’s trainer, does not attract the media interest that, say, O’Brien or Stoute do. Also, a lot of the attention was on events at Santa Anita as Crowded House was busy strutting his stuff.

Coincidentally, there was one event at Santa Anita that added further to Crowded House’s lustre. Donativum, game conqueror of Champagne Stakes winner Westphalia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Saturday night, had beaten Crowded House by just a half a length in the Tattersalls Timeform Million at Newmarket at the beginning of October.

Quotes of as short as 7/1 about Crowded House for next year’s Guineas are of little interest, especially as Meehan indicated on Saturday that he may start him off in the Dante next season, but 14/1 about him for the Derby is interesting. While the fact that he is out of a Woodman mare does not inspire initial confidence in his ability to stay a mile and a half, he is by stamina influence Rainbow Quest and he is an own-brother to 12-furlong winner On Reflection and a half-brother to King George V Stakes winner Heron Bay. There is every chance that the Derby distance will be his optimum next season.

Also, the Racing Post Trophy has been by far the best Derby trial for juveniles in recent years with three of the last seven Racing Post Trophy winners (High Chaparral, Motivator and Authorized) going on to land the blue riband the following year. You often hear it said that if a certain horse were trained by O’Brien or Stoute it would be a lot shorter for a big race. I’m not a huge subscriber to that notion, as the track record of certain trainers in certain races determine that it is correct that there is a premium built into the odds of their representatives. However, Brian Meehan has proven on several occasions that he can produce the goods when he has the armoury to do so, that he can prepare a horse and produce him at concert pitch on the big day. The way that he was talking last Saturday suggests that he thinks that Derby day could be the big day for Crowded House, and you could do a lot worse than take a little bit of the 14/1 that is available about him for Epsom and forget about it until the spring.

© The Irish Field, 27th October, 2008