Horses To Follow » Ashram


Ashram put up what was unquestionably his best performance of the season to land the Listed Dubai Duty Free Cup over seven furlongs at Newbury last Saturday. Rejected by Frankie Dettori in favour of the other Godolphin horse Huntdown, Ted Durkan bounced Ashram out of the gate, took up the running from Prime Defender after a furlong and a half, and wasn’t headed thereafter. You would have been forgiven for thinking that Ashram was merely a pacemaker for Huntdown. Ashram is rarely that fast out of the stalls and, even when he is, he is generally ridden from behind. In fact, in 10 previous starts he only made the running once before, that was back in July, the only other occasion on which he tackled this course and distance, when he was eventually caught and passed by The Cheka, and had to settle for second place. Also, on Huntdown’s last run, when he just kept on to finish fifth to Confront in a listed race at York’s Ebor meeting, it looked like he needed a stiffer test than that contest presented, and that a fast pace at Newbury on Saturday would be in his favour. However, after Mastery’s victory over Kite Wood in the Leger and Crime Scene’s victory over Covert Ambition at Newbury in July and a number of other Godolphin reversals of late, we are not shocked any more when the Godolphin white cap beats its blue cap, and Ashram was the winner on merit. He carries his head a little awkwardly, and the blinkers that he wears certainly don’t help the aesthetics, but you couldn’t have faulted his attitude here. He came under pressure in front two furlongs out, when a couple of his rivals in behind, notably Huntdown and the highly talented Stimulation, seemed to be travelling better, but he picked up well, quickly went two lengths clear, and maintained that advantage to the furlong pole as the others toiled in vane pursuit. He got stronger through the final 200 yards and simply was not for catching.

This was a strong race. Huntdown and Stimulation set a fair standard, although Stimulation probably didn’t run his race, he still hasn’t proven that he is the same horse as the one who won the Group 2 Challenge Stakes at Newmarket at the end of last season. However, runner-up Huntdown set a fair standard, Ashram beat him well, the winning margin of two and a half lengths did not flatter him, and the time was good, just 0.1sec/furlong slower than standard, and by far the fastest comparative time on the day.

Ashram was a really exciting juvenile last year when with John Hills. Winner of his maiden on his racecourse debut, he was an impressive winner of the Group 3 Somerville Tattersall Stakes at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting before finishing sixth in the Dewhurst when well fancied for it. Although he was only sixth, he was only beaten two lengths, and he did race out in the centre of the track, which was to his disadvantage. He has been a little disappointing this season for Godolphin. He has been knocking on the door – second, beaten a length by Border Patrol in the Heron Stakes, third in the Jersey – but he didn’t get off the mark for the season until he was dropped in grade to win an £8,000 conditions race at Kempton over a mile last month. He did show a nice turn of foot to quicken up and beat some useful rivals that day, including Brief Encounter and Hyades, and there was a lot of encouragement to be gleaned from the performance. Saturday’s performance was a significant step forward from that, however, and he can now set about realising some of the potential that he showed last season. He is in the Challenge Stakes on Champion Stakes weekend, and that is the ideal race for him now. He won the Somerville Tattersall race over the course and distance, he is obviously good at this time of year, and he has to be on your shortlist for that race now.

18th September 2009