Things We Learned » Sprinters starting to sort themselves out

Sprinters starting to sort themselves out

It is usually at around this time of year that the sprinters begin to sort themselves out into some sort of order, and Muhaarar staked a solid claim to the champion spritner’s title when he won the July Cup on Saturday.

It was interesting to watch the race again having listened to rider Paul Hanagan’s post-race comments concerning the dip, that his horse did not handle the downhill run and that he couldn’t really ask him for his effort until he met the rising ground.  It was a top ride from Sheikh Hamdan’s rider, who continually impresses as one of the top – yet sometimes unheralded – riders in Britain.  A different ride, a more aggressive ride, a less patient ride, a different rider, and Muhaarar could have finished second or third or fourth.

You have to feel for the runner-up Tropics and his trainer Dean Ivory.  Remember that Tropics beat everything in last year’s renewal of the July Cup except the favourite Sole Power.  A 66/1 shot last year, he was significantly shorter this year, but he was still a 25/1 shot and not really thought of as a possible winner by most outside of the boundaries of Ivory’s yard.  When he kicked clear in the dip, however, he traded at 1.22 in-running on Betfair, and his trainer surely thought that finally his horse was going to land that elusive Group 1 prize.  Alas, cup, lip, twixt, that type of thing.

It was a top class performance by Muhaarar in the circumstances.  He didn’t look happy on the downhill run, and this sharp six furlongs is probably a minimum for him.  It was interesting that trainer Charlie Hills spoke afterwards of the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs, and that he suggested that he could still go back to seven.  Muhaarar will not try to emulate his sire Oasis Dream, that’s for sure, in following up his July Cup win by landing the Nunthorpe over five.

Sole Power and Danzeno worth noting

Speaking of the Nunthorpe, don’t go putting a line through Sole Power for the York race yet.  He put up a huge performance to finish fourth behind Muhaarar on Saturday.

The Eddie Lynam-trained gelding has never been at his best over six furlongs, and on his only previous run on the July Course, in the 2013 July Cup, he finished fifth.  Also, Saturday’s race was run to suit the prominent racers, as a lot of the races at this year’s July meeting were.  The first three home – including a 25/1 shot and a 50/1 shot, remember – all raced handily.

Sabena Power’s horse did really well to come from the rear and finish as close as he did.  On this evidence, he remains as good as ever.  Back at York, where his record reads 31731, back over five furlongs and on fast ground, even at the age of eight, he will be a different proposition.

The other horse to take out of the July Cup as a potential betting proposition for the future is Danzeno.  Like Sole Power, Michael Abbleby’s horse was held up out the back of the field through the early stages of the race.  Stone last as they passed the two-furlong pole, Frankie Dettori moved him towards the far side and he picked up well, closing on the leaders all the way to the line to finish fifth, beaten a total of just over two lengths.

Like Sole Power, Danzeno was competing under less than optimum conditions.  Unlike Sole Power, this sharp six furlongs is probably a minimum for him.  His best two runs before this were in a six-and-a-half-furlong handicap under 9st 6lb at Doncaster last September, when he really should have won, and when he went down by a head to the classy Lightning Moon over Ascot’s stiff six furlongs on soft ground last October.

The Denounce gelding holds an entry in the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup, and he could be an interesting outsider if he takes his chance in that.  He will also be of interest back at Ascot, given that he probably put up the best performance of his career on his only run there to date.

Don’t give up on Lucida

 At first glance, it is disappointing that Lucida hasn’t won yet this season.  Three runs, three defeats, would not have been Jim Bolger’s plan.  However, there have been genuine excuses for all three defeats.

On her seasonal debut in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she did a lot of running to get into a position from which she could track Tiggy Wiggy.  She burst clear on the far side, and she traded at 1/10 in-running before getting caught close home by Legatissimo.

Her second run of the season was in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, when she was held up in last place by Kevin Manning in order to get her to settle.  Still last of the nine runners as they turned for home, she finished best of all to take third place, going down by a neck and a half-length to two top class fillies in Ervedya and Found.

Her third run was in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket on Friday, when nothing went right.  She was keener than ideal initially behind a sedate pace, she had no racing room when they started to quicken, she had to switch to the near side inside the final furlong, and she was only getting going when the winning post appeared.

The Godolphin filly remains top class.  A Group 1 win this season is probably a priority, so races like the Sun Chariot Stakes and the Matron Stakes are surely on her agenda, and it will be surprising if, all things being equal, she doesn’t bag one before the season is out.

It is also interesting that she holds an entry in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.  You have to go back to Soviet Song in 2004 to find the last filly to win the Sussex Stakes, and you have to go back to Marling in 1992 to find the last three-year-old filly to do so.  However, not many fillies run in the race.  In the last 11 years, if Soviet Song had not taken her place in the Sussex Stakes line up three times – and she won it once and was second twice – only two fillies would have run.

In a year in which another Duel on the Downs – it’s an annual event now – is dominated by Gleneagles and Solow, Lucida could be over-looked and under-rated if she happened to take her chance, as current tentative ante post odds of 20/1 imply.

Low draw may not have been an advantage

The general reaction after the running of the opener at Ascot on Saturday, the five-furlong handicap, was that the low numbers were favoured, that that was where the pace was, that the low numbers were always in front, and that the winner, Double Up, was therefore advantaged, given that he emerged from stall six and that he raced on the far side.

However, it may be that Roger Varian’s horse won in spite of his low draw, not because of it.

We always hear about the pace in big-field sprints, that the draw advantage will be determined by the pace in the race, not by any variance in ground conditions.  And that is largely true these days.  However, the pace-setters on one side can go too fast as well as too slow, and that may have been the case here.

True, the fastest early pace was on the far side, the low numbers appeared to have an advantage from early.  However, Freddy Tylicki had to ask Double Up to go for home a long way out as the pace-setters on the far side faded around him.  He was in front over there from well outside the furlong pole, and that is far enough out in a big-field five-furlong race at Ascot.

He had to do a lot of his own running from there, and he did well to get home by a half a length from Taajub, who raced on the near side.  Actually, the second, third, fourth and fifth were all in the small group of seven who raced down the near side, with sixth-placed Barnet Fair doing second best of the 11 horses who raced on the far side.

It may be that Double Up is even better than the bare form of this run suggests.

Champion attendances

So average attendances at racecourses in Britain were up significantly for the first half of 2015.  The average figure of 4,184 was up almost 9% on last year, while the total figure of almost 2.99 million was up over 11% on last year.

If only they could get a 20-time champion jockey to retire every year.

© The Irish Field, 18th July 2015