Good day of racing around the British and Irish Isles today, weather permitting, and speed figures expert Steve Lines, @sjlone1, has singled out the Criterion Stakes at Newmarket for his analysis. It's always worth a read.
John Sunley Memorial Criterion Stakes
A Group 3 race containing a Group 1 horse; Hoof It was arguably unlucky not to win the Betfred Sprint Cup when third behind Dream Ahead at Haydock. That was over 6f; today he tries further for the third time in his career - his form figures read 8, 4, and 18 beaten 11, 13 and 16 lengths respectively! The pace set up is likely to be ‘honest’ with Libranno, Bannock, Firebeam and Majestic Myles to the fore; testing any stamina doubts. Any softening of the ground would also be to the detriment of Hoof It. This is surely a ‘scouting’ mission for the July Cup and I can’t imagine he will want a hard race a fortnight before the ‘cup final’. The only other available ‘pipe opener’ would have been the Sprint Stakes on Eclipse day – a mere 7 days before the July Cup. He is nearer a 3/1 chance, rather than the currently trading 2/1, for me.
Mister Green and Sos Brillante, the two outsiders, will be hoping to pick up the pieces and fall in for some prize money; which goes down to sixth.
Bannock is the each-way or back to lay play. Form figures of 6, 13, 6, 14, 11 and 15 coincide with fields of more than 12 runners. Compare those with 2, 1, 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, and 2 in small fields and his preference is obvious. A likely front-runner he will need to set the fractions perfectly to repel classier rivals.
The runner likely to benefit from a strong gallop is Edinburgh Knight. A high class handicapper he is best coming off the strong pace generated by large fields; he has yet to win with in a race with less than 11 runners. A winner of a Listed contest on the all-weather it is unlikely the gallop will be strong enough to suit his hold-up run style.
Firebeam has, so far, fallen short when stepped up above class 2. A good looking individual, he seems a bit one paced so he will need to be ridden aggressively. Further drying of the ground won’t be in his favour. There is a chance he could be best ‘bossing’ lesser rivals and there are plenty of tough, hardened performers who are unlikely to roll over. He is priced on potential rather than proven ability.
Libranno is a tough individual proven over course and distance. The winner of the race in 2011 he is best in small fields on good or faster ground; combining these conditions below Group 2 level have seen him win his last 3 runs. Versatile in terms of pace he will trade shorter than the 9/2 currently on offer.
Majestic Myles is closely matched with Firebeam and Libranno. He needs fast going to be at his best so any showers will be to his detriment. A winner of a Listed contest he seems to always find one too good but is another likely to trade shorter than his current price of 6/1.
A competitive race which revolves around Hoof It; I will be laying him, although as a gelding, there is no stud value to be gained by winning a Group 1 - I’m guessing Mick Easterby will be aiming for the £226k of the July Cup…….. Bannock has to be a back to lay play with his unblemished record in small fields. I will play Libranno and Majestic Myles pre-race with a low priced lay in place on both as I find it difficult to separate them and luck in running could well decide the final outcome.