Group 1 racing action switches to Newbury this afternoon with the running of the Lockinge Stakes, a great race in its own right but also a serious pointer towards Royal Ascot, particularly the opening race of the week, the Queen Anne.
Once again this week, it's William Kedjanyi with the preview. Follow his work via @keejayOV and his blog.
Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes
British Champions Series
Group 1 Straight Mile
Newbury 1545 BST
The biggest ever field in the race’s history, which brings the draw into play. In the 20 runner maiden yesterday they split into two groups with the far side coming out empathically on top compared to the near side – the first nine home were drawn 1-9 - which is something to take into account.
Despite the size of the field, there are just three Group 1 winners and Night Of Thunder is possibly unlucky not to have at least one more Group 1 to his name after landing last season’s 2000 Guineas – a fine renewal to boot which has been franked at the top level time and time again. After a creditable second in the St James’s Palace Stakes, he didn’t stay 10 furlongs in the Lockinge (when the track and way the race played out did not see him at his best), before two close finishes to Charm Spirit when conceding first run, and getting a horrid trip in the QEII Stakes especially. This is no cakewalk on his return, but it is worth taking a chance that class will out as he makes his 4yo and Godolphin debut (although thankfully he has been kept with Richard Hannon). In anticipation of a bold bid today, take the each-way position of 12/1 on him for the Queen Anne Stakes.
Echelon improved greatly as a 5 year old for Cheveley Park Stud and if her daughter Integral, twice a Group 1 winner already, does so again then connections are in for a fun ride this season. A good winner of the Falmouth Stakes, she was totally unsuited by a farcical renewal of the Prix Rothschild but enjoyed the returned to a conventional ground and pace to turn form around with the first two in the Sun Chariot; This ground should far more than the muck she was caught in on Champions Day behind the favourite and Toormore, so she must be greatly respected.
Toormore was a disappointment based on his 2 year old form all year before a fine run in the QEII, having been set too much to do before coming home well late to take third behind Night Of Thunder. It’s difficult to assess him with confidence ahead of his return this season, although it’s worth nothing that he won the Craven in good style before disappointing in the Guineas last season. If returning in that sort of form, he would have terrific each/way claims.
The rapidly progressive Custom Cut needs to have improved since a well beaten eight in the QEII but presumably has done based on his win in the Bet365 Mile at Sandown from Here Comes When. The pair could be more closely matched this time around, with the Sandown track having suited front runners greatly that day on a watered down surface which made coming from behind difficult, although Custom Cut is rarely for passing from the front. The ground looks to have stayed dry for Mooharib, who was a deeply impressive winner over Hors De Combat at Ascot, and a middle draw (12) could also go in his favour with Martin Harley having a multitude of options for a horse who thrives off getting cover.
One who looks to have been forgotten too easily is Cougar Mountain, who was pitched in at the deep end when sprinting last year and shaped with considerable promise when winning his maiden in style before finishing fifth in the July Cup and ninth in the Nunthorpe, both better runs than the finishing positions would have suggested, and he’s forgiven a flat effort in the Sprint Cup. His pedigree has suggested that he’d go over a mile easily and on his return in the Heritage Stakes, he shaped with a little promise on ground that was surely too slow for him despite the market expecting little (went off 8/1) at a time when his sable’s runners were needing every run. He must improve a great deal, but he can do so on this better ground and he looks worth chancing.
The keen going Arod is dropped to a mile, but was caught for a turn of foot at the Craven meeting and faces quicker horses here, while Captain Cat is held by a number of these including three on the QEII at Ascot in October. Tullius has an each/way chance on his best form but he’s not shown it in two runs this season and ideally wants softer ground and the same is true of Top Notch Tonto. Aljamaaheer looks a sprinter rather than a miler. Yuften could make a lot of progress as a 4 year old and was second in the Jean Prat last year.
Advice: 2 pts win Night of Thunder (11/4 SkyBet, Bet365, Coral), 1 pt each-way Cougar Mountain (25/1 Ladbrokes, Paddy Power)
Ante Post: 1 pt each-way Night of Thunder, Queen Anne Stakes (12/1 general)