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Superlative Stakes preview

More quality racing from Newmarket. This time it's the Superlative Stakes for 2yo, previewed by Dave Stephens, @davestevos.

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Superlative Stakes
Group 2, 2yo
£80k, 7f
1435 local, 2335 AEST


Historically the late Henry Cecil was the trainer to follow in this race, and with nine wins to his name he is the most successful of all time. Times have changed though, and in recent seasons it has been the Hannon yard that has picked up the winning habit, and between Hannon Jr's first win last year and his Dad's previous four, they have provided five winners since Redback in 2001, including the likes of Estidhkaar and the brilliant Olympic Glory. Aidan O'Brien, who supplies the favourite, has a surprisingly poor record in the race, with only two successes and none since Fallon steered Horatio Nelson home back in 2005.

Favourites do not have a great record in the race, with only three winning since 2005, but two of those came in the last three years so maybe the tide has turned. There has been only two winners priced up bigger than double figures in that period, so it has paid to follow horses that were near the top of the market.

AIR VICE MARSHAL
The sole representative from Ballydoyle, who as I mentioned earlier don't have the greatest record in this event. Although he hasn't had many runners in the past couple of years, his last three were all beaten favourites, which doesn't bode well for this horse.
He is a son of War Front, and is out of an Arch mare who is a half sister to top dirt performer Pomeroy. In fact his pedigree is littered with useful dirt performers, including a half brother and a full brother that have black type on the surface, and in my opinion he looks like the type that O'Brien will send to America for the Breeder's Cup later in the season.
He is currently available to back at 3/1(fav), and this is a prime example of a horse being priced up on reputation of connections rather than on the merits of form. He was well beaten on debut (6F), but in fairness was a neck in front of Only Mine, who gave Most Beautiful a fright at The Curragh in a Group 3 last month. He stepped up to today's trip of 7F next time out in a very weak contest at Gowran and won as he was entitled to at 1/4.
Whilst he was visually impressive that day, the substance of the form has to be questioned as a couple of subsequent runners from the race were well beaten on their next outings. Too short for me today at 3/1 but he is worth watching with a view to possibly backing him if he heads to the Breeders Cup and gets to race on the surface that his pedigree suggests he will relish. Ryan Moore was down to ride, but will miss out after picking up an unfortunate injury in the stalls. At the time of writing no jockey has been announced.

BEAVERBROOK
One of two representatives from a yard that has been in scintillating form in recent weeks. This son of Cape Cross has had plenty of experience, and took four goes to get off the mark. He is the first foal out of a Kingmambo mare who was decent enough as a 2yo. She is a half sister to the useful Falls Of Lora and Latharnach, two 7/8F specialists with black type credentials so Beaverbrook lacks nothing on the pedigree front and looks sure to be suited by this step up in trip.
His form is rather strong too, with his run in fourth in The Coventry at Royal Ascot (Group 2 6F) probably the strongest on offer in this race. His maiden win at Chester (6F) has worked out well too, with the 2nd and 3rd home that day both going on to win on their next outings. Birchwood, who re-opposes today, had his measure when they met on his third outing in a Class 2 (6F) event at Newbury, but the step up in trip could see this colt turn the tables today.
He will lack nothing in assistance from the saddle either, with the wily Dane O'Neill taking over from James Doyle, and O'Neill has an excellent record when teaming up with Johnston, banging in 13 winners from just 50 rides (26%) in the last five seasons.
I can see O'Neill making plenty of use of this horse, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him bowling along in front and trying to gallop the finish out of his rivals. If he gets his own way in front he could end up being hard to pass in the closing stages, as most of Johnston's horses are relentless gallopers that keep going all the way to the line. Shortlisted at his current best odds of 7/1.

BIRCHWOOD
Trained by Richard Fahey, this colt was snapped up by Godolphin after a perfect start to his career, with victory in what has turned out to be a weak maiden over 5f at Doncaster and then following up with a comfortable defeat of Beaverbrook in a Class 2 (6F) at Newbury. He was stepped up to Listed company on his next start at Naas, and he finished a disappointing third. Perhaps the easy ground could be given as an excuse for that run, but his dam won on soft, and her siblings handled it too, so it could be that his limitations were simply exposed.
He is a son of sire of the moment Dark Angel, who has been firing in the winners recently. He is out of an Exceed And Excel mare, who won over 7f. Her half sisters were best over shorter however, and there are mixed messages in his pedigree as to whether 7F will suit.
He is currently priced up at 10/1, and many people will find that attractive especially given his form line with the shorter priced Beaverbrook. However, it is hard to get away from how disappointing he was on his last run, and even with the return to faster ground likely to suit he looks to be one to swerve given that there are also doubts about the suitability of the trip.

CHAMPAGNE CITY
The second of the Johnston entries, and he will be wearing colours that racing fans are more accustomed to seeing in the winners enclosure at Aintree and Cheltenham rather than at Newmarket at the July meeting. However, this son of Tobougg has earned his place in the field with a couple of decent wins after a moderate debut.
He is out of a Woodman mare that has produced a litany of winners both on the flat and over jumps, among them the useful I'm So Lucky, who won the Listed Wolferton Handicap (10.5F) at Royal Ascot, before going on to have a stellar career over hurdles and fences, picking up a Grade 2 chase along the way. There is black type over jumps and on the flat in his pedigree, and given his connections and his sire's propensity for producing good hurdlers I would imagine that is where his future probably lies.
The form of his two wins (7F/7.5F)has yet to be properly tested, and those that have run from his maiden win haven't exactly pulled up any trees. However, he has looked to have no shortage of stamina in his locker, which isn't surprising given his pedigree, and he will be almost guaranteed to stay. Interestingly enough the same logic applies to his stablemate Beaverbrook, and it will be interesting to see the tactics employed on the day. One thing for certain is that at least one of the two Johnston horses will want to get on with things, so whatever wins will need to get every inch of the 7F. He is currently priced up at 12/1, and he can't be discounted in a race that could set up perfectly for him.

HAYADH
Epsom Derby heroes Gosden and Dettori join forces again with this son of Oasis Dream, who was beaten on his second start at Haydock after winning a weak maiden there on debut (both 7F). He is out of a well connected Montjeu mare who is related to a host of black type middle distance performers, and he holds an entry in next year's Derby.
That entry looks fanciful at the moment though, and he will need to show a huge amount of improvement if he is to get competitive in this race. His last run came on easy ground, which could be offered as an excuse for his relatively disappointing run, and the return to quicker ground is definitely a positive. However it is far from certain to bring about the level of improvement that will be required here, and at his current odds of 10/1 he is probably best watched in a race where the majority of his rivals have shown much stronger form.

TAKING LIBERTIES
Unbeaten son of Makfi, who won a decent maiden on debut (5F) before relishing the step up to 6F and winning in some style in a conditions event at Pontefract. He shaped as though 7F wouldn't be an issue that day, and his pedigree suggests he will be fine over it too. He is out of a Statue Of Liberty mare who was listed placed (9.5F) and her half sister was placed in a Group 1 (10F). Everything points towards this longer trip being ideal, and a fast run race will suit.
Jamie Spencer is on board, and while he comes in for a lot of stick from some quarters over his exaggerated waiting style (some justified!), he is tailor made for the ride on this horse, who will no doubt be held up off the early pace and will try to swoop with a late surge. Spencer, who showed he can ride from the front too on Big Orange, will be going all out to try and make amends for the defeat of Ryan's stable star The Grey Gatsby at Royal Ascot. He is another with a good chance and is a nice price too at 11/1.

THEY SEEK HIM HERE
Absolutely fascinating contender, who caught the eye in a big way when he won at Kempton on debut (7F). He is a big son of Elusive Pimpernel and looks to have inherited his father's striking good looks as well as a fair chunk of his ability. He travelled supremely well that day and, though looking green at times, showed an impressive turn of foot after being given a single smack by Toby Atkinson to put the race to bed. Admittedly the form has yet to be properly tested, and it is a huge step up in class today, but the Palmer horse made a big impression on me that day, and I cannot wait to see how he gets on in this race.
His pedigree is nothing to write home about though, and he is a half brother to useful flat/hurdle performer Officer Drivel. His dam is a daughter of Invincible Spirit and she failed to win a race herself. Her dam is related to a couple of black type 7F/6F performers though, so there is some hope in the pedigree that They Seek Him Here could make an impact at this level.
Palmer has been in decent form of late too, and it is interesting that he has booked the services of top Irish jockey Pat Smullen (1/3 for yard). That has to rate as a major positive, and it suggests that Palmer is expecting a decent run. He is literally and figuratively the dark horse of the race, and at his current odds of 10/1 is another to be interested in.

TONY CURTIS
The sole representative from a yard that provided last year's winner, and that has an outstanding record in the race over the last decade. As a result this horse is deserving of respect, and his current odds of 12/1 look to be a fair price. He is a son of Rock Of Gibraltar and is out of a dam from the family of the excellent Strawberrydaiquiri, who was best over trips of 8/9F. He won his maiden over today's trip of 7F, but there is little doubt that he will get a bit further in time.
The form of his maiden win has yet to be tested, and whilst he did do it nicely after showing some signs of greenness coming down the famous Epsom hill, today represents a new test altogether. The vibes from the Hannon yard don't seem to be too positive, but maybe they are just toning it down a little after ending up with egg on their faces after the poor run of Ivawood, when we were all told he couldn't be beaten. One to keep an eye on in the market, but he will need to find a huge amount of improvement if he is to triumph in this ultra competitive heat.

WAR DEPARTMENT
Hugely impressive winner on his first start, romping home over 6F at Leicester in a maiden that lacked any real strength in depth, even if the second home that day has won a maiden since. However, he was impressive enough for punters to send him off at just 7/1 in The Coventry at Royal Ascot (6F). However he was slowly away and got hampered early on, and was allowed to canter home in his own time as his chance had well and truly gone. That race told us nothing really, and he comes in to this race more or less as an unknown quantity.
He is a son of first season sire Frozen Power, and the jury is still out on his abilities as a stallion. He has had a moderate start with his first crop. His dam is by Fasilyev, and you have to go back an awful long way to find any black type. His winning half siblings were best over 5F, as was his dam, so there have to be major doubts about the suitability of today's trip. His great grand-dam won the French 1000 Guineas, so there is some hope that he might stay, but apart from that his pedigree looks to be all about speed.
He is currently priced up at just 11/2 second favourite, so evidently he has been impressing in his work at home. However, he still has to prove he belongs at this sort of level, and the Johnston horses will look to exploit any chinks in his stamina, which is far from assured going by his pedigree. He is probably best watched today at his current price, and it will be interesting to see if the hype and market support is justified.

CONCLUSION
As can be seen from the above this race is far from an easy puzzle to solve. Air Force Marshal looks to be too short given what he has achieved so far, and his pedigree suggests that the Breeders Cup may well be where he has his day in the sun. The stamina doubts about both Birchwood and War Department just won't go away, and the two Johnston horses will ensure that the ability to stay will be key.
They Seek Him Here is an intriguing contender, and if he has improved since his debut win he could well make an impact here. The two Johnston horses cannot be easily discounted either with stamina assured, and the same applies to the Kevin Ryan trained Taking Liberties. Tony Curtis has to step up in a big way, and if the money comes for him tomorrow he could run well for a yard that has an outstanding recent record in the race. Making a selection is a difficult task, and I could easily have plumped for three or four different horses. At the current prices I just can't get away from They Seek Him Here and BEAVERBROOK, and they are difficult to split. Slight preference is for Beaverbrook, who has the strongest piece of form on offer, and who has a stablemate in the field to ensure the race is run to suit. Tony Curtis is the one to watch in the market, and any move should be respected.

Prediction:
1. Beaverbrook (7/1)
2. They Seek Him Here (10/1)
3. Taking Liberties (11/1)
4. Tony Curtis (12/1)

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