Stratum is reported to be firing on all cylinders as he prepares to lead a seven-strong team for Willie Mullins into battle in the Dubai £500,000 Cesarewitch Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.
With a significantly increased total prize fund up for grabs in this year’s renewal of the prestigious handicap, Mullins sends a formidable squad across the Irish Sea in a bid to claim some of the huge riches on offer.
Stratum looked more than a step ahead of the handicapper when dominating his rivals in the inaugural JLT Cup at Newbury in July, a performance which ensured he was a hot favourite for the following month’s Ebor at York.
However, he encountered traffic problems up the Knavesmire straight and finished in midfield without emptying the tank.
The five-year-old again heads the betting for his latest big-race assignment and Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, is expecting him to make his presence felt.
He said: “Stratum was very unlucky in the Ebor. From a poor draw he got no luck in running and it just didn’t work out for him on the day.
“He was very impressive in Newbury the time before that and he’s working as well as he’s ever worked at the moment.
“Granted normal luck in running we’d be expecting him to bring home some sterling.”
Cheltenham Festival heroine Limini and her stablemate Law Girl were separated by just a head in a valuable handicap at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend last month.
The Closutton army is completed by Uradel, Low Sun, Whiskey Sour and Meri Devie.
“It was great to see Limini pick up a big handicap after hitting the crossbar twice in Galway, but to be honest, I was slightly disappointed that she could only beat Law Girl by a small margin,” Mullins continued.
“That performance would suggest that she doesn’t have much in hand over the handicapper, but it could be the extra couple of furlongs brings about a bit more improvement.
“Law Girl ran well behind Limini, she has a nice racing weight with less than 9st on her back she has an each-way chance.”
He added: “Uradel is intriguing. He got a fantastic ride from Aubrey (McMahon) to win in Galway and a mile and a half on quick ground at Bellewstown was much too sharp for him last time. Stepping back up in trip will help him and he’s probably the most unexposed of all of ours.
“Low Sun ran in the same race as Uradel at Bellewstown and again the trip and track on fast ground was too sharp. He’s really improved over hurdles and he’s a laid-back horse, which will suit him in a race like this.
“Whiskey Sour has been running well in similar races but probably isn’t that well handicapped, while Meri Devie has been hugely disappointing on the Flat and we don’t really know why.
“Her work at home is far superior to what she’s been showing on the track and her hurdles form is far superior to her Flat form. We’re going there hopeful and it wouldn’t surprise me if she ran well.”
Aidan O’Brien saddles the three-year-old Southern France in a bid to win the Cesarewitch for the first time.
The Galileo colt was last seen finishing third behind stable companion Kew Gardens in the St Leger at Doncaster.
O’Brien said: “He’s in good form. It’s competitive handicap for a three-year-old, but we’re going to leave him off after this with the view to having him next year.
“Obviously the trip is what we’re not sure about, but we think he’s in good form and we think he is running off a nice mark.”
Stars Over The Sea led his rivals a merry dance when winning the Cesarewitch Trial over the course and distance three weeks ago and is one of three runners for Ian Williams along with Speedo Boy and Blue Rambler.
“Stars Over The Sea is an out-and-out galloper and it will take a good horse to take him on in the early stages – if something wants to go faster, good luck to them! We will have to see if he can successfully employ the same front-running tactics in this much bigger field,” said the trainer.
“I’m not entirely sure that this step up in distance will be ideal for Speedo Boy, but for the prize-money on offer it’s worth taking the chance.
“I am very happy with the way Blue Rambler comes into this race – he finished sixth in it two years ago and is now 9lb lower in the handicap, so that gives him a squeak.”
Vis A Vis is a fascinating contender for Neil Mulholland, having won each of his two starts since arriving from France.
Mulholland told At The Races: “It’s nice that he is acknowledged in the betting because it shows that he has a good chance. We’re just concentrating on getting the horse there in one piece.
“He deserves to be there as much as any other horse. His form stands up well – horses that he’s beaten have come out and won since – and we’re hoping the extra two furlongs will bring out further improvement.
“I don’t think you can go into a race like the Cesarewitch being cocky. Every horse that runs in it has to be respected, but I’d like to think we’ve got as good a chance as anybody else.”