RHODODENDRON BLOSSOMS OVER A MILE IN LOCKINGE
The 2018 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury won’t go down as a great renewal in terms of class, but credit is due where Rhododendron is concerned. Last season’s 1000 Guineas and Oaks runner-up had suggested she may prove best over ten furlongs, as we saw in her 2017 Group 1 Prix de l'Opera success in France, but the daughter of Galileo showed great adaptability and courage to beat the colts in Newbury’s flagship contest.
Coming into the race I had concerns about Aidan O’Brien’s filly taking on the boys over a trip that may see her vulnerable. While she was a last gasp winner over Lightning Spear, the four-year-old ultimately got the job done in a thoroughly likeable way.
Having tracked the early pace, Ryan Moore pulled his mount out approaching the three-furlong pole and it was from here she showed a fine display of galloping. As you would expect with form over further, the Coolmore-owned horse hit the line well, displaying a great attitude to run straight and true in a gritty manner.
In a weak European division, Rhododendron now correctly sits at the top of milers list. She’s a best-priced 5/1 shot for the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot where the stiff nature of the Berkshire straight-track will play to her strong-staying abilities even more so than the demands of Newbury's course.
Connections have also entered her in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over 10f and the Group 2 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (1m) against fillies and mares only. In my mind, it makes sense to take in the Queen Anne, but the presence of new Australian import Merchant Navy to Ballydoyle may well see her go elsewhere yet.
Kudos must also go to Classic-winning trainer David Simcock for producing the now seven-year-old Lightning Spear in top shape to run what was possibly a career best in second. Under Oisin Murphy, the son of Pivotal travelled takingly before quickening to what looked like his first top-level success.
Alas, he was collared late on, but hopefully connections take the positives in what was a great run. He and the winner dominated the rest of this field and were well on top come the line.
Addeybb (8th), Limato (10th) and Beat The Bank (12th) were all disappointments in behind, but can likely be excused for their efforts.
The William Haggas-trained Addeybb may have found conditions too quick as he stepped up to Group 1 company for the first time. Being drawn away from the main pace hardly helped either. I suspect the ground was also too fast for Beat The Bank.
Things didn’t exactly pan out for Limato. He was also drawn away from the main action, but the real killer was not being able to obtain any cover which ultimately saw him run too keen. Hopefully this puts the final nail in the miling coffin his connections continue to carry. It’s surely clear for all to see, his best form is over trips short of eight furlongs?
2017 ST LEGER FORM LOOKS ROCK-SOLID
Last season’s St Leger at Doncaster saw a field of 11 go to post for the final Classic of the campaign over 1m 6 ½f. Of that field, eight horses have subsequently run with all eight winning at least one race. Among those eight wins, some high-class races have been won, as illustrated below.
1st Capri– subsequently won the Group 3 Alleged Stakes over 10f
2nd Crystal Ocean - subsequently won the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes over 10f and the Group 3 Aston Park Stakes over 12f
3rd Stradivarius - subsequently won the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup over 14f
4th Rekindling - subsequently won the Grade 1 Melbourne Cup (handicap) over 2m
5th Coronet - subsequently won the Group 2 Middleton Stakes over 10f
7th Raheen House - subsequently won the Listed Noel Murless Stakes over 14f
10th Defoe - subsequently won the Group 3 John Porter Stakes over 12f and the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes over 12f
Sadly, since his winning comeback it looks like Capri is out until the autumn with a shoulder injury.
Crystal Ocean and Defoe look ideal 12f horses for later in the season. This may especially be true of the latter as real-fast summer ground could be a concern. The Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh is said to be his next port of call.
Coronet impressed in her Middleton victory for the simple reason, pre-race, I expected her to be vulnerable over 10f. She stamped her class on the Knavesmire under Frankie Dettori however, and looks set for a big season against her own sex.
Stradivarius was another to impress at York’s Dante Festival during the week. In fact, there was a real wow factor about his Yorkshire Cup success where he potentially set up a mouth-watering clash against Order Of St George and Vazirabad in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
It's going to be interesting to see how horses from the 2017 Leger stack up against the top older horses this season. The early signs are clearly positive.
In the Listed King Charles II Stakes at Newmarket (2.40) on Saturday I was really taken by the run of MUTAAQEB in defeat. The Owen Burrows-trained and Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned three-year-old colt did incredibly well to get anywhere near the 107-rated winner Purser given the circumstances.
In his first run since October 2017, the son of Invincible Spirit looked fresh and well for his comeback and failed to get any cover which saw him run far too keenly in a slow-run race. He sacrificed early ground under restraint to the tractable winner who had complete run of the race, but came home well to only go down a head.
With a run now under his belt, granted more cover in a stronger-run contest, he’ll be of great interest going forward.