Rewind 12 months and Cliffs Of Capri justified favouritism in some style in the amateur handicap, under Alex Ferguson, off a mark of 93. And here we are again: same race (3.10), same horse, same rider, and even the same handicap mark.
The one difference is the ground, softer then last year and softer than Cliffs Of Capri has generally faced in his career, potentially scuppering a repeat bid. Underfoot conditions aside, everything else is in place, including the fact he’s won on two of just three visits to the track, already something of an Ascot specialist.
A HERCULEAN TASK
A little over two years ago, when Herculean ploughed so purposefully up the Ascot straight on his debut, when the cat was seemingly out of the bag (11/10 favourite and sought out by Ryan Moore), he looked destined for the big time.
It’s fair to say that his career has been anti-climactic, yet the faith has persisted, and it’s quite a striking stat that Herculean has been favourite for every single race he’s contested, beaten in five of them.
The last five have been at 10 furlongs, and dropping in distance for the classified stakes (2.00) may also prompt a change in strategy, to let him use that big stride all the more, from the front, to properly plug into the Frankel in him.
Since his dynamic debut, this is the first time he’s returned to Ascot and returned to soft going.
A JOHNSTON FIRST?
You’d have thought that a 14f Listed race for three-year-olds would have been meat and veg for Mark Johnston over the years, but the Noel Murless Stakes has so far eluded him, in its 17-year history.
In the last three renewals, he’s had two thirds and a second, the filly Fireglow beaten just a nose in 2016, and Johnston is going with girl power again.
Sapa Inca is an Ascot winner, at the Shergar Cup, but I’ll Have Another is more the stayer, which will be needed on Friday. There aren’t many horses who you can recommend that were beaten 20 lengths on their most recent start, but I’ll Have Another was second that day, and the winning margin said far more about the rampant Monica Sheriff at Goodwood.
She’s still in the driving seat for this Listed contest, to finish first, for a first for Johnston.
SOFT SIDE FOR DARKSIDE
First, first and first. Those have been his finishing positions the three times that Darksideoftarnside has raced on ground softer than good on the Flat. He needs some pushing and shoving, but, on testing ground, when others are wilting he’s just getting going, and moving up to two miles at Ascot should be right up his street.
Sterner headgear has also been called for, a visor replacing his usual cheekpieces, an admission of his awkward nature, but he could just be an out-and-out stayer, and a win at Ascot would book his ticket for the high-value Cesarewitch the following week.
Watch Ascot live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th October.