HAS STRADIVARIUS LOST HIS LUSTRE?
After a spell of 10 races and 16 months unbeaten, Stradivarius has lost 4 of his last 6, provoking a pertinent question: fading force or forgivable failures?
The simple, subjective answer is forgivable failures, as it’s been a case of “Home & Away” this season, defeated in all of his away fixtures, over 1½m, but still unbeatable on his home ground, down stamina street, as proved by Royal Ascot (won by 10 lengths) and Goodwood, where he taught the youngsters a lesson.
Even in last year’s Long Distance Cup, which remains his only defeat over 2m+ since 2017, it took a bona-fide Group 1 middle-distance horse to beat him, Kew Gardens able to fight fire with fire that day, as the reason he edged out Stradivarius at Ascot had little to do with their differences and everything to do with their similarities.
There are no Group 1 middle-distance horses against him on Saturday, which is the bottom line, but then there’s the grey area of what the Arc adventure took out of him, less than a fortnight ago. But we’ve been here before.
Turned out 13 days after beating 4 home in a 1½m Group 1: that’s the unsettling set-up now, but it was also the unsettling set-up prior to the Gold Cup, when there wasn’t a bother on him, despite having gone through the Ghaiyyath mill, testament to his temperament and his training.
Champions Day needs a champion, and Stradivarius is a copper-bottomed champion, based on not just a year but an era.
HIS FATHER’S SON
Kingman never got the chance to contest the QEII, due to a throat infection, but he’d already earned the moniker of magic miler, powered in part by wonderous wins in the St James’s Palace and Jacques Le Marois, sharing those successes with his supersonic son Palace Pier, who bids to do what a setback prevented his Dad from doing.
Kingman’s DNA is all over Palace Pier. He’s a little more raw and less refined, but the Jacques Le Marois was just the fifth race of his career, where it was Kingman’s eighth, and what’s clear is that Palace Pier has not only the same genes but the same gears, showing special speed, in the finish at Royal Ascot and in the third-quarter at Deauville.
From the front on fast ground at two years, and from the back on soft ground in France, gliding when he wants to and grinding when he has to, there are no apparent fault-lines in Palace Pier, but neither was there in Kingman, and he got beat once, in the biggest field he faced, which is the case with Palace Pier here.
The field split in the 2014 Guineas, which fundamentally did for Kingman, and there’s always a worry that things might spin out of his control, in amongst 13 rivals, but when you’ve got a turn of foot like Palace Pier has that makes his and Dettori’s reactions to the actions so much easier.
LOOK TO FRANCE FOR THE FILLIES
There are no French-trained runners in the Champions Fillies And Mares, but the French form is all over it, and it’s around a 5/4 chance that the winner comes from the Prix Vermeille. And what a Prix Vermeille it was, with Tarnawa following up in the Opera, Raabihah finishing hot on the heels of the Arc principals, Valia rebounding in the Chaudenay, and Wonderful Tonight winning the Group 1 Royallieu.
Dame Malliot, Laburnum and the aforementioned Wonderful Tonight were third, fourth and fifth in the Vermeille, but the sixth home, Even So, is as interesting as any of them coming here. That Longchamp race was fairly leisurely as it was run, which helped the speed horses like Tarnawa and hindered the Irish Oaks winner Even So, who was the shortest priced of that quartet on the day.
She had improved in leaps and bounds all the way to the Irish Oaks, in which she mastered Cayenne Pepper, which takes some doing as the Blandford Stakes subsequently told us, and we still haven’t seen all of Even So’s stamina, but we will here, in what promises to be a well-run race (several front-runners in competition) on testing ground; the sort of ground which Even So seemed to relish as a 2yo.
Five of the last 6 winners of the Fillies And Mares were 3yos, and there are plenty of them here, three-quarters of the field to be precise, but Even So is the one amongst them who is still to show all she’s got.
CHIEFOFCHIEFS MARK II
“I’m absolutely furious with myself!” Not the normal reaction by a trainer following a Royal Ascot winner, but Charlie Fellowes was kicking himself for taking so long to identify that Chiefofchiefs wanted a shorter trip than he thought, as the horse announced with a bang in the Silver Wokingham.
It takes a good trainer to try it let alone admit it, and here we are again, not quite the same, given that King Ottokar was undoubtedly once a 10f horse, as proven by a defeat of Dashing Willoughby and a close third in the Hampton Court Stakes last year, but he has needed something different to re-find his mojo, and 7f might be just the ticket in the Balmoral Handicap.
He certainly looked to be getting his act back together at Doncaster last time, over a mile, and dropping down further in trip for this is a very interesting move, more so with the ground as it is: ground on which he’s proven.
This might well be the day for a full-scale resurgence from King Ottokar, who can take his lead from stablemate Chiefofchiefs, who’s chancing his arm in the Champions Sprint no less.