DONN McCLEAN: Just shows you: the vagaries of ante post betting. Fascinating Rock was looking interestingly-priced in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes before a low blood count ruled him out. And during the week, Somehow was the filly who was most interesting at ante post prices in the Coolmore Matron Stakes. Alas, you can tear up that one too.
It’s still some weekend though, Irish Champions’ Weekend. Today’s Irish Champion Stakes is some race. You know it is, because the Eclipse winner is a 16/1 shot and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner is a 33/1 shot. That’s because you have the Irish and Epsom Derby winner in there along with the French Derby winner, the Guineas and Oaks winner and the King George winner.
It is difficult to find a betting angle now though. The market has found it difficult to split Harzand and Minding for a while. Harzand was brilliant at Epsom, and he was tough at The Curragh. He has had a nice break since then and, raced just five times in his life, he still has scope for further progression.
The worry is that he is dropping back down to 10 furlongs. It is the distance (and the course) over which he won the Ballysax Stakes in April, but he is a strong stayer, and he wouldn’t mind a little more rain today. Even so, he has pace, you don’t win two Derbies if you don’t have pace. And he has bundles of class.
Minding is one of the best three-year-old fillies that we have seen in years, and she is versatile in terms of distance – Guineas winner, Oaks winner, Nassau Stakes winner, Pretty Polly winner. She is effective at all distances from a mile to a mile and a half, and this 10-furlong trip could be her optimum.
But she is stepping into the unknown today, taking on the colts. She has raced 10 times in her life, and never against colts. She has the class to take them on, and she deserves her position at the top of the market, in receipt of the 7lb age and the 3lb sex allowance.
But the race has serious depth. We don’t know how good French Derby winner Almanzor is, but we know that he has a searing turn of foot. Last year’s French Derby winner, the Andre Fabre-trained New Bay, has been interestingly strong in the market in the last few days, while King George winner Highland Reel and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found give Minding’s trainer Aidan O’Brien a really strong hand. And Eclipse winner Hawkbill could out-run his odds, especially if it rains more.
It is no easier to find a betting angle into the Matron Stakes, not now that Somehow has been ruled out. The Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Qemah is a worthy favourite. She was great in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, and she was better in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville.
Persuasive has never been beaten, we don’t know how good she could be, and the filly who finished second to her last time in the Atalanta Stakes at Sandown, Blond Me, won a Group 2 race in Turkey last Sunday. She has to step up in grade now, but she has the potential to do so.
Alice Springs was well beaten by Qemah in the Prix Rothschild, but she was favourite to beat the French filly there on the back of her victory in the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket. If she returns to that form, if you can ignore her Deauville run, she is a big player.
Jet Setting and Now Or Never represent two of the top young up-and-coming Irish trainers, Adrian Keatley and Michael O’Callaghan respectively and, while more rain would be a positive for the former, both fillies deserve their place in the line-up, and both are reported to be in top form by their trainers.
It is a big day in Britain too, Ladbrokes St Leger day at Doncaster, and the best bet of the day may be Captain Colby in the Portland Handicap there.
With just nine runs under his belt – eight if you don’t count his penultimate run at Yarmouth, when he was hampered and unseated early – Ed Walker’s horse is the most lightly-raced and most unexposed horse in the race.
He raced just once last year, in a six-furlong handicap at Newmarket in May, when he got out in front and never saw another rival.
He has obviously had his issues, because we didn’t see him after that until he re-appeared this season on Northumberland Plate weekend at Newcastle, and he showed the benefit of that return when he finished a close fourth behind the highly-progressive Alpha Delphini at York in early July.
That race is working out really well: Alpha Delphini won his next two races and is now rated 23lb higher than he was then, while third-placed Thesme has run four big races since and is now rated 15lb higher than she was then.
Captain Colby is just 2lb higher on a mark of 95 now, and he could be a well-handicapped horse on that mark.
He ran a cracker last time in a five-and-a-half-furlong handicap at York. Drawn high in stall 19, he raced on the unfavoured near side, so he did really well to finish third behind Boom The Groom and Duke Of Firenze, who both raced on the favoured far side. Indeed, the three horses who, with Captain Colby, filled the first four places were drawn in stalls five, two and four respectively. Captain Colby pulled about three lengths clear of the next best-placed horse who raced on the near side.
The handicapper left him on his mark of 95 for that run, and that was more than fair. He is drawn in stall 12 today, towards the near side, which seemed to have been favoured all week at Doncaster, and there is plenty of pace around him.
He goes well on fast ground, so, if there is a deluge, very soft ground would be a bit of an unknown, but he has run big races on good ground, so ground on the easy side should be fine for him. William Buick rides him again for just the third time, which is a positive. Both of his previous runs for the Godolphin rider have been good.
Others would get interesting if the rains arrive in quantity, like Bowson Fred and Soie D’Leau and centurion Confessional, but Captain Colby’s potential for further progression make him the most attractive betting proposition.
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