With the inevitability of a plane running on empty, my stratospheric punting ascendency has nose-dived into the deep blue yonder. Haydock on Saturday was the tipping point after I maxed out my stakes on Hoof It, together with some combinations with other shady characters. Hoof It ran a blinder, and was unlucky not to get the race in the steward’s room after getting carried left. Jockey Graham Gibbons was convinced that cost him the race. Too right. But we would say that wouldn’t we. Modun provided me with a small saver when he won at Kempton on the all-weather. But that’s not the result I was hoping for.
Today sees the hosting of the annual Laytown Strand meeting. This is another track on my list of must-sees. And bizarrely it would be to witness yet more sand donkeys. But these are the real things. Every September, a temporary race course rises out of the tides at Laytown in County Meath, 30-odd miles north of Dublin. The one-day-only card features seven races run over a 7f course carved out of the beach. This is the only officially licensed beach fixture run under the Rules of Racing in Europe. It’s been taking place since the 1860’s. Last year it was a week later than in 2009 because of the vagaries of the tide timetable. But don’t get ideas about a pretty seaside track weaving between sandcastles and ice cream vans across a picture postcard cove. That meeting got underway with almost 5,000 punters enduring heavy rain and flood waters cascading out of the town in scenes the Racing Post described as 'miserable conditions' . Still, it’s a unique event and one mugpunting undertakes to cover at some stage.
So what’s next? I remain convinced that Saturday was a blip. So. Stiffen that upper lip, square the shoulders, narrow those eyes and peer into the weekend’s fixtures. Aha. It’s the Leger meeting. Already under way, in fact. Doncaster’s biggest day is shaping up nicely. The final classic of the season to be run on Saturday afternoon looks on paper to be one of the strongest renewals for years. Here’s what I make of it all.
Judging by the volume and content of Michael Owen’s tweets in recent weeks, he’s much more enthusiastic about his horses than his football. He bred Brown Panther to win a high profile race at Royal Ascot and the son of Shirocco comes here with a squeak. A fifth place when favourite for the German Derby is not a ringing endorsement, but he had excuses after trying to make all on unsuitable going. However, the recent reversal of Ascot form with Census in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes is more of a concern, where he appeared not to stay as well as the winner. Panther has a touch of class, but has a fair bit to find here and the bald facts don’t quite match the hype surrounding his connections.
Buthelezi is a massive outsider at 100-1. His only win this season was in a class 2 handicap at Newmarket back in May. That said, he’s made a decent showing in two recent runs, the Princess of Wales's Stakes and the Geoffrey Freer Stakes. He struggles to settle and looks a handful in his races. It’s hard to see him running in to the money here.
Census is a fast progressing and gorgeous looking animal from the Richard Hannon yard. He may have been beaten 6 lengths by Brown Panther at the Royal meeting, but hoofed that form into a one-bounce touch in the Geoffrey Freer stakes at Newbury last month. In between times he was a very close second to Masked Marvel in the Bahrain trophy. I loved the way he stayed on strongly last time and that could be what is needed over this extra 2 furlongs. He has to go close in this.
Genius Beast is the second string Godolphin representative, well beaten behind Sea Moon at York last time out and unlikely to figure much in this.
Masked Marvel seems to be on the upgrade. A modest eighth in the Derby, he landed the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket in July and has been put away since with this as his target. He beat a fast closing Census that day, after (arguably) idling in front and may well be ridden with more restraint by the Boy Buick on Saturday. That race provides an eye-catching pointer from this vantage point although the question may well be whether Census has now improved passed him.
Sea Moon will go off a short enough favourite. Understandably so. The Stoute horse flayed the Great Voltigeur Stakes field at York, the principal trial for the St Leger, and won as he pleased, officially by 8 lengths. That was a properly impressive performance against decent yardsticks. Getting the extra 2 furlongs here should not pose any problem and any further rain is likely to be up his street too. Held in the highest regard at Freemason’s Lodge, he’s a live one alright and if reproducing that form will be a tough nut to crack.
Seville is becoming an enigma. He sports a high official rating being the epitome of consistency, but struggles to get his bonce in front. A laboured third place behind Sea Moon at York last time is his poorest run this season. However, I have a suspicion that O’Brien’s horses were off-colour at York. Too many ran below form for sheer chance, this one and Await The Dawn most notably, as well as Roderic O’Connor withdrawn because he didn’t eat up. The stable seems to be back to its brutal best now and I would expect a stripped-fitter Seville to make the frame at hopefully a Betfair place price. The step up in trip should help.
Blue Bunting is another class horse to line up at Donny and Godolphin’s main hope in a race they have bossed 5 times since 1995. This filly reeled in the 1000 Guineas field, ran well in the Oaks and then landed back-to-back Irish and Yorkshire Oaks. She’s up against the boys here over an untried trip, but she’s steeped in quality and is one for the shortlist.
Rumh won a listed event at Newbury in June but is here to undertake pace-making duties, something that Godolphin get pretty well right in the way that Ballydoyle get desperately wrong (Your Honour, I submit this horse’s role in the Yorkshire Oaks as evidence of the former and Regent Street in the Great Voltigeur as evidence of the latter).
Selection: Masked Marvel to continue his upward curve at 8/1 as a value pick against the very credible Sea Moon. Seville for a place if the price drifts out to 5/2ish.
It’s St Leger Day at The Curragh too. The Irish equivalent is open to older horses and Fame and Glory will be a very short price to add to his 5 Group 1s, including this year’s Ascot Gold Cup. What an impressive sight he was that day. Beaten last time out, though he’ll be primed for this. Nevertheless, I’ll oppose at small stakes with the clear next best on form, Jukebox Jury who goes over his optimum trip and at 5 seems to be still on the upgrade. He’ll like the ground too. It goes against the grain to desert my chum Duncan, but I’m not sure how durable or gritty he is and my concern is that his hard race in the Lonsdale Cup at York will have left its mark.