By Steven Bonnick
Middle Park Stakes
Despite being a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the Middle Park hasn’t produced a winner that has gone on to run in that contest in more than a decade (two winners have run in the Juvenile). It’s not hard to see why this is, given that the Middle Park is over six furlongs, two furlongs less than the Juvenile Turf, and is almost always won by a sprinter.
That seems to be the case this year as well with the field packed full of fast horses coming here off big efforts at sprint distances.
As this is a Group 1, the logical place to start is the only Group 1 winner in the field, LUCKY VEGA. That fact should not be used to beat any of the opposition, most of whom have not had the opportunity to strut their stuff at the top level thus far, but nontheless Lucky Vega brings proven ability as opposed to potential.
He was electric when storming clear in the Phoenix Stakes on his third start and was still going well enough when badly interfered with over seven furlongs in the National Stakes last time out, yet was still only beaten a couple of lengths. The drop back in trip shouldn’t be too much of an issue and he sets the standard on that Phoenix Stakes win.
Lucky Vega holds verdicts over a couple of these rivals, including the Joseph O’Brien-trained CHARTERHOUSE who finished a place behind him last time. This speedy sort drops to six furlongs for the first time but it would be a surprise if the switch to sprinting brings about the necessary improvement.
THE LIR JET was purchased by high-profile connections following his debut win and rewarded that faith with a victory in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. He has been a tad disappointing since, however, having been turned over at odds-on in the Prix Robert Papin and put in his place by Lucky Vega in the Phoenix. He looks more of an early-season type who has been surpassed by late-maturing sorts, but both his defeats have come overseas and he may do better now racing closer to home.
LIPIZZANER has defeats to both Lucky Vega and The Lir Jet on his CV but showed a good attitude to get off the mark last time. He scrambled home from a horse who was beaten at Dundalk next time out and it’s hard to imagine he will be good enough to contest the finish here, although given his trainer is Aiden O’Brien you couldn’t entirely rule out a much improved effort. He is by Uncle Mo and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him continue his career in the US at some stage.
TACTICAL looked one of the leading juveniles when winning the Windsor Castle and following up in the July Stakes. He finished just over four lengths behind Wesley Ward’s Campanelle last time out in the Prix Morny but the ground was pretty bad there and it would not be a shock if he was to run much better if he gets a sounder surface here.
The final three runners all come here off the back of two wide-margin wins with the most recent of those wins coming in Pattern company. The similatiries do not end there, however, as, remarkably, all three are by freshman sire Mehmas, the champion first-season sire elect.
SUPREMACY has run the fastest of the three and, perhaps more importantly, is just about the only out-and-out front-runner in the field. His connections won the Rockfel Stakes on Friday with one that made all and there’s a good chance Supremacy will be able to repeat the trick here with a strong tailwind likely to prevail again. He was very impressive at Goodwood, even allowing for everything going right,
Minzaal represents top connections and caught the eye when winning the Gimcrack at York last time. He can be a bit slowly away but that was an advantage on the Knavesmire as it meant he was held up well back off a strong pace, although the manner with which he tanked through the race suggests there was more to his win than a mere pace collapse. The form hasn’t worked out particularly well – they finished in a bit of a heap behind – and his tendency to start slowly could prove more costly against these better class rivals. It’s hard to knock what he’s done so far though and he looks a pure sprinter.
Last but most definitely not least is METHOD. This horse has always had a tall reputation and he confirmed it to be correct with a thumping victory on debut at Doncaster, with the runner up that day going on to frank the form several times in Pattern company.
Indeed, Method’s most recent victory has also been well advertised, with the second that day also landing a Group race. Method hasn’t been seen since then (July), but looks to have been laid out for this race. A keen-going sort, the booking of Frankie Dettori catches the eye and this horse has immense potential.
Verdict: Probably a race to watch rather than bet on, but Supremacy, who could get his own way in front, appeals most at the prices in a fascinating contest.
Cheveley Park Stakes
While the Middle Park has a less-than-stellar record at producing Breeders’ Cup runners, the Cheveley Park Stakes, the fillies’ equivalent, has provided a few Cup runners, albeit mostly from the also-rans.
Vorda took the Cheveley Park in 2013 but could only finish seventh in the Juvenile Fillies Turf that year, while the second placed finishers in 2016 (Roly Poly) and 2018 (The Mackem Bullet) also finished down the field at the Breeders’ Cup.
The best Breeders’ Cup effort by a Cheveley Park Stakes runner was undoubtedly Alice Springs, who could only finish fourth in the Cheveley Park but pushed Catch A Glimpse all the way at Keeneland a month later.
This does not look a vintage renewal and it may be that DANDALA is a cut above her rivals. This unbeaten filly has done everything right so far, winning with supreme ease at Royal Ascot and following up at Newmarket on her most recent start. The form of that latest run has worked out nicely enough and connections are adamant she was not at her best that day despite winning. She hasn’t run since that Newmarket race, which was in July, so others have had chance to advance their ratings and figures when she has not, but up until that point Dandala had looked the standout juvenile filly.
One of those who has surpassed Dandala on pure ratings is MISS AMULET, who the official British handicapper rates five pounds superior. By the time Dandala had won a Group 3 at Royal Ascot, Miss Amulet had already been beaten in two Naas maidens, but she has clearly been a slow learner and has done nothing but improve since. This improvement culminated in a Group 2 win at York on her most recent start,where she had a couple of today’s opponents behind. That was her first try over six furlongs but she was very strong at the finish and the booking of Ryan Moore on this straightforward filly catches the eye.
Miss Amulet beat SACRED into second that day and she has run well since, only beaten a short-head in the Flying Childers, a Group 2, at Doncaster. She gets cheekpieces and steps back up in trip here and the headgear will need to produce a bit of improvement if she is to reverse that York form.
Back in third that day was UMM KULTHUM, who came from further back than the front two, who also had the benefit of more experience. Umm Kulthum has won again since at Ayr and probably has a bit more scope for improvement than the two who beat her at York and could narrow the gap. She will need to start better here, however.
ILLYKATO finished behind Umm Kulthum at Ayr and looks to be up against it on that evidence. She had also finished behind HAPPY ROMANCE on her penultimate start and will do well to overturn both pieces of form.
HAPPY ROMANCE is another filly who has just got better and better and made her breakthrough in Pattern company when winning a Group 3 at Salisbury last time having landed two valuable sales races prior to that. She is extremely likeable and tough but her hold up style may be a disadvantage and she will need another career best performance.
Indeed, she may struggle to confirm the form with ALCOHOL FREE, who did everything wrong in that Salisbury contest. She was too keen there and raced wide with no cover before running green and hanging to her left at a crucial stage. She should have learned a massive amount from that run, gets a big jockey upgrade and was impressive when winning her only other start.
ZOETIC rounds off the field. She caused an upset in a Listed race on bad ground last time out but received a smart ride there and is probably a bit overmatched here.
VERDICT: Another trappy affair in which several of the field have chances. The tentative vote goes to Alcohol Free, who caught the eye despite having little go her way last time.
Royal Lodge Stakes
The Royal Lodge has produced some quality winners over the past decade, including the mighty Frankel, but as yet none of these have gone onto Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf glory. However, Wrote won the Juvenile Turf in 2011 and did so by prepping with a third-placed finished behind Daddy Long Legs in that year’s Royal Lodge.
Wrote’s connections field ONTARIO here. He stepped up to Group company for the first time for his most recent run having broken his maiden on his penultimate start, running well to finish third behind a subsequent winner. That was a strange effort as he travelled better than his rivals and looked sure to win a furlong out, hitting as low as 2/9 in running. It was surprising that he was passed late on there given his only win had come over further and it may have been that speed was not favoured that day, with most of the winners on the card coming from off the pace. He travelled like a quality colt there and might be better than that effort suggests.
Ontario is the only runner who does not come here on the back of a win.
PLEASANT MAN is one of two unbeaten colts in the field having won a Haydock novice on bad ground first time up. He was well placed at the rear in a strongly-run affair and recorded a solid enough speed figure for a debutant. This is a big step up, however, and likely to be a rather different test.
GEAR UP has also yet to taste defeat in two career starts. Both of his wins have come at York, with the most recent coming in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes. He showed a tremendous attitude to get up late on there and this likeable sort should go on improving, while the mile should be well within his range. However, some moderate horses finished close up that day and the form has not worked out well at all with all of his seven rivals having been beaten since.
NEW MANDATE has graduated from nurseries and took the jump to Pattern company in his stride last time when landing a Listed race at Doncaster. He did really well to win there given how keen he was, still managing to run 23.8 seconds for the final two furlongs despite the race being well run. The time of that race was good and he appears to have the engine to be very competitive at this level, although the concern would be his hard-pulling nature and innate speed, which leaves some doubt about whether this extra furlong will suit.
COBH rounds out the field having only been beaten by one horse to date. That defeat came at the hands of Chindit at Ascot, but he is now a leading candidate for the Guineas having won again in a hot Group 2 race at Doncaster subsequently. The third and fourth from that Ascot race have also franked the form and Cobh himself did it no harm when winning a Listed race at Salisbury on his next start. He looked thoroughly professional that day and beat a subsequent Listed winner in ready fashion. He has more to come, is a danger to all and strikes as the type who may be well suited to the Juvenile Turf.
Verdict: another devilishly difficult puzzle to solve. New Mandate might not be seen to best effect if this is a muddling affair so it may be that Cobh and Ontario battle out the finish. Slight preference is for the latter, who may get his own way up front and could be difficult to peg back with the wind behind him.