Appleby heading to the spring with a strong team

Perhaps the most telling sign of a trainer at the top of their game is a patient and well-placed campaign for a progressive horse and Appleby’s Hamada (Cape Cross), who secured his fifth consecutive victory when landing the Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Gr 3, 1m5.5f) at Newbury on Saturday, fits that bill perfectly, justifying the time he has been afforded with a burgeoning race record of five wins from seven starts. More importantly, judging by the manner of his success at the weekend, it is now perfectly plausible that Hamada could be the horse to end the British-trained hoodoo on the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m).

A well-supported 7/4 favourite who accounted for improving three-year-old Raymond Tusk (High Chaparral) by two and a half lengths, Hamada’s participation in the Geoffrey Freer – a race that was won by Melbourne Cup place-getter Mount Athos (Montjeu) in 2012 – was an obvious one in retrospect, but Appleby’s decision to run his charge here, rather than the highly-lucrative Ebor Handicap (1m6f) at York this coming Saturday, cannot have been entirely straightforward given Hamada occupied a prominent position in the market for a race that has received a considerable injection of prize money this season.

Notwithstanding the result, this was a shrewd piece of placing from the trainer on two counts, with a first success at Pattern level ensuring Hamada passes the ballot for the Flemington showpiece, while this win – in which Hamada ran to mark in the region of 110 – pushes the four-year-old closer to securing a place in the final line-up from a ratings perspective. Given the strength in depth of the European challenge this year, both numerically and in form terms, Hamada might have to show his hand again to be sure of a slot in the final field, although his connections might be tempted to try and secure a late penalty in the southern hemisphere if necessary, rather than return to the well in Europe, with suitable options between now and the beginning of the enforced quarantine period rather thin on the ground.

Although this was not the deepest renewal of the race on paper, with none of the first three home previous Group winners and the established older horses failing to give their running, this was still a striking performance from Hamada, who travelled powerfully under James Doyle before responding generously to pressure, impressing with the way he stormed clear in the last 100 yards having drawn level with the leaders a furlong from home. Out of an unraced half-sister to Ley Hunter (Kingmambo), who won the Prix Gladiateur (Gr 3, 3100m), and Gabriel’s Hill (A.P. Indy), who finished runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (Gr 3, 14f), Hamada gives a strong impression he will improve again when faced with a stiffer test of stamina, while the return to good-to-firm ground will likely prove a positive as well.

Given the ceiling of his ability remains as of yet unclear he continues to improve significantly with each outing and he is yet to race under his potentially optimum conditions Hamada has the look of a horse who will be attractively weighted in the Melbourne Cup. As such, he is a very serious contender for the race, one of many strings to what appears a strong Godolphin bow for the Spring Carnival.  

Runner-up Raymond Tusk, who arrived on the back of strong-staying performance in the Glasgow Stakes (Listed, 1m3f) at Hamilton last month, acquitted himself with credit over this extra two and a half furlongs, seeing the step up in trip out well enough without being able to match the class of the winner. Given the success his sire has had in Australia, the Middleham Park Racing-owned colt looks an obvious acquisition for the southern hemisphere as a lightly-raced, improving type who acts on quick ground and has the speed to drop back in distance if desired.

Marmelo’s Kergorlay defeat blow to Cup bid
The Hughie Morrison-trained Marmelo (Duke Of Marmalade), who finished ninth in the Melbourne Cup last season when sent off joint-favourite, continued his preparation for a return tilt at the race by finishing runner-up in the Prix Kergorlay (Gr 3, 3000m) at Deauville on Sunday, although this performance cast some aspersions to the strength of his credentials this time around.

Having raced keenly in the early stages, the five-year-old stuck to his task in the home straight without ever looking like he would trouble the winner, Holdthasigreen (Hold That Tiger), eventually succumbing by two and a half lengths. Despite achieving a Racing Post Rating of 114 for the performance – 1lb superior to the form shown in his three previous starts this season – this was a little underwhelming from Marmelo, who occupied a similar tactical position to the relatively-exposed winner throughout the race but was made to look distinctly one-paced in the closing stages. Although he won on good-to-firm ground earlier in the season, Marmelo did not look entirely comfortable on the surface at the weekend and perhaps the time has come whereby he needs give in the ground to show his very best. On the evidence we have seen this year, which suggests Marmelo has plateaued in form terms, coupled with his performance in the race last season, it is hard to envisage him playing a leading role in what promises to be a strong renewal of the contest.

Torcedor worthy Melbourne Cup candidate
Finally, news broke over the weekend that Ascot Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2m4f) third Torcedor (Fastnet Rock) has been purchased by Australian Bloodstock from a Te Akau Racing syndicate and will transfer to the care of Andreas Wohler, who trained Protectionist (Monsun) to win the 2014 Melbourne Cup for the same connections, in a bid to repeat the dose at Flemington this spring.

In a deal which was described by Te Akau Racing boss David Ellis as ‘too good to refuse’, the purchase was a clear statement of intent by Australian Bloodstock director Jamie Lovett and his consortium, while the move also paid a handsome compliment to the perceived strength of the European staying form at extreme trips, form which might have revolved around horses considered to be too slow for the Melbourne Cup in recent seasons.

The unquestionable superior in that division is the John Gosden-trained Stradivarius (Sea The Stars), who is three from three this season having twice mastered Torcedor in excellent contests at Ascot and Goodwood. While a tilt at the Melbourne Cup appears rather unlikely for the son of Sea The Stars (Cape Cross), who is virtually assured to be allocated top weight, he will have the opportunity to create his own slice of history when he lines up in the Lonsdale Cup (Gr 2, 2m) at York on Friday, the final leg of the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million. Victory in the £225,000 added prize would secure an additional seven-figure return for his connections and the absence of Torcedor in light of his recent acquisition has seemingly left Stradivarius with a straightforward task in landing the mammoth bonus in its first season on offer.