Cross Counter a worthy candidate for Flemington feature
The five-day meeting also gave rise to a number of noteworthy developments looking ahead to the Australian spring, with the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) nominated as the long-term target by trainer Charlie Appleby for the fast-improving Cross Counter (Teofilo) following his success in the Gordon Stakes (Gr 3, 1m4f) on Saturday.
Although this contest if often used as a pointer towards next month’s St Leger (Gr 1, 1m6.5f), the already-gelded Cross Counter is automatically ruled out of the final Classic of the season and he will attempt to follow in the path of last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling (High Chaparral) by landing the Flemington showpiece as a three-year-old.
This was an impressive visual performance from the son of former Darley shuttler Teofilo (Galileo), who was making his first start in Pattern company having defied a mark of 101 in a competitive Ascot handicap last month, travelling strongly under William Buick before clearing away over a furlong out to win by four and a half lengths in a course-record time of 2m31.39, despite being eased in the closing stages. While it is hard to be too enthused by this piece of form as a whole – the runner-up, Dee Ex Bee (Farhh), who showed his best form when finishing second in the Derby (Gr 1, 1m4f) at Epsom in June, once again looked uncomfortable on the quick ground, while the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Sun Maiden (Frankel) ran no sort of race having come under pressure a long way from home – the quick time is a positive indicator to the merits of the win, for all the times were habitually fast across the card by the weekend.
Does Cross Counter boast legitimate Melbourne Cup aspirations? Much will depend on how the handicapper reacts to this performance, but in terms of latent ability he already looks a superior animal to Rekindling at the corresponding stage of the season twelve months ago, while he clearly relishes fast ground and is improving at a rate of knots. However, there would be a noteworthy question mark hanging over the trip: despite being strong at the line over 1m4f, there are plenty of speedier elements to the bottom-half of Cross Counter’s pedigree and he already stays further than he might be expected to, notwithstanding the step up to two miles. His ability to travel so easily racing over middle-distances would provide him with an important tactical tool in a Melbourne Cup, but his stamina capabilities in a truly-run race would have to be taken on trust.
Handicapper will dictate Mirage Dancer’s ticket to Australia
The assessment of the handicapper will also prove the deciding factor as to whether Mirage Dancer (Frankel) is given a shot at the Melbourne Cup following his career-best effort in the Glorious Stakes (Gr 3, 1m4f) on Friday.
Lord Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, mooted international targets for the four-year-old in the wake of his three and a half-length success but expressed concerns about the likely weight allocation he would receive from Greg Carpenter. Those worries may well be founded in some substance as this race produced just the sort of result which could see the handicapper over-react to the merits of the form, the winning margin seemingly exacerbated by tendency of runner-up Red Verdon (Lemon Drop Kid), who is also being prepared for an Australian campaign, to try and hang in behind, while the third, Second Step (Dalakhani), tends to fall short at Group level.
Indeed, the Racing Post Rating of 119 allocated to Mirage Dancer looks on the steep side accounting for these two factors for all his trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, is famed for producing middle-distance older horses who flourish as the season progresses. Furthermore, Mirage Dancer appears to lengthen, rather than quicken, in his races and whether he would possess the requisite tactical speed for tests in Australia, particularly if he was required to navigate any trouble in running, would be a matter of contention.
The Roger Charlton-trained Blakeney Point (Sir Percy), who finished six and a quarter lengths adrift of Mirage Dancer in fourth, produced an eye-catching effort on his first start in Group company, sticking to his task inside the final furlong without being unduly punished. The five-year-old looks an improved performer this season having previously run a fine race from an impossible tactical position in the Old Newton Cup (1m4f) at Haydock and any potential rise he incurs for this performance will not be felt in the Ebor Handicap (1m6f) at York next month as the weights have already been published for that contest. He remains with potential as a stayer, potentially for the southern hemisphere.
Stradivarius cements his place as the best stayer in Europe
There can be little doubt Stradivarius (Sea The Stars) would be allocated top weight if he was aimed towards the Melbourne Cup as the four-year-old confirmed himself to be the best stayer in Europe when making it three wins from three starts this season in the Goodwood Cup (Gr 1, 2m) on Tuesday.
The John Gosden-trained colt once again got the upper hand over the Jessica Harrington-trained Torcedor (Fastnet Rock), the pairing having finished first and third in the Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2m4f) at Royal Ascot last month, and while the runner-up closed the margin of defeat to half a length from a length, this was no more than he was entitled to do off level weights, with the 1lb weight-for-age allowance received by Stradivarius in June no longer applicable at this stage of the season.
Stradivarius will now head to York for the Lonsdale Cup (Gr 2, 2m) in a bid to capture the £1 million bonus offered by sponsors Weatherbys Hamilton in the new Stayers Million programme and while a trip to Flemington would be a lot to ask of a horse who has already run three huge races this season, that will surely be the port of call for Torcedor, who might be vulnerable to speedier types but he undoubtedly stays well and has plenty of class.
Chief Ironside showcases southern hemisphere credentials
Finally, the William Jarvis-trained Chief Ironside (Lawman) posted an improved display when finishing third in the Thoroughbred Stakes (Gr 3, 1m) on Friday and he could prove a decidedly useful southern hemisphere prospect as a strong-travelling sort who skips off fast ground.
The three-year-old had shown natural exuberance on his previous starts over 1m2f but he looked well suited by the drop in trip and strong gallop as both he and Ostilio (New Approach) cut out breakneck early fractions. Although both were collared late by the much more patiently ridden Regal Reality (Intello), Chief Ironside deserves plenty of credit for sticking to his task and middle distances on the sharper tracks of the southern hemisphere could see him in his best light, particularly when allowed to lead.
A 155,000 guineas purchase from Book 2 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, Chief Ironside is worth around four times that figure now and he would undoubtedly be a highly sought-after prospect should he ever come up for sale.