Ebor holds key answers to the Melbourne Cup puzzle
In a race whereby Group-race class came to the fore, Muntahaa produced a clear career-best performance under an inspired Jim Crowley who, having been drawn in stall 21, ploughed a lone furrow for the first three furlongs of the contest, switching his mount to join the remainder of the field once he had established an early rhythm away from the initial scrimmaging of the main pack. Muntahaa travelled kindly from there on in, proving last off the bridle and breezing alongside his stable companion Weekender inside the two-furlong marker, powering clear in the closing stages to record a Racing Post Rating of 118 in winning by three and a quarter lengths.
A winner of the John Porter Stakes (Gr 3, 1m4f) at Newbury as a four-year-old, Muntahaa has slowly been brought back to the boil by his masterful trainer this season and he is clearly well suited by an extreme test of stamina on fast ground. Although he has yet to race beyond the trip, he already stays further than his pedigree implies he might and his strength at the finish on Saturday augurs particularly well for the extra two furlongs he would be asked to face at Flemington, while his tactical speed would be a significant asset as well. The hustle and bustle of a Melbourne Cup would ask a new question of his mental faculties, particularly as Crowley described him as ‘claustrophobic’ post-race, but in winning this contest off a mark of 108, he appeals as the type who could be allocated a very plausible racing weight by Greg Carpenter.
Weekender produced another commendable effort under top weight and he is developing a consistent, if not particularly progressive, profile. Having raced only once over two miles, running third in the Henry II Stakes (Gr 3, 2m) at Sandown in May, there would still be a small question mark over the trip, while he appeals as the type who would be handicapped to run a big race, rather than necessarily have enough in hand to win.
The Willie Mullins-trained Stratum (Dansili), who carries the same colours of owner Tony Bloom as ante-post Melbourne Cup favourite Withhold (Champs Elysees), could not justify heavily-supported favouritism in the Ebor having suffered significant interference a furlong and a half from home. He did not look to be going well enough at the time to suggest he would have troubled the winner, but he is evidently capable of significantly better bare form than this and a step back up in trip will be very much in his favour.
Cross Counter aimed at Melbourne showpiece
There were further developments to the Melbourne Cup picture across the course of the meeting, with Charlie Appleby confirming Cross Counter (Teofilo) as an intended starter following his narrow defeat to stable companion Old Persian (Dubawi) in a thrilling finish to the Great Voltigeur Stakes (Gr 2, 1m4f). The runner-up lost little in defeat, sticking to his task nicely as the front two pulled clear of the remainder, and he shapes like a step up in trip will prove beneficial, while he appeals as a hardy three-year-old who is unlikely to be unduly phased by the demands of a big-field test.
Although not at his very best, possibly feeling the effects of two tough races on fast ground, Stradivarius (Sea The Stars) created history when landing Friday’s Lonsdale Cup (Gr 2, 2m), grinding out a length and a half success to secure the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million bonus, netting connections a seven-figure payday and maintaining his unbeaten record as a four-year-old. A southern hemisphere folly looks unlikely for him at this stage, although the runner-up, Count Octave (Frankel), would not look out of place should connections point him towards the Melbourne Cup on the back of this wide-margin career-best performance. The Ed Dunlop-trained Red Verdon (Lemon Drop Kid), who has long been aimed towards Flemington, ran a strange race to finish fifth, proving unable to go with the principals when the tempo quickened. Doubts have now emerged over his resolution.
Lord Glitters shows his mettle with Strensall victory
David O’Meara has enjoyed significant success travelling horses to North America in recent seasons, with Mondialiste (Galileo) and Suedois (Le Havre) landing a trio of Grade 1 contests between them, and he looks to have unearthed a representative capable of cutting it in top-flight company on the global stage in the shape of Saturday’s Strensall Stakes (Gr 3, 1m1f) winner Lord Glitters (Whipper), although his effectiveness on soft ground might tempt connections into plotting an autumn campaign in Australia for the five-year-old.
Placed in all four of his previous starts this season, including the Queen Anne Stakes (Gr 1, 1m) at Royal Ascot, Lord Glitters gained a first success of the season when fending off the sustained challenge of last year’s winner Mustashry (Tamayuz) by half a length, with the front two pulling nicely clear in a piece of form that looks solid for the level. An improved performer all round this year, Lord Glitters enjoyed a fruitful last autumn racing with plenty of give underfoot and races like The Doncaster Mile (Gr 1, 1600m) or even the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) would be feasible long-term targets should connections consider that route.
Melbourne the long-term plan for Here And Now
Finally, long-term race planning is often the key to success on the biggest stage and Ralph Beckett showed the breadth of his thinking by casting one eye towards next year’s Melbourne Cup for Here And Now (Dansili) following his impressive success in the two-mile handicap at York on Wednesday.
A private purchase by Ronnie Arculli last autumn, whose silks were cast into Flemington legend by three-time Cup place-getter Red Cadeaux (Cadeaux Genereux), Here And Now had suffered a truncated campaign up until this point, but he looked a four-year-old with legitimate stakes aspirations in crushing a 16-strong field by five lengths having moved through the race purposefully under Harry Bentley.
Although evidently not the easiest to train, Here And Now remains with potential after just eleven career starts, only two of which have come over 2 miles, and he appears capable of further progress, possibly significant progress, if connections are granted a clear run with him.