Melbourne Cup a major draw but some candidates better suited than others
The most striking staying performance of the week came courtesy of the Charlie Appleby-trained Hamada (Cape Cross), who won for the fourth successive time when romping away with the 1m6f handicap at Newmarket on Friday. Lightly raced for a four-year-old but campaigned with a deft touch by his trainer, Hamada has shown pleasing improvement in his five previous starts over 1m to 1m4f, but he took his form to a new level tackling this trip for the first time, winning by seven lengths having travelled powerfully into the contest under William Buick.
Despite the disappointing performance from favourite Elgin (Duke Of Marmalade), who presumably found the ground too lively, this form has substance to it, with both the runner-up, Shraaoh (Sea The Stars), and the third, Fire Jet (Ask), in-form horses who have performed creditably in similar contests this season. They help set the level of the winner’s performance to the region of 107, while the way he moved into the race before quickening away from his six rivals marks him out as a horse with legitimate Pattern-race credentials moving forward.
Appleby noted in the post-race debrief that he would “start a campaign with the Melbourne Cup in mind” and given time between his races seems important to Hamada, the Ebor Handicap (1m6f) at York next month would appear to be a logical stepping stone to aid his qualification credentials, despite the hefty rise he will incur from the handicapper on the back of this success. Looking further down the line, Hamada promises to be well suited by the step up to two miles and his strong-staying prowess combined with an ability to travel and quicken suggests he has the toolkit to develop into a serious Melbourne Cup contender.
Trainers Jim Goldie and Saeed bin Suroor also nominated the Melbourne Cup as their option of choice following the victories of Euchen Glen (Authorized) and Best Solution (Kodiac) in the John Smith’s Cup (1m2.5f) at York and Princess Of Wales’s Stakes (Gr 2, 1m4f) at Newmarket respectively, but holes can be picked in the claims of both horses despite the taking manner of their victories during the week.
Euchen Glen was given a fine front-running ride by Alastair Rawlinson to land the feature handicap at York, dictating modest fractions despite the 19-runner field before staying on strongly to repel the fast-finishing Thundering Blue (Exchange Rate) by two and a quarter lengths.
An improved performer on the whole this season, recording a hat-trick of three-figure Racing Post Ratings prior to this career-best effort, Euchen Glen has been largely campaigned over further during his career – showing stamina for 2m – but he would need another sizeable chunk of improvement to feature in the Melbourne Cup, particularly as everything fell right for him on this occasion. Thundering Blue continues to shape like a big prize is well within his grasp and his potent turn of foot – he was given plenty of ground to make up on Saturday having been shuffled back through the field – would be a commendable attribute in the southern hemisphere.
Best Solution, on the other hand, would have no issues qualifying for the race with an official rating of 116 and the four-year-old looked to run to that figure when getting the better of the 112-rated Mirage Dancer (Frankel) and the 114-rated Duretto (Manduro) at Newmarket on Thursday to secure his first success at Group 2 level following a productive spring on the turf at Meydan. However, Best Solution already outstays his pedigree quite considerably – the best progeny by Kodiac (Danehill) tend to race over 6-8f – and the step up to two miles would surely be a bridge too far, despite his strength at the finish over 1m4f. The Caulfield Cup would likely prove a better test of his skillset.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Mirage Dancer came under pressure a long way from home in the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes, but he stuck to his task in creditable fashion once meeting the rising ground, and he looks a likely improver when faced with a greater test of stamina. Given he lacks the requisite turn of foot to become a Group 1 performer in Europe, and his connections have trod the Melbourne Cup path recently, running Snow Sky (Nayef) in the race in 2015, Mirage Dancer would be an appealing candidate for Flemington at some stage down the line, be it this season or next.
Naval Intelligence can flourish on global stage
It was only with a small amount of jest that trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam nominated the Cox Plate as a future target for Naval Intelligence (War Front) following his shock success in the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes (Listed, 1m) at Newmarket on Thursday and while the three-year-old has some way to go to develop into a horse of that calibre, he looks just the type to excel on the international stage as a strong-traveller who skips off quick ground.
Now two wins from two starts having made a successful debut over 7f at the course last month, Naval Intelligence defied in his inexperience against more seasoned rivals on this step up in grade, moving smoothly into the contest before asserting his superiority to win by a length and a half, running to a mark in the region of 105 and shaping like he will be well suited by an extra two furlongs in due course. Although this race became a little messy, with the runners split across the width of the track, Naval Intelligence travelled like much the best horse and it is easy to think he will be bought to race abroad should his current connections opt to sell.
Aidan O’Brien shows his brilliance yet again
Finally, Aidan O’Brien sprinkled another touch of his training genius on the July Cup (Gr 1, 6f) at Newmarket on Saturday as US Navy Flag (War Front) made a successful return to sprinting to book his place in the Coolmore slot for The Everest (1200m) at Randwick in October.
Champion two-year-old in Europe last year, US Navy Flag has been unsuited by the step up to one mile when pitched into Classic company during the first half of this season, but he showed his true colours returned to six furlongs and allowed to bowl along by Ryan Moore at the weekend, posting an RPR of 122 and returning to the level of form he showed when winning the Dewhurst Stakes (Gr 1, 7f) as a juvenile.
US Navy Flag promises to be well suited by sprinting around a bend on fast ground and his hardy attitude ought to stand him in good stead travelling abroad, his disappointment in last year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile (Gr 1, 1m0.5f) probably best explained as one run too many at the end of a long season.