Haydock 3.35 (John Of Gaunt Stakes): MANKIB / SNAZZY JAZZY
It is often difficult to predict, precisely, what the going is likely to be at Haydock but, with the volume of rain that has fallen in the North-West in the past few days plus the forecast of more to come throughout Saturday’s racing, this 7 furlong contest looks set to be run in very testing conditions. This is the third day of racing on the trot at the venue and, whilst they are set to run on a different track here, the ground had been officially changed to Heavy prior to racing there on Friday night.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the exact state of the ground, I am only advising half-stakes here to that normally advised.
The favourite for this race earlier in the week was SIR DANCEALOT who runs for the ever-green David Elsworth. He made an encouraging reappearance in The Lockinge Stakes, at Newbury, over the mile trip which really does stretch his stamina and this step back to what is, almost certainly, his optimum distance looks ideal. His last 5 runs have all been at Group 1 level and this ease in grade will also help as the 4 times he has stepped down from that level in the past 12 months he has won each time. Although, therefore, he is clearly the class horse in the race, he was usurped as favourite on Friday and that can only be on account of the likely ground conditions. He has never won on soft ground, indeed only running in testing conditions on 5 occasions, although he did finish a creditable 5th in the Group 1 Sprint on Champions Day, at Ascot, last October on ground officially described as soft.
He may be good enough to cope with it, and he does escape any penalty for his 2 Group wins last summer, but the likely testing conditions are enough for me to look elsewhere for selections in the race. That said, if he takes his chance and his price ends up getting big enough nearer to the off, I may be tempted into a small each-way 'saver' bet.
The horse who has taken over as favourite in the betting is the John Quinn trained SAFE VOYAGE. This horse is a perfect 3 from 3 over this course-and-distance, including 2 this season. His last win came 4 weeks ago, when he beat 3 rivals who re-oppose here, in what was his first step up into listed class. Although now a 6 year-old, he is very lightly raced, having had a few issues when a younger horse and then only making the track on 3 occasions last year, and he is probably still improving. He showed a nice turn of foot last time, as he did the previous month on soft ground, and will be looking to confirm the form of that race with his re-opposing rivals here.
The horse who finished 2nd behind SAFE VOYAGE last time, at Haydock, was MANKIB who runs for William Haggas. He was giving the winner 3lbs that day, and runs here off level weights, so connections will be hopeful of turning the form round on those terms. It was, also, the 5 year-old's seasonal debut so we can expect him to improve for that run as that has been the case with many of the stable’s runners so far this season. He travelled really well that day and was still on the bridle at the back of the field as the race started to develop in earnest. He made decent progress on the outside and looked a real threat before not being able to go through with the effort towards the end against his race-fit rival in receipt of that weight. His trainer has a 26% strike-rate at this track, whilst he is also in good form at present with a win rate of 28% in the past fortnight. Add to this the very good record of Jim Crowley at Haydock (23% strike-rate) and there is much in the horse's favour. He has a wide draw so the jockey may have to be patient and bide his time getting into the race – something he is more than capable of doing. The one big question mark, however, has to be the ground as he has only raced on soft ground once in his career so far. He could only finish 8th that day but that was in a strong-looking Group 1 when trained by Freddie Head in France. If handling the testing conditions, I can see him reversing the form with the favourite. At the prices, he is probably best advised as a win selection but I wouldn't put anybody off taking the safer each-way option if that is their preference.
A horse who runs in this race for a fifth time in his career is BRETON ROCK. He finished 2nd in the race as far back as 2014, having previously won the race that SAFE VOYAGE claimed last time out here. In all of his 3 subsequent attempts in the race, however, he has finished unplaced but he does have conditions in his favour this time. In 12 runs, so far, in his career on soft ground he has won 2 and been placed in 5 others whilst he won his only start on ground officially described as heavy. He may be in the veteran stage of his career now, at the age of 9, but he does handle these conditions better than most. If the rain keeps coming, it’s easy to foresee him going off at a much shorter price than he is trading at currently in the betting.
Another who relishes soft ground is MITCHUM SWAGGER. This listed winner finished behind BRETON ROCK last time at Windsor but the ground would not have suited him that day as he rarely runs on anything quicker than Good To Soft. He does have a soft ground win to his name at this course but that was over a mile and he has run exclusively at that distance since joining his current yard in 2017. His debut run came in The Lincoln last March, where he finished a very good 3rd behind Addeybb and Lord Glitters in soft going, but he then picked up an injury and, after 6 months off, had a very good spell in the autumn on his favoured testing ground. He gets those conditions again here and could make a bold bid.
LARCHMONT LAD finished runner-up in this race last year, when trained by David O’Meara, and was beaten by just a head. That was on much quicker ground than this, however, and he has only ever contested 1 race on ground anywhere near as soft as this is likely to be. He showed some good consistent levels of form for O’Meara, winning a Group 2 at The Curragh, and, before, that had shown much promise for Richard Hannon. He ran in the race won by SAFE VOYAGE last time out, making the running before fading in the straight and being allowed to come home in his own time. He did get quite upset in the stalls that day so he may not have run his race but he does have much work to do to turn around the form with the others in that race.
One of those who finished ahead of LARCHMONT LAD was his former stable-mate SUEDOIS. This globe-trotter has won 8 races in his career so far but not one of them has been in the UK. He is a very game horse and is the model of consistency with 16 top 3 finishes to add to his 8 victories in a 40-race career. He is pretty versatile in terms of ground, so conditions should not be a problem, but it is difficult to see him turning round the form with SAFE VOYAGE and MANKIB from their last meeting.
BURNT SUGAR was quite eye-catching to me when he finished 6th in behind SAFE VOYAGE here in April and he won 2 big handicaps in the middle of last summer. It could be that a crack at some of this big mid-summer events is the plan once more this year and this could be asking a lot of him here.
There are a trio of 4 year-olds who line up in this and one of them is the runner-up in last year’s 2,000 Guineas – TIP TWO WIN. He ran well, subsequently, at Royal Ascot but then disappointed at Goodwood, behind SIR DANCEALOT, before being reported as finishing lame when running in The Qatar Derby in December. This is reported as being a preparation for Royal Ascot, where he is entered in The Diamond Jubilee Stakes, but connections have expressed concern about running him in soft ground in the past so he has to be a doubtful participant with the forecast conditions.
Clive Cox has the other pair of 4 year-olds and the one with the best chance is, undoubtedly, SNAZZY JAZZY. He won all 3 of his starts as a 2 year-old but then struggled to find any consistency in the early months of last season where he was racing predominantly on ground that was too quick for him. He, then, won 2 of his last 3 races of the year in more suitable soft conditions when winning The Ayr Silver Cup, in September, and then taking a Group 3 race in France on his last run. In between, he ran in a listed race at Navan over a trip that was, possibly, too sharp for him and he didn’t get the clearest of runs when finishing 7th. He is yet to win over 7 furlongs but in all of those 3 races last autumn he was running on strongly at the end suggesting he would welcome this step up in trip.
It is, however, the testing ground that looks key to his chances here as he is a perfect 3 from 3 in soft or heavy ground and despite a 3lb penalty, for the win in France, he could play a big part in the finish here for a trainer who has a decent strike-rate at Haydock.