With the recent days of rain up at Haydock the going is currently Soft and the times of the races there on Friday suggested that description was accurate. That’s likely to make this 1m 6f contest (The Old Borough Cup) a real stamina test and a liking for plenty of give underfoot is surely a pre-requisite.
That was certainly the case 12 months ago when this race was won by RESHOUN and he re-appears here a year on. He is just 3lbs higher than last year and ground conditions, the circumstance of the race and the jockey on board all look to be as per 12 months ago. He has not won a race since that day but did run well in the November Handicap, at Doncaster, in November in soft ground and has been running on unsuitably quicker ground for the majority of this season. Indeed, it does look as though conditions are key for him as much of his best form has come on ground no better than Good To Soft. The going was actually described as Heavy last year and he ploughed through it to great effect to win by over 3 lengths. He had wind surgery earlier this summer and then ran creditably, over 2 miles, on his return from that at Newbury in July. Last time out, he ran in The Shergar Cup, at Ascot, where a combination of the shorter trip and the quicker ground possibly didn’t suit and he will be better suited by the step back up in trip and the slower conditions here. His trainer has 3 entered in this but I would not be surprised if a repeat win in this has been the main target for him since the start of the campaign. He looks a solid each-way bet.
The current favourite is CORELLI who represents the Frankie Dettori/John Gosden combination. For that reason alone he warrants respect and closer attention. He is an admirably consistent horse who, in his 9 career starts so far, has only finished outside the places on 2 occasions (winning 3). The first was in his first ever race as a 2 year-old and the second was in June when tried in the 2mile 5 furlong Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot. That last race is the one and only time he has been beyond 1 ½ miles so he does have to prove himself over this trip. He has finished as runner-up on 3 occasions already this season, since being gelded over the winter, and has only been put up 2lbs for his last run at York. He does, however, have to shoulder top weight.
Mark Johnston is a trainer who has targeted this race in the past and has tasted victory in it four times. He runs CHARLES KINGSLEY here. The 4 year-old was previously with Godolphin but never ran a race in their colours before switching from Charlie Appleby to Johnston late last summer. He has made up for lost time since, however, and, as is fairly typical for this trainer, he has been kept busy in 2019 running 12 times already and winning on 3 occasions. He looks to be versatile in terms of ground conditions, so the soft ground will be no issue, but he does have to step up on anything he has achieved so far in his career to date if he is to win this.
CLEVER COOKIE has been a great servant to connections over the years but, at 11 years old, his best days are undoubtedly behind him. He is, however, coming down the weights and runs here off his lowest mark for 5 years. He is, also, running in a lower grade than he has been for much of his career and did make an encouraging seasonal debut at York last time. He is, clearly, being campaigned sparingly these days and the soft conditions should, at least, be in his favour even if he may find himself playing second fiddle to younger legs. The cheekpieces are re-engaged here and, whilst it would be nice to see the old boy roll back the years, it’s difficult to see him improving on his 5th place in this contest last year.
NOT SO SLEEPY has been running consistently this season and he turns out here just 1lb higher than when runner-up, in heavy ground, at Nottingham over this trip last month. He hasn’t won on the flat since 2017 but was successful over hurdles last winter. He finished 2nd in The November Handicap where RESHOUN was 3rd, is now 1lb better off, and his trainer is in decent form at present.
Another trainer in good form is Alan King and, as at Friday afternoon, he had had 5 winners from his last 7 runners. When trainers hit a streak like that, it is worth looking closely at any horses they run. He runs RAINBOW DREAMER here and this 6 year-old has mixed his career between hurdling and running on the flat so far. In his flat races, he has won 3 of his 12 starts so far with 2 of those coming at a distance beyond 2 miles. He has only run over this trip twice and finished 2nd on both occasions. It is first run for over 6 months, however, and he might just improve for the run with a potential tilt at The Cesarewitch next month on the horizon.
As mentioned earlier, Ian Williams has 3 horses entered in this and TIME TO STUDY is very much of interest. He is a horse I’ve liked for some time and he ran some excellent races as a 3 year-old when in the care of Mark Johnston. Now aged 5, he switched stable over the winter, after being gelded, and, other than running an excellent race in The Ascot Stakes in June, has taken his time to run to form for his current yard. He may have found his subsequent start to Ascot coming a bit quickly, when down the field in The Northumberland Plate, and then the ground would've been too quick at Newmarket so it is possible to find excuses. Last time, however, he showed a welcome return to form with victory in France over this distance and in his favoured soft ground. The horse that finished 3rd that day has since come out and franked the form too. He is lurking in here off his lowest mark for over 2 years and, with the excellent Ceiren Fallon on board, he gets the added benefit of the jockey’s 5lb claim. He is definitely one for the shortlist.
RESTORER is the final runner for Ian Williams and is the longest-priced of them at present. He was due to run at Ascot on Friday but the quicker ground there was deemed unsuitable so he takes his chance here instead. He is on a career-low mark in handicaps and has a good jockey on board but he does have to step up on recent form and is largely unproven over this trip.
BLAKENEY POINT is a horse who relishes soft ground and is another who finds himself on a handy mark judged by some previous form. His current mark of 98 is his lowest for over 2 years and is 7lbs lower than his last winning mark which came last September in a listed contest at Chester. He has been below form so far this year but a look at his career statistics highlights the fact that he is better in the autumn. Of his 7 career wins, 5 have come after 1st September and, indeed, in the month of September itself, he has won 4 of his 5 starts. His form on soft ground is good, too, with 2 wins, a 2nd place, and a 3rd from just 5 starts. He has winning form over 2 miles so if it does become a test of stamina that should be no problem and, whilst James Doyle is an eye-catching jockey booking, his trainer has been in good form over the past fortnight too.
Sir Michael Stoute has a couple entered here and a case can be made for both of them.
MELTING DEW looks to be the choice of Ryan Moore and he ran a more encouraging race last time at York, where he finished ahead of MY REWARD, CHARLES KINGSLEY, BLAKENEY POINT and CLEVER COOKIE. He was in danger of becoming very disappointing prior to that, and had run up a quirky sequence of 9th placed finishes. He was ridden to get the trip that day but stayed on well up the straight and, now connections know that he does stay, he may be ridden more positively here. He is a horse who looks to be better on the all-weather and has not raced on soft ground too often. When he has, however, he has finished placed on both occasions.
The second Stoute horse is CRYSTAL KING. This 4 year-old son of Frankel is related to Crystal Ocean and runs in the same colours. He was tried over 2 miles last time, at Ascot, having previously been running largely at half a mile shorter, but, clearly, didn’t stay. The step back in trip here, therefore, looks to be the right move. The booking of Richard Kingscote is a good one, given the jockey’s excellent record at the track, whilst the application of a visor for the first time may also be significant given the trainer’s good record this season when applying that particular piece of headgear for the first time (50% success rate). He is, however, unproven on ground that is likely to be this testing.
The hat-trick seeking ALRIGHT SUNSHINE is an interesting runner here for Keith Dalgleish and owners more well-known for their horses who have exploits over fences. This horse, in fact, started off running in NH bumpers and won 3 of his 4 races in that sphere last winter. Switched to this discipline in May, he has won 3 of his 5 starts and, all in all, is yet to finish outside the first 3 in any of his 9 career races. He is clearly very progressive and has to be taken seriously here. He proved himself in soft ground last time out, at Musselburgh, when winning over this trip but does find himself 5lbs higher here in a much stronger race. He did appear to have plenty in hand that day, however, particularly as he raced a little keenly, and may still have something in hand from the handicapper. A bigger field and stronger gallop may suit him here and he is another to take seriously.
GARBANZO is a horse who flirted with hurdling last winter, having been sent to Dr Richard Newland from Ed Walker, but he never really took to the discipline and is now back plying his trade on the flat and back with Ed Walker. He won on re-appearance at Kempton last time, over a trip that would have been short enough, and he is a course-and-distance winner. He may well improve for that run on the all-weather and that race was possibly a prep for this as connections have said that this race has been a target for some time. He is on a career-high mark now, however, and this is a step up in class.
I was at Thirsk this time last year when The Hambleton Cup was won by ARROWTOWN. That race win was the first in a hat-trick sequence last autumn for the Mick Easterby-trained mare and she re-appears here for the first time since completing that 3-timer at York in October.
She is another who is stepping up in class but the absolute key to her chances is the ground. That win at Thirsk was in soft conditions as was the final leg of the hat-trick at York whilst in between those races, at Ayr, she won on heavy ground. In all, her career record in ground described as either soft or heavy is 4 wins and 2 runner-up places from her 6 starts. She does have a very long absence to overcome, so fitness has to be taken on trust, but she has run well after a break before.
There is every chance that the ground conditions may rule a couple out, notably THEGLASGOWWARRIOR who was pulled out of last year’s renewal on account of the ground, but, in a race where an initial short-list very quickly becomes a long list, there should still be some enhanced places on offer and it is worth taking advantage of those. Given that, it’s difficult for me to envisage RESHOUN being out of the each-way money whilst just getting the vote for further each-way picks are his stable-mate TIME TO STUDY, who needs this soft ground and is on a good mark, and BLAKENEY POINT who has run a couple of decent races here in the past and thrives at this time of the year. I may well have a little bit of loose change on ARROWTOWN, too, at bigger odds and she would be my first reserve should any of the main picks not run.