Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes (Group 1)
HIS pre-race behaviour has come into question more than once, but the character that is Blackbeard (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) once again let his ability do the talking as he gained his second successive Group 1 success with a career-best effort to land the Middle Park Stakes by two lengths from stable-companion The Antarctic (Tom Marquand), that pair having filled the same positions in the Prix Robert Papin in July.
July Stakes winner Persian Force (Richard Hannon/Rossa Ryan) – who had Blackbeard behind when second in the Coventry Stakes and split the principals when a close second in the Group 1 Prix Morny – made much of the running and had every chance before hanging right-handed when challenged initially by Blackbeard; he was headed in the dip with over a furlong left, and lost second well inside the last to be beaten two lengths in total at the line.
The disappointment of the race was the 15/8 favourite Marshman, who shaped well when runner-up in the Gimcrack Stakes but raced far too keenly here and failed to do himself justice as a result.
This is quite easy form to analyse given that the front pair have been separated by similar margins in three pattern contests, although both are worth crediting with a bit more improvement using Persian Force as a guide.
That colt has been very consistent this year, so even if his drifting under pressure cost him some ground here, it’s still fair to assume he’s run close to his best, and that notion is bolstered by the presence of Group 3 Sirenia Stakes winner Mischief Magic in fourth, a full four lengths adrift of the winner.
Blackbeard was having his eighth start, and gaining a sixth win, and the question with him is whether his pedigree and temperament (he was again troublesome at the start here, albeit not to the extent he was before the Morny) will allow him to train on at three.
Doubt has been cast on that before, but he deserves credit for maintaining and even improving the level of his form into the autumn, and it would be dangerous to keep underestimating him, as the market seemed to do here, allowing to start at 100/30 despite his Group 1 credentials. He’s a conundrum, but an exciting one.
“Blackbeard has moved up a little bit again,” said Aidan O’Brien. “I think he was comfortable. I was very happy to see Ryan getting a lead and Ryan was as well, as usually they don’t go fast enough to lead him, and he usually ends up having to make his own running.”
When asked what his primary target for next year would be, O’Brien replied: “I’m not sure - I’d say he is fast, and I wouldn’t be sure he would stay. He looks a five- or six-furlong horse, but you never know.”
Richard Hannon offered no excuses for Persian Force, other than to say that trying to win the race may have cost him second. He suggested a trip to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint would be on the colt’s agenda.
THE latest running of the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes saw an overwhelming favourite in the shape of Charlie Appleby’s Flying Honours (Will Buick) at 2/7, but rather than proving a one-sided affair, the quartet all held a winning chance passing the furlong pole.
It was maiden winner The Foxes (Andrew Balding/David Probert) who prevailed in a messy finish, with runner-up Dubai Mile (Charlie & Mark Johnston/Danny Muscutt) wandering first left and then right in the closing stages, bumping both Flying Honours and Greenland.
While the interference may well have affected the places, the winner, who found a clear path near the far rail, did it on merit on the day, and deserves the prize, for all it’s clearly form to be dubious about going forward. The winner was returned at an SP of 17/2 and won by half a length and a short head.
A field of four was a disappointment for the Royal Lodge, although the pool of horses available to run is reduced by the scheduling of the Beresford Stakes on the same weekend, and that may be something which needs addressing in due course. The race has averaged only just over six runners since switching from Ascot just over a decade ago, for what it’s worth.
Dubai Mile was expected to set the pace, but he went slower in front than expected, meaning the race only developed in the last couple of furlongs, and that didn’t really suit any of the quartet, for all the winner coped best. Flying Honours was undoubtedly disappointing, but he had previously beaten subsequent Haynes, Hanson & Clark winner Stormbuster by a wide margin at Salisbury and is surely worth forgiving this in isolation.
The Foxes – like Beresford winner Crypto Force – was disappointing when drawn low in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, but was a taking winner of a maiden at the Qatar Goodwood Festival, and had been due to run in the Solario Stakes at Sandown, but was a late withdrawal with a self-cert.
Like the pair who chased him home here, The Foxes has an entry in the Vertem Futurity Trophy, but Andrew Balding was of a mind to rough the Churchill colt off for the season.
“We thought they would go a stronger gallop than that, but he has done very well to come from that position to get the job done,” he said. “I love the way The Foxes galloped out head down. I would think that would be it. I think he wants this sort of ground and I’d prefer to wait to next year [rather than go to Doncaster].”