The last time Sir Michael Stoute’s entire dropped back to this level, he ran out a gutsy winner of what was a modest running of the Prix Foy at Longchamp.
Subsequently, he was comfortably outpointed when fourth behind stable-companion Conduit in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and then touched off when favourite for the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. He’s certainly a horse that runs well fresh and went close in yet another Group 1 race when third behind Dar Re Mi in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March.
Freshened up for this assignment, he’s pretty hard to opposes but his challenge must be timed to perfection and that’s the minute section of exposed skin on his Achilles heel at which his rivals will be pointing their arrows.
The ex-Mark Johnston trained Holberg made a very impressive debut for Saeed Bin Suroor when winning at Goodwood last month. He dictated matters from the front and quickened up smartly to see off some limited opposition with any amount to spare. It’s interesting that his former trainer asked him to step up to two miles for last year’s Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the decision reaped dividends.
Current connections believe that this is his trip but, with the presence of Tazeez, he may not be allowed such a soft lead this time. He’s entitled to plenty of respect but he’s short enough in the betting given what he has achieved thus far.
Despite Richard Hills’ adeptness aboard front runners, it’s as hard to fancy the afore-mentioned Tazeez as it is to reconcile his performances with his lofty rating. When third in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes at Royal Ascot recently, he led from the off, stuck tight to the rails and kept on reasonably well to finish a close but almost certainly flattered third behind Byword and subsequent Eclipse winner Twice Over.
He’s stepping up another couple of furlongs this afternoon and his pedigree raises major doubts about his ability to see it out. He’s unlikely to be ridden any other way apart from positively and he looks likely to tee-up the race for his rivals. He represents pretty poor value at around 5-1.
Three of today’s runners, Sans Frontiers, Redwood and Crowded House, finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively when they met in the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot last time out. The first named was held up at the back of the pack but looked a little awkward before making late headway into fourth place while Redwood lost his position mid-race and stayed on again into fifth.
Crowded House, sporting blinkers for the first time, raced far too freely throughout and his race was over early as he chased the lead set by Barshiba. Normally held up for a late run, he had used up all his energy before turning for home and faded back into a disappointing sixth place. However, it’s fair to say that he was more competitive than the pair that eventually finished in front of him and a return to waiting tactics should see him reverse form with both Sans Frontieres and Redwood.
If new jockey Martin Dwyer can get his mount to settle this afternoon, he might be able to show what he’s really worth. That could be good enough to see him into the places as old-stager Nanton, admirable as he is, is likely to struggle to get competitive at the business end and the ex-Aidan O’Brien trained Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner simply doesn’t have the pace for this company at this trip.
In brief, it’s too far for Tazeez, too short for Man Of Iron and too hot for Sans Frontieres, Redwood and Nanton. Holberg has possibilities but is too short in the betting and that leaves just Crowded House and favourite Spanish Moon.
The favourite really ought to win but, given that the odds are so large, it’s worth taking one last chance on Crowded House. He let us down badly at Ascot but there were some positives to the performance and it’s worth an each-way speculation that he can find the form that saw him finish less than nine lengths behind Sea The Stars in last year’s Epsom Derby.