The Group 1 Coral-Eclipse takes center stage at Sandown on Saturday, as the three-year-old horses get their first chance to clash with the older generation. This year we are treated to the superstar Mare Enable making her seasonal reappearance, and I am ecstatic to be in attendance at the Esher track. Be sure to follow me on twitter @JakePriceRacing if you don’t already, for live updates (and pictures!) throughout the day. Away from the Group 1 action we have some competitive Group 3/Listed races on the under-card, and you can find my thoughts below…
13:50 – Coral Charge (Group 3) 3yo+ – 5f
We start Coral-Eclipse Day at Sandown with a competitive looking 5f Group 3 Sprint, where Garrus can hopefully make a winning debut for Charlie Hills. Previously with Jeremy Noseda (before his retirement last month), Garrus has shown top form in both his two and three-year-old campaigns. Last year this son of Acclamation won twice in Novice events, before finishing a credible fourth in the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury behind the likes of Kessaar (112) and Shine So Bright (111). He signed off his Juvenile campaign when fourth in a Listed Stakes race at Doncaster on ground which would’ve been softer than ideal, but he has returned to the track in revitalised form.
A winner on seasonal reappearance at Nottingham in April, Garrus relished the Good to Firm ground to beat Pocket Dynamo by one-and-a-quarter lengths – showing good speed under Ryan Moore. He backed that up with an even better run at York a month later, when contesting the Listed Westow Stakes. Archie Watson’s Soldier’s Call lined up that day in a very decent looking renewal of the race, but Garrus stuck his neck out to score by a short-head from Shades Of Blue in second. That Clive Cox horse has since gone on to land a Listed race at Maisons-Laffitte last month, but Soldier’s Call gave the form an even bigger boost when running a cracker in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes – finishing third behind the extremely classy Blue Point and Battaash on the Tuesday of Royal Ascot. With the form working out so well Garrus would be a strong selection to record a hat-trick here, especially as he receives 5lbs from renowned sprinters Muthmir and Caspian Prince. Sergei Prokofiev is an obvious danger considering he has been sent over from Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, however that rival was beaten seven-lengths by Soldier’s Call in the King’s Stand – so on collateral form Garrus should have the better of him. Switching to Charlie Hills seems like a very sensible decision from the owners considering his good record with sprinters, and the likely rattling fast ground at Sandown will play to our selection’s strengths. James Doyle takes the ride on this horse for the first time (as Ryan Moore is riding for Aidan O’Brien), and he features third on the winning most Jockey’s list at this Esher track over the past five seasons.
Garrus @ 4/1 2nd
14:25 – Coral Challenge Handicap (Class 2) 3yo+ – 1m
Mile Handicaps in Britain are always competitive affairs, but I think I’ve found one here in the shape of Via Serendipity. The talented five-year-old competed in seven handicaps at this Class 2 level last season, including when winning over course and distance on good-to-firm ground from a mark of 90. This Son of Invincible Spirit followed that victory up with a third-place finish in the Coral Challenge 12 months ago, before winning the Shergar Cup Mile Handicap at Ascot from a mark of 95. Stuart Williams’ charge ran poorly when twice tried over 7f in May, but he sprung back to form at Chelmsford last month when winning a Class 3 Mile Handicap off 95 – beating regular runner Masham Star by a massive five-lengths. That run has resulted in Via Serendipity achieving a mark of 104 on all-weather surfaces, but he gets to run from his turf mark of 97 here. Ideally at Sandown you want to be drawn lower, so stall 6 shouldn’t cause any issues. Top Jockey Kerrin McEvoy takes the ride continuing his stint in the UK after Royal Ascot, and I’m expecting a big performance despite him being 3lbs higher in the handicap than a year ago.
Away from our selection Greenside is weighted to reverse course and distance form with History Writer, with the former benefiting from a 7lbs swing for just a four-length defeat last month. The quick ground isn’t likely to suit however, having been pulled out when the going was good-to-firm here in May. Mojito returns to the track after a 637-day break, so it is interesting that connections have persisted with him despite obvious issues. Qaroun seems to enjoy the all-weather surfaces more these days, and Escobar would have a good chance here if rediscovering the form of when second in this race twelve months ago from a 4lbs lower mark. He’s been out of sorts since his fantastic second to Sharja Bridge in the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot last season however, and will need to show a bundle of improvement to win this. Salute The Soldier is another who needs to bounce back from a poor run, having finished thirteenth of fourteen at Newbury in May when racing far too keenly. He is interesting if settling from stall 1 today however, having shown to enjoy rattling fast ground at Bath on his previous start when a short-head second to Petrus.
Via Serendipity Each/Way @ 8/1 6th
15:00 – Coral Distaff (Listed Race) (Fillies) 3yo – 1m
Whist there doesn’t look to be any exceptional Fillies in this race, John Gosden’s Muchly caught my eye as potentially being the best of these over a mile. A winner over this trip as a two-year-old at Newbury last season, this Iffraaj Filly made her seasonal reappearance in the Group 3 Fred Darling Stakes at that aforementioned track in April, when finishing only eighth behind Dandhu. That race was over 7f however, and she clearly benefited from the run when turning up at Ascot at the beginning of May. Sent off 9/1 for a Class 3 Conditions race, Muchly made all under Frankie Dettori and just held on from the smart King Power Racing Filly Queen Power (104). She clearly enjoyed the good-to-firm ground encountered that day, and again showed that a mile is her ideal trip. Connections decided to try and step Muchly up to 1m2f when we last saw her on the track in the Listed Height Of Fashion Stakes at Goodwood, finishing fourth. She travelled beautifully well into the contest that day under Robert Havlin, but was simply outstayed from the 1f marker onward. A fourth-place finish behind the fairly impressive winner Aloe Vera was no disgrace however, and connections clearly learnt that she is better off at a mile. After that run at Goodwood this Filly went straight into my tracker as one to watch returning to a mile, so stepping back to that trip today on good-to-firm ground will hopefully bring out further improvement. Frankie Dettori will likely be prominent on her from stall 3 having made all at Ascot, which isn’t a bad thing at Sandown – especially if bagging the inside rail like she did that day. Muchly is unbeaten over a mile in her short career to date, and I’m hopeful that record will be kept intact on Saturday.
Of the remainder, Encapsulation is of obvious interest having ran so well behind Pink Dogwood in the Listed Salsabil Stakes at Navan in April. She has since moved from Noel Meade to Andrew Balding, but having only raced on good-to-soft ground in Ireland over 1m2f, she will likely find things happening a bit too quickly here. Beyond Reason makes her long awaited return to the track after a 267 day break, and warrants respect having won at Group 2 level at Deauville last season. She has to prove she stays a mile however, having been beat sixteen lengths on her only try at this trip at Newmarket in October. Main Edition carries a 5lbs penalty here having won the Group 2 German 1000 Guineas, whilst Hidden Message and Modern Millie are held on that Ascot form with our selection.
Muchly @ 5/1 3rd
15:35 – Coral-Eclipse (Group 1) 3yo+ – 1m2f
Sometimes in Horse Racing special animals come along and really capture the imagination of the public. Altior has been doing this for a few years over jumps now, and Enable plays a similar role on the Flat. Whilst inevitably a horse who puts together such a huge winning streak is never a betting prospect, the return of this dual Group 1 l’Arc de Triomphe winner is massive for the game. This horse has the power to attract people to wherever she is running, highlighted by myself travelling to Sandown to witness this five-year-old strut her stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to see Altior plenty of times at Cheltenham, but now I will also be able to say I’ve seen Enable at Sandown.
Breeders Cup Turf second Magical re-opposes the great Mare here, and she has been running extremely well this season – but obviously faces a tough task on 4lbs worse terms. Mustashry and Zabeel Prince have also won at Group 1 level so far this season, with Regal Reality landing a Group 3 here and Telecaster winning the Group 2 Dante Stakes back in May. Danceteria has also picked up a Group 3 this season – winning at Longchamp last month. The field is packed full of quality horses, so this will very much be a race to watch and savour for me.
Horse Racing needs superstars and Enable epitomises the term.
Enable (No Bet) 1st
16:45 – Coral Marathon (Listed Race) 4yo+ – 2m
This looks like a hot renewal of the Coral Marathon, but Irish raider Falcon Eight makes the most appeal. This lightly raced Dermot Weld four-year-old won twice over middle-distance trips last season, including when beating Persian Lion by two-and-a-quarter lengths on debut at the Curragh. This son of Galileo signed off his three-year-old campaign when finishing third in the Group 3 Loughbrown Stakes at Naas in September, behind Cypress Creek and Twilight Payment on only his third start. Returning to the track at Leopardstown in May, Falcon Eight contested the Listed Levmoss Stakes when again running well behind Twilight Payment – this time just being touched off by three-quarters-of-a-length. That rival has since boosted the form by winning the Group 2 Curragh Cup last week, with the fourth that day Master Of Reality also running extremely well since – finishing third behind Stradivarius in the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup at the Royal meeting last month. With the form looking rock solid, Falcon Eight should be capable of winning this Listed event, especially as he is still relatively unexposed over these staying trips. Frankie Dettori takes the ride, so he joins cheek pieces in being applied to our selection for the time. The quick ground encountered here shouldn’t be an issue as he won on a similar surface in his Maiden, and connections will be hopeful that there are much bigger prizes to come after this.
Falcon Eight @ 15/8 1st
Good luck! – Jake Price