Our racing expert gives his verdict on Saturday's televised action.
1:50 6f Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes (Listed Race) (Class 1) (3yo)
Aidan O’Brien’s Murillo looks a big player on last year’s Coventry Stakes third and he showed he had trained on when running well for a long way in the 2000 Guineas on his return, only fading late on into ninth.
He’s not opposed lightly but his main market rival here, EQTIDAAR, was a real eye-catcher on his reappearance in a Group 3 at Ascot and Sir Michael Stoute’s charge gets the vote. A good winner on his debut last August before finishing fourth behind Invincible Army, he refused to settle in the first third of the race and that really should have put paid to his chances. But on the contrary, he came through to lead inside the final two furlongs and stayed on well to beat all bar his old rival, who is now amongst the favourites for the Commonwealth Cup. He would surely have gone mighty close had he settled better and with further improvement almost a given, he can go one better here and reward backers at bet365’s 7/2.
In anticipation of a win, or at least a big run, it’s also worth considering having a little on him now for that Royal Ascot Group a sprint with 33/1 available at Betfred.
2:25 1m4f Al Rayyan Stakes (Registered As The Aston Park Stakes) (Group 3) (Class 1) (4yo+)
Sir Michael Stoute could well double up in this with CRYSTAL OCEAN as his colt has just four inferior rivals to beat and has already shown his wellbeing this season with a battling success in a Sandown Group 3 over 1m2f. While he’s not short of speed, last year’s St Leger second is probably better over this longer trip and he’s doubtless capable of bagging a Group 1 at some stage this season, with this being a nice prize to pick up en route. The race-fit Raheen House might be capable of edging out Second Step for second place.
3:00 1m2f Al Zubarah London Gold Cup Handicap (Class 2) (3yo)
This is crammed with promising three-year-olds and should be a good source of future winners, with last year’s winning trainer Roger Varian responsible for the likely favourite Masaarr. After flopping as on odds-on favourite over 7f at Wolverhampton on his reappearance, he relished an extra furlong when winning at Doncaster on his most recent outing and given how strong he was at the line, he should get this far. But more of a concern is his subsequent 8lb rise and that leaves him giving weight away to all bar one of his ten rivals.
Of these, one who might be a good deal better than his current mark is HE’S AMAZING, who was described as a ‘work in progress’ by his trainer Clive Cox after winning on his first try over 1m2f at the Guineas meeting (good to firm). While the runner-up has been well beaten since, he probably found the race coming too soon and the third Dukhan, who re-opposes, still holds an entry in the Derby. As for the winner, he surely has further improvement in him after just four starts and this trip on fast ground is clearly what he needs at this stage of his career. Furthermore, we get to back him each-way at 11/1 with bet365.
3:40 1m (Str) Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Class 1) (4yo+)
A competitive renewal with 16 set to go to post, but the one I keep coming back to is Aidan O’Brien’s RHODODENDRON, who is the only Group 1 mile winner in the field (a dual one in fact) and might prove too classy for these if running up to her best. A prolific winner at two, she had a mixed bag last season, with the highlights being her second in the Oaks behind Enable and a battling success in the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera. But it was her final outing at the Breeders’ Cup that really caught the eye as she had the outside stall to overcome, was dropped in towards the back by Ryan Moore, who then had to weave his way through the pack only to find that the winner Wuheida had got first run. All those efforts were over further, but she’s not short of speed and a fast-run mile, which seems assured with a couple of stablemates on pacemaker duties, could prove absolutely ideal.
The concern is that this would not appear to be a race that O’Brien targets with his only success coming from Hawk Wing in 2004. However, that is probably because the race comes earlier in the season than ideal for his horses, who always improve massively for a run, so it’s a big positive that Rhododendron has already had an outing, shaping well to finish fourth in a French Group 1 20 days ago. The record of fillies is also encouraging as while only four have triumphed since 1984, three of those have come since 2004 and she’d be superior to most of the females that have taken their chance. In a race not known for shocks – horses sent off at 9/1 or bigger are 0-64 in the last ten years – she looks to have what it takes to become the eighth winning favourite (one joint) since 2008.
Most of those behind her in the betting have question marks over them, with the next in the betting Addeybb far from certain to appreciate this faster ground, while all of Limato’s successes at the highest level have come over shorter trips. There’s real scope for an outsider muscling their way into the frame and DUTCH CONNECTION can surely outrun his 50/1 price tag with Hills, who are paying out on four places. The key to this horse is fast ground – tick – and that was the reason for his two previous heavy defeats in this race. Last season was a write-off for him, but he’s reportedly never wintered so well and is moving great at home according to his trainer Charlie Hills. While both his Group wins came over 7f, he’s run with credit over this trip and with Jamie Spencer sure to have him covered up at the back early, he’s likely going to be flying home at the death.
Newbury 1.50, Eqtidaar @ 7/2 bet365
Newbury 2.25, Crystal Ocean @ 8/13 Betfair
Newbury 3.00, He’s Amazing @ 11/1 bet365
Newbury 3.40, Rhododendron @ 4/1 Ladbrokes / Dutch Connection each-way @ 50/1 Hills (1/5 odds, 22.214.171.124)
All odds were correct at time of posting.