When it comes to finding a human story angle in a big race, Saturday’s Pertemps St Leger may well serve up on a platter what would be, for me anyway, the ultimate ‘feel good’ news story of this Flat season.
To be honest, I would be a bit disappointed if the scenes, should Pyledriver provide his trainer Willie Muir with a first classic and jockey Martin Dwyer with his first since Sir Percy in the Epsom Derby 14 years ago, were anything other than utterly memorable.
I can’t think of anyone who would deny two of the nicest guys involved in horse racing such a moment and they have a horse in Pyledriver who brings top-class middle-distance form to the table this season, despite the fact that punters clearly thought his King Edward VII Stakes victory at Royal Ascot was a fluke.
Okay, he flopped at Epsom, but any horse can do that, and his 10/1 Starting Price in the Great Voltigeur looks ridiculous in hindsight, given he had already beaten the much-touted Mogul. He might not represent as powerful connections, but Pyledriver is a better horse than Mogul and he duly beat him again and in even more emphatic style.
However, Pyledriver has shown such a terrific turn of foot in both his wins this term that it makes me think going up two furlongs in trip isn’t going to bring out the best in the son of Harbour Watch.
I may end up with egg on my face come Saturday but for me, Pyledriver isn’t a stayer, and he won’t be able to see this race out over some of his rivals. He may have a relaxed way of going about things and to some he has a ‘stayer’s action’ – if such a thing exists, but I think the only way Willie Muir’s dreams are going to come true at Doncaster is if the race is run at a dawdle and he is able to use his blistering change of gear.
This isn’t a tipping column so I’m not going to put up a selection (you’ll be delighted to read), but if you paid any attention to last week’s ramblings you may have availed yourself to some of the 20/1 available about Galileo Chrome at the time, in which case you don’t need me to tell you that you are in a very comfortable position (general 6/1 chance at time of writing third).
It’s a huge weekend of racing on both sides of the Irish Sea but, while the Doncaster feature looks wide open, the same cannot be said for the Leopardstown showpiece on Saturday, despite recent confirmation that French raider Sottsass is going to turn up for the gig.
Jean Claude Rouget knows what it takes to land the Irish Champion Stakes having done so in 2016 with Almanzor, but Sottsass – for all his qualities – simply isn’t the same calibre of contender and he’ll do well to trouble the world’s highest rated racehorse, Ghaiyyath, who was far too good for the likes of Magical and Lord North at York and it will be a major surprise if he isn’t once again.
The race in Ireland that stands out for me is Sunday’s clash between the best juvenile colts in Britain and Ireland in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes.
The standard setter is Phoenix Stakes winner Lucky Vega, the only Group 1 winner in the line-up, but he has a bit to prove over this extra furlong, for all that it shouldn’t be an issue on pedigree.
Battleground knows how to get the job done and can’t be knocked but, despite having two Group wins already in the bank, he lacks the star potential of British raider Master Of The Seas, who remains firmly parked in the ‘could be anything’ category and is clearly held in high esteem for a trainer that has won this with top-class colts Quorto and Pinatubo in the last couple of years.
Battleground heads ante-post 2000 Guineas odds but Master Of The Seas could do no more than hammer his Superlative Stakes rivals by three lengths and although that form hasn’t worked out brilliantly, we could see some major flip-flopping in bookmaker lists should the son of Dubawi overcome his biggest challenge to date.
And that leads me neatly on to the horse that went into last winter as a red-hot favourite for the first colt’s classic of the season – and by coincidence, he was also a Godolphin-owned colt trained by Charlie Appleby.
Pinatubo has now been beaten every time he has raced over a mile this season yet such was the level of his performance against the sectional bias in Sunday’s Prix du Moulin that I am now convinced that he can win a top-flight race over that trip.
James Doyle’s ride has (understandably) come in for some stick but let us not overlook the most pertinent point here, which is that Pinatubo showed us that he can see a mile out strongly for the first time.
Having watched him cut back Persian King’s advantage through the final furlong I am now in no doubt whatsoever that the apple of Charlie Appleby’s eye can bag one of the biggest mile prizes before the season is out.
Of course, options are running out for him this season but the crucial point here is that he still has options because his stallion prospects will improve dramatically should he land that all important Group 1 mile race as a three-year-old.
And the obvious race for Pinatubo is surely the Breeder’s Cup Mile. A tight turning mile on a sound surface where the emphasis is on the ability to travel and quicken looks absolutely perfect for the son of Dubawi who showed just what sort of finishing kick he has by coming home like a rocket in the Moulin.
The QEII on what could be testing ground looks too much of a stamina test for him – I would doubt he could beat Palace Pier over that sort of test, but the speed test in America looks tailor-made for him and that now looks connections’ best chance of landing that all-important one-mile Group 1 success.
Finally, something happened on ITV over the weekend that really struck a chord with me. The director of ITV’s coverage of the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock decided that viewers would benefit from watching the closing stages of the race from a head-on perspective.
Head-on camera angles have been a bugbear of mine for a while now and the reason is very simple: it is almost impossible to work out where a horse is in relation to the others.
Being able to ascertain which horse is in front and where your horse is (if you have placed a bet) in relation to the others is, fundamentally, the single most important factor for viewing a race and the sooner TV directors realise this the better.
What struck me most about ITV’s decision was that it was merely a choice that they decided would enhance the viewer’s experience, because the camera positions at Haydock mean that it isn’t a track that relies on a head-on camera angle.
That can’t be said for the likes of like Bath and Leicester who have been suffering with this for years but the small number of people that watch these tracks day in, day out tolerate it.
I would be surprised if those that watch ITV in much greater numbers tolerate the director making a habit out of it.