Buick can drive The Fugue to Sandown glory
Aidan O'Brien's decision to thrust Declaration Of War into this afternoon's Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown along with Mars adds some real intrigue to the Group One.
Having looked pretty ordinary in the Lockinge, Declaration Of War showed stunning acceleration to mow down Aljamaaheer and Gregorian in the Queen Anne at Ascot.
O'Brien commented afterwards that the American-bred colt might have the speed to go for one of the top sprints, and he has an entry in the Nunthorpe over five furlongs.
As a rule, you take those sort of suggestions from the Ballydoyle maestro with a pinch of salt, as it is usually commercially driven spin aimed at enhancing a potential stallion's profile.
Given the manner of Declaration Of War's victory, though, it rang true that dropping below a mile might be more plausible than going back up in trip.
With that in mind, it's difficult to know how to rate his chances in today's 10-furlong feature as while he did win twice over the distance in lesser company last year, this will be an altogether more demanding assignment.
The suspicion is that he will get the trip, but his Ascot form still suggests that he simply won't be good enough to win.
With just seven runners, the each-way market is far less appealing than it might be, something that counts against Mars. A luckless third behind Dawn Approach over a mile in the St James's Palace Stakes, he also kept on well in the Epsom Derby prior to that and is an unexposed sort that could well be suited by this stiff 10 furlongs.
Still, with the jury out on the general standard of the three-year-old crop, a watching brief is advised for now. As the market suggests, the Prince Of Wales's form is likely to prove the most robust, with Al Kazeem favourite to plunder a third Group One in six weeks, which would be a fantastic feat for a horse that used to be so fragile.
Roger Charlton's five-year-old sets a fair standard, though Mukhadram, the front-runner that he had to work so hard to reel in at Ascot, might be flattered by how close he got to him, as he got a soft lead. On this more demanding track, Al Kazeem will have less trouble reeling him in, but both are passed over in favour of The Fugue.
On her reappearance at Ascot, John Gosden's classy filly was dropped right out, before making up the ground late to finish third behind Al Kazeem.
She was basically ridden for another day by William Buick, so did well to get as close as she did, staying on inside the final furlong having initially given the leaders a 10-length head start.
All told, it was a hugely encouraging turn that she should come on bundles for, just as she did on her second start last term when running away with the Musidora at York after keeping on at one pace for fourth in the 1,000 Guineas.
Crucially, a mile and a quarter on fast ground are her optimum conditions and the suspicion is that she will be ridden closer to the pace by Buick today, before staying on best up the Esher hill.
With scope to improve then, The Fugue is the standout option at around 9/2, and it's worth noting that the wily Gosden eschewed what would have been a leisurely stroll for her in last week's Pretty Polly to tackle the colts here. That alone tells a story.
In the Challenge Handicap, three-year-olds Windhoek and Wentworth head the betting and both are progressive. Still, there is little value to be had about them now in such a competitive contest, so William Haggas' Danchai is preferred for Buick in this contest.
An unexposed four-year-old that has run just five times in three years, the grey has been an eye-catching second on both starts this term, latterly over course and distance in June.
He is 3lb higher now but there should be plenty more to come and his Sandown form was franked when the third, Gaul Wood, hacked up at Windsor.
At Haydock, Paul Deegan's prolific mare Midnight Soprano is worth a punt in the Lancashire Oaks. A game winner at Cork on her reappearance, she won't get her favoured soft ground, but may still have the class to collect under Chris Hayes.
Best Bet: The Fugue