Kauto to pass first test on gold cup redemption trail
Does he still have it? Does Kauto Star retain enough zest for one more realistic tilt at a third Cheltenham Gold Cup in March? That journey starts at Down Royal today, when the great chaser bids to win the JNwine.com Champion Chase (2.25) for the second time.
Despite Sizing Europe and China Rock in opposition, Kauto Star makes no betting appeal. Nevertheless, he should win with authority. That horrible fall in the Gold Cup prompted some to start penning his racing obituary, but the sprightly 10-year-old has plenty more to give. I still expect him to start favourite for steeplechasing's blue riband and he can take a step in that direction today.
Ruby Walsh partners Kauto Star which, barring falls, has not been beaten for two and a half years. And with the jockey thus occupied, his understudies at Paul Nicholls' yard have the chance to shine at Wincanton. Indeed, Walsh himself will be more than interested to see how Niche Market fares on the first run for Nicholls in the Badger Ales Handicap (3.40).
Harry Skelton is aboard Niche Market, which has the Aintree Grand National as his long-term target. The nine-year-old has always appealed as a Liverpool type and he can make the point by winning this competitive chase.
Skelton also partners American Trilogy in the Elite Hurdle (2.10) but this one has a 560-day absence to overcome. That, in itself, does not preclude his winning for a stable that can make light of such details. It's more the shape of a race that features more front-runners than the California gold rush.
Australia Day, Black Jack Blues, Barizan and Ultimate will combine to ensure a gallop so strong that American Trilogy may struggle to match it. Given the scenario, his stablemate, Tito Bustillo, is preferred. The Flat-bred six-year-old is the type to have improved for the summer recess. He has sufficient pace to keep tabs on the leaders before pouncing late under Nick Scholfield.
Sidney's Candy to prove too sweet for Goldikova
You can't help but wonder what Aidan O'Brien will be thinking as he settles down to watch Breeders' Cup day on television. O'Brien misses the meeting for the first time in 12 years -- although in truth, the Breeders' Cup has never been Ballydoyle's happiest hunting ground.
Master Of Hounds seems unlikely to change that in the Juvenile Turf (5.50), the first of eight races to be broadcast live on Attheraces this evening. The colt has arguably the best form but seems best on easy ground and a galloping track, neither of which he will find at Churchill Downs. And with the American horses taking turns to beat one another, Mantoba, trained by Brian Meehan, looks the best option. The colt dismissed a talented field at Newmarket last time and has Frankie Dettori aboard.
In the Mile (8.40), the O'Brien-trained Beethoven has drawn a stinker in stall 1. This effectively obliges the colt to race hard from the off to avoid getting pinned down on the rail. Yet even with a better draw, Beethoven is not capable of matching strides with Goldikova.
The great French mare has problems of her own, however, from her wide position in stall 10 of 11. And although she made light of a similar handicap to land this race last year, she only just got up despite everything falling into her lap. She will find it tough to win for the third year running.
While the heart says Goldikova, the head demands that we look elsewhere. The race around two turns is littered with horses that like to charge from off the pace, and with traffic problems inevitable, the front-running style of Sidney's Candy looks the answer. The three-year-old set blistering fractions en route to winning on his turf debut last time and makes plenty of appeal.
Unlike Goldikova, Zenyatta should have a clean passage from the rear in the Classic (10.45). This remarkable mare, which bids for her 20th victory from as many starts, can close her career in a blaze of glory.