Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 22 April 2018

Caravaggio to prove he's one of the greats

The unbeaten colt can add to his perfect record by winning the July Cup this afternoon. Image: ©
The unbeaten colt can add to his perfect record by winning the July Cup this afternoon. Image: ©

Wayne Bailey

A few months back, my partner and I were lucky enough to visit the Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio exhibition - or simply Caravaggio to you and me - in the National Gallery in Dublin.

Now the thing about growing up in working-class Ballybrack, painting to us usually involved a tin of Dulux and a Dosco paintbrush so I won't pretend I'm an expert on art - indeed I'm far from it.

But I've come to appreciate certain types of paintings and the Baroque style, of which Caravaggio is associated, is one of my favourites and is often characterised by intense realistic scenes and dramatic use of light.

For a case in point, have a look at Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ, which hangs in Dublin. Unlike most of the glorious Christian paintings of the time, Caravaggio liked to emphasise the humanity of Christ and his followers by giving them rough clothing, or dirty feet for example.

Violent Born in Italy in 1571, Caravaggio led a very interesting life and was quite violent and unstable, finding himself in fights and in trouble with the law. During one brawl in Rome, a man was killed and Caravaggio was sentenced to death for murder so he fled to Naples.

In Naples, he was involved in another violent clash which left him disfigured and he died a few years later under suspicious circumstances. Some say he was murdered, other experts say he had a tumour but he was certainly in ill-health and he breathed his last at the age of 38.

A genius certainly, but flawed in many ways. While no horse can be described as faultless, the animal named after Caravaggio hasn't shown many flaws and the unbeaten colt can add to his perfect record by winning the July Cup (4.35 Newmarket) this afternoon, albeit at the restrictive price of 11/10 or thereabouts.

Read more: Caravaggio set to justify O'Brien's faith

Even though the price is short, I'm always saying that it pays to keep it simple in the top Flat races and my usual strategy of backing the top-rated horse in a Group One if he's above 120 has paid off this year with seven wins from ten bets and a profit of just under ten points.

In the last ten seasons, that simple approach has returned a profit of 44 points and I'm confident Caravaggio can add to that tally with a rating of 122 which is 2lbs clear of Limato.

Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of Limato and was left out of pocket when he finished third in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June and although he ran much better than his previous trip to Dubai, to me he didn't quite sparkle like he used to.

It's a big ask to come back here and win back-to-back July Cups. No horse has done that since Right Boy under Lester Piggott in 1958/'59 and you'd have to wonder if Henry Candy's gelding is as good as he was a year ago.

Perhaps he is, but even a reproduction of that form may not be enough to catch the favourite, which showed a nice turn of foot to win the Commonwealth Cup, with Harry Angel finishing second. That horse opposes again but the undulating July course may not suit and I can't see the form reversed.

I don't like getting carried away when a trainer heaps praise on a horse but O'Brien reckons Caravaggio is the fastest horse he has trained which is a remarkable comment considering some of the superstars he's had in his care.

A little earlier, Donncha looks overpriced around 16/1 and is taken each-way to land a place at the least in the Bunbury Cup Handicap (3.25 Newmarket).

Trained by Robert Eddery, he was third in the Lincoln at Doncaster off a mark of 100 but a rise in the weights of 1lb was pushing things and he has been below par in his latest two races.

He looked a little rusty last time when finishing eight of ten runners after seven weeks off, but I'm hoping he can bounce back today with a mark of 99 for a racing weight of 8st 13lbs.

Formality Jockey Kieran Shoemark also gets the weight down by claiming 3lbs and he's entitled to go close here - although a strong case could be made for a number of these including Tashweeq, Flaming Spear and Gossiping.

Back home, the Irish Oaks (5.55 Curragh) looks like a mere formality for Epsom Oaks heroine Enable.

The John Gosden-trained filly will have Frankie Dettori on board once again at Irish HQ and it will be interesting to see if connections take up her place in the King George in a couple of weeks, assuming all goes well today. Priced around 4/11, it's a race best watched without a bet.


Twenty-two runners go to post for the 58th John Smith's Cup Handicap (3.05 York) which makes it tricky but I'm quite keen on the David Simcock-trained Majeed each-way, which was available at 12/1 yesterday evening.

A neck-second off this mark to Snoano in Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot last time, it was one of the best races of the seven-year-old's career which was a little surprising as his form had been up and down this season.

At the weights, he may have more to come although Jeremy Noseda's Sixties Groove is reasonably well handicapped and should also make his presence felt.


3.05 York: Majeed (e/w)

3.25 Newmarket: Donncha (e/w)

3.50 Ascot: Mutakayyef

4.0 Newmarket: Aqabah

4.35 Newmarket: Caravaggio

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