Wayne Bailey: Go to war at Newbury with Frontiersman
Newbury racecourse has an interesting military-linked history, and was only open in its current location a short few years when World War One broke out in 1914.
Racing made way for military training, tank testing, storing munitions - and at one point, up to 3,400 enemy prisoners of war were held there in an internment camp. There are various contemporary reports of how well or otherwise the prisoners were treated and the initial inmates actually used the racehorse stables until further structures were erected as the camp grew.
The German press contained numerous stories of miserable conditions, reporting eight men having to share a stall designed for one horse and they described how each man was given just a blanket or two for comfort. The British press told a different story and said the straw-filled barns were reasonably comfortable with food and supplies provided.
Tough years for sure, and aren't we a lucky generation to have avoided all that? It went back to being a racecourse in 1916 but its military association didn't end there and it was later used by the American armed forces for supplies during World War Two, closing between 1941 and 1945.
restoring After the war, the racecourse manager and handicapper Geoffrey Freer had the extremely difficult task of restoring the severely damaged course and shortly after his death in 1968, the Oxfordshire Stakes was renamed in his honour.
Formerly a Group Two race, the Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2.25 Newbury) has been a Group Three since 2006 but there's a couple of decent entries I've had my eye on including Defoe and Frontiersman, which had forecast prices of 2/1 and 9/4 respectively yesterday.
Priced around 12/1 in the ante-post markets for the St Leger, Defoe won his debut as a juvenile but finished up last season with a second-last place in a Listed contest. However, he boasts a perfect record as a three-year-old, winning the London Gold Cup here at 8/1 then following up with success in a competitive handicap at York.
He appeared to appreciate the step up in trip to 1m3f when winning a Listed race at Hamilton last time so today's 1m5f is not expected to stretch him too much. Overall, it will be a good indication of where he's at in relation to the Leger.
Slight preference though, is for Frontiersman. Regular readers will know I had planned on backing Charlie Appleby's colt at the Goodwood Festival recently but he ended up a non-runner. As mentioned in that week's column, he's a temperamental sort and I'm slightly concerned at how he seemed to give in a little too easily to Hawkbill in the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket last time, having hit 1/5 in-running on Betfair.
He was also second previously to 2016 King George VI winner Highland Reel in the Coronation Cup at Epsom which is, of course, a Group One. So although he's let down his backers more than once and is a little frustrating to follow, he clearly sets the standard here and a Group Three is certainly within his range. If he can keep his mind on the job, he should take all the beating.
A little later on the same card, Breton Rock will have to give weight to his rivals in the Group Two Betfred Hungerford Stakes (3.35) having won at this level already including the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood last time out. Now aged seven, his 50/1 success was a bit of a shock although he had some good form in the book previously and won the 2014 Hungerford renewal.
excused David Simcock's charge certainly can't be ruled out but I prefer to back one a little younger in this, and five-year-old Librisa Breeze is my idea of a solid bet around 11/4. Trained by Dean Ivory, his ninth place to Breton Rock in the Lennox Stakes doesn't inspire confidence here but that race is excused as he met loads of trouble in-running and was left with no real chance.
A winner of some big handicaps at Ascot, he certainly wasn't disgraced when fourth behind The Tin Man, Tasleet and Limato in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot and if Robert Winston can keep him out of bother, he's bound to make a good race of it with Breton Rock this time.
The William Hill Great St Wilfrid at Ripon (3.15) is never an easy contest to decipher but if the early markets are anything to go by, Richard Fahey's Growl will be the most popular in the betting and was trading at 9/2 yesterday.
Fourth behind Lancelot Du Lac in the Stewards' Cup at Glorious Goodwood a couple of weeks ago, he's really come on since switching stables from Brian Meehan. But a rating of 109 gives him top weight of 9st 10lbs and I suspect that will be enough to hold him back.
Expected to go off somewhere in the region of 16/1, I'm keen on Roger Fell's Muntadab, which races today off a mark of 95. The Invincible Spirit gelding struggled at Ascot off 100 in the Wokingham Handicap but was only beaten by a neck previously when rated 97 in a competitive handicap at York.
That suggests he can make an impact here although his backers will have to be a little forgiving as he had an off day from that mark at York last time when finishing nowhere. However, that came after a break of just eight days so he may have been somewhat weary.