Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Horse racing preview | Three key questions for the weekend

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Tony McFadden looks forward to the weekend’s action, which is headlined by the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

Will Eclipse clash produce performance of a champion?

Only four runners are set to go to post in the Coral-Eclipse – following a field of six last year and four in 2021 – and the absence of any each-way betting will undoubtedly be a disappointment for some punters. However, small field or not, it’s difficult to argue with the quality of the line-up, and the race also provides a fascinating clash of the generations.

Representing the three-year-olds is Paddington, who produced the best performance of his age group this season when following up his Irish 2000 Guineas victory with a comprehensive defeat of Chaldean – the 2000 Guineas winner – in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

That earned Paddington a Timeform rating of 126p – the ‘p’ denotes he remains open to further improvement – and the step up to a mile and a quarter is likely to bring about that progress based on how well he’s been seeing out his races over a mile. Also in his favour is the weight-for-age allowance of 10 lb that he receives from the older colts and geldings – that is 2 lb more than Timeform believes is fair.

West Wind Blows looks up against it, but Paddington does have a couple of high-class rivals to deal with in Dubai Honour, who is among the ten highest-rated horses in Europe with a Timeform rating of 127, and Emily Upjohn, who is rated 1 lb higher still following a ready success in the Coronation Cup on her return.

The only horses in Europe with a higher Timeform rating than Emily Upjohn are Kyprios (131), Hukum (129), Mostahdaf (129) and Vadeni (129) but that doesn’t take into account the 3 lb allowance she receives which effectively propels her to joint-top of the pile.

With proven, Group 1-winning operators in the line-up it could take a performance of a level not seen yet in Europe this season to come out on top.

A good day for Haggas handicappers?

Dubai Honour, who is making his first start in Europe this season after winning a couple of top-level events in Australia and finishing third in a Group 1 in Hong Kong, represents William Haggas on what could be a big day for the trainer.

In addition to Dubai Honour, the in-form Haggas – who has had 11 winners from 38 runners at a strike rate of 29% in the last two weeks – has some notable runners in pattern company with Tiber Flow (13:50 Sandown) and Sea Silk Road (14:40 Haydock), while he also has a few interesting handicappers headed by La Yakel who tops Timeform’s ratings on his belated return in the Old Newton Cup (15:15 Haydock).

La Yakel – who was included among Timeform’s 50 to follow on the Flat this season – progressed well as a three-year-old, winning a Southwell novice before showing much-improved form to land a valuable Ascot handicap. He had to settle for minor honours in the Old Rowley Cup on his final start of the campaign, but that is always one of the most competitive events of the season and he was by no means disgraced in fourth on just the fifth start of his career. He retains the potential to do better.

Other notable Haggas handicappers in action this weekend include Lordship (14:05 Haydock), who earned Timeform’s Horse In Focus Flag when winning with a lot more in hand than the margin would suggest at Yarmouth, and Aramaic (16:15 Sandown) who failed to meet expectations last time but had shaped with plenty of promise on his return from a long layoff on his previous outing.

Can Breege replicate handicap form at listed level?

Breege holds outstanding form claims in the Coral Distaff (15:00 Sandown) on Saturday as she is 9 lb clear on Timeform’s weight-adjusted ratings based on what she showed when runner-up in the Sandringham Handicap at Royal Ascot last month.

The question she needs to answer, though, is whether she can get close to that smart level away from the cut-and-thrust of a strongly-run, big-field handicap.

Breege was well suited by how things developed at Royal Ascot as she was ridden with patience and also had the advantage of being in the favoured stand-side group. However, even acknowledging that she was seen to good effect, she still stands out as the one to beat here having already run to a higher level than any winner of this listed event in the last decade.

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