Alpha Centauri shines out as the brightest star by far in fab Friday firmament
In a nutshell
If what is to come is billed as Super Saturday what we have more immediately is really quite a fab Friday.
Across Britain and Ireland there are no fewer than eight meetings. Collectively, these fixtures will play host to 55 contests. It is a bumper day for racing fans – but it is a day that undoubtedly revolves around one horse.
On Royal Ascot's fourth afternoon Alpha Centauri was magnificent. Her six-length romp in the Coronation Stakes represented the performance of the meeting by far. In one stunning home-straight surge the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner announced herself a superstar for Jessica Harrington. Now she must show that outstanding effort can be repeated.
Johnston will also be keen to take the 1m2f three-year-olds' handicap that forms part of an ITV3 programme that in addition includes two races from York. Johnston won it four times in a row, only for his streak to be stopped 12 months ago. He now tries to resume where he left off with Poet's Prince and Communique.
If Johnston wins it again you would not be surprised. If he beats Alpha Centauri in the Falmouth you would be.
Johnston juggernaut rolls on
Staying with Mark Johnston, his form since the beginning of May has been hotter than the recent heatwave, with the Middleham maestro showing no signs of cooling off.
In Britain alone, May yielded 38 winners from 200 runners and more than £600,000 in prize-money for Johnston, who then trumped that last month, saddling 44 winners from 232 runners, adding more than £1 million to the prize-money coffers.
July has produced more of the same, with seven winners last Saturday among his 23 for the month so far, and he is long odds on the add to that on Friday with no fewer that 14 runners representing him at five different tracks.
Two Johnston runners head further south to Ascot, while three depart to Chester and just one to local track York. His last runner of the day will be Rastacap, who makes the 500-mile round trip to Chepstow alone for the class 5 handicap at 8.15.
For Johnston, they all count, especially as he closes in on Richard Hannon senior’s all-time record of 4,193 winners in Britain. Less than 40 winners separate the pair and, at his current strike-rate, Johnston will be out on his own by the middle of August.
Always trying? You better believe it.
Cheltenham form could be key
Who would have predicted form from Cheltenham’s muddy November meeting would have been worth considering with sunshine and fast ground at Newmarket in July?
Surprisingly, that is the reality for anyone trying to find the winner of the Gordon’s Handicap (4.45), with November's Greatwood Hurdle winner Elgin renewing rivalry with Project Bluebook (eighth) in the 1m6f Flat contest.
Elgin, who went on to win the Kingwell Hurdle and finish fifth in the Champion Hurdle after the turn of the year, was the comfortable victor back in November and, despite there being a lack of anything to jump at Newmarket, it would be a surprise should he not frank that form here.
His trainer may have found the perfect next step too, with just eight going to post for the £50,000 contest.
Elgin's rivals include two blue bloods from Godolphin, although the main danger for King could come from one of his own, with fellow jumps man Harry Fry saddling Al Shaqab cast-off Shraaoh for just the third time. Who needs Cheltenham and Aintree?
Sir Michael Stoute has long turned to Newmarket-based freelance Jimmy Quinn when he has a nicely-handicapped runner with a low weight.
The 51-year-old rode a winner for the stable at Leicester on Saturday in Procedure and retains his partnership with Phantasmic, who carries just 8st 5lb, in Ascot’s Cushman & Wakefield EBF Breeders’ Series Fillies’ Handicap (4.00).
Quinn got Phantasmic home by a neck from High On Light at Beverley last month and a 3lb rise in the weights might not stop the three-year-old from completing a double, despite the step up in class.
Consolation races for the big handicaps were introduced to satisfy demand, as so often the big pots are heavily over-subscribed.
At the four-day stage it looked like the same would apply to Newmarket's Silver Bunbury Cup (1.50), but remarkably only seven horses have been declared.
With more than £30,000 to the winner, it is surprising connections of more horses were not tempted, and it is also a blow to the start of ITV's live coverage, as what on paper would have looked a lively betting heat instead does not offer each-way terms beyond the first two home.
Lawrence Mullaney, who was denied a high-profile York double at the last meeting by Mukhayyam, trained by his former boss and neighbour Tim Easterby, will be hoping to turn the tables in the William Hill Leading Racecourse Bookmaker Handicap (2.40).
Framley Garth, who was beaten a nose by Mukhayyam, renews rivalry on 1lb better terms as he bids for his fourth victory since joining Mullaney from now-retired Patrick Holmes earlier this year.
Mullaney was a long-time member of Peter Easterby’s staff prior to becoming Tim Easterby’s head lad, and the trio watched Mukhayyam and Framley Garth battle out a stirring finish on the Knavesmire together.
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