Paul Kealy believes likely pacesetter shouldn't be underestimated on his return
MansionBet Beaten By A Head Festival Stakes (Listed) | 1m2f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RTV
This is likely to become a fascinating tactical battle between three hold-up horses and two who like to press on. The closers include popular veterans Desert Encounter and Stormy Antarctic, who are the highest-rated pair in the field despite being nine and eight.
Desert Encounter has always been said to like quick ground, but he handles cut too and it was softer than the official good when he chased home Waldkonig in the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown last month. With Goodwood form figures of 212, he has to be respected.
He might like a couple of extra furlongs, while Stormy Antarctic, at home on easy ground and second in two Listed contests this season, could arguably do with one or two fewer to cover, having never won over as far as 1m2f.
The ground might be his enemy at this trip, but it's a complete unknown for favourite Al Zaraqaan, massively progressive on the all-weather over the winter, but only fourth of five to Sir Ron Priestley back on turf at Newmarket in the Jockey Club Stakes.
That was a better race than this, though, and he raced keenly in the small field, so the drop back to 1m2f on turf is no bad thing.
He wasn't far off his all-weather best and he's closely related to Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Awtaad, who relished a bit of cut. There's just that soft-ground debut when he was tenth of 11 in 2019 to worry about.
Given Majestic Dawn was fast enough to make a lot of the running in the Cambridgeshire before storming clear, he's likely to win the early pace battle with outsider Winter Reprise and he should not be underestimated.
The trip and ground suit well and there aren't many better jockeys from the front than Franny Norton. If he doesn't get harried for the lead, he could easily make his debut in Listed company a winning one.
Race analysis by Paul Kealy
Al Zaraqaan bids to bounce back
It might prove premature to believe the Al Zaraqaan bubble was well and truly burst when he suffered a heavy defeat at Newmarket last time.
The William Haggas-trained runner was bidding for a five-timer on the back of wins at Doncaster, Kempton (twice) and Lingfield, but could finish only fourth of five behind Sir Ron Priestley in the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes.
He didn’t look the same horse that day as the rampant improver who had destroyed Almighwar by three lengths in Kempton’s historic Rosebery Handicap off a mark of 95 the time before.
Admittedly, Al Zaraqaan may simply have failed to handle the steep rise in class, but there’s also more than a hint of a possibility that he was unsuited by the good to firm ground on Newmarket’s tricky undulations.
Haggas said: “Jim [Crowley] thought that the ground was too firm for Al Zaraqaan at Newmarket, and I’m not sure the horse got home over 1m4f. We’ve got slow ground at Goodwood and are stepping back to 1m2f. We’ll see how he gets on.”
Al Zaraqaan had shown a sharp turn of foot to settle matters at Kempton, looking every inch a Group-race winner in the making. It may yet prove significant that he is entered in Royal Ascot’s Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes next month.
What they say
Oliver Cole, joint-trainer of Majestic Dawn
He's as fit as we can get him at home, but he's a big and burly horse and will come on for the run. It was a fantastic performance from him in the Cambridgeshire, where he clocked an outstanding time. We'll take each step as it comes, but hopefully he's set for another good season.
David Simcock, trainer of Desert Encounter
He ran a nice race on his first start back and has come on from it. We’ve had this race in mind for a while, but would have preferred it if the ground wasn’t as soft as it’s going to be.
Ed Walker, trainer of Stormy Antarctic
My concern is that he's backing up quickly after his good run at Windsor. You could also argue that 1m1f is perhaps his optimum and that 1m2f on very soft ground could be the limit of his stamina. It would be lovely to see him back in the winner’s enclosure as he hasn't won in Britain for so long.
Reporting by Richard Birch
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