Substance over style sums up the Jockey Club Stakes protagonists
Betfair Exchange Jockey Club Stakes (Group 2) | 1m4f | 4yo+ | ITV/RTV
There are a lot of flashy middle-distance horses around but this is a race that usually goes to substance over style and favourite Pyledriver certainly comes into that category.
The son of Harbour Watch doesn't boast a flashy pedigree or a big price tag, but last year he developed into one of the best three-year-old colts in Britain despite readily being written off in the market on several occasions. In fact, he only wins when sent off at double-figure odds.
Pyledriver won at 50-1 on his debut at Salisbury in 2019, landed a Haydock Listed race at 14-1 later that year and then won Group 2s at Royal Ascot and York at odds of 18-1 and 10-1 respectively last season. A £1 bet on him in all of his races would have yielded an £86 profit.
His last win is the standout piece of form in this race. That was an easy three-and-a-half-length success in the Great Voltigeur at York when he achieved a Racing Post Rating of 119.
That figure would have won six of the last nine runnings of this, but it is 3lb higher than anything else Pyledriver has achieved and he needs to bounce back from a below-par run when seventh in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October, albeit over an inadequate 1m2f.
Sir Ron Priestley is the second best horse in the race on RPRs. He achieved a figure of 116 when second to Logician in the 2019 St Leger and is back after missing all of last season.
He was easy to back on his return from a long absence in the Further Flight at Nottingham 24 days ago, but produced a dominant display from the front, leaving Ocean Wind in his wake.
Ocean Wind, who went off a heavily supported 11-10 favourite, recorded a career-best performance in defeat that day. He has since finished second to Stradivarius in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot on Wednesday. That pays a compliment to Sir Ron Priestley.
The drop two furlongs in trip poses a question mark as Sir Ron Priestley’s highest RPR over 1m4f is 110. However, this has been won by some strong stayers in recent years. The 2011 winner Dandino, 2014 scorer Gospel Choir and 2018 hero Defoe had winning form at further.
If you do like a flashy type then look no further than Al Zaraqaan. He has a top pedigree as a close relation to 2016 Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Awtaad and the market always loves him.
He is bidding for a five-timer and his last three wins have come at odds of 8-15, 11-10 and evens. This is obviously a higher grade, but don't expect the odds on offer to be generous.
Analysis by Graeme Rodway
'Everything has gone to plan' with Pyledriver
A foal that could not be given away at the sales and by a sire who never had the chance to run over further than six furlongs, Pyledriver was a horse that just kept on defying expectations at two and three.
William Muir enjoyed some great days at Ascot and York with the son of Harbour Watch and is now looking forward to having a bigger and stronger four-year-old to take he and co-trainer Chris Grassick to more of the biggest festivals this season.
"I'm delighted with him," said Muir. "He's a pleasure and does exactly what you want. It's not often you can map a plan out and say 'we’ll go for that race' and everything goes to plan and you just go there.
"But we picked this race out as the starting point and his training has gone great. He looks fantastic, he's stronger and physically more mature, which was always going to be the case."
Pyledriver's only previous visit to the Rowley Mile ended in a sound defeat in the Royal Lodge as a juvenile but Muir is unconcerned about the topography of Newmarket.
"You can forget that run, he was so weak he was like Bambi on ice," said Muir. "He did a piece of work beforehand and I said to the owners we shouldn't be running but they wanted to have a go.
"I told Martin [Dwyer] to try and win but if you find you can't, look after him. It was nothing to do with the track and he came down the hill and round the corner at Epsom."
What they say
William Haggas, trainer of Al Zaraqaan and Pablo Escobarr
Pablo Escobarr in the experienced campaigner and is pretty well exposed. He's in very good shape and will love the ground. With Al Zaraqaan, nobody is really sure where he sits, including the trainer. He's won a handicap easily and he's now thrown in the deep end. It's a competitive race but it wouldn't be the greatest Jockey Club Stakes we’ve ever seen, while we don’t have an O’Brien or a Gosden so that's giving us all a chance.
Mark Johnston, trainer of Sir Ron Priestley and Thunderous
Sir Ron Priestley ran a really good comeback. I don't know that it's all the same in terms of distance. He's won a mile and six twice but he's got plenty of speed so it shouldn't trouble him. Thunderous was very disappointing the other day but the horse seems fine so we're going to have another run and see.
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