Gifted Master is the strong favourite at 6/4 in the six furlong Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes for three-year-olds but does he deserve to be? (3.45pm Saturday, Haydock live on Channel 4 TV). Trained by the in-form Hugo Palmer (pictured), Gifted Master has two victories to his name already this season but the form may not be quite as impressive as it appears.
Both wins this term have both been on good to soft, most recently at Ascot in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes over this distance. He jinked to the right leaving the stalls, barging into his closest rival but won comfortably from the front. It looked good but the only other serious contender, Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC, the evens favourite, ran no race at all. The second and third placed horses were sent off at 16/1 and 25/1 respectively.
In his previous run Gifted Master beat Ballydoyle’s Waterloo Bridge three and a half lengths at Newmarket. But Waterloo Bridge was disappointing in his subsequent start at Navan leaving doubts about the quality of that win. Last October Gifted Master took the Group 3 Autumn Stakes beating Beacon Rock and Ibn Malik but that was over a mile at Newmarket. This son of Kodiac performs with cut in the ground but he provides poor value in his first experience of Group 2 company.
Henry Candy’s filly, La Rioja, is not without support at 11/2. She is on her way to repaying her £50K purchase price as a yearling after her three runs as a two-year-old. She won her maiden second time out and went on to win a Group 3 fillies’ stakes over this distance on soft ground at Salisbury in October. She encountered traffic problems but ‘stormed clear’ under Andrea Atzeni using only hands and heels in the final furlong beating Richard Hannon’s Whadoiwantthatfor by four and a half lengths.
La Rioja is highly regarded at home but this will be her seasonal debut and her first run against colts. Her rating of 110 coupled with her fillies’ allowance suggests she could be in the mix if she has trained on but the stable’s recent form does not inspire much confidence.
Rated just 1lb lower than La Rioja is Karl Burke’s useful filly, Quiet Reflection (9/1). Bought for £44K as a two-year-old, this daughter of Showcasing has already proved an extremely profitable investment, winning over £110K. She scored three times over five furlongs last season, including the Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes at Newmarket on good to soft against the colts in October.
Quiet Reflection was sent to Chantilly in early April for her only outing this year and won the Group 3 Prix Sigy over six furlongs on heavy ground by a head. Her largest margin of victory was on decent going suggesting she is not ground-dependent. Dougie Costello partnered her in France and takes the ride again here. Burke is a shrewd operator and has her entered in three Group 1 contests. Quiet Reflection has to have decent each-way claims at least.
The outsider of the field is Roger Varian’s Taneen at 20/1. This son of Speightstown is rated way below his rivals but Varian is not known for saddling no-hopers. Taneen started as the favourite in his two outings last season. He ran very green first time and finished third at Salisbury but obliged by winning a six furlong Newmarket maiden a fortnight later.
Taneen looked to need the run in the Carnarvon Stakes won by Log Out Island in spectacular style in mid May and was beaten ten lengths having weakened in the final furlong. This is only his fourth start and, while we can expect him to come on for that run, he will need to show immense improvement to feature here.
In contrast David Evans’ Gracious John (16/1) is already a seasoned campaigner with 13 starts under his belt. We last saw him finishing three quarters of a length behind Michael Dods’ classy filly, Easton Angel, on fast ground at York a fortnight ago. Previously he was beaten three lengths by Gifted Master in the Pavilion Stakes when receiving 3lb from him – Gracious John was the third place horse sent off at 25/1.
Gracious John has scored five times and took a listed race at Maisons-Laffitte in October. His most recent victory was over this distance on the all-weather in January. He has had five runs since. Off level weights with Gifted Master here it is difficult to imagine him filling more than a minor placing.
The highest rated runner in the line-up is Mark Johnston’s Buratino (9/2). He finished closer than any other horse to Shalaa last season and was only beaten half a length in the Juddmonte on good ground. Buratino won the Group 2 Coventry at Royal Ascot, beating Air Force Blue two lengths. He has a 3lb penalty to shoulder for that success on his preferred good to firm ground.
Johnston believes it may have been the tacky surface rather than the distance of a mile that caused this son of Exceed And Excel to be beaten nine lengths in the 2,000 Guineas, his only start this year. We know this distance suits Buratino but, with the going described as good to soft, he is not going to get his optimum conditions. He may be the best horse in the race but others have greater appeal.
William Haggas’ Ajaya (12/1) finished two and a half lengths behind Buratino in the Juddmonte in September and we have not seen him since. He is another Group 2 winner. This son of Invincible Spirit took the Gimcrack at York in August, beating Ribchester (who finished third in the 2,000 Guineas) by over a length.
It took a while for Ajaya to come to hand last season and that might well be the case again. His rating puts him right in the mix but he might be best watched first time out.
Give in the ground should not compromise the chances of Richard Fahey’s Donjuan Triumphant (6/1). He won the Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte on soft in style over this distance in October. He was the beneficiary of a hold-up ride by Alexis Badel when the early pacesetters all faded.
The same tactics were tried in his next start in a Group 1 over seven furlongs at Saint-Cloud in November. He started as the 7/4 favourite but was beaten nearly three lengths by Aidan O’Brien’s Johannes Vermeer into fourth. We have not seen this son of Dream Ahead since. Andrea Atzeni will partner him for the first time.
Gifted Master may be the one they have to beat but, with doubts concerning the quality of his recent form, 6/4 seems distinctly ungenerous. On quick ground Buratino would be an obvious choice but he is not going to get it.So we prefer the chance of QUIET REFLECTION.