Churchill Stakes on Sky Sports Racing: Full runner guide and verdict


Sky Sports Racing’s Mike Cattermole casts his expert eye over a tricky-looking renewal of the Listed Churchill Stakes at Lingfield on Saturday.

The Bet UK Churchill Stakes (3.10) was first run in 2000 and has been won by many smart types, but last year’s winner, Pyledriver, is by far the most talented horse to have lifted the prize.

Already an established Group One performer, he defied the maximum 7lb penalty and eight months later went onto land the King George at Ascot in July.

This year’s line-up actually contains a horse who started at just 11/8 favourite to win the Derby in 2021.

The fact that Bolshoi Ballet is here, on his much belated seasonal reappearance, tells you that things perhaps haven’t gone to plan since then, although he did win the Belmont Park Derby Invitational on his next start after Epsom which served as some consolation. He wears blinkers too for the first time, so that’s another thing to worry about.

Of the more established All-Weather performers, last year’s runner-up Harrovian is back but has had a slightly patchy record since.

THE GROUNDWORK

On the Polytrack of course with the going as standard, the recent rain keeping the surface true as opposed to riding on the slow side.

THE CONTENDERS

Majestic Dawn

Front-runner who has disappointed on his last two starts, including in the Cambridgeshire, and tackles the All-Weather for the first time in over two years.

Well drawn to attack but the 3lb penalty for his win in similar company at Goodwood back in May will make it harder. A chance if back to his best.

Algiers

Races handily and was a good winner under a big weight of a competitive handicap at York (good to soft) only to disappoint at Newmarket last time. Won the Jebel Ali Mile on the All-Weather back in February. Certainly rated to be involved in the finish.

Ridden by Rab Havlin even though there are two Gosden-trained runners lining up and he has won on both of them. However, both of those are attached to Godolphin who use their retained riders today.

Al Zaraqaan

Interesting horse who can take a good pull and who lost his form on the Flat only to rediscover his mojo again over hurdles recently, notching up a hat-trick. Has a decent 50 per cent strike rate of four from eight on the All-Weather but needs to find a career best to take this.

Bolshoi Ballet

Son of Galileo who looked to have ticked most boxes going into last year’s Derby, winning the two big trials at Leopardstown and starting at a mere 11/8 favourite before fading into seventh place, 17 lengths behind Adayar. The fact that he was struck into behind would not have helped.

Although winning the Derby Invitational at Belmont Park on his next start, he failed to build on it in three subsequent outings in the US, including a sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Off since last December (well held in the Hong Kong Cup), this is a drop in grade which will help, as could the first-time blinkers. Hard to know what to expect as he tackles the All-Weather for the first time but why are they persevering with him?

Mac Swiney, far left, comes home fourth behind Derby favourite Bolshoi Ballet in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown
Image: Bolshoi Ballet wins the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown

Forest Of Dean

Lightly raced recently but won the Winter Derby over the course and distance in February, 2021, although he was a well-held fourth in this year’s renewal and has not been seen since. Wears cheekpieces for the first time and they will need to eke out some improvement.

Harrovian

Has been below his best twice out of the past three times we have seen him (off since July) but he was an excellent second to Pyledriver (gave 7lb) in this race last year and that alone entitles him to respect.

Millebosc

Joins William Haggas from France for this All-Weather debut with some questions to answer. Was a good three-year-old who ran third behind St Mark’s Basilica in the French Derby but has been nowhere near that level in five starts since. Prefer to watch.

Tyson Fury

At least his famous namesake has been seen once in public this year but this All-Weather debut comes after an absence of just over a year and to expect a career best over a distance perhaps short of his optimum (both wins at 12 furlongs) looks too much to ask.

Missed The Cut

Another to make his All-Weather debut and does so after an absence of three months when his rapid progress was halted in a Group Three in France.

Up to then, had been highly progressive and was an easy winner of the Golden Gates Handicap over this trip at Royal Ascot. The form of that race has taken several knocks since but he did the job well and remains unexposed after just five starts. Has to be taken seriously.

Missed The Cut (red cap) sprints away to win the Golden Gates Stakes
Image: Missed The Cut (red cap) sprints away to win the Golden Gates Stakes

The Wizard Of Eye

A talented horse who has been highly tried throughout his career, starting in Group company on his last 10 starts. But below his best the last twice and needs to show he stays 10 furlongs (not crying out for it on pedigree).

Evania

Trained by John Gosden when winning on debut over course and distance in December, 2020, but wasn’t seen again until this September (21 months off) at Kempton when defying a penalty for new connections.

Clearly quite useful and probably has more to come – but needs it as is rated the lowest in the field.

Topanticipation

Has improved a bit this year but would be receiving plenty of weight if this were a handicap and is easy to overlook.

THE VERDICT

Questions alongside every runner, including the ante-post favourite Missed The Cut whose Ascot form has not held up that well and needs to bounce back after his French disappointment.

He may do so but the decision to bring the once-heralded Bolshoi Ballet back at this late stage is the most intriguing aspect of the race and he is given a tentative vote as his sights are lowered. Presumably the blinkers have been working on him at home.

Harrovian could go well again but Algiers also has the ability to be involved and could offer some value.

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