Thursday, October 7, 2010

All aboard…

All aboard…

By Stephen Dwyer

Hard to believe a full year has passed since Rip Van Winkle beat just three other runners in last year’s renewal of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. That day he beat newly-crowned Dubai Duty Free Cup winner Delegator soundly but faces a much more challenging task in attempting to retain his title tomorrow.

Since the 2009 race, Rip Van Winkle has run five times; yes he won the Juddmonte International Stakes and was then beaten without excuses by the best miler around, Canford Cliffs, in the Sussex Stakes in July. His last run, second to a cleverly-ridden Cape Blanco in the 10 furlong Irish Champion Stakes on ground that was not ideal for him can also be discounted.

Tomorrow he resumes the role as a Ballydoyle heavyweight, with Aidan O’Brien seeking his second victory in this race. Rip Van Winkle is peaking at the right time. History however, is against horses who achieve back to back wins, only twice has this happened when Brigadier Gerard and Rose Bowl won successive races in the seventies. Not that this may matter because trip, ground and tactics may play into the Ballydoyle team’s hands.

The main protagonist is shock 2000 Guineas winner, Makfi. Having already beaten St. Nicholas Abbey at Newmarket and Goldikova in the €600,000 Jacques Le Marois Stakes at Deauville five weeks ago, Makfi has become somewhat of a giant-slayer. The three-year-old, trained by Mikel Delzangles gets a weight allowance of four pounds from Rip Van Winkle.

From a value perspective, the 4/5 and even money prices currently posted against Makfi look very skinny. At a best price of 5/2 Rip Van Winkle looks tempting and stable mates, Dewhurst winner Beethoven ridden by Ryan Moore and pacemaker Air Chief Marshal will make this difficult task a little easier for the four-year-old.

The Queen Elizabeth II will go ahead without Canford Cliffs after he scoped dirty late this week. It is unfortunate that he is unable to run as he would have taken the world of beating. His eleventh-hour withdrawal means that plans for the colt are now uncertain. He was due to run in the Breeders’ Cup but trainer Richard Hannon has now admitted this will be a “long shot”.

Makfi will almost certainly run in the Breeders’ Cup and Mikel Delzangles is not concerned about returning to Ascot despite the fact that he was beaten there in the St James’s Palace Stakes. A dirty scope was cited as the main reason for the loss and he will be fully tuned tomorrow.

The strength of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as a Classic trial was validated in 2008 at Santa Anita when that year’s winners of the race, Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator finished first and second respectively in the Classic.

Makfi, it must be remembered, has already beaten Canford Cliffs and the best milers around and he has absolutely no fear of Rip Van Winkle or the Godolphin runner, Poet’s Voice. Tomorrow will tell a lot as to how good he really is but Rip Van Winkle is as tough as they come. His scope, turn of foot and the Ballydoyle tactics might be enough to make this yet another day to remember for Aidan O’Brien.

If Rip Van Winkle does make it back to back wins and joins Brigadier Gerard and Rose Bowl in that elusive club, I could scarcely think of a better candidate worthy of the honour.

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