The Group 3 Sagaro Stakes over almost 2m gives Gold Cup hopefuls a chance to state their case at Ascot on trials day for the Royal meeting this Wednesday (15:25).
Nicky Henderson’s dual purpose mare Verdana Blue loves a sound surface and looks set to make a total mockery of her lowly Flat rating of 92.
This seven-year-old is a Grade 1 hurdles winner who bested dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air at Kempton over Christmas. Like then, she receives a sex allowance here that sees her receive 2lb and upwards from six rivals.
Connections started to dabble on the All-Weather with Verdana Blue when she made a winning return to action at Chelmsford in September. Although then beaten in two subsequent starts in that sphere, she looks dangerously well-treated for her Flat bow.
Prior to her short-head success in the Christmas Hurdle, Verdana Blue readily landed a Listed event at Kempton and the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
Good ground is essential for this horse, as demonstrated when only fifth to Espoir D’Allen on a soft surface in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
She has come out since and stormed home under top weight in much quicker conditions at Ayr. A seven-length success in the Grade 2 Scottish Champion Hurdle has earned Verdana Blue an official jumps rating of 162.
An opening Flat mark of 92 looks very lenient by comparison. In-form jockey Oisin Murphy now takes the ride on Verdana Blue, which is another plus.
She may be the oldest in the line-up, but clearly relishes fast ground and is readily put up each-way at 11/2 with Boylesports with fitness on her side.
Weekender the main danger
John Gosden is still looking for his first Sagaro Stakes winner, but no jockey has been more successful in the race than Frankie Dettori.
They combine with Weekender, who has some very smart form in the book. This Prince Khalid Abdullah owned five-year-old is officially the best horse in the line-up on a mark of 114, and has a good record first time up.
Weekender ran some huge races in defeat last season. They include when a 6 1/2 lengths third to Magic Circle in the Group 3 Henry II Stakes at Sandown over this trip and later twice runner-up when down to 1m 6f at York.
On the second occasion, Weekender tried to give stable companion Muntahaa 3lb in the valuable and ultra-competitive Ebor Handicap, and was only beaten 3 1/4 lengths.
He continued to knock on the door when a 4 1/2 lengths third to Flag Of Honour in the Irish St Leger at The Curragh giving 8lb weight-for-age away to win the winner.
The way Weekender finished off that race there suggests he’s well worth another crack stepping back up to 2m.
A line can be put through his last run when seventh in the St Simon at Newbury which looked one race too many over an inadequate 1m 4f.
With stable and jockey both in decent form, and that good record fresh, Weekender is thus the 2/1 favourite with William Hill and respected.
Dee Ex Bee can confirm Leger form with Raymond Tusk
Two four-year-olds are stepping up in trip to tackle this distance for the first time here and, on the race terms, Epsom Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee is fancied to confirm Classic form with Raymond Tusk.
The former is trained in Yorkshire by Mark Johnston and, although winless throughout last season, he chased home some very useful sorts.
Besides going down 1 1/2 lengths to Masar in the premier Classic, Dee Ex Bee was 4 1/2 lengths behind subsequent Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter when that one broke the course record over 1m 4f at Glorious Goodwood.
Either side of that effort, he placed third and fourth in the Prix de Paris at Longchamp and then in the St Leger at Doncaster.
Dee Ex Bee was behind Kew Gardens on both occasions, but ahead of Raymond Tusk in the final Classic of the season.
Having beaten the Richard Hannon inmate by 2 1/4 lengths off level weights, the pair now meet on 5lb better terms for the northern raider.
Even though Raymond Tusk has the benefit of a run, it looks a very tall order for him to reverse Doncaster form.
This is because he’s penalised for a Group 2 win in Italy on his final start last season. It means De Ex Bee can’t totally be discounted in this at 100/30 with Bethard as he’s only got 1lb to find on adjusted ratings with Weekender.
Hannon’s other runner Danehill Kodiac won the Cumberland Lodge here in 2017, but has had just two starts since and almost a year off the track.
Amazing Red and Cleonte are out to prove themselves better than handicappers in this Group 3 which lacks strength-in-depth, and they’ve got plenty to find on official figures.
OpenOdds’ Sagaro Stakes shortlist
Verdana Blue ✮✮✮✮✮
Dee Ex Bee ✮✮✮✰✰