A Grand Prix de Paris win has seen punters latch on to Aidan O'Brien's Kew Gardens in antepost betting on Ascot's mid-summer Group 1, but could that be down to the likely opposition? Tony Calvin offers his thoughts...
"Kew Gardens looked very good when winning the Queen's Vase over 1m6f at Royal Ascot and it appears that they were using Saturday's Group 1 at Longchamp to see if he had he pace to cope with the step down to 1m4f in better races."
As we often say in this column, the Saturday after a big meeting or Festival is usually very low-key and that is especially true of this weekend's cards.
Sure, we have the Weatherbys Super Sprint at Newbury and the Irish Oaks at the Curragh - indeed the jumps gets a terrestrial look-in with Market Rasen's summer showpiece - but there is nothing of any great note.
Kew Gardens primed to make Group 1 jump
So, it makes sense to focus on the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth market at Ascot on July 28 which has been sparked into life by Kew Gardens being earmarked for the race after his Grand Prix de Paris win on Saturday evening.
Kew Gardens looked very good when winning the Queen's Vase over 1m6f at Royal Ascot and it appears that they were using Saturday's Group 1 at Longchamp to see if he had he pace to cope with the step down to 1m4f in better races.
I am not sure if the French race was particularly strong - though the runner-up was going into that race on a hat-trick after an easy Group 3 win, and is now being aimed at the Arc - but Aidan O'Brien's colt definitely got the job done in a pleasing manner.
He has looked an improved performer since more patient tactics have been adopted on his last two starts, but it could well be that the horse has simply come to himself.
Now, as it stands, he has a fair way to go to match the form of the market principals Crystal Ocean and Poet's Word - more of them in a bit - but I have been watching his price in the King George market ever since his victory at 7pm on Saturday, and it has been pretty interesting, to a saddo like me, at least.
Most of the ante-post quotes coming in immediately after his victory were for the St Leger but then ATR broadcast an interview with O'Brien saying that they were actually using the French race to see if he had the speed to go to Ascot in a fortnight's time.
The answer appeared to be yes, as Ryan Moore sat last and the horse quickened up in taking style for him.
Well, perhaps, gradually edged into top gear, but you get my drift.
So I looked at the markets, and the lack of reaction was pretty eye-opening.
Most firms seemed oblivious to the significance of the performance and interview - and there were two Saturday night meetings, so it wasn't as if the trading rooms would have been empty - and odds of 25/1, 20/1 and 16/1 were freely available.
Well, perhaps not freely, but you get my gist.
Now, we all know that it takes just one modest bet from the right person to halve the price in these situations, and that is what duly happened across the board (the shortening, that is) in the next half an hour or so.
He was still 10/1 in a few places on Sunday morning, but the double-figure quotes soon disappeared and he is now a best-priced 6/1.
It took the layers a long time to realise that he was a big each-way player in a race that promises to cut up pretty badly; perhaps to less than eight runners on the day.
So, while in isolation, Kew Gardens now appears to be plenty short enough at 6/1 given the French form is no great shakes as regards Group 1 contests, the horse is proven at Ascot, looks like he is going for the race and will arrive there as a horse going forward.
Question marks over the opposition
I will come on to the Sir Michael Stoute pair that currently dominate the market in a moment, but have a look at the horses immediately below them in the betting.
Kew Gardens is now the third favourite, but then you have form horse Cracksman, who last I heard was being targeted towards a late summer/autumn campaign after his two below-par efforts at Epsom and Ascot.
His two best pieces of form have come over 1m2f, too, and he has questions to answer now - quick ground may not be ideal, either - though John Gosden may decide to come here after all, if he has a good look at the potential depth of the race.
Waldgeist and Coronet are next up in the betting, but the form of their 1-2 in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time (a nose separated them) isn't going to get anyone shaking - Salouen, who is apparently being aimed at Ascot, was just over a length away in third - though I suspect both are better than they showed there.
In particular, Waldgeist was earlier very impressive in soft ground at Chantilly and is a definite factor if rocking up, though he has never raced on anything quicker than good ground and he will need this dry spell to end to attend, one would have thought.
Ribblesdale winner Coronet would have to be respected too, for all she looks a bit ungainly in the run and has an awkward way of racing. She has run well on both her starts at Ascot, but I suspect we pretty much know what she is, talent-wise, by now, and she is rated only 115, even after that slightly improved run in France.
Idaho is being aimed at the Goodwood Cup and, while Defoe's third in the Tattersalls Gold Cup confirmed he is better at this 1m4f trip, Roger Varian is on record as saying "we might have to protect him at the height of the summer on fast ground."
Bateel is a Group 1 tool in deep ground, but it doesn't look like her conditions are materialising, either.
No shortage of options for O'Brien
O'Brien could well draft in the likes of Hydrangea and Order Of St George if the ground eases appreciably in the next 10 days or so - though that doesn't appear likely, as I have said - and he also has the likes of Irish Derby runner-up Rostropovich, Oaks winner Forever Together and Cliffs Of Moher in here.
Who knows what O'Brien will run, but I think Cliffs Of Moher is the most interesting at a general 33/1. He shaped well again when third from off the pace in the Eclipse, and the step back up in trip will suit him. It may have taken over a year but he could finally be finding his feet again at this level.
He is the most interesting outsider at the moment - and it wouldn't surprise me if the industry-wide 33s proved very popular, each way, in the coming days - though Best Solution threw his hat into the ring at Newmarket last week, I suppose, though he doesn't have a great record of backing up good runs and runs well when fresh.
The betting states that Stoute is odds-on to take the Group 1 prize - massively so in one place, with a firm offering just 11/8 and 5/2 about the pair - but I have been looking at the exchange market since Saturday night and it has been half-interesting.
There isn't a lot of money changing hands at the moment, but there is renewed interest in Crystal Ocean at the moment at the expensive of Poet's Word.
Both were 11/4+ on Betfair on Sunday morning, but the Hardwicke winner Crystal Ocean, the more obvious 1m4f horse, is now in to [2.96] - with a bit of cash looking to back him at [3.15] and bigger - while Poet's Word is a weak [4.7].
It may mean nothing, and the last reports I read suggest both are going for the race, but it could well be that only one of the pair turn up.
Poet's Word missed a winnable Eclipse to wait for prizes down the line, and presumably he will take in this 1m4f contest before going to the Juddmonte at York last month. But, like Cracksman, his best efforts so far have come over the 1m2f trip over which he beat Cracksman in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes.
So, if you wondering why Kew Gardens has been backed from 25/1 to 6/1 in the last 36 hours or so, then there are your reasons.
It is not so much about him, more the possible make-up of the final field.