The Lockinge Stakes at Newbury is the first British Group 1 of the season open to older horses and has often been the first port of call for the top milers in recent years, including the likes of Frankel and Canford Cliffs.
The make-up of the race tends to pitch the race-fit horses that are just below Group 1 level against the top-notchers, usually reappearing and perceived to be at their most vulnerable. Recent history has tended to confound that perception- the last five renewals have all gone the way of the Timeform top-rated.
Three of those five winners came from the Hannon yard, Richard junior picking up where his father left off with Olympic Glory in 2014. He looks to have an excellent chance of continuing the trend in 2015, being responsible for returning stars Night of Thunder (certain to be top-rated) and Toormore.
Night of Thunder perhaps didn't get the credit he deserved last season. History will surely judge him kindly as the only horse to beat Kingman, while subsequent Derby winner Australia was third in that famous 2000 Guineas. Night of Thunder did not win another race that season, but he was placed in three more Group 1s and failed to stay in the Eclipse on his only other run. He was, if anything, still improving by the end, arguably unlucky not to land the QEII on Champions Day after being briefly held up in his run. Night of Thunder is the class horse in the Lockinge, more superior to Toormore than half a length at Ascot would imply, and is at least as obvious as the market makes out.
That isn't to say that Toormore is totally maxed-out by his Ascot run, either. He was poorly placed and shuffled back as the race developed, just not at so crucial a stage as Night of Thunder. Toormore was a champion juvenile and went off for the Guineas a lot shorter than Night of Thunder did, but his three-year-old season had essentially been most disappointing prior to the QEII. That leaves him with some unfinished business this year and he arguably deserves to be seen as Night of Thunder's main threat, not twice the price of Integral.
Integral completes the trio of horses we expect to see contest Group 1 mile races throughout the summer. She went from strength to strength last season, scoring twice at the highest level and setting the standard for her sex over this distance. Though we've our doubts about her position in the betting relative to the Hannon pair, Integral should at least do better than on her first try against colts in the QEII last year. By then she'd had a few hard races and had quite possibly had enough for the season, especially faced with testing ground.
Of the horses coming here with a run under their belts Custom Cut certainly deserves a mention, as he continued his excellent progress for the David O'Meara yard when winning the bet365 Mile at Sandown last month. This was his second success at Group 2 level and, while he's earned another shot at the top grade (flopped in the QEII), he'd need to improve again to be a serious player.
The same also applies to Moohaarib, whose form took a huge leap forward when he followed up his third in the Lincoln with a facile success at listed level at Ascot last time. He looked to have more left at the finish there, too, so it would be dangerous to put a cap on his improvement, though this will require big jump.
This year's Lockinge has a distinctive feel in that we have the proven Group 1 horses reappearing against the race-fit pretenders. The fact it lacks the top-class runner of recent renewals tells us more about the older milers this year than anything else. Still, it's likely that the best horses will come to the fore, especially those trained by Richard Hannon, so we'd suggest both Night of Thunder and Toormore. The latter is overpriced, while the former comes closest to having that real star quality that we've come to expect from the Lockinge Stakes.
Back Night of Thunder at 9/4 2pts Win
Back Toormore at 10/1 0.5pt Win