Timeform's Matt Gardner gets to grips with the feature race on Saturday, the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock Park...
"Sole Power didn't improve when making a winning return to the UK in the Palace House last time, a performance figure of 122 matching that which he has achieved on three occasions previously, but the visual impression was startling..."
As is so often the case when previewing a race ante-post, the one unfathomable with regards to the Temple Stakes is not who will run, but in what state the ground will be.
Assessing a handicap ante-post is a nightmare, as you then have marks and possible alternative targets to take into account, but it is often more straightforward with pattern races, as connections tend to point out just which race they are likely to assign their charge or, indeed, if they intend not to run at all. Roger Charlton, for example, was very helpful this morning by announcing that Mince would skip Haydock and instead head to Chantilly for the Prix du Gros-Chene at Chantilly next weekend.
That leaves us with a field of 19 to wade through, though once you deduct the sprinters that are all of a similar ability, yet unlikely to trouble the judge in a race of this nature, you are really only left with six. Eight at a push.
The pair that I'm struggling to include in the "potential winners" category are Kingsgate Native and Tangerine Trees, though if I'm being fair they both ran excellent races to finish second and third respectively in the Palace House at Newmarket. Kingsgate Native is something of an enigma these days, certainly talented but also untrustworthy, and he is just as likely to bomb out as he is to get his head in front for the first time since winning the Temple in 2010, whilst Tangerine Trees, who is seemingly in the middle of a revival, could go well if he continues to regain his form but will need to be right at his peak to trouble a few of these.
The solid option, as has been the case in the top-end sprints for a while now and will continue to be so unless something else emerges in the near future, is the Eddie Lynam-trained Sole Power, who more often than not runs his race. He arguably should have won more in his career to date, his defeat in the corresponding race last year at the hands of Bated Breath particularly painful for my wallet, but it is difficult to knock either his consistency or his attitude.
Sole Power didn't improve when making a winning return to the UK in the Palace House last time, a performance figure of 122 matching that which he has achieved on three occasions previously, but the visual impression was startling and it is possible to argue that he looked better than ever, with the five-year-old still straining Johnny Murtagh's reins two furlongs from home despite the race having been run at a decent pace.
Sole Power had his optimum conditions at Newmarket, a well-run five furlongs on quick ground, and if that comes about again on Saturday he will be a force to be feared.
Having mentioned that the sprint division could do with a couple of additions, some new kids on the block as it were, it would be wrong of us to not discuss the chances of Reckless Abandon, Pearl Secret and Swiss Spirit.
Of that trio Reckless Abandon is the youngest and, in the eyes of many, boasts the most potential, kicking off his three-year-old campaign with an unbeaten record which includes triumphs in the Norfolk Stakes, the Prix Morny and the Middle Park. He is a proper speedball and it is refreshing to see connections sticking to their guns, right in the assertion that he is a sprinter, rather than attempting to stretch out his stamina for a tilt at the Guineas (are you listening Moohaajim and co?).
The problem facing Reckless Abandon is the same one to have faced many a three-year-old sprinter, in that they find it most difficult to mix it with their elders. If anything this issue is exacerbated with Clive Cox's charge, as he is forced to carry a 4 lb Group 1 penalty, and on his first run of the season he could just prove susceptible.
Pearl Secret (NON-RUNNER, 23/05/13) is a four-year-old but has taken to the track on an equal number of occasions to Reckless Abandon, five to be precise. He made an instant impression, landing his first three assignments in impressive fashion prior to taking a listed race at Sandown, where he wasn't quite so flashy but was disadvantaged by the distinct lack of pace. He carried my cash on his first foray into Group 1 company in the Nunthorpe last year but could hardly have had more go against him, racing on the unfavoured stand-side having had just about the worst of the draw before being hampered a furlong out, finishing with any amount of running left.
It is well worth forgiving that effort, and the suspicion remains that he will develop into a real top-notch sprinter, though the murmurs emanating from the David Barron camp are that they wouldn't mind a spot of rain before Saturday. Looking at the forecast, I'm not so sure that their prayers will be answered.
Swiss Spirit has had much more racing than either of the two we've just discussed but my inkling is that we are yet to see the best of him. He has always struck as one with plenty of talent and that talent has surfaced on occasion, particularly so when scoring in a Group 3 at Newbury last year, but his headstrong ways often got the better of him. A change of stable from David Elsworth to John Gosden over the summer caught the eye, as did his performance in the Duke of York on his reappearance, making good headway approaching the final furlong before fading in the closing stages.
Swiss Spirit is sure to be sharper for that run and, such is the pace he has shown in his races, he will not be inconvenienced by the return to five furlongs. If anything, he could thrive at this distance and, allied with a faster surface, could finally show the latent ability he has long since hinted at possessing.
The others to make up our shortlist are Maarek and Spirit Quartz, with the first mentioned of definite interest were the heavens to open and the latter a consistent performer, if just a shade below the top level.
Where does that leave us in terms of a bet then? Well, if I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure. Sole Power is the solid option and created an excellent impression when winning the Palace House, so it is incredibly difficult to take him on, but both Pearl Secret and Swiss Spirit boast confirmed ability alongside as yet untapped potential.
The wise play is to get Sole Power on side, safe in the knowledge of a good run, and to also take a bit of a chance on one of the exciting horses. Pearl Secret has the most scope for improvement but may want a bit more juice in the ground so I will take Swiss Spirit, who could thrive with this combination of five furlongs on a quick surface.