Timeform Preview: Criterion Stakes

Richard Hannon
Richard Hannon has a leading hope in the Criterion Stakes

Timeform preview the Criterion Stakes at Newmarket, which takes place on Saturday, and pick out their best bet.

"...it is worth noting that he has won second-time-up in each of the last four seasons..."

Timeform on Tabarrak

This coming weekend is naturally a quiet one following five days of top-class racing at Royal Ascot last week, but it is still one that will keep punters happy, with the Northumberland Plate taking place at Newcastle, a race that will be previewed in detail by Simon Rowlands at the 48-hour stage on Thursday. Elsewhere, the Criterion Stakes takes place on the July Course at Newmarket, a Group 3 over seven furlongs for horses aged three years and older which has attracted plenty of quality if not quantity in recent years.

The Richard Hannon yard is one of the most successful in the race with four wins and looks set to be well represented once again, with Fox Champion, Oh This Is Us and Tabarrak all holding entries at the five-day stage. The first-named won his first three starts this season, the first two over this trip, before showing smart form when completing a hat-trick in the German 2000 Guineas at Cologne over a mile in May. He was able to dominate on each of those occasions, but found the company too hot when attempting to deploy the same tactics in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last time, having no answer when challenged under two furlongs out. The drop in class and trip should suit if lining up here, but that looks unlikely given the time span between races.

Oh This Is Us found his run of good form coming to a halt when finishing third in a listed event at York earlier this month, where he carried his head a bit awkwardly and wandered when asked for an effort over two furlongs out. It is hard to blame the good-to-soft ground for that below-par performance, given he finished second in a Group 3 under similar conditions last year, but he is a hardy, consistent type who could easily bounce back if getting a strong pace to aim at.

The six-year-old Tabarrak was a selection in this column for the John of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock earlier this month, but he disappointingly missed that engagement, despite having some smart form to his name at that venue. However, he finished a two and a half length fourth to Sir Dancealot in this race 12 months ago, so this has likely been the long-term plan following an encouraging reappearance in a listed event at Ascot in early-May. That form has a strong look to it, too, with the winner Zaaki following up in the Diomed Stakes at Epsom on his next start and runner-up Barney Roy going one better in a listed event in France. Tabarrak had won that same Ascot heat in 2017, but he had the benefit of a run on that occasion, and it is worth noting that he has won second-time-up in each of the last four seasons. There's no reason to think that he won't run right up to his best here, arguably more effective at seven furlongs than a mile, and he remains one to be interested in.

The Mark Johnston-trained Cardsharp comes out top on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings, and is worth forgiving his run in the Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot last week, given that he was unproven at a mile and has recorded six of his seven wins in single-figure fields. His record on the July Course is a positive one, too, having won the July Stakes as a two-year-old, before producing a career-best effort to finish fourth (beaten a length) in the Bunbury Cup over this C&D in 2018. Cardsharp had looked at least as good as ever when winning a handicap at York prior to his latest run, and it would be no surprise to see him turned out quickly here, given that it is something that his trainer is accustomed to.

Glorious Journey has been installed as the ante-post favourite, though he also holds entries at Newcastle and the Curragh on the same day. A 2,600,000 guineas purchase as a yearling, he probably hasn't progressed as connections expected after winning both of his starts as a juvenile, but he has shaped well in a couple of starts since being gelded this season, the latest of which came over six furlongs at Windsor in May. That form is working out well, with the winner Dream of Dreams going on to record a career best when a fast-finishing second to Blue Point in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. He showed plenty of speed that day, but he has won over a mile, and it could be that this intermediate seven furlongs will prove his best trip; he is in excellent hands and will be a threat to all if taking his chance.

The 2016 July Cup winner Limato is seemingly no longer the force of old, but he did manage to win three times last season, showing very smart form, and shaped with encouragement on his return from seven months off in the Duke of York Stakes last time. He was giving weight away all round on that occasion, shaken up over two furlongs out and staying on to take fourth in the closing stages without being unduly punished. Limato has won twice over six furlongs at this course and stays this trip well, but he again must concede at least 5 lb to his rivals, which may leave him vulnerable.

Both of Suedois' wins for David O'Meara have come over a mile, but he is equally effective at this trip and again ran his race when finishing second in the John of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock last time. The third has since boosted that form by winning since, and Suedois seems sure to give another good account, but a worrying fact is that he is without a win in 18 months.

Donjuan Triumphant is at his best when the mud is flying, so may not get his conditions here given the heat wave that is forecast, but he at least arrives in good form having finished second in a minor event at Hamilton last time. That was a big step forward from his seasonal reappearance and he is likely to progress again, the type that needs a few runs to blow away the cobwebs, and trainer Andrew Balding continues among the winners.

Another to mention is Khafoo Shememi, who was a smart performer for previous connections and is now in the care of Sir Michael Stoute, a trainer notoriously adept with older horses. The market will likely be the best guide to his chances, having drawn a blank last season, but, on the form of his final start in a listed race at Windsor (two and three quarter lengths behind Oh This Is Us), he holds sound claims.

In summary, this looks another up-to-scratch renewal, with plenty of quality among the entries. The one who stands out at the prices, though, is Tabarrak. He was fancied to go well in the John of Gaunt Stakes earlier this month, but he has clearly been saved for this, and his record second-time-up is exemplary, so he is expected to make a big impact. The obvious danger would be Glorious Danger if he pitched up, but Tabarraks odds have the potential to contract the most and he is worth getting onside now.


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