Sprint Cup Preview: Memory looks a Magical bet

Twilight Son won last year's Sprint Cup and is a potential runner again this year
Twilight Son won last year's Sprint Cup and is a potential runner again this year

Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews Saturday's Sprint Cup, the feature race at Haydock Park on Saturday.

"He has had excuses for his two below-par performances in Group 1 company since, and holds the edge over the other non-Candy-trained principals from a ratings perspective..."

After Muhaarar had won the July Cup and the Prix Maurice de Gheest, last year's Sprint Cup served to underline a changing of the guard in the sprint division, with the front three places filled by Muhaarar's fellow three-year-olds Twlight Son, Strath Burn and Magical Memory, with the champion six-furlong sprinter himself being given a break before the Champions Sprint Stakes on British Champions Day in October. Though Muhaarar was, of course, retired after his fourth successive Group 1 victory at the end of last season, his generation - now four-year-olds - have continued to dominate the sprint division this season.

Twilight Son recorded a second Group 1 win earlier this season in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, beating the ill-fated Gold-Fun by a neck in a slightly muddling race. However, back on firmer ground, Twilight Son was disappointing in the July Cup last time, raising suspicions that he is possibly just not as effective on faster ground as he is on ground that is good/good to soft. The pick of his form - including his career-best second to Muhaarar in the Champions Sprint Stakes - has come away from good to firm ground. Either way, he has a little more to prove than some at the top of the market after that poor run.

The winner of the July Cup was Limato - like Twilight Son trained by Henry Candy - who dropped back to sprint distances for the first time since finishing second in last season's Commonwealth Cup (behind Muhaarar) to produce a career-best effort at Newmarket, a clear-cut victor by two lengths and almost certain to have still won if those in behind him that met trouble had enjoyed a clear run. Though he wasn't quite at that sort of level from a ratings perspective next time in the Nunthorpe, he enhanced his reputation if anything, losing no caste at all in defeat to a top-class five-furlong specialist in Mecca's Angel. Topping the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings for the Sprint Cup, he is the one to beat if he turns up, though that will depend on the ground and whether he handles the quickest turnaround between races that he has faced to date.

Magical Memory is another four-year-old representing the new age of six-furlong sprinters, though unlike Twilight Son and Limato he has yet to make a breakthrough at the highest level. Magical Memory took the step up to Group 1 level in his stride in this race last season, arriving here fresh from winning the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood and improving again to finish third to Twilight Son. After his ready win in the Duke of York Stakes in May, many expected him to be much more competitive against Twilight Son when the pair met again in the Diamond Jubilee, but he was not seen to best effect in a fairly tactical race (made a big move into contention from off the pace) and was beaten less than half a length. He was beaten much further by Limato in the July Cup last time, though he did have excuses, having to wait for a gap a furlong out, and he still gives the impression that he remains capable of winning at the highest level when things fall more favourably.

The Tin Man was also below his best in the Diamond Jubilee, but got back on track in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury last month and was value for a fair bit more than the head that he won by. His best performance remains his impressive win in a listed race at Windsor on his reappearance this season, and he is a proven Group 1 performer, having finished in the frame in the Champions Sprint Stakes last season on his final start. Further improvement cannot be ruled out given his profile now he is back on track.

Three of the last five renewals of the Sprint Cup have gone to three-year-olds, and though the challenge from the older sprinters seems very strong, it is hard to ignore the likes of Dancing Star and Quiet Reflection, who certainly don't look out of place in this line-up.

Dancing Star might only have wins in handicaps to her name so far, but she is already group standard based on her impressive win in the Stewards' Cup last time, which appealed as a particularly strong renewal, and she remains open to further improvement given her rapidly progressive profile.

Though Quiet Reflection won the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in June, her best performance to date on Timeform ratings came over the Sprint Cup C&D in the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes in May, where she beat Donjuan Triumphant - subsequently second in the Prix Maurice de Gheest - by three and three-quarter lengths. Though she is back at a track that clearly brings out the best in her, she will need a career-best to win this (had no excuses back in third behind Limato in the July Cup last time).

With doubts about the participation of both Henry Candy-trained runners (both ground dependant, while Limato also faces a quick turnaround) the best bet at this stage could be Magical Memory, who was third in this race last season and has shown improved form since, notably in the Duke of York Stakes on his second start this term. He has had excuses for his two below-par performances in Group 1 company since, and holds the edge over the other non-Candy-trained principals from a ratings perspective, for all that Dancing Star still remains open to improvement and could be a big danger if stepping forward again after her impressive Stewards' Cup win.

Recommendation:

Back Magical Memory in the Sprint Cup at 8.07/1

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