Saturday's St Leger at Doncaster is shaping up to be a fantastic renewal, and ITV's racing pundit Kevin Blake likes Hukum of the big three in the market...
"Hukum will be able to take a handy position behind the leader from stall one and he should have a straightforward passage from there. Only time will tell whether he proves to be good enough at the business end, but I am hopeful that he will be.
The St Leger is a race that has been revived in no uncertain terms in the last decade or so. Feared to be historical relic of a bygone era that was becoming irrelevant in a speed-focused world, the support of the biggest trainers in the game has helped bring it back to the prominent position that a race with its history deserves.
There have been some top-class renewals of it in recent years, with the 2017 race standing up particularly well, and this year's running promises to very much be on the right side of the average.
Solid chance for Santiago but I have to question his form
The best place to start is with the only Classic winner in the field, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Santiago. He was an eyebrow raiser from day one, as he is the first and will almost certainly be the only son of Authorized to ever step foot inside the gates of Ballydoyle, but he has shown himself to be more than worth his keep.
Having very much shaped like a stayer in the making in his three starts as a juvenile, he confirmed that impression at the first attempt as a three-year-old by winning the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot over a mile-and-three-quarters. It was a straightforward success, with him being given a well-judged waiting ride by Ryan Moore and having plenty to spare over Berkshire Rocco at the line.
Just eight days later he was asked to contest the Irish Derby in a bid that would have been considered unorthodox in anything but a Covid-impacted season. It proved to be an inspired decision as Santiago registered a hard-fought success (pictured below). He may have only had a head to spare over Tiger Moth at the line, but the speed with which he made up ground from two-and-a-half furlongs out to one-and-a-half furlongs out was very taking. To this pair of eyes, he looked value for more than the bare winning margin.
From there, a return to staying trips beckoned in the shape of a clash with division leader Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup. While he was sent off at 15/8 in receipt of 15lb from that great rival, he couldn't maintain what looked likely to be a strong challenge and weakened to finish third. O'Brien has since opined that the race didn't go to plan for him, as they had intended to ride him much more quietly, but a fast start and absence of early cover resulted in him racing quite freely in a prominent position.
Stamina won't be an issue for Santiago, nor should the likely good ground. His chance looks solid, though I can't help but wonder just how strong his form is.
While he shaped better than his winning margin in the Irish Derby, that looked a below-standard renewal of the race and he didn't do any more in victory in the Queen's Vase than a couple of his rivals already have. He isn't one I'd like to be throwing too many stones at, but at his price I'm inclined to wish him the best of luck and look elsewhere for my selection.
Fairytale story, but I have lingering doubts regarding Pyldriver
The Willie Muir-trained Pyledriver is without question the story horse of the race. An unwanted son of an unfashionable sire that was bought back for 10,000gns as a foal, his connections have turned down multiple big offers for him and have been brave enough to live the dream with him. It is the sort of story that the sport desires in these tough times when more than ever racing needs people to buy into the dream of ownership, but all that must be put aside in weighing up his chance on Saturday.
Pyledriver has been a revelation this year, winning the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York in impressive style. The form of the latter contest in particular gives him a strong chance, but the question I have is whether he'll be able to reproduce such a level of form over this significantly longer trip.
For me, Pyledriver has looked a speed horse at a mile-and-a-half. He tends to take a good grip in his races, swing into contention with notable power and put his races away with a turn of foot. If he can settle well enough in the first half of this race to carry that turn of foot over an extended mile-and-three-quarters, he will be very tough to beat, but every race-reading instinct in me is concerned that he won't be as effective over the longer trip.
To be frank, I would be more confident about his ability to be effective over a mile-and-a-quarter than the Leger trip.
Mind, racing inefficiently isn't a barrier to winning a Leger. Long-term readers will recall that I had similar concerns over Logician coming into the St Leger last year and while he did indeed race more freely than ideal over the longer trip, he had the class to still win in style.
For Pyledriver, how well he settles in the first half mile will be key. Martin Dwyer will be delighted to have drawn stall four as it will make his job in finding heavy cover a lot easier. If he consents to relax early, it will give him every chance to get the trip, but it is enough of a lingering doubt for me to look elsewhere for my selection.
Hukum shapes like a typical stayer and is my idea of the winner
The final one of the big three that have dominated the market for this race in recent weeks is the Owen Burrows-trained Hukum. The winner of three of his four starts, his last two wins in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot and particularly the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury are the pieces of form that advertise him best.
Hukum is very much doing what he was bred to do being a son of Sea The Stars and out of a mare that won over a mile-and-a-quarter from the family of Nashwan. Mind, he does travel through his races quite a bit more strongly than is the norm for his type, taking a strong grip in behind the leader in both those two most recent wins. That seems to be more indicative of a naturally exuberant manner than anything else, as he has shaped like a more typical stayer at the business end of his races, producing his strongest work in the final furlong.
While he isn't proven over the Leger trip, I have no great concerns about him in that regard.
Of the big three, Hukum is the biggest price of them at the time of writing and he is my selection in the race. He will be able to take a handy position behind the leader from stall one and he should have a straightforward passage from there. Only time will tell whether he proves to be good enough at the business end, but I am hopeful that he will be.
While many will understandably focus on the front three in the market, this isn't a three-horse race. The Joseph O'Brien-trained Galileo Chrome has to come into calculations based on his victory at Navan last time which impressed both visually and on the clock. His stamina looks assured and a return to a sounder surface is likely to suit too. He looks a serious contender and has to be strongly considered.
Of those at much bigger prices, the David Simcock-trained Mohican Heights shouldn't be overlooked. He shaped better than the result when a never-nearer third to Pyledriver in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and shouldn't be judged too harshly on his midfield finish in the Derby. He is bred to stay this sort of trip and it wouldn't at all surprise to see him run well at a big price.