Andy Stephens has all you need to know about the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday, which on Thursday attracted a final field of 12.
When and where can I watch it? Staged at Haydock at 4.15pm on Saturday, live in stunning HD on Racing UK, Sky Channel 426 and on Racinguk.com.
What Grade? Group One
What Distance? Six furlongs
What Prize Money? £325,200 (a record amount)
Age restrictions: For three-year-olds and upwards
Weights & Allowances: 9st 1lb (3-y-o), 9st 3lb (4-y-o plus) (3lb allowance for fillies and mares)
The Sprint Cup was established in 1966 and was the brainchild of the late Robert Sangster, the heir to initial sponsors Vernons Pools and later a leading owner/breeder.
Initially, it was run in early November and runners had to contend with a sharp left-hand bend. It was moved forward two months in 1979 and has been held on Haydock’s straight track since 1986.
It was promoted to Group One status in 1988, the final year of Vernons' sponsorship. For a period the race was closed to two-year-olds, but it reopened in 1989. Juveniles have subsequently been excluded since 1994.
Be Friendly (1966-67) is the only two-time winner of the race. He was a two-year-old when winning the first renewal. No jockey has ridden the winner more than three times while the late John Dunlop, with four wins, remains the leading trainer.
Key Statistics and Trends:
Harry Angel became the fourth three-year-old in succession to win the Sprint Cup last year. Watch our experts analyse his triumph.
Two-year-olds have been excluded since 1994. Since then, there have been nine three-year-old winners and the rest have all been four or older.
The Classic generation have been dominant in recent years, though, and on Saturday will seek a fifth successive triumph with James Garfield and Eqtidaar principal players among their squad of six.
The most powerful owner in the world must have a soft spot for the race. A record four winners have run in his famous maroon and white colours and he has enjoyed two more successes with Godolphin. Harry Angel is hot favourite to give him a seventh success.
Difficult to make any firm conclusions as to where you want to be drawn. The past 12 winners provide a fair snapshot, winning from low and high stalls. It is unlikely to make the difference between victory and defeat. As in all sprints, it will pays to be drawn near the likely pace-setters.
A decent race for backers of the favourite in recent years. Since 2006, if you had put £10 on each market leader you would be £87.50 in profit. No winner has been returned bigger than 14-1.
Having said that . . .:
The five Group One sprint races run in Britain this year have failed to yield a winning favourite. Lady Aurelia, Harry Angel, Blue Point and Battaash have been among those to fluff their lines lines and last month’s Nunthorpe was won by 40-1 chance Alpha Delphini.
In the past dozen years only two winners - Regal Parade (rated 109) and the progressive Twilight Son (104) - have gone into the race rated 111 or less. Dream Ahead, rated 124, was the highest rated. Harry Angel boasts a rating of 125 - at least 7lb higher than any of the 11 rivals he will face.
All recent winners have run at least twice in the season beforehand so Tasleet, who has just once al campaign, would be bucking the trends. However, a previous win in the campaign has not been essential - Red Clubs (2007) and Society Rock (2012) overcoming that.
Since 2006 no winners have had more than 24 runs. That does not augur well for Brando, who has had 28, although he was runner-up in the July Cup (see below).
July Cup pointer:
Four of the past seven winners had run in the July Cup on their latest start, finishing seventh, third, third and first in it. Eqtidaar is the only runner in this year’s line up who comes here direct from Newmarket. The Commonwealth Cup winner (past two winners contested that race) finished ninth.
THE PAST TEN WINNERS
2017: HARRY ANGEL (2-1 fav, 11 ran, drawn in stall 8)
The participation of the July Cup winner was in doubt until late in the day because of the heavy ground but connections need not have worried as Harry Angel proved in a different league under Adam Kirby.
Never far away, the combination drew clear over a furlong out and stayed on stoutly.
“I believe that a proper champion can win on any ground, but he’s so fast I was a little bit concerned,” Kirby said. “I knew he’d won as soon as he picked up.
“He’s a machine. He’s there now mentally and he’ll keep on getting better.”
William Haggas, trainer of runner-up Tasleet, lamented the winner getting a softish lead and James Fanshawe, trainer of The Tin Man, said: “He ran very well again, but the ground has blunted his speed.
2016: QUIET REFLECTION (7-2 fav, 14 ran, stall 4)
An emphatic success for the Commonwealth Cup winner, who had also made the frame in the July Cup.
Well served by the soft ground, which led to Limato being a late defector, Quiet Reflection cruised through the race under Dougie Costello and won easily. In the process, she was making it seven wins from nine starts.
“I’ve never ridden anything like it and probably never will again,” Costello said. “She’s push-button go. She won as she liked, she’s the real deal.
“She was fresh today and between the five and the three I was running away. I got there a little bit sooner than I’d liked.”
James Fanshawe was delighted with the performance of The Tin Man, who was slowly away, while David O’Meara said of Suedois: “I’m really happy with him to be placed in another Group One. He’s very consistent and very tough.”
2015: TWILIGHT SON (10-1, 15 ran, stall 5)
“I thought I might look immensely stupid” said Henry Candy after Twilight Son had taken the jump from handicaps to Group One company in his stride.
The unbeaten colt was making it five wins from five starts, although he was all out to prevail and in the process go two places better than his half-brother, Music Master, had in the race 12 months earlier.
As Candy celebrated, Charlie Hills was left to reflect on what might have been. It appeared his Magical Memory was going to win and then his second runner, Strath Burn, lunged late. But Twilight Son, whose previous win had come in a handicap off a mark of 94, had enough in his locker to keep them both at bay.
Jockey Fergus Sweeney was enjoying his first Group One triumph and said: “He’s done nothing but improve this year. I couldn’t believe how well he travelled into the race.”
2014: GO FORCE (11-1, 17 ran, stall 10)
Eddie Lynam was seeking to continue his domination of British Group One sprints, having triumphed with Sole Power (King's Stand and Nunthorpe Stakes) and Slade Power (Diamond Jubilee Stakes and July Cup).
Sole Power, stepping up from five furlongs to six furlongs, was favourite to continue the sequence but could manage only fourth behind G Force, trained by David O’Meara and ridden by Daniel Tudhope.
He got the better of Gordon Lord Byron, who was seeking to become the first horse since Be Friendly in 1966 and 1967 to win the race twice.
An unlucky sixth in the Nunthorpe on his previous start, everything went right for G Force on this occasion.
2013: GORDON LORD BYRON (7-2, 13 ran, stall 2)
Having been edged out the previous year, nobody could deny Gordon Lord Byron his deserved his day in the sun.
The outcome was never in much doubt, either, as Johnny Murtagh stuck to the far rail and always had matters in hand. After looming into contention two out, the pair powered clear with Murtagh even able to ease up near the finish.
“He was just electric and he picked up really well and won easy,” Murtagh said. Trainer Tom Hogan added: "I knew that he had improved at this time of year every year. I knew last week he was well. I felt today was his day."
Clive Cox lamaned not taking Lethal Force, the favourite, out of the race after the ground softened.
2012: SOCIETY ROCK (10-1, 13 ran, stall 3)
Like plenty, Society Rock had got stuck in the mud in the July Cup but he proved a different proposition on the better ground after eight weeks off.
“I think it's my first winner at Haydock for three years," winning trainer James Fanshawe said. Not a bad way to end the rot.
He added: "It's been a real team effort. He's a very underrated horse. He was runner-up in the Golden Jubilee before and he won it last year but then we had a nightmare with the stalls.
"Yarmy (Steve Dyble) and all the team have done a lot of work with him at the stalls since Newmarket. I'm delighted.”
2011: DREAM AHEAD (4-1 fav, 16 ran, stall 9)
A fourth Group One triumph for Dream Ahead, even if he did his best to surrender victory and had to survive a tense stewards’ inquiry.
Dream Ahead seemed to lose concentration and wandered about in the closing stages, but had just enough in hand to hold on from Bated Breath and Hoof It.
The latter, winner of the Stewards’ Cup, was hindered and his jockey, Graham Gibbons, insisted: "I was carried across the course and it definitely cost me the race. There was only a nose and a head in it."
Dream Ahead had fluffed his lines at Deauville on his previous start and a relieved David Simcock said: "It's a massive relief as after France we were scratching our heads. It's great for the horse to enhance his reputation. I probably won't see another like him.”
2010: MARKAB (12-1, 13 ran, stall 14)
At the age of seven, Markab became the joint-oldest oldest winner of the race, 33 years after Boldboy had won at the same age.
It was a first Group One victory for Markab, who enjoyed the combination of firmish ground and a sharp track to win in a record time.
"I'd say 99.9 per cent of horses his age don't carry on improving but he has, and still is,” Henry Candy, his trainer, said. “He's bigger and stronger than ever.”
The field split into two and Starspangledbanner, the 11-8 favourite, who was seeking to give Aidan O’Brien a first win in the arce, faded to be fifth.
2009: REGAL PARADE (14-1, 14 ran, stall 13)
The softish ground brought out the best in Regal Parade, a chestnut who had shown his relish for such conditions when previously landing the Ayr Gold Cup.
The Dandy Nicholls-trained five-year-old, ridden by his son, Adrian, outstayed Fleeting Spirit, the 100-30 favourite, to win by half a length.
High Standing was a couple of lengths farther back in third with the well fancied J J The Jet Plane trailing home last.
Regal Parade went on to run in a total of 104 races. Nicholls, dubbed “The Sprint King”, died at the age of 61 in 2017.
2008: AFRICAN ROSE (7-2 fav, 15 ran, stall 12 - run at Doncaster)
A renewal that was switched to Doncaster, on St Leger day, after Haydock was washed out the previous week.
There was drama before the start when Equiano, the 9-2 second favourite, burst out of the stalls and had to be withdrawn.
In his absence, African Rose, a French filly trained by Criquette Head, justified 7-2 favouritism by showing a smart turn of foot down the centre of the track on the soft ground.
She had previously been beaten under a length by champion sprinter elect, Marchand D’Or, in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.