The seven-furlong division can be a tricky one to assess, due to the fact that there are no Group 1 races for older horses in the UK over that distance. As such, pattern-level performers over this trip can endure rather nomadic campaigns, venturing to Ireland, France and beyond in search of their optimum conditions.
This year’s renewal of the John of Gaunt Stakes looks an open one, with a mix of unexposed four-year-olds and more battle-hardened campaigners in the field.
Improving type is one to note
It is one of the more unexposed runners in the field, Emmaus, who heads the betting at the five-day stage. The four-year-old has made just four starts to date, winning on all three of his trips to Leicester, with the only blot on his record coming in a listed contest at Deauville in 2016.
Roger Varian has had to show patience with the colt, but he has shown plenty of promise when he has made the track, looking every inch the Group performer in the making when scoring in a handicap on his sole start as a three-year-old last October. He progressed further to take a listed contest on reappearance in April, dispatching of a race-fit Donjuan Triumphant, and he is likely to make a bold bid with more improvement expected here.
The Charlie Appleby-trained D’Bai is another four-year-old to note, though he has far more experience under his belt with 16 starts to date. He has long promised plenty, and enjoyed a productive trip to Dubai over the winter, having ended last season in disappointing fashion. However, he put in a career-best effort to finish second in a listed contest over six furlongs at Windsor last month, and it will be interesting to see how he fares now returned to this trip.
Khafoo Shememi is another runner who enjoyed a fruitful winter over in Dubai, and as one of just two natural front-runners, alongside Muntadab, it would be no surprise should he play a big part. He put in a solid effort to finish third in a listed contest at Windsor last time out, and is worth noting in more suitable conditions here.
Course form could be a big factor
Winning course form is somewhat surprisingly at a premium in this, something which the straightforward and consistent Tabarrak brings to the table, having taken a listed race over C&D in good style last month. He generally runs his race, and looks a Group winner in waiting on the back of that performance. He’s well worth a return to this company, having held his form well on his sole try at this level last season, when finishing a close second in the Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury last August.
Behind Tabarrak at Haydock last time was So Beloved, who ranks as the senior figure in this field as an eight-year-old, but he put in one of the best performances of his career to finish second in a York handicap last time out, closing all the way to the line behind a well-treated rival. He generally runs his race, and is a worthy inclusion.
However, it is Dutch Connection who is the most interesting prospect in this year’s renewal. The six-year-old has been almost exclusively campaigned at Group 1 and 2 level over the past three seasons, and it is worth noting that he has scored on both occasions that he has been dropped to this grade in the past. His fine effort to finish fourth on reappearance in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in April shows that he retains all of his ability, and he appeals as the class act dropped back in grade and returned to seven furlongs.
In summary, it looks worth siding with experience over potential and Dutch Connection, who is a fascinating contender dropped to Group 3 level, is fancied to have too much for the improving pair of Emmaus and Tabarrak.
Back Dutch Connection at 4/1 in the John of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock