(Published 19:00, 17 September, 2018) – First run in 1972 in honour of the brilliant Ian Balding-trained Mill Reef, this Group 2 contest for juvenile colts, geldings and fillies has had a slightly chequered history, but since the turn of this century has re-established itself as a race that can produce seriously good horses. It is staged at Newbury over the straight six furlongs, a thoroughly fair track which most horses act well on. This year’s renewal carries prize money of £75,000.
After arguably losing its way in the 1990’s this race has bounced back since the millenium, producing fine winner such as subsequent top stallion Dark Angel, Excellent Art, and in the last few seasons, Ribchester, Dark Angel’s son Harry Angel, and last year the smart James Garfield. Trainer Richard Fahey has won the race twice in the last five years – including with star turn Ribchester – and seems to target this event with his best colt. Surprisingly, Aidan O’Brien has never won the Mill Reef Stakes.
Prokofiev To Call The Tune?
Sixteen horses stood their ground at Monday’s five-day stage for the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes, with bookmakers reacting by installing Aidan O’Brien’s Sergei Prokofiev (11/4 with Coral) as favourite. One of three Ballydoyle entries – the others are The Irish Rover and Land Force – Sergei Prokofiev won the listed Rochestown Stakes at Nass in May over five furlongs before running very well indeed to finish third behind Calyx and subsequent Group 1 winner Advertise in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot a month later.
Sent off at odds of just 7/4 to win the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last month, the Scat Daddy was never travelling particularly well and faded fast from over a furlong out, finishing last behind Advertise. This was at a time when O’Brien’s horses were very much under a cloud and it is not unreasonable to assume that this promising colt was not in the best of health and may have had a touch of the virus that laid low many of the Ballydoyle team. They have now emerged from that spell and are running well, so if he returns to his Coventry Stakes form, Sergei Prokofiev would certainly have a major chance of winning this coveted prize.
Land Force (12/1 with William Hill), winner of the Group 2 Richmond Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in early-August (in which Marie’s Diamond, Shine So Bright and Konchek were second, third and fourth respectively) , was comfortably held when fourth behind Pretty Pollyanna in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville and again came up well short on Sunday when a fairly distant fifth behind Quorto in the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh. This is slightly easier but he doesn’t make a great deal of appeal on recent evidence if he does show up.
It’s a similar story for The Irish Rover (14/1 with Sky Bet), beaten just a length by Advertise when third in the race in which Sergei Prokofiev failed to fire. He was thrown in at the weights in the big sales race at Doncaster last week, but after holding every chance at the furlong pole he looked very one paced in finishing fifth behind The Great Heir. This is much tougher and he may struggle if he gets the green light to turn out again.
Main Edition (8/1 with Betfair) winner of Group 3’s at Royal Ascot and Newmarket’s July meeting this summer, had a hard race when fifth behind Skitter Skatter in Group 1 company at the Curragh and it would be a big surprise if she turns out again; and if she does it would take a brave man to bet that she’s recovered quickly enough to do herself justice here, despite Mark Johnston’s talent at keeping his horses busy and successful.
Johnston also has Marie’s Diamond (10/1 with Totesport) entered in this event, a colt who has plenty of ability but is hard to figure. He won the Group 3 Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh, while either side of that he ran second in Group 2 company at the Curragh and at Glorious Goodwood, form that gives him a proper chance here. But his run at Deauville last time was poor, finishing a distant last of nine behind Pretty Pollyanna, without there being an obvious excuse. He needs to produce his very best to have a chance.
Bright Seeks To Shine On Big Stage
Shine So Bright (5/1 with Ladbrokes) is 3lb better off with Land Force for finishing third in the Richmond Stakes, a race in which he failed to get a clear run until late in the day when staying on well to grab a place. He began his career with Karl Burke and finished a fine fifth in the Coventry Stakes for the Middleham handler on only his second start (having won on debut at Nottingham), and was then sold for £375,000 to his new owners. They saw saw their new acquisition run a very good race at Goodwood before he confirmed his ability in finishing third to Emaraaty Ana in the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York last month, keeping on in the closing stages without ever really landing a blow.
— York Racecourse (@yorkracecourse) August 24, 2018
There’s no doubt that a decent race is very much within Shine So Bright’s capabilities, and having settled better last time than in previous races (where he had been somewhat headstrong), he could go very well. With Andrew Balding’s team in tremendous form he rates a big danger to all concerned.
Konchek (14/1 with William Hill), runner-up to Advertise in the Group 2 July Stakes before finishing fourth in the Richmond Stakes, failed to build on those performances when only fourth of five behind Kessaar in the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes at Kempton a couple of weeks ago. It might simply be that he isn’t as effective on an artificial surface, but overall he looks as though he will again find a few too good at this level.
It's a first Group success for jockey Kieran O'Neill as he guides Kessaar to success in the Sirenia Stakes @kemptonparkrace. 🥇
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) September 8, 2018
John Gosden’s Kessaar (6/1 with Betfred) was pretty impressive that day at Sandown having blown his chance in listed company at Ripon the time before when rearing at the stalls. He looks to be improving and if he takes his chance won’t be far away as he attempts to give his master trainer a first winner in this race.
Mason To Show His True Worth
Given the cracking form of Karl Burke’s team over the weekend where he landed two Group 1’s at the Curragh, you have to think there is a big chance his very promising colt TRUE MASON is going to run a massive race. This son of Mayson has improved with virtually every start this term, finishing third to subsequent Woodcote Stakes winner Cosmic Law at Carlisle in May, before winning a Nottingham maiden with plenty to spare the following month.
Beaten just a length when a fine third to Queen Mary Stakes heroine Signora Caballo in the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin at Deauville next time out, he was given quite a bit to do but stayed on nicely to finish third behind Pretty Pollyanna in the Group 1 Prix Morny last time, with Land Force fourth and Marie’s Diamond well back.
🗣“I have been happy with her since her run in the Prix Morny, she seems in good fettle and worked well the other morning."
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) September 12, 2018
With question marks over a number of the the market principals, the 7/1 on offer with Totesport looks a sporting each-way price and I fancy True Mason to un a very big race indeed for his bang in-form yard.
Garrus (10/1 with Paddy Power) is something of a dark horse who won very easily in a lesser race last time, but Jeremy Noseda’s colt is open to further improvement after just three starts and it will be worth noting any market support for him. Although Cosmic Law (25/1 with Betfair) represents the Richard Fahey yard that have won this twice in the last five years, it’s hard to make a solid case for him on recent evidence and he cannot be recommended.
Barbill (16/1 with Coral) did really well to win the valuable sales race at the Curragh at the weekend but that was a tough contest and he would probably find this a serious challenge even if he was fresh, while John Gosden’s apparent second-string Marhaba Milliar (16/1 with Paddy Power) is a fair colt but needs to improve well over a stone on what he’s done so far to spring a surprise on higher rated opposition. I’ll be shocked if he manages to do that.
ADVICE: TRUE MASON (7/1 each-way with Totesport)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.