When Raven’s Pass (2008), Poet’s Voice (2010), Dubawi Gold (2011) and Kodi Bear (2015) all won the race they were the only three-year-olds in the line-up, while the two three-year-olds in the 2009 renewal—Delegator and Zacinto—finished first and second. What’s more, there were no three-year-old runners in the 2013 race.
The current betting suggests there’s a 50% chance that the latest renewal will be won by a three-year-old—either Thikriyaat or Zonderland.
The gelded Thikriyaat has met with defeat just once from five starts, and even then he was only beaten by the subsequent Group 1 winner Ribchester (who was admittedly conceding 5 lb) in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Thikriyaat scored by only half a length from his stablemate Forge in the nine-runner Group 3 Thoroughbred Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last month, but he deserved extra credit as he had to wait for a gap two furlongs out and finished with running left, and there’s little doubt he’s open to further improvement.
He's been supplemented for this race for £10,000 and has been talked about as a potential contender for the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot in October.
Zonderland has a very similar profile to the aforementioned Kodi Bear—also representing the same yard (Clive Cox)—given he finished down the field in the Prix Jean Prat before winning the Group 3 Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury this month.
Zonderland, who’d also finished sixth in the 2000 Guineas on his return before winning a listed race at Sandown, showed improved form for his latest success when he beat a number of his elders headed by Master The World.
He’s a likable colt and in form terms there’s very little between him and Thikriyaat, though the feeling is the latter is more obviously capable of raising his game further still.
While the three-year-olds both hold strong claims based on their overall profiles, spearheading—pardon the pun—the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings is Lightning Spear who made a very encouraging reappearance/first start for the David Simcock stable when third behind Tepin and Belardo (neither of whom has run since) in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
Lightning Spear hasn’t been quite in the same form on his last two starts, when sixth of 10 to The Gurkha in the Sussex Stakes at this track and ninth of 11 to Ribchester in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville, but he wasn’t beaten all that far on either occasion and should appreciate this ease in grade—his last four starts have all been at the highest level.
A second string to the Qatar Racing bow is provided by Arod who was back over a mile in the Prix Jacques le Marois last time but again finished down the field (after finishing last in the July Cup) despite wearing first-time cheekpieces and is yet to really fire this season.
Perhaps the most fascinating runner in the race is Hathal who hasn’t been seen since winning a seven-furlong listed race on soft ground at Newbury last September, when he was a three-year-old taking on plenty of older horses.
He certainly looked ready for another crack at pattern company that day, especially back over a mile, but his absence since has to be a worry against at least a couple of in-form rivals.
Five-year-old Toormore is a standing dish in these races and also has a good record at Goodwood, having won the Vintage Stakes in 2013, finished a close second in the Lennox Stakes in 2014 before winning it the following year, and finished a creditable three and a quarter lengths fourth in the Sussex Stakes last month.
He has to carry a 3 lb penalty for his win in the Group 2 Mile at Sandown on his return but he’s a pretty consistent horse and shouldn’t be far away.
The even older bunch of Breton Rock, Gabrial and So Beloved all have something to find with the horses already mentioned on form, though it may be worth mentioning that all three have been rated a few lb higher in the past.
Breton Rock needs the heavens to open, Gabrial needs a strong pace (so will be relying on Arod, Toormore and possibly So Beloved) and So Beloved is perhaps better over seven furlongs than he is a mile.
While I wouldn’t want you to have read this article only to feel cheated by the stating of the obvious in the closing paragraph, Thikriyaat really does look a solid proposition given he’s only been beaten by a subsequent Group 1 winner in five starts (unbeaten in two races over a mile) and represents the Sir Michael Stoute yard that has won this race a record eight times, including with five three-year-olds.
Lightning Spear is the pick of the weights based on his Queen Anne third and should appreciate the drop in grade, so he’s taken to win what could be a hard-fought battle for the minor placings ahead of Zonderland and Toormore.
Back Thikriyaat in the Celebration Mile
G1 - The Bet365 Celebration Steeple Chase (class 1)
G3 - The Bet365 Gold Cup Steeple Chase (handicap) (class 1)
G1 - Aes Champion 4yo Hdle
Grade B - Setanta Sport H'cap Hdle
Grade B - Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe H'cap Chase