The Haydock Sprint Cup is the only Group 1 Flat race held at the track and Dancing Star has looked like a group horse running in handicaps and can make the transition on Saturday. Limato is the likely favourite for the six furlong contest and will take some beating based on form shown in winning the July Cup at Newmarket. However, if conditions become soft underfoot Limato might not run which will give the betting market a very different look with several horse vying for favouritism.
The biggest race on the level of the season at Haydock identifies one of the best sprinters of the season. The Sprint Cup is open to horses aged three and over so in theory can involve horses from the Classic generation. However, the five most prestigious races on the calendar are run over distances from one mile to one mile six furlongs so horses good enough to contest those races rarely appear at Haydock.
The Sprint Cup has had several sponsors since it was first run in 1966. Its first title was the Vernon’s Sprint Cup and was devised by Robert Sangster, the owner of Vernon’s Pools who went on to win many great Flat races with horses ridden by Lester Piggott. Its little known that Piggott had his first winner at Leicester racecourse and Sir Bobby played his first match for Manchester United against Charlton Athletic.
That’s all very interesting but by the by in the context of tipping the winner of the Sprint Cup. My colleague Simon Holden will have his views which I respect but don’t always agree with but that’s the beauty of sport and racing in that you can read different opinions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and that means Dancing Star passing the winning post first at Haydock on Saturday. That is more likely to happen if Limato is withdrawn but the best horses make these championship races and the absence of Limato would devalue the occasion.
The July Cup is possibly the most important sprint race in Europe but Haydock’s big event is not too far behind in terms of prestige. The only multiple winner is Be Friendly who won the race for Peter O’Sullevan in 1966 and 1967. Four jockeys including Lester and Willie Carson have the most wins with three and John Dunlop and Sheikh Mohammed are the leading trainer and owner with four wins each.
The vast majority of winners are in the three to five year old age group and only two winners have been older than six. Seven of the last 20 winners were aged three and even though juveniles were eligible before 1994 only two horses aged two have been victorious, Be Friendly with his first success and a horse called The Blues in 1973. Since 2000 no jockey has won the race more than once but Tim Easterby was the celebrating trainer in the first year of the millennium and in 2003.
Limato and Twilight Son, the winner of the Sprint Cup last season, are both trained by Henry Candy. The champion will not be defending so its possible Candy might not have a representative despite training two horses suited to the contest. The clerk of the course at Haydock thinks there will be some soft in the going description The trainer explained the scenarios in the Racing Post on Friday when saying:
“The plans were made on the wishes of the owners of both horses. Limato won’t run if there is any mention of soft in the going. The owner will make a decision where to go with Limato later. Twilight Son is 100 per cent and goes straight to Ascot for the Champions Sprint” A big beneficiary of Candy not having a runner will be Dancing Star who could be the subject of a betting move whatever the circumstances.
The horse was an impressive winner of the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, which is a six furlongs heritage handicap and not far below Listed level. It’s a big step up to the highest echelons of Flat racing but Dancing Star won with something in hand at Goodwood but off a weight of only eight stones 12 pounds. The win was more convincing than the winning distance of one-and-a-quarter lengths suggested but Saturday will be the horse’s biggest test to date but one than can be passed.