The Craven Stakes has not pinpointed the 2,000 Guineas winner since Haafhd took both races 13 years ago and a few of the winners since have failed to add another victory to their record at any level. Twice Over and Toronado, both subsequent Group One winners, also started their three-year-old careers in the Craven, though, so the quality can vary significantly from year to year and this season’s renewal looks like one of the best for some time.
It has everything you could look for in a Classic trial, in fact, with the obvious exception of the Guineas favourite, Churchill, who will follow Aidan O’Brien’s normal procedure with his juvenile champions and head straight to the Classic. Rivet was a Group One-winning juvenile in the Racing Post Trophy, War Decree took a Group Two at Glorious Goodwood last season and there is also a fascinating dark horse in the field in Benbatl, who made a winning debut at Doncaster earlier this month by seven lengths in a useful time.
Rivet’s win at the same track last year makes him the form choice, but his sole disappointment in 2016 was his fifth of seven behind Churchill in the Dewhurst Stakes on this course. William Haggas, his trainer, suggested afterwards that he did not handle the track, and while Rivet will have grown and developed both mentally and physically over the winter, it is probably one reason why he is a 4-1 chance and drifting on Thursday morning.
Larchmont Lad did not win beyond Group Three level last year but he must be respected as he attempts to give the Richard Hannon stable a fourth Craven winner in five years, not least as the trainer’s string has started the season strongly. Aidan O’Brien also had a winner here yesterday however, and War Decree (3.35) looks like the most solid option in the race. He beat Thunder Snow, a subsequent Group One winner, in the Vintage Stakes last July and while his absence since is a slight concern, is a match for Rivet on last year’s form and, unlike his main market rival, is certain to appreciate today’s fast ground.
Victory Angel (1.50) had less than a length to spare when he took a maiden event at Doncaster in November, but three of the next four horses home were winners next time out and the time of the race was also very strong. An initial rating of 81 is potentially very generous for Roger Varian’s colt in the opening handicap, while Brando (3.00) and Tomyris (4.10), who was behind Wednesday’s Nell Gwyn winner Daban in her maiden at Kempton last year, also look solid on the Newmarket card.
Dusky Legend (2.05) may come out best in what looks like a match with Verdana Blue in the opener at Cheltenham, while Uae Prince (4.00) will take all the beating in the feature event on a decent card at Ripon.
Thursday racing tips
Newmarket 1.50 Victory Angel (nap) 2.25 Accession 3.00 Brando 3.35 War Decree (nb) 4.10 Tomyris 4.45 Pealer 5.20 Tricorn
Cheltenham 2.05 Dusky Legend 2.40 Magic Money 3.15 Snow Leopardess 3.50 Coologue 4.20 Solstice Star 4.55 Swincombe Scorchio 5.30 Melangerie
Taunton 5.25 Canoodle 6.00 Ridgeway Flyer 6.30 Icanmotor 7.00 Peppay Le Pugh 7.30 Polo The Mumm 8.00 Gold Mountain
Lingfield Park 4.40 Lord Murphy 5.15 Muthmira 5.50 Bush Warrior 6.20 Tegara 6.50 Tavener 7.20 Rosealee 7.50 Agathonia
Ripon 2.15 Maggies Angel 2.50 Bow Belles 3.25 Magical Effect 4.00 UAE Prince 4.30 Kitten’s Johnstown 5.05 Logi 5.35 Lamloom 6.05 Seamster