WEDNESDAY – APRIL 29th:
Ascot: 3.30: As it stands the penalty and, possibly more importantly, the ground is against Tac De Boistron, who although he handles a lively surface is much better in the wet. The converse is the case for Forever Now, who was not suited by the soft at Nottingham on reappearance and can reverse form with stable mate Deuce Again on this forecast faster surface. Pallasator could provide the biggest threat, although this is a quality renewal that features several unknown quantities.
4.05: Unbeaten last year and extremely impressive in the Redcar Two-Year-Old Trophy, Limato looks more than smart. Likely to be short in the betting, his price will not be to everyone’s taste but it is not feasible to oppose him.
4.35: Mondialiste gets another chance at this level following a decent enough effort behind French Navy at Newmarket. The extra furlong and an interrupted passage conspired against him then (although he would not have won in any case, but was beaten by a couple of useful types). With 5lbs turnaround in his favour after finishing marginally in front of Moohaarib in the Lincoln he should confirm that form, although he still faces a serious threat in the shape of Hors De Combat.
Pontefract: 2.00: From a stable that landed a gamble with a similar juvenile on Saturday, speedily-bred Bossipop looks interesting on debut but will have to be decent to score. This stiff five furlongs will suit twice-raced Sixth Sense, who has shaped with promise against decent rivals (winners are destined for Royal Ascot) and gets his turn today.
SATURDAY – APRIL 25th:
Haydock: 2.55: Last seen when a staying-on third to Fred Darling runner-up Jellicle Ball at Kempton in October, apparently Gold Sands has made improvement since and an Oaks entry suggests she ought to open her account here.
Ripon: 4.35: Decorated Knight is likely to be a short price to break his maiden but the perfect opportunity appears to have been found here. Reports suggest he is in top shape for his second run after what was a promising debut behind Commemorative at Doncaster during the St Leger meeting last September.
Sandown: Is all about one man – we wish him well on his last day in the saddle. Purists will find loyalties divided in the Grade 1 where the champ’s partner Mr Mole and Sprinter Sacre currently share market leadership. To say the least, after a lack-lustre effort at Cheltenham, the reappearance on a racecourse of Sprinter Sacre is surprising. Only the foolhardy could contemplate backing him, meaning Vibrato Valtat is more likely to spoil the party.
FRIDAY – APRIL 24th:
Sandown: 1.30: As always the Esher Cup sets punters with a knotty puzzle. Tom Hark finished strongly in a valuable handicap at Musselburgh early in the month (clashes swords with the second again), looking likely to improve for the experience. He faces several likely lads but should give a good account.
2.00: Postponed should make his mark at this level this season, but his reappearance over ten furlongs, as opposed to twelve, suggests he might be found out on his seasonal debut. Cannock Chase looks more likely to relish the trip and conditions and would be preferred, but again fitness has to be taken on trust. Western Hymn makes up the trio from which the winner is likely to emerge. Tullius really requires more give in the ground.
2.30: Shifting Power appeals as the type to improve for his third season and on ground he likes, is taken to open his account for the year. Here Comes When is likely to find this surface on the lively side. Penalties threaten to make life tough for Bow Creek and Custom Cut.
3.00: Not only does Commemorative line up here with the best form but he is also subject to a positive message. Recent work with a couple of high-profile inmates means a 2lbs penalty should not prevent him from succeeding.
4.45: Although only the winner of a Wolverhampton maiden in December, Jack Hobbs won a race that looks particular solid (has thrown up three winners). Apparently he is expected to step up further and make light of his mark of 85. Clearly the handicapper was not fooled and would have had explaining to do had he accorded a higher rating to a horse his stable still feel is well-treated. With a similar profile, Stravagante looks the biggest danger.
SATURDAY – APRIL 18th:
Newbury: 1.45: Romsdal had the ideal preparation for this when winning the Listed Magnolia stakes at Kempton last month over an inadequate trip. Clearly this distance will suit and he should be spot-on for what represents a much sterner test – particularly against Arab Spring who was progressive this time last year before tamely fizzling out in the Princes’s Of Wales at Newmarket in July. Talked of as a possible Arc contender beforehand, and not seen since and kept in training by a yard that excels with horses of his type, his inclusion here looks significant.
2.15: Tiggy Wiggy stands out in the Fred Darling; however there is the small matter of her stamina to address. Whether she lasts this seven or not the mile of the Guineas is likely to be beyond her.
2.50: The Greenham has attracted a cracking line-up: Belardo (apparently done well over the winter), Ivawood (not guaranteed to dominate in quite the way he did as a juvenile), Estidhkaar (not considered to be the best three-year-old in the Hannon yard but still a high class colt), Fannaan (very likeable but has something to find), Dick Whittington (form on the fringe of the highest level) and Toocoolforschool (another that has apparently wintered well; will stay and could be the fly in the ointment) comprise the meat of this Group 3. Considering the quality of the opposition, current prices install Ivawood at a very short price.
3.25: Invariably running well in tight events of this nature, it’s about time Ayaar lifted a high-profile handicap. Reasonably treated, his story so far has to be on the premises without actually breaking through. His low draw may be against him now and preference is for the unexposed Dream Spirit. A host of dangers can be nominated, making this a race for small stakes interest only.
4.35: Plenty line up here having shown promise and with classy pedigrees. Two that will not line-up unfancied are Keble and Intilaaq, but at this stage only a brave man would disregard the remainder of the field.
5.10: Narrowly beaten on debut at Newmarket in October (probably would have won for a smack), Wheat Sheaf sets a fair standard here. Providing the stable’s representative Ooty Hill runs with credit on Friday (by that he should win or go close), he should be tough to beat in what looks the weaker of the two divisions of this maiden.
Thirsk: 5.05: Not seen since Royal Ascot, Appleberry has been given a real chance by the handicapper from a mark of 89. She was not disgraced in high-class company last season and any market move in her direction would be significant.
Ayr: 2.35: Lightly raced this season and on the all-important ground he prefers, Sign Of A Victory is a stable fancy to continue the current form of his yard and could be too good for his opponents in the Scottish Champion Hurdle.
NEWBURY GREENHAM MEETING – APRIL 17th:
The show moves on to Newbury where it is interesting stuff but not that inviting from a punter’s perspective. Last year’s winner Lucky Beggar – who had a satisfactory pipe-opener at Doncaster – and Robot Boy – who was below his best at Musselburgh on his return but is liable to improve – look the two in the sprint at 3.55. With the accent on unraced maidens by and large the card is message dependent and even then it does not look straightforward. So it’s likely to be a quiet day in this neck of the woods.
The Conditions Stakes at 2.50 may present an angle with which to work where, despite finishing third in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile, Winters Moon will need to be at her best to overcome the likeable colt Ooty Hill. Having created a big impression at Newmarket last October, the son of Dubawi could be a Derby candidate (will miss the Guineas) and has apparently wintered well. Fast ground would not be ideal for Oooty Hill, but although it is drying out all the time, the surface should not be a problem. Won last year by the smart Western Hymn, this again looks a quality affair. The inclusion of Star Of Seville (like Winters Moon, a filly) adds spice to what should be an interesting renewal, for which Ooty Hill is the selection but not necessarily a bet.
NEWMARKET CRAVEN MEETING – APRIL 16th:
2.20: As usual – at least on paper – the field for the Wood Ditton looks chock-full of potential stars. Plenty make appeal on pedigree but so often this is a race that fails to live up to expectations. Take away the number cloths and Exosphere, Almohtaseb, Barreesh and Argus are amongst those to take the eye – as does Fallen For A Star. However, it is the last-named stable mate, Markstein that is likely to capture the lion’s share of market support if reports are to be believed. By Raven’s Pass he will relish this ground and has apparently been working with a great deal of zest prior to his debut.
3.30: A big improver last year, Music Master gets a chance in the Group 3 Abernant Stakes to consolidate his close third in the Group 1 Sprint at Haydock in October.
4.05: The Craven has attracted a decent field with established form represented by War Envoy (fit from a recent run) and Nafaqa (second in the Royal Lodge to Elm Park – who, incidentally, is reported to be in fine fettle currently at home) and the inclusion of likely improvers Aces and Moheet.
4.40: Not disgraced behind genuine Group 1 performers last year (Australia twice and The Grey Gatsby), Arod is the interesting participant in the Earl Of Sefton. Unlikely to fail for lack of a run he will appreciate this drop in grade.
5.40: Traditionally a hot handicap for three-year-olds, Mohatem, who is sure to handle this quick surface, makes the most appeal against several rivals that could be potentially well-in for future tilts at high-profile handicaps of this nature.
NEWMARKET CRAVEN MEETING – APRIL 15th:
Here we are again! In many eyes it’s the start of the Flat as we embark on a frenetic week of trials at Newmarket and Newbury. A word of caution to those that can’t wait to hit the ground running: It’s a long season and plenty of fingers tend to get burned at this time of year! If we can identify a couple of bets on the week I shall be pleased but I intend to pace myself and not to get carried away – either metaphorically or physically.
By all accounts after a mild winter the Newmarket stables are pretty forward this season – John Gosden’s is reported to be raring to go so there should be no obvious reason to oppose the likely odds-on favourite Faydhan in the Free Handicap, who does not appear to face tough opposition. Fit from a recent win at the Curragh, The Warrior is another short-priced candidate likely to oblige in the Tattersalls Millions Sprint at 2.55. Neither will carry my cash!
4.05: Osaila may lack the scope of some of her rivals in the Nell Gwyn but her juvenile form is the best on offer and she deserves her place at the head of the market. This trip of seven furlongs may be on the sharp side for Beautiful Romance and Lady Correspondent, both of whom looked useful in backend maidens last season. On the other hand there has to be a slight doubt about Terror’s stamina as, with a quick pedigree and a turn of foot to match, sprinting may be her sphere. Mark Johnston’s string appears to be in form so Muraaqaba may just finish in front of fillies she will struggle to beat later in the season. In all this looks a tricky contest to solve.
4.40: Golden Horn is the first of what is sure to be a hatful of tips on the week. There was nothing wrong with his maiden win last year from Storm The Stars (every chance in the maiden half an hour later) but it will need improving upon in this Listed event. However this is not the strongest renewal of the Feilden so, without going overboard he is the selection.
5.40: Salt Island concluded his first season with a decent effort at Doncaster in listed company on only his second start. He should be suited by this firmer surface and with his stable in form looks like the one to beat in a hard race. At a price, look out for Navigate who looks reasonably treated from his current mark having looked as if seven was a bridge too far and is now racing over a trip he has won over.
GRAND NATIONAL DAY – April 10th:
Aintree: 1.30: Parlour Games can emerge from a strong Grade 1 field and start the day in the best possible way for Tony McCoy and his supporters. Runner-up to Windsor Park in the Neptune when Nicholas Canyon was third, a win in the Challow and a Grade 2 at Cheltenham make him the logical selection. He also has the advantage of a Flat racing pedigree that will ensure he handles the quick surface. They have been patient with Three Musketeers who looks a good prospect but who may lack the pace of Parlour Games.
2.05: God’s Own is not always the safest betting option but with the ground a major factor in his favour his chance here does look clear-cut.
2.50: Three of the World Hurdle principals renew rivalry here but calling the order in which they are likely to finish is not straightforward. It was Cole Harden’s day at Cheltenham, but against Aintree winners Zarkandar and Whisper (won this last year) he is not certain to confirm that form. Zarkandar has the ability but his attitude in a tight finish is questionable. After only two runs this season Whisper will line up fresher than most and can step up on his ten lengths fifth at Cheltenham. Those in search of alternatives from the World Hurdle could do worse than consider the consistent Henryville who may have a few pounds to find but looks sure to run his race and is temptingly priced.
4.15: So here we are again; one more – one less! The usual rules apply; chief amongst them has to be the one governed by Lady Luck. With Lord Windermere and Many Clouds (both of whom are hard to fancy) anchoring the weights it is tempting to think that from a punters’ prospective the race has a reasonable shape to it. Rocky Creek ran well enough last year until tiring but there are reasons to believe that after a wind operation and a light campaign geared to this one day, we might see a different animal this time round. Based on an emphatic win at Kempton in February he looks to have lost none of his ability and enters the fray as the most interesting contender. A big run from First Lieutenant would not surprise.
Lingfield: 3.00: Trip To Paris might just about have won the Rosebery at Kempton a fortnight ago with a clear run. Even taking that form at face value it looks reasonably strong and he is taken to gain compensation over this slightly longer trip and from the same mark.
3.40: Fanciful Angel went into the notebook after narrowly failing on his seasonal debut when third to Lexington Times here last month. A 3lbs pull entitles him to overturn form that has been franked with the fourth (Four Seasons) and the winner occupying first and third in last week’s 3 Year Old Championship. Therefore, although it is surprising it could be significant that Richard Hughes elects to overlook what looks like strong form to partner Lexington Time’s stable mate Misterioso.
AINTREE GRAND NATIONAL MEETING: Day Two – April 9th:
2.15: Quick ground on a sharp course is likely to suit the Flat-racing types over and above the more traditionally-bred National Hunt horses. For that reason the undoubtedly useful Glingerburn may struggle against Qewy and Cardinal Walter. These two met at Newbury in February when penalised Cardinal Walter came off second best but there is reason to believe that this highly-rated son of Cape Cross (a facile winner since) may force the issue this time on 6lbs better terms. Whatever the outcome between them, both have progressed since their Newbury encounter to post decent efforts and faced with ideal conditions here they could be the two to concentrate on.
3.25: Third in the Ryanair at the Festival, Don Cossack is preferred to Champagne Fever in this Grade 1. Until they prove otherwise it seems that Sire De Grugy, Al Ferof and Cue Card represent bygone days. Baldur Succes seems best in small fields whilst Johns Spirit, who ran so well in the King George on Boxing Day, is held by Don Cossack on Cheltenham running.
AINTREE GRAND NATIONAL MEETING: Day One – April 8th:
1.40: Josses Hill may not be everyone’s idea of the consummate chaser but he did produce a personal best over fences at Cheltenham in the Arkle and there is every reason to assume he will progress again over this extra trip. Five lengths behind Josses Hill in the Arkle after more use was made of him, Vibrato Valtat looks a serious threat. However, unlike Josses Hill he is not guaranteed to pull out more over this extended trip.
2.15: After Josses Hill, Nicky Henderson has a great chance of hitting the blocks running with Hargam here. With the ground drying out all the time Hargam is almost sure to face ideal conditions and in any case little improvement is required on his excellent third in the Triumph Hurdle to grab this Grade 1. He has plenty in hand of Devilment on Cheltenham form. More danger is likely to come from All Yours (closely matched with Bouvereuil on their Fred Winter running but slightly hampered then and the choice of the stable jockey) and Bristol De Mai, who has been set some stiff tasks against older horses in two of his three runs over here since being imported from France. He will appreciate this return to his own age group but for win purposes might find the ground and the track on the quick side.
2.50: Back to ideal conditions last year’s winner Silviniaco Conti gets his chance to recover the winning thread here and by rights should surely be favourite. Surely we can now accept Silviniaco Conti a): doesn’t stay further than three miles and b): doesn’t show his best at Cheltenham. Therefore his run in the Gold Cup is best disregarded. Assuming the race has not left its mark he can reverse form with Holywell – who had a hard race at the Festival – and account for the spring mare that is Ma Filleule who, whilst respected, needs a personal best to score. The rest will struggle.
3.25: The extra four furlongs often turns Champion Hurdle form on its head here but the three principals in the betting this year all look as if it the trip will further their causes. We know Rock On Ruby is at his best over two-and-a-half and the trip is unlikely to hamper either Jezki (ran out of steam in the Champion having taken on Fagheen some way out) or Arctic Fire who had a comparatively easier run through beaten horses at the death. Perm any one from three…
5.15: Relatively fresh Call The Cops – who rattles off quick ground – gets another chance to arrive on the scene with all sirens blazing after only a 7lbs rise for winning the Pertemps Final. However, weight rises are designed to stop winners from following up and the suspicion is something may be lurking in the pack. A winner of a Grade 1 at this meeting last year, Lac Fontana has some high profile names on his gun belt and several form lines make him interesting. With excuses in place after a rough passage at Cheltenham last time he looks poised to run well, particularly in view of the weight allowance his more than capable rider receives, meaning he is in receipt of 1lb from Call The Cops.
GOOD FRIDAY APRIL 3rd:
Lingfield: 1.40: Fit from a recent fourth in Chantilly and holding Lamar (this trip may be on the sharp side but otherwise her recent second to Grendisar in the Winter Derby Trial sets the standard) on their run in a Listed over this trip at Deauville in December, from an ideal draw Fresles makes plenty of appeal. However, although a winner at seven there is the slightest suspicion that a truly run contest may stretch her stamina limitations and therein lies the rub. With the trip of concern for Fresles and Lamar we are left with fillies that have otherwise won in lesser company and have it all to prove at this level
2.10: A firework out of the gate who will probably appreciate this drop back in trip, Chookie Royale threatens to lead his rivals a merry dance in the early stages of this conditions stakes but the progressive Pretend threatens to scythe him down in the closing stages. A strong finisher over five last time, a return to this trip should be ideal for Pretend who is hard to oppose. Both he and Chookie Royale have a draw advantage and therefore should run their races and can dominate.
2.40: After winning the dress rehearsal last month possible Guineas candidate (has a long way to go before he can viewed as a serious contender) Lexington Times faces tougher opposition now. Four Season was only just over a length behind in fourth and whilst he will probably struggle to overturn that form, this step up to a mile will play to his strengths. The fact he does not carry the first colours means the unexposed Emirates Skycargo ought to be respected. Along with the strapping Tempus Temporis his presence adds weight to what looks like a hot heat.
3.15: With a 10lbs pull in his favour for less than a length when they last met in February, Sovereign Debt has to be fancied to overturn that form with Mindyourownbusiness. These two ought to have the edge over Irish challenger Captain Joy and the rest.
3.45: Tryster only has to reproduce his Winter Derby form to take this from Grendisar – his main challenger then and likely to be so again.
4.15: On what could be a big day for the Charlie Appleby yard, Portamento is another with serious claims here in what looks like a tight contest. They are throwing the kitchen sink at the desperately disappointing attitude-laden Squats, whose victory would not be a total surprise but who is hard to support after so many reversals. A wide draw is no help for Primrose Valley who may struggle to confirm recent form with Harry Hurricane and more importantly Blue Aegean (who carries the first colours of Godolphin and on these revised terms could become a serious contender).
4.45: Fielding the front two in the betting, once again Godolphin looks to hold the key. Anglophile and Hidden Gold have similar profiles; preference has to be for the stoutly-bred Anglophile who has already won over this extended trip.
Musselburgh: 2.25: Decent on the Flat, Ladbroke Hurdle winner Bayan gets another chance at a valuable prize here from what appears to be a reasonable mark (3lbs lower than when last seen on the level in September at Leopardstown and only beaten a little over three lengths). The maths suggests he is the one to beat once more.
3.30: As there is little between Blaine and Robot Boy on known form this looks like a coin flip of a race between the two.