WEEKEND MARCH 28th/29th:
Saturday: Doncaster: 2.00: Tullius ought to win a depleted Doncaster Mile, although by word of caution his best form is on a soft surface.
2.35: The ground may have the last word once again here with leading fancies Aetna and Jack Dexter (best days may be behind him) both at their best on soft. Drying ground would aid Astaire (ran his best race of the season first time last season but rather lost his way afterwards) and Naadirr (not out of contention even with a penalty) who makes plenty of appeal.
3.10: Pre-race players have seized on Certificate for this and despite the numbers, with his stable in such fine form, his chance looks solid. On a day when several high profile handicaps give the impression they may be easier to solve than history dictates, he is the selection. Donny Rover may enter calculations.
3.45: Quality is represented by Mange All, Moohaarib and GM Hopkins who are closely weighted. Bookmakers seem to have taken something of a chance with Belgian Bill (had several options over the weekend) who has been in great form in Dubai this winter and would be leniently treated if able to reproduce that here.
Kempton: 2.50: From a stable firing on all cylinders New Year’s Night looks relatively well treated from only a 3lb higher mark than when winning with some ease at Lingfield a fortnight ago. On the minus side this is a deeper race and all three attempts on this course have resulted in defeat – a statistic that may be coincidental. He is the obvious choice without appealing at the price.
4.35: Although the form pick, American Hope’s record of one win from nine attempts (has often looked his own worst enemy without doing too much wrong) sounds a note of warning. With Ninjago returning from a fruitless trip to Dubai and the unreliable Valbchek only a bet for the brave, Baddilini, who is in great form at present, may be the safest option.
Those of a nervous disposition may care to look away now. But for those of us that have followed its progress from January onward, this is the day when the Carnival that is Meydan culminates. On a glittering night the gold drips from the podium, starting with the Godolphin Mile at 12.40. After an excellent Carnival, Tamarkuz bids for a four-timer. A natural on dirt this will be his toughest task but he has beaten several of these already on the run up. The likes of Free Wheeling and Dark Emerald face dirt for the first time, whilst bred-for-the-job Sloane Avenue has a dirt pedigree but a wide draw and no experience. Therefore his biggest danger could be Frankyfourfingers, who although beaten last time when finding African Story and Prince Bishop too strong, will appreciate this drop in trip (and possibly grade) and could return to his best now, in which case he looks overpriced. Both he and Tamarkuz are well drawn.
1.15: Brown Panther is the one to beat here and no one will begrudge victory to his sporting and enthusiastic owners. However fast ground and a wide draw hardens the task so Bathyrhon, and to a lesser extent from an equally bad box (partnered by a jockey that is desperate to race wide in any case), Rio Tigre look like each-way pin money alternatives.
1.55: The trip of the UAE Derby may stretch Maftool who will be hard-pressed to confirm Guineas form with Mubtaahij. However, the presence of progressive Japanese contender Golden Barrows and possibly prolific ex-Uruguayan star Sir Fever, who shaped with promise when second to Mubtaahij on debut here and now in first-time blinkers, makes this hard to call.
2.30: With the form of the sprinters in the Al Quoz tying in, separating them is tough. However, a couple step into the ring for the first time and it could pay to concentrate on them. Now based in Hong Kong where he is rapidly making a name for himself, the Wetherby’s Super Sprint winner of two years ago when with Richard Fahey, Peniaphobia, sets the standard. However, he is closely matched with Bundle Of Joy after the two battled out a Group 1 at Sha Tin in January. These two could easily dominate again. Last year’s winner Amber Sky deserves respect, although it seems fair to say not everything has gone to plan since that win. Of the rest a relatively fresh Via Africa is interesting. Noted coming back for more after losing his place three weeks ago when beaten just over three lengths by Sir Maximilian on his first run for ten months, with winning Grade 1 form to his credit in South Africa, although that needs improving upon he represents value at a double-figure price.
3.05: A tough renewal of the Golden Shaheen looks booked for one of those bussed-in for the occasion: Secret Circle (tough but an infrequent winner), Salutos Amigos or Lucky Nine looking the obvious contenders.
3.40: The presence of recent winners Solow and Cladocera means the Dubai Turf could be dominated by fillies but these two face a rise in grade. From left-field and not seen since winning the Grade 1 Beverly D Stakes at Arlington in August, apparently the much improved Euro Charline has been flying of late and can spring a surprise. Top-rated The Grey Gatsby may be better over slightly further and later in the season.
4.15: Arguably given too much to do in the Arc, Harp Star gets her chance now but faces hot opposition. There is little between the quality trio of Dolniya, Flintshire and Main Sequence. The latter has blossomed since moving to America but has to prove he can transfer that form to what is now foreign soil. The other principal in the betting, Designs On Rome, has yet to win at this trip in a race that, without an obvious pacemaker, could turn into a scrappy but quality contest.
5.00: And so to the World Cup, for which Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome – narrowly denied in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – undoubtedly has the best qualifications, particularly on dirt. With impressive form on dirt in Japan, Hokko Tarmae is seen as a bigger danger than dirt debutant Epiphaneia.
SUNDAY 29th March: Ascot: 2.30: Puffin Billy looks to be attempting mission impossible in trying to concede 10lbs to Thomas Crapper in this novice chase.
Doncaster 5.00: Fit from two all-weather spins, Viewpoint has plummeted to a tempting level on turf which he may be in a position to exploit against modest opposition.
SATURDAY MARCH 21st:
Newbury: 2.35: Based on her close second to the now 130 plus-rated As De Mee at Leicester, Tara Mist could be thrown in with the proverbial pitchfork in this fiercely competitive mares’ Listed handicap. Continuing the pitchfork metaphor I am rather clutching at straws as she faces several mares that are on an upwards spiral. Not normally an event to interest yours truly, her best form is over this extended trip and she represents value at a double-figure price.
3.45: Taking into account two of his three spins over hurdles, Storm Force Ten currently looks well treated. His debut effort at Sandown when a decent second to Bivouac, and his latest fourth to subsequent Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co at that track indicates a mark of 123 should put him in here with an outstanding chance. However, sandwiched between those runs was a dismal effort at Kempton for which no palpable excuse has been forthcoming. This extended trip is also something of an unknown. All in all the best we can say is that he is a dubious form pick that may be capable of better than we have seen so far.
FRIDAY MARCH 20th:
This weekend promises to be as quiet as next week promises to be busy.
Newbury stages its last National Hunt fixture of the year – meaning directly after the Craven at Newmarket they will next be in action for the Greenham meeting in April.
We might salvage something from the current jumping season between now and then. Always well regarded, after a fair debut over fences at Haydock, at a similar track (also has good hurdles form there) Wuff could be worth a second look in the 3.45. He is less exposed than many of his rivals and could have been underestimated by the handicapper.
SATURDAY MARCH 14th:
Although he has something to find with Grendisar on their running of three weeks ago, Cloudscape – useful this time last year but fragile on turf – is interesting in the Winter Derby at 3.05 at Lingfield. Suited by an artificial surface, after a gentle return to action he can at least bridge the gap with Grendisar with that run under his belt. In a hotly contested event where dangers lurk aplenty, he is only a tentative selection.
Sugar Baron appears to only have Port Melon to beat at Kempton in the 4.05 and is taken to concede weight to his main rival.
CHELTENHAM FRIDAY MARCH 13th:
3.20: One way or another, the Gold Cup hinges on the conclusion drawn over the horse with the best form: Silviniaco Conti. Yet to win at this course or over this trip (reasons to feel he does not quite stay), this year’s line-up appears to be tougher than last year’s so whatever his stable claim, despite being the highest rated runner in the field, he represents the angle for those wishing to look elsewhere. Those that keep the faith will point to his record this season (winning his second King George and before that the Betfair), claiming he has been kept fresh and looks a more powerful competitor now than when running on empty from the last twelve months ago. To this observer he looks a weak favourite. Similarly Bobs Worth (surely his best is behind him at the age of ten), last year’s winner Lord Windermere, The Giant Bolster and Holywell look to fall short of the required standard. Djakadam is something of a wild card that deserves respect but will need to better anything so far achieved. A rough line through Houblon Des Obeaux gives the two improvers Many Clouds and Coneygree the same sort of chance. Both are likely to figure at the business end but Lexus winner Road To Riches – who has gone from strength to strength this season – may prove too street wise. Coneygree (impervious to ground) and Many Clouds can follow him home.
The supporting card is hard. After an eye-catching run at Ascot last time, Le Mercurey must have a chance in the 4.40 but is still vulnerable from top weight. Peace And Co looks a worthy Triumph Hurdle favourite but for those not already on, makes limited appeal at the price. Quick Jack looks well handicapped in the Vincent O’Brien at 2.05 – particularly on Flat form with Big Easy.
THURSDAY MARCH 12th:
Cheltenham: 1.30: All roads of thinking lead to Vautour as he holds Apache Stronghold and therefore Valseur Lido, leaving only Ptit Zig as the most obvious obstacle between him and victory here. Ptit Zig lines up after an uncharacteristic slip at Ascot last time but the strength of the Irish challenge looks formidable.
2.05: This looks wide open and extremely competitive. Given his connections Edeymi is a precautionary favourite at present, particularly after an eye-catching run behind Dawalan last time at Musselburgh. Dawalan – who often only does enough – has progressed this season with this step up in trip but his present mark requires a monumental effort. Call The Cops enters calculations as a relatively fresh horse that dotted up last time but may struggle to confirm Kempton form with Brother Brian, another that has trodden a soft road this season and is taken to come out on top again. Drying ground will not be against him.
2.40: This is a hot Ryanair: prolific Irish winner Don Cossack, spring mare Ma Filleule, who is running into form and has three lengths plus to find on Balder Succes, and Johns Spirit, who ran off his face in the King George until lack of stamina curtailed him, look to be the protagonists. It may be dangerous to nominate Ma Filleule to overturn Ascot form with Balder Succes (so often in such circumstances form is confirmed) but the message from the Henderson yard is particular strong. This does represent a tough task for her as her rivals will put her to the sword but she gets the nod.
3.20: Again there are no easy answers to this – another top class event chock-full of possibilities. However, Lieutenant Colonel lines up with Grade 1 form to his credit and has a turn of foot that may prove crucial. Saphir Du Rheu and Whisper could be the biggest dangers.
WEDNESDAY MARCH 11th:
Cheltenham: 1.30: In keeping with the rest of the card, shuffling through the runners in the deck here is no easy matter. With only a neck separating Parlour Games and Vyta Du Roc at Newbury, Nichols Canyon (close with Windsor Park) and Outlander spearheading a strong Irish challenge, and Beast Of Burden and Ordo Ab Chao looking like they have more to offer than we have seen so far – good luck to anyone attempting to solve this.
2.05: Grade 1 winner Don Poli lines up with a big home reputation and carrying plenty of confidence. After the successes of the stable on the first day it is hard to argue. Kings Palace appears to present the biggest obstacle.
2.40: Tony Martin sets something of a puzzle here with his two runners: Blackmail and Marinero that could, in typical Martin style, be ahead of the handicapper.
3.20: Despite an indifferent return at Ascot when looking very fit, the message for Sprinter Sacre is extremely positive. He and Sire De Grugy have to roll back the years to figure once again at this level, something history suggests is unlikely. Sire De Grugy did not look like a horse that was enjoying himself at Chepstow and Sprinter Sacre bled after Ascot. At their best they would be too good but… Dodging Bullets and Champagne Fever are the obvious alternatives.
4.40: Once again we are presented with a minefield of a handicap. Gordon Elliott fields two interesting participants in Thunder Zone and Hostile Fire, both of whom will be suited by drying ground.
TUESDAY MARCH 10th:
Cheltenham: 1.30: So impressive have they been in the lead-up to this, it is hard to see beyond the front two in the betting here. Douvan has been imperious in his two hurdle races in Ireland winning with consummate ease; those looking to oppose him might take some succour from the fact those victories have been on right-handed tracks. That may prove to be a straw that floats in the wind rather than one to clutch at – but it is worth mentioning. The more experienced L’ami Serge arguably has better form claims but has not won with quite the same ease as Douvan, although he has faced stronger opposition. Both have done their racing on softer ground than they will encounter now. Looking beyond them, Jollyallan (the choice of McCoy over Alvisio Ville whom he has ridden) appears to have a little to find with the two principals. Shaneshill could be the biggest danger now he returns to two miles (appeared to be outstayed last time) but as a Mullins inmate he has of course been by-passed by Walsh. Qewy has a useful turn of foot that he can utilise on this faster ground but by and large we are judging him on one run that may be misleading.
2.05: They are telling us Un De Sceaux is a good thing for the Arkle. Those reluctant to buy money at a meeting that often pays scant respect to short-priced favourites will be looking elsewhere. On the minus side the favourite has fallen once and won his other two chases at long odds-on, including when accounting for Grade 1 winner Clarcam (re-opposes here) last time. Vibrato Valtat is the obvious alternative – the rest are required to find hitherto un-shown form to win.
2.40: Three miles and a bit on drying ground may scupper several out-and-out sloggers here. Although the handicapper has not exactly been lenient by putting Ned Stark up by 6lbs for winning at Wetherby at the end of January that was a mighty performance by a up-and-coming staying chaser likely to make his mark in future high-profile handicaps. He is potentially the class act. However, saved for this and closely matched with Ned Stark on a line through Kaki De La Pree, but twice the price, Gevrey Chambertin, who has form on this sounder surface and responded positively to first-time blinkers at Newbury in December, looks worth chancing with the headgear back on.
3.20: This is the big day for Faugheen who was so impressive in the Neptune over two-and-a-half at last year’s Festival. A winner at two he often takes time to warm up in his races – something he cannot afford in a Champion Hurdle. The dying ground will suit last year’s ‘ghost winner’ The New One, although it threatens to be close between him and Jezki once again. Despite his admirable record it is surely asking too much of Hurricane Fly to roll back the years, particularly in view of his preference for racing at home. Of the rest the rapidly improving Kitten Rock could run better than his price but McCoy prefers Jezki and this is not a race that favours five-year-olds.
4.00: It is inconceivable that Annie Power will fail for lack of a recent run. So far is she in front of her rivals that only a bolt from the blue looks likely to stop her in what is a strong line-up for the Mares’ Hurdle.
4.40: Comparatively classy Very Wood looks worthy of favouritism here in an event where stamina is at a premium. That said betting on horses trying four miles for the first time and amateur ridden is surely for the brave or the foolhardy.
5.15: This looks a tough race to bring down the first day proceedings. Those at the head of the betting have to a large extent shown their hands to the handicapper so further improvement is required. In the case of Thomas Crapper and Generous Ransom (everything clicked right last time) it may be forthcoming but Dromnea has progressed throughout the season (would have been closer in Grade 2 Flyingbolt but for a mistake at the last over inadequate trip) and is a tentative selection at a double-figure price.
SATURDAY MARCH 7th:
Sandown: 3.10: The troops are out in force for the Imperial Cup – traditionally the last opportunity of a pop for punters before the Cheltenham Festival next week. The unbeaten Bidourey bids to maintain an excellent record for a stable that has dominated this event over the years; however, as a four-year-old it should be noted he is 8lbs higher up the handicap than it appears, meaning he is technically conceding weight to several rivals with a similar profile. One of those – recent Ascot winner (form franked on Friday) Thistlecrack, who is unbeaten over this trip – makes plenty of appeal. Given the recent run of successes on Saturdays enjoyed by the Nicholls yard, Calipto may shade favouritism come race time but the value in a fierce contest appears to lie with Thistlecrack.
Wolverhampton: 2.15: It’s billed as trials day at the Midlands track – the card certainly starts with a humdinger. Intransigent went in the notebook after his run at Lingfield last time. Over this trip and more favourably drawn now, he should run his race. However this is a tough assignment and he only holds each-way claims. Last year’s winner Chookie Royale and Sovereign Debt are among many serious rivals. The doubly represented Marco Botti (whose horses are in fine form) may hold the key here with former Rockfel winner Al Thakhira, who, partnered by Frankie Dettori and over her optimum trip, will surely be fit for her debut run in a contest she is capable of winning. The stable’s other contender Grey Mirage is hard to win with.
2.50: The Lincoln Trial presents another knotty problem for would-be punters. Many will consider Mindurownbusiness as the one to beat on recent form but it is not a given he will confirm that against Melvin The Grate and Don’t Call Me. The presence of Pearl Nation and Billingsgate means this is hard to predict with confidence.
Meydan: They stage trials of a different variety in Dubai where it’s Super Saturday – the last meeting before World Cup Day at the end of the month. A seemingly reformed Tamarkuz has looked a dirt monster since breaking on terms and blitzing his rivals on the run-up to this. Well-drawn again, chances are he will flash out and be gone once more in 2.20.
James Doyle has elected to partner Sky Hunter in preference to True Story in the Group 2 on turf at 2.55. The former French Derby third ended last season on a high at Newbury and should be capable of accounting for Umgiyo, Cooptado and Sheikzayedroad.
Frankyfourfingers and Prince Bishop renew rivalry in the 3.30 and as cases can be made for both, it is a tricky call.
Hunter’s Light, who has been in sparkling form at the Carnival, bids for a three-timer in the curtain call at 4.05 but faces the beast that is Vercingetorix, who should be a notch too good.
FRIDAY MARCH 6th:
Sandown: 4.00: On the limited evidence available Lessons In Milan looks well handicapped, something that should enable him to win this. An eye-catching third at Ascot to stable mate Out Sam over this trip was followed by a very easy win at Lingfield last time. Although against more experienced rivals here, his class should be crucial.