Britain’s 2017 Turf season explodes into top gear next week, with classic trials at Newmarket and Newbury, so we need to boost the betting kitty beforehand, and Good Friday promises to be the best day’s all-weather racing yet with Newcastle joining in the fun, plus a quality meeting on the grass at Bath.
Following three successful years at Lingfield, where prize money this year is increased to £1-million for All-Weather Championship Day, cash injections at both Newcastle (£250,000) and Bath (£175,000) almost makes one consider missing the obligatory hot cross buns as Friday’s racing is that good.
Grendisar, something of a course specialist at Lingfield, defends his crown in the concluding £200,000 Easter Classic, but the seven-year-old seems to have started his descent and I much prefer Sir Michael Stoute’s CONVEY, who has won both his races on the Polytrack and looked to have plenty in hand when capturing the Winter Derby.
I am also very keen on the chance of MUFFRI’HA in the Fillies & Mares Championship.
She has winning form on the track but has been prepping for this on the turf at the Dubai Carnival, running a blinder to finish third in the Grade 1 Jebel Hatta at Meydan.
Ashadihan is 2-2 on the Polytrack and looked above-average when winning at Chelmsford, but I doubt whether she has the class of Muffri’Ha.
William Haggas, who trains Muffri’Ha, can also win the three-year-old sprint with SECOND THOUGHT, who impressed when beating Sutter County in cosy fashion here last time and is expected to confirm his superiority.
The All-Weather marathon looks wide-open, but the improver in the race is Godolphin’s filly NATURAL SCENERY, who took the step up in distance in her stride when winning at Newcastle. Watersmeet and Pinzolo could fill the places.
Godolphin are also making noises about Pretend repeating his win at this meeting two years ago, but Dean Ivory has the evergreen LANCELOT DU LAC in fantastic form and he is expected to go one better than he did in the All-Weather Sprint 12 months ago. Kimberella could be the main danger.
The French make a powerful raid on this meeting, and their best chance might be with QURBAAN in the All-Weather Mile. He is 5-6 on the Polytrack and was particularly impressive when winning at Deauville in February. The in-form Ennaadd could be best of the home team.
Highlight at Newcastle is the £100,000 conditions stakes over 1600m, for which I like John Gosden’s Leicester maiden winner UTMOST, while the Newmarket trainer could also have the solution to the £60,000 middle-distance handicap at Bath in KHALIDI, who will be sharper for his comeback run at Doncaster a fortnight ago, his first appearance for seven months.
Gosden’s team have just started to fire, and today at Nottingham can take the opening maiden with VALCARTIER, who has thrived for a winter break, while MONARCHS GLEN looked smart when winning at Goodwood last season and might have got in lightly for the London Middle Distance Qualifier at Kempton this evening.
Ryan Moore is not a fan of Guinness – or any alcohol for that matter – so he had little smile about from a two-day stint for Aidan O’Brien in Ireland last weekend, drawing a blank in 12 rides for Coolmore, six of which started favourite.
However, we might well have seen a future star at Naas on Sunday in Dermot Weld’s newcomer Tocco d’Amore, who flew home, winning by six lengths.
This Raven’s Pass filly cost 2-million Euros as a yearling, and, though she was virtually friendless in the ring, going off at 9-1, Weld confided: “She was the only filly in the race and it is not my style taking on the colts so early in the season, which illustrates just how much I think of her.”
She could prove to be another superstar for the Moyglare Stud team.
Andre Fabre was also bubbling with enthusiasm after his Qatari-owned Al Wukair had beaten National Defense – the best two-year-old in France last season – on his reappearance in the Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte on Monday.
National Defense won the Group 3 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly’s Arc meeting, yet Al Wukair brushed him aside with the minimum of fuss, and he is now around 10-1 to beat Churchill and company in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket next month.
“Al Wukair appreciated the drying ground as he has got gears,” said Fabre, who twice the Guineas in the 90’s, with Zafonic and Pennekamp.
The first few months of 2017 in Britain have gone very much the bookies way, with Aintree being as tough for punters as was last month’s Cheltenham Festival and though Saturday’s Grand National hero One For Arthur was only a 14-1 shot, connections made no secret beforehand that the drying ground was the last thing they wanted, so he was a winner in most ‘books’.
Punters fared little better at the Kentucky Derby Trials at Churchill Downs last week-end, with more questions than answers resulting from the dress-rehearsals.
Victory for 31-1 chance Irap in the US$1-million Blue Grass Stakes was greeted with disbelief as he was breaking his maiden in downing a fistful of seemingly legitimate contenders for the ‘Run For The Roses’, with the hitherto unbeaten McCraken, the early favourite for America’s most prestigious race, finishing only third.
Irap was just one of a series of surprise results at Churchill, and with the Kentucky Derby now just 24 days away, last week’s Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming shortened in price without having to leave his barn at Gulfstream.
As expected, Chautauqua, who has ruled the roost in the sprinting division in Australia for the last three years, won the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick for the third year running last weekend, and he, too, firmed up for his major target, the inaugural running of the £3.6-million Everest – the richest turf race in the world – over the same course and distance in October.
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