Those of us who have no preference for our racing code, Flat or Jumps, are in clover at this time of year.
For the final weeks of one season collide head-on with the opening weeks of another. Gone are the days when the Cheltenham Festival wound up the jumping campaign. In fact, it now feels like just the first course, with mouthwatering fare from Aintree, Ayr, Sandown and Punchestown adding to the menu.
But alongside emerge the first skirmishes of the Flat season, with Doncaster’s Lincoln meeting swiftly followed by the Craven meeting at Newmarket, the Greenham meeting at Newbury and a stellar Flat card at Sandown this Friday, which all whet the appetite for the Guineas Festival next week.
For dedicated punters, it all means lots of hard graft. I find that a decision has to made about when to change mindset from Jumps to Flat. My personal cut-off point is when they pass the line in the last on Grand National Day, and this year, that left a tiny gap before an annual sojourn to catch the five days of action at Newmarket and Newbury. Five days that are not so much about backing winners but more an exercise in watching, learning and building a platform of information for the long season ahead.
Sadly, the Greenham meeting was wiped out by the weather for the first time for 50 years. And although the BHA deserves huge credit for re-staging the remnants of Saturday’s card on the all-weather track at Chelmsford, they are unlikely to have much bearing on future big races.
Newmarket’s Rowley Mile grandstand was also rocked by the most spectacular clap of thunder I have ever experienced to herald a biblical storm moments before the Craven Stakes itself last Thursday. But thankfully, it came too late to spoil an enjoyable extension to three days of a meeting that provides an irresistible mix of Group races, maidens and handicaps. Given that it leans heavily towards races for up-and-coming three-year-olds, the meeting is very much designed for the connoisseur. But in unearthing future winners and nuggets of knowledge, it is priceless.
I have compiled this cluster of horses to follow from the three days:
John Gosden-trained 3yo colt who battled suprisingly resolutely to win on debut, even though he was too free early on. He can develop into a Pattern-class miler.
Powerful, well-bred 3yo colt who tasted victory for the first time in a warm renewal of the Tattersalls Millions Trophy. Trainer John Gosden is now considering a crack at the top Derby trial, the Dante Stakes at York’s May meeting.
Welcome return to his best by a 5yo that trainer John Gosden has always suspected is Group One class. He is convinced the entire has the speed to drop in trip to 1m for the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury next month.
It promises to be a long year for Charlie Hills’s sprinting star, who improved beyond recognition last season. But victory in the Abernant Stakes was an ideal start, even though he only just held on up the hill.
Sir Michael Stoute’s superbly-bred son of New Approach and Group One-winning filly Nannina took the eye with the way he travelled, picked up and battled on debut. He is a banker to win good races.
Finishing strongly to snatch third in a competitive 7f handicap, Sir Michael Stoute’s expensive 4yo suggested he can soon make up for lost time after injury curtailed the immense promise he showed as a juvenile in 2014.
Another off the John Gosden conveyor-belt, this 3yo middle-distance filly is earmarked for an Oaks trial back at Headquarters over the Guineas weekend after an impressive maiden win, for which she was significantly punted.
The way this 3yo colt quickened round the field from an uncompromising position to take a warm 10f handicap suggests he could be a Group-class horse to restore the fortunes of brilliant trainer John Quinn after a quiet spell.
A bright future looks guaranteed for William Haggas’s handsome, well-regarded 3yo son of Montjeu, given the way he bagged what looked an above-average renewal of the Wood Ditton Stakes for unraced horses.
Emerged from the storm clouds to dismantle the odds-on aspirations of hot favourite Foundation and land the Craven Stakes in sparkling fashion. A classy colt who has improved with every run, he is not to be under-estimated.
A son of Azamour who is a good example of how Sir Michael Stoute has his team surprisingly forward. He defied greenness to get there cosily close home and will improve again.
With give in the ground, Richard Hannon’s 3yo winner of the Feilden Stakes should not be dismissed in Group races. He beat three smart rivals, despite needing the run.
With Saeed Bin Suroor’s string slow to come to hand, it is significant that this nicely-bred middle-distance prospect was able to take a decent maiden first time out.
WINGS OF DESIRE
John Gosden’s favourite bombed in the 10f maiden for 3yos, but he still took the wraps off this half-brother to Eagle Top who ran on nicely and will have learned a lot.
Trainers’ title climax mirrors AP’s farewell day
The best thing about Leicester City’s amazing ascent to the Premier League summit is that it doesn’t fit a marketing protoype. It is spontaneous sport, as it should be, evolving naturally.
Similarly with the race for the Jumps trainers’ championship. After a year of combat and more than £4.5 million of prize money won between them, mere shillings separate the behemoths, Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins. Which means a climactic day at Sandown on Saturday to mirror AP McCoy’s farewell there 12 months ago.
Mullins has the best horses, so even though Nicholls has trained five times more UK winners, he has done remarkably well to stay in the hunt, especially after a dreadful spell in midwinter. Both men are among the finest exponents of their craft racing has ever seen.