Thursday, 4 June 2020

Friday 5th, Saturday 6th & Sunday 7th June 2020: Welcome to the Candy Shop!

Even in taking only the Pattern races across just Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there has been simply too much to write about this week on our belated return to UK racing.

Look out for support for Lake Lucerne in the Oaks Trial, Oxted should go very well in the Abernant, Ghaiyyath can prove he is a class act in the Coronation Cup, Sangarius in entered on Friday and Sunday, Moss Gill has a big chance in the Palace House and Waldkonig should win the Newmarket Stakes before going on to the Derby.

Even with all of those scrubbed off, some simply because they are too short in the betting, we have a mammoth TEN tips to start the British flat season proper.

Friday 5th June 2020

3.15 Lingfield (Derby Trial Stakes – Listed Race) – ENGLISH KING

A number of these are of broadly similar ability on known evidence; Berkshire Rocco, Sound Of Cannons and Dark Heart all fall into that category, while it will be interesting to see how much King Carney improves.

The one who’s performance I thought was very taking last year at first glance, and has perhaps subsequently been underestimated, is that of English King at Newcastle.

Winning over 1m2f as a juvenile showed he has the stamina for this, but what was impressive is how the son of Camelot easily got himself into that race before clearing off close home.  He may well win this and put himself into genuine contention for the Derby in four weeks’ time.

Saturday 6th June 2020

2.25 Newmarket (Dahlia Stakes – Group 2) – MAGIC LILY

The top three in the market are likely to dominate here; the Godolphin pair of Terrebellum and Magic Lily as well as Queen Power with the former two preferred.

In terms of breeding, it seems Terrebellum should be more comfortable on softer ground, something backed up by her form, while all of the best New Approach fillies (Magic Lily’s sire) have been stayers, adding more proof to the fact that Charlie Appleby’s runner can be much better over this mile-and-a-quarter trip.

Magic Lily is fit after a couple of wins in Dubai and could be a Group 1 mare this season with the Nassau surely in her sights.  Despite the 3lbs she gives away, she should be good enough to score.

2.40 Newcastle (Sagaro Stakes – Group 3) – ROYAL LINE

This is a competitive rearranged Sagaro, one in which plenty have place chances.  Mildenberger, Ispolini, Nayef Road and Prince Of Arran all look solid while Northumberland Plate winner Withhold has to be considered too.

Rainbow Dreamer, 5/5 on the all-weather, could step up but the one who has a real chance at some glory over staying distances is John Gosden’s Royal Line and he is the call at a fair price.

The Metropolitan Handicap, November Handicap and Group 3 September Stakes winner is getting better as he gets older and looks ready to peak now.

3.35 Newmarket (2000 Guineas – Group 1) – PINATUBO

This is a very competitive Guineas should Pinatubo not turn up, but to be frank nobody who truly cares about horse racing wants that to happen.

Given the bold noises made by various trainers other than Charlie Appleby, it may well be that Pinatubo is allowed to go off at a backable price come off time so keep in mind that, even if the unbeaten son of Shamardal runs a couple of pounds below his best from last season’s juvenile form, he still wins.

He likes faster ground, he handles Newmarket, he’s fresh, he’s the highest rated juvenile since Frankel and according to those within his stable he has grown and strengthened up over the winter.  He could be one of the best ever.

In behind the pick is impressive Vertem Futurity winner Kameko who is on for a fine season, while Charlie Appleby’s Al Suhail is on trial for the Derby and could run a very big race.

Aidan O’Brien’s Arizona and Wichita are closely matched, while the quicker ground may be against Military March.  Juan Elcano and Persuasion could outrun their prices but Kinross may have been overrated in truth, but anyway this is (hopefully) all about Pinatubo and it is hoped he wins, and wins well.

Sunday 7th June 2020

1.50 Newmarket (Buckhounds Stakes – Listed Race) – FIRST IN LINE

Yet another competitive race at the beginning of this delayed season, and a fine quality one too for a Listed race.  A number are in with chances; Trueshan has been touted but may be better on softer ground, Dashing Willoughby is too big a price now that he’s been gelded, Communique is proven but may need the run and Ghostwatch is back after a long absence but may end up being the best of this bunch.

The one for today is most likely to be John Gosden’s First In Line.  Like a few of these he stays more than this mile-and-a-half, handles this ground and the track and ended last season going the right way.  He could be better than Listed class and will be ready to do the job first time.

2.05 Haydock (Pinnacle Stakes – Group 3) – FANNY LOGAN

This could go to yet another John Gosden horse in the shape of Fanny Logan, a four-year-old looking for her fifth win in 6.

Having finally come to herself she was labelled last year as a mile-and-a-quarter filly and/or one who needs softer ground, but I think neither is true.  She simply needs a slight test, as proven by her admirable but ultimately under-par run at the Breeders’ Cup, and so this 1m3½f should be ideal now.

Old rival Manuela De Vega heads the resistance, while Vivionn and Shailene are both decent but could come up short.

2.40 Haydock (Brigadier Gerard Stakes – Group 3) – ELARQAM

At the time of writing the excellent Sangarius is entered in this race, however it is believed the Paradise Stakes at Newmarket on Friday is his actual target.

A few of these may well be of a similar ability now; improving Cambridgeshire winner Lord North, outstanding Winter Derby Trial scorer Bangkok and Dante Stakes winner and conqueror of Too Darn Hot, Telecaster.

Elarqam however, despite some problems, has always been seen as a top-class horse in the making and he went some way to proving it last season.  A winner at Listed and Group 2 level, he ran a close and arguably unlucky third in a good renewal of the Group 1 International at York behind Japan and Crystal Ocean and could be on for a very big season at the top level.

3.00 Newmarket (Pretty Polly Stakes – Listed Race) – TIEMPO VUELA

Godolphin’s Alpen Rose and Roger Varian’s Queen Daenerys have solid form while it is almost impossible to know what is to come from Sir Michael Stoute’s Snow Shower or Charlie Appleby’s Endless Echoes.

John Gosden runs three; Moonlight In Paris who has most to prove along with Run Wild who we already know has a mark of 105, so it is interesting that their Tiempo Vuela is considered first choice.

A winner at Newcastle in good style, she was 5/1 and nowhere near as fancied as most Gosden runners at the track which tends to suggest she improved fast and has probably done so again.  She could be a genuine Oaks contender.

3.15 Haydock (Spring Trophy Stakes – Listed Race) – SPACE BLUES

Charlie Appleby’s Space Blues went into another gear when dropped back in trip last spring and, had it not been for the stiff finish at Ascot, would have been a royal winner this time last year.

He went on to finish second and third in two Group 1’s, will love the race conditions here as a flatter and faster seven furlongs is ideal and could prove to be the best of them.

To add to the confidence, I get Mubtasim and D’bai pretty high up on the list here alongside Happy Power, so considering the first two named are stablemate’s of Space Blues but are very much second and third choice, it shows that the yard believe he is their best shout under James Doyle.

3.35 Newmarket (1000 Guineas – Group 1) – QUADRILATERAL

A fascinating renewal of the first fillies’ classic of the year, one that revolves around Quadrilateral almost as much as the 2000 Guineas does around Pinatubo.

Frankly, she should win and may or may not go on to contest the Oaks, with only her far side draw being a potential disadvantage.

Roger Charlton’s filly was always coming straight to this race and so has not been disadvantaged by the lack of a prep run unlike some in the race, and given the level she reached on only her third start when taking the Fillies’ Mile here she has arguably already run well enough to win a Guineas.  The track and trip are perfect and there are few excuses.

Aidan O’Brien’s Love is the best in opposition but has already been beaten by Quadrilateral and should not reverse the placings, while Summer Romance could be a danger for Charlie Appleby.  Of the Cheveley Park form I reckon Raffle Prize will see this out better than winner Millisle but really, it should be Frankel quickly adding another classic to his list after last year’s successes for Anapurna and Logician.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Saturday 30th May 2020: Cox on for Grade 3 Double in Kentucky

We may have to wait until September 5 for the Kentucky Derby itself, but at its home of Churchill Downs there are two Grade 3 events this Saturday and it seems in them trainer Brad Cox has an outstanding chance of landing a big race double underneath the Twin Spires.

We have three bets from the Kentucky track in all and one from Santa Anita this week, while it now appears we are only six days away from being able to handicap three Group 1 races in Britain at Newmarket as our bread and butter is finally being handed back to us!

21:08 Churchill Downs – Race 7 (Winning Colors Stakes – Grade 3) – BREAK EVEN

A good quality six-furlong sprint race for the older fillies and mares, one in which the likely favourite is Breeders’ Cup performer Mia Mischief of Steve Asmussen’s barn.  While she is undoubtedly good, she’s had plenty of chances without improving a whole lot in recent times and so should could struggle giving away 2lbs to some less exposed types.

Another who is very well fancied is Mark Casse’s five-year-old Spiced Perfection, though again I’m not convinced that on the balance of her form she would deserve to be a short price come go time.

The one who convinces most from gate 2 is Brad Cox’s four-year-old filly Break Even, the mount of Joel Rosario.  Having rattled off three on the bounce last summer she was caught close home by the flying Royal Charlotte at Saratoga, but it looked a lazy or overconfident ride from her jockey that day she’ll be a different proposition this time.

The fact that she went off odds-on in a Grade 2 contest in New York tells you something about her ability, and she is taken to land this $100,000 race.

22:44 Churchill Downs – Race 10 (Allowance Optional Claiming Race) – TOP SEED

There’s $83,000 up for grabs in this 1m½f event on the dirt track and the four to concentrate on appear to be Plus Que Parfait, Fearless, Gun It and the selection here which is Top Seed.

Undoubtedly, the second choice on the list is Fearless, the four-year-old of Todd Pletcher’s who was once favourite for a Grade 2.  While he is undoubtedly good and his win over Winking At Thedude from Gulfstream in February reads well enough, he may well just have his work cut out to keep at bay our horse who has untapped potential at the race distance.

That horse, Top Seed of Shug McGaughey’s, is only just beginning to get going in all truth and he was a very wide-margin winner over 6½ furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs recently.  While the form itself is nothing to write home about, it was impressive both visually as well as on the clock, and judging by his breeding he should be very much suited to going up in trip.

By Kentucky Derby winner Orb out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, Top Seed should thoroughly relish this and is taken to open up on the stretch under Corey Lanerie and record a win that may have connections thinking Breeders’ Cup later in the year.

23:16 Churchill Downs – Race 11 (Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes – Grade 3) – JULIET FOXTROT

Another Grade 3 event for the 4yo+ fillies and mares for $100k, though this time on the turf track and over a trip of a mile and half a furlong.

The one to be on from the inside gate is likely to be the former Charlie Hills trained Juliet Foxtrot, one of Khalid Abdullah’s fillies.  Now trained by Brad Cox, the five-year-old daughter of Dansili has done very well since going Stateside, winning at Keeneland and Arlington before going close in a Grade 2 as well as both the First Lady and the Matriarch Stakes at the top level.

She’s rested now, will appreciate this better covering of grass and should be just about peaking meaning she is the best of Cox’s two under jockey Florent Geroux, the trainer’s other runner Beau Recall being second on our list.

As well as the two stable mates, the likes of Altea and Mitchell Road hold definite place chances but aren’t ideally drawn and so are passed over this time.

23:37 Santa Anita – Race 7 (Honeymoon Stakes – Grade 3) – LAURA’S LIGHT

This Grade 3 race for the three-year-old fillies on the turf in California represents a terrific opportunity for Laura’s Light, a daughter of Constitution owned by Gary Barber.

Her win over just about this course and distance back in December against a couple of today’s rivals was dominant and, having followed up over a much shorter trip in February, it would seem she is as fit as anything and improving plenty.

It’s hard to see her not at least going very close in this $100,000 race and she may yet be allowed to go off at a reasonable price, with three in behind being hard to split for the places; Croughavouke, Parkour and Stela Star who can all go well.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Saturday 23rd May 2020: Maxfield on the Triple Crown Trail

Hold tight, we’re almost there!  So far, we appear to be still on schedule for a June 1st restart in Britain at Newcastle before moving straight into Guineas weekend at Newmarket.

While that is an incredibly exciting prospect for us all, we can of course continue to keep things ticking over with some overseas bets and once again on Saturday night it’s America flying the flag for us.

Five stakes races worth at least $100,000 are taking place at Churchill Downs, while two more at Santa Anita for big money are both worth betting in.

21:08 Churchill Downs – Race 7 (Shawnee Stakes) – SHE’S A JULIE

This is a good quality event for the fillies and mares over 1m1f, one in which despite a wide draw our mare She’s A Julie of Steve Asmussen’s barn may just be able to make her class tell.

Both she and Chad Brown’s Dunbar Road have form with proper Grade I type Midnight Bisou, though it can be argued that She’s a Julie has fought that little bit better against her and still has more to come despite her rival having a year on her.

This race features plenty of representatives from top yards, Mark Casse saddling two with the older Moonlit Garden being the best of his pair although her better days may be behind her, while Todd Pletcher’s Another Broad will be another horse to consider for show bets.

22:12 Churchill Downs – Race 9 (Blame Stakes) – OWENDALE

This is another $100,000 race, this time for the older horses over a mile and featuring some pretty high-class performers who have taken part in huge races.

While the competition in this 14-runner field is pretty vicious and I get many of them rated so close to each other, including Global Campaign, Alwaysmining, Silver Dust, American Anthem and Diamond King, Owendale could just be that little bit better that the rest and is worth chancing.

His winning form last season entitles him to go well in this event anyway, but it’s hard to forget also that he’s been so highly thought of that he’s been pitched into some of the biggest races around.  Brad Cox’s runner was a pretty hot tip for last season’s Preakness Stakes, a race in which he finished third, while he also represented the barn in the Travers Stakes as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

As a four-year-old he is entitled to improve and looks just the type to go on and do so, so he gets the nod under jockey Florent Geroux in what could be a race that sets him up for a crack at the bigger 1m/1m2f races later in the year.

22:30 Santa Anita – Race 5 (Daytona Stakes – Grade III) – TEXAS WEDGE

A good 5½ furlong turf sprint for the older horses, one in which we could see the emergence of a key contender for this year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in the shape of Peter Miller’s five-year-old gelding Texas Wedge.

Having already taken a race around this course and distance on New Year’s Day, he was sent all the way to Gulfstream Park in Florida for his last start where he came off the rail to collar the decent Carotari on the line, giving away 6lbs too.

He has plenty in his locker and can get the job done once again here, probably at the main expense of John Sadler’s Cistron and Doug O’Neill’s Murad Khan at these weights.

22:44 Churchill Downs – Race 10 (Matt Winn Stakes – Grade III) – MAXFIELD

This 1m½f race for the three-year-olds could prove to be a very good event and a strong guide towards the upcoming Triple Crown races, starting unusually this year with the shortened Belmont Stakes in June.

Even if this ends up having to be a watching brief at the odds, Maxfield is more than worth a mention for the season ahead and so his return is a hotly anticipated one.

The Godolphin runner, trained by Brendan Walsh, was simply brilliant in taking the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October by 5½ lengths, doing so on his second start in the style of a proper horse.  Having been allowed to sit further back than ideal, he showed a terrific turn of foot off the far turn to easily brush aside solid yardstick Gouverneur Morris that day and has tons of improvement in him.

After chipping a bone he was ruled out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and of course he’ll need this run, but his class not to be questioned.

I commented after Keeneland that I thought Maxfield was the best juvenile in the States last year, nothing I saw at the Breeders’ Cup made me change that opinion and now despite the performances of Nadal and Charlatan this season, it may still be the case that he remains the best sophomore out there when he’s back to full fitness.

His trainer says he has filled out brilliantly and looks a proper horse, while it was always thought he’d show his best at 3 and 4 making his juvenile form seem all the better.

Attachment Rate and outsider Necker Island may also go well in a race worth $150,000 and offers 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

00:00 Santa Anita – Race 8 (Charles Whittingham Stakes – Grade II) – UNITED

Another turf race, this time an all-aged affair over a mile-and-a-quarter.  While this race is admittedly tight, the class of the runners on show means that the form should remain pretty solid and reliable and so even with just a couple of pounds in hand on private ratings, Richard Mandella’s horse gets the nod.

United, under today’s jockey Flavien Prat, was only just denied after having to take a very wide path on the turf at Del Mar over a mile-and-a-half in December while he’s proven his well-being with a win on the dirt since.

He should be spot-on for this and comes out just ahead of Originaire and Rock Emperor.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Saturday 16th May 2020: Valedictorian to Bid Ceremonial Farewell to Gulfstream Opposition

With France now back racing in Britain doesn’t look too far away, but in the absence of York, Chester, Newmarket and Newbury this month we continue to look overseas for opportunities and it’s all about the States on Saturday evening.

After some protests LA County has allowed Santa Anita to reopen and we have two tips from there in their pair of stakes races, while earlier in the day Gulfstream Park in Florida host three good races of their own and we’ve gone for one in each of them albeit with prices as yet a mystery.

20:16 Gulfstream Park (Roar Stakes) – DOUBLE CROWN

This is a $75,000 stakes race for the three-year-olds only over 6½ furlongs, one in which there is a 4lb allowance for two of the horses including ours, though we’re in the lap of the gods slightly when it comes to what sort of starting odds will be on offer.

Assuming he’s a backable price, Double Crown remains a very attractive proposition in this and there is the possibility that the presence of Green Light Go, who had initially been thought of as a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Triple Crown horse, may mean his odds are not too prohibitive.

While Green Light Go’s defeat last time came in race conditions that did not suit him and he is bound to improve somewhat, his level of form doesn’t really come up to scratch with our horse in all truth and he also has to give the bang in-form gelding 4lbs.

For show bets, Cajun Casanova could be the one who runs on and gives the two big-hitters most to do, but assuming all things are equal this Double Crown should take some beating on the day.

21:52 Gulfstream Park (Powder Break Stakes) – VALEDICTORIAN

Another $75,000 stakes race here, this time for the fillies and mares over a mile on the turf.  Again, we have no idea at this stage what odds will be offered up but it’s assumed that Mark Casse’s Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Got Stormy will be that one who gets most attention.

In truth, her level of form lately hasn’t matched up to her best, she gives weight away and is drawn a little wide and so having been beaten at long odds-on recently under Tyler Gafflione she is passed over on this occasion.

Chad Brown’s French recruit Noor Sahara is drawn on the inside and is interesting, however the one who looks to be betting better as this year goes on is the six-year-old mare Valedictorian and she is given the nod.

She tired from second spot around the turn here in February to finish sixth in Grade 3 company with today’s rival Silver Kitten four lengths ahead of her at the line, and she is 2lbs worse off now.  However, she improved plenty next time when leading most of the way before tiring much closer to the line to run third over the track and trip in Listed company.

It seems another step forward is coming and, all things considered, it should put her in with a very fair shout of landing this and hopefully at a nice price from an ideal draw.

22:24 Gulfstream Park (Musical Romance Stakes) – J P’s DELIGHT

Another stakes race for the females, this time over seven furlongs and for a cool $100,000.  With any luck the prolific course specialist six-year-old Lady’s Island will be the one for money, making our selection much more backable.

She does keep moving yard though, isn’t getting younger and has been well placed to keep up her great record and so could be much more vulnerable here, especially to an improving four-year-old filly such as J P’s Delight of the Kathleen O’Connell barn.

After winning three races in 2019 and achieving a fine rating, J P’s Delight was out of her depth at 20/1 in a Grade 2 over this track and trip at the beginning of this year before winning easily at Tampa over seven and taking care of an odds-on favourite in the process.

She was down the field last time, but that was over six and she was sent off favourite which tells its own story, and so now she’s taken to win this large prize.  Lady’s Island is next best ahead of Wildwood’s Beauty, Bellera and Oceans of Love.

23:00 Santa Anita Park (Echo Eddie Stakes) – BIG SWEEP

This is a six-furlong sprint on the Santa Anita dirt track, one for the Golden State Series featuring California bred or California sired three-year-olds for $150,000.

The only filly in the line-up, Big Sweep, was impressive on debut in taking care of an older horse while giving weight away and should be well equipped in receipt of plenty of weight here to land this prize.

Others worth considering including Rookie Mistake, Club Aspen and Phantom Boss from an outer draw but as long as the price doesn’t prove to be too restrictive come Saturday night this should be all about Flavien Prat’s mount from gate 8.

00:00 (Evening Jewel Stakes) – BULLETPROOF ONE

This $150,000 contest is the fillies’ equivalent to the Echo Eddie Stakes, one in which Big Sweep could well have been entered.

Peter Miller’s filly Bulletproof One has been in great form, albeit at a lower level over at Golden Gate Fields, but at least she’s a proper dirt track sprinter and her overall form at these weights gives her an outstanding chance.

From the inside gate Smiling Shirlee has a strong chance under Mike Smith, but there are many in this field who have been going over various distance and/or on the turf and so cannot be assessed as readily as these two, though their overall ability doesn’t seem to quite stack up anyway unless they improve.  The who could claim a place is Bella Vita.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Saturday 9th May 2020: Australia-USA Treble

The doldrums continue in Britain, though perhaps not for long, while France makes a racing return on Monday and with a vengeance too.

For now though we concentrate on the early morning races down under and one fairly deep turf event at Gulfstream Park on Saturday evening, with all three horses holding very strong chances.

06:45 Doomben (BRC Sprint Handicap – Group 3) – KEMENTARI

A good quality race, one in which many locals are going for Outback Barbie given her fine record when fresh.  However, it seems this is the reason for the choice but she has her work cut out here at the weights and is in fact 3 from 5 after a break, not the 100% scorer her reputation appears to project.

Godolphin’s Kementari on the other hand seems rock solid at the top of the weights and looks absolutely sure to put up a bold bid.  Interestingly, James Cummings’ 5yo is favourite on the early odds in Britain but seems likely to give best at the head of the market locally to Vega One, making our horse potentially good value on the Aussie tote.

Kementari’s recent form is consistently good, including when he was beaten by one of our selections Vegadaze at Rosehill in March in a similar race to this and he gets the vote to go two better than on his last two Group 3 starts and take this $175,000 race.

07:31 Morphettville (South Australian Derby – Group 1) – DALASAN

A good quality race for the three-year-olds and on the face of it the contest is very competitive, 14 runners lining up.  However, odds-wise this is dominated by three horses with Dalasan, Warning and Russian Camelot all clear of the rest.

The choice is Dalasan, ridden by Jason Holder and trained by Leon MacDonald and Andrew Gluyas.  Last running 56 days ago and hopefully appreciative of the break, the chestnut colt is on a hat-trick now and seems to be improving despite having had eleven starts already, more than some of his main rivals.

While locally there appears to be some doubt over his stamina for this 1m4½f trip having been doing his winning over a mile following a third placed finish in Group 3 company over six furlongs, it’s the race distance that in fact gives me greater confidence.

He is by Dalakhani and really should appreciate this greater test, while his form so far stands out in the context of this field.

Warning has had a few chances now and while he is a mile-and-a-half winner on softer ground, he too has been doing better over shorter trips and is by Declaration of War, albeit out of a Galileo mare.

Russian Camelot may be more comfortable going over further than his recent seven-furlong effort, though again both in terms of breeding and experience it could be that this trip on this sort of occasion is a little too much for him.

21:29 Gulfstream Park (Sunshine Forever Stakes) – SOCIAL PARANOIA

Gulfstream have come up with more quality than normal for this $75,000 stakes race, with two Todd Pletcher runners as well as representatives from Barclay Tagg, Michael Maker and Graham Motion in the full 12-runner field.

The race appears to revolve however around Mark Casse’s War Of Will.  The 2019 Preakness Stakes winner should perhaps have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf back in 2018 and is said to be even better on the grass than he is on the dirt, making his trainer and his supporters cause for much optimism.

However, while he will always be a Preakness winner, that race was not the strongest Triple Crown race you’ll ever see, he’s drawn wide here and there is every chance he’ll need the run having not been seen out since a below-par effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year.

He does receive weight, but really the profile of Todd Pletcher’s Social Paranoia excites me more in the context of this race and he is a horse who is set to improve over this extra half-furlong have been very impressive on his first start of 2020.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd May 2020: Nadal a Real Ace in Arkansas Derby

Ordinarily we would have been getting stuck into the 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas and the Kentucky Derby this weekend and, while the ongoing lockdowns around the world have put paid to that for now, the Americans especially are doing their best to keep the show on the road for us.

Arkansas’s Oaklawn Park has a massive meeting this week, and so that is where our main focus goes beginning with a good fillies’ race on Friday evening.

Friday 1st May 2020 

23:09 Oaklawn Park (Fantasy Stakes – Grade 3) – VENETIAN HARBOR

A decent Grade 3 event for the young fillies over an extended mile trip on the dirt, one in which the standout filly is Venetian Harbor and she is backed to score.

Already a Grade 2 winner at Santa Anita having taken their Las Virgenes Stakes in February, she would appear to have everything needed in her locker to be able to take this valuable race for trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Flavien Prat, the rider being able all being well at the start to pick his spot from gate 2.

Having bossed things on her last start, she was barely shaken up until she rounded the final turn and she very quickly but around nine lengths between herself and the rest in the style of a very good filly, stringing out some fillies who’d been in very good form.

There are some improvers in behind who each warrant attention, not least Harvey’s Lil Goil of Bill Mott’s barn who could be an attractive price on the night, while Swiss Skydiver is the one to round off the 1-2-3 after her last time out win for Kenneth McPeek.

Saturday 2nd May 2020

After 99 dominations were received for a rescheduled Arkansas Derby that now takes on extra significance, 22 three-year-olds were still left at the declaration stage for the race and so Oaklawn have taken the decision to split this major Kentucky Derby prep race into two divisions.

Currently the Arkansas Derby is the last official prep for the Kentucky Derby which is due to be staged on September 5, though that looks likely to change, with winners of both divisions here being entitled to full qualifying points while both heats are worth $500,000, essentially bumping the prize money up from its original total of $750,000.

23:29 Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby Division I – Grade 1) – GOUVERNEUR MORRIS

Bob Baffert has both morning line favourites for the Arkansas Derby, beginning with the mightily impressive Santa Anita winner Charlatan.

The way in which he won last time was visually striking and his figures do stack up, however he had things all his own way then in claiming company on a fast track.  Having been all speed in California albeit it over a mile his breeding - he is by Speightstown who is a great source of sprinters and 7-furlong types - would lead me to believe he may not kick on as expected in this tough grade one event over 1m1f.

He could yet make a mockery of those comments of course, but at such a likely short price we can afford to take him on with one who’s breeding reads so differently.  Gouverneur Morris, by the tough Constitution and from a line of staying Tapit’s, has very strong form to date and will handle the rough and tumble of this race.

Beaten into second by Maxfield last year, in my eyes the best juvenile in the States, he’s already beaten Untitled this season and finished fourth to top prospect Tiz The Law in the Florida Derby and can as yet produce more in a fast-paced race, which Charlatan may yet make it.  Anneau d’Or is probably best of the rest.

00:04 Oaklawn Park (Oaklawn Handicap – Grade 2) – TACITUS

While the current sophomores are attempting to get to Churchill Downs via the Arkansas Derby, a whole host of former Triple Crown chasers take their chance in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap over 1m1f and it’s a fascinating race.

Former Derby favourite Improbable still has ability but is not at his best and is drawn wide, while Pegasus World Cup runner-up and recent winner Mr Freeze is very tempting given that he has the look of an improving horse.

The fact that he has saved his best work for Gulfstream though, allied with how far he was beaten by Mucho Gusto there is the Pegasus, means Tacitus looks to hold the edge despite being a few gates wider and carrying 3lbs more.

Tacitus has been frustrating to follow, but he has top-class form and will be staying on when others have cried off perhaps making this his day for the first time since winning the Wood Memorial Stakes last April.

00:43 Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby Division II – Grade 1) – NADAL

Another Bob Baffert morning line favourite, however much more justifiably in my eyes and at a much more backable price too.

Named after Rafa the tennis great, Nadal made a huge impression when he began his career at the turn of this year, going on to rack up three wins out of three as he climbs the ladder with ease and puts himself well into contention for the Kentucky Derby.

Having had to lay-up with a strong pace over seven furlongs in the San Vicente Stakes, Nadal did well to keep up to his work and just about see off his main rival that day, and a look at his breeding is very encouraging.

He is by Blame, himself a good seven-furlong runner as a young horse who went on to stay a mile-and-a-quarter well including when taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so it’s fairly safe to assume that there’s much more to come from Joel Rosario’s mount over this trip and he’s well fancied to score again.

Wells Bayou can go well in behind as can King Guillermo, but despite being well thought of Storm The Court should not be able to reverse placings with our selection.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Saturday 25th & Sunday 27th April 2020: Head on Down to Echo Town

Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn take centre stage in the States on Saturday evening, the latter hosting two stakes races including the Carousel in which Breeders’ Cup runner-up Bellafina makes her comeback, albeit at a likely short price.

Saturday 25th April

21:53 Gulfstream Park (Unbridled Stakes) – ATTACHMENT RATE

Run over a trip of just over a mile, this $75,000 race features several horses who were on the Triple Crown trail until the coronavirus halted the proceedings.

Todd Pletcher brings maiden winner Dr Post to the race and he looks set to go off favourite, though even allowing for improvement his form thus far doesn’t justify his morning line odds of 8/5.

Relentless Dancer ran fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby last time and filled the same position in a stakes race behind Tiz The Law before that, something that may well mean he’s been somewhat dragged along by top-class opposition with his overall ability having been arguably slightly exaggerated.

The most fascinating horse in the race, despite his draw in gate 7, is Dale Romans’ Attachment Rate and he gets the call.  A winner round here in a maiden, he was a good third last time behind Mischievious Alex and Untitled in the Gotham Stakes, the latter having won since, and he may represent some value.

22:45 Oaklawn Park (Bachelor Stakes) – ECHO TOWN

This is a six-furlong sprint for the three-year-olds, a race in which former Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favourite Eight Rings makes his return for superstar handler Bob Baffert.

His overall form, and that of the Juvenile for that matter, doesn’t really match up to scrutiny so while his work has been good of late backing him at short odds on his first start down in trip doesn’t seem such a great idea.

He may also be challenged for the lead by contender Long Weekend which may not help matters, so the wise play is likely to be Steve Asmussen’s Echo Town instead.

Already reaching a good level in three starts this year, Ricardo Santana’s mount clearly has more to give and at morning line odds of 9/2 he’s just too tempting to pass up as a betting proposition.

Sunday 26th April

It’s an important Group 1 day in Hong Kong with the action kicking off very early and all eyes will be on star attraction Beauty Generation who is odds-on for the Champions Mile.  Better value bets are available though, including these three: 

07:50 Sha Tin (Chairman’s Sprint Prize – Group 1) – AETHERO

A very fine six-furlong sprint race, one in which for my money John Moore’s three-year-old Aethero holds all the aces.

His win here in November when beating the older horses was excellent and, while he didn’t fire quite as well on his next two starts, he can be forgiven and so appears at the weights to have too much if he is on his A-game under jockey Zac Purton.

Both Hot King Prawn and Thanks Forever can have a say in what is overall a very competitive event, but from the 5 barrier it would seem very unlikely that we won’t at the very least get a good run for our money with Aethero with the last hope being that he is allowed to go off at decent odds on the tote.

10:15 Sha Tin (Handicap) – TRANSCENDENT

This is another competitive sprint, this time under handicap conditions, but considering a forecast price of 4/1 and his very best form putting him well above the others at these weights we cannot ignore Transcendent.

Tony Cruz’s four-year-old reached a level that would see him very well handicapped in Hong Kong when trained in France last summer by Fabrice Chappet and so, while he hasn’t yet reached the same heights since moving east, he could yet prove to be well-in.

Having been off the track for nine months he made his debut in March at Sha Tin, winning nicely enough in a handicap off a mark of 80.  It’s possible he “bounced” next time when beaten at the same venue in a more valuable race off 85, but with his fitness supposedly spot-on now he still looks kindly treated overall.

He races here off 86 but seems a good deal better than that, entitling him to be favourite ahead of challengers Computer Patch, Shining Ace and Gold Chest who all rate as dangers.

10:50 Sha Tin (Handicap) – BUTTERFIELD 

Another valuable handicap finishes off the card, this time over a mile and with well over £100,000 offered to the winner we can bet this will be competitive.

There’s nothing wrong with the form racked-up by Preciousship, Hezthewonforus and Monica who are remain strong each-way contenders, however having arguably achieved better form already at these weights and having at least a year on his rivals the value is the Brazilian bred Butterfield.

Drawn in 5 which should be absolutely fine, Butterfield should be able to get into a good position early and take advantage of the drop down in trip he is taking this weekend which should be very much to his liking.

Progressing nicely over the winter when running over 8-9 furlongs, his form took a slight dip last time when he was beaten at odds-on over a mile-and-a-quarter.  In fairness he still only lost out by a neck that day, and with the perfect three-way rest between races a return to a mile we should see him take another step forward.

Should Butterfield manage any more improvement at all off this mark of 94 he has to go close, the final piece of the puzzle being the booking of Joao Moreira who should ensure he gets all the help he needs from up top.