Even with the Grand National still to come, if you are a flat racing fan this weekend truly ends the calm before the storm as right across the world the sport explodes into life on the level.
The Lincoln as always heralds the official start of the turf season at Doncaster where a big performance from Auxerre is expected and we also have five Group 1’s to look forward to in Dubai as the carnival reaches its end, culminating in the £9million Dubai World Cup.
There is a key Kentucky Derby prep over in the States as the $1million Florida Derby takes place, so across three continents and many time zones this really is a fantastic weekend of action.
1.50 Doncaster (Cammidge Trophy – Listed Race) – EQUILATERAL
Whatever the result of this race, keep it written down because this is hot for a Listed contest and it could produce winners over the course of the season at various levels.
Arbalet could be a very good animal coming down to six furlongs and has a good year ahead while Invincible Army is a good yardstick. Mokarris has been kept in training for a reason and is another with a place chance but Charlie Hills’ horse is the one given that he could yet get to Group 1 level.
Equilateral has speed to burn but trying to get him to do that over five and on quick ground hasn’t proved ideal, but back to the scene of last year’s seasonal opener where he blitzed subsequent four-time winner Foxtrot Lady (rated 102) by eight lengths should be ideal.
2.05 Meydan (UAE Derby – Group 2) – DIVINE IMAGE
Godolphin’s improving three-year-old filly has potential engagements in the European classics and/or the Kentucky Oaks given that she’s found her feet on dirt, and it’s that point that makes her so attractive here.
Having won so impressively on debut Chelmsford in December, Divine Image faced a surprise defeat on her dirt debut in January at Meydan. On her second start in the Group 3 UAE Oaks she once again took an age to get going but got there on the line before much smoother progress last time out saw her take a Listed contest here by over seven lengths.
She is getting better on dirt all the time and, given the sex allowance, even a repeat of her latest performance could be enough to win this so with significant improvement to come from the daughter of Scat Daddy she should be comfortably clear, perhaps of another horse making leaps and bounds in the shape of William Haggas’ four-time all-weather winner Jahbath.
3.20 Meydan (Dubai Turf – Group 1) – WITHOUT PAROLE
This a competitive race on paper; Japan’s Almond Eye is a top class filly but one who has been doing her winning over 1m4f (1m1f here) and on very firm ground.
Aidan O’Brien’s filly I Can Fly showed great form towards the end of last season and warmed up for this with an easy win, the sex allowance for her too perhaps proving pivotal while it could be close yet again between Godolphin runners Dream Castle and the improving Wootton who may yet land a Group 1.
There are several factors in the overpriced selection’s favour though. Having won so impressively on debut, Without Parole was way too good for Ostilio at Yarmouth (around 20lbs better) who is now a Group 2 winner, he was too good for Wootton when winning the Group 1 St Jame’s Palace Stakes and his expert trainer believes there is still more to come.
He didn’t finish last season well but will be right up there in and around the mile division this year so looks far too big at a general 16/1 going into the weekend under Frankie Dettori.
4.00 Meydan (Dubai Sheema Classic – Group 1) – OLD PERSIAN
Having already finished a decent sixth in the Irish Derby and beaten stable mate and solid yardstick Cross County in the Great Voltigeur last season, Old Persian came back from a layoff in pleasing fashion three weeks ago when weaving through to nab Racing History on the line and take a Group 2.
He’s ready to go on from that now and looks a solid favourite in this race, Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand probably being second best and with further improvement to come while of the Japanese runners it looks like Rey De Oro is the best of them and can run into the places.
4.40 Meydan (Dubai World Cup – Group 1) – THUNDER SNOW
2019’s renewal could go down in history, not only is the Dubai World Cup once again the world’s richest race but for the first time there could be a dual winner with Saeed bin Suroor’s admirable Thunder Snow looking to overcome a wide draw and take the race for the second year running.
A much underrated animal having won this, a Prix Jean Prat, been second to Churchill in an Irish Guineas and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the son of Helmet best case scenario could be on for another career best and even if not quite nailing that under Christophe Soumillon he may prove tough enough.
It’s a deep renewal this time around with Capezzano, Gunnevera, Audible and Yoshida all holding chances while North America looks overrated at the price but if Thunder Snow can bounce out and get a good position he could take the £5.7million first prize again.
10.30 Gulfstream Park (Florida Derby – Grade 1) – HIDDEN SCROLL
The early fancy for the Kentucky Derby for yours truly, Hidden Scroll made an amazing debut round here on a sloppy track in January before being beaten in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes last time with some speculating that the track played into his hands on his first start.
The truth is he set crazy fractions last time and has learned to relax more now, he’s been working with a lead horse and doesn’t have to be on the front end and he’s also drawn right on the rail today.
Given that this race will be run very differently to the FoY, going up against the same horses is a good thing as there’s no doubt they benefitted heavily from the pace Hidden Scroll and an outsider set so while Code Of Honor and Bourbon War are fancied they should not get to Bill Mott’s horse this time. Morning Line odds of 5/2 and UK quotes of 2/1 look very fair.