It’s Irish Derby day on Saturday at the Curragh, while the ever more popular Tapeta track at Newcastle takes centre stage in England on what is a very different looking and extended Northumberland Plate Day.
There are some interesting contenders running at Newmarket too in both the Criterion and the Fairway Stakes while Churchill Downs hosts a very valuable Grade 2 contest, but we have ultimately settled on four value bets beginning at Gosforth Park in a competitive Group 3 race:
1.50 Newcastle (Chipchase Stakes – Group 3) – MUBAKKER
There are plenty of good and well-established six-furlong sprinters in this race, none with a higher rating than Brando of course and on his first start on the all-weather he is bound to go well.
Peaks and troughs are expected but overall, he is understandably going a little bit backwards now and he may not be up to his very best form for the admittedly hot Kevin Ryan. He is most likely good for a place, but that career best form may be what is needed if he is to deny Sir Michael Stoute’s recent course and distance scorer Mubakker here this time.
Improving sharply all the time, Mubakker won a strong handicap in very taking style here upon the resumption of racing and was actually clear favourite for the Wokingham Stakes last week at Ascot before being pulled out in favour of this event.
Fellow Hamdan Al Maktoum runner Shabaaby and Judicial can both go well, but may well be running for place money if Dane O’Neill’s mount doesn’t run into any trouble.
3.00 Newcastle (Hoppings Fillies’ Stakes – Group 3) – LOOK AROUND
The Hoppings itself may not be allowed on the Town Moor in Newcastle this year, but the race named after it certainly is and while it has been moved from its now regular Friday night slot alongside the Gosforth Park Cup, it simply adds to the quality of Saturday afternoon.
The one for money here is the unbeaten Aloe Vera of Ralph Beckett’s yard, though caution is urged given that she’s been off the track for more than 400 days and has only gone on quicker turf so far. These conditions are very different and, on a line through others with close form, she may not quite be good enough to get to our horse anyway.
That horse is the one representing the bang in form Classic winning yard of Andrew Balding, Look Around. There are several bits of form from her second to Duneflower and third to Lavender’s Blue last year that point to her being a few pounds better than these, so having had a freshener at Newbury and coming from a red-hot yard she looks the most solid option and is fair value.
Both William Haggas’ Nkosikazi and Ed Dunlop’s Virgin Snow are interesting stepping up in class, but they may have a way to go yet to reach the level required.
7.15 Curragh (Irish Derby – Group 1) – SANTIAGO
While understandable to a degree given the change in schedules required on both sides of the Irish Sea, this is a desperately disappointing Irish Derby and one that on paper at least, isn’t even worth the title of Group 1 let alone Classic.
That said, something could yet prove to be above average and whatever happens, something has to win it too and it seems the solid one all things considered is Aidan O’Brien’s Queen’s Vase winner Santiago in what looks like a Coolmore/O’Brien family benefit race.
Others may step up their form over this distance, such as Sherpa, Iberia and Arthur’s Kingdom, but in these strange times it could be the one coming back in distance from 1¾ miles who simply outstays if not outclasses them.
In all fairness Santiago handled seven furlongs and a mile quite well last year as a juvenile and it may be that his ability got him home at Ascot, making this trip ideal, so he is backed on the day but probably not again when he meets the best middle-distance types later in the season.
Should Santiago win this, considering he beat Berkshire Rocco last time, look out for English King’s odds shortening even further for the Derby at Epsom next week.
10.47 Churchill Downs (Stephen Foster Stakes – Grade 2) – BY MY STANDARDS
A quality race, and it’s a pleasure to see horses running for £200,000+ instead of the majorly reduced prize funds in Britain at the moment.
The strong favourite on most boards will be Tom’s D’Etat, a winner when last seen in April. Before that the now seven-year-old had racked up some fine performances last term, including landing a Listed Race, a Grade 2 and the Grade 1 Clark Stakes easily from today’s rival Owendale.
We of course have had some joy in backing Owendale before and in receipt of 4lbs he could well turn the tables on his old foe here, especially after that fine prep run here at Churchill Downs recently, but they may both struggle at the weights to keep up with today’s selection.
By My Standards, a four-year-old trained by Bret Calhoun, is in the unusual position for an American horse of having been on the Triple Crown trail last year when winning the Louisiana Derby and entering the Kentucky Derby, while still very much being on the improve now.
His Oaklawn Handicap win in May was a definite career high and everything about his profile says he’ll go further, making him on the numbers and upon further investigation the best of this bunch so without any bad luck in running he should land this event before going on to contest the better Grade 1 races over the Classic distance.