We have a lively start to 2022. Cheltenham stages an important fixture with an eye on the Festival in March, while in very different conditions and some 3,500 miles away Meydan begins the road to Dubai World Cup Day on the Flat.
There is also quality jumps action at Musselburgh, which is where we begin as we turn over a new leaf on our continued betting journey.
1.40 Musselburgh (Handicap Hurdle) – ASHINGTON
While all eyes will be on top jockey Brian Hughes at Musselburgh, who deservedly gets another day in the spotlight in front of the TV cameras, it’s trainer Brian Ellison who may hold a key hand.
He has two top chances at good odds in my book, beginning with Ashington in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle. Strictly speaking he’s a last-time-out winner having taken a good ground race over this trip at Hexham, but that was back in June and he was underwhelming on the Flat last time.
His latest run was simply one to blow away the cobwebs however and when you look at his hurdling profile, stand back and don’t get lost too much in the detail, you see that he’s still an improving horse.
He may well prove to be the best handicapped runner here and is worth chancing at the prices. Geronimo, Hughes’ mount, as well as Strong Glance and Voix Du Reve can all challenge for places.
2.50 Musselburgh (Auld Reekie Handicap Chase) – NIETZSCHE
The second of Ellison’s big chances at Musselburgh comes soon after his first in the “Auld Reekie” Handicap Chase. This time it’s popular stalwart Nietzsche who I’m hoping can out-philosophise, or at least outrun, his four rivals.
Brian Hughes’ mount Gaelik Coast looks solid in a potentially tight affair, while Gold Des Bois is on a run of second places but is better than that. Amour De Nuit is also not out of this by any means, but Nietzsche is easily the best value.
You could argue he isn’t as good as he was after 58 races under rules, but he is still just an eight-year-old so shouldn’t be finished yet. His fourth place last time doesn’t look spectacular, but it wasn’t a million miles below his best form and he’s been dropped in the handicap again. He might just be very well treated at the weights now.
3.28 Southwell (Handicap) – PROP FORWARD
Over on the all-weather at Southwell we immediately see an uptick in the quality of runners given the switch the track has made to the Tapeta surface.
Plenty of runners in the better races today, including this Class 3 five-furlong sprint, have done their AW running at Newcastle and Wolverhampton and so are used to what they’ll find underfoot.
The new surface may not have fully settled yet, we don’t know, but we know trips can take some getting and so Clive Cox sending Prop Forward over the minimum distance could be a wise move.
He won on the turf at Bath and over six furlongs at Wolverhampton, showing himself in my opinion to be a horse capable of potentially way better than the 87 he is currently rated and he can prove that now. Ooh Is It is the main danger, ahead of Muscika, Rovaniemi and Huraiz.
3.45 Meydan (Al Jaddaf Mile – Conditions Race) – KING OF CONQUEST
We take a slight chance here with the Godolphin runners, who undoubtedly will dominate, in terms of their order of prevalence.
William Buick rides New Kingdom, a winner at Haydock in September, who is set to go off a short-priced favourite. I much prefer the form of stablemate King Of Conquest however who has achieved more so far and looks just as likely to improve.
Richard Mullen takes the ride on him, carrying the first colours too, and the pair should together prove that his very good winning debut in August was no fluke. Nader was the other horse under consideration.
4.00 Southwell (Handicap) – SIR CHAUVELIN
Whenever we talk about finding a well handicapped horse, it tends more often than not to be a younger type. Most of the older horses going down the weights do so because they’ve lost their ability, but there may be a rare betting opportunity at Southwell to back the now ten-year-old Sir Chauvelin at nice odds.
Having finished stone last in five races in a row, he was shifted down from a mark of 102 last June to just 83 in November.
After winning two races at Newcastle, comfortably I might add, he’s gone to 89 now but a look at his form last winter and again over the last month means he looks capable of running into the mid-90’s, making him well-in here without a doubt.
He’s not among the favourites and so is worth chancing, with King Of The South, Onesmoothoperator, Midnights Legacy and Sky Power all obvious types to challenge for places.
4.20 Meydan (Nad Al Sheba Classic – Conditions Race) – ECHO POINT
They look like going around 5/1 the field for the Nad Al Sheba Classic, but there is a standout runner for me and that is Echo Point of the all-powerful Charlie Appleby yard.
Once again William Buick has plumped for a different runner, Desert Peace who has to give away weight, with Richard Mullen relied upon once more to bring home the money.
Echo Point gets 9lbs from Desert Peace, but for me could be a better horse. His winning debut last February was improved upon; first with a decent second at Wolverhampton and then when he chased home the top-class Mohaafeth, losing out by only 1½ lengths.
He’s had time off after being beaten at odds-on last May, but should prove to be a horse capable of reaching three figures and has conditions to suit him. Saeed bin Suroor’s pair Marching Army and Brilliant Light were next on the list.
4.55 Meydan (UAE 1000 Guineas Trial – Conditions Race) – SILK ROMANCE
It’s strange to have to think of these types as three-year-olds already, but we’re looking forward to Dubai World Cup Day and the Classic trials for the 3yo’s which will be upon us before you know it.
We’re on the dirt for the 1000 Guineas Trial, a race in which Shahama may be a heavy favourite after winning in spectacular fashion at this track 23 days ago.
That was an excellent run, but a look at the horses in behind tells you that she didn’t beat much of anything at all and so we shouldn’t get too excited about Fawzi Abdulla Nass’ filly.
Silk Romance, an easy winner at Newmarket in August, has reached a level not too far behind Shahama’s, if behind at all, and given the time that’s gone by since she should be significantly better now. Her pedigree lends confidence as to her dirt racing ability, and she’s around twice the price of her rival.