The weather is doing some damage, notably to Friday with Lingfield cancelling the opening day of their Winter Million over the jumps.
Their valuable Saturday Flat meeting should survive, while the contrasting climates of Dubai and Newcastle ensure we have selections to begin our betting weekend with.
At the former, we see among other things the return of Master Of The Seas. A 2000 Guineas runner-up, he’s had his problems but will be in all top mile races in the UK this year. He goes in the Zabeel Mile (4.20), but we begin with Newcastle.
Friday 20th January 2023
5.15 Newcastle (Handicap) – MEGAN MOON
In this small, four-runner handicap the hat-trick seeking Glorious Angel has an obvious chance, while the form of Brownlee and Sugar Hill Babe is linked and comes on Tapeta.
Roger Varian’s Megan Moon however has already been unlucky not to win here and she is very well handicapped on this surface, so it’s no surprise the trainer sends her to Newcastle solo in expectation of getting the job done.
5.30 Meydan (Handicap) – BAY OF HONOUR
We have a seven-furlong handicap to close out the latest Dubai Carnival card.
It’s fascinating to see a Gordon Elliott trained runner in this, though his Coachello may lack a little speed. Edraak has some good form, as does Spangled Mac, but based on form, expected progression and speed Charlie Appleby has the top three in the race for me.
Silent Film very nearly did wonders for these pages last year when going down so narrowly at 40/1 and he is ridden here by Mikael Barzalona. Ahead of him in the pecking order is New Kingdom (James Doyle) who also has a big chance, but the no.1 is Buick’s mount Bay Of Honour.
On what we know he can prove to be the best handicapped horse here, though he is drawn wide. Counteracting that is the fact that when he last won, it was so easy that we really don’t know where his ceiling is but it’s bound to be some way north of what the bare figures suggest.
Saturday 21st January 2023
1.30 Haydock (Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – PEMBROKE
Also known as the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle, this race has been won in the past by Sea Pigeon and most recently by Jonbon.
Given that Cheltenham often comes up softer than many plan for, the result of this race may yet prove to be crucial as regards the Festival in just over seven weeks’ time.
While Paul Nicholls’ Toothless was very impressive last time and Chasing Fire clearly has a lot more to give, it seems Pembroke has already achieved more and has just as much improvement in him.
Though his huge 16-length win last time was just on good to soft, his easy win the time before was on heavy going so he should be able to see this out very well.
1.37 Lingfield (Winter Oaks – Fillies’ Handicap) – AL AGAILA
Part of Lingfield’s Winter Million fixture, the Winter Oaks is worth £100,000 with over £51k of that going to the winner. Despite that, only twelve were attracted at the initial entry stage, eight of which now stand their ground.
So many can be described as being ahead of their current handicap marks, but none more so than Simon and Ed Crisford’s Al Agaila who won the trial for this race four weeks ago in very easy fashion.
Overall, the form of that race is the strongest form line on offer. Second and third Makinmedoit and Tequilamockingbird are back in opposition, but Al Agaila is well ahead of them.
Purple Ribbon’s form is very noteworthy and she rates as the main danger, while Morgan Fairy and former Gosden horse At A Pinch are not as well off in the handicap I’d say.
2.40 Haydock (Peter Marsh Chase Limited Handicap – Grade 2) – EMPIRE STEEL
Only six are left in the Peter Marsh this year which is an extreme disappointment. It won’t be the first time the ground has been heavy, though whether work has been missed for some contenders owing to the frost is a separate question.
Old-timers such as Bristol De Mai and Blaklion known their way around here of course, but in the end it may just come down to Venetia Williams’ Fontaine Collonges and Sandy Thomson’s Empire Steel.
Both can go in his heavy ground, indeed Empire Steel probably really wants it, and can prove to be ahead of the handicapper when given these conditions. Ryan Mania rides.
2.47 Lingfield (Handicap) – SILKY WILKIE
The some remain in solid form, three of these runners are aged 6, one is aged 7 and three are aged 8.
It’s hardly surprising then that the recent form, and certainly the pace, shown by four-year-old Silky Wilkie betters their efforts and he should have the toe to see the older boys off, especially over the minimum trip.
3.35 Ascot (Clarence House Chase – Grade 1) – EDWARDSTONE
Only three were declared for the Clarence House, a crucial Grade One two-miler. If this is a sign of things to come, given the recent pattern concerning field sizes, then the sport is in trouble. That is certainly the case within jumps racing for sure.
We are grateful for small mercies here too, in that third wheel Amarillo Sky has held his ground up against the big dogs Energumene and Edwardstone.
The former had a big dual in this race last year when he was outfought by Shishkin, while this time around he takes on Arkle and Tingle Creek winner Edwardstone who is the improver at the top level of the division.
When considering past and recent form, the form of the horses they’ve been and, in the case of Edwardstone progression too, I get these horses only 2lbs apart right now which is quite fitting.
I get those numbers in Edwardstone’s favour so, should his price of around 7/4 hold, he is worth backing even in a race of such small numbers. In any case, it should be quite a spectacle.