Two selections for a busy Saturday of compelling flat racing that I am keen to watch for future eye-catchers. Having a winner would be nice too.
1.30 Haydock: Class 5 Handicap, 6f
After John was a massive eye-catcher earlier this month when he nearly overcame tons of trouble at Thirsk to thunder home much the fasted in the closing stages, clocking in the last three furlongs at least a full second faster than the rest.
But that was only good enough for second place on the day. He’s up a pound for the run, which could or possibly should be more. He clearly is going really well for his new yard and judged on past performances is potentially well handicapped having won of 71.
He was competitive – if a bit unlucky – last year of slightly higher marks than the current one once it slipped to a manageable rating. Particularly his 4th place finish at Ayr in September rates a strong piece of form.
He has ran four times to topspeed ratings of 65+, while his most recent performance awarded him a 63 rating, suggesting he is in great shape.
Obviously it’s a big field and in-running luck is required. I think pace won’t be an issue with a number of horses happy to lead but the chart is all over the place and could be a bit messy. I hope he ends up following the right line.
10pts win – After John @ 5/1
3.15 Haydock: Class 5 Handicap, 1m
Cloch Nua looks to have a massive chance here if in a mediocre race – IF the hood helps the hot gelding to settle. He’s got his issues and that’s the reason why he didn’t get off the mark yet.
Beaten last time out a short priced favourite at Southwell was certainly disappointing. But the run itself was better than the bare form suggest. The pace was slow, he was travelling off the pace, pulling really hard really long for his head. What looked liked a serious challenge two furlongs appeared to fiddle out rapidly.
Yet, looking at the sectionals, he still finished the race quite nicely, given the position he came from., actually. Which gives me hope he retains the good form he showed earlier this year.
I took serious note of him after his penultimate run, a 7f Novice contest at Southwell, where he travelled like a horse with some talent and finished pretty easily despite hanging badly, leaving the impression there was plenty left in the tank.
This will be only his second handicap start. A mark of 67 could be on the lenient side if he puts it all together. What makes this an outstanding chance for me is the jockey booking. Benoit De La Sayette is an excellent apprentice who is taking invaluable 7lb off the weight.
A list of horses that caught my eye during the last seven days of racing. These individuals look ready to win a race sooner rather than later.
Surrey Territories 30/03/22 – 6.30 Kempton:
The pace slowed dramatically down soon after the start with the field bunching up and a bit of carnage behind the leading pack. Surrey Territories was at a major disadvantage in a position too far back. The winner and runner-up came from close- or up with the pace throughout the race.
Nothing got really involved from behind, the only one finishing strongly was Surrey Territories, thundering down on the outside of the field to claim a courageous 3rd place in the end.
If one is prepared to draw a line through an uncharacteristically poor penultimate run, then Surrey Territories has produced four strong performances this year. His 4th place finish at Wolverhampton in January over 7 furlongs may well be the strongest, with him finishing in impressive style and producing some fast sectionals. That piece of form looks rock solid having been franked subsequently.
A negative aspect to keep in mind is Surrey Territories’s habit to break slowly. But his recent performances suggest to me a win is near. He’s clearly capable of winning off his current mark and has no problems to stay a mile. He’s only raced three times over this trip, so there is potentially some upside.
I would love to see a strong apprentice booked over the 1 mile trip. This would make Surrey Territories a standout chance wherever he goes next.
Artician 30/03/2022 – 7.30 Kempton:
He was unusually fast out of the gates, although soon settled off the pace in a solid run race. He travelled notably well into the home straight but was looking for racing room from 2 furlongs out behind a wall of horses, having to delay his challenge, together with the equally well travelling eventual winner, a 100 rated Listed winner.
Entering the final furlong the eventual winner got an opening to move straight through, whereas Artician had to switch, losing his momentum and having to regain his full effort.
This was a strong performance given the circumstances and opposition. Artician has produced a number of rock solid runs since switching yards and moving over to the UK. After an easy victory over 7 furlongs at Wolverhampton on debut for trainer Simon Dow – albeit against inferior rivals – he was not good enough in a subsequent hot class 2 Handicap over the same CD. When dropped in class four weeks ago he finished a fine 3rd place at Kempton, though, which looks like a good piece of form.
Artician was a highly promising juvenile with placed efforts in the Marble Hill Stakes and Railway Stakes in Ireland. He didn’t quite fulfill that promise, however, now in Handicap company with a significantly lowered mark he seems ready to strike.
I am not fully sold on him over a mile, and envision ideal conditions to be a 7 furlongs handicap below class 2. He seems relatively ground independent on turf and clearly enjoys the All-Weather too.
Active Duty 29/03/22 – 4.35 Navan:
This son of the brilliant Almanzor saw plenty of support in the betting market, although, he was always likely to play second fiddle behind 109 rated and Group 1 placed odds-on favourite Stone Age.
The favourite won from the front giving the form a really solid look, while Active Duty settled well in rear for the majority of the race. Still trailing at the end of the field when turning for home, he soon started to make a big move on the outside once asked for serious effort. Despite showing signs of inexperience, he finished the race in impressive style under a hands and heels ride.
Active Duty was an expensive £260k yearling and at this early stage of his career promises to live up to this lofty price tag. He’s likely to be heavily odds-on wherever he goes next, but beyond that can be an exciting prospect for the season ahead. As an April foal it’s not unlikely to assume that he will improve significantly with time and experience this year.
I also would mention to keep an eye out for the 4th horse Fumata. He looked green and didn’t quite get a clear run in the home straight, but eventually stayed on well enough to suggest there is ability.
He’s related to winners and looks bound to improve once stepping up to 1m 4f – a distance he’s bred for.
Conversant 26/03/22 – 5.21 Curragh:
The seven-year old gelding was quickest out of the gate, using his 5 furlong speed. He joined an isolated small group of six horses on the stands’ side rail, travelling strongly on the bridle to the two furlong marker.
Perhaps he over raced in the early stages – his group was a couple of lengths ahead for the first half of the race as well. He didn’t find much once off the bridle approaching the uphill finish at the Curragh but still managed to finish 8th amongst the second group of finishers behind the first three home.
This was Conversant’s first run since last October after a productive 2021 season. He’s a pound lower rated than his last winning mark from last year when he managed to run twice to a 65 topspeed rating as well.
He can win off his current rating, perhaps a stiff 5 furlong finish like Navan, where he won twice already, with plenty of cut in the ground, will be an ideal scenario. He’s down to a fine mark, but any additional concession from the handicapper will be a huge bonus.
Cold Stare is the obvious eye-catcher as he was travelling sweetly throughout the race. However, trapped behind a wall of horses a gap wouldn’t open in time to get out. He finished easily on the bridle in 6th place in the end.
The 7-year old gelding ran much better on this seasonal reappearance than a 25/1 price tag suggested. Cold Stare has clearly retained all the ability he showed last season when he won twice and also finished 2nd on two occasions. He did so while achieving topspeed ratings of 88 and 91 and caught the eye multiple times.
It is fair to say he’s handicapped close enough to his best. But if he can drop a couple of pounds below a 90 mark again, ideally also moving down in class, he’ll be a big shout in a 6- or 7 furlongs handicap with cut in the ground. A good apprentice on board can only enhance his chances. It’s worth waiting for the right conditions to appear. The wait will be worth it. He’s one to keep any eye on over the next weeks in my book.
Mokaatil isn’t a desperately obvious one at first glance. But this was his first start since October and there was zero expectations for him to run well, judged by odds of 50/1. Even more so over a trip that is not quite his best.
He raced in midfield early on but drifted right to the back of field with three furlongs to go. Instead of flattening out and finishing down the field Mokaatil kept going right to the end for a solid 7th place finish.
In truth, Mokaatil never looked dangerous; yet I quite liked the fight and spirit he showed on a day that was never supposed to be his day anyway. This looked like an excellent pipe opener. This run confirms he’s clearly in good nick after a strong 2021 campaign where he won three times and ran to TS 85 and 80.
He’s already 2lb below his last winning mark but with some additional help from the handicapper, perhaps a return to a mark of 82 and dropped to the minimum trip, he’ll be a big chance, particularly on decent ground. Keep an eye on Mokaatil when these circumstances come together this season.
Desert Land 31/03/22 – 3.50 Lingfield:
First start since a course and distance success in December. He pulled like a train the first part of the race unable to settle in rear of the field. Most likely he ran his race there and then. Even though, jockey Pat Cosgrave never made any attempt to call for an effort while the race developed in front of him from three furlongs out and as a consequence Desert Land was left in no-man’s-land entering the home straight.
If one wants to see it in a positive light then Desert Land was rather tenderly handled in the closing stages and not needlessly knocked about in a finish he had little to gain. One could also have the viewpoint that insufficient attempt was made to obtain the best possible result with the early antics taken as an excuse.
In my view 1 mile is too far for Desert Land in any case. Despite the fact he won over course and distance. It wasn’t the first time he pulled really hard and he got rather lucky in the race he won as a slow early pace resulted in sprint finish playing to his speed – in fairness: as they tend to happen regularly at Lingfield. Regardless, the trip is far from his optimum. His best performances all come over shorter 6 furlongs. Perhaps a fast paced 7 furlongs is fine too these days, too.
Desert Land won of a 66 Handicap mark at Brighton last year over 6 furlongs, and achieved Tospeed ratings of 62 on turf and 68 on the All-Weather. With that in mind he’s down to an attractive mark already. But will be even more so if he drops another couple of pounds combined with moving down in distance. In that context I felt the run here was eye-catching. Because the gelding was clearly minded for a better day to come.
Ebtsama 31/03/22 – 4.10 Lingfield:
Handicap debut for this well bred filly. A £105k yearling and full sister to Group 2 placed Dark Rose, Ebtsama seemingly overcame the widest draw and sluggish start to the race. She travelled much the strongest entering the home straight, looking the likeliest winner. She was clear run denied until it was too late, though. Finally switched to the outside entering the final furlong she ran well to the line but the birds was flown at that point.
She shaped well on her seasonal reappearance over 7 furlongs at Southwell in February where she finished runner-up behind a good winner. I like to see her going up in trip again. Either 7f or a mile – both shouldn’t be a problem on pedigree.
Even though it’s unlikely she’ll hit the heights of her sister, a handicap mark of 75 probably underestimates her ability – that calculation is a simple one: given with a clear run Ebstama would have finished much closer in the Lingfield race, if not even won the race. With improvement likely to come with experience and moving up in the trip she should have a number of pounds in hand, at the very least.
Encouragement can also be taken from last year. As a juvenile Ebtsama showed some smart form in two starts: on debut only 4 lengths down behind the subsequent Lowther Stakes winner and runner-up behind a subsequent Group 3 winner.
No Samcro in the race makes the task on hand for Next Destination somewhat easier. One would think so, at least. A brilliant Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle winner, comes here with plenty of positive experience.
He created a big impression on a number of occasions now. A fine bumper horse last season, he proves even better over hurdles. 2/2 now, overcoming a slight fright at at the third last but came back on the bridle and putting the race to bet in impressive style.
He’s the clear favourite on anything we know. What we don’t know yet, how much upside does the Joseph O’Brien trained Speak Easy has to offer?
He landed a maiden hurdle when debuting under rules at Navan last month. Clearly green and not quite sure what to do, he made Mark Walsh work a bit throughout and missed a couple of jumps.
However the way he made progress and motored home without ever being really touched, in a maiden hurdle that looks like solid form, is something to take note of.
Connections decided against the Tolworth and rather opted to come to Naas. They will hope he has learned plenty the other day. He’ll have to be a fast learner if he wants to trouble the favourite.
However in his favour is the step up in trip. 2m 4f should suit much better than 2m. Given how good Speak Easy already looked when showing plenty signs of inexperience, one can only imagine how much more he can bring to the table if understanding more of what his job is.
Interesting side fact: Speak Easy has achieved the highest time speed rating in the field so far. Not always an indicator for success, nonetheless the fact Next Destination hasn’t run better than 109 yet, is another small piece in the puzzle that let me come to the conclusion that there is potentially less between these two than the market suggests.
It is hard to see anyone else from the field having a realistic say in the outcome of the race. So at 11/2 it is impossible for me to not back Speak Easy. Maybe Next Destionation is the better horse and can use his experience to full extend – however on pure price reasons, I feel Speak Easy has a better than 16% chance to win.
It’s been quite an excellent week – another one, I dare to say – as Dakota Gold went in at 12/1 and did so in fine fashion. Enjoy as long as it lasts…. desperate times may be around the corner at any given point as the past has taught.
Betting aside, it’s bee a huge day for racing. The jumps still feature big time, despite May only days away. The Scottish National was on the cards today, and one I fancied allot for Aintree, who then fell at the very first fence, made amends here and made it back to back victories in the Scottish equivalent: Vicente!
At Newbury we saw a potential 2000 Guineas contender – a serious one, most likely. Barney Rot looks a brute of a horse and overcame inexperience to score readily in the Greenham Stakes for his daddy Exelebration who himself was runner-up in this race who then went on to win the German Guineas subsequently.
Bareny Rot, though, will run at Newmarket and must be a serious contender if he turns up healthy. He’s now a mere 6/1 chance and should be ready for a step up to the 1 mile trip. That says I remain firmly in the Al Wukair camp, of course!
We may saw a different Classics contender at Nottingham: in the 6.30 Maiden the well fancied Sea The Stars colt Crystal Ocean impressed me with an easy victory in what appeared not a bad race at all. But he did it so nicely, all hands and heels. A bright future lies ahead?
Possibly. He is certainly bred to be a really good horse. Crystal Ocean is closely related to the excellent Crystal Capella and the Derby trial might be next on the agenda now that’ll give us a better idea of how good he really is.
It’s noteworthy that Crystal Ocean is trained by shrewd Sir Michael Stoute who certainly knows how to get one ready for the big day. With a muddy Derby picture at this point in time I’ll do have a small nibble at 40’s – he may not run, but if he does, this price could easily look incredibly big.
4.55 Navan: Class 1 Handicap, 1m 2f
Prendergast’s Althiba is one who looks ready to step up and take advantage of a fair looking mark after a fine placed effort on her seasonal debut. However I feel the top weight Massif Central could easily do the same but offers much better value at a huge price.
Massif Central ran pretty well in maiden company, achieving mid-80 RPR’s that make his handicap mark appear fair. However on handicap debut which was also his seasonal comeback he started awkwardly and was soon relegated to the back of the field. He didn’t really look comfortable throughout and turning widest didn’t help either.
He still ran better than the bare form suggests, though this looked more like a pipe opener than anything else. On the other hand he seems physically improved. A fine, biggish, scopey colt, who now steps up to 10f for the first time.
Not a given that he stays the trip, but there is a fair chance he does and if that turns out to be true than it is not unreasonable to believe he can improve for his second seasonal run too. If same happens then he could be a bit better than his current rating. Also this is an easier race than the other day plus the better ground should suit.
With a top jockey in the saddle I feel connections expect a big run from this Arcano son – at 12’s he seems quite a bit overpriced in an open race.
10pts win – Massif Central @ 12/1 Paddy Power
An open enough looking contest given the fact that none of the runners has ever won off their current rating or higher. Top weight Grand Partner must be taken serious o has to be fine flat performer Benkei on his handicap debut.
But I take a chance with Concordin who seems to be a bit overpriced. Already a nine year old but for his age with reasonable mileage on the clock. He didn’t really enjoy chasing but has looked as good as ever since reverted to hurdling.
A fine third on his seasonal reappearance in November followed up by a strong staying performance at Leopardstown in a very competitive Handicap at the Christmas Festival. Subsequently he finished a long beaten fourth off a career highest mark in a mud fest at Gowran Park, but the form is better than it reads on paper.
Concordin travelled strongly and was about to make a big move when the field turned for home when suddenly one of the leaders slipped and fell. A miracle it was Concordin didn’t came down too. But he certainly lost all momentum. Not knocked over in the closing stages he finished fourth but his chances were clearly ruined by the incident around the 3f marker.
The drop to 2m tomorrow seems odd, given he looks like a grinder, who needed every inch of the 2m 2f at Leopardstown. But it makes sense given the desperate ground to be expected at Navan, a track that has a very stiff and tough finish where emphasise is definitely more on stamina, particularly in testing conditions. That should really help Concordin’s cause.
Whether some of the more lightly raced individuals can improve to a level that’ll see them going close is debatable, but the very much in-form Jacob Black is sure to have a prime chance once again.
The four year old is getting better with every race, and after getting close in a hot Newmarket Handicap on his seasonal debut, he made all to win here at Sandown a fortnight ago. The winning margin was tight in the end but Jacob Black got a bit lonely in front inside the final furlong and was actually eased down towards the end. He had still a bit in hand.
The Handicapper has given him a chance to prove his class and raised his mark by only 3lb. He may not be able to dictate this bigger field as he did the last time, but he has a good draw and should be in an ideal position when it matters.
Jacob Black @ 6/1 Bet365 – 5pts Win
2.45 Navan: Handicap (60-95), 6f
Quick ground is a rarity in Ireland so there isn’t too much fast ground form on offer in this field. However Lily’s Prince is sure to appreciate the underfoot conditions. She has been it pretty good form in recent weeks. A fine success at Cork, followed up with a sixth place in a hot Tipperary sprint.
On paper this last performance doesn’t look inspiring, but the drop to 5f wasn’t suitable and she lost something at the start. She appeared dangerous briefly from 2f out but was found out for speed eventually. This slightly longer trip is what she needs, and with conditions to suit, she may have still a bit to offer from her current mark in an open enough affair.
Lily’s Prince @ 10/1 Betfred – 5pts Win
3.10 York: Ganton Stakes (Listed)
The race evolves around the question whether Wannabe Yours is 100% today and if he’s improved from three to four. Last years form is outstanding and gives him a leading chance no doubt. 3/1 looks tempting I admit, but with these question marks flying around I do opt for the form horse at twice the price.
That’s Lincoln winner Gabrial. Conditions come just right for him today with a bit of rain getting into the ground and his recent 4th in Listed Handicap over course and distance gives him a big chance. That day as top weight he had a really tough task assigned and was just beaten in the closing stages by progressive horses with less weight.
The form works out really well, though and Gabrial should find this here actually a bit easier, given he’s on level weights with his rivals. He is holding his form well and is likely to run his race today – which may be good enough to win.
Gabrial @ 7/1 Bet365 – 5pts Win
5.25 Chester: Class 3 Handicap, 5f
I agree with the betting here: Bowson Fred is a very worthy favourite and has plenty in favour. Good draw, form and conditions. But the fact that he has gone close in all his recent starts without winning suggest he is vulnerable nonetheless.
In contrast if you can forgive Snow Cloud his recent poor showing, you’ll see a progressive, talented and improved filly. Ripon’s 6f in softish conditions were just not what she wanted but she showed true class on her seasonal debut at Redcar in quick conditions over 5f.
Travelling strongly, and producing a nice turn of foot, she looked to have loads in hand. Judged on that performance she might be still better than her current mark off 81, although this is a tougher race and Chester from draw five is something of an unknown experience to her. If she handles it, she is sure to be a big runner.
This is a nice little race with some promising individuals going to post. Hot favourite Toscanini is already rates as high as 113 and therefore sets a clear standard. Is he for taking, though? I think so. Yes, he has some top class form to his name., particularly the runner-up effort behind Gleneagles in the National Stakes. But it remains to be seen if he has trained on. His only win came in a poor Dundalk maiden on his penultimate outing when he almost blew it while long odds-on. He looks a capable enough sort, but also quite quirky .
Prendergast’s Beach Belle and recent Cork maiden winner Father Frost are dangerous rivals, but the biggest challenge may well come from the filly Ainippe. She was an emphatic Listed winner last season and backed this performance up with two strong performances in Group company. She looked a bit rusty on her seasonal reappearance at Navan recently, which went along with what trainer Ger Lyons said beforehand. But she was far from disgraced as a 3yo filly first time out against some seasoned top class sprinters.
One would expect her to come on quite a bit for this run. The step up to 6f will surely suit while the ground won’t be an issue at all. Back against her own age she must have a much better chance in an easier race. Most intriguing is the jockey booking though. Highly promising apprentice Oisin Orr claims 10lb and is well worth it. In my mind this weight allowance is a huge advantage in a race like this here today.
Ainippe @ 9/2 Paddy Power – 5pts Win
3.20 Navan: Handicap, 5f
Wide open race and a chance is taken on Booker. This lightly raced Mastercraftsman daughter drops dramatically in trip as a campaign over further didn’t quite pan out as hoped last year. Thought to be smart after a nice maiden win at the Curragh, she wasn’t disgraced subsequently in the 1.000 Guineas trial at Leopardstown but didn’t seem right when comprehensively beaten in her final start last season.
She has performed well as a fresh horse the last two seasons, so some holidays may do wonders for her again. On pedigree 5f seems sharp enough, however she showed plenty of early speed in all her races. Fitted with a hood for the first time, she looks a big price in the context of this race.
The Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan shapes as an intriguing little contest. It may be hard to look beyond the first three in the betting, but that doesn’t make it less interesting, as three big guns, all multiple Graded winners, taking each other on. Effectively it’s a re-match of last months John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle, which took place at Gowran Park in thick fog on bottomless ground over gruelling three miles.
It was Gigginstown’s Dedigout who prevailed that day. In a dramatic finish, he got right up on the line. The Willie Mullins trained Zaidpour and Briar Hill were decisively beaten in third and fourth. Judging by that performance, and the short price in the betting market today, Dedigout is clearly is expected to follow on to land another big prize today. It is his third run after a year long absence and it is obvious that he haven’t lost any of his old ability. He’s been a prolific chaser back in the day, but has really excelled over hurdles.
Question mark is, however, if he can bring his impressive form also to Navan today? Because were race in with significantly different conditions today, than it was the case three weeks ago at Gowran Park. it’s a sharp drop in trip from 3m down to 2.5m and instead of heavy ground it is actually quite decent today – considering what one would normally expect in Ireland at this time of the year. That says Dedigout has form over this trip and conditions, so he may well be happy enough with what he’s likely to find today. But if you want to find some question mark in this short price favouite – well, then this would it be!
Nine year old Zaidpour remains a very good horse. Back in November he won here at Navan a Grade 2 over 2m 4f. Not a particularly good one, but you can only beat what is in front of you. He was without a chance against Dedigout last month, though. Beaten five lengths, and dropped right out when it mattered. Expect him to be more competitive today. The drop in trip will suit and he he’s fine on this ground. Nonetheless, I feel that Zaidpour has always been a better horse with plenty of juice in the ground. Could that make the difference in the end?
In all honesty, I’m more sweet on the other Willie Mullins runner, Briar Hill. He is still only a seven year old and could easily have still some more improvement left. Yes, he has been disappointing in his two starts this season over 3 miles, but make no mistake, there was a reason why he was the favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last season. I believe the drop in trip will work wonders for him today.
Those last poor showings exploited his stamina limitations and his best forms came all over shorter trips. Briar Hill was Grade 1 winning Novice hurdler last season here at Navan over 2 miles and 4f. I’m pretty confident with ground and trip to suit today, we’ll see a much improved Briar Hill. Obviously he still has a good deal to find on pure form with favourite Dedigout and it is not a given that he is actually able to find back to his best. But there is a fair chance and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt today.
There are a couple more runners in this field, but realistically they shouldn’t be good enough to put any pressure on the three big guns. Back In Focus used to be a smart individual, but he has been off for a very long time, so he is probably best watched today.
It’s Weekend! Some great racing ahead. Several Graded races in the UK and Ireland. Ascot Chase on Saturday as the highlight of course, but there is also some great action at Gowran Park and Navan, plus some excellent All-Weather racing from Lingfield. Enjoy all the fantastic racing and good luck whatever you bet!