It always amazes me how quickly the flat season comes around and, when it does, how rapidly it dominates the racing landscape.
As ever, the curtain comes up this weekend with the William Hill Lincoln and already the annual shift in focus from jumps to flat has progressed apace.
The papers have been fuelled this week by talk of the early season Classic contenders. Aidan O’Brien has given the bookies an early season warning by flagging up the promising Australia as the best flat horse he’s ever trained. Mind you that seems to be a statement he releases every other year regarding his favourite new toy. His odds for Newmarket and Epsom have been slashed accordingly.
This prompted the newly promoted Richard Hannon Jnr to force his arm on all things Guineas. His champion two year old Toormore will now head to the Craven for a prep after O’Brien’s bullishness had left him in a quandary. Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khalid Abdullah, had earlier made it apparent that their big Newmarket hope Kingman would take in the Greenham before tackling the 2000.
These plans have seen a lot of the primary pieces of the first Classic puzzle put together. All this attention on the first classics and we’re still a week away from the Grand National!
Before we get carried away with thoughts of Classics or Grand Nationals however, let’s concentrate on the here and now. What we have before our eyes is a weekend rammed full of top class flat action so let’s get down to business.......
We’ll start on these shores with the Lincoln. It’s the traditional starting point for the season and a clear reminder that summer is on the way. At the time of writing favouritism is shared between Captain Cat and Gabrial’s Kaka. Of the two I’d have to prefer the latter as he seems the most open to improvement.
Richard Fahey’s star was last seen finishing a length and a half behind Seek Again, a horse who consequently went on to win a grade one in America. That form seems to stack up and the trainer’s recent record in the race would raise an eyebrow. My one concern would be a lack of experience in big field handicaps. There’s bound to be more than a fair share of hustle and bustle in this and, without the necessary know-how, he may be found out.
In such a competitive big field event it’s hard to pin point one, although course and distance winner Norse Blues and the progressive Paene Magnus make decent appeal. However, the one I’ll be siding with on this occasion is Bronze Angel. A setback saw him miss most of last year and on his return in the Cambridgeshire (a race he’d won the season before) he failed to fire. The long absence would excuse him that and having a full winter to recover could see him back on his A-game. His undercooked performances at the back-end of last year have, in some respects, done him a favour as he’s back to just 1lb above his Cambridgeshire winning mark. He should appreciate the going (so long as we don’t have a freak downpour before Saturday) and if the draw goes his way he could be bang in contention. Quotes of 20/1 certainly aren’t off-putting.
Now then, picture Doncaster. Now picture the complete opposite to that. Welcome to Dubai, it’s World Cup night at Meydan! It’s the richest night of racing across the globe and the stars are out in full force.
The grand finale of the evening shall be our starting point, the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup. The favourite for the big one is last year’s Epsom Derby winner, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Ruler Of The World. It’s a nut that the Ballydoyle master is trying to crack for the very first time having never won it before. I’m not convinced that this year will be his year either, with the 10 furlong trip looking potentially on the sharp side for a rugged Derby type who’s also attempting to overcome a wide draw. I’ll pass him over.
Britain and Ireland don’t tend to fare well in this and there’s nothing entered this year that I foresee changing that. Prince Bishop has given a good account of himself in Meydan this year but may just find this beyond him. While a win for former John Oxx inmate Akeed Mofeed may seem like a moral victory for the UK, preference is given to his old nemesis Military Attack.
The score between the two currently stands at 2-1 in favour of the John Moore trained gelding, all of which have come in group one company. On the occasion he tasted defeat in the Hong Kong Cup however, he did appear to be coming with a late rattle and could be considered unlucky. Imperious in his other victories, confidence would be with him. He looks for my money to be quite clearly the best horse in the race and, so long as he handles the tapeta, he could be too good for them. The current top price of 15/2 looks very tempting.
The Sheema looks to me like a one horse race. Quite simply put, if Magician is sound and ready to go he’ll take a world of beating. His performance in the Breeders Cup Turf in the twilight of last season was top form, albeit off a riding masterclass from Ryan Moore. He’ll be without that jockey on Saturday as Moore rides market rival Gentildonna, who went down to the ill-fated St Nicholas Abbey in this last year. She’s got a wide draw however and I’m sure that O’Brien junior can bring the favourite home.
Longshot of the day at a silly price comes from the Duty Free, a race the Brits have farmed in recent years. Although very classy, The Fugue makes little appeal to me personally for this. Quite whether it’s the fact that the trip might be on the sharp side or whether it’s because I’m questioning the likelihood of how geared up for this she’ll be I’m not sure. What I do know is that if she’s at her best she’ll probably win, but I’m just not sure this represents the right kind of test for her.
The Japanese horse Just A Day comes into this with plenty of recent form to his name, including a recent victory of Gentildonna. His form before that though was a little less desirable however and he’s not for me. Dank looked classy in winning over in America last year and her record first time out is impressive. She’s one to watch in this.
One on an upward curve who I can see troubling the big players in this is Educate (I must have a thing for recent Cambridgeshire winners today!). The form of his big handicap win in September worked out really well and he was lugging a fair weight that day. He looks progressive and to my eye is one to keep on the right side of. He was slightly disappointing on his seasonal bow in Meydan although was rallying towards the finish. Last time out he fared better, although finishing fifth, but the first two home that day were pretty smart. Current odds off 33/1 in my opinion don’t reflect his potential in this race and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he got amongst the places.
Doncaster (3.50) Bronze Angel
Meydan (4.39) Educate (each-way)
Meydan (5.17) Magician
Meydan (6.05) Military Attack