This weekend we have the best of both worlds with an excellent flat card at Newbury with classic pointers and there is also the Scottish National meeting at Ayr.
Let's kick things off at Newbury and the Greenham Stakes looks like a top-quality contest with several runners staking their claims for 2000 Guineas honours in this seven-furlong Group 3. Richard Fahey plans to run Parbold in the Craven next week where he'll take on Richard Hannon's leading juvenile Toormore and that means Fahey will run Mill Reef-winner Supplicant here.
John Gosden saddled a treble at Nottingham on Wednesday and has started the season with a bang. Things could get even better for him if his unbeaten colt Kingman wins this hot race on Saturday. He looked a smart colt in his two runs last term which concluded in a win in Sandown's Solario Stakes last August.
This isn't an easy task for him on his reappearance though as Paul Cole's Berkshire also went into winter quarters with a big reputation. He was beaten on debut, but went on to win the Chesham and the Royal Lodge.
Well, I will Sky+ the racing this weekend because on Saturday I'll be in London registering for the London Marathon. Let's just hope my weekend selections run faster than I do.
Quotes of the week
The two horses I particularly looking forward to are two horses I've put up to follow this season. Lat Hawill is trained by Marco Botti and looked particularly promising in winning his only start in Maiden company at Newcastle last October. He looks one of the brighter hopes for Qatar Racing this term and is held in very high regard. Whilst he hasn't run in pattern company yet, he is well thought of and has been supported for the Guineas in recent weeks. He now has a raft of big race entries and should hold his own in the highest company this season.
It's business as usual at Richard Hannon's yard and the winners are already flowing from the stable since the licence was taken over by Hannon Junior. He runs one of my horses to follow, Night of Thunder. This is another colt that is well thought of, and whilst he may have been overshadowed by his stablemate Toormore, he is potentially top-class himself. He couldn't have done any more than be unbeaten in his two starts last year winning his maiden and then taking the step up into Listed class in his stride. The added bonus is that he showed he handled ground with cut in it last season and that won't be a worry for him if the ground doesn't dry out.
Gimcrack winner Astaire also runs for Yorkshire trainer Kevin Ryan. He wrapped up his campaign by winning the group 1 Middle Park at Newmarket. The worry about this colt is his ability to stay further as he raced keenly last season and there is an element of doubt there. I'm going to go with potential here and side with Lat Hawill. I know how much connections think of him and whilst this is a red hot race, he should have improved from two to three and can stake his Guineas claims at Newbury. He is currently 14/1 for the Newmarket Classic.
Dubai Duty Free Stakes
We get the opportunity to assess the wellbeing of the fillies in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes, a Group 3 also over seven furlongs. Richard Fahey has sidestepped the contest with his filly Sandiva as she will run instead in the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket next week instead. He runs Dutch Courage instead.
It could be a good day for Marco Botti as he also saddles a fancied runner in this. Al Thakhira won her first two starts in the UK including the Rockfel, before finishing last at the Breeders' Cup meeting. I'd always forgive a horse a bad run there having made a long journey at the end of the season. She enjoyed cut in the ground on both her winning outings and is another who will relish conditions at Newbury. She is a 16/1 shot for the 1000 Guineas so this race doesn't look like it will be as informative for next month's Newmarket race, but there are some nice fillies in the line-up none the less.Another of them is a real blue blood being a half-sister to Frankel. She wore a hood on a couple of occasions last season and was very keen on her final start so Lady Cecil has fitted it again for this race.
Coral Mist will have to have improved over the winter if she's to be a superstar this year, but she's a handy filly for Charlie Hills who won the Firth of Clyde Stakes at Ayr on her last outing in September. One thing she does have in her favour is her attitude: she gives her all and looks very honest.
J Wonder looked like she could be very smart after winning her Nursery last term, but she was exposed by Lucky Kristale in the Lowther and needs to have progressed from two to three. She will also enjoy some slight ease in the ground though. I'm going with a big race double for Marco Botti and Al Thakhira gets the nod.
There is some excellent jumping in Scotland at Ayr for the Scottish National which is the highlight on a valuable card. The weights for this 4m 1/2 f Grade 3 Handicap Chase are headed by the Paul Nicholls trained-Tidal Bay which means the weights are compressed below him and only ten of the other runners are in the handicap and running off their true marks.
Tidal Bay unseated at the eighth (Canal Turn) in last weekend's Grand National at Aintree. Nicholls reported on Thursday that he had come out of that fine and schooled well so he was running him again. Why not? He is a class act who once again should be suited by this sort of test. He is always hard to leave out of calculations even with top weight in a race of this nature.
One of the runners that will be in the handicap is another Nicholls runner, Sam Winner, who races off a handy 10 stone 7; Nick Scholfield rides. He is an exciting novice who was last seen finishing fifth in the RSA Chase. He had always been earmarked for the 4m NH Chase at the festival and he looked to be crying out for this sort of trip in the RSA. He enjoys this ground and is another leading contender for Nicholls who will regain his trainers' championship this season.
Harry Fry has spoken positively about his runner, Mendip Express, who is also in the handicap proper. He's another novice who finished behind Sam Winner at Newbury last time out when well beaten on heavy ground. It transpired that he had broken a blood vessel though which explains the poor run. He hasn't run since then and will have been freshened up for the break.
Green Flag will have plenty of local support for Lucinda Russell. He advertised his claims for this race at Cheltenham where he finished a good fourth in the 3m handicap chase on the opening day of the festival. He handles decent ground, but appears to be better suited to ground with some cut in it.
Last year's winner Godsmejudge is in the field once again for Alan King and is only 6lbs higher in the weights this time round. He has run disappointingly on his last two starts and will have to defy the stats too as he bids to become the first back to back winner since 1985. He has something to prove in his current form although he has conditions in his favour.
Philip Hobbs runs a horse that could run well from 5lbs out of the handicap. Roalco de Farges was second to Tidal Bay in the Bet365 two years ago, but has had problems since then. He had his first run back since the Sandown race this February and has been chipping away quietly. He pulled up on his first run since his lay-off, he then ran a good race to be third at Ludlow when still possibly needing the run and the won nicely last time out at Newbury and is an interesting runner despite being 5lbs 'wrong'.
Tim Easterby's Trustan Times is 6lbs wrong at the weights, but can't be written off as he's still well handicapped compared to his hurdles mark. He ran an excellent trial at Cheltenham in the Pertemps Hurdle beaten a nose and two necks by Fingal Bay, Southfield Theatre and subsequent National winner Pineau de Re.
Yes Tom just sneaks into the handicap for County Antrim based trainer Stuart Crawford. You may remember this horse winning on his debut for his new handler in the Daily Mirror Chase at Down Royal the week after Cheltenham. Bog Warrior was favourite and Seabass finished a disappointing last after sustaining an injury in the race. This grey had lost his way for his previous handler, but scooted up here and despite Crawford saying he had no plans for the horse he has found him the sort of race he could run well in. He is also entered in the Irish National later this month. He has a good record at this track too with two wins and six places from nine outings here for his former trainer. So, it's a red hot contest and you could make a serious case for several of these and I like Roalco de Farges, Trustan Times and Yes Tom. I'm going to go with Yes Tom though. would be attempting to become the first back-to-back winner of the race since Androma in 1984 and 1985.
Scottish Champion Hurdle
The Scottish Champion Hurdle is a Grade 2 Limited Handicap and the clear horse at the top of the weights is Champion Hurdle runner-up My Tent or Yours and deservedly so. He brings a touch of stardust to the contest and if this horse learns to settle better in his races he will be a real force to be reckoned with. When you consider this season he has won the Fighting Fifth, just pipped The New One in the Christmas Hurdle, won a 'Jumpers Bumper' and then ran a cracker to be second to Jezki at Cheltenham and all the while running too freely, he should be unstoppable if AP McCoy can get him to settle.
Interestingly, Nicky Henderson is fitting a hood on Saturday. This type of headgear seems to really help highly strung horses and we've seen it used to great effect on both the flat and over jumps. It's something trainers are really catching on to and the benefits are there to see in the form book with it having a calming effect on runners. The fact that it covers a horse's ears really helps to pacify them, possibly because it blocks out some of the ambient noise. Whatever it is, it works and that should mean My Tent or Yours is hard to beat if he has recovered sufficiently from his Cheltenham exertions. After Cheltenham Henderson suggested this horse could run at Royal Ascot, he has real class and should be good enough to win this.
There is also some interesting racing in Ireland over the weekend with possible classic clues. Geoffrey Chaucer is entered in the Ballysax Stakes at Navan on Saturday. We got a glimpse of this horse in a racecourse gallop at the Curragh a couple of weeks ago and Aidan O'Brien seemed happy with his unbeaten colt. There is also a good card at the Curragh on Sunday.
Well, I will Sky+ the racing this weekend because on Saturday I'll be in London registering for the London Marathon. I'm seriously questioning my sanity with the event just a few days away, but I'm also looking forward to being part of what is an iconic event.
The racing world will be well represented with trainers Richard Hannon, Charlie Hills, Andrew Balding, Robert Cowell, Olly Stevens, David Simcock and bloodstock agent/racing manager David Redvers taking part. I hope we all do our charities proud and having trained with an injury for the last few months I just hope to get round before nightfall!
Let's just hope my weekend selections run faster than I do. See you next week when hopefully I'll be enjoying a well-earned rest.
My fundraising page for my chosen charity Maggie's is: www.justgiving.com/alexandbeckyrunlondon
Lat Hawill in the Greenham Stakes
Al Thakhira in the Dubai Duty Free
Yes Tom in the Scottish National @ 12/1 with Sky Bet
My Tent Or Yours in the Scottish Champion Hurdle @ 4/5 with Sky Bet