We have a racing bonanza to look forward to this weekend with the Breeders' Cup meeting at Santa Anita and some excellent jumping action in the UK.
Let's concentrate on the jumping first where some of the big guns are out in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday. Nicky Henderson has chosen this Grade 2 race to start 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run in rather than the Betfair Chase which has been their chosen route for the last couple of years.
This run comes three weeks before that race at Haydock and that is the plan after running here. What a horse he is, he is still only eight years old and has won or placed in all of his 26 starts. He is currently 11/2 second favourite (Sky Bet) to repeat his win in the King George and 25/1 for the National, which hasn't been ruled out by owner Robert Waley-Cohen. He is the highest rated in the field and should take all the beating.
Mucho Macho Man looks to be hitting form at exactly the right time and he could provide trainer Kathy Ritvo with a fairytale win in the $5 million contest.
Quotes of the week
The vibes have been very good about Unioniste though, who was well supported in the week.
The Paul Nicholls-trained horse is still only five years old and is only in his second season chasing, so on the face of it has his work cut out to beat some of these established chasers - he is rated 18lbs inferior to the favourite.
Nicholls won this race last year with Silviniaco Conti and Unioniste looks like another potential star chaser to be in his care. He ended last season with a fourth place in the RSA Chase and is an out and out stayer.
Malcolm Jefferson's Cape Tribulation goes well at Wetherby and he won the Rowland Meyrick over this course and distance over Christmas last year. Most ground seems to come alike to him so this good-to-soft ground should be okay. He's a smart performer who filled fifth place in both the Gold Cup and the Bowl Chase at Aintree but has his work cut out with a 10lb penalty to carry.
Benefficient won the Jewson Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in March (beating Dynaste) for Irish trainer Tony Martin who has jocked up AP McCoy for the ride on Saturday. He had a pipe opener at Listowel in a NH flat race in September which will have sharpened him up ahead of this seasonal jumps reappearance.
Harry Topper is another second season chaser and is three from five over fences for Kim Bailey but ended last season not completing his last two starts. His last mishap can be forgiven, though, as he was brought down in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. He bypassed the NH Chase at Cheltenham in March as Bailey was mindful it may have been too much for him at that early stage of his career and hopefully his patience will be rewarded this season.
He is a seriously exciting prospect and the best since Master Oats for his trainer and Cheltenham will be his target in 2014. As with most of these horses they won't be fully wound up at this stage of the season so what we see here may not be what we see later in the season, but I expect this horse to make the headlines over the coming months.
So, everything points towards Long Run to get his season off to the best possible start. It's always tempting to try and find value in a race like this, but I think he'll take the beating and Unioniste is quite short for a horse that needs to improve to beat him.
I think Beneficient could be the each-way tip in the race at 9/1 with Sky Bet as AP gets ever closer to his 4000th career winner.
The JNWine.com Champion Chase is the feature at Down Royal. Sizing Europe tries three miles again in this Grade 1 contest. He has proved effective over the trip, but his best seems to be up to 2m 4f and the debate will continue over his ability to win over the extra half mile.
He has some decent form in this race though, finishing second on both his starts in it and he is 11 years old now so won't be getting any faster. He has the benefit of a run under his belt already this term when he won a 2m 4f Chase at Gowran Park in September but I'm worried that the ground may not be decent enough for him and he looks worth taking on.
First Lieutenant also had the option of travelling to Yorkshire for the Charlie Hall Chase but comes here instead. He has had a run this season which should have sharpened him up and the trip is ideal for him. He was sent off odds on favourite for that Grade 3 at Punchestown, but could only finish third, but he's a class act and that should have put him spot on for this and I really fancy his chances.
Kauto Stone won this race last year and is two from two at this track. He turned out to be a bit disappointing after that win, albeit in the face of some tough tasks, and that is a bit of a worry. Gordon Elliot's Mount Benbulben ended his season with a win in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown and this is his first run back.
Legendary Irish showjumper Con Power has done plenty of jumping schooling with this horse as he has struggled in that department in the past and connections feel he is better right handed so this track should bring out the best in him. He is a big danger to my selection, First Lieutenant.
To California then, and there are nine Grade 1 races to enjoy at the Breeders' Cup on Saturday. My love of this meeting was sparked back in 1991 when Arazi won the Juvenile and although it's incredibly tough for European raiders to beat their American counterparts it's a glitzy meeting with plenty of opportunity to find winners.
The valuable Breeders' Cup Classic is the closer and the Americans have a strong hand once again. Ron the Greek misses the race though which makes life easier for the rest, he has a foot problem, but his trainer Bill Mott has an outside chance with Flat Out who was third in the race last year. Bob Baffert's Game On Dude has been in great form coming into this race, but was only seventh when favourite for the race last year.
He didn't have a great start from the gates though and the ride he was given came in for criticism from his trainer. Mike Smith rides this time round and he's has done the majority of the winning on him this year. He was second in the race two years ago and should go well, but at the likely prices may be worth opposing.
Mucho Macho Man is another bidding to go one better, he was second last year to Fort Larned, the latter is bidding for back-to-back wins. Mucho Macho Man looks to be hitting form at exactly the right time and he could provide trainer Kathy Ritvo with a fairytale win in the $5 million contest. The trainer and horse both have come through difficult times and it would be a great story, but it's not just about the story, the form stacks up, too. Track conditions suit and this big horse ran a great race 12 months ago.
Declaration of War is the big European hope for Aidan O'Brien but as with many of the European runners has been on the go some time and with the added physical challenge of the journey to America he could have a difficult task. There is no doubting his form this season, though, which has seen him win the Queen Anne and Juddmonte International. I'm going with a Mucho Macho Man to win it.
The Mile market is dominated by odds-on favourite and Horse of the Year in the States, Wise Dan, who is trained in the US by Charles LoPresti. He is head and shoulders above the rest in the mile division over the pond, but has the best in the world to beat here. Mind you, he did just that by winning this race last year and seems to be getting better with age. He was beaten last time out, but wasn't suited by the late switch to an artificial surface and will suit the return to turf.
Could this race head back over the Atlantic? Reports from the Richard Hannon stable on their contender Olympic Glory have been very positive. The blinkers did the trick last time out when he won the QEII at Ascot and Richard Hughes said he railed like a scalextric car earlier in the week, he is drawn well on Saturday night so should take advantage of that stall. I'd love to see him win, but I think Wise Dan will be hard to beat.
John Gosden knows all about training in California as that is where he started out and he has given The Fugue the vote of confidence by declaring her for the Breeders' Cup Turf rather than taking the easier option in the Filly and Mare Turf. This is a race that European runners excel in as a race on the turf over this trip is more our cup of tea. The Fugue is an exceptional filly but was unlucky in the Filly & Mare Turf last year when she finished third and luck plays a big part in these types of races.
She bounced back from a disappointing run in the Eclipse, for which there were valid excuses, to win the Yorkshire Oaks and then beat the males in the Irish Champion Stakes last time out. Little Mike and Point of Entry were first and second in this last year (St. Nicholas Abbey was third). Little Mike returned to form last time out and Point of Entry is a smashing horse with an outstanding career record so far and can go well again.
St. Nicholas Abbey's trainer Aidan O'Brien has Magician in this, he is drawn wide in 11. Unlike some of the European runners, he hasn't had a busy season. He won the Dee Stakes (10f) on his first run back in May before success in the Irish Guineas. He then finished a disappointing last in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and has been off since. This is his first try over a mile and a half, though, and if he stays the trip can be a big danger to the selection The Fugue.
The Fugue's absence could have paved the way for Sir Michael Stoute to win the Filly and Mare Turf with Dank. She has the advantage of a run in the States in August when big race jockey Ryan Moore flew out to win on her in the Grade 1 Beverley D Stakes at Arlington. She is drawn bang on the inside in one and that could cause some problems for Moore who will have to negotiate a route through the crowd!
She showed a great turn of foot when winning last time out and is a worthy favourite here. Her main danger is another of the European runners, the Andre Fabre trained Romantica who is drawn next to her in gate two. Romantica will suit a return to this mile and a quarter trip having run a disappointing race last time out over 12f. She can follow home the improving Stoute filly for a European 1-2.
So, that's a look at some of the action in the States, but there is more international racing to look forward to with the race that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup, which takes place early on Tuesday morning. I watched the Caulfield Cup a couple of weeks ago and was really impressed with Marco Botti's Dandino.
He was drawn on the outside there (16 of 18) and jockey Craig Williams had to chart a wide passage on the six year old. He stayed on like a train in the final 200 metres to snatch second and the step up to two miles looks like it's what he wants nowadays.
He won the American St. Leger over 1m 6f on his penultimate start and looks to be in the form of his life. Ryan Moore jets in from Santa Anita to take the ride in a race that has eluded him so far.
He was on a luckless Mount Athos last year and Luca Cumani is also keen to win the race having gone close on more than one occasion. Craig Williams switches to Mount Athos who looks capable of giving Cumani that elusive win in this race.
At a much bigger price you wouldn't write off Red Cadeaux for Ed Dunlop. He's a lovely horse who has run well in two Melbourne Cups in the past and he is a real globetrotter. A couple of years ago he went agonisingly close, beaten a nose by Dunaden who runs again also. Brown Panther is fancied to run well, too, for owner Michael Owen and trainer Tom Dascombe.
There was good news for Willie Mullins as it's confirmed his Simenon gets in the race having looked doubtful to get a spot in the two-mile contest and champion jockey Richard Hughes rides. As befitting the world's richest handicap it's a tough one to call, but I fancy Dandino to run well and Red Cadeaux is my each way selection at a bigger price.
Beneficient in the Charlie Hall Chase @ 9/1 (each way) with Sky Bet
First Lieutenant in the JNWine.com Champion Chase @ 5/2 with Sky Bet
Mucho Macho Man in the Classic @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Wise Dan in the Mile @ 10/11 with Sky Bet
The Fugue in the Turf @ 2/1 with Sky Bet
Dank in the Filly and Mare Turf @ 7/4 with Sky Bet
Dandino in the Melbourne Cup @ 7/1 with Sky Bet
Red Cadeaux in the Melbourne Cup @ 40/1 (each way) with Sky Bet