There are top class cards this weekend at both Sandown and Haydock with the feature race the Coral-Eclipse taking place at the Esher track.
Earlier in the week the ground at Sandown was described as no worse than good with it not expected to ride much worse than that on Saturday. So You Think is Sky Bet's 5/6 favourite for the Eclipse on what will be his swansong. After this run, win lose or draw, he will be retired to take up stallion duties back in Australia where he is revered having won five races at the highest level including two victories in the Cox Plate before joining Aidan O'Brien with a huge reputation.
I have to admit I wasn't convinced by the horse when he came over here and Aidan O'Brien, the professional he is, blamed himself for the horse not living up to the hype until recenty. To be fair he hasn't done much wrong and if he wins this race he will have six Group Ones to his name since joining the Ballydoyle stable. Not bad for a horse who has had his critics since switching hemispheres.
Andrew Balding's highly strung colt Bonfire won the Dante but was a disappointing sixth in the Derby where it's felt the unconventional track didn't suit him.
Quotes of the week
He looked awesome in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot last month and he deserves to be a short price here. However, the horse who finished third to him at the Royal meeting looks a potential threat to his perfect farewell. Farhh has been supplemented for this contest at a cost of £30,000 by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team and if there is rain around that won't harm his chances. He is 4/1 for this and is an exciting progressive horse. He went into Ascot unbeaten in three and took the step up from handicap company in his stride (he had won the Thirsk Hunt Cup on his previous outing off a mark of 100). He did his chances no good by rearing as the stalls opened and didn't get a clear run when he needed it. He is a son of Pivotal and they generally like some cut in the ground and if the ground is on the soft side it could be worth taking the favourite on here.
John Gosden's King George winner Nathaniel (11/2) will make his seasonal reappearance in this having missed his intended run in the Brigadier Gerard as he wasn't 100%. It's not ideal although he hails from a stable in great form and will be ridden by a man at the top of his game in William Buick. Citscape and Bonfire are both 10/1 chances and the latter looks the flagbearer for the classic generation in this. Andrew Balding's highly strung colt won the Dante but was a disappointing sixth in the Derby where it's felt the unconventional track didn't suit him. Although they want to step him back up to a mile and a half in the future, this 10 furlongs will suit him well and I think he is the each way bet in this. He has apparently been working well at his trainer's Kingsclere stables and he has come in for support this week.
Dubai Duty Free winner Cityscape represents Roger Charlton who has also reported the horse to have been working well. 14/1 shot Crackerjack King is a horse we don't know much about. He is now with the talented Newmarket trainer Marco Botti having been previously trained by Stefano Botti in Italy where he won the Italian Derby last year and comes here having won a Group One last time out beating Luca Cumani's Afsare. He needs to find some improvement but he could well do and run into a place. I'd like to see So You Think go out on a high, but I'll be with Bonfire each way at the prices.
Staying at Sandown and Trade Commissioner is the likely favourite for the one mile Challenge Handicap. He is trained by John Gosden with William Buick in the plate and he is worthy of plenty of respect here for a trainer who has a good record in big handicaps like the Cambridgeshire later in the season. This horse has only run four times in his life, winning two of those starts in a maiden at Sandown and then a handicap at Salisbury for which he was raised 12lbs by the handicapper. However, he is bred to be smart being a son of Montjeu out of a mare called Spinning Queen who was bought for 3 million guineas after a racing career that saw her win the Group One Sun Chariot on her final start. This horse has apparently had problems, hence his lightly raced profile, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him progress through the ranks as the season goes on.
Of his potential rivals I'd keep an eye on Ibtahaj for Saeed bin Suroor. He has won his last two and is another lightly raced progressive type. He has a very attractive weight in this race and although he is just a three year-old they catch up with their elders from here on in and that isn't a concern. Like Trade Commissioner he looks the type to progress into pattern company later in the year.
As it's name suggests the Charge is a tricky looking five furlong Group Three. It looks wide open and at a likely double figure price Caledonia Lady is one to keep on the right side of. Her trainer Jo Hughes is in very good form at the moment and she has booked dual champion Paul Hanagan to ride. Hanagan has been out of action for a week after suffering a bruising fall, but he is booked to ride on Friday and hopefully will be ok. The horse was only beaten 5 1/4 lengths in the Group One King's Stand at Royal Ascot and was staying on in determined fashion and as a three year-old gets a 5lbs weight for age allowance in this Sandown race. She isn't up to Group One company, but as a smart listed performer she won't be out of her depth in this Group Three. She is my each way selection.
Haydock's feature is the Lancashire Oaks and the rather inappropriately (for a filly) named Testosterone is the highest rated for Ed Dunlop. Previously trained in France by Pascal Bary she won three races and finished second to Galikova in the Group One Prix Vermeille before being well beaten in the Arc. She was then bought for 1.2m guineas last Autumn (no doubt as a potential broodmare) and has had just the one run for Dunlop in the Hardwick where she beat one home. I wouldn't be put off by that effort though as she was keen on her first run of the season and is entitled to improve in a bid to recapture her best. It's worth bearing in mind that Dunlop has a fine record with his racemares - the likes of Snow Fairy and Ouija Board bear testament to that - so she is in capable hands.
Set to Music is another of the protagonists for Michael Bell and Jamie Spencer. The Queen's filly won the Warwickshire Oaks last time out and she will enjoy the ground at Haydock. Shimmering Surf beat Set to Music over this course and distance last time out and has improved for Roger Varian this season. It's fair to say the second filly was unlucky not to give her more to do on that occassion and the form of both looks solid.
Hawaafez hasn't run since winning a listed race at Newbury in May and there must have been a little problem because after that victory her trainer Marcus Tregoning was keen to run her in the Ascot Gold Cup. He also said she would be suited by better ground which she hasn't got here and I wonder if staying will be her forte. I'm hoping Testosterone can recapture some of her better French form which would see her being well capable of winning this for Ed Dunlop.
The big betting race at the track is the Old Newton Cup and Lexi's Boy is a leading contender for Donald McCain. It takes a brave punter to take on McCain in these big flat handicaps as the trainer is winning plenty of them, including the Northumberland Plate last weekend. He has been raised 10lbs for his recent win in the Cumberland Plate and looks dangerous off a light weight in this mile and a half handicap. Franciscan represents Luca Cumani, another trainer to have on your side in these types of races. He is a progressive horse with a bright future. Cumani also has a horse higher up the weights, Fiery Lad, who won a handicap on Derby day at Epsom on his last start.
However, soft ground wouldn't be his cup of tea and I'd be more keen on his stablemate. Roger Charlton's Cry Fury is a horse that interests me. He made his seasonal reappearance in a 10 furlong handicap at Epsom last time out and that was only his 7th career start. He ended last season with a disappointing effort in the Cambridgeshire, but his last run was encouraging and there could be more to come. Number Theory has become something of a track specialist for his trainer John Holt (who is based in Leicestershire). This horse has a record at Haydock that reads 3 wins, 1 second and 2 thirds from 6 starts. He can't be ruled out at his favourite course. So in summary, I'm loath to oppose Lexi's Boy who has been good to me in the past, but I think I'm with Cry Fury here in a red hot handicap.
Bonfirein the Eclipse (each way)
Ibtahaj in the Challenge
Caledonia Lady in the Charge
Testosterone in the Lancashire Oaks
Cry Fury in the Old Newton Cup