I'm sitting at home watching hail stones batter my garden, which can mean only one thing...the British flat racing season is about to start.
Doncaster hosts the first meeting on the turf of 2014 and the Yorkshire track are expecting plenty of rain before Saturday. Mind you, they are not alone as Dubai prepares to stage the World Cup meeting at Meydan on Saturday they have also been getting some of the wet stuff, I'm guessing it's a bit warmer there mind you!
Let's have a look at the Lincoln then and a word of caution as trainer Roger Charlton is keeping a close eye on the weather before committing his Captain Cat to the race. If they are hit with the amount of rain that is forecast it's likely the ante-post favourite won't run. His form stacks up as he was only beaten a head by Robins Hood Bay at Lingfield on his last start and that horse won the Winter Derby last weekend. The draw was made on Thursday and historically a mid to high draw has been preferable, although it's not unheard of to win from a low draw as Levitate did twelve months ago from 3.
Richard Fahey bids to win the race again with his main hope Gabrial's Kaka who comes out of stall 16. The mile trip is ideal and however the ground rides it shouldn't bother him. He looks like a potentially progressive four year old and can't be overlooked. Off Art just squeezed into the race for trainer Tim Easterby and the bottom weight will come out of stall 14, good results all round. Speaking of progressive, this colt has only run four times in his life winning three of them. He's been given time to mature and if he can handle the hurly burly of a big field heritage handicap could run a huge race. The mile trip is fine and he won't mind the rain that is likely to fall.
Jeremy Noseda runs Consign and he will appreciate the rain as his best form has come with some cut in the ground. He had a run at Lingfield in February which should have knocked any rust off him. He's not a straightforward ride and wears a visor, but he has the excellent Graham Lee in the saddle and that's a bonus.
In form Andrew Balding is represented by Tullius and he has booked the excellent Oisin Murphy to ride who claims a valuable 3lbs. The apprentice has had the benefit of a winter in Australia and continues to impress. The horse comes out of stall 22. He is another horse that will benefit from the rain that is forecast and was a group 3 winner in 2012. He was lightly raced last season and didn't win in three starts on his return from injury.
Bronze Angle is interesting for Marcus Tregoning and Hayley Turner. He won the Cambridgeshire in 2012 off a mark of 95 and has dropped back to a reasonable mark. He wears the blinkers for the first time although he does have to overcome a low draw in 5. Levitate represents John Quinn and the horse is drawn in 8. He won this last year on his first start for Quinn off a mark of 90 and runs off 106 this time, although his trainer has booked a 7lb apprentice. He goes well at this track. One Word More deserves a mention for trainer Charlie Hills. He also likes some cut in the ground and has some decent juvenile form. I'm going to go for Off Art, his trainer is in good form and I'm delighted he just scraped into the handicap.
Close to my heart
I have to express a (very small) interest in one of the runners in the Spring Mile. I own a tail hair of one of the protagonists in this, Farlow, and I hope he can get a well deserved win. He is drawn well in 14 and had some decent form last season, hitting the crossbar at Newmarket in August. He seemed to stay 7 furlongs there and I hope that 1 mile won't be beyond his reach this year.....we will see, but I have to stick with him and will be cheering loudest of all. He won't be inconvenienced by softer ground.
Strength to strength
Dubai's World Cup meeting goes from strength to strength, but it's fair to say that the world's richest race has seen stronger line ups in the past. The World Cup is worth over £3.6 million to the winner, but bar the top couple in the market it lacks a bit of strength in depth, I think it's quite an open race though.
Sheikh Hamdan criticised the artificial tapeta surface this week saying it is putting off some of the best American horses from making the journey to the UAE. American trained horses tend to excel on dirt, but I think that surface can be hard on horses and it will be interesting to see where they go with this in future. The lack of dirt seems to attract the runners from elsewhere around the globe though but as the tapeta surface has been down a few years it appears it isn't ageing well.
It hasn't put Aidan O'Brien off running last year's Derby winner Ruler of the World who heads the market for the mile and a quarter Group 1. A half share in this colt was bought by Shiekh Joann Al Thani's Al Shaqab racing earlier this week and he will run in his new shareholder's colours. The four year old has his first run since his third place in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October. He promises to be a top class four year old and that Ascot run was perhaps one of his best. He hasn't been given the kindest of draws though and is out in 12.
Military Attack is an interesting runner and is favourably positioned in stall 8. This horse started life in the Lambourn valley trained by John Hills and known as 'Rave'. He was a smart handicapper and then was sold to Hong Kong and his name was changed (this is common practice for horses sold to Hong Kong). He took a while to warm to his task over there, but in the last twelve months has flourished and is now the winner of six races since his transfer, two at international Group 1 level in the QEII Cup and the Singapore Airlines International Cup where he was very impressive.
At the age of 6, John Moore's gelding seems better than ever. Akeed Mofeed was behind Military Attack last time out at Sha Tin, but on the whole is a smart performer who won the Kong Kong Cup in December, a race in which Military Attack didn't get the best of runs and wasn't able to mount a serious challenge.
Prince Bishop has the inside draw, but the assistance of Kieren Fallon for Saeed bin Suroor. He has had a good carnival winning both rounds 2 and 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge. First time up he beat African Story (also Saeed bin Suroor) who covered more ground than the winner and then he beat Sanshaawes last time out and it's not unfair to say that both runners up have a chance of reversing the form.
African Story did finish lame last time out though after a disappointing effort. Sanshaawes is trained by Mike de Kock and merits plenty of respect in this. Ron the Greek has been handed the widest stall of all, but has claims despite that at a decent price. Sir Michael Stoute doesn't have too many runners in Dubai, but when he does it's worth taking notice (remember Singspiel in 1997?). He saddles Hillstar and Ryan Moore rides. Stoute says he's been happy with the horse since arriving in Dubai and with just 8 runs and two wins under his belt could have more to offer as an older horse.
I notice in the week he has been working with a hood fitted, but he hasn't been declared to wear one in the race. He can be very keen. William Haggas runs Mukhadram for owner Sheikh Hamdan (who was critical of the surface). He had some major scraps last season, quite often with Al Kazeem, but he seems to prefer to make the running and could be vulnerable from stall 13.
My love for Red Cadeaux will continue this season. He has run some brilliant races for trainer Ed Dunlop at massive prices in some of the world's leading races and he can't be written off here. He was second in this race twelve months ago and appears to have been moving well in his work in Dubai.
I have to put him up as an each way selection, but he's drawn wide and it could be heart ruling head. Side Glance is another horse who has done his connections proud. He is trained by a man who could not be in better form at the moment in Andrew Balding (most of his horses are hitting the bullseye - On Demand aside!) and this horse was fourth here last year and should be sharper for his reappearance at Meydan earlier this month.
He's Sky Bet's outsider of the field at 33/1 and could be a great each way bet. You can't discount the Japanese runners either. Belshazzar and Hokko Tarumae have form at the highest level on dirt, but have to show they handle this different surface. I like Military Attack, Sanshaawes and of course Red Cadeaux, but Military Attack gets the nod with an each way bet on Ed Dunlop's globetrotter.
Elsewhere on Meydan's card I like Magician in the Dubai Sheema Classic for Aidan and Joseph O'Brien. His only defeat last season came in the St James's Palace Stakes where there were excuses and he ended the season with a sensational win in the Breeders' Cup Turf where he beat The Fugue. Speaking of The Fugue, she has a good chance of winning the Dubai Duty Free but she has to prove she is as effective at 9 furlongs.
Vercingetorix has no such problems as he won over course and distance last time out albeit in controversial circumstances that saw the third placed jockey handed a lengthy suspension. He could be the one for Mike de Kock. Medicean Man has his work cut out to win the Al Quoz Sprint, but I've followed him closely this winter and he could be a decent each way punt. He's 14/1 with Sky Bet and has been in blazing form for trainer Jeremy Gask of late. He's effective on the turf and tapeta and is in the form of his life. Toast Of New York has been pleasing trainer Jamie Osborne in his preparation for the UAE Derby. It's hard to be confident given his form in weak races on the all weather in the UK lasy Autumn, but he's a big strong horse and there should be more to come. He can't be written off and could be another horse that offers each way value.
Variety Club has been given a moderate draw in the Godolphin Mile, but you have to admire the Joey Ramsden trained horse. He won a Group 3 on this tapeta surface on his debut in Dubai having had an unorthodox trip to the UAE. However, he was beaten at odds on last time out and has had a busy six weeks. six weeks. I think fellow South African trained Soft Falling Rain has a good chance of winning the race for the second successive year for that man again, Mike de Kock.
So, flat racing fans are in their element this weekend, but watch out, it's the Grand National meeting at Aintree next week....see you then.
Off Art in the Lincoln Handicap @ 10/1 with Sky Bet
Farlow in the Spring Mile @ 9/1 with Sky Bet
Military Attack in the Dubai World Cup @ 13/2 with Sky Bet
Magician in the Dubai Sheema Classic @ 5/2 with Sky Bet
Vercingetorix in the Dubai Duty Free @ 7/1 with Sky Bet
Medicean Man in the Al Quoz Sprint @ 14/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Toast Of New York in the UAE Derby @ 10/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Soft Falling Rain in the Godolphin Mile @ 7/2 with Sky Bet