It's good to be back after a couple of weeks away and it's time to try and find some winners ahead of a competitive weekend's racing.
Whilst the big guns are putting the final touches on their Derby and Oaks hopefuls, we can look forward to cards from York, Haydock and Newmarket amongst others. One thing's for sure, the ground is unseasonably testing and the weather doesn't look like it's going to improve dramatically before Epsom.
On Thursday of this week some of the Derby/Oaks hopefuls had a look at the track at their Breakfast with the Stars morning and the consensus from some of the jockeys was that the ground was pretty soft. Plenty can happen in the time we have before the Derby, but it looks unlikely that we will be seeing a fast ground classic.
There were several gallops from which we learned something from some and nothing from others. There's nothing new there as some trainers use this exercise to give the horse a feel of the track and have no intention of doing a serious bit of work. Even taking that into account there were a couple of horses that showed up favourably.
One thing's for sure, the ground is unseasonably testing and the weather doesn't look like it's going to improve dramatically before Epsom.
Quotes of the week
One of those was Roger Varian's Kingston Hill. He has the benefit of a run under his belt this season when finishing 8th in guineas over an inadequate trip. He won the Racing Post Trophy on soft so there won't be any concerns over ground conditions for him. He appeared to work nicely under Andrea Atzeni over nine furlongs and anyone that fancied him beforehand wouldn't have been put off with what they saw. He is a 12/1 shot with Sky Bet and that looks like cracking each way value to me.
John Gosden's Western Hymn was another getting a feel of the track and he worked under William Buick. He's done nothing wrong on the track so far, he's unbeaten in three winning the Classic Trial Sandown on his latest start. There are a couple of worries with this horse, firstly his temperament as he looks quirky. Temperament hasn't stopped other colts winning this race in the past, but it is definitely a concern given the Derby Day atmosphere. Also, despite being by a Derby winner in High Chapparal, the dam's side of his page is a bit light on stamina and he is guaranteed to be a strong stayer.
One of the bigger priced runners that worked is Andrew Balding's Impulsive Moment. He stayed on in taking style to finish 2nd to Western Hymn in the Classic Trial at Sandown and is 66/1 with Sky Bet for the Derby. David Probert was in the plate there and he gets his first classic call up for boss Balding. He's a smashing lad and I hope the horse runs well for him. This horse maybe a massive price, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him run well and he will get through any testing ground.
To the Ballydoyle challenge and Aidan O'Brien says he could run four: Australia, Geoffrey Chaucer, Orchestra and Kingfisher. Australia has been a big talking horse with the Ballydoyle PR machine going into overdrive over this son of Galileo. His pedigree certainly screams 'Epsom' as his sire won the Derby and his dam, Ouija Board, won the Oaks. Despite that, and all the hype from his connections, he seems pretty short to me (evens with Sky Bet) especially when O'Brien confirmed he wouldn't want soft ground for the hot favourite.
There was money for the Aidan O'Brien second string Geoffrey Chaucer last week amidst rumours that he had worked better than Australia. O'Brien was keeping tight lipped about that when asked. Geoffrey Chaucer is now 7/1 with Sky Bet and given the prevailing conditions and the current prices I would be keener on him. Ryan Moore seems to be in line for the ride and that's another factor in punters' favour.On to the Oaks, and John Gosden took the opportunity to gallop Taghrooda under big race jockey Paul Hanagan. This filly is two from two on the track and won the Pretty Polly on her last outing. She seemed keen to get on with the job on Thursday so let's hope on raceday she doesn't get too hot, the ground wouldn't want to be too soft for her either. She is now 11/4 favourite with Sky Bet and there's plenty to recommend her.
She is from Sea the Stars' first crop of foals out of a mare than won over a mile to a mile and three quarters and if you have an antepost ticket for a double figure price you may be feeling quite smug right now, just hope that the ground dries out between now and next Friday. Ed Dunlop has been back amongst the winners of late, but there has to be a worry over the recent form of his horses for Amazing Maria's Oaks claims (she's 25/1). The filly hasn't run yet this season and did a steady piece of work under Frankie Dettori. There have to be worries over stamina too although her trainer says she is of a very high calibre.
David Simcock seemed pleased with Madame Chiang's gallop - she is bred for this type of trip and won the Musidora at York over ten furlongs last time out. There are no concerns over soft ground either and although it was reported that she changed to her right lead coming down the hill at Epsom, she is apparently a well balanced filly - William Buick rides. The O'Brien team could consist of 1000 Guineas flops Bracelet and Tapestry with last weekend's Irish Guineas winner Marvellous joining them, they are among four or five possible runners for the trainer. Marvellous has been well supported for the Oaks after her win last weekend and is now Sky Bet's 4/1 second favourite and, with a couple of weeks between the Curragh race and Epsom, she should have had time to get over those exertions.
Dermot Weld's Tarfasha, like Taghrooda, represents owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. She's currently 7/1, but may not line up if the ground is too testing. If she does take her chance I'd be interested as she is well related with the likes of Saddler's Rock and Galileo Rock amongst her half siblings so won't have any concerns over her ability to stay the trip. I'm holding fire over an Oaks selection until ground conditions become a little clearer.
The Pinnacle Stakes
Back to this weekend, then, and there's a decent card at Haydock. The first of their group races is the Pinnacle Stakes for fillies and mares over a trip just shy of a mile and a half. One thing is for sure you are going to need horses that handle soft ground at most of this weekend's fixtures. That's something Cubanita definitely does as she's won on heavy. Ralph Beckett's mare carries a 3lb penalty for her win in the Dubai Duty Free at Newbury and can be forgiven her unplaced effort in the Yorkshire Cup last time out as the 1m 6f trip seemed beyond her.
The Duby Duty Free form has been franked (or should that be 'Frankel'd'?!) as the horse she beat there, Noble Mission, has won a Group 1 in Ireland since. She's been very consistent this term and deserves to be favourite in this group 3. Sir Michael Stoute and Richard Hughes team up with Astonishing, who could only finish 4th in the Duty Free. However, that was her seasonal debut and only her 7th career start so she is entitled to improve further. A win for this well bred daughter of Galileo would earn her some valuable black type and make her a valuable breeding proposition.
Luca Cumani's Khione has taken the same route this season as Cubanita, finishing 5th in the Newbury race and then unplaced at York. This is her third run after almost a year off and she could run a better race here. David Simcock saddles last year's winner Moment in Time once again. Whilst she didn't win after that she ran some fair races in defeat including in Dubai and this is her first run since finishing 4th in the Dubai Gold Cup. The drop back to this trip and a return to Haydock could see another big run. Cubanita looks the class act and should take all the beating despite her penalty with last year's winner a threat.
The Timeform Jury Stakes...
...is run over seven furlongs and has attracted a field of nine, with Richard Fahey dropping Garswood in grade, after his disappointing 5th place in group 2 company over a mile at Sandown on his seasonal reappearance. He didn't seem to stay the trip on the ground there, but dropped back to this trip and this ground looks right up his street. He should do much better in this.
Frankie Dettori rides Eton Forever for Roger Varian. This trip on soft ground are his ideal conditions and for a horse that goes well fresh, he has had a suitable break since his reappearance win at Leicester last month. He was well beaten in this last year by Amarillo who runs again, but underfoot conditions are more in his favour on Saturday. Breton Rock has his first try at this level having won a listed race over course and distance last time out (Custom Cut just beaten in second for David O'Meara).
Custom Cut was a winner at this level when trained in Ireland just over a year ago and seems versatile regarding tactics. Tawhid has his first run since winning a listed race at Newbury on soft ground last September. The ground is the key to him and Kieren Fallon rides for Saeed bin Suroor. David O'Meara has a couple of chances as he also saddles Penitent, but this horse has a bit to find on current form. Everything seems in place for a good run from Eton Forever and he's my selection in this, with Garswood his main danger.
The Achilles Stakes...
There is also a decent listed race, the Achilles Stakes, over five furlongs with some familiar names in the line-up. Wokingham winner York Glory has his first run since September. This is a good starting point for him and trainer Kevin Ryan has always felt he can take a high order in group sprints, Richard Hughes rides. It would be apt if Swan Song were to win in the week that her dam Lochsong died. She comes here fresh from a win in a Conditions race at Chester's May meeting and whilst she has given some problems at the stalls in the past, she was fine that day and she's the sort of mare who could still be on the upgrade as her mother was at her best as she matured.
Noble Storm won this back in 2011 and more recently won at Thirsk earlier this month when allowed to dominate. He may not be able to do that here. Dinkum Diamond is a horse I've always liked. Henry Candy's 6 year-old is a dual winner at this level including in the Cammidge Trophy at Doncaster in March. He's effective on most grounds and over 5 and 6 furlongs. He should run well but has a 4lb penalty for that Doncaster victory.
Steps will enjoy the ground. Roger Varian has booked Kieren Fallon to ride the horse and has refitted the blinkers that were absent for his seasonal debut in a 5 furlong handicap at Newbury last month. Robert Cowell usually gets the best out of his sprinters and he saddles Graphic Guest. There could be more to come from this four-year-old for her new trainer for whom she has run three times. She hasn't run since May last year when she made her debut for the trainer when finishing a very good 2nd at Nottingham to Pearl Secret over this trip. She hasn't run badly on two starts since then at a higher level and I think she could offer some value here. It's a typically tricky sprint, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Graphic Guest run into a place and she's my each-way selection.
The Sandy Lane Stakes
Another of the listed contests, this time for three-year-olds over six furlongs. Richard Fahey's Parbold has a chance of winning his first race since breaking his maiden on debut at York in May last year. He has run some fine races in defeat since then and was placed in the Coventry, Vintage Stakes and in the Gimcrack as a juvenile. He hasn't been beaten too far in his two outings this season, but disappointed connections in the Free Handicap when only beating one and then was unlucky in running over 7 furlongs back at Newmarket last time out. He was desperately unlucky there and has a chance of compensation with this drop in trip on ground that suits.
Mick's Yer Man has been busier than most, but he looks as good as ever this term for Bill Turner. He can be forgiven his defeat at Goodwood last time out as that was over 7f and the drop back in trip will suit. Apparently he has settled down for a gelding operation over the winter. Frankie Dettori rides Shamshon for Richard Hannon, this horse has done all his winning over five furlongs. His trainer said after his reappearance win at York that he has plenty of speed and I worry on this ground, over this trip, that speed could be blunted.
Aeolus finished second to Night of Thunder on his final start at 2 and, while he never threatened the winner that day, it wasn't a bad effort on his step up from Nursery company. He didn't get the clearest of runs and finished third in the Free Handicap but since then has been well beaten over 7 furlongs again. This is his first run over 6f this term which on pedigree could suit. I'm going with Parbold to get his first win for a year.
Cubanita in the Pinnacle Stakes @ 11/4 with Sky Bet
Eton Forever in the Timeform Jury Stakes @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Graphic Guest in the Achilles Stakes (each way) @ 12/1 with Sky Bet
Parbold in the Sandy Lane Stakes
Geoffrey Chaucer in the Derby @ 7/1 with Sky Bet