Racing Expert & Columnist
Alex Hammond weekly racing blog
Last Updated: 24/05/17 5:53pm
Sky Sports News presenter Alex Hammond picks out her best bets ahead some top-class action at Haydock and the Curragh.
With all the major Derby trials now run how do you sum up the Epsom picture? Is there a standout candidate for you?
I think what makes the Derby more exciting this season from a punting perspective is that there isn't one standout candidate. That doesn't mean there isn't a colt I fancy to win, just that there is a touch more value around than in some years. It could also be a reflection that it isn't the strongest of years for the famous race and some of the gloss was taken off with the news that Aidan O'Brien is aiming 2000 Guineas winner Churchill at this weekend's Irish 2000 Guineas rather than taking a leap into the unknown by stepping up to a mile and a half. O'Brien is still in it with a strong hand, but this time with the numbers game as he has several colts left in the race. His leading contender Cliffs Of Moher has obvious claims and should improve from Chester where he won the Dee Stakes. He'll need to though as he didn't strike me as a Derby winner in the immediate aftermath of that Listed win. However, in a weakened year, that doesn't mean he won't be.
The colt that stands out for me though is John Gosden's son of Frankel, Cracksman. It was disappointing that he missed the Dante, but I can understand his trainer didn't want him to have a hard race on unsuitable ground so close to the Classic. He had a stroll round Epsom on Tuesday at their Breakfast With The Stars morning and whilst he wasn't asked a really serious question, the trip out in a horsebox and all that a racecourse gallop entails will have brought him forward again. It's also a bonus that he is proven around the track at Epsom. As you're aware, the cambers of the track don't suit every horse and it takes that element of doubt away. At 4/1 with Sky Bet at the moment, he'll do for me.
Interestingly, it's the horse that finished fourth in the Dee Stakes that could offer a bit of value for each-way punters. Mirage Dancer looks the type to progress for Sir Michael Stoute and in an open year he could run into a place if allowed to take his chance at Epsom. He's currently 16/1.
Huge win for Ribchester and Richard Fahey in the Lockinge, could he dominate the mile division this summer or could you see him stepping up in trip?
It was fantastic to see Ribchester win so well for fellow columnist Richard Fahey. Richard is completely unassuming and modest and admitted after the Lockinge to suffering from a few nerves beforehand. He deserves a top-class horse and in Ribchester he has one. He has always had a great deal of faith in this horse and the four year old continues to impress. The fact the race didn't go to plan from the off speaks volumes about him (the likely pacemaker completely missed the break), and he was able to cut out his own running to win impressively for a second victory at the highest level. As for future plans, he has plenty of options. Last season his trainer said he has so much speed he could run over 6/7 furlongs, but he also has plenty of stamina on the dam's side of his pedigree which bodes well for a step up in trip; his dam is a half-sister to a group winner over 1m 6f. So, if Churchill proves to be a real superstar over a mile, then this colt would have no problem stepping up in trip if need be.
There are so many options, it's a nice problem to have and I hope he bags another 'biggie' before the leaves fall from the trees. That biggie could be the Queen Anne, which looks his for the taking at the moment and he is currently 7/4 favourite for that race on the opening day of Royal Ascot.
It looks as though Churchill will be staying at a mile for the time being and he runs in the Irish 2,000 Guineas this weekend. Is this a penalty kick and would you have rather seen him in the Derby?
Yes, speaking of Churchill, he looks a shoo-in at the Curragh on Saturday and his price reflects that (4/11 with Sky Bet). He won't enhance his reputation by winning Saturday's race, but I suppose that running in the Derby could have set him back if things didn't go well. His pedigree doesn't scream stamina, but it's not totally lacking in it, so it's interesting they haven't taken the gamble. The decision makers at Ballydoyle must really feel the mile and a half won't suit this son of Galileo because adding the Derby to his CV wouldn't have been detrimental and he could always have dropped back in trip once Epsom was out of the way. Aidan O'Brien said after his Guineas win that he didn't feel the Derby trip would be an issue as he's such a relaxed horse and Galileo's generally stay well, but we won't find out next weekend so move on we must.
Winter isn't quite as short as Churchill in the Irish 1,000 Guineas betting, but is her task as straightforward?
Not quite as short no, but still 4/5 at the time of writing. Her win in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket clearly wasn't a surprise to those close to the yard as the punt in the days running up to the race wasn't misguided. She stayed well at Newmarket to beat her new stablemate Rhododendron, who isn't short of stamina herself and is a leading contender for the Oaks. She will probably take all the beating again, but there are one or two fillies in the race that can give her a run for her money.
Mick Halford's Rehana wasn't far behind Winter on their seasonal debut's when second and third to Hydrangea in a Group 3 at Leopardstown (1000 Guineas Trial). She was kept at that level last time out when a comfortable winner and she is interesting stepping back into Group 1 company. She has a lovely attitude and looks a really honest filly and I'd rather back her at 9/2 than the odds-on favourite and take the chance that she can reel in her old rival.
The big race in England this weekend is the Temple Stakes at Haydock, which speedster are you hoping to see turn up in the North West?
Who turns up will be dependent on the weather. As I'm sitting here on a gloriously sunny day in the South it's hard to imagine it will be anything other than good to firm at Haydock on Saturday. In her role as weather expert for the team at ITV Racing I've called on the expertise of my friend Lucy Verasamy who tells me it's set to be hot and dry in the run-up to Saturday's race although humid and thundery air could bring a risk of rain on Saturday, which if it hits the track, may well be too late for some. That will be music to the ears of some of the trainers, but no so much for Karl Burke, who is hoping to give his star mare Quiet Reflection her first run of the season in the five-furlong Group 2. It seems she will bypass the race if the rain misses the track and if she does run it will be a drop back to five furlongs for the first time since her juvenile days and her penalty would see her have to give weight to all of her rivals.
The forecast is good news for Aidan O'Brien, who wants quick ground for Washington DC. I prefer his stablemate Acapulco though and she is proven on firm ground as well as a more forgiving surface. She made a winning start for Ballydoyle at the Curragh a couple of weeks ago having left Wesley Ward, for whom she won the Queen Mary and finished runner-up in the Nunthorpe as a juvenile. She will be at the top of my shortlist if she runs here. She is also entered for a Group 2 at the Curragh on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see where she goes. Washington DC is also in the Irish race.
Robert Cowell is another trainer that will be pleased with the forecast. He will be doubly represented with Encore D'Or and Goldream and both prefer fast ground. Cowell is brilliant with his sprinters and both are capable of a bold show on their day. Goldream won the Abbaye a couple of seasons ago and showed improved form on his reappearance last time out behind another Abbaye winner in Marsha. Encore D'Or has shown his best form on an artificial surface so far and ran well on All Weather Finals Day at Lingfield last month. Clive Cox's Priceless has form on faster ground and is also at home with some ease in underfoot conditions. She has a bit to prove on her last run but isn't out of the reckoning as the way the race was run there didn't suit.
It's a fascinating event and Acapulco is my main choice - in her absence I'll be backing Goldream at 5/1 and 8/1 respectively with Sky Bet.