Weatherbys preview: the start of the flat season
Some of us have been waiting for this day for months, and now it's finally arrived - the flat season begins on Saturday, with the showpiece race being the William Hill Lincoln Heritage Handicap, running at Doncaster.
Paul Jones, our Weatherbys expert tipster, brings you his thoughts on the big races from both Doncaster and Kempton.
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|3:35 Kempton||Read preview||Bet now|
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Twenty-two unraced juveniles line up for the Brocklesby where the only advice I can give if you must have a bet is to look for stables that do well in this race or with early-season two-year-olds generally.
I imagine there will be plenty of interest in Bill Turner’s Could It be Magic who is only five spots away from the stands’ rail which is always a help for newcomers given his has had three winners and two placed horses from his last ten runners in the race.
Another trainer to win this recently is Richard Fahey who runs Eight Hours and Barry Hills’ early-season juveniles are to be respected and he runs Swilly Ferry from just one off the stands’ rail.
Given his very high draw in tandem with how well the stable’s horses are going right now, he might be the one.
After a slow start to last season, Mark Johnston appears to have made a concerted effort to make a better fist of the opening few months of the 2009 season and his horses have been flying on the All-Weather so I would expect Effort to be forward enough to more than do himself justice on his first run for 152 days and think he can go well.
The one to beat, however, could well be Noverre To Go who runs off the same mark as when successful at Great Leighs on his last start.
That may have only been a four-runner affair and he won by only a neck hence the handicapper’s reluctance to raise him but he won pretty cosily for my money so I reckon he is ahead of the handicapper here.
The top two in the handicap Five Star Junior and Smokey Ryder have been hit hard by the handicapper for multiple successes and paid for it on their last start so I find it hard to believe they have something in hand but I would respect Daddy’s Gift who was second for the Hannon yard on his return and their horses do generally improve a run in the last few seasons.
It’s a guessing game regarding the draw especially as the track was re-laid two years back and they seem confident they have eradicated any draw bias.
Mangham had been laid out for the William Hill Lincoln since winning last August so they will be gutted he failed to make the cut by one hence his position of top weight here.
I would have to respect him given he has been trained for this day but would much rather have backed him off bottom weight in the big one than off top weight in this equally competitive handicap.
I will suggest one drawn high and low as I don’t like supporting centrally-drawn horses in big-field handicaps on straight courses too much as they either lose ground switching to one side or if they stay in the centre there is usually a smaller group and therefore less pace where they are.
The horse drawn low to interest me most would be Invincible Force who won a big-field handicap here in November and had a warm-up for this (or most likely the William Hill Lincoln) when a fair fourth on his only subsequent start given he reared up coming out of the stalls.
Of those drawn high I most like the chance of Spectait who has won with something to spare on his last three starts and, given his hold-up style of racing, I think he may still be ahead of the handicapper and more than capable of defying a 5lbs penalty from the highest stall of all but would need luck in running.
Michael Jarvis’ record in handicaps at the metropolitan tracks in the first part of the season is first class and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Cape Express became yet another and won the williamhill.com Rosebery Stakes.
He looks just the type with which his trainer excels too being a lightly-raced four-year-old having won his last two starts (from just three races all told) and although he has gone up 13lbs for his last decisive win by six lengths, he ran green on that occasion so the likelihood is that there is much more to come.
Opera Prince is an interesting alternative for the Sylvester Kirk yard I have plenty of time for.
The stable’s horses are running well presently and he was value for much more than his narrow margin of victory on his final start of last season (a nose) as he was badly hampered plus he also demonstrated an excellent turn of foot which is what keeps horses ahead of the handicapper.
They would be my pair against the field.
Prime Defender is better than a Listed class horse at his best so, if fit and right and having his favoured quick surface, he can win the Cammidge Trophy.
He was weak in the betting when fourth in this race last season running like he was in need of the run but the Barry Hills horses are in better form entering this season’s Lincoln Meeting than 12 months ago and I fancy him to win here providing the ground stays good as that surface is important to him.
The current good-to-firm if it stays that way would be ideal and then he can show his class (was only beaten two lengths in the July Cup).
My main worries would be Knot In Wood who had been in such good form when last seen just under six months ago and Vitznau who may well have won on his first run since August three weeks ago but for hanging to his right (was only beaten a head).
In short though, Prime Defender is much the best horse if he gets a decent racing surface and I like the fact his stable are in much better form entering this meeting than last season.
Maybe the best percentage play is Bronze Cannon who ran a fine third in last weekend’s Winter Derby so we know he is fit and in-form and his stable are also going very well plus he receives a handy 3lbs from two of his main rivals in Re Barolo and Dansant.
The impression left at Lingfield was that the run may bring him on (was his first of the season) plus he probably went wider than ideal.
However, I like Kandidate’s each-way chance providing all eight stand their ground and I am not surprised he runs here rather than in the Lincoln as he 3-4 at the track including two wins on this very card when winning a Rosebery Handicap and then taking what appeared to be a strong running of this race last season.
I think you can put a line through his running in the Winter Derby last week as he jumped a shadow plus front running on that track is far more difficult than at Kempton.
In short, Bronze Cannon would be my idea of the most likely winner with Kandidate the each-way value.
Historically low numbers fare best in the William Hill Lincoln especially so on soft ground but they re-laid the track two years ago and reckon they have got rid of the bias so I wouldn’t let that affect me too much.
As always though, I do prefer horses in these big handicaps on straight courses that are drawn one side or the other and not in the centre.
If you want a draw angle then wait until the Spring Mile is run and then take a judgement.
I think Expresso Star will be very well tipped up and be backed into around 7/2 and he runs here in preference to a Listed race at Kempton on the same afternoon and the stable have hit the gates running so he may well hack up but plenty of these supposed 'Group horses in handicaps' do get beaten so, purely on terms of value, I won’t be backing him from a middle-ish draw (9 of 22) but obviously he is a huge player.
Of the other leading fancies, Swop could also be a little better drawn coming out of stall 15.
My idea of the best bet is Zaahid each-way from stall 2 unless high numbers dominate the Spring Mile earlier on the card.
Barry Hills gets his horses ready for this meeting and last season’s fourth in the Spring Mile after failing to get in the William Hill Lincoln for which he was ante-post favourite improved to win the Victoria Cup and is racing off just a 4lbs higher mark.
Unplaced on his subsequent three starts in big handicaps but the draw went completely against on two of those occasions so that would not concern me and the yard has been going well lately.
His stablemate Huzzah is definitely feared as is Charm School but, at the prices, Zaahid would be my idea of the best each-way shot.
At bigger prices, Docofthebay is interesting at around 25/1 as he has dropped back to the same mark as when narrowly beaten in last season’s Hunt Cup and Blythe Knight is off a 2lbs lower mark than when second last season so I wouldn’t be totally ruling him out of hitting the frame again although softer ground would aid his cause more.