Weatherbys' weekend racing preview
Paul Jones of Weatherbys previews this weekend's televised races. Read his thoughts below:
At this stage of the season I do feel it is important to latch onto the yards that have hit the gates running so although Pipette may eventually prove herself to be the best of these, it may be wiser trusting the Gosden filly Clairvoyance who won over course and distance nine days ago. As usual the Gosden horses have got off to a quick start and she bolted up in a maiden by six lengths last week so is also proven on this surface whereas Pipette's two promising runs (including in a Listed race last time) have been on turf so I would narrowly prefer Clairvoyance. Clive Brittain also has his string in top order so early in the season so this is no two-horse race as Bint Doyen also comes right into this. Clarietta and Bella Swan arguably have the best form going into the race but neither have had a run this season and their stables have been a little quiet so far.
Heavy ground is forecast for Haydock and when it gets testing there, horses have to stay extra well and of course handle the ground so perhaps this will be Calatagan's day who handles testing ground and stays further. Outclassed in the Grand Annual last time, he is no longer in that league but is a useful chaser on his day on the northern circuit and James Halliday's 5lbs claim will help in the conditions. Zafranagar has bottom weight which is always a plus in these conditions and is in form to boot coming off a win and has soft-ground winning form at Cheltenham so I couldn't put anyone off looking twice at him either. Numide ran an interesting race in the Imperial Cup bombing off into a clear lead before being readily caught but is talented on his day as won a Greatwood Hurdle on bad ground and also was not beaten far in the French Derby so is another to consider.
Again I'm going to let early-season trainer form dictate so would put up a preference for Gumnd for the in-form Clive Brittain yard even though he is lowest-rated horse in the field so he could start at a bit of value. He made all to win at Wolverhampton last time which were new tactics so he could take a bit of catching round here if not pressed for the early lead if they try the same tactics again (be mad not to) particularly in receipt of 8lbs from the form horse Classic Colori. If all six stand their ground and he is an each-way price, he is interesting. Azzizzi also represents an in-form yard in that of Willie Haggas who won the Lincoln and a Listed race last weekend so he should also be tuned up though first-time blinkers first time out could light him up too much. I usually prefer to watch the Hannon runners first time out so it will be interesting to see which way Planet Red goes in the betting.
This will be a real stamina test and I like Himalyan Trail's chances of following up his comfortable victory at Haydock last week for Sue Smith who has a terrific record in these staying handicap chases in the north. A former winner of the Midlands National, Himalayan Trail will relish this stamina test (3m, heavy ground, stiff track) and looked a happy horse again for the first time in a long while last week so could easily strike again whilst in this kind of form and mood. He may have been raised 12lbs for his easy win last week but he is still only 1lb higher than when he won the Midlands National by 22 lengths and this 125-rated horse was rated as high as 140 when falling at the first fence in last season's Grand National so is handicapped to go very well if keeping his form. Antonius Caesar won this race by five lengths last season off 120 and runs off 121 this time around with Peter Toole taking off an other 5lbs so he has to be on the short list again especially as I would think this would have been a long-term aim for him. Although he is 13 years of age we can never rule out Huka Lodge around here either as he runs the course well and was a winner here back in November but it's Himalayan Trail for me.
A Listed race for older fillies and mares that first came into the calendar five years ago, it is worth noting that all winners were very well fancied. This looks competitive even though on official ratings Shamwari Lodge, Chantilly Tiffany and Please Sing have a healthy class advantage. Chantilly Tiffany was second at 33/1 to the odds-on Heaven Sent in this race two years ago and there is no filly of Heaven Sent's class in this race this year and she clearly comes to hand very early as also won the Wood Ditton as 2yo first time out and now she is with John Gosden rather than Ed Dunlop which is a big positive as he gets them ready early in the season. Many of these are all-weather horses hoping to sneak some black type for finishing placed so maybe it is not as competitive as first appears. Shamwari Lodge is the form filly but the Hannon horses often improve for their first run so maybe a bigger danger could be Island Sunset who is 4-4 in her career and Willie Muir's filly is also race fit having won eight days ago and is a course and distance winner.
Will Be Done has disappointed me this season as he was such a tough, genuine novice last campaign but the McCain horses have really come good of late and I can see him finding his best form as a result so am not totally giving up on him yet but the downsides are that he is carrying 11st 12lbs in the testing conditions and he is taking on two highly progressive chasers in Salut Flo and Lease Lend. Salut Flo looked particularly exciting on his British debut for David Pipe and was being talked of as a horse to back at the Festival but he gave the meeting a miss and probably wouldn't have squeezed into the handicaps anyway. I think it is interesting to note that horses that have gone up the most have a higher winning strike-rate next time out than others which suggests very easy winners are so hard for the handicapper to get a hold of and even serious weight rises such as in Salut Flo's case are not enough.
Competitive but I think we have to seriously consider Kyllachy Star off bottom weight and sporting first-time blinkers as the Fahey-Hanagan combo have fired in seven winners in the last week including five in really competitive races at the two-day William Hill Lincoln Meeting and then had a double at Southwell so they are red hot right now which is so important at this stage of the season. Their hot streak will have not gone unnoticed of course so he may not be the price his form suggests he should be but if the first-time blinkers have the desired effect he has to be a big player here. Moreover, as this is a £30K handicap I just wonder if his two runs this season were sighters for this far more valuable prize especially as this is their only runner on the card. The Scorching Wind is also interesting if we can forgive his last run as he beat the re-opposing Brave Echo back in late January under William Carson and they have jocked the same 3lbs claimer up here unlike when below par last time out. Another horse to interest me is Mark Johnston's Dubai's Touch as he is a course winner and now tries a first-time visor which often works a treat with Johnston horses including in a £100K handicap at Glorious Goodwood last year. His run in the William Hill Lincoln as a 66/1 shot last week may just have been a prep for this back on a track he won a Listed race on. He could also be each-way value.