A bumper card of action this Saturday with all fans of flat and jumps catered for with both codes featured in a rare mixed meeting at Haydock. There are also a couple more classic trials at Lingfield, which provided both the Derby and Oaks winners in 2019 while Ascot hosts a competitive card including the devilishly difficult Victoria Cup.
I really like the claims of JERSEY WONDER in Haydock’s opener, the Long Distance Hurdle. He developed into a useful stayer on the flat for Jamie Osborne before joining Oliver Sherwood for a jumps campaign. He was not disgraced on his first two starts but has made hay in handicaps since with victories at Fontwell and Exeter. His last win was over this near three-mile trip and plenty in hand, suggesting the 8lb rise will not overburden him and can expect improvement anyhow on just his fifth hurdles start at the age of five.
There are a few last time out winners to note, including Giovanni Change, Grand Morningand Ballyellis, while the trip is a doubt for another recent scorer, the Skelton’s Proschema and I am not sure they all have the same scope for improvement as the selection.
A tricky fillies’ contest first up at Ascot on Saturday over the straight mile.
Dreamloper was well fancied at Haydock on seasonal debut but was too keen early on to run her race and better can be expected at a track she has won at previously. She still remains capable of better, as is Conservatoire, whose winning run came to an end with a narrow defeat at Newcastle on her final start this season. It will be interesting to see how she kicks on after a winter break.
Hold Fast has won three of her last four on the all-weather and is up in the handicap again but preference is for LIGHTS ON for Sir Michael Stoute and Richard Kingscote. She bolted up at Nottingham just eleven days ago with both Separate and Poet’s Lady left trailing in her wake. She has a 7lb rise to defy but that does not look insurmountable and it’s hard to see the other pair reversing the form. She has never run a poor race in her five career starts and looks the likely type to progress significantly for the yard. I would expect to see her win this and return for the Sandringham Stakes at the Royal meeting.
John Gosden has won three of the last four running’s of this Oaks Trial including with subsequent Oaks heroine Annapurna two years ago. He saddles a pair here in Loving Dream and Regent. Loving Dream is the mount of Frankie Dettori and she chased home the impressive Noon Star at Wetherby who is as short at 10/1 for the Oaks next month while Regent is on a hat-trick after wining at Chelmsford under a penalty last time, but this is much tougher.
Ocean Road had no trouble getting off the mark back in December on the all-weather track here but may have to give up a fitness advantage to Technique and NASH NASHA.Technique ran a blinder in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom, but the form was badly let down at Chester when the winner of that race, Wirko, totally bombed out on Wednesday. She has proven she handles the undulations though that will stand her in good stead here. The pick though is NASH NASHA. She does have a bit to find on official ratings, but I was taken with her attitude at Sandown last time under a penalty against some beautifully bred fillies. Her experience helped here there but it was no easy task giving weight away and once she was joined, she kept finding more. That was over a stiff ten furlongs and the extra distance should hold no fears for this filly who is out of 100 Guineas winner Just The Judge.
Roger Varian has won three of the last ten renewals of the Listed Buckhounds Stakes and saddles an interesting one making his debut for the stable in Gold Maze. He has transferred from Jessica Harrington’s yard in Ireland having run credibly in Group races there but still only has a maiden victory to his name. A market watch is advised ahead for his chances.
Others with standout claims include the Sheikh Obaid owned pair of Without A Fight and Lost Eden. Lost Eden makes his turf debut after three runs on the all-weather, the last two were victories including by nine lengths at Lingfield last time. This will be a much stiffer assignment and is hard to be sure he deserves such a lofty rating but still retains a lot of potential. Without A Fight rattled off a hat-trick last season on a variety of ground and returned with a decent second to the impressive Al Aasy in the G3 John Porter at Newbury but still has almost two lengths to fin don ALBAFLORA on their meeting at this track in October. Albaflora was good enough to finish second in the Musidora last year on just her second start and in receipt of the filles’ allowance here is the one I want to side with.
Deja was very disappointing at Newbury when behind Without A Fight and usually runs well fresh so has little excuse while Roberto Escobarr is interesting on his York novice form that worked out well before he was well held in the Great Voltigeur. He has been given plenty of time to strengthen up and is worth each way interest if the market vibes are positive.
No colt has really stamped his authority on the Derby market from the trials so far this year, and arguably ADAYAR’s effort in defeat at Sandown was arguably the most eye-catching. He was the only horse to get involved form off the pace that day and the step up in trip looks sure to suit. He was devouring the rising ground there and while here is a question mark about him handling the track as such a big framed horse and the form being slightly let down at Chester on Thursday, there was enough promise in that performance to suggest he would learn a lot and take a giant leap forward.
This Debry trial is a race Aidan O’Brien has won three times in the last eight renewals including with the ill-fated 2019 hero Anthony Van Dyck. He saddles both the beautifully bred Kyprios and Carlisle Bay. Kyprios, who is a half-brother to dual Irish St Leger heroine Search for a Song as well as the likes of top class Free Eagle and Custom Cut, is the choice of Ryan Moore. He won a Cork conditions contest two weeks ago quite stylishly despite returning at 15/2 and has been the subject of positive reports since, while Frankie Dettori, fresh from his 1000 Guineas success for Coolmore, teams up with them again on Carlisle Bay. He was a winner in debut but has not been since finishing third in a Group 3 at Leopardstown in October. The yard's horses have tended to need their first start and cheekpieces are also reached for which tempers enthusiasm.
Scope is respected as Ralph Beckett usually sends his good 3yo’s to these trials, including winning the fillies version on a couple of occasions lately and he was a close second under a penalty at Newmarket at the Craven meeting.
The key to the Swinton Hurdle lies in a race a few miles west at Aintree four weeks ago where Rowland Ward beat Comprond by half a length. It was a good battle, and they were nicely clear of the third. They have gone up 10lb and 9lb respectively, but I am convinced COPPERLESS would have beaten them both but for departing two out. He was travelling so easily and just looked a case of when young Lewis Stone would press the button, but he dived at two out and came to grief. He has been put up 3lb so clearly caught the handicapper’s eye too and I expect compensation to come his way. His previous Taunton success also worked out and he looks a horse with quite a bit if upside in his mark.
Ballinsker has been well beaten the last twice (Betfair Hurdle and a Jumpers’ Bumper) but his trainer Evan Williams has won four of the last seven renewals and must be respected as his only representative while Defining Battle is interesting on just his fourth hurdle start for the Skelton’s having gone close on handicap debut at Ayr three weeks ago.
This Group 3 Fillies’ contest is often a target for overseas trainers and has caught the eye of Germany’s Andreas Wohler this year with his Axana. She won a listed contest at Hoppegarten five weeks ago and was a close second to Mark Johnston's Main Edition in the German 1000 Guineas two years ago. She looks to have live claims, as does Isabella Giles, who landed the Prestige Stakes and Rockfel Stakes as a juvenile. She gets the 3yo allowance and ran well in the Fred Darling on reappearance at Newbury.
Bounce The Blues has run in some good races since joining Andrew Balding from Ireland including chasing home Top Rank in the Doncaster Mile on seasonal return. However, this looks the perfect opportunity though for DOUBLE OR BUBBLE to continue a sharp upward trajectory in her first foray into group company. Chris Wall’s lightly raced filly was weak in the market before her return at Newmarket but picked up here she left off her 3yo career and the handicapper was suitably impressed to put her up 10lb. That rise puts her in the mix against the bets of these but with the promise of plenty more to come on jut her fifth start. She is unbeaten in three attempts at this trip and can continue climbing the ladder with victory here.
There are six places up for grabs with Betfred enhanced each way terms in the Victoria Cup and you’ll need them with twenty-nine runners stretched across the straight seven furlongs at the Royal racecourse with no less than eight previous course winners.
Acquitted was a late withdrawal from the Thirsk Hunt Cup last week and is interesting on his second at Doncaster in the Spring Cup. He chased home Palace Pier on his seasonal return last season but did not look the strongest finisher last time so the drop in trip should suit. Motakhayyel had his finest hour when winning the Buckingham Palace Stakes over track and trip at the Royal meeting but it is asking a lot to carry top weight to victory here under Jim Crowley, something that has not been achieved since 1988.
Fox Champion ran a promising return to action for a new yard when a close third at Haydock, just ahead of Dreamloper who runs in the first on the card. He is very well treated on his from for Richard Hannon and is a huge player if building on that.
I will have two goes in such a big field and the first is CHIEFOFCHIEFS. It as often been said there are not many better jockeys over the straight course at Ascot than Jamie Spencer and his style could be a match made in heaven for Chiefofchiefs. He is 1lb lower than when fourth in the International Stakes over track and trip in July after wining the Silver Wokingham at the Royal meeting over six furlongs. He stays a mile well and this trip could be ideal. He ran a good fifth in listed company on his return and has to go in the staking plan with a middle draw giving Spencer options.
There are many more with chances, including course specialist Raising Sand who is a standing dish in these straight course Ascot races and the 7lb claim of Saffie Osborne brings him right into the reckoning drawn on the stands’ side. Escobar usually runs his race here too and will get the strong pace he desires while Symbolize was a good second to Double Or Bubble (runs Lingfield 3.25) at Newmarket last time.
The other selection goes to KEYSER SOZE over on the far side from stall one. He is another regular in these contests and despite being often fancied, rarely lived up to the hype until finally wining over a mile here ten days ago. He is up 2lb but Angus Villiers negates that by now being able to claim 5lb so effectively he runs off the same mark. He is rated much higher on the all-weather and so often we see that form translate to the straight course here and if the draw isn’t a negative, he can also reach the first six and at a decent price for a yard just exiting from a quiet spell.
Just four go to post for the final ITV4 race at Lingfield over an extended seven furlongs.
Love Dreams is the only last time out winner of the quartet but that was in selling company at Wolves. The 7yo received no bids and will need more to win this.
Asad is still 8lb above his last wining mark but split two useful types at Chelmsford five weeks ago although both have been beaten since while Eton College was put in his place by Double Or Bubble (runs 3.25) at Newmarket last time but was a game winner prior to that at Musselburgh and wouldn’t be the first mark Johnston runner to bonce back from a below par run.
Ready preference though is for TURN ON THE CHARM. He was a dual winner last season at Kempton and Nottingham and went back to Colwick Park for seasonal return. There he bumped into Astro King and Nugget, who finished second and third in the Thirsk Hunt Cup last weekend with Royal Ascot runner-up Finest Sound in second. That form is very solid and with fitness brought on from that outing is fancied to give weight and a beating to his three rivals.
The final ITV4 race on a bumper day of action can go to GROUP ONE POWER for Andrew Balding and Silvester De Sousa. The team had a few disappointments this week at Chester but his one finally showed what he promised to delver last year when winning the City and Suburban at Epsom from a course specialist. He was fourth at Royal Ascot over this trip in June and was given a break after a below par effort on soft ground at Newmarket in July. That seemed to have benefited him as he did nicely on seasonal return and a 4lb rise does not look too harsh.
It is very competitive though as you would expect for an Ascot handicap. Labeeb has never been out of the frame in six starts but has four lengths to find on He’s A Keeper on 5lb better off, so there should not be much between that pair while Frontispiece is a former course winner who held his form well last year and runs off the same mark as when a sold fourth on return at Newbury. Lots have chances but the scope for improvement now Group One Power has a confidence boost tips the scales in his favour.