Saturday sees two important races in two different countries, and both look fascinating for different reasons.
At Newcastle we have the John Smith’s Northumberland Plate, a Class 2 Handicap run over slightly longer than 2 miles. It’s the last time the Pitmen’s Derby will be run on grass following the decision to convert the turf to an all-weather surface.
We start at the top of the market with a horse in good form with two solid efforts this season already, and a decent draw in stall 3. Quest For More will hopefully be better behaved than his stablemate Huntsmans Close was at Royal Ascot last week, and his trainer Roger Charlton has his horses running well at the moment. George Baker knows the horse well and with a second over 16.5 furlongs at York last year, as well as a victory over 2 miles at Ascot in October, his stamina looks sure to hold up.
Seamour, for Brian Ellison, has won twice over hurdles as well as a competitive handicap at Haydock a month ago, and he looks to be building up towards this race. His wide draw is an obvious negative, which has already been reflected in the markets, but Silvestre De Sousa is an experienced jockey who won’t panic in the early stages as he looks to get himself well-positioned.
Brian Ellison is also represented by Totalize (second to Seamour in that race at Haydock), Montefeltro (9th behind Seamour and Totalize – you can see the pattern emerging here) and Buthelezi (who didn’t run in that race at Haydock).
We then come to a man who loves these big handicaps more than anyone, the owner Dr Marwan Koukash, and he has come with a strong hand here. Richard Fahey saddles Gabrial’s King (who was 8th at Haydock, ahead of Montefeltro but behind Seamour and Totalize) with Paul Hanagan an eye-catching jockey booking, Gabrial’s Star and Angel Gabrial, who won this race last year albeit from 7lb lower in the weights.
Suegioo also runs for Dr Koukash but Marco Botti is the trainer; he completed a Dr Koukash 1-2 last year (so has a 3lb swing with Angel Gabrial on that showing), and just for completeness, Suegioo also raced at Haydock. He was 4th in that race, and it might well be wise to simply watch it for yourself before you make any betting decisions on Saturday.
For those fans of Clever Cookie, of which I include myself, then the rain which started to fall at Newcastle on Thursday morning would have been a welcome sight indeed. Despite carrying top weight, Clever Cookie is a serious horse who was a real prospect for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot before being ruled out on account of the quick ground. He will need more rain to suit, but has won impressively on both his starts this season and if he runs then he must have a decent chance.
Ed Dunlop saddles Oasis Fantasy, who looks well weighted but also has a wide draw to contend with. Blue Surf won at 20/1 over 12 furlongs at Epsom on Derby Day, whilst Nearly Caught and Rite To Reign finished 3rd and 5th in a race you might have seen mentioned at Haydock last month – the form lines are everywhere in this race!
Two more trainers who it would be impossible to ignore in Mark Johnston, whose stable is in fine form right now, and Willie Mullins pin their hopes on Notarised and Max Dynamite respectively.
So in short – keep an eye on the weather, make a note of the draw, and watch the handicap from Haydock on 23rd May – and most of all, be lucky!
Meanwhile over the water in Ireland….
Over at the Curragh, the Irish Derby sees a small but select field of 8 go to post. Half of those runners belong to Aidan O’Brien, who has won this race 7 of the last 8 runnings and 11 times in total, and his leading hope based on both his run in the Prix du Jockey Club and by virtue of Ryan Moore being on board is Highland Reel.
Giovanni Canaletto has a lot to do to overturn the English Derby form with both Storm The Stars and Jack Hobbs, whilst Qualify was a surprise winner of the English Oaks and takes her chance against the colts.
The last of the Ballydoyle runners is Kilimanjaro, who ran a creditable 6th in the English Derby but would do well to finish in that position in this race. Given how primed the Coolmore horses were for Royal Ascot, with several impressive winners and some unlucky runners up too, you would be a brave person to bet against Aidan O’Brien training the winner again, but if any horse from these shores can take the crown to England, it will be Jack Hobbs. His two runs behind Golden Horn at York and Epsom have proven beyond any doubt that this son of Halling belongs at the highest level, and his scope for physical growth mean he looks sure to improve as the season goes on. William Buick takes the reins and as long as he avoids trouble from the Coolmore lot he has every chance of getting Jack Hobbs a deserved Group-level victory.
Storm The Stars was a big improver at Epsom and has posted a better RPR for each one of his 5 starts this season, whilst Radanpour is another son of Sea The Stars who is unbeaten in his 3 career starts.
Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen deserve to be taken very seriously indeed, but it would be a turn-up if Radanpour were to beat the main protaganists. I basically ruled Carbon Dating out of any thoughts whatsoever at Epsom and whilst he outran his SP of 150/1 to finish 8th, I don’t see any reason to take him as a serious contender here.