Andy Holding's picked tips at Newcastle and Deauville as racing returns to the UK.
A momentous day for everyone in the racing industry and it’s great to get the show back on the road after three months of thumb-twiddling. The first instinct for most punters starved of any proper action for so long is to immediately rev the engines to full throttle, but that approach could turn out to be a reckless move given the general uncertainty regarding so many factors. The obvious issue we all face is not knowing which stables will be in tip-top form during the first few weeks and while it’s safe to say most trainers will be keen to make a good start, there will clearly be yards’ more forward than others. Until the patterns start developing, a degree of caution is surely the wisest policy during the first few days.
Not a huge amount to go on, but there looks to be a decent mix of potential among the unraced ranks alongside those with experience. Of those in the latter category, LITTLE RED SOCKS (best price 9-2) has the distinction of being one of only three previous winners in the line-up and that victory came courtesy of a polished display on her debut at Wolverhampton just before the break. Nibbled at in the market and sent off at 13-2 third best in a 10-strong field, the daughter of Acclamation was up against the red-hot 1-2 favourite, Dear Power, who had the benefit of two previous runs, including a victory and a decent effort in a Group 3 at Salisbury. Clearly knowing her job, Karl Burke’s filly was soon hot on the heels of her main market rival, who towed the field along at a good pace, and by the time the leading players had turned for home, she was poised and ready to deliver her challenge. Quickening up nicely to assume command inside the final furlong, she proceeded have a good look around while in the lead and even though those signs of greenness potentially threatened to derail her winning chance, she had enough left under her belt to repel several late party poopers. Time-wise, the three-year-old clocked a useful number for a novice fillies’ contest, so as an overall performance, it has to go down as a promising start. Likely to have improved both mentally and physically for the run, the fact that she also has valuable experience of a fibresand surface can’t do her chances any harm and at her morning odds, she rates a fairly solid-looking each-way proposition.
A good collection of three-year-old colts assembled for the first French Classic of the season and with all of the participants’ bar Alson having enjoyed a run, at least there is some solid narrative surrounding this year’s renewal.
Quite a few of these are on first-name terms, no more so than Victor Ludorum and ECRIVAIN (best price 7-2) and it’s the latter who makes the most appeal. The pair first met in the Lagardere at Longchamp last season with the former coming out on top and that was one of the main reasons why there was so much chat about Andre Fabre’s colt over the winter and in the build up to his seasonal reappearance back at the same track several weeks ago. In a race run at a steady pace, the son of Shamardal failed to quicken in the manner expected as The Summit dictated matters from the front and although he may have needed the run in testing conditions, it was still a slightly tame effort by the hitherto unbeaten colt. Whether he can revive his fortunes and gain his revenge on the winner and his old rival remains to be seen, but whichever way you strip it down, 2-1 looks mighty skinny.
The latter, who didn’t get the best of runs in the Lagardere last season, turned the tables around on Victor Ludorum 21 days ago and on the evidence of that display, you’d have to say he’s the value play of the pair. Locked up and short of room approaching two out, the son of Lope De Vega sprouted wings down the outside once out in the clear and although the bird had flown as far as the winner was concerned, it was interesting to see him readily outpoint his old mucker without being subject to a hard ride. Sure to improve for the run and the better ground, the chestnut colt - who has also scored over today’s track – can keep his upwardly-mobile profile going in the right direction.
Similar to the colts, all of the fillies in the 1000 Guineas have had a chance to stretch their legs, in some cases without them completely showing their hand, and the first thing to notice is the race appears more wide-open than the betting would suggest. There’s no denying that on balance Tropbeau deserves to be favourite with a body of work which includes two Group victories last season and a terrific effort in the Cheveley Park over an inadequate six furlongs on her final outing. Naturally, she was a warm order to make a winning comeback and set herself up for a tilt at this prize and although she managed to complete the first leg of her mission, she didn’t exactly set the world alight in doing so. Workmanlike rather than brilliant 21 days ago, she did at least prove that she stays a mile well enough, but while that may have turned out to be the case, there’s also a nagging doubt the form of the race doesn’t amount to much. Both the sixth and eight got well put in their place in a listed contest here yesterday and, as today’s contest is likely to be run at a sounder gallop and test her stamina even further, odds around the 7-4 make little appeal. Simeen rates the fly in the ointment as we just don’t know how good she can be. Unbeaten in three starts, the Lope De Vega filly scored in cosy fashion on her seasonal bow and in doing so, she had to quicken up well against the track bias in a very slowly run race. How she will handle a strongly gallop is anyone’s guess, but she looks to have the sort of tools that might be able to cope.
The rest seem much of a muchness, but if there is one who might have a shade more improvement to come than others it’s SPEAK OF THE DEVIL (best price 20-1). A smooth winner on her only start at two, it’s worth noting that victory was gained over today’s C&D, which has to be considered as some sort of positive. Pitched into the deep end to find out whether she was Classic material on her opening start to the campaign, Francois Chappet’s filly at least gave herself a shot at the title by running with a huge amount of promise and on the evidence of her performance at Longchamp, there appears to be plenty more to come. Indeed, had she obtained a clearer run at the Paris-based venue, she may have had a better chance of running down the eventual winner, Shining Ocean, who got a peach of a ride in a slowly-run tactical affair, and that display went some way to suggest she belongs on a bigger stage. Whether she’s Group 1 material only time will tell, but with many of these fillies’ likely to make a huge leap forward in terms of conditioning and what they’ve shown previously, she appeals as one who has the capacity to improve significantly – especially under today’s fast conditions.
Unsurprisingly, in a field of relatively exposed three-year-olds, the two with the fewest runs on the board and most potential head the market and of the pair, ROCK OF DIAMONDS (best price 4-1) makes the most appeal.
Slowly away on debut at Lingfield back in February, the Society Rock gelding made up the lost ground to hold every chance at the furlong pole, but the effort to work himself into a challenging position took its toll late on and he was picked off by the fast-finishing Makram. Heavily-backed to back up the impression he created next time out at Wolverhampton, Simon Crisford’s inmate was shade disappointing on paper when only third to the 80-1 poke Haayem, but the fact that he managed to turn around the form with his old rival Makram to the tune of 10 lengths, suggested he probably didn’t run as bad as what was first feared. Now in a new set-up courtesy of son Ed joining his old man at the helm, it would come as something of a surprise if this three-year-old couldn’t take advantage of a mark of just 74 at some stage during the season and on a surface he enjoys over a shorter trip that might turn out to be more suitable, today could well be the day he makes a breakthrough.
In time honoured tradition, representatives from Messrs Stoute and Gosden head the market in a race of this nature and while they are no doubt worthy of respect, they each face a stern Northern challenge up against Philip Kirby’s two runners in the shape of ICE PYRAMID (best price 10-3) and DECEMBER SECOND (best price 8-1).
The former is the more solid of the pair in the sense he’s already got proven C&D form on the board and that fact is likely to count for plenty in the final analysis. A steady improver last season, the son of New Approach went from landing a novice event on his first attempt at 1m4f here back in December to by the time he’d signed off the campaign with another victory two months later, he found himself on a rating of 92. A strong stayer at the trip who also appears to love the stiff nature of today’s track, the five-year-old chestnut looks sure to go well on his return to his happy hunting ground providing fitness isn’t an issue.
The latter is still an unknown quantity as far as a race of this nature is concerned, but he looks to have a fair amount of ability and he’s also totally unexposed over the trip. Despite being amateur ridden, the son of Teofilio still managed to put the wind up red-hot 1-4 favourite, New Arrangement, over a mile at Hamilton on his penultimate start and it was good to see him vindicate that sound effort by deservedly getting off the mark at Haydock when upped in distance on his final outing of the season. Seemingly relishing the extended 1m3f trip, the lightly-raced six-year-old impressed by clearing right away from his rivals in the latter stages and even though he’s been bumped up to a revised rating of 92 subsequently, that assessment of his ability might not be too far away from the truth. A winner when fresh in the past, his morning quotes are just about big enough to elicit a small interest in the hope his yard might have him relatively straight after a 298-day hiatus.