You know when there’s a huge sporting spectacle on the horizon and the action the weekend beforehand is looking like an unappetising starter? Well, this is NOT one of those weekends.
We might be preparing ourselves for a super Saturday double on 1st June of the Investec Derby at Epsom Downs and the UEFA Champions League final, but this weekend’s action on the track is just as mouthwatering.
A card to savour at Haydock Park, headed by the Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes, and fixtures at York, Goodwood and Chester will give Flat racing fans every excuse they need to stay at home on Saturday.
And across the water the Curragh is serving up the Irish 2000 Guineas (on Saturday) and 1000 Guineas (on Sunday) with some match-ups to get us all excited.
Never let it be said there’s a dull moment in the racing calendar. Here we take a look at five things you need to know about the weekend ahead.
TIME TO WORSHIP AT THE TEMPLE
The field for Haydock Park’s feature race on Saturday might be small, but it’s perfectly formed.
The five furlong Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes gives those lucky enough to be there the chance to see some of Britain’s best sprinters up close.
Battaash won the race last year and returns to defend his crown with 2016 champion Flat jockey Jim Crowley on board. But he will face stiff competition from Kachy, who was beaten by a neck in the race 12 months ago, and Mabs Cross, a mare who beat Battaash when they last met in France.
Just to confuse matters Alpha Delphini beat Mabs Cross in last year’s Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes. With all four seemingly able to beat each other, it’s hard to make a case for the two outsiders in the race and, at 20-1 and 25-1 respectively, it might be that Caspian Prince and Pocket Dynamo are the only ones we can discount.
All things considered though, this is definitely one of those races you don’t need to have money on to enjoy.
HAVLIN HANDED DREAM RIDE ON CALYX
There won’t be many horses starting as shorter priced favourites than Calyx this weekend.
The exciting sprinter won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot last year convincingly and his very appearance in this race seems to have scared off the opposition.
Unbeaten to date, he is currently 2-9 with bookmakers to win the Armstrong Aggregates Sandy Lane Stakes in a four-runner field.
Frankie Dettori usually partners the John Gosden-trained colt, but with the veteran Italian attempting to win the 2000 Irish Guineas the same afternoon, Rob Havlin gets the ride.
It could be one of those races where we just sit back and admire one of the most impressive sprinters in training this year – and that goes for Havlin too.
FRANKIE GOES TO … THE CURRAGH
It’s hard to believe that Dettori is still without a ride in the greatest Flat race in the world – next weekend’s Investec Derby.
As the leading John Gosden-trained contenders for the blue riband Classic have been pulled out of the race, Dettori is waiting patiently for a phone call from master trainer Aidan O’Brien with the offer of a ride at Epsom Downs next Saturday.
However, the two-time Derby winner will have other priorities this weekend as he and narrow 5-4 favourite Too Darn Hot go to the Curragh in a bid to win the 2000 Irish Guineas.
For a long time the colt was one of the favourites for this year’s Investec Derby. That was until Gosden announced they were no longer targeting the race.
Now connections – including owners Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber – will be hoping they can replace the disappointment at missing the QIPCO 2000 Guineas this month with that winning feeling in Ireland.
However, to do so they must beat the winner of the Newmarket Classic, Magna Grecia and Skardu, who finished third in the same race and has James Doyle on board, also represents Britain in a race with five Aidan O’Brien runners of the 14.
One has to feel for O’Brien’s son Donnacha, who misses out on the opportunity to do the English and Irish 2000 Guineas double with Magna Grecia. He finds himself on his father’s 33-1 shot, Mohawk, instead with stable number one jockey Ryan Moore on the 6-4 second favourite.
EGAN HOPING IRISH EYES SMILE ON HIM
Qabala is a town in the north of Azerbaijan. We know this because we looked it up on Wikipedia.
However, the Qabala we don’t need to run through a search engine is a filly as tough as she is impressive.
With young David Egan on board she won the Nell Gwyn Stakes impressively at Newmarket’s Craven meeting in April, before finishing third in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at the start of this month.
The fact the filly has only ever run at Newmarket makes her bid to win Ireland’s 1000 Guineas this Sunday all the more challenging. That and the fact no British-trained horse has won the race since 2013.
But Egan, for whom victory this weekend would be his first Classic success at just 19, is adamant she is working extremely well at home and goes into the race as a real contender.
The winner of the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, Hermosa, is likely to go to post as the favourite for trainer Aidan O’Brien.
But his son Joseph has an interesting contender in Iridessa, another who appeared at Newmarket in the second Classic of the season, albeit finishing back in a disappointing eighth.
Whatever the result, it promises to round off a fascinating weekend of action on the Flat, preparing us nicely for the main course at Epsom Downs next Saturday.
LIFE OF BRYONY GOES FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
You probably didn’t expect this preview of the weekend’s action to finish with the 5pm handicap hurdle at Cartmel. Well nor did we.
But it’s time to doff our caps to Jockey Club Racecourses ambassador Bryony Frost, whose win ratio at the start of the 2019/20 Jumps season is currently one to envy.
In the last 14 days she has won four of her 15 rides with a winning return of £21 for every pound placed on her runners. That 27% winning ratio betters even champion jockey Richard Johnson.
It would be no surprise to see her increase that tally in the Cumbrian countryside on Neil King’s Canyon City on Saturday. It might not be box office, but they all count.