We’re not even three weeks into the resumption of racing and it’s fair to say we’ve already been treated to some exceptional action on the track.
This week’s Royal Ascot has been anything but ‘normal’ off the course, but fans have seen some superb performances on it and some likely contenders for the Investec Derby at Epsom Downs on Saturday July 4th.
At our Jockey Club racecourses we’ve been busy with fixtures of our own this week and we have plenty of action on the track this weekend too.
Here we take a look at five things you need to know about our fixtures at Newmarket and Kempton Park on Saturday and Sunday.
RIVIER NIGHTS COULD BE THE MUST-HAV PICK
While most of the leading jockeys will be at Royal Ascot on Saturday, there is plenty of talent on show in the saddle at Newmarket.
None more so than ‘Rab’ Havlin, who rides the short-priced favourite, Riviera Nights, in the Class 3 Betway Handicap at 2.45pm.
Havlin has sat on some of John Gosden’s best horses so far this season, winning on Lord North, Miss Yoda and Palace Pier for the Champion Trainer since racing restarted behind closed doors on June 1st.
He didn’t taste success at Royal Ascot this week – Miss Yoda was beaten by Frankly Darling in the Ribblesdale – but he and Roger Varian will fancy their chances with Riviera Nights, who recently switched stables, here.
King Of Tonga for another Royal Ascot rider, Harry Bentley, can expect to be there or thereabouts too, especially with rain having softened things up a little at Newmarket this week and wins on softer ground in his back catalogue.
COLE’S ENGINE CAN STEAMROLLER THE REST
Paul and Oliver Cole became the first father and son dual training combination to win a race at Royal Ascot this week, when Highland Chief scooted clear to take the Golden Gates Handicap at 20-1.
There’s talk the Coles might send their three-year-old colt to Epsom Downs for the Investec Derby next month, but for now they’re eyeing a somewhat smaller prize with Ivatheengine.
Jockey Rossa Ryan was on board Highland Chief for his Thursday victory and he’ll be hoping for a similar result here in the 1.05pm Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap over 6 furlongs.
Successful over the trip on good to firm at Windsor last year and then the all weather at Kempton Park in December, Ivatheengine’s connections are entitled to fancy this.
However, it’s Vasari who is likely to go off favourite for Sir Michael Stoute and reigning Champion Apprentice jockey, Cieren Fallon in the Khalid Abdullah colours synonymous with greats like Frankel and Enable. Clearly Vasari isn’t in the same league, but carrying nearly a stone less than Ivatheengine could just have the advantage.
JUMPERS JOIN THE FLAT PACK AT NEWMARKET
Every so often a hurdler swaps the Jumps for the Flat, even if it’s just to keep their fitness levels up during the Summer, and there are a couple who feature here in the longest (and last) race of the day on Newmarket’s card, the 1 mile 6 furlong Betway Live Casino Handicap.
Scaramanga, for Paul Nicholls and jockey daughter Megan, was last seen on the biggest Jumps stage of them all, The Festival at Cheltenham, in March this year when finishing down the field in the Randox Health County Hurdle.
His last appearance at Newmarket was two years ago when finishing fourth of 10 over a shorter trip of 1 mile 4 furlongs.
Brandon Castle is another to line up at the Festival (in 2018) but his last appearance on the Flat was when finishing last at Haydock Park back in 2018 and his odds of 20-1 tell their own story.
Bookies will likely make either Good Tidings - for the Gosden and Havlin combination – or Holy Kingdom the favourite. The latter has the advantage of winning here just days ago, albeit over a trip two furlongs shorter than this.
One more for the notebook might be Noble Behest, who has eight wins over 2 miles for trainer Ian Williams. He finished second when favourite at Newcastle when we last saw him in January.
OLYMPIC CONQUEROR BIDS FOR A THIRD KEMPTON GOLD
All good things come to an end, but what better way to get over your post-Royal Ascot blues on Saturday afternoon than by flicking straight over to catch the action from Kempton Park, which starts at 4.50pm?
The best of it could well come in the form on two Class 4 races towards the end of the card.
In the 7.25pm Unibet June Casino Free Spin Festival Handicap, Olympic Conqueror can secure a hat-trick of wins at the Surrey track this season with Danny Muscutt in the saddle. A winner over 1 mile 2 furlongs on his latest outing, this trip is two furlongs stiffer, so the preference might be Richard Hannon’s Mordred, who has wins at both 7 furlongs and 1 mile 4 furlongs to his name.
The other Class 4 race on the card – the 7.55pm Try Our New Runner Boost at Unibet Handicap – gives Kings Highway the chance to extend his Kempton Park unbeaten run. He’s been absent for a year but goes well after a break.
Rivals will likely include the top weight, Swiss Cheer, who won at the track over the same distance in February, and Mutasaamy for the in-form trainer Roger Varian.
PLENTY TO CROW ABOUT FOR ASCOT STAR JIM
The great thing about racing seven days a week is that, no matter what the quality of horses, our sport’s top riders are always on show.
And so it is at Kempton Park on Sunday when, fresh from their exploits at Royal Ascot through the week, we welcome Will Buick, Tom Marquand, Andrea Atzeni, Hayley Turner, Silvestre De Sousa to name but a few.
Right at the top of that list should be former Champion Jockey Jim Crowley, who looks set to be crowned leading jockey at the Royal meeting after six winners in the first three days alone.
Crowley – a former Jump jockey who switched to the Flat – takes charge of Prejudice in the Class 3 Unibet Extra Place Offers Every Day Handicap for trainer David Simcock.
Hayley Turner won the Sandringham Stakes on Thurdsay on a 33-1-trained Charlie Fellowes-trained horses, Onassis, for the second successive year and rides Landue, who has four wins to his name on the all weather.
One more for the shortlist might be Edinburgh Castle for the in-form trainer Andrew Balding.