It’s not just the temperature which is hotting up – our racing is too as we edge nearer to Investec Derby day and the Coral-Eclipse next weekend.
This year the world’s greatest Flat race takes place on the first Saturday of July - rather than June - due to the suspension of racing between the middle of March and June 1st.
And while owners, trainers, jockeys and racing fans will have one eye on the biggest prize of them all at Epsom Downs next weekend, there’s some fantastic action at Newmarket this Saturday AND Sunday.
Here we take a look at five things you need to know about our two fixtures at Flat racing ‘HQ’ this weekend.
FAMILIAR FACES CAN SERVE UP A TREAT IN THE CRITERION
Jumps fans often bemoan that Flat racing fails to produce horses you can follow season after season, due largely to the best of the best going off to stud aged four, five or even younger.
Not so in Saturday’s third race of the day at Newmarket, the Group 3 Criterion Stakes, where there are plenty of familiar faces doing battle.
Now eight years of age, not only did Limato win this race last year, he’s also a multiple Group 2 and Listed race winner and took the Group One Darley July Cup in 2016. Doubters might claim that his best days are behind him (and you have to go back to 2015 since he last won on his first start of the season), but victory in this race 12 months ago and a second on his final performance of last term are positives.
David Elsworth’s popular six-year-old Sir Dancealot is also a winner of this race in 2018 and other notable entries on his CV include victories in the Qatar Lennox Stakes at Glorious Goodwood two years running, in 2018 and 2019.
In what looks a wide-open renewal here Godolphin have two contenders in Mubtasim and On The Warpath, although neither have been seen since racing resumed on June 1st.
And those who followed Royal Ascot will note the appearance of Mark Johnston’s Vale Of Kent, who led the Royal Hunt Cup last week only to be caught inside the final 200 yards. This trip is a furlong shorter.
Finally a word for Tip Two Win ,who was a shock 50-1 second placed finisher in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2018. However, his form has been poor ever since and at 25-1 here you can you can draw your own conclusions.
PRICEY VOLKAN CAN LIVE LONG AND PROSPER
Heard the phrase ‘good things come in small packages’? Well, what the next race on Saturday’s card lacks in runners it promises to make up for in quality.
A maximum of five horses will line up in the Listed Betway Fairway Stakes at 3.15pm. Three-year-olds looking to put a flag in the ground as emerging talents over 1 mile 2 furlongs.
Andrew Balding’s Raise You won this last year, but the trainer doesn’t have a runner in this renewal. Instead it’s Thunderous for the Mark Johnston/Ryan Moore partnership and Volkan Star for Charlie Appleby and stable jockey William Buick who will vie for favouritism.
The former was unbeaten as a two-year-old, including an impressive victory in a Listed race at Newbury in August, but this is three furlongs further than any of his previous appearances.
Volkan Star is a son of Investec Derby winner Sea The Stars and cost almost £1 million when Godolphin bought him at the sales in 2018.
He has four runs to his name, winning at Goodwood over a mile but failing to find his way into the winners’ enclosure from his three other racecourse appearances – all at Newmarket. One of those was three weeks ago, when second over this trip and he still carries an entry for next Saturday’s Derby. A fascinating prospect here.
CHANCE FOR NEW FILLIES ON THE BLOCK TO SHINE
There are two Listed races on Sunday’s Newmarket card and, while we’ll only see small fields in both, we don’t expect them to be short on quality.
We say “expect” as there’s not much for us to go in the first of them, the Betway Empress Fillies Stakes for two-year-olds. The seven runners have only eight career runs between them, so let’s look at what we do know.
Undertake – a Roger Varian-trained filly owned by Cheveley Park Stud – is the one horse you might at least recognise the name of, having finished fourth in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot just a week ago in her second career start.
Then there’s Time Scale, ridden by reigning champion jockey Oisin Murphy and the only other in the field with two runs under her belt – the latest a victory at Chepstow which will likely see her start this as favourite.
Concessions for Richard Hannon and jockey Ryan Moore, Kadupul for William Haggas and last year’s winning jockey in the race, James Doyle, and Live Stream have all got perfect one win from one run records.
Jibber Jabber and the unraced Olivia Brend complete the field, but at 50-1 and 66-1 respectively might be best watched for now.
FRANKIE FIRST IN LINE FOR AN OAKS DRESS REHEARSAL
Next Saturday Frankie Dettori will bid to win the Investec Oaks for a sixth time, this year on the Anthony Oppenheimer-owned Frankly Darling. The loveable Italian has tasted Classic success at Epsom Downs in the same colours before, of course, on Gold Horn in the 2015 Derby.
Here at Newmarket in the second of those listed races Dettori dons Mr Oppenheimer’s silks to ride the favourite in the Betway Fred Archer Stakes, First In Line. Trained – just like Frankly Darling – by John Gosden this colt didn’t set foot on a racetrack as a two-year-old, but won three of his eight starts last year aged three.
Two of those victories were on the all weather and his only two runs at HQ have ended in defeat, second over this trip in October and third at the start of this month. So if you’re bold enough to oppose the Gosden-Dettori partnership here, what are your options?
Well, Sir Michael Stoute’s Alignak was a winner at Newcastle on the first day of racing’s resumption on June 1st, but his only two victories have both come on the artificial and his only run at Newmarket was eighth of nine on debut way back in October 2018.
Gosden’s other runner in the race, El Misk, has three wins from seven and – like his stablemate – was unraced at two years old. Similarly though, he’s not been able to stick his neck out on the turf, with those victories all on an artificial surface.
We’ll leave you with one more for the shortlist in Pablo Escobarr, who at least has a win to his name on the green stuff, albeit nearly two years ago at Goodwood in September. He’s won once since, again on the all weather at Kempton Park in December.
DASHING LEXINGTON CAN LAND HAMMER BLOW
We mentioned Royal Ascot earlier and, while there are no winning horses from the meeting on show at Newmarket this weekend, there are plenty of triumphant jockeys.
The youngest of them is Thore Hammer Hansen, a 20-year-old son of top Scandinavian rider Lennart and 5lb claiming apprentice who won day one’s Ascot Stakes on Couer De Lion for Alan King.
Sunday’s Class 2 Betway Handicap represents an altogether different proposition, given his victory at Ascot was in a field of 19 while this will be contested by just four. However, that doesn’t make this 6 furlong race any easier to win.
Hansen’s ride is Lexington Dash for his boss Richard Hannon, a horse who won at Newmarket last Saturday on good ground over the same trip.
Connections will be hoping that form will be enough to see off Buhturi, a colt trained by Charlie Hills – who knows a thing or two about sprinters in the colours of Hamdan Al Maktoum (think Battaash). Buhturi was beaten by just half a length on his first run of 2020 at Haydock Park three weeks ago and it’s also worth noting he won his second start last year.
In-form trainer Roger Varian’s Ascension seems to represent the other danger, having won twice as a two-year-old and beginning his season with a third at Sandown Park on slightly softer ground a fortnight ago.