Catching Pigeons: Rose can bloom
Our Catching Pigeons column is back with all the news and gossip from the main training centres ahead of a big weekend.
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All of the talk has been about the prospect of bottomless ground at Haydock on Saturday, but conditions could end up being just as testing at Ascot.
In the circumstances many trainers will be heading to the track in hope rather than expectation, but Venetia Williams has definite grounds for optimism as she saddles Pepite Rose Carey Group Handicap Chase.
Williams was looking at the Paddy Power Gold Cup last weekend for Pepite Rose, but opted to wait another seven days for this easier-looking contest which nevertheless carries a lucrative prize pot. This mare has form in the book on heavy ground and will handle conditions better than some of her rivals.
Earlier on the programme, Nicky Henderson had been hoping that by running Finian's Rainbow over two miles and three furlongs in the Amlin Chase he might get a clearer idea as to which direction he could take with the horse later in the season.
However the worsening going conditions mean that it might just be a case of getting through this race rather than worrying too much about victory. Without taking on Sprinter Sacre at Sandown in a fortnight's time, there aren't too many options for a horse like him if he is to be fully tuned for a Christmas target such as the King George VI Chase.
Confidence has also waned at the yard ahead of Oscar Whisky's run in the Coral Hurdle.
He has been working particularly well and had been thought ready to go in first time, but soft ground wouldn't necessarily be right up his alley, whereas streetfighter Raya Star might be less disadvantaged.
Less high profile is stablemate Shernando, due to have his first start since undergoing a breathing operation in the summer in the opener. Early evidence suggests that he is ready to roll again as a result of that bit of surgery and he could be one to catch first time out.
Balder Succes needed the run more than Alan King expected first time out and has shaped well in his work since. He is going to take a great deal of beating in the opener at Haydock.
Later on the card, Conor O'Farrell has come in for the ride aboard Katikeau in the valuable Brush Hurdle contest, prompting some to think that stablemate Knight Pass could be the number one runner.
The Pipes have course-and-distance form for muddying the waters by mixing up the jockey bookings, but Katikeau should still be considered the stable first-string. David Pipe has had this race in mind for some time and he is far less likely to be inconvenienced by testing conditions than Knight Pass.
In Newmarket most of the main action on the gallops has concerned horses being prepared for foreign targets. Sir Michael Stoute has been given permission to work Sea Moon and Carlton House on the grass gallop on Racecourse Side on Saturday morning ahead of their possible trip to the Far East, while Dancing Rain completed her preparations for the same journey with a gallop on the Al Bahathri all-weather surface.
The Fugue did two canters up Warren Hill in preparation for her run in the Hong Kong Vase, with trainer John Gosden reporting that he still has a few runners to look forward to on the all-weather in the weeks ahead.
In that sphere, there will be a few trainers from the town looking forward to the opening maiden at Lingfield next Wednesday. Roger Varian's pair are both worth looking out for, while the Sir Henry Cecil pair include the much-touted debutant Demonic, mentioned here on several occasions as looking a particularly handy sort.
Cecil, meanwhile, has been offering some helpful advice to fellow trainer Ed Walker, rumoured to be moving stables across Newmarket to the yard owned by jockey Jamie Spencer on the Hamilton Road. Walker is a young trainer going places fast and this expansion ought to offer him the opportunity for further development in 2013.