Let's go Loco - again!
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt previews Saturday's feature action from Lingfield Park.
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After a feast of jump racing at Cheltenham last week, attention is turned towards the Lingfield all-weather this Saturday and PREMIO LOCO is fancied to defy double-figure odds in his attempt to win a second coral.co.uk Winter Derby.
Now a 10-year-old, it would be easy to write off Chris Wall's tremendous stable servant as past his best but, with luck in running from stall one on the inside, he may retain enough ability to go very close.
This is Premio Loco's fourth Winter Derby appearance; he was beaten a nose by Scintillo in 2009, held Cai Shen by half a length to land the prize in 2012 and, last year, was reportedly not so far forward and did not get the best of runs when fifth behind Farraaj under a penalty.
Unpenalised this year, and therefore 5lb better off with Farraaj (who disappointed in only two subsequent starts), he could also be much sharper now having been given a prep-run at Kempton just over three weeks ago when finishing third behind The Rectifier.
On ratings, Premio Loco has deteriorated very little during the past two seasons and ran some cracking races last season notably when finishing second under top weight to Belgian Bill in the Royal Hunt Cup before winning a conditions event at Newmarket.
The classy Grandeur, a course and distance winner last month, is certain to start clear favourite but Ryan Moore won't find things straightforward from stall 14, the widest position in the field.
On his best form, Jeremy Noseda's charge looks the one to beat but he didn't have to run to his rating when scoring here last time (Anaconda third, Robin Hood's Bay fourth, Tinshu sixth). Doubtless, he will come on for that run but, from such a bad draw, may not represent value.
Last year's runner-up Robin Hoods Bay looked unlucky in running behind Grandeur last time and could again be in the money while the tough Aussie Reigns will be fitter than most after some fair efforts at Meydan in Dubai during the winter.
Windhoek was a winner in handicap company at the latter venue last time while French raider Vodkato has produced several solid performances on this type of surface across the Channel.
Earlier, Ladies Are Forever looks sure to mount a strong challenge in her attempt to win the Bookmakers.co.uk Hever Sprint for the second year running.
The mare maintained a good level of form throughout 2013 and was far-from-disgraced when seventh behind Maarek in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp on Arc day. A recent sixth here in listed company behind Tarooq wasn't her best effort but connections are bound to have targetted this contest once again though rider Robert Tart cannot claim his 3lb allowance.
However, while held by Ladies Are Forever on running at Longchamp (where he finished just over two lengths behind in 14th), KINGSGATE CHOICE could prove a tough rival here.
The Ed De Giles-trained seven-year-old gets a 4lb pull with his penalised rival this time and arguably showed an even better level of form overall last year when he was highly progressive.
Victories at York and Musselburgh (the Scottish Sprint) and a close fourth to subsequent Nunthorpe winner Jwala suggest Kingsgate Choice is now a solid bold-type five-furlong specialist; he was a course and distance winner in his younger days and has won and been second first time out in the last two campaigns.
In the 32Red Spring Cup, Ertijaal stands out on his narrow defeat by last season's champion two-year-old Toormore at Leicester last May after which he bolted up at odds-on in a maiden at Yarmouth.
The William Haggas-handled son of Oasis Dream could well be a star in the making - and holds entries in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas - but he hasn't raced since last June and has drawn stall 13 of 13.
Ertijaal may well be good enough to overcome that difficult start position but, if not, this looks a highly competitive race with numerous three-year-olds open to improvement amongst the opposition.