Weekend review: Let's look ahead!
This week's team reflects upon the weekend's racing action before looking ahead to what promises to be a thrilling spring.
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A pretty quiet weekend for the top horses but there was good racing at Newbury and on the Flat at Lingfield and the Curragh. Did anything catch the eye for the future?
Ian Ogg: Ertijaal aside, I was impressed by Stepper Point's comeback and he could be a player in the Abbaye if he has improved for being gelded as he's plenty of C&D form at Longchamp. Staying at Lingfield Court Room was a big eyecatcher in what could prove a hot maiden while I was taken with Gaitway in the bumper at Newbury; some top-class horses have run in that race and both he and the second, Tea For Two, should be worth following next season.
Ben Linfoot: I don't know. Maybe I should give up on What A Warrior, but I can't. The rain that fell in the build-up to the 'Ultima - Proud Sponsors Of Alan King Racing Handicap Chase' at Newbury wasn't in his favour and on genuine good ground I'll be giving him another chance. He's well handicapped on 127 and he suggested as much on Saturday, travelling well before finding little and fading into fifth. It's a simple equation. Good ground + three mile chase + current handicap mark = win.
Michael Shinners: I was very taken by Sign Of A Victory who won easily in his novice hurdle at Newbury on Saturday. He clearly has an engine and didn't come off the bridle to beat a useful yardstick in Huff And Puff.
Matt Brocklebank: Other than namesake Brocklebank agonisingly missing out by a narrow margin again, I thought American Hope was a major Lingfield eye-catcher. He was a fast-finishing head second to potential 2000 Guineas candidate Ertijaal in the Spring Cup over seven furlongs and gives the distinct impression he'll be even more effective when stepped up to a mile on a more galloping turf track. Progressive at two for former connections in Ireland, Mike Murphy looks to have a useful performer on his hands and there should be lot of improvement still to come. The Winter Derby runner-up Windhoek is also one to keep tabs on this term as he would probably have won had he not hung under pressure and he certainly looks to have turned over a new leaf since joining the boys in blue. From the Curragh, Tapestry looks to have really filled out over the winter as she towered above the other fillies she was galloping with after racing.
With the weekend covered there, let's look ahead instead of behind. Aidan O'Brien did nothing to burst the bubble of confidence behind Australia's three-year-old campaign on Sunday, describing him as "the second-best horse I have ever trained and the best was not a Flat horse [it was] the great Istabraq." With comments like that do you believe he'll win the 2000 Guineas or are you wary of such hype?
BL: We've been here before with Aidan O'Brien and his 'best ever' claims but I like it that he gets excited about his horses. If you can't get excited about your best three-year-old at this time of year, especially when you're in charge of such well-bred thoroughbreds then there's something wrong. You can only assume Australia has been doing very special things at home to be bestowed with such praise and I can't wait to see him and what he can do this year. Without the hyperbole I'd be concerned that a genuine top-class miler would beat him in the Guineas, as being by Galileo and out of Ouija Board you would think he'll be a force when tried over further, but questioning a horse's speed given the comments from his trainer sits uncomfortably.
MS: I'm a believer. His performance in winning the Group Three at Leopardstown beating Free Eagle, suggested he could be really special. The vibes coming out of Ballydoyle are that he is very special and although he is now very short I respect his chance massively.
"Australia is a hugely promising colt but I'd be more in the War Command camp at this stage as he has done it at Group One level, has winning course form and really appreciates good ground. I'm surprised he's not favourite for the Guineas."
MB: I can't deny absolutely loving the hype - after all it's what makes the Flat racing world go around, but that doesn't mean I'm not wary. The O'Brien camp can be accused over going overboard at times but it's not like the trainer is calling a goose a swan - Australia is a hugely promising colt with a big part to play in the Classic campaign. However, I'd be more in the War Command camp at this stage as he has done it at Group One level, has winning course form at Newmarket and really appreciates good ground. I'm surprised he's not favourite for the Guineas, despite all the talk.
IO: We've heard it all before and it doesn't always come to bear as we know but these things are usually said with good reason and you can't crab his form. However, his price has been contracting for a while now and I'm a contrary so and so and will look to take him on, possibly with Be Ready but we'll see.
Talking of the Flat, it's the Lincoln at Doncaster and the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday. Now is your chance to nail the ante-post double. Go.
MS: Gabrial's Kaka for Richard Fahey looks like he could have more improvement in him and could easily take this before going onto bigger and better things. Prince Bishop has looked impressive in winning his last two races and is proven on the surface. At the current prices he looks the value.
MB: For an ante-post wager on the Lincoln I like a horse who can go on any ground, has been there and done it in big-field handicaps and preferably has some good course form. Norse Blues won the consolation race (Spring Mile) over course and distance a couple of years back and showed he was still on an upward curve with a couple of victories at Thirsk (field sizes of 15 and 16) last term. He looks like sneaking in under a handy racing weight and is too big a price at 33/1. Of those at the top of the market, there's loads to like about the lightly-raced Off Art for Tim Easterby as he, too, has winning form on Town Moor. I'm yet to look at the Dubai World Cup in quite as much detail in truth but Akeed Mofeed beat Military Attack when landing the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin in December and it's fair to say he's a good deal better than what he showed when a disappointing fifth behind that rival last month.
BL: Brownsea Brink looks like taking his chance for Richard Hannon in the Lincoln and the fledgling trainer could get his career off to a great start in the first big race of the UK Flat season. He won three times over a mile before dropping back to seven last campaign, but a big field and a strong gallop over eight furlongs looks ideal. As for the Dubai World Cup, I've followed Akeed Mofeed's career closely since he left John Oxx for Hong Kong and though he's done well out there he had no answer to Military Attack in the Hong Kong Cup last time. John Moore's charge should go well, but Ruler Of The World could be a formidable rival. I'll chance Military Attack, though.
IO: Captain Cat and Ron The Greek.
Hang on, it's only March 24 can we talk about the jumps again please? Sure. What's on your Grand National radar at the moment?
MB: It was interesting to see AP McCoy suggest he didn't really fancy any of JP McManus' entries in a recent interview on Racing UK as I had half an eye on Double Seven, who Martin Brassil has compared favourably to his 2006 Aintree hero Numbersixvalverde. Another one on my shortlist is Burton Port. He hasn't exactly set the world alight since joining Jonjo O'Neill but he travelled with a bit more of his old zest before unfortunately biting his tongue at Newbury last time and there's no doubting he's incredibly well handicapped on his old form with Long Run.
IO: I thought Teaforthree ran an excellent prep in the Gold Cup and he's a worthy favourite. Rocky Creek clearly hasn't been easy to train but if Paul Nicholls can get him to the big race in A1 shape then it's easy to see him being involved.
BL: Too many to mention here, though it's hard to resist the claims of Pineau De Re given the form he's in. His win in a veterans' chase at Exeter in January was a career best and then his fine third in the Pertemps Final over hurdles at Cheltenham was a real eye-catcher. He fell on his only start over the Aintree fences in this season's Becher, but if he can learn from that experience he should run a big race.
MS: At the moment I like the chances of Pineau De Re for Dr Newland. He ran an excellent race in the Pertemps Final finishing a very close third behind Fingal Bay and Southfield Theatre. I think he looks fairly handicapped and looks fair value around 25/1.
And finally, Joe Tizzard hung up his riding boots last week. What was the highlight of his career and what sort of chance is this for Brendan Powell, presuming he picks up the ride on Cue Card?
BL: Sad to see Tizzard call it a day and the highlight for me was undoubtedly his Ryanair win on Cue Card at last year's Festival. He got him into a superb rhythm and jumped them silly, getting the fractions spot on too. It's a fine chance for Brendan Powell, should he get the ride. He's already proving himself a future star without the ammunition and the next step for him is to showcase his talents on a really high-profile horse.
MS: It would have to be Flagship Uberalles in the 99' Arkle. I was lucky enough to be there and it was a great moment in Joe's career. As for Brendan Powell it could be a huge opportunity and hopefully he will be given plenty of chances.
MB: The Joe Tizzard highlight for me would have to be Cue Card's blistering victory when he burst onto the scene in the 2006 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. The horse destroyed his rivals and it was so refreshing to see the reactions of Joe and his father following that victory as Colin simply offered: "I wasn't expecting to win like that." Our man Brendan Powell has some very exciting days ahead providing he gets the nod for the stable star. Here's hoping.
IO: I really enjoyed his victory in the Ryanair Chase where they went a real good clip which saw a couple of horses crack. But he didn't crack, he kept on galloping and pulled clear of a good Grade One yardstick and First Lieutenant and it was the moment, for me, that the horse really came of age. It was an exhilarating run. Brendan Powell has had winners at the last two Cheltenham Festivals which is no mean feat and it could be a fantastic opportunity for him.