Crusader to conquer

  • By: Alex Hammond
  • Last Updated: June 26 2014, 15:43 BST

Alex Hammond looks ahead to a fantastic weekend of racing on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Dark Crusader: Looks to have been plotted up for the Plate
Dark Crusader: Looks to have been plotted up for the Plate

So, Royal Ascot is behind us for another year. I have to say, I feel that we have seen some of the best performances for a few years at the Berkshire track.

The wins of Toronado, Sole Power, Kingman, The Fugue, Leading Light (and Estimate), the huge improver Eagle Top, Rizeena and Telescope amongst others were outstanding. It was sad to see Treve run badly (although she did still beat the course record) and I hope Criquette Head-Maarek can get her back to her best before the big autumn targets.

For those of you that follow this blog hopefully you backed The Fugue each way as advised in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes; she’s some mare given the right conditions and it was great to see John Gosden bring her back from injury sustained in Dubai in March. Relive the excitement right here.

This weekend I’ll be torn between two sports, horseracing and show jumping. I’m off to one of the finest showground’s in the world, Hickstead in West Sussex, to cover the famous Derby for Sky Sports whilst trying to keep an eye on the racing while I’m there. It’s not as hard as it seems as they have a bookmaker there who screens all the racing….perfect.

There is much to look forward to in both spheres. The Hickstead Derby is a show jumping competition steeped in history and the Northumberland Plate is a race with a similar pedigree. Otherwise known as the Pitmen’s Derby, Newcastle have been staging the race since 1883, slightly earlier than the Hickstead Derby which was first held just over 50 years ago.

The John Smith’s Northumberland Plate is a handicap run over two miles. Unfortunately, the ante-post favourite Pique Sous, doesn’t turn out again with trainer Willie Mullins deciding to give his Queen Alexandra Stakes winner more time to get over his Royal Ascot exertions.

That leaves Mark Johnston’s Oriental Fox with top weight, Joe Fanning rides. He is drawn in stall three and whilst you may feel that the draw shouldn’t matter over this trip, it really is advantageous to be as close to the rail as possible so low draws are key.

He was agonisingly beaten just a short head in this last year by Tominator off a 10lb lower mark, but has been running well in a higher grade including finishing sixth in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last week.

Richard Fahey will be represented by Chester Cup runner up Angel Gabrial, but unfortunately his Chester seventh Duke Of Clarence won’t run having suffered a season-ending injury.

Angel Gabrial has the plum draw in one and Fahey has chosen to take 3lb off his back by putting apprentice George Chaloner up.

He was raised 5lb for his Chester run, where you may remember he stayed on with a strong run up the outside under Jamie Spencer before hanging right into the eventual winner Suegioo. He was only beaten half-a-length and wasn’t as well drawn as the winner at Chester either.

Suegioo reopposes and Marco Botti’s horse was raised 6lbs for that Chester win, he is fairly drawn in 10 on Saturday; bang in the middle.

Off their revised weights the placings could well be reversed though I’d be concerned that the ground may be on the quick side for Suegioo as he enjoyed the ground after a shower of rain on race-day morning at Chester.

Nearly Caught will jump out of stall two so trainer Hughie Morrison will be pleased with that. He’s a lightly raced four-year-old with just eight starts to his name and looks to be on the up.

He has only finished out of the frame three times, (in the November Handicap, a Group 2 at Longchamp and the John Porter) and his most recent run saw him second in a handicap at Haydock and as he’s only 1lb higher here.

The horse that beat him there was Noble Silk and Lucy Wadham's charge takes his chance again. He is 4lb higher for that win and the stable's runners are going well at present.

Lucky Bridle comes over from Ireland for Willie Mullins and he has booked Oaks-winning jockey Paul Hanagan to ride.

This horse has had three runs over two miles over hurdles, and is yet to race beyond a mile and a half on the Flat.

He was last seen over ten furlongs in a handicap at Cork and looked like he would do better when stepped up in trip.

He had showed considerable promise in a hurdles event at Thurles, and with a bit more racing under his belt could be a dangerous horse to ignore.

Another Irish raider is the Tony Martin-trained Dark Crusader. She won the Melrose Handicap at York last August off 90 and subsequently struggled off higher marks.

She has had three runs this term over trips short of her best and has dropped to a mark of 95. Her draw in nine is good and I like her chance as she looks to have been prepared for this target.

Van Percy won a mile and three quarter handicap at Newmarket last month for Andrew Balding and looks like the type of horse who could end up in Melbourne in November.

He will enjoy the fast ground and the step up in trip looks in his favour, but his high draw looks a huge disadvantage so I'll bear him in mind for other targets, such as the Ebor.

Big Thunder is an interesting runner for Sir Mark Prescott. Sir Mark is traditionally a slow starter who doesn’t run too many horses before mid-summer. With the longest day behind us, we can expect plenty of horses to be rattling up winning sequences over the coming weeks and months.

The stable only had one runner in June as apparently the horses have been a bit under the weather this spring, but I’d expect they are firing on all cylinders now.

As for Big Thunder, he doesn’t have a great draw in 16, but the gelding was a typical improver from the yard last term, winning five of his eight starts and rising up to 93 (from 61) in the handicap and there could be more to come with a further step up in trip. He had one run at a mile and three quarters last autumn which was a winning one and though I’m wary of him, he doesn’t look like as if he has everything in his favour.

He is entered in the Irish Leger though so if he’s to be a Group performer, he ought to acquit himself well here.

Totalize represents Brian Ellison and gets in here thanks to a 5lb penalty that he picked up for a win at York two weeks ago. He doesn’t want the ground too fast though so that is a concern.

Poyle Thomas (Ralph Beckett) and Hassle (Clive Cox) are reserves at 21 and 22. If either were to get a run they aren’t without chances.

Poyle Thomas has won four of his eight starts and made a winning reappearance in a 1m7f handicap at Newmarket at the end of May. This race appears tailor made for him and I would be looking to have him on my side.

Hassle has loads of ability, but he’s quirky and I wonder if he prefers a bit of ease in the ground

It’s certainly a wide-open race but I’m going to take a chance with a horse that looks like she’s been targeted at this for a while in DARK CRUSADER.

One colt will gallop his way into the history books at the Curragh on Saturday in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

The ground at the Curragh is apparently fast enough at the moment (officially good to firm) and whilst it would be great to find something to beat the Epsom Derby hero and short-priced favourite, AUSTRALIA, unless there is a downpour I can’t see it happening.

Alex Hammond "With any forecast you have to wait and see how accurate it is going to be, and if for any reason there is plenty of rain, it could be that Australia would stay at home. That would leave the way clear for Kingston Hill but let's just wait and see."
Alex Hammond

We already know that Roger Varian’s Derby runner up Kingston Hill prefers some cut and I think his best chance of turning that Epsom form around would be on soft ground.

The seven-runner field is dominated by Aidan O’Brien runners with four of them hailing from Ballydoyle and the race should be run to suit the odds on favourite.

Australia is understandably a very short price, but he should take the beating and with the possibility that there could be a couple of non-runners if the ground remains fast, this may turn out to be little more than a piece of work.

That said, there is some rain forecast and that could help keep it competitive with the likes of Fascinating Rock needing a bit of decent ground.

With any forecast you have to wait and see how accurate it is going to be, and if for any reason there is plenty of rain,  it could be that Australia would stay at home. That would leave the way clear for Kingston Hill but let's just wait and see.

Well, before I go, just one last mention of Sunday’s show jumping competition. If you fancy tuning in we are on air at 1.30pm on Sky Sports 1….oh and I quite fancy the chances of Charlotte Platt, don’t say you weren’t told!


DARK CRUSADER in the Northumberland Plate @ 12/1 with Sky Bet

AUSTRALIA in the Irish Derby @ 1/3 with Sky Bet