From the obvious to the more obscure, Ben Linfoot profiles 30 three-year-olds that could pay their way once the Flat season gets up and running.
It’s with hope that the bulk of the Flat season survives in some form, even if we lose the early months. With that in mind, here are 30 three-year-olds to look forward to once racing resumes…
She was most brilliant in the Prix Marcel Boussac, but, in truth, there were many signs last season that ALBIGNA had a touch of the superstar about her. As early as her debut she looked something out of the ordinary when getting up to beat Tango and her subsequent Group Two success in the Airlie Stud Stakes at the Curragh was another late smash and grab rubber-stamped with class. In season when below her best in the Moyglare, Albigna bounced right back to top form in Paris with an authoritative victory, one that proved she loved a bit of soft ground as well, while in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf she shaped like the best horse, unsuited by the tight turns of Santa Anita, finishing best of all. It’s with hope she gets to take her chance in a Guineas, whenever that might be, but wherever Jessica Harrington has to point her she is a filly to follow, with middle-distances likely to bring about further improvement, even though she’s far from devoid of speed.
Sent off at 20/1 for the Listed Montrose Fillies' Stakes at Newmarket on her debut, William Haggas' BORN WITH PRIDE defied market expectations as the outsider of the field to win by a neck from Peaceful. Peaceful is a Galileo filly trained by Aidan O’Brien and she had two runs under her belt, including a win at Thurles, so this was some debut effort, the daughter of Born To Sea clearly knowing her job first time up. She broke well, led and travelled smoothly; the race was already won by the time Peaceful hit top gear late in proceedings. It all augurs well for when she tries middle-distances this season, a division that is likely her destiny given her pedigree. She’s closely related to stablemate Raheen House and other strong stayers, so watch her progress with interest as Haggas steps her up in distance this campaign.
“The trainer has been going on about him for a while,” said Jamie Spencer, straight after he jumped off BRENTFORD HOPE at Newmarket last October. “I text my agent and asked him to get me on him as Hughesy had been banging on saying he’s got a good one.” By the looks of it, a good one he has got. A very good one. Brentford Hope couldn’t have been more impressive on his sole racecourse appearance so far. It was a 10-furlong Newmarket maiden and there were likely several slow horses in behind, but Brentford Hope cantered all over them before sprinting away for a brilliant and effortless success. He’s by Camelot out of a Raven’s Pass mare and looks to have pace as well as stamina. An exciting prospect.
CARLOS FELIX cost €700,000 at the Arqana breeze-up sales last May thanks in part to a lovely pedigree. By Lope De Vega out of Quad’s Melody, he’s a half-brother to several winners including Andrew Balding’s 2017 Sussex Stakes hero Here Comes When. Carlos Felix wasn’t seen out until the backend of his juvenile career, running three times in September, October and November, without success. He shaped well on each occasion, though, including when keen on his debut at Yarmouth and when showing the same signs of greenness next time out at Newcastle. He’s done all of his racing over seven furlongs or a mile so far and was gelded during the winter. A mark of 78 awaits in handicaps and he’ll be of interest off that rating over a mile or a bit further.
John Gosden has famously introduced some smart prospects at Newcastle in recent years including Enable and Without Parole. In the same novice stakes that the latter won on debut he introduced another winning newcomer in December, a Shamardal filly for the Queen called DESERT FLYER who impressed with the way she put the race to bed with a swift turn of foot. It was a taking debut and the third, Dublin Pharoah, who was 11/10 favourite, franked the form on February 15 with a smart win of his own at Lingfield. She looks a miler that might get 10 furlongs and she could be a good one.
Shamardal’s three-year-olds could take the season by storm. Desert Flyer would be one of the more under the radar members of his progeny but in EARTHLIGHT and Pinatubo (more on him later) he has a couple of potential superstars among his number. Earthlight needs no introduction. Five from five, he’s a dual Group One winner already thanks to his victories in the Prix Morny and the Middle Park and the winners of both those contests have been the launchpad for some pretty tasty sprinters over the years. In the last decade alone July Cup winners Dream Ahead, U S Navy Flag and Ten Sovereigns came from those races as did Wesley Ward’s speedsters No Nay Never and Lady Aurelia. Andre Fabre was keen to test him in the Guineas first, but, given his two-year-old profile, the sprinting division looks a viable fallback option.
FAVORITE MOON is a handicapper to follow. William Haggas got him a mark by giving him three quick runs at the backend of his juvenile career, running him over a mile or a bit further at Nottingham, Newbury and Wolverhampton between October 9 and November 16. He improved from a moderate debut effort when running well in fourth and third at Newbury and Wolverhampton respectively, showing that he was learning more with each run. Gelded in the winter, he’s been allotted a mark of 78 and he could leave the form of his novice efforts way behind when he steps up in trip. Related to stayers including his half-brother Fun Mac, Favorite Moon should improve plenty for the switch to handicaps over middle-distances.
In the same Wolverhampton novice in which Favorite Moon was third, Simon Crisford’s FINELY TUNED, owned by Michael Tabor, qualified for handicaps as well after a good run in a close-up fifth. He too has been gelded in the off-season and he also starts life in handicaps off a mark in the high 70s (77). It was his sole effort on turf, though, that makes him interesting for handicaps this season. Outpaced in the Golden Horn Maiden Stakes at Nottingham at the end of October, he stayed on really strongly for a half-length third having had eight lengths to make up from the two-furlong pole. If you were optimistic of Royal Ascot going ahead you’d have him down as a potential Britannia horse, a race Crisford won with Ostilio a few years ago. Whatever happens to the programme, Finely Tuned is a horse to follow.
The Convivial Maiden at York often throws up plenty of good horses and I’m sure last year’s race will prove worth following, too. The 10th home that day, FOX DUTY FREE, was disappointing, but he looked a picture in the paddock and was sent off at 3/1, so better was expected and Silvestre de Sousa went easy on him in the final furlong with the race out of reach. The good thing is he bounced back from that effort back at York next time out where he finished second by a neck despite being keen in the early stages. A Kingman colt trained by Andrew Balding, he looks the type to improve plenty with another winter under his belt and he’s another on the radar for three-year-old mile handicaps – and perhaps races over a bit further, as well.
Anthony Oppenheimer looks to have some very nice three-year-old fillies this season including Domino Darling, by his brilliant Derby winner Golden Horn. She impressed when winning on her sole start at Doncaster last October and it will be interesting to see the path that William Haggas sends her down. However, three days before Domino Darling won another Oppenheimer filly was making her debut at Yarmouth – FRANKLY DARLING – and she looked and travelled like a very smart filly indeed. The daughter of Frankel was beaten by Roger Varian’s Cabaletta, a Cheveley Park-owned filly with a stout pedigree, but it was Frankly Darling that caught the eye given the way she moved through the race. Trainer John Gosden won a division of the same novice stakes the year before with another daughter of Frankel, the Cheshire Oaks winner, Mehdaayih, and in a normal year he’d be likely eyeing an Oaks trial for this filly as well.
It probably wasn’t a straightforward juvenile campaign for HEAVEN FORFEND given he was missing for most of the summer. He stayed on really nicely on his second start in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, finishing just over seven lengths off Pinatubo in sixth under hands and heels riding from Oisin Murphy, but then wasn’t seen out again for three months. His third and final start of his two-year-old season came at Sandown where he was fourth, but there’s every reason to believe he’ll improve as a three-year-old. The son of Frankel is trained by Sir Michael Stoute, for starters, a trainer that has turned improving horses as they get older into an art form, while two of Heaven Forfend’s more famous siblings, You’re Fired and Firmament, both improved as three-year-olds (the latter, admittedly, made much bigger strides forward at four).
Roger Varian’s HIBERNIAN WARRIOR is from a good family that Aidan O’Brien knows well. A half-brother to seven winners, including O’Brien horses like Diamondsandrubies, You’ll Be Mine and Born To Be King, Hibernian Warrior ran well in two starts as a juvenile but should come into his own up in trip as a three-year-old. He made an encouraging start in what looked a good Newmarket maiden at the end of September, running on well for third after being a bit keen early on, and he looked more streetwise on his only subsequent start at Lingfield in November. He led that day and didn’t buckle when coming under pressure, only going down by a short head to Fruition. He’s yet to go further than a mile, but all of his family stayed further and going up to 10 furlongs looks sure to bring about more improvement.
KAMEKO will likely be the answer in a pub quiz in years to come, the question being: Who was the first horse to win a Group One in Britain on an artificial surface? Doncaster’s loss became Newcastle’s gain as the Vertem Futurity Stakes was switched to Gosforth Park’s Tapeta surface during a spell of prolonged wet weather last autumn and Kameko was a brilliant winner. Being by Kitten’s Joy he looked likely to be suited by the surface switch on paper and so it proved as he travelled by far the best before stretching away from a good field. Andrew Balding’s last Qatar-owned winner of the Vertem Futurity, Elm Park, didn’t really go on at three, but Kameko could be a major force in the top races throughout the year.
As alluded to in the Favorite Moon section, I like the angle of a trainer getting three quick runs into a horse at the end of their two-year-old career with a view to them getting a handicap mark ready for the following season. David Simcock got three runs into MORLAIX between October 10 and November 20 last year, all on the all-weather at Kempton, and was rewarded with a rating of 71. Held up in all of his starts, it would be no surprise to see a change of tactics and/or a surface switch bring about improvement in him and off such a lowly mark he’s on the radar for a trainer who has a good record with his three-year-old handicappers.
PALACE PIER’s two-year-old season was cut short thanks to a tibia injury but hopefully he shows no ill effects from that setback as a three-year-old as he looked hugely exciting in two starts as a juvenile. Backed into 11/8 favourite on debut, he justified the market support with an extremely taking debut at Sandown, travelling well throughout before bursting through under Frankie Dettori to win as he liked. Nearly three weeks later he was back winning at the same track in novice company under a penalty, a starting price of 1/8 fully indicative of the task in hand that day. His setback means he hasn’t been tested at a higher level yet, but there is no doubting the Kingman colt’s potential.
Now here’s a rarity. A Flat horse trained in the UK that has already won a couple of races as a three-year-old. PASSING NOD has already had three trainers in his fledgling career, also, but it’s David O’Meara that looks to have found the key to him. The Zoffany gelding showed little in four starts for William Haggas and then Denis Hogan at two, but he began life at O’Meara’s off a lowly mark of 53 and his trainer quickly got him in the winning groove. He scored on his stable debut at Lingfield over six furlongs on January 17, staying on powerfully late on, before winning off 4lb higher eight days later at the same track over a furlong further. He’s gone up another 5lb since then, but he won with loads in hand, is a half-brother to nine winners (all trained by Haggas), and looks a rapid improver that has the potential to rack up plenty more wins yet.
PIERRE LAPIN made a striking debut at Haydock last May, jumping the road crossing like his namesake (or translation of) after a furlong before beating Bad Rabbit (last home) by nearly 15 lengths. His dam is Beatrix Potter, making him a half-brother to the top-class Harry Angel, and he could well uphold family honour in the top three-year-old sprints this season. While his debut was impressive, he went up a couple of gears 120 days later on his second start, staying on well to beat Superlative Stakes winner Mystery Power by a length and a half in the Mill Reef at Newbury. That’s already a good level of form, but he has the scope to improve again at three and it will be interesting to see how he progresses under the watchful eye of top handler Roger Varian.
And so to the most obvious one of the lot, but no three-year-old list would be complete without last season’s star juvenile PINATUBO. The son of Shamardal was perfect at two, winning all six of his races by a combined margin of 24 lengths, his journey taking him from the Derby meeting to Royal Ascot to Glorious Goodwood to the Irish Leger card and then Future Champions Day at Newmarket. He was most brilliant in the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh, his first Group One, a scintillating nine-length victory against quality opposition raising eyebrows across the racing world. Softer ground slightly blunted his brilliance in the Dewhurst, but even that performance showed he was still much the best even when everything wasn’t in his favour. The Guineas looked his for the taking, but whatever amended pattern is hopefully laid before us in a few months’ time, it is to be hoped the mega-talented Pinatubo gets the chance to write his own bit of racing history at some point in 2020.
From the 2000 Guineas favourite to the 1000 Guineas favourite and Roger Charlton’s QUADRILATERAL, who burst onto the scene at Newbury last September when scorching to a conditions race success by nine lengths. The daughter of Frankel’s reputation exploded after that and it wasn’t really a surprise that she was sent off the 9/4 favourite for the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket the following month, for which she was supplemented. She traded much bigger in-running that day on Betfair, 74/1 to be precise, staying on to lead late in the piece after looking in trouble a quarter of a mile from home. That run and her pedigree suggests she might get a bit further, and if she has trained on she could take top billing amongst the three-year-old fillies this season.
Another ‘three and you’re in’ handicapper here with RED MISSILE likely to improve this year. The son of Battle Of Marengo showed promise in two of his three starts as a juvenile, staying on well on his debut on Newmarket’s July Course for fourth before he disappointed at Salisbury when sent off favourite after that. Off the track for over a few months, he bounced back from the disappointment of his second start at Wolverhampton in November when shaping well in third, doing his best work late on. Allotted a mark of 77 after that, he’s been gelded during the winter and looks another one of William Haggas’ to follow once he goes up in trip in handicaps.
The Beresford Stakes at the Curragh has a strong tradition of producing top-quality three-year-olds. Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells, Azamour, Sea The Stars, St Nicholas Abbey, Capri, Saxon Warrior and Japan all won the Beresford at two and the last four named were trained by Aidan O’Brien. He won it again in 2019 with Innisfree who went on to be second to Kameko at Newcastle on his final start at two. The son of Galileo could have easily made the list but I was really taken by the effort of the runner-up at the Curragh, SHEKHEM, who might just develop into a really useful three-year-old for Dermot Weld. He got warm before the Beresford and was way too keen early on, but he went down fighting by a neck in the style of a horse that wants to race. If he learns to settle better he can go far – in both senses of the phrase – as on pedigree he should get a bit further, as well.
Last year’s Middle Park looked a race for the ages. Earthlight v Mums Tipple v SISKIN. A lip-smacking head-to-head-to-head between three above average juveniles. But there was to be disappointment. Mums Tipple didn’t run his race and Siskin simply didn’t run. He was unruly in the stalls and was withdrawn, much to the chagrin of connections, particularly the owners, Juddmonte, who sponsored the race. “This game tames lions,” said a rueful Teddy Grimthorpe afterwards, but trainer Ger Lyons was more philosophical adding: “It is a bit of a shame, but he is still unbeaten.” That he is – and he remains a top prospect for the season ahead as it’s tough to forget the good impression he made during four consecutive victories in Ireland, three at the Curragh, including the Group One Keeneland Phoenix Stakes. Hopefully his Newmarket episode was simply a one off.
THAI POWER didn’t show a lot in two starts as a juvenile but he’s expected to leave that form way behind at three. The son of Kingman cost 425,000 guineas at the Tattersalls Book 1 yearling sale and he looks the part, being a big, strong, imposing colt. He’s a half-brother to some talented horses including last year’s runaway Lincoln winner, Auxerre, while he’s also related to the Ralph Beckett-trained fillies Manuela De Vega and Isabel De Urbina who stayed a mile-and-a-half and further. Owned by King Power Racing, I’m looking forward to seeing how he’s developed over the winter for Andrew Balding and a 10-furlong maiden as his first port of call will likely give connections a steer as to what they’ve got on their hands, one way or the other.
There were some promising juveniles among freshman sire Night Of Thunder’s first crop last year including several multiple winners. Pocket Square, Under The Stars, Molatham and Night Colours were four such horses, but none were unbeaten, unlike THUNDEROUS who was a perfect three from three for Mark Johnston. The Listed Denford Stakes he won at Newbury wasn’t the test it might’ve been due to the withdrawal of hot favourite Juan Elcano, but he has beaten what’s been put in front of him pretty comfortably thus far and has improved with each start. That bodes well for his three-year-old career and, having raced solely over seven furlongs so far, he’s open to improvement when he tackles a mile or even a bit further. He’s reported to have had a setback, but he could well be fit and ready for when racing eventually resumes.
Another John Gosden filly that was introduced at Newcastle and it was hard not to be impressed by the debut victory of TIEMPO VUELA last October. The daughter of Lope De Vega travelled well throughout the race and only looked momentarily in trouble inside the two-furlong marker when Rab Havlin asked her to go and win her race. You can put her initial hesitation down to greenness and when the penny dropped she fairly flew home to win easily by three lengths. The form isn’t great – the next three home were all beaten next time – but the runner-up, Tulip Fields, is a fairly solid yardstick and Tiempo Vuela brushed her aside. She could be smart and is another one that should come into her own up in distance.
There was enough of a hint of ability in two of TOMMY ROCK’s three starts at two to suggest he might well be a well-handicapped sprinter for Clive Cox off a mark of 68. His debut at Bath was promising, as he ran green on the outside of the field over five furlongs before finishing well for third. He didn’t take a step forward over a furlong further at Newbury after that, but did run on quite nicely for fourth, under hands and heels riding, behind 1/3 winner Premier Power at Kempton on his third and final start at two. He’s bred to be a sprinter, he’s bred to improve at three, and he starts off a lowly rating for a trainer who is a master at nurturing a three-year-old over six furlongs.
It’s always fun trying to figure out which Mark Johnston-trained three-year-old handicapper is going to rack up a sequence when they step up in trip. The chances are we’ve got the wrong one, but I’m really looking forward to seeing TRUMPET MAN tackle middle-distances and beyond later in the year. The son of Golden Horn had three starts over a mile at two and ran well on each occasion without winning, finishing fourth at Chelmsford, a head second at Wolverhampton and fifth at Newmarket. Gelded in the winter, Trumpet Man is a half-brother to the same stable’s 2015 Melrose winner Polarisation and he’s one to look forward to in handicaps over a trip.
You could have many Aidan O’Brien-trained three-year-olds in a list like this but my preference for trying to find under-the-radar handicappers has meant limited room for the Ballydoyle blue bloods. However, I had to have one and VATICAN CITY is of particular interest this year - and he’s slightly under the radar himself. The son of Galileo debuted in a Newmarket maiden won by Ralph Beckett’s Kinross on October 5 and he stayed on well for fifth before improving markedly on that effort next time out, when winning at 1/2 at Dundalk. The runner-up at Dundalk, Psyche, franked the form with a win at the same track on his next start and Vatican City travelled all over him before sprinting away for an easy success. His breeding is incredible, as you would expect, as he’s a full brother to Gleneagles, Marvellous and Happily being out of the Storm Cat mare You'resothrilling.
There are quite a few once-raced-on-the-all-weather-trained-by-John-Gosden horses in this list, but none are as exciting as Wolverhampton scorer WALDKONIG. He’s a 600,000 guineas Kingman colt from the Tattersalls Book 1 sale and a half-brother to Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Waldgeist, so, on paper he’s got it all, and he made some impression on his one and only start at two. He lobbed along under Rab Havlin, who, aware of the sedate pace before three out, pulled him out to go and hit the front rounding the turn for home. That exaggerated movement probably contributed to him hanging to the right a little, but his explosive burst of speed to run away from his rivals by nine lengths was dazzling. It’s a shame we won’t see him in a Classic trial this spring, but he’s a horse of immense potential we can look forward to.
Oh, go on then. Let’s finish with one more go at finding that Mark Johnston-trained three-year-old handicapper that’s going to win five on the spin. YOU OWE ME ticks all the boxes. Three quick runs (between November 8 and December 5). Gelded in the winter. Ran solely on the all-weather at two (twice over a mile, once over 1m2f). Showed promise in at least one start (his third). Potential to improve when he steps up in trip (he’s by Champs Elysees out of a mare that won over 1m4f). Owned by Paul and Clare Rooney, he starts life in handicaps off a lowly rating of 69. Hopefully he’s one to look forward to when racing resumes.