Alex Hammond previews the big weekend action

Check out Alex Hammond's latest blog
Check out Alex Hammond's latest blog

Alex Hammond reflects on the key action at Newmarket last week and looks ahead to Saturday's feature races at Newbury and Market Rasen.

What did you make of Alpha Centauri in the Falmouth Alex – and what can beat her over a mile this season?

It was wonderful to see her land a Group One hat-trick for Jessie Harrington and Colm O’Donoghue. She has a marvellous temperament and seems so uncomplicated. I loved how she settled and skipped along with her ears flicking in a really honest manner. In winning the race as comfortably as she did, she did what we expected and hoped she would. She was by far the highest rated, but that isn’t always a guarantee of success and it was a pleasure to watch her in full flight.

So, to answer the second part of the question, to date she has seen off the best of her generation and sex, but she will face a serious test next time out with the Prix Jacque le Marois on her agenda. She'll meet colts and older horses at Deauville.

Whilst the Falmouth is also open to older horses, the two older horses that took part weren’t serious rivals to the odds-on favourite and were never a realistic threat, so this looks her first big test outside her own age group. Understandably, her owners are keen to go to France with their star filly, it’s a race they sponsor and is worth a whopping one million euros this year. It has been won by some superstars over the years with Sayyedati and Six Perfections a couple of three year-old fillies to shine there. She has an outstanding chance of joining them on the roll of honour and nothing jumps out at me as being capable of bursting her bubble just yet.

Alpha Centauri is out on her own at Newmarket
Alpha Centauri is out on her own at Newmarket

US Navy Flag returned to sprinting to land the July Cup – how impressed were you?

He seems to enjoy his trips to Flat racing’s HQ, albeit his two top flight wins at Newmarket last season came on the Rowley Mile. He had run well in the July Stakes at this track as a juvenile too and set off like a rocket on Saturday and was never reeled in. I feel a bit sorry for runner-up Brando, as he looked to be on the unfavoured side of the track for much of the race and despite that he ran a cracker to finish second. The plan with the winner is to head down to Australia now for the country’s most valuable turf race (the Everest at Randwick on 13 October), so how much more of him we’ll see in Europe, I’m not sure. Still, the drop in trip is clearly what he needed after three failed attempts over a mile this season and he could have much more to give in the sprint division.

Brando chases home US Navy Flag in the Darley July Cup
Brando chases home US Navy Flag in the Darley July Cup

The Go Racing In Yorkshire Summer Festival gets under way at Ripon on Saturday – what’s your favourite memory from a Yorkshire racecourse over the years?

Well, as a Yorkshire girl I love going racing in God’s Own County and as York was the first track I ever visited, then I guess it has to be a memory from the Knavesmire. I’m going to go with (and I’m about to age myself here) Lyric Fantasy’s win in the Nunthorpe on 20th August 1992. This wasn’t my first visit to the track, but I’d fallen in love with the place after my debut there.

The Group One feature was run in those days on a Thursday and it happened to be the day that my A-Level results were released. So, a dilemma, do I go racing or head to school to pick up the brown envelope with possible life changing news inside? I reached a happy compromise, I’d send my dad to school to pick up the results, whilst I went to York with my mum for the day (got to love supportive parents!). Turns out my trip to the races was the better of the two options and with hindsight it was the most significant and influential education I received for my future career.

Richard Hannon’s Lyric Fantasy was nicknamed the Pocket Rocket and she landed the odds in the hands of Michael Roberts, getting weight from her rivals as the only two year-old in the field; her stablemate Mr Brooks was second under Lester Piggott. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I think about it. I remember the race like it was yesterday and have managed to forget what was inside that brown envelope!

Signora Cabella is favourite for the Super Sprint at Newbury on Saturday – how do you see the race?

Well there is a link here as Lyric Fantasy won the Weatherbys Super Sprint en-route to the Nunthorpe. Her trainer Richard Hannon Senior was instrumental in the development of these valuable sales races and has won many of them over the years. I’m not sure Richard Hannon Junior has an obvious candidate this year sadly, although he trains seven of the 56 entries. The five furlong contest looks as difficult to sort out as ever, so I’d suggest looking for a bit of value and backing one each-way as Sky Bet are offering extra places. A maximum field of 25 will line up from the mammoth entry and there are a couple that I hope can win us some cash.

Let’s have a quick chat about the favourite Signora Cabella. She won an ultra-competitive Queen Mary at Royal Ascot last time out taking her record to three from four. She was 25/1 to that day and at the time of writing is 4/1 with Sky Bet to win Saturday’s race, so I’ll try and find some value elsewhere.

Richard Fahey is often a trainer to follow in these races too and his Red Balloons looks capable of making an impact if she gets a run. At 14/1 with Sky Bet, I’m happy enough to take a chance on her getting much closer to Signora Cabella. Red Balloons was 14th in the Queen Mary, but it was a long way off being a disastrous run and she has since had a confidence boost with a win at Nottingham in a much lower grade.

Another juvenile that could give us something to shout about is Snazzy who represents Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes. She too was well beaten in the Queen Mary, but prior to that had got much closer to her Ascot conqueror in the Marygate at York. She has flashed her tail in the past but has ability and might just get a tow along in this big field. She’s a 20/1 shot. It’s such a difficult race to find the winner, but I hope the aforementioned duo give us a good run for our money.

What else catches your eye this weekend?

Market Rasen host their valuable summer jumping card on Saturday and I like the look of Geordie Des Champs in the 188Bet Summer Plate. In an ideal world Rebecca Curtis’ runner could possibly do with running over slightly further than this two miles five furlongs, but he’s not completely lacking in pace. He was having just his fifth start over fences in Uttoxeter’s Summer Cup over three-and-a-quarter miles a few weeks ago and it looked there like a drop in trip would be more suitable.

That was a tough old test on one of the hottest days of the summer. There could be more to come from this chap and Curtis has been amongst the winners from limited runners this summer. He’s 10/1 with Sky Bet.

Trainer Rebecca Curtis - can be among the winners at the weekend

On the same card Dr Richard Newland will be hoping to keep up his astonishing recent strike rate in the 188Bet Summer Handicap Hurdle. His Leoncavallo is Sky Bet’s 5/1 co-favourite and deservedly so. The horse won on his debut for the trainer at Ludlow in May and has been raised nine pounds by the handicapper for that easy win. He is still attractively weighted on his best form and has been kept specifically for this race.

Newland has a knack of revitalising horses and you wouldn’t want to bet against this one winning a big pot for his shrewd handler. He was a very good juvenile hurdler for John Ferguson before switching to Charlie Appleby when Ferguson stopped training, with Ben Pauling then taking charge of him. He was picked up relatively cheaply by his new owners and it could that could prove to be £21,000 very well spent.

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