Alex Hammond reflects on last weekend's highlights before focusing on the best bets on Sandown's top-quality Saturday programme.
What did you make of the Northumberland Plate meeting at the weekend Alex – and of course the winner Who Dares Wins?
It was a pleasure to be back at Newcastle after so many years away and the friendly welcome was even extended to me by the staff at the racecourse.
To be greeted with a “welcome back” by someone who has clearly been a long-term fixture at Gosforth Park is the sort of gesture that makes the world seem a better place and the rest of the day didn’t disappoint either.
There was a large crowd for 'Pitman’s Derby' day, boosted by Madness playing live after racing. But those racegoers that turned up for the music also seemed to get into the spirit of the racing too which was great to see.
There was a real buzz around the place on a balmy, sultry day and the action on the track was red hot. As you probably know by now, I love the stayers division. The familiarity of the horses we have got to know and love is part of that attraction and the winner definitely falls into that category.
Alan King’s seven year-old Who Dares Wins was having the 36th start of his career at Newcastle, but that doesn’t tell the whole tale. A full 23 of those starts have come on the Flat, 13 over hurdles and that includes Graded and Listed victories over hurdles, a third place in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, being placed three times in the Chester Cup and six wins in total on the level.
I was chatting to a couple of his owners before the race and they were telling me how much they love this horse and afterwards they were virtually in tears.
Winning trainer Alan King also had a glint in his eye, but for a different reason. When he spoke about this horse’s future he said he could be a pretty useful novice chaser; watch this space.
Frankie Dettori rattled off another Group One winner with Coronet at Saint-Cloud – is there any stopping him and Enable in the Coral-Eclipse?
I hope not. Frankie is a superstar, Enable likewise and the pair of them together are a phenomena.
Whilst we’ve seen numerous quality performances this Flat season, the only real mega-star has been super sprinter Blue Point, but with him wrapped up in cotton wool and contemplating his next career, we are lacking an equine headliner, something that can produce the type of performance that makes us want to say “I was there”.
We need Enable and she can take that weight of expectation on her elegant shoulders.
Coronet’s win is relevant, as is Mehdaayih’s on the same Saint-Cloud card last Sunday. John Gosden trains both fillies and those big-race wins show us that all is well at Clarehaven Stables and the horses are in tip top form.
Sky Bet have Enable as their 8/11 favourite for Saturday’s Group 1 contest and whilst I can’t see you knocking any doors down to rush and back her, it could look phenomenal value at around 3.40pm.
What else takes your eye at the weekend?
Garrus stands out as one to keep on side in the Coral Charge at Sandown. He’ll have his first start for Charlie Hills who has inherited a horse from the now retired Jeremy Noseda that is still lightly raced, improving and in good form. He’s Sky Bet’s 3/1 favourite, but deservedly so having won a Listed race at York last time out.
Far Above isn’t to be dismissed lightly in the same race for trainer James Tate. He has only had three starts in his life, but this three-year-old is held in high regard and holds top level entries. Like Garrus he gets 5lb from the older horses in this race and that could be crucial at this time of year when the three-year-olds are mature enough to take on their elders.
I’m waiting for Escobar to pop up in one of these big handicaps at some point as David O’Meara’s horse is starting to look reasonably well handicapped. I don’t think he’s entirely straightforward and was withdrawn after being unruly in the stalls at Nottingham a month ago, but he’ll have had to have passed a stalls test since then and I hope he goes well in the Coral Challenge, for which he’s 16/1 with Sky Bet, which could be each way value.
The Coral Marathon looks to have some potentially smart stayers in the line-up. Dermot Weld has booked Frankie Dettori for Falcon Eight in this and he looks to have plenty to give over two miles.
I’m a big fan of one of his rivals, Cleonte, but he had a hard race to win at Royal Ascot, whilst this horse comes here much fresher with just one run under his belt this season back in May.
He has an exceptional pedigree too, being a son of Galileo and related to a stack of high quality horses including former Prince Of Wales’s Stakes winner Free Eagle. Falcon Eight should take all the beating.