Alex Hammond blog & tips: November Handicap preview and Breeders' Cup reflections

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

It's been a week of huge international action, Alex Hammond reflects on it all and has a 16/1 fancy in Saturday's November Handicap at Doncaster.

There’s been some terrific international racing on Sky Sports Racing over the last few days with the Breeders’ Cup and Melbourne Cup, what was the highlight for you?

Well we had a thorough debrief in the Monday Night Racing studio after the Breeders’ Cup and there were so many noteworthy performances it is hard to narrow it down to just one on the equine front.

In the absence for me of an ‘Arazi’ type performance at Santa Anita, I’m going to give my gold star to Joseph O’Brien. Yes, he’s had the privilege of being the son of one of the greatest trainers of all time and there’s no doubt that he’s had an enormous leg up, but O’Brien junior still had to prove he could do the job. With that sort of opportunity comes huge pressure and training for top owners isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Joseph has grasped that opportunity and run with it and with the victory of Iridessa in the Filly And Mare Turf he is now the youngest jockey to ride a Breeders’ Cup winner (St Nicholas Abbey in 2011) and the youngest trainer to saddle one. There doesn’t seem to be much O’Brien can’t do and the 26-year-old looks set to be a training phenomenon like his father.

2019 Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf - Iridessa

Of course there were some top class efforts from so many horses, but I’ll explain what I’m talking about when I speak of an ‘Arazi’ type performance. The Francois Boutin trained wonder colt won the Juvenile in such devastating fashion back in 1991 it completely captured my imagination. With Desert Orchid’s career in full flight at around the same time, it ensured I was well and truly hooked on the sport and have never looked back. I think we all have a race that has done that to us and they are hard to forget and to match.

Closer to home Ascot and Wetherby provided some dramatic jumps racing highlights on Saturday – give us a horse or horses to take out of the weekend with the future in mind?

It was the weekend that just kept giving wasn’t it? I’m actually going to go to Wetherby on Friday for my first highlight. My good friends Jedd and Andrea O’Keeffe are making a real name for themselves from their yard in North Yorkshire. They have had some very smart horses in the past, but Sam Spinner has really put them on the map.

I was lucky enough to be up there a couple of weeks ago and saw their Grade One winner on the gallops and he’s a real athlete, the sort of horse that fills a trainer with joy in the mornings. To watch him take his record over fences to 2/2 in the three mile novices chase was a real thrill and the sky is the limit for the seven-year-old. He’s learning all the time and dare I tempt fate and say he could be as good, if not better, over fences than he was hurdles.

Sam Spinner - exciting novice chaser
Sam Spinner - exciting novice chaser

At Ascot on Saturday I was thrilled to see Vinndication win the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase for Kim Bailey and David Bass. I thought the he had a superb chance of winning the valuable prize on his first foray into handicap company and he couldn’t have done it much more easily. You only had to look at the glee on his trainer’s face in the winners' enclosure to see Bailey thought the same and was making the most of a mark he knew he was capable of winning from.

It was almost daylight robbery! We won’t see him in that sort of company again in the near future as it will be graded races all the way for this lovely horse now.

Vinndication on his way to victory at Ascot
Vinndication on his way to victory at Ascot

It’s the final day of the British Flat season at Doncaster on Saturday, the November Handicap looks like the kind of puzzle you like to try and solve!...

I’ll be heading up to Doncaster for the Flat season finale, so I hope the weather is a bit kinder than it was when they had to abandon the Vertem Futurity last month. As ever this mile-and-a-half contest will take some unravelling and whilst I’m not sure I enjoy sorting out this type of puzzle, I’ll give it a go!

We have to take notice of the horse that could bash the bookies on Saturday. Trainer Hugo Palmer has snapped up the services of champion apprentice Cieren Fallon for Collide and Fallon junior’s 3lb claim will come in very handy here. Palmer has been in much better form in the second part of this campaign and the horse comes here fresh having had a little breathing operation since he ran down the field at Newmarket in July.

As a son of Frankel Collide will have bags of stamina and he still looks fairly treated. Soft ground won’t be an issue either, but if you feel the value may have gone (6/1 with Sky Bet), let’s find something at a bigger price.

I’m a big fan of a horse that Hugo Palmer used to train and is now with Staffordshire handler Kevin Frost. Francis Xavier proved he stayed this trip when he won at Ascot in September and he’s another horse that will enjoy the autumn ground conditions. His run at Pontefract last time out was encouraging too and there could be still more to come from this relatively lightly raced five-year-old. He’s 16/1 with Sky Bet and I’ve already backed him each way.


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