Check out the latest Timeform Eyecatcher of the Day and add them to your free My Stable tracker.
Loving Dash offered little on her debut at Sandown in April, failing to beat a rival home and finishing nearly 30 lengths behind the winner. The fact she was sent off at a big price and wearing a tongue tie also rang a few alarm bells. However, she shaped with much more encouragement when runner-up in a mile-and-a-quarter novice at Salisbury on Sunday, pushing the odds-on winner all the way and pulling seven lengths clear of the remainder.
Loving Dash, fitted with a hood on her second start, travelled notably well and was the last filly off the bridle. She looked set to win after moving so powerfully into a share of the lead, but it would be harsh to criticise her for not sealing the deal as the winner found plenty for pressure inside the final furlong. The fact Loving Dash ended up seven lengths clear of the third shows that she stuck to her task well enough, and, all of a sudden, she is now a filly to be positive about.
Loving Dash is bred to be useful as she is a half-sister to the very smart Dashing Willoughby, while her dam, Miss Dashwood, was a versatile and useful performer. There should be more to come after only two starts.
It looked a typically competitive renewal of this long-established three-year-old sprint handicap, albeit the quality might have been down slightly on previous years. For context, the joint-top weights lined up from a BHA mark of just 94, the first time since 2012 that the highest-rated runner has had a BHA mark of below 100.
Dark Shift was sent off the 4/1 favourite, one of the least exposed runners in the field making his handicap debut from a BHA mark of 88. In the event, however, he didn’t get the opportunity to show what he can do after a slow exit from the stalls, losing several lengths and being forced to race well off the pace as a result. He faced a hopeless task from his position but caught the eye with the ground he made up and the number of horses he ran past in the final two furlongs, doing well under the circumstances to pass the post only six lengths behind the winner.
Dark Shift certainly shaped better than the bare result, showing more than enough to suggest he is up to winning races from his current mark if getting away on terms. The strength of his previous form also gives cause for plenty of optimism in that regard. After all, he won a novice event at two which has worked out well, easily beating Twilight Calls (now BHA-rated 87) by four lengths, while the race he won on his reappearance at Nottingham has also thrown up a couple of winners subsequently.
The mile-and-a-quarter handicap for three-year-olds at Sandown on Friday featured a couple of interesting handicap debutants and should prove to be strong form for the grade. Secret Box, representing Sir Mark Prescott, found plenty to lead inside the final half furlong and looks the type to carry on improving, but it's also worth taking a positive view about the runner-up Nell Quickly, who showed enough to suggest that she has started off in handicaps on a fair mark.
Nell Quickly won a Chelmsford maiden on her third start but she showed improved form in defeat here, simply unlucky to bump into another progressive, unexposed sort on her handicap/turf debut. Nell Quickly took a strong hold and was tracking the pace before she got shuffled back into mid-division, but she made good headway over two furlongs out and held every chance as they entered the final 200 yards. She was unable to repel the winner's late surge but she won't always bump into one so far ahead of their mark, and she can gain compensation.
Three Dons looked badly in the need of the experience when beating only one rival home at Newmarket on debut last month but he showed a lot more at Nottingham on Thursday and, all of a sudden, is one to be interested in.
Three Dons was only fourth in the six-furlong novice won by Love de Vega, but he kept on well inside the final furlong after being shaken up by his 7 lb apprentice rider, and he hit the line with running still to give.
That was an encouraging performance from Three Dons and one that suggests he has more to offer under stronger handling from a more experienced jockey. He is also entitled to sharpen up again for the outing.
Paul Cole did well with Pink Symphony, sending her out to finish placed in listed company on four occasions, and he has also enjoyed success with her offspring. He coaxed a couple of wins from Pink Phantom and has done likewise with Highland Chief, who developed into a smart performer last season and was runner-up in the Gordon Stakes and Great Voltigeur Stakes.
Highland Chief's half-brother Tartan Chief made his debut at Haydock on Wednesday and he shaped with plenty of promise in third, faring best of the newcomers. He was unable to go with the front pair, who had the benefit of previous experience, when the tempo lifted, but he kept on nicely inside the final furlong to grab third, leaving a positive impression and offering something to work with. He is entitled to improve markedly for the initial experience and should continue to progress for Paul and Oliver Cole, who know the family so well.
Most of the horses put up in this feature will be runners who shaped well in defeat, but, on a low-key day of racing in Britain, it's difficult to overlook the winning start made by Papacito at Salisbury. Papacito, a 140,000 guineas purchase as a yearling, didn't make it to the course as a two-year-old, but he proved worth the wait, justifying favouritism in the seven-furlong novice in the style of a nice prospect.
Papacito was restrained and moved towards the rail in a bid to find cover after racing keenly in the early stages, and he found himself with plenty to do after he was caught on the heels of a weakening rival. He had to be angled sharply to his left to secure a run and he showed signs of inexperience when initially in the clear, wandering off a true line, but he was some sight in full cry, finishing powerfully to score by a length. He did well to win having done so much wrong, is entitled to improve markedly for the experience and is in excellent hands with Roger Varian, so is one to be positive about.
The four-year-old Night Hunter was making a rather belated debut in this maiden, suggesting he hasn’t been the easiest horse to train. However, he had plenty to recommend him on paper if you could put those concerns about the delayed start to his career to the back of your mind. After all, he is bred in the purple (by Tapit and a half-brother to the US Grade 1 winner Wickedly Perfect) and seemingly has the looks to match given that he cost $700,000 as a yearling.
In the race itself, Night Hunter shaped with plenty of promise in third, just not knowing enough at this stage of his career to make a bigger impact. Settled in mid-division in the early stages, he ran green at halfway and continued to take a while to get the hang of things after being shaken up entering the final three furlongs. He finished with real purpose, though, and almost snatched second, passing the post just a length and a quarter behind the impressive winner Baaeed.
It’s likely to prove an informative contest and Baaeed and Night Hunter both deserve plenty of credit given that they were conceding experience to all bar one of their rivals. The winner came from even further back than Night Hunter and could eventually reach a high level over middle-distances, much like his brother Hukum, a very smart winner up to thirteen furlongs.
The big question with Night Hunter, who should also stay further, is whether he can stand regular racing now that he’s up and running, but there was certainly plenty of encouragement to be taken from this effort. He looks sure to improve with the experience under his belt and is one to be interested in if lining up in a similar event in the coming weeks.
May 31-June 6 - To Be Wild was among the latest horses to take the eye
May 24-30 - Eyecatchers from Timeform including Bernardo O'Reilly
May 17-23 - Check out the week's eyecatchers from Timeform including Bezzas Lad
May 10-16 - We round up the week's eyecatchers from Timeform including a two-year-old to note from the Sunday meeting at Ripon