Potential classic bubbles will be flying all over Newmarket and Newbury this week as the 2017 Flat season proper cranks up a gear with a fistful of trials, though come Saturday night plenty of dreams will be deflated as owners and trainers acknowledge their winter swans are actually spring geese.
Churchill and Al Wukair, first and second favourites for the 2000 Guineas, are pencilled in to go straight for the first colts’ classic at HQ on 6 May, while Rhododendron, who heads the market for the fillies’ equivalent, also skips a prep-race and goes directly to Newmarket 24 hours later.
However, John Gosden, who did us a lucrative turn last week courtesy of Valcartier and Monarch’s Glen, while unlikely to come up with a Guineas colt, has several talented fillies on the bench for the 1000 Guineas and Oaks, including DABAN and DABYAH, who reappear this week.
Frankie Dettori rides Daban in today’s Nell Gwyn Stakes, and the Italian is trying to win this Group 3 race for the fourth year running.
Daban is a double-figure price, having only won a back-end maiden on her debut on the all-weather at Kempton, so strictly on form she has an awful lot to find with Aidan O’Brien’s pair, Brave Anna and Roly Poly, who finished 1-2 in last year’s Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes but are not certain to see out this extra 200m trip.
There is also a strong French challenger of Andre Fabre’s in Pamplemousse, who was an impressive winner of her belated debut at Chantilly recently, and Sea Of Grace, now with William Haggas, having been transferred from John Oxx, who rated her highly last year. However, Haggas thinks she might want 1600m.
Only one filly (Speciosa in 2006) has completed the Nell Gwyn-Guineas double since Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp in 1985, and this looks an exceptional renewal, but my Newmarket mole has been waxing lyrical about the work being shown by Daban, who won going away at Kempton and is rated Group class by her trainer. She looks a terrific Eachway shot at the likely odds.
And if Daban does justify that confidence, or even go close, then that would be a timely boost for stablemate Dabyah, who runs in the Group 3 Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
Dabyah is third-favourite for the Guineas, having run an excellent race to take bronze in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly on Arc Day, and I fancy she’ll outstay Queen Kindly, last year’s Lowther Stakes winner who flopped in the Cheveley Park but still strikes me as more of a sprinter than one for this 1400m trial.
Prior to her trip to France, Dabyah had won both her races in scintillating fashion, and Gosden tells me that she has wintered well, so she’ll be hard to beat here.
The Group 3 Greenham is Newbury’s Guineas dress-rehearsal for the colts and while David Elsworth is bullish about the prospects of Swiss Storm, who won his maiden impressively on the course last September, I’m in the Hannon camp, courtesy of BARNEY BOY, who was bought by Godolphin after bolting up in his only race at Haydock last year.
The Hannons have farmed this race over the years – Richard’s dad won it six times – and the trainer makes no secret of the fact that he thinks Barney Boy is “the real deal” so he’ll do for me.
Back at Newmarket today, Elsworth can win the Free Handicap with SIR DANCEALOT, who failed to stay the 1600m in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last autumn but will appreciate coming back down in distance. His form over shorter is solid, though Gosden is also sweet on dual winner Seven Heavens, who wears a hood for the first time, having disappointed on his final run last year.
Seven Heavens probably falls just short of classic material and will appreciate dropping to Listed grade, but at level weights I prefer Sir Dancealot.
Godolphin may have the answer to the Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes with FOLKSWOOD, who is fit from a successful spell at the Dubai Carnival and is rated superior to stablemate Viren’s Army, while another who will lack nothing in fitness is the in-form KING ROBERT, who can get us off to a flyer by winning the opener.
Rivet will probably start favourite for tomorrow’s Group 3 Craven Stakes, which is often a reliable Guineas trial, but his chance depends on whether he turns up in the form which enabled to win the Racing Post or when he flopped in the Dewhurst.
I prefer to take him on with EMINENT, a Frankel colt who impressed when winning his only race last year. He has an unfashionable trainer in Martyn Meade, but make no mistake this fellow knows the colour of his oranges and such is the colt’s reputation that if he was in one of the top yards he’d be at much shorter odds.
Also at Newmarket Gosden might have another successful day, with PEALER, beaten at 1-4 on his Tapeta debut at Wolverhampton, expected to bounce back on the turf in the maiden, while stablemate TRICORN is on a hat-trick mission in the 1600m handicap and arguably still a kilo or two ahead of the official assessor.
A record crowd turned up at Lingfield for the £1-million All- Weather Championships last Saturday, with Sir Michael Stoute taking the feature Easter Classic with Convey.
Ryan Moore oozed confidence on Convey, who won with a bit in hand and could now be heading off to Sha Tin for the Hong Kong Mile on 7 May.
The other class performance at Lingfield came from Roger Varian’s REALTRA, who put her recent Dubai disappointment behind her when winning the fillies and mares race.
Varian said: “Dubai is a mystery – she never fired and we tried every test in the book when we got her home and could not find anything wrong with her. We decided to put the blinkers on and they worked the oracle, so she’ll wear them again when she returns to Lingfield, this time on the turf, for the Group 3 Chartwell Stakes at the Derby Trial meeting next month.”
Also remember the name of another All-Weather winner at Lingfield, Second Thought.
“He is smart,” insisted trainer William Haggas. “This 1200m was always going to be on the sharp side and 1400m will suit him better, but he can quicken and you’ll hear more of him in the turf season.”