Tony Calvin: From Wetherby to Churchill Downs, a lot to look ahead to this weekend
It's a busy time for racing from the star-studded card at Wetherby, including the Bet365 Hurdle and the Charlie Hall, but also from halfway around the world for the Breeders' Cup. Tony Calvin tries to make sense of it all...
"The Classic rounds off the meeting, and no-one will be ignoring the Americans on dirt in this 1m2f contest.
You have to go back to Ravens Pass winning this race in 2008 to find the last time the Europeans got a look-in here - and the Classic took place on Pro Ride at Santa Anita that year, and not dirt - and Roaring Lion will be some horse to be winning here, especially after the busy season he has had and the hard race he had at Ascot recently."
Domestic ante-post punters - and indeed bookmakers alike - were able to start Monday afternoon with a blank canvass as there weren't any markets up on any the UK races before the weekend declarations were known, unsurprisingly so given there is no long-term, big handicap or Grade 1 action on Saturday (though there is at Down Royal).
But it's the proper start of the jumps season Mk III to judge from some of Saturday's entries, particularly at Wetherby, where there is, in fact, an outstanding chase in the offing.
Wetherby kicks it off
The course has attracted cracking five-day entries for all their Graded and Listed races, and here is hoping that the fields stand up. Markets will, no doubt, will be filtering through on the Betfair Sportsbook and exchange throughout the day, so keep 'em peeled.
Of course, you get a lot of horses with double entries at this time of year, but the Mares' Hurdle sees the possible return of Apple's Shakira and plenty of other promising females, not least her stablemate Verdana Blue (who has an alternative engagement at Ascot, and I imagine she will go where the ground is quickest).
The Bet365 Hurdle is another potential cracker, and the Charlie Hall has been further spiced by Gordon Elliott having three of the 11 entries, with Don Poli, who hasn't raced since an Irish Gold Cup third in February 2017, being one of his trio alongside Alpha Des Obeaux and Outlander.
Not that the race needs spicing up that much mind you, as Thistlecrack (not seen since last year's King George, where he suffered a stress fracture of a hind leg), Bristol de Mai, Double Shuffle and Definitly Red are also in there. And a couple of other fair tools, too.
Thistlecrack is reported in good order for his return and is clearly the one to beat at his best. A far "if" that, though.
It is potentially a superb contest and I just hope that plenty confirm for the race on Friday morning. They are watering to maintain good ground there, it seems.
The lack of definite running plans makes it very hard to get involved at this stage though, and that goes for Ascot, too, where I imagine the quick ground would be worrying some connections.
It is currently good to firm (good in places) there, and they were watering on Monday, which is slightly surprising given rain is forecast on-and-off from Wednesday onwards.
Samcro announcement makes it skinny
Of course, there was some big ante-post news on the Cheltenham front on Monday with Betfair ambassador Gordon Elliott revealing in his column that Samcro is being kept to hurdles this season with a view to the Champion Hurdle in March.
As a result, he is now [3.6] for the race at the time of writing, which looks plenty short enough to me. Very skinny, in fact.
I know the race doesn't scream depth at the moment, but I wasn't that blown away with his Ballymore victory and he starts the new campaign on the back of a fall at Punchestown in April. We will know a bit more if he takes up an engagement at Down Royal on Friday.
Look ahead to something more recent
Cheltenham is some way down the line, though and the headline meeting this weekend - if not necessarily from a betting point of view - is the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday.
My punting profit and loss on the meeting over the years means I tend to largely give it a swerve these days - the temptation is to try to become an expert on US racing for two days a year - but at least Keeneland is only four hours behind UK time, so it is doesn't drag into Sunday morning here, with the Classic tail-ending the card at a manageable 9.44pm GMT.
Actually, the 2011 card at Churchill Downs was the last Breeders' Cup I attended - there were big-priced shocks galore that year, including a 50/1 winner in the Mile - and it included another bizarre and surprise meeting of another sort.
I went to an out-of-the-way bar in Louisville with a few journos , and it turned out that a former colleague from my Racing Post days in the 80s and 90s was in charge of the establishment.
Small world, or what.
The travelling hack pack to America this year - though a few would have taken advantage of a subsidised invite to Melbourne instead, I imagine - certainly have plenty of high-profile horses to cheer on.
However, they could be doing so in the rain, as the most recent weather forecast for the area suggests up to 100mm could hit the course from Wednesday onwards, with a "subtropical impulse" on its way.
No, me neither, but it doesn't sound like shorts and shades will be the order of the day.
Enable is the star to the stripes
Enable is obviously the star attraction in the Breeders' Cup Turf, a race that the Europeans have tended to farm in recent years, with Talismanic obliging last year. He is rocking up again, and is as big as 14/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook.
Enable is 1/2, though she is predictably bigger on the exchange at around [1.7].
I know she is comfortably the best horse in the race on official ratings but I just wonder whether the fact that she apparently won the Arc while only at 85 per cent - a setback after Kempton only being revealed after the Longchamp win - will in fact be a negative rather than a positive. It is not ideal to have had such a testing race when undercooked.
I have nailed my colours to the Magical mast on her last two starts, and luckily she obliged at Ascot, and did so in the manner of an improving filly, and one unexposed over 1m4f.
She would be the one that I would again be looking at in this race, and she has a very similar profile to Found, who beat Golden Horn in this race here in 2015.
Found had previously finished a 5-length ninth to Golden Horn in the Arc, and Magical was 10th, beaten 5 ¼ lengths, behind Enable at Longchamp. Late-season turnarounds do happen, and Magical loves soft ground.
All the 2yo action takes place on Friday but there is a lot of guesswork in the juvenile races, with the home team obviously well represented, and punters are probably best served by sticking to the more solid older-horse contests the following day.
No wild Filly And Mare
Wild Illusion has a big chance in the Filly And Mare, as she has looked a high-class and progressive filly in winning the Nassau and Prix de l'Opera of late.
She has a favourite's chance of following in the footsteps of stablemate Wuheida's win in the race last year, though Sistercharlie may have something to say about that from the home team.
Polydream had a nightmare trip in the Prix de la Foret and heads the betting for the Mile, though Gustav Klimt wouldn't have been beaten far in that same race with a clear run and he will have his supporters, too. They thought he was the best miler in the yard back in April, but the draw looks to have done his no favours.
However, there are plenty of other European challengers with strong forms claims, and I wouldn't be the best person to ask about the strength of the home team.
The Classic home-field advantage
The Classic rounds off the meeting, and no-one will be ignoring the Americans on dirt in this 1m2f contest.
You have to go back to Ravens Pass winning this race in 2008 to find the last time the Europeans got a look-in here - and the Classic took place on Pro Ride at Santa Anita that year, and not dirt - and Roaring Lion will be some horse to be winning here, especially after the busy season he has had and the hard race he had at Ascot recently.
Accelerate heads the home challenge (though he has been drawn 14 of 14) but, as ever, the dirt form looks a bit of mystery to me and I can safely say that I won't be having a bet here.
If you are, good luck. And at least the early declarations in America give you every chance to have a lengthy study-up.
Watch that Louisville weather, though. It could be wet, wet, wet.