It's an early start for ITV Racing fans on Saturday as World Cup fever sweeps the nation, but one man certainly not distracted by events in Russia is our top tipster Tony Calvin...
"He is a Group 1 horse when able to dominate and, while there is a suspicion he could be used to set this up for stablemate Masar and be more at home on easier ground, he simply looks the wrong price for a horse of his proven ability."
Surprise Warrior appearance in Eclipse
There is only one place to start this weekend, and that is Aidan O'Brien's extraordinary decision to run Saxon Warrior in the Eclipse, a move that has taken everyone by surprise.
I personally couldn't see why they even left the horse in at the five-day stage on Monday, given there was surely no way they would run him again so quickly after what looked a hard race in sweltering conditions at the Curragh on Saturday.
There was not even the merest hint of a quick turnaround from connections over the weekend.
The Betfair Sportsbook obviously felt the same way as they stuck their head above the parapet and offered Saxon Warrior at a clear industry-best 12/1, three places, on Monday.
The horse now is trading around the 7/2 mark and I, for one, can't make head nor tail of his claims here.
Logic tells you that it is a massive ask for a horse that does get edgy and sweaty and a bit worked up pre-race, using up nervous energy even before the stalls have opened. And he quite plainly gave his all in finishing third to Latrobe at the weekend over what looks a trip just too far for him.
Mind you, it was a steadily-run race and it was very disappointing that his Guineas speed didn't come to the fore over an easier 1m4f than Epsom in a weak renewal.
Do you believe in O'Brien's instinctive genius
But this is Aidan O'Brien we are talking about here, and if Saxon Warrior does line up on Saturday afternoon - and they will be keeping a close eye on him in the next 24 hours before giving the final green light, I am sure - then they will be pretty confident he can run to his best. That said, the trainer has admitted they have done next to nothing with the horse since Saturday.
On his Guineas form, he is the one they all have to fear.
I suppose this all boils down to one question. Do you believe in the instinctive genius of O'Brien? He has taken Group 1 winners to the well time and again, and come up smiling.
I suppose one of the best examples is the winner of this race in 2005, Oratorio. This juvenile Group 1 winner made his 3yo reappearance in the Guineas on April 30 that year, and was having his fifth Group 1 start of the season by the time he beat Motivator by ½ length in this race on July 2.
And good old Lancaster Bomber is a more recent example this year, winning his Group 1 just eight days after his Lockinge third.
It will be fascinating to see what way Saxon Warrior goes in the market on Saturday afternoon - I said on Monday he would probably be favourite if he ran, but it looks like I was wide of the mark there - but, either way, I can't be with him, even though his price is bigger than I expected.
Strong 3yo form but Hawkbill the bet
Masar and Roaring Lion are also opposable at the prices - Masar currently leads that head-to-head 3-0 this season - given the way the 3yo form has worked out so far. It is perfectly obvious that they have leading chances, with Derby winner Masar a very solid proposition, but I just can't get excited at the odds.
Happily is next in the betting at around the 10/1 mark and she is a feasible winner, I guess, after going close in the French Oaks last time - she possibly should have won there - but she is only rated 112 and quick ground may not bring out the best in her.
It was soft when she had Masar back in third when winning the Lagardere last season, with French 2,000 Guineas winner Olmedo splitting the pair.
Connections of Forest Ranger have probably run into a better renewal than looked likely at one point this week and he probably lacks the class of these, but there are definite possibilities about Cliffs of Moher and Hawkbill at 33/1.
I averaged just over [39.0] for my £48 on Cliffs Of Moher in the Betfair ante-post market and I do think he has a shot after a good third in the Hardwicke last time. He has run two good races over this trip this season, and was badly hampered when going off 7/4 favourite and finishing fourth in this race last season.
But Hawkbill has drifted out to around 33/1, and he has to be the bet at [34.0] win and [5.0] place. Or bigger obviously.
Were it not for the fact that the handicapper dropped him 2lb for his third to Poet's Word and Cracksman in the Prince Of Wales's at Royal Ascot, he would have officially been top-rated in here.
Okay, his Ascot run was some way detached from his outstanding Sheema Classic dismissal of Poet's Word at Meydan in March, but he ruined his chance by boiling over in the preliminaries there, and he could outrun his massive odds if proving calmer here beforehand.
Don't forget, he won this race in 2016 and has put up three or four performances that would see him hard to kick out of the frame.
He is a Group 1 horse when able to dominate and, while there is a suspicion he could be used to set this up for stablemate Masar and be more at home on easier ground, he simply looks the wrong price for a horse of his proven ability.
I expect him to lead, with Forest Ranger the biggest pace rival, and he could just hang on for a place, and hopefully better.
"If your auntie had..." and all that, but if he came here straight from that Sheema Classic win, he would be about 8/1 tops, and probably shorter.
Sprint has potential to be a messy race
The Charge at 12:20 is interesting because there is no guaranteed front-runner in the field. So there could be even more hard luck stories than usual on this 5f sprint track.
This is a very tight-knit Group 3 and it may pay for one of the jockeys to take the initiative and adopt front-running tactics, not least to avoid trouble in running.
Dream Of Dreams is a possible candidate from stall one and he has pressed the pace in the past, but I would like to see Judicial given a more aggressive ride from four.
He ran a cracker in the Palace House first time up, had a nightmare passage behind Muthmir at Haydock and then got the job done well at Beverley last time.
However, it looks a very messy race and with so many candidates at the prices - Mirza, runner-up to Battaash in this race last year, isn't a no-hoper as one of the outsiders of the party at 25/1 - it is easy to give the race a swerve.
Chance taken on Tigre to lead all the way
I better start getting punchier on the word front as I am over-writing again (ED: At least you're honest Tony!), and Tigre Du Terre gets my betting vote at [9.0] or bigger - the 14/1 yesterday afternoon didn't last long - in the 12:55.
He knocked heads with some smart juveniles last season, notably Tip Two Win and Mildenberger, and he could well have bettered that performance when just getting collared close home by the lightly-raced and progressive Andre Fabre colt Cascadian in France last month, going down by ½ length off levels with the pair pulling 8 lengths clear of the third.
Cascadian is taking his chance in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat this weekend, so the handicapper may have erred in leaving the selection on a mark of 98. Furthermore, he could well get on the lead here from stall five and I like his chances. Back him at [10.0] or bigger.
I was tempted by Sandringham fourth Desert Diamond in the Distaff at 13:30 but it is a race in which you can make a fair case for too many.
I am pretty certain that Desert Diamond is better than her current rating of 91 but the problem with her is that this mile trip looks to be her bare minimum, even on a stiff track like this.
Narella makes her debut for the in-form Roger Varian and has obvious credentials, along with the likes of Awesometank and impressive course and distance winner Preening (albeit that victory came off a mark of just 83) to name just three, and this is best passed over.
Back Austrian to educate his rivals with SDS in the saddle
With Sweden v England in the World Cup quarter-final kicking-off at 3pm, it is also an early start at Haydock, with the 1m6f handicap at 12:35.
I think Ghostwatch has every right to favouritism given the manner of his win at Sandown last time, even if he is 8lb higher and the form of that race hasn't really worked out.
However, I am going to take him on with Austrian School, who didn't look suited by Chester last time (even though he had won there previously, possibly winning in spite of the course) and I hope they will look to go forward on him from stall one on this more conventional track, with Yabass in five the only other horse in here that likes to lead.
He has made the running successfully in the past, he has been dropped 1lb from Chester, and I like the angle of Silvestre De Sousa getting on him on for the first time. This half-brother to the Grand National winner Tiger Roll doesn't look straightforward, but hopefully SDS can straighten him out.
Back him at [9.0] or bigger in the win, and [3.0] and upwards in the place.
Tawdeea looks to be on a very attractive mark
I loved the way when Mrs Sippy travelled and shaped behind Sea Of Class over 1m2f at Newbury last time, and she will give more established rivals plenty to think about in the Lancashire Oaks at 13:10.
It is next stop Irish Oaks for the Newbury winner Sea Of Class, so you have to give Mrs Sippy plenty of credit for her reappearance run there, and her pedigree gives you plenty of encouragement she will stay this longer trip. The sire Blame was a 1m-1m2f performer but her dam won three races on fast ground here and in the States.
The problem is that she meets some smart fillies - she has 10lb to find with Horseplay on official figures, for example - and the early 10/1 has evaporated into around 13/2, so it is a reluctant pass.
It seems heresy to not have a bet in the Old Newton Cup at 13:45 but I struggled to find one I liked.
There is no argument from me in Atty Persse heading the market, but odds of around 4/1 are pretty skinny.
He would just about win this if returning to the form of his King George V handicap win at Royal Ascot last season - he dotted up by 3 lengths there and is only 6lb higher here - and he has won on both of his first starts of the season.
He could dot up off a very tempting mark for his in-form yard, but he does have to bounce back from two modest efforts (albeit in Group company) at the end of last season and a gelding operation and a first-time tongue-tie do prompt questions to be answered. And the cheekpieces that he wore at Ascot are left off here.
I would have been interested in Blakeney Point from a better draw (he is 16 of 17 here, and his 7lb claimer has a job to do securing a run), though, that said, two horses have won this from berth 19 in recent years, so perhaps it isn't the negative I am making it out to be.
In short, nothing initially stood out for me bar the favourite, and I am not in the habit of backing 4-1 pokes in 17-runner handicaps, folks.
Then I stumbled on Tawdeea at the bottom of the weights, who I am backing at 25/1 and bigger. He was the complete rag in a couple of bookmaker lists at 33/1 on Friday morning, and I would take serious issue with that.
I was a bit surprised that he was taken out of a race here last month on account of the fast ground, as he has a few good efforts on that surface, which obviously prevails here.
Hopefully, he will run as I think he has a lot better chance than his price implies.
The handicapper dropped him 2lb for his Chester run last time but I thought he shaped pretty well there, staying on well in the straight once he got out from a pocket on the inner, and he is now on a very attractive mark.
He is 15lb lower than when beaten 4 lengths into fifth in this race last year (on good to firm) and his course form figures read 21535, with the win coming in this contest in 2016 off a 10lb higher mark.
Back him [26.0] win and [5.0] place and good luck with your betting on Saturday.
Betfair's 'minimum bet guarantee' on all Class 1 and 2 races in the UK and Ireland - which means all customers are able to bet to win a minimum of £500 - has been extended to cover ALL races from Haydock and Sandown for this weekend. T&Cs apply.
Back Austrian School at [9.0] win and [3.0] place in 12:35 at Haydock
Back Tigre Du Terre at [9.0] or bigger in 12:55 at Sandown
Back Tawdeea at [26.0] win and [5.0] place in 13:45 at Haydock
Back Hawkbill at [34.0] and [6.0] place in 14:10 at Sandown