Moonraker to leave rivals shaken and stirred
The best punting card of the day is at Newcastle by far, so we'll crack on in time order for the big fixture in the north east - a meeting from which ITV will be showing four races from 13:50.
A return to Newcastle will hopefully do the trick for Mick Channon's Moonraker, who has shown glimpses this season that he can win from his current rating. Indeed, at around 14.013/1, he looks a really well handicapped horse for the sprint to kick off the card.
I backed him to win at the Craven Meeting earlier in the season, and he didn't run too badly coming with a late charge to pick up third. The second in that race Normandy Barriere boosted the form with a couple of fine efforts subsequently; including a fair run at Royal Ascot.
Moonraker was last seen in a hot affair at Newmarket behind Culturati - but he burned himself out by going off too hard, and I don't think those tactics suit him. He emptied late on under pressure and simply set the race up for the closers. The fourth that day was Out Do - who won the Wokingham at Royal Ascot. That form is decent.
Sandwiched in between those two runs mentioned were a couple of in-and-out efforts. He failed at Goodwood (that isn't his track), but he ran really well at Ascot - again coming from off the pace, and that's his thing.
The gem however is that Moonraker has only raced on the all-weather once before - and that came in this very race 12 months ago when he finished second. He missed the break over the far side (from a low draw), yet flew home to the stands' side and nearly beat Amazour. That came from 98 - today he races from a 7lb lower mark. Watching the replay again it really is staggering how far behind he was inside the opening furlong.
He is drawn low again today, so who knows if the jockey will stick or twist? Moonraker wants them to go hard so he can come from off the pace - and considering he was racing from 101 in 2016, he rates a good each way bet from a dangerous mark to start us off well for the day.
Have no regrets backing Walker's charge
The cracking card at Newcastle continues with the feature Group 3 Chipchase for the sprinters, and this year's renewal looks fairly open - with betting at roughly 7/2 the field.
The fav here is likely to be Richard Fahey's Don't Touch, but there could be a bit more mileage in backing a couple of others at decent prices.
Jumping on the Paul Midgley bandwagon for this, the trainer's Final Venture looks a fair enough price at 8.07/1. He had no chance in the King's Stand and this is more realistic, especially on his form with Priceless in the 5f Temple Stakes earlier in the season. He was a smashing handicapper that reeled off four wins in 2016 - and his mark shot up from 69 to 100 . He also enjoyed a decent spell out in Meydan and goes up a furlong today.
He is certainly bred to go well on the all-weather.
I also want to chuck in Ed Walker's Aeolus at a double-figure price, or you can explore the 4 Places Market on the Exchange for a horse who might have the race run to suit.
He won this on the turf in 2015 and came from last-to-first. He ran over 7f in his younger days, and that's an angle I like at Newcastle and the stiff finish. Last year's winner Markaz was a 7f horse, and he nutted Pretend in the dying strides. I remember it too well as I had flagged up Pretend for my Bets Of The Day column!
Anyway, less-than-happy days aside, Aeolus had form in Group races in 2016 behind the likes of Magical Memory, The Tin Man and Profitable. He's a pretty hard horse to win with, but this might just be his sort of race where he can close over the testing straight.
Consolation glory can go to Easterby bargain buy
Step forward the consolation race and we attack The Northumberland Vase Handicap at 15:00. And step forward Flight Officer.
In terms of pedigree, this fella has the lot. OK, maybe not THE LOT as he was gelded last year, but you know what I mean. His dam's sire is the great Sunday Silence - he of Deep Impact fame, and plenty of other star horses in Japan too. He was sold at the Doncaster Sales for just £10,000 to Mick Easterby back in January, and I've been waiting for him to run ever since!
He's a big strapping type who routed a field by seven lengths in soft ground to win a Nottingham maiden in 2014 for then-trainer Saeed bin Suroor. He clearly had problems afterwards, but his comeback run in 2016 was a fine effort at Newmarket - and he looked like a potential 100-horse in that. However, his turf campaign ended poorly and he didn't last long at Godolphin.
That's not to say Flight Officer has lost his mojo, plenty do well since leaving 'The Blue', and the 10k outlay could be a bargain. Mick's the man for that.
This is a complete step into the unknown in terms of trip; although with his size and the fact he sluiced up in heavy ground over 1m2f offers hope of him staying. Plus the tempo on the all-weather is slightly different.
However, the one aspect I like is the switch to the Newcastle Tapeta. This horse's pedigree is chock-full of winners on artificial surfaces. His dam Danuta won out in Nad Al Sheba, and that was the venue where his relations Devotee and Folk won at too. Throw in Discover who scored at Kempton, Lingfield and Meydan - and it means we shouldn't be too perturbed with backing him here.
His two best runs have come when fresh and off a lay-off, and this is his first outing for 265 days. I am convinced there's a 100-rated horse in there somewhere - so he could be well treated from 90, and he's a fascinating one to monitor to see how he swings in the market.
Easterby will call upon 7lb claimer Harrison Shaw for the ride. We have to consider that with the price in terms of his lack of experience, but he has ridden the yard's well handicapped Magic City to win recently, and this field size is much smaller than the Plate.
He'll be a massive price at 25.024/1 or bigger, and of course you can explore the Place Market. He could finish last, but he might just go well and it's a complete swipe, but he has a background and several factors to make him of interest.
Can Godolphin pick up the Plate again?
The Northumberland Plate features last year's second Seamour - who will surely have the short price layers hovering over the pink button again for Saturday. He was chinned at the basement 1.01 price 12 months ago when nailed by Godolphin's Antiquarium (who was matched at 999/1 in-play). Maybe the blue silks can be carried to success again?
I am hoping so with Natural Scenery, although be aware that Seamour traded shorter than his BSP in every run last term; that included the 1.01 in this, plus a 1.30 and 1.25.
Back to my selection; and it looks as though Saeed bin Suroor's runner has been laid out for this. She hasn't been seen since her appearance during the Marathon on All-Weather Finals Day in April, and she still races from 103 here.
She was wide early and seemed to struggled with the track in that contest; where as the winner of that race made a pincer-like move from a similar sort of position as Natural Scenery - who just couldn't live with the acceleration. They smashed the track record in the Marathon, but she was never in a great position. I am not convinced 'leafy' is her venue.
This is a hugely unexposed runner at 2m and she loves Newcastle. Natural Scenery landed a course and distance handicap earlier in the year and beat London Prize with a burst of speed. She also scored in a very strong 0-105 at the course over 1m4f. Her CV includes a track record at Wolverhampton, and there could be more to come.
From her draw in 10, I am hoping Josephine Gordon gets her rolling into a prominent position as the hold-up tactics didn't work at Lingfield (although they didn't look by design there). If we can grab around 11.010/1, she is the bet.
Step can win, but will the price be juicy enough?
From no worries at Newcastle in terms of the weather forecast and ground - we have plenty for Newmarket and the three ITV races starting with the Listed Fred Archer Stakes at 14:05.
Thursday's going at HQ was soft, but a dry night meant better conditions on the Friday. With no rain forecast for Saturday and such a quick-draining track, I am working on the basis of good ground - and that scuppers any sort of outside bet on Lord Yeats. He would be interesting as a flyer on genuine soft ground that he loves, but he is unlikely to get the surface he craves.
Now the purpose of the column is to find something at a big price. Tony tipped up winners at 40.2 and 24.58 from his final stint at Royal Ascot - and on the best of days I'd struggle to get near that! Let alone in a small-ish field Listed race.
The price of Second Step doesn't appeal that much at around 4.507/2, but I think he is the likeliest winner of the race. He had some classy form with Luca Cumani but lost his way completely towards the end of 2016. He's been in some decent races, though, and looked like a potential candidate for some of those staying contests out in Australia that Luca often targets.
He's the joint-best horse here on official ratings and bounced back to form on his second start with Roger Charlton recently - beating subsequent Hardwicke second Barsanti at Goodwood. He's better than Listed level, but the price reflects that. He's a classy sort and it was good to see him return to form on the Sussex Downs.
Two double figure prices to follow in fillies' juvenile contest
A field of two-year-old fillies with a couple of runs under their belts makes for a difficult betting heat in terms of potential improvement. This could be anyone's race in truth, and I wouldn't be in a rush to take the odds of the favourite Elizabeth Bennet here, despite the fact a number of runners hold official ratings between 76 and 86. It might not be the strongest Listed race we'll ever see.
It's probably not everyone's punting nirvana but we'll flag up a couple of runners.
Trainer Archie Watson seems to do really well with juveniles, so it might be worth more than a second look with his Society Rock filly So Hi Society.
The sire is doing really well this year, and this youngster has a decent pedigree and wasn't cheap. She improved on her debut run and travelled well to win at Chepstow last time out. The sixth has come out to boost the form, and her aforementioned sire (Society Rock) is the daddy of Watson's very fast Corinthia Knight.
A price of around 10.09/1 might be worth a small interest.
The other one is Karl Burke's Ellthea - and she scored in nice fashion at Carlisle. She was shaken up off the pace and came five wide off the turn to win going away down the centre of the track. She was a little green there but picked up in good fashion. Burke's sent out six juvenile winners this term, and Royal Ascot was mentioned after Carlisle. In an open race, she is 13.012/1 to back.
Stick with Thikriyaat at favoured venue
The Group 3 Criterion over 7f doesn't have any standouts, so for that reason I want to follow Thikriyaat again.
I put him up in this column (on a previous stint standing in) for his latest run at York. The risk before the race was his well-being. He'd shown nothing in a comeback prep in the Hambleton prior to that outing, but at least he displayed the old sparkle last time. He wasn't beaten far.
He had previously experienced a fibrillating heart - so that was the big risk in backing him a few weeks ago on the Knavesmire (a race in which dear old Gabrial was beaten again).
His ticker seems to be in good order and I'm still clinging on to his juvenile form and his second behind Ribchester in the Jersey. A return to Newmarket should be ideal rather than the flat track at York, and he's unbeaten in two runs at HQ.
Dropping back down in trip and armed with the possibility of a more positive ride than York recently, he can deliver. At 7/2 on the Sportsbook, he's a little bit short to feature as a bet.
Saturday's Recommended Bets
Back Moonraker @ 14.013/1 in the 13:50 at Newcastle
Back Aeolus 13.012/1 @ and Final Venture 9.08/1 in the 14:25 at Newcastle
Back Flight Officer @ 25.024/1 or bigger in the 15:00 at Newcastle
Back Flight Officer in Place Market in the 15:00 at Newcastle
Back Natural Scenery @ 12.011/1 in the 15:30 at Newcastle