Tony Calvin discusses the action at Cheltenham, Doncaster and Newbury this Saturday afternoon, as he selects the horses he's backing, as well as one or two at tempting prices that he'll reluctantly swerve...
"Newbury's St Simon Stakes at 14:15 has attracted a decent field. Frontiersman is the stand-out."
It is a shade of odds-on that Aidan O'Brien will break the record for the most Group/Grade 1s in a calendar year in the Racing Post Trophy at 15:25. But it is not straightforward who will be the history-maker if he does saddle the winner at Doncaster.
I think we can safely rule out Coat Of Arms but then it gets a bit harder. Obviously, Saxon Warrior is the favourite following his Beresford Stakes win that has worked out so well - the fourth and fifth have won Listed races since - and stablemate The Pentagon is equally high up in the 2018 Derby betting after his Group 3 win at Leopardstown last time. But the one of O'Brien's that I like is Seahenge at a double-figure price.
The case for backing Seahenge
He underperformed in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood but then he got his act together to win the Champagne Stakes here on his next start - where he still didn't look straightforward but won snugly - though it was his eye-catching run in the Dewhurst last time that makes him of interest here.
He was drawn closest to the rail on what proved to be the golden highway at Newmarket last time, but he didn't jump smartly enough and was eased out by Theobald on his inner. From thereon in he was always playing catch-up and forced to make his move widest on the outside, so I think he did really well to stay on to finish a 5-length third to stablemates US Navy Flag and Mendelssohn, the runner-up perhaps being the best prospect of them all but one who is being aimed at the Breeders' Cup.
There isn't a great deal of stamina in his pedigree but a mile on what is expected to be decent ground here should be fine for him - his run-style suggests it will be - and he could easily come out best of the Ballydoyle quartet.
However, that doesn't mean he will win. We also have a National Stakes winner (Verbal Dexterity), a Royal Lodge scorer (Roaring Lion) and a few potential big improvers in here.
I don't tend to bet or tip in 2yo races but I must admit Seahenge has enticed me in win and place at odds of 13.5 and 3.55/2 respectively.
I don't get hung up by supposed second and third strings, especially as plenty from the yard surprise their supposedly better-fancied stablemates. That is why O'Brien regularly runs a few in these Group 1s and it would be fitting perhaps if Aidan's son guided home that 26th Group/Grade 1 winner in 2017.
Tempting options but, sorry, I'll give them a swerve
I very nearly got suckered in by another juvenile in the shape of Speak In Colours in the 6f Listed race at 13:45.
Again, there are no shortage of plausible winners in this race but Speak In Colours made a decent impression when winning in soft ground at Ascot last time and it sounds like he is pretty well regarded.
The time of the race wasn't great but he was well on top at the line and the runner-up has won her maiden since at Goodwood, and this son of Excelebration should be fine on this better ground. However, once again, on balance, I will pass but he would be my bet at around 9/1 in the race if playing.
Spring Loaded looks a very worthy favourite in the 5f handicap at 16:00. He absolutely bolted up here in the Portland and the more I watch his run at York last time, the more I think he was unlucky not to follow up off a 9lb higher mark there.
He got no sort of run in behind before being pulled out and powering home to finish second. He was beaten nearly the best part of two lengths but he would have gone very close had he got a clear passage.
The subsequent 1lb rise doesn't bother me at all but the big issue here is whether he will have the raw speed to lie up with proven 5f speedsters here, and some bang in-form ones, too. That may seem a silly thing to say about a horse who had the Portland won about 2f out here last month, but his record suggests he may struggle and he has hardly been missed in the market, although odds of around 11/2 are fair enough. And, on the plus side, he is drawn around in the pace in the race, so he will get a good tow into the contest.
I am going to give this race a swerve, too, sorry, but the other on my shortlist who interested me at a double-figure price was East Street Revue, who won so well at York last time that a 5lb rise may well be bridgeable.
Frontiersman is the stand-out at Newbury
I will eventually find us a couple more bets, honestly, so over to a soft-ground Newbury we go, where the St Simon Stakes at 14:15 has attracted a decent field. It isn't hard to make a case for a few of these, but I am going to keep it simple and recommend back the obvious, namely Frontiersman at 5.59/2 or bigger. He is far too big at 4/1+.
Now, it wouldn't be the biggest shock were connections to pull him out if they think the ground is too soft - they have done twice before, even as recently as Goodwood in August - but I think they will do well to chance their arm.
He has handled ease to winning effect in the past and I think it was the trip as much as soft going that beat him when he was third in the Geoffrey Freer over an extended 1m5f here in August. He is quirky and awkward but there is no horse in this race that could have run Highland Reel so close in the Coronation Cup in June and he was probably in front way too long when winning in first-time blinkers at Newmarket last time. And to be fair he didn't shirk the issue there, and he had plenty of time to do so.
He is the stand-out on form and on the clock, and doesn't carry a penalty, unlike inferior market rivals Danehill Kodiac and Raheen House, who are both penalised 3lb for their 2017 Group 3 wins. There is plenty of pace in here (I counted four possibles) so James Doyle can produce him much later today.
I thought Alba Power, stepping down to 7f on ground he will like, was an okay price at 12/1 in the Horris Hill at 14:50, but I can happily sit this tricky seven-runner race out.
Over at Cheltenham...
ITV4 are covering the first four races on the card, with the 3m1f handicap chase first up at 14:00.
I won't be going mad on the stakes front as I ease my way into the jumps season, but my three against the field in the opener are last year's winner Coologue, Cogry, and Bells 'N' Banjos, and the latter gets my vote at 17.016/1 or bigger.
Fergal O'Brien had him fit and firing when he made a winning debut for the yard last January and hopefully he will have primed for this, too. The horse also won on two of his three seasonal debuts for Warren Greatrex, too.
If so, I think he is on a very fair mark, only 4lb higher than when beating Dueling Banjos in a good time at Leicester last February. The runner-up won next time, and they pulled 20 lengths clear of the third. On that form, he may go very close.
The four-runner hurdle at 14:35 doesn't float my boat - and won't many others, either - and I am also going to give the 2m handicap chase at 15:10 a swerve, too.
It was simply a matter of too many horses interesting me in this race - though the likeliest winner Double W's has been well found in the market all week, so his appeal waned accordingly - as I have a lot of time for the likes of Vaniteux and Some Plan, while I was also tempted by the 20/1+ chance Theflyingportrait, too.
And finally - it could a big afternoon for Whataknight
I detect a lot of stable confidence in Thomas Campbell stepping up to 3m for the first time at 15:45 and it is no surprise at all to see him heading the market at around the 5/1 mark. He looked to be crying out for 3m last season and won the maiden hurdle first time out at this meeting last year.
But, again, it is a very competitive race to be going in that short and Whataknight and the unexposed Johanos interested me at over twice his price.
Whataknight gets the tick at 12.011/1 or bigger. He caused mini-mayhem when reversing as the tapes went up at Newton Abbot last time - badly hampering Connetable, who re-opposes today - so in the circumstances he did well to finish third there.
The handicapper has generously dropped him 1lb for it, too, and he came to hand early over fences last season at this time of year. He may not have progressed as well as may have been expected after beating Minella Daddy at Haydock in May last year, but he does make some appeal in these conditions. The trip and ground look ideal, and he looks handicapped to take a leading hand.
Back Bells 'N' Banjos at 17.016/1 or bigger in 14:00 at Cheltenham
Back Frontiersman at 5.59/2 or bigger in the 14:15 at Newbury
Back Seahenge 13.5 and 3.55/2 place in 15:25 at Doncaster
Back Whataknight at 12.011/1 or bigger in 15:45 at Cheltenham