The all-weather divides opinion like few other topics even in racing's dysfunctional family and there is sure to be much more discussion on the way once the Northern all-weather track debate begins again. Whether you are a supporter of all-weather racing or not, the reality is that the sector continues to grow in significance, the wheels greased most obviously by the introduction of the lucrative All-Weather Championships in the 2013/4 season.
It was presumed by the creators of the All-Weather Championships that prize money is directly proportional to the quality of horse on show, and through heavy bookmaker sponsorship the total prize money for the finale of the championships on Good Friday now tops £1million.
The cash-for-quality theory has so far proved correct, with the All-Weather Championships producing a handful of horses that turned heads at Timeform. It may take the turf acolytes some time to get used to, but the fact remains that the Godolphin pair of Tryster and Pretend in particular achieved Timeform Ratings over the winter that would see them competitive in many pattern level races away from the polytrack. The second-named goes in Saturday's Temple Stakes at Haydock, the first real test of his credentials in good company on turf.
Pretend could easily give the existing crop of five-furlong horses something to think about if transferring his potent turn of foot onto the Haydock turf. Pretend drew superlatives for his stunning turn of speed over five furlongs in March before comfortably taking the All-Weather Sprint Championship over six next time. Speed is evidently his forte, so even Haydock's fast five furlongs should pose no problem.
Already proven at Group 1 level umpteen times over is current favourite Sole Power, whose win in the Al Quoz Sprint at the fifth attempt last time confirms he's essentially as good as ever this year. Still, it's felt that his price affords him every bit of respect he deserves, with the niggling doubts of a foot problem (which kept him out of the Palace House Stakes) and a Group 1 penalty that only he and G Force carry pushing him out of betting territory at a best price of 4/1. Remember that, given his come-from-behind running style, Sole Power is a hostage to fortune more than most.
G Force is surely bound for the Diamond Jubilee over six furlongs come Royal Ascot and the trip could also be an issue for Danzeno, who proved most progressive at three, signing off with a head second to Lightning Moon (received 4 lb) in the Bengough Stakes. Big things are expected from Danezo this season, but maybe not on Saturday.
Hot Streak's prep run in the Prix de Saint-Georges will put him right for a follow-up attempt in the race he won last season as a three-year-old. That was a notably strong performance to win against his elders at such an early stage in the season and it would be no surprise to see him go well again, although his chance could depend on the ground conditions as both his Group-race wins to date have come on ground softer than good.
Ground is the question, then, but at an even more fundamental level than the going stick can convey. The all-weather is coming of age, especially on polytrack, and at the prices we're willing to bank on Pretend proving a breakthrough horse for the All-Weather Championships by taking Saturday's Temple Stakes ahead of some of turf sprinting's big boys.
Back Pretend 1pt win at 8.07/1