In his first column as Betfair Ambassador, leading trainer Hugo Palmer looks ahead to the season and reveals his plan of attack for the Craven Meeting at Newmarket this week...
My stable stars
This season will certainly present a new challenge to the yard, with our numbers having doubled to nearly 140 and with getting on for 90 juveniles in the yard now, but as a happy consequence these are exciting times. I won't have a stable jockey, and I'll simply aim to use the best available.
Anyway, we will explore our prospects in depth as the season progresses, but before I go through this week's entries, I will quickly run you through our current plans for our established stars. Hopefully there will be plenty more lurking among our juveniles, which number among them progeny of Frankel, Galileo, Oasis Dream, Shamardal and Dubawi.
Covert Love was obviously our stable flag-bearer last season and the possible starting point for her is the Middleton Stakes at York in May, but that isn't the be-all and end-all. That race would be a good starting point for her but everything would have to be right, and she will have to be on her A-game at home beforehand, wherever we take her first-time up.
In fact, this week I will give her an entry in the Ganay, too, which is 10 days before York, so that is another option.
We know that she needs fast ground now, and if we have any concerns at all with her, then we will stay at home. (APRIL 13 UPDATE: As the ground is currently bottomless in France, Hugo won't be entering Covert Love for the Prix Ganay).
It is a long season and we will wait. This is a filly who we hope will represent us at the Arc meeting or the Breeders' Cup, or even in Hong Kong where one of her owners lives, so we will play a waiting game if necessary. We know what we have and we will campaign her accordingly.
We put our Lagardere third Galileo Gold in the Derby last Thursday and if you look into his pedigree - he is related to Montjeu down the line - allied to his physical stamp and running style, then you would be hopeful of him staying. My gut feeling is that we could start him off in the French Guineas, but if Sheikh Joaan wishes to head to Newmarket to take on Air Force Blue and company then that, quite clearly, is obviously another option.
But we will know more after he has a racecourse gallop at Newmarket at 13:10 on Tuesday under Frankie, which I think may be on RUK if you are interested. He is in good shape.
Elsewhere, our Prestige winner and Fillies' Mile third Hawksmoor is in great shape too, has wintered well and possibly has the French Guineas or the Prix Saint Alary over 1m2f as her big early-season target. I would possibly be leaning towards the Prix Saint-Alary at the moment.
Gifted Master was another of my high-profile horses last year - I could be wrong and am willing to be corrected but when I flicked through the International Classifications I couldn't find a higher-rated three-year-old gelding this season - but he is due to run at Newmarket on Wednesday, so we will come to him in a minute.
I hope you enjoy the Betfair column this season, but let's crack on with our immediate entries.
We had an excellent Craven meeting last year and hopefully Mengli Khan can start us off on the same footing with a good display in the Fielden Stakes, and it obviously helps that the race has cut up to just four runners from 21 entries at the five-day stage.
This race has been won by the likes of Intello and, most obviously, Golden Horn in recent seasons, and I imagine there will be some similarly potentially classy horses in here, but who knows at this stage?
Mustajeer won his maiden well here last September, Tathqeef could do more than win as he did at Wolverhampton and Ventura Storm is the selected runner of Richard Hannon's four entries.
Before the recent winners of the race I have just mentioned though, I don't remember the Fielden being such a warm race, and these contests do go through peaks and troughs, so it is difficult to know what to expect from the opposition.
What I do know is Mengli Khan is a horse who cost a fair amount, is a glorious-looking son of Lope De Vega, and has the pedigree to match, being a full-brother to Very Special and a half-brother to Fillies' Mile/Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies' Turf winner Chriselliam.
We have always assumed that he is better than ordinary and have always liked him, so perhaps we overfaced him too soon after his maiden win when running him in the Racing Post Trophy.
In hindsight, it was a mistake, but it is a mistake I will make again. And happily so. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and at Doncaster such a policy worked for Peter (Chapple-Hyam) and Marcel. It didn't work out for us, as the ground was too soft for him, but he learned from it, came out of the race fine and we go again with him.
For certain, he will come on for the run - and this may be one of those hot Fieldens - but we like him, and we will start to learn more about him on Tuesday. I focus on the positives, and the horse he beat easily at Nottingham won his maiden at Lingfield recently, albeit in a modest race, and he looks absolutely fantastic.
Copper Knight will hopefully be my first two-year-old runner of the season, and I wouldn't be running him at this meeting if I didn't think that he was ready.
He cost only £30k - he is by first-season sire Sir Prancealot, who has had a couple of winners in the past week or so, out of a mare who won over an extended 6f on her debut in France - and will benefit from the experience but he is speedy and sharp, has a good racing brain, and has been a natural from the start.
Sutter County was obviously very impressive when winning by nine lengths from a subsequent scorer at Wolverhampton and is clearly the one to beat. But we get 6lb from winners this year - last year Gifted Master was getting only 5lb from the Brocklesby winner when bolting up - and Sutter County has to prove it on turf as well as giving the weight.
If Copper Knight runs badly there will be some long faces here. Of course, the previous winner may be far too good and there is every chance that there will be a couple sharper, but you like to see your first juvenile run well, and I certainly don't think that he will be disgraced.
We start Gifted Master off over 6f in the Tattersalls Millions Sprint, and the nerve-wracking thing for me is the step down in trip after he won over 1m in the Autumn Stakes on his final start, and I do see him as essentially a miler.
He beat the Norfolk winner Waterloo Bridge easily by four-and-a-half lengths over 7f here last season and we meet on the same terms. But we step down to more of that one's trip at 6f here, though we would have beaten him over 5f last year, let alone 7f, so I am hopeful that he has the speed to prevail.
He has done plenty of graft, is in great shape, is tough, takes any ground, and won't lack for fitness. In fact, I have had this race in mind for him since November.
As a gelding, options are limited for him, so the Jersey is his summer target, but let's get this race out of the way first. With the winner getting over £54.000, it's a very valuable prize in its own right, but it has cut up seemingly into a match between us and Waterloo Bridge on official ratings.
We had the option of running him in the Free Handicap or the Craven but he will earn nearly £25,000 even if he finishes second here and that is more than you get for winning the Free Handicap, so it was an easy decision to make.
We run Zumran in the 5f fillies' maiden at Newmarket on Thursday and she is a nice, well-bred Rock Of Gibraltar filly and a half-sister to winners that include the classy pair Hors De Combat and Stroll Patrol.
There is not a lot of her but she has done plenty of work, has speed and is sharp. She has been putting her hand up for an early debut in her recent work, and she hopefully gets her chance on Thursday.
Wesley Ward's Create A Dream is among the entries and if the reports are accurate and she really is the best juvenile they have brought over - and that is some claim given the likes of Hootenanny and Acapulco - then we are all playing for places!
On Saturday, I have entered Afandem in the 5f novice stakes at Nottingham. He is a similar sort to Copper Knight in that he is a strong, speedy type, who has done everything that we have asked of him at home. In fact, they have done all of their work together.
I have also entered up a nice filly called We Are Ninety, who is well-related on the dam side of her pedigree, in the 1m handicap there. She did it well at Wolverhampton on her debut back in October and is a big, attractive filly who has strengthened up well over the winter.