A bumper weekend for Hugo Palmer with runners in all corners of the globe. Here is the Betfair Ambassador's exclusive verdict on his runners in Australia, the US, York, Newmarket and Kempton...
"He’s a very big horse who is getting stronger all the time, there is no reason why he can’t progress again, and I think the odds on offer are too big."
It's a big ask for Wall of Fire because he's got quite a high weight. The Australian handicap system is not as straightforward as it is in the UK, with all the handicaps framed individually, as the Grand National is here, and I think we've been given plenty to do when you consider that we have to give weight to Group 1 winners. In addition to that, he's drawn quite wide and Caulfield is a tight track with a short straight, so getting track position is going to be important.
He's often fluffed the start, so I'm going to ask Mark Zahra, who rides him, to wear a pair of spurs which are allowed here, and hope that the extra dig in the ribs will get him out of the stalls a bit quicker and enable him to take a good spot. I want to be clear that the spurs which jockeys in Australia sometimes wear are not brutal or unkind - they're not sharp metal, but just a little round bobble attached at the back of the jockey's heel which makes the heel a bit stronger. It will be something new for Wall of Fire, and the surprise element might just make him jump a bit sharper than he sometimes can.
I saw him for the first time in a few weeks yesterday and he looks absolutely tremendous, bang on his racing weight and gleaming in his coat. He is in great shape all round which is really is fantastic, so fingers crossed he can run a big race.
He'll probably need it a little bit, and this is very much his prep run for the Melbourne Cup. I think he'll probably get into the Melbourne Cup looking at the order of entry, which is great as that has been the aim all year, but if he wins he'll get a penalty; again the penalty system here is different to the UK, where the conditions of the race will decide what penalty will be carried after the weights are framed.
In Australia, the penalty is decided by the handicapper, and may be as little as half a kilo. Even the minimum penalty would guarantee him a run at Flemington, so winning would be absolutely fantastic. Either way, the race will set him up nicely for the Melbourne Cup in three weeks' time.
Mask of Time's preferred entry is in the Group 1 Toorak Handicap for which he is first reserve, or first emergency as they say here, but I've also declared him for the listed handicap which is our stop-gap, and we have until 07:30 in the morning to see if he gets into the former event.
I don't understand how one of the biggest betting nations on earth can operate a system which allows big-race reserves to replace a non-runner until 7:30 on the morning of the race, whereas the cut-off in the UK is 10AM the previous day which means they rarely get the opportunity. The reason we are given for the early deadline is because of repercussions for betting, but it's all about betting in Australia, with much more liquidity in the markets, and they seem to operate perfectly well with their system.
As well as having until 7:30 to see if we're going to get a run, we also have the opportunity to declare for another contest on the card. I want to run in the Group 1, but if that avenue doesn't open up we'll run in the Listed race instead, and one of the world's most fluid and progressive betting jurisdictions allows that to happen.
I don't understand how a similar system couldn't be allowed to operate in the UK. There is so much fuss about non-runners, but at the end of the day trainers want to run their horses. I would prefer to get into the Group 1, but will run in the listed race if that isn't possible, but a similar scenario in England would mean I would have to either declare in the Group 1 and risk missing out, or suck it up and run in the Listed race instead. I think the Australian view is very progressive and very sensible.
Mask of Time is a horse I'm just getting to know; he is in the same ownership as Wall of Fire, and the team kindly sent him to me during the Deauville sales, and he arrived in my stables in the third week in August, and then entered quarantine on 14 September. The original plan was that he would be transferred to an Australian trainer when out of quarantine, but the guys have changed their minds and he's now going to run for us.
He has spent two weeks quarantined in England followed by a similar period in Australia, so I really don't know him anything like as well as I know Wall of Fire, although I was delighted with what I saw of him this morning, and my guys out here, Rob Archibald and Toby Atkinson, have been with him throughout his time in quarantine and they think he's in great shape.
It's important that we run him to put down a marker in the sand and see where we are with him. He looks like a quite a fast horse, and strikes me as a miler, but I want to see him perform on the track before I make any firm decisions about targets going forward.
22:30 Keeneland - Unforgetable Filly
I can't tell you how exciting/terrifying/stressful it is to have big-race runners on three continents this weekend, but that is very much the game that I wanted to play and racing is a hugely international sport. I'm grateful to even have one of these runners, but to have them all running this weekend is really special.
Unforgetable Filly hated the soft ground at Doncaster last time, as we rather suspected she would, but she's been in great form since. She travelled out there very well and is enjoying her training at Keeneland, so I'm very happy with where she is ahead of this run. She's always reminded me enormously of Hawksmoor, and it's more than coincidence that I've mapped out a very similar programme for both fillies.
Hawksmoor was beaten a head and a nose in this race last year, and I still feel she should have won that day. For all the fillies are very similar, they differ in terms of development - Hawksmoor was always very good while this filly has improved rapidly throughout her career, and while she wasn't as good at an early stage, she's definitely as good now as Hawksmoor was when heading to this race, and she may have more potential to improve. You can't necessarily compare two horses from different years in different races, but I'm excited about her chances and I hope she'll run a massive race.
14:05 York - Anythingtoday
He ran very well at Newbury in a similar race, where he may have hit the front a little too soon, or perhaps had too much weight, but things conspired slightly against him, and I'd expect him to run another solid race.
He's a straightforward, genuine horse, although he's not as obviously well handicapped as he was in the summer. He certainly wouldn't be a surprise winner, and he's sure to try hard again and just needs things to work out for him as he isn't obviously thrown in, and the nature of these big handicaps means that he's probably susceptible to something better handicapped.
14:25 Newmarket - Arbalet
This has been the target for Arbalet for a very long time. As with a lot of 2-y-o Pattern races, it will only really be possible to judge the merit of the Autumn Stakes retrospectively, as there tends to be more potential than solid form on show.
As such, it's hard to be certain what Arbalet needs to achieve to win this, but it does look a pretty strong renewal of the race - we won it with Gifted Master a couple of years ago, and I don't recall the opposition looking this scary, but who knows?
What I do know is that my horse has matured and strengthened and his path here has been a very deliberate one. We have trained him specifically for this since the Solario, and his work has been very good. He will need to improve, perhaps by 10lbs to win, but juveniles can and do improve by such amounts.
He's a very big horse who is getting stronger all the time, there is no reason why he can't progress again, and I think the odds on offer are too big. That's not to knock the other runners, but I do have belief in this horse and I think he is up to this level, be that here or next season. I think the track at Newmarket will suit him, and we've been looking forward to stepping him up to a mile for a long time.
14:40 York - Pulitzer
We were hoping that York was going to be hit by whatever hurricane we're up to now, but it looks like Pulitzer will be racing on ground which will be too quick for her. If I'm honest, her best chance of winning a stakes race will be on bad ground against her own sex, and it was a great shame that the Western meeting at Ayr was lost, as she was 7/1 for the fillies' Group 3 there. She's in good shape and I'm happy that she will be able to run well in the conditions, but I would say she probably has her work cut out against the colts on top of the ground. That said, she was an expensive filly with a good pedigree who is now a winner, so we have to do what we can to get black type.
18:45 Kempton - Dragon Mountain
Dragon Mountain got to the front easily in a novice event here last week, but did a bit too much when he got there, and was run down late in what was probably a strong contest (subsequently disqualified). He's come out of the race well, although we've obviously not done much with him since. I'd like to think that the drop in grade will make things easier for him, and ideally something else will give him a lead and a target to aim at.
19:15 Kempton - Pepper Street
She was drawn badly at Lingfield and as a result had to do too much in the early stages which she paid for late on, so again I would like her to be able to sit in and get a lead to follow. If she can just save her energy for the second half of the race rather than the first, then she should have every chance.
20:15 Kempton - Escobar
Escobar makes his handicap debut at Kempton and he seems in great form; I hope very much that he can rekindle some of the promise that he showed earlier in his career. His last run wasn't at all bad under similar circumstances, going right-handed round a bend, and I hope he can build on that and show some solid form. He's been one of the disappointments of the year for us really - we started the season with Classic aspirations, but all we have achieved is second in a listed race, but that's life. He remains a horse with a huge amount of ability and I hope he can start to show that he's on the way back at least.