Steve Hughes has four selections from around Britain on a typically busy Saturday afternoon of flat racing.
There is good quality action all round from this afternoon’s four meetings in Britain, and whilst we are lacking in Group 1 entertainment ahead of next weekend’s Derby meeting, there are a plethora of pattern races to look forward to. I have selections from Chester, York and Haydock.
2.05 Haydock: Astonishing
Another typical Michael Stoute improver, Astonishing can build on a promising seasonal reappearance at Newbury last month (her first try in group company) and can continue the progression that saw her rise up the grades last summer.
Having raced only once as a juvenile, she scored at the third attempt when winning an All Weather maiden at Kempton in July. Whilst that was nothing out of the ordinary, she did go on to a fair second in a fillies handicap at Goodwood the following month. She travelled beautifully through much of her next contest, another 12f handicap at Newmarket before getting outbattled by Phaenomena late on.
However sent out again over the same course and distance just five days later, and put into listed company, she responded with an emphatic 7l win, banishing any fears that she might prove to be a little weak under pressure. Whilst that performance ruled her out of handicap’s in future, her ability should ensure she competes in group race company for the rest of her racing career. A fair fourth to Cubanita at Newbury, at a time Stoute’s horses were needing their first run was a solid return and with the benefit of that experience she will be sharper today.
2.20 York: First Mohican
Alan King might be struggling to keep up with the very top trainers these days over jumps, but he is more than compensating for that with his burgeoning flat string and with First Mohican now in his care, he can enjoy a listed success at York today to back up his big race winner at Haydock last week.
A horse who had some serious training problems with Henry Cecil earlier in his career, he had managed only one race until late 2012, albeit a winning one in a Yarmouth maiden. He made up for lost time that autumn with successive wins on soft ground at Redcar and Nottingham, before a wide draw did for his chances in the November Handicap.
However he returned still a well handicapped horse when winning over 10f here at the Dante meeting last season. Things did not progress so well from there, although he managed a third place in a Deauville Group 3 in August. Sent to King to embark on a hurdling career, he did not seem a natural jumper despite winning on debut at Doncaster. However he was much more like his true self when third at Newbury recently on ground probably quicker than ideal. That contest over 13f also seemed to prove his stamina for this trip as he stayed on well. With the ground remaining on the soft side, that will suit First Mohican ideally here.
3.05 Chester: Purcell
As ever a low draw is virtually a must at Chester, and Andrew Balding who had some good luck with some inside stalls at the recent big meeting on the Roodee has potentially struck gold with Purcell (stall 2) in the class 2 feature on the card this afternoon.
The improving 4yo is already 1-1 at the track having narrowly won over 6f here last August, on similar good-to-soft conditions. He was kept exclusively to that distance last year until running a fair fourth on his last start at Ascot in a class 4 handicap.
However after a winter break, he has since shown that 7f is his trip having twice won on Lingfield’s All Weather, the second an impressive 3l win over a useful yardstick in Nassau Storm. Crack apprentice Oisin Murphy was on board for both of those occasions and takes the mount again here. Purcell is easily forgiven finishing down the field in the Victoria Cup at Ascot having tried to make all in a big field and on the unfavoured side of the track on the day. Although he has successfully front-run previously, the sensible tactic today will be to sit behind likely trailblazer Tellovoi drawn immediately outside him and make the best of his way home in the straight.
3.15 Haydock: Steps
After a very consistent record in handicaps, Steps showed he belongs in pattern company when winning at Ascot last October on his favoured good-to-soft conditions. With the ground riding almost identical at Haydock today, and his preferred blinkers back on, the stage is set for Steps to make a repeat performance this afternoon.
Having won at Thirsk last May, Roger Varian’s gelding performed with great credit in numerous big races, notably three consecutive runners up positions at the class 2 level, culminating in the Portland Handicap at Doncaster. Perhaps the ground was slightly too soft when well beaten in a Group 3 at Newbury, for he bounced straight back to win a competitive listed event at Ascot next time.
His last two runs have been back in handicap company, but now rated 105, he simply looks too exposed to compete in those races any more. His third at Newbury last month was a respectable effort, especially considering his usual blinkers were left off. It looks significant that they are fitted again here and with the ground ideal, this looks a perfect opportunity for him.
1pt win – Astonishing – 2.05 Haydock (7/2 SportingBet)
1pt win – First Mohican – 2.20 York (11/2 Bet365, Totesport, Betfred)
2pts win – Purcell – 3.05 Chester (3/1 general)
1pt win – Steps – 3.15 Haydock (9/2 general)