A is for AUXERRE. It applies as much, if not more, in National Hunt, but we save the ‘G H in a H’ maxim for the Flat, over-using and abusing it week in week out. Group horses in a handicap are far rarer than you are led to believe, as the truth of the matter is that there have been only around 35 bona-fide examples in the last 25 years, but Auxerre has the look of one, hence his price for the Lincoln. Odds of 7/2 may seem skinny enough, but 5/1 wasn’t short enough last year for Addeybb in hindsight, and the two are strikingly similar in profile, unraced at 2 and on a roll at 3, and from a top yard, also ridden by James Doyle.
B is for BROCKLESBY. A big field, as many as 17, for the first juvenile prize of the year. It’s mostly the usual suspects in terms of trainers, and over half of the runners represent a stable that has won the race in the last dozen years, including Richard Fahey who has two, Hanagan selecting Show Me Show Me. On paper, the most interesting entrant is arguably Strong Power, a pricey yearling (€65,000) by the speed-sire Kodiac, out of a mare who won first time out, and George Scott showed in 2018 that he can get one ready.
C is for CROSS COUNTER. No Vazirabad this time, who has won the last three Dubai Gold Cups, but the next big thing on the staying scene is here in the shape of Cross Counter, the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup, for Charlie Appleby, last November. He’s coming in cold, however, unlike team-mate Ispolini, who has been cutting it up at the Carnival, or Prix du Cadran winner Call The Wind, his screws tightened by a servicing run (second to Trais Fluors) over an inadequate 9½f. That pair are the reason the reappearing Cross Counter is odds-against. Stradivarius will be watching closely.
D is for DE SOUSA. And ‘d’ also stands for due, or overdue in De Sousa’s case, as he now has some superpower fuel to add to his fire courtesy of King Power Racing, for whom he has been installed as the retained rider. And he dons the blue and white at Doncaster on Saturday, aboard Zwayyan in the Lincoln, as well Bangkok in the maiden at 4.45, and that one will be hard to beat given the strength of his form as a two-year-old, a good bet to get this powerful partnership up and running.
E is for EASTERBY, specifically Mick, who often has a squad ready for Doncaster. He has 8 entries there over the weekend, and the one that jumps out is Kannapolis in the closing apprentice handicap on the Saturday. One of the better claimers, Josh Quinn, has been booked for him, and the lightly-raced Kannapolis came to the boil early in his 2018 campaign.
F and G are for FLORIDA DERBY at GULFSTREAM. After business is completed at Doncaster and Dubai, Sky Sports Racing turns its attention to Stateside, on Saturday, and the latest service stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby, which is little over a month away. It’s a rematch from the Fountain of Youth, when the hyped-up Hidden Scroll succumbed (in fourth) to the winner, Code of Honor, but the former is formative and his youthful exuberance cost him, doing too much too soon. Greater control can change the game between them.
H is for HONOR, the American spelling reflecting not only Code of Honor in the Florida Derby but also Point of Honor in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. By Curlin, winner of the 2008 Dubai World Cup, Code of Honor is unbeaten in two starts, and, up in grade now, she’s the unknown quantity for favourite Cookie Dough to contend with.
I is for INVINCIBLE ARMY. Twenty minutes after Sands of Mali contests the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, Invincible Army goes in the listed Cammidge Trophy. There was only a nose between the pair in the Sandy Lane last May, before their seasons went separate ways, but that form is a notch above his Doncaster rivals, and Invincible Army zipped in first time out last year, at the expense of Commonwealth Cup winner Eqtidaar.
J and K are for JAPAN and KUNIEDA. The pride of Japan, and masterminded by trainer Sakae Kunieda, Almond Eye is a global glamour girl every bit as important and influential as Winx in the Southern Hemisphere or Enable in the Northern Hemisphere. She completed the Japanese fillies Triple Crown before breaking the older boys, and the course record, in the Japan Cup, and her world tour of 2019 begins in Dubai, before a scheduled stop in Britain for York’s Ebor meeting, before the ultimate aim of the Arc in Paris, where Enable will (hopefully) be waiting. The Dubai Turf is a few yards short of 9f, which is a task for her, along with the different environment and different opposition, but if she’s as good as she looks then she’ll power through the pressures and the gears. In terms of impact and interest, this is the race of D-Day, because this may be the horse of a lifetime.
L is for LEMAIRE, the jockey entrusted with Almond Eye. “She’s very special to me, and very special on the track, too.”
M is for MUNTAZAH. The surprise package when runner-up in the 2018 Godolphin Mile, at 14/1, Muntazah hasn’t hidden his approach this Carnival, clearly an improved model and running riot in the trial, by 10 lengths. It’s a simple case of the same again for Muntazah, even with Coal Front coming in hot from America.
N is for NEW STALLIONS. One of the significant subplots year in year out are the means and genes of the first-season sires, and there are three such stallions with first feet on the ground in the Brocklesby, namely Music Master, Fulbright and French Navy. Fulbright’s son, Richard R H B, looks the most interesting of them, if only for the fact some of his siblings have been winning sprinters.
O is for O’BRIEN. There was a time, in the height of the Cold War between Godolphin and Coolmore, when Aidan O’Brien wouldn’t have runners in Dubai, but complexions have changed and relations have realigned, for the better of the sport, and for the better of World Cup night. On Saturday, O’Brien saddles five at Meydan, the best of which is probably Magic Wand in the Sheema Classic, in receipt of 5 lb from Old Persian with the fillies allowance.
P is for PACE, often the defining force in the sort of straight-track, big-field handicaps of which we have two at Doncaster on Saturday. In the Lincoln, the low draws – where Masham Star and Humbertare firing from – look the likely arrowhead, and so Auxerre, out of 17, may require an overcoming strategy, or an outright switch, by James Doyle. In the Spring Mile, the front runners are on opposite sides, Sands Chorus (stall 4) and Al Jellaby (16 of 16), which opens the possibility of a split field. Either way, big-field handicaps are back, bringing the complexities of draw and pace.
Q is for QUOZ, AL, featuring Point, Blue. The electricity has always been there, just not the connection from one run to the next, but he’s now fully mature, aged 5, and back-to-back power plays in his trials out there suggest a corner may have been turned, though only the Al Quoz will absolutely answer that question. The race, and the division, is his for the taking.
R is for REY DE ORO, arguably the second-best horse in Japan behind Almond Eye, likewise partnered by Christophe Lemaire, and the pair of them have a score to settle from last year, when things went against them, in the…
S is for SHEEMA CLASSIC. The tepid tempo in the 2018 renewal went all for the winner, Hawkbill, and all against the hold-up horses, Rey de Oro amongst them. Another tactical edition may compromise Old Persian, a strong stayer who only just got out of a spot of trouble in the trial, and Racing History is liable to put more pace to this race, though that would serve others well, Rey de Oro included. All of this, and more, is why the Sheema Classic is one of the less black-and-white matters at Meydan.
T is for THUNDER SNOW. No horse has won the Dubai World Cup more than once, giving Thunder Snow a potential place in the history books if he does what he did last year and springs forward from his second in Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge, but the problem is the one with whom he’s playing catch-up, because Capezzano defied him, and defied logic, last time. The only certainty about the World Cup is that it will be fast and furious, and that, in theory, plays into the hands of the late-charging Seeking The Soul, who has a suitable style for this set-up, still runner-up in the Pegasus when he didn’t get an end-to-end gallop.
U is for UTTOXETER, threading through the coverage from Doncaster and Dubai on Saturday afternoon, and the rampant Team Skelton look set to be out in force.
V is for VARIAN. Having won two of the last three Doncaster Miles, Roger Varian is the starting point for this year’s edition, and Sharjah Bridge brings the best form, courtesy of his breakthrough handicap win in the big event on Champions Day, a performance on a par with what the fourth/fifth did in the QEII earlier on that card. The question, therefore, becomes more one of fitness, and a Varian reappearer who needs the run would be a rare bird indeed, plus he’s ridden by Mr Doncaster himself, Andrea Atzeni.
W is for WALKING THUNDER, the best of the boys against the flourishing filly, Divine Image, in the UAE Derby. Despite her development, Diving Image hadn’t looked a complete natural on dirt, at least not until a wide-margin win last time, though that was only a listed race and she had a perfect position through it. If there are some fault-lines in her, and her earlier efforts suggest there are, then Walking Thunder, boosted by Dettori and the draw, look ready and able to capitalise, not hard to forgive his second (at odds-on) in the UAE 2000 Guineas when waited with and wide.
X and Y is for X Y JET. The late scratching of Roy H paves the way in the Golden Shaheen for X Y Jet, who has finished second in the race not once but twice. There’s now only one horse on his inside, increasing the probability of him grabbing pole position, and the more he can dominate the less likely he’ll be caught.
Z is for ZYLAN, a possible great escape at Southwell on Saturday evening if the afternoon punting doesn’t go to plan. His last two starts have been underwhelming, though they’ve come at Newcastle and Wolverhampton, when he’s clearly a different horse on fibresand, on which he’s won 5 of his 6 starts, and Tony Hamilton is hot-footing it from Doncaster to ride him.