GURKHA HAS CLASS TO CLINCH FAST-TRACK
MIGHTY GURKHA can defy a penalty to stamp his class on six rivals in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Watch Racing For Free Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton (5.30) – a Fast-Track Qualifier for Good Friday’s 3YO Final.
Archie Watson’s colt must carry an additional 7lb in the 6f feature for winning the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes on the Kempton Park Polytrack in September but is the only Pattern race winner in the line-up.
Nicely drawn in stall four, and with the redoubtable Hollie Doyle in the saddle, I expect the 103-rated Mighty Gurkha to bounce back from his below-par run in the Breeders’ Cup and take his unbeaten record on synthetics to three on this Tapeta debut.
He proved his aptitude for a sharp track when making a winning debut over 6f at Lingfield Park in June and made all to beat some well-regarded rivals at Kempton, including the re-opposing Zamaani.
On ratings, as well as recent form, Simon and Ed Crisford’s colt is the most likely to benefit from the weight he receives from Mighty Gurkha but couldn’t lay a glove on him in the Sirenia and may just find things unravelling a little too quickly on this speed track after placing in Listed company in the mud at Redcar and Doncaster.
Yazaman, who represents the same owner but a different stable, found an inferior-rated maiden too resolute in a Fast-Track Qualifier at Newcastle and, despite being gelded since, looks vulnerable yet again on his first start without any form of headgear.
Whilst the son of Kodiac has also been placed in the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes, two Group 2s and the valuable sales race at Doncaster, his level of commitment hasn’t ever matched his abundant talent, which makes him opposable here.
Victory Heights finished just behind Yazaman at Newcastle and has shown improved form following wind surgery. He gained a confidence-boosting win back in novice company last time but has to produce a clear career best to win this.
Another contender is Marco Botti’s bargain basement buy Atalis Bay, who rattled up a hat-trick before boiling over in the Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes at Newmarket in October. If he has been successfully freshened up by a short break, he definitely has the speed to make an impact.
Tom Dascombe’s imposing course and distance winner Helmont would have been a genuine contender, too, but the stable chooses to be represented instead by twice-raced maiden Bakersboy – a half-brother to sprint king Kachy who, like Mark Loughnane’s Fayathaan, is open to improvement but is in deep off a mark of just 78.
SAM CAN CALL THE TUNE ON RETURN TO SAND
Ralph Beckett has been in prolific form with a 33 per cent strike rate in the last two weeks and can maintain his winning run with SAM COOKE in the Betway Handicap (7.00) at Wolverhampton on Saturday.
The gelded son of Pour Moi finished second on his only two previous starts on the All-Weather as a two-year-old and returns to sand on a tempting mark after losing out by a pixel in a Class 2 handicap at Ascot in the summer.
He struggled to get competitive from a wide draw in the November Handicap at Doncaster on his return from a three-month lay-off but can prove hard to deny over what should be an evenly-run 1m4f with confirmed pace-setters Red October and He's A Keeper in the line-up.
The latter is on a hat-trick but carries a penalty into a stronger race while top weight Koeman was around five lengths behind Sam Cooke at Ascot and may struggle to get much closer despite being better off here.
EXPECTING A BOLD SHOW FROM FAHEY SPRINTER
Richard Fahey’s gelding has won four of his seven starts on the All-Weather, finishing second in the other three, and remains open to progress off his rating of 89 now he switches back from the turf.
He went down fighting twice in Class 2 company at Southwell and Wolverhampton last winter off just a 4lb lower mark and returns to Newcastle for the first time since winning over course and distance in January.
A smooth traveller, this stiff 6f suits his style of racing and, even in the absence of any guaranteed trailblazers, the son of Foxwedge has the gears to claw himself into contention where it matters for dual former champion Paul Hanagan at potentially rewarding odds.
Mick Appleby’s Mohareb could be the one to go forward despite being reeled in late in the game at Chelmsford City while impressive Kempton winner Juan Les Pins looks an interesting debutant for the Ed Dunlop stable.
5.15 NEWCASTLE, FRIDAY
5.30 WOLVERHAMPTON, SATURDAY
7.00 WOLVERHAMPTON, SATURDAYSAM COOKE (NAP)
William Haggas’s colt cost a whopping 850,000 euros as a yearling so unsurprisingly was sent off favourite on his debut in a 1m Newcastle maiden on Tuesday. He ruined his chance with a slow start but got the hang of things mid-race to finish with some effect in third behind the potentially useful Oz Legend.
The runner-up Counsel, a son of Frankel, also looks one to watch after racing prominently and sticking on grittily under pressure on his racecourse bow.
Karl Burke’s gelding has to be worth a second look over 1m at Newcastle on Friday night after looking an unfortunate loser at Southwell last month.
He closed down the leader to finish a length third over 7f on the Fibresand after appearing to inexplicably jump mid-stride and lose his action about a furlong out.
He also holds an entry over 8.5f at Wolverhampton on Monday.
Brian Meehan’s consistent filly took a step up in grade in her stride at Wolverhampton last week when she was only just denied by John Gosden’s hot favourite Moonlight In Paris – a close fourth in Listed company previously - in an 8.5f fillies’ handicap.
She has winning form over 7f so could be the type to make her mark in a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Fillies’ and Mares’ Final over that trip come Easter.
Tim Easterby’s Iffraaj filly had shown definite signs of ability in two novice events before making her handicap debut in a 7f nursery at Newcastle on Tuesday. A scopey first foal, she caught my eye in the paddock before staying on well to be fifth.
She couldn’t quite keep tabs on the eventual winner despite beginning her challenge alongside him but, given her lack of experience, can find a race soon off a modest mark of around 60.
Johnny Drama has been transformed by a switch to sand this winter. He made it four in a row with victory in the 1m4f Listed Wild Flower Stakes at Kempton Park in midweek, despite his tendency to race lazily. Andrew Balding’s gelding has winning form over shorter trips so could be a fascinating contender for the Middle-Distance Championship. Lingfield Park’s 10f could prove too sharp but the Listed Quebec Stakes there on 19th December will surely be considered.
Roger Varian’s Premier Power is emerging as another Good Friday contender for Johnny Drama’s owners King Power Racing. He would almost certainly have won a Class 2 6f handicap at Kempton on Wednesday had he not been so keen on the front end.
Caught in the final stride, the 100-rated son of Siyouni needs to learn to relax in his races but that was only his fourth career start so his best days remain ahead of him.
By contrast, the vastly experienced Crosse Fire struck on the Southwell Fibresand for the 14th time last week. Scott Dixon’s eight-year-old isn’t the winning-most horse on the Nottinghamshire circuit – that honour belongs to 22-times winner Tempering – but he has won more handicaps there than any horse in the track’s 31-year history.
Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand aren’t the only young couple making a name for themselves on the racecourse. Jockey Lewis Edmunds was on board his fiancée Jessica Macey’s first career winner at Kempton last month and has since booted home two more winners for the niece of former trainer Chris Dwyer, who is based near Doncaster.
Lewis, who smashed the Lingfield track record on Les Eyre’s exciting Bedford Flyer last week, ended the month with seven winners and began this week with a strike rate of 23 per cent.
Meanwhile, Mark Johnston knows exactly what it takes to win the Marathon Final – he achieved the feat with the gallant grey Watersmeet - and looks to have another possible contender in the shape of Rochester House.
The four-year-old chestnut took advantage of a 7lb lower mark on the All-Weather on Wednesday to win a competitive 2m handicap at Lingfield – home of the Marathon Final, of course. The son of Galileo has improvement to find but time is on his side so don’t be surprised to see him turn up for a Fast Track Qualifier in due course.