There is plenty to look forward to this weekend, not least the fact that summer is finally arriving! There are top cards at both Sandown for the Eclipse, and at Haydock for the Lancashire Oaks.
Let's start with Sandown and I'm excited to see some of Royal Ascot's starts running again in the Eclipse. I wasn't at Ascot as I was presenting the Hickstead Derby coverage on Sky, but I kept across the results and replays when I got home.
I was with The Fugue in the Prince of Wales's Stakes but she could never quite trouble the front two, Al Kazeem and Mukhadram, who fought out the finish. All three line up again and I'm hoping the filly can finish a bit closer (ie. beat them both!). I think given a bit more of a chance she can do that, especially with a run under her belt as that was her first run since the Breeders' Cup in November.
There's no doubt Al Kazeem has surprised a few people this year; he just seems to keep grinding out theses victories and is getting better. He has had his physical problems in the past, but I hope they are now behind him as the rest of his season is geared towards the Arc for which he is currently 6/1 with Sky Bet.
Mukhadram has improved for positive tactics and that always makes him vulnerable to a closer. It looked like Paul Hanagan had nicked it at the royal meeting, but he was unlucky to come up against a tough competitor.
Camelot, who was fourth at Ascot, doesn't run on Saturday as he is given a break, but his trainer Aidan O'Brien has a strong hand. He is bidding to equal the record number of wins by a trainer in this contest with five wins already to his name and it looks like he has a very good chance of doing so.
His main contender is Declaration of War who turns out again after his win in the Queen Anne over a mile. It was suggested that as a horse with plenty of speed he may drop in trip after that win, but instead he steps back up to the trip (1m 2f) he has been successful over in the past albeit in lesser company. He actually holds an entry in the Nunthorpe and that shows how much speed his connections think he has. His record is hard to fault though with six wins from eight starts over trips ranging from a mile to ten-and-a-half furlongs.
O'Brien also runs Derby 6th Mars who will be fitted with a hood for the first time and is the only 3 year-old in the line up. Although The Fugue has a bit to find on the ratings, she gets some help with a fillies' allowance and I'm going to take a punt on her turning the Prince of Wales's Stakes form around.
There is a really good support card at Sandown and the Charge is a group 3 over 5 furlongs. Eight horses have been declared for the sprint which means there are each way options for punters.
Mince has been the big disappointment for me this season. I had really high hopes for her, but after moderate runs at York, Windsor and Ascot she now has to prove herself and show that she has trained on. She is a 7/1 chance with Sky Bet for this race and if she wins without me I'll be gutted!
It's interesting that trainer Roger Charlton is fitting her with blinkers for the first time and they could have the desired effect. No messing around with cheeckpieces or a visor, he is going for the full monty straight away. She has only ever had one run at this trip before as she is usually seen over six furlongs, but maybe the plan is to hope she shows more speed with the headgear, or could it be last chance saloon? Should I give her one more chance? I probably will.
She's up against some tough opposition though with the likes of the highest rated Kingsgate Native back to form this term, Duke of Firenze the Dash winner in the line up and Spirit Quartz, who like Kingsgate Native has a penalty for his group 2 win this season.
Abernant winner Tickled Pink is another trying five furlongs for the first time for Lady Cecil. I'm letting my heart rule my head, but this could be the race Mince bounces back in.
Another open race at Sandown is the Challenge, a big field handicap over a mile. Andrew Balding's Roserrow can run well here. He has won his last two starts and they were both over this course and distance and he is versatile ground wise. He had the option of running in the Royal Hunt Cup, but was targeted at this race instead. Let's hope connections are rewarded.
My only concern is the wide draw, but hopefully he can ping the gates and get to the front early as he likes to race handily. He is a tough, progressive horse with one of the strongest jockeys riding on board in Jimmy Fortune and he'll do for me.
The Lancashire Oaks is the feature at Haydock and it could be a good day for trainer John Gosden who will hopefully have a winner at Sandown with The Fugue. He has Gallipot and Wannabe Loved in this mile-and-a-half Group 3 with the former the first string.
Although the trainer has a good record in this race these two fillies wouldn't appear to be as good as former winners Gertrude Bell and Great Heavens but they should acquit themselves well in this eight-runner field.
I think it's interesting that Kieren Fallon was keen to come to Haydock to ride Banoffee. I like this filly, she won the Cheshire Oaks showing a decent turn of foot and then finished seventh in the Oaks. You can certainly forgive any horse a moderate run at Epsom as it's an unconventional track whose cambers don't suit every horse and back on a conventional track she could go well. Whether it was the track or the occasion that did for her at Epsom, it wasn't her running and she can bounce back here.
Staying in Lancashire and the Old Newton Cup is the big handicap on Haydock's card and Fallon teams up with his old ally Sir Michael Stoute with joint top weight Opinion. This horse has been raised 8lbs for his win in the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Ascot last time out, but that was only his second start of the season and his first with a tongue tie and I think there could be more to come, he is certainly a dangerous horse to discount.
In the immediate aftermath of his Ascot win connections said the Ebor would be considered and even possibly a trip to Melbourne for the Cup, in which case given some luck he is a major player here. In all honesty he looks the class act in this race and although he is favourite in a hot handicap, I can't get away from his chance.
Owner Dr. Marwan Koukash loves winners at his local track and he has three in this with Haylaman looking the pick of them for trainer David Simcock. He is more exposed than the selection though and although may not be too badly treated I'm with Opinion to continue his progression.
It's also worth bearing in mind that Opinion is one of the horses Sir Michael chose to gallop with Telescope at Lingfield before the Derby. He galloped all over the disappointing classic hope in an eye-catching manner on that day, albeit he was well held in the closing stages. He clearly has plenty of ability.
The Fugue in the Eclipse @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Mince in the Charge @ 7/1 with Sky Bet
Roserrow in the Challenge
Banoffee in the Lancashire Oaks
Opinion in the Old Newton Cup @ 7/2 with Sky Bet