Hurrah for Sooraah?
Will Sooraah put on a good showing at Lingfield's Winter Derby? Alex Hammond thinks so...
Last Updated: 24/03/12 4:35pm
This weekend the focus switches from the best that jump racing can offer to the start of the turf season - in Ireland at least!
The campaign kicks off at the Curragh on Sunday and the main attraction is the return of Aidan O'Brien's Guineas and Derby favourite, Camelot. Sadly, he's not running, but will work after racing and there are sure to be plenty of people hanging around to see how he has blossomed over the winter.
Rumour has it that this horse is as good as O'Brien has had at this stage of its career and he is currently 5/2 for the Guineas and 5/2 for the Derby with Sky Bet.
The Winter Derby is this weekend's feature race at Lingfield and 14 horses have been declared for the contest. Premio Loco has been at the top of the ante-post markets but he could be challenged for favouritism on the day. Chris Wall's gelding is 4/1 with Sky Bet for this 1mile 2furlong Group Three.
The horse has his first start since October here and will be bidding to improve on his second place in this in 2009 where he was beaten by a nose. He is generally campaigned over a mile but his stamina just about lasts over 10furlongs at this speed track.
There are a few reasons to oppose him on Saturday, though: his stamina could be tested, it's his first run for a while and as he is getting older he could be getting harder to get spot on first time out and he has a 5lb penalty to carry for his win in the Group Two Park Stakes at Doncaster last Autumn.
The money that has come for Cai Shen has to be respected. If he were to win, it would be a boost for his trainer Richard Hannon who had vascular surgery on Monday. The horse was second in the Britannia at Royal Ascot last summer off top weight and this trip seems to suit him well, too. He looks set for a decent season and Sky Bet have him at 9/2.
Junoob is 5/1 for Tom Dascombe, while Sooraah is a 9/1 shot for William Haggas and Ryan Moore. Junoob was really impressive in the Winter Derby Trial and has proved to be a very smart buy for his new connections, who claimed him for just £12,000 in December, and he has done nothing but improve since.
Sooraah has had the benefit of wintering in Dubai where she won a handicap over one mile on the Tapeta surface, but this is her first try over 10 furlongs. Circumvent (10/1) ran well over this course and distance in the Churchill Stakes in November but disappointed subsequently and would have to reproduce that penultimate effort to figure here.
12/1 chance Myplacelater and 16/1 shot Our Joe Mac hail from the Richard Fahey yard. Myplacelater has her first start for Fahey having being bought for £100,000 in November after starting her career with David Elsworth for whom she won five races up to 12 furlongs; she is the pick of Paul Hanagan.
Our Joe Mac is a smashing horse and he will wear a visor for the first time. He was a bit too keen when switching back to the flat at Lingfield last month in the Winter Derby Trial, while prior to that he had a couple of starts in novice hurdles finishing second on his first outing. This 10 furlong should suit well.
14/1 chances include Black Spirit and Loyalty. Premio Loco and Cai Shen have been given unfavourably high draws which is a bit off putting. Sooraah has a good draw and Ryan Moore in the saddle and might be worth a chance over this trip at that price.
The Listed Hever Sprint Stakes looks like a smart race with Borderlescott in the field. Spirit Quartz is an interesting runner for Robert Cowell; the four-year old was a progressive sprinter in Italy and has his first outing for the trainer who does very well with his sprinters.
Jamie Spencer is a positive jockey booking, too. The seven furlong Spring Cup is the other Listed contest on the card. The race is restricted to three-year-olds and 11 have been declared. Gusto is the one for me here.
He won a Listed race on his final start at Doncaster over six furlongs giving the impression that seven would suit this season. He is also a winner on Polytrack and Richard Hannon's colt has the assistance of Ryan Moore in the saddle.
The flat jockeys' championship kicks off next Saturday and Sky Bet have Richard Hughes as their 3/1 favourite in an open market. However, his chance of winning his first championship hinges on the result of an appeal against a lengthy ban imposed by the stewards in India for not riding to instructions.
It seems a very harsh penalty for an offence that doesn't exist in the UK and if he isn't successful his title chances will be dealt a serious blow as he won't be able to ride until April 29. Ryan Moore is next at 7/2 and Kieren Fallon is 4/1 with Silvestre de Sousa.
De Sousa along with dual champion Paul Hanagan (6/1) may not be as prolific this year with their new jobs with Godolphin and Hamdan Al Maktoum respectively so are worth taking on this season.
I think the safest bet is Ryan Moore as Joseph O'Brien is now established at Ballydoyle and there may be fewer opportunities in Ireland which should see him concentrating on his commitments in the UK.
It was announced this week that a championship for professional women jockeys has been introduced and Hayley Turner should be a shoe in for that. Sky Bet have her as their 1/4 favourite to be overall winner. It's worth bearing in mind that there are three categories: Gold, Silver and Bronze and it is based on the overall strike rate.
As Hayley pointed out when I spoke to her on Sky Sports News on Thursday, she has more rides than many of the other girls which lowers her strike rate, but if she is injury free this season she should be top of the pile.
There is also a cracking jumps card at Newbury on Saturday and the start of the Irish turf season at the Curragh on Sunday, so there is plenty to look forward to over the weekend.
Sooraah in the Winter Derby @ 9/1 with Sky Bet
Our Joe Mac in the Winter Derby @ 16/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Spirit Quartz in the Hever Sprint Stakes
Gusto in the Spring Cup
Ryan Moore in the jockeys' championship at 7/2
Camelot in the 2000 Guineas @ 5/2 with Sky Bet
Camelot in the Derby @ 5/2 with Sky Bet