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Starting the review of a fantastic World Cup night at Meydan.

The first of the five thoroughbred championship races was the Al Quoz Sprint over 1200m on the grass. The money in the UK came for Frankie Dettori on STAR OF MYSTERY but he faced a strong international challenge priamrily from the Hong Kong sprinter CALIFORNIA SPENGLE but also from the American CASA CREEK.

The winner smashed the track record running the straight 1200m in 1:07.50 seconds which isn't hanging about. With the fact he's proficient over 1400m in Hong Kong, Brenton Avdulla knew he wouldn't be stopping in front and he was always holding STAR OF MYSTERY who ran a decent race in second and could well be a big threat in British races over 1000m on this evidence.

DILIGENT HARRY ran a huge race for Britain in third and you'd think in a division with no obvious stars among the older horses he could be a serious factor this summer. CASA CREED ran on well enough but was well held in sixth.

On then to the Golden Shaheen over 1200m on the Dirt. Last year's winner SIBELIUS was well supported in what looked a very open race and the booking of Ryan Moore obviously drew in money from the UK and Ireland. The best of the Japanese looked to be REMAKE while the local favourite seemed to be MOUHEEB.

One for the locals and a brave man's ride by Tadhg O'Shea on TUZ who used the two stall to give up the inside to no one especially DON FRANKIE and these two dominated the finish but in truth TUZ was an impressive winner and is clearly a very fast horse on dirt. I've seen dodgem cars at the funfair at Southend get fewer bumps than NAKATOMI but he ran on well for third just in front of REMAKE and IGNITER so it was Dubai, Japan second, fourth and fifth and the US third. The Meydan dirt really rewards plenty of starting speed and a low draw - it always has. 

The first of the turf championship races was the Dubai Turf over 1800m. Past winner LORD NORTH was in the field but the Godolphin owned MEASURED TIME went off favourite in Britain over perennial 2000m Group 1 contender LUXEMBOURG.

A messy old race to be honest with plenty of chances 300m out. NASHWA couldn't hold on against these really good ones but after wins for the UAE and Hong Kong it was time for France to get in on the act as FACTEUR CHEVAL defeated the Japanese NAMUR with DANON BELUGA once again allowing the Japanese to hit both post and cross bar without putting the ball in the net.

Although he was 20s up here, the winner is no mug - he chased home Paddington in the Sussex, was third in the Moulin and also second in the Queen Elizabeth II on Champions Day to compatriot BIG ROCK and on each occasion he was running on suggesting the extra 200m wouldn't be an issue. That's decent form and I should have spotted it.

NAMUR was a big race Japanese raider but DANON BELUGA had run second in this last year before becoming far from the only horse to see the backside of Equinox, latterly in the Japan Cup. MEASURED TIME was fourth and ran with credit on a tough assignment. DO DEUCE was fifth not having had the best of runs while both LORD NORTH and NASHWA finished in midfield. LUXEMBOURG was disappointing and was badly hampered when CATNIP clipped heels and came down 150m out. Unfortunately, CATNIP didn't survive the fall.

The feature turf race was the Sheema Classic over 2400m and this featured the top Japanese filly LIBERTY ISLAND who had won the fillies' triple crown in Japan before running well in defeat behind Equinox in the Japan Cup. She now faced AUGUSTE RODIN, winner of the 2024 English and Irish Derbies, the Irish Champion and the Breeders Cup Turf. This was as it always is a very deep race and arguably the best turf race in the Northern Hemisphere of the year so far.

It had been a pretty quiet night for Godolphin and William Buick and it's not often he rides a 25/1 shot in any race these days let alone a Group 1 but as the old saying goes, every dog has its day and REBEL'S ROMANCE has had another to compare with his 2022 Breeders Cup Turf win. To put this performance into contest, he was 11 lengths behind Equinox in this race last year but on this occasion REBEL'S ROMANCE was given a superb ride by Buick.

In truth, only two horses were ever given any chance of winning, REBEL'S ROMANCE and SHAHRYAR who chased him home. POINT LONSDALE quickened early but at the top of the straight the front three must have been 6-8 lengths ahead of the others and you can't give horses of that quality that much start. SHAHRYAR won the Sheema Classic in 2021 and was eight lengths behind Equinox last year and one place in front of REBEL'S ROMANCE. We can therefore deduce the 2024 renewal isn't quite as good as the 2023 running. 

I suspect REBEL'S ROMANCE will be seen in Britain later in the summer but he must have fast ground.

Another frustrating race for Japan who claimed second, third and fourth courtesy of SHAHRYAR, LIBERTY ISLAND and JUSTIN PALACE. The third placed filly was given plenty to do I thought off the home turn but she quickened well and is clearly not short of talent.

EMILY UPJOHN ran on well for fifth and I suspect she'll be a player in the top 2400m races for the older horses in the UK such as the Coronation Cup. AUGUSTE RODIN was bitterly disappointing finishing last. He's got huge ability but he's an inconsistent type and he blew out in both the English 2000 Guineas and the King George at Ascot. I'm not sure if there's an issue but as with most of the rest of the field he was given a huge task off the home turn and a number of the riders on the beaten horses (except for Christian Demuro on the runner up) might well ask themselves why they rode the races they did as their mounts were never given any realistic chance.

Finally, the big one, the Dubai World Cup, over 2000m on the dirt and while it's no longer the world's richest race, it's still a race a lot want to win and both America and Japan sent strong contenders with the Saudi Cup winner SENOR BUSCADOR and Saudi Cup runner up and last year's Dubai World Cup winner, USHBA TESORO, the respective leading lights.

An unbelievable night for Tadhg O'Shea who is very much a journeyman rider in the UK but he scooped a fantastic double in the championship races and showed what an astute dirt rider he has become.

He won this at the start taking LAUREL RIVER forward and basically won the second richest race in the world unchallenged. LAUREL RIVER had raced with Bob Baffert before coming to Dubai in late 2022 and he was off until the early part of this year and for all he won a Group 3 over the course and distance well last time, it seemed unlikely he could prevail in this company.

Both SENOR BUSCADOR and USHBA TESORO come from a mile off a strong pace and they have shown here and in Riyadh that's a successful play but not today. The Japanese horse won their private battle this time reversing the Saudi Cup places but they were very much second and third on this occasion. The favourite, KABIRKHAN, lost his unbeaten record finishing eighth.

The three Group 2 races are also worth a note - the Godolphin Mile on the Dirt went to America and 33/1 outsider TWO TIMES OVER who ran down Tadhg O'Shea (whose night would improve) on the local WALK OF STARS. In the Dubai Gold Cup over 3200m Ryan Moore finessed TOWER OF LONDON to win and follow up his Riyadh win. TOWER OF LONDON looks to have come on a lot physically from three to four and in another division with few obvious contenders it could be TOWER OF LONDON who steps up to prominence in a race like the Gold Cup at Ascot.

The UAE Derby turned out to be the sole Japanese win on the night as FOREVER YOUNG staked his claim to a shot at the Kentucky Derby by seeing off a fair field. He beat a horse called AUTO BAHN who is trained in Argentina and I just wonder if the rise of South American racing might be the next big thing.

Japan hit the cross bar and post and won only one of the eight races on the Meydan card but they got any number of placed runners and once again showed they are the new powerhouse in global racing. France won a race, Ireland won a race, Hong Kong won a race, Japan won a race and America won a race while the locals did better than in recent years with three wins including the features on both turf and dirt. Nothing for the British who didn't send much of a team in all honesty.

28 years on and Dubai World Cup night has now established its place in the global racing calendar and is part of the globalisation of the sport. It would be good to see some Australasian runners in the turf races and the fact both Japan and Ireland have 3-y-o who are being thought of in terms of both dirt and turf campaigns suggest the split between the surfaces is coming to an end as well.

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Picking up on a few snippets from the first part of the Easter weekend up here.

On Friday we had all-weather finals day at Newcastle, a very strong card consisting of six handicaps and a listed. The big 2000m handicap had a first prize of £103,000 and went to ELEGANT MAN, a lightly raced runner owned by AMO Racing, a growing force and trained by Adrian Murray in Ireland. The winner won off 108 and is a son of the late champion Arrogate who sadly died in 2020. He's not had many in Europe that I know of and this one handled the Tapeta really well. They are already talking about the Breeders Cup Classic this year and the likes of the Saudi Cup in 2025.

Fairyhouse began its three day Easter Festival on Saturday but the Sunday had a couple of decent races. The Honeysuckle Mares Novices Hurdle over 4000m saw some very nice types line up including JADE DE GRUGY who had run well at Cheltenham.

Don't let the sunshine fool you - it's been an incredibly wet winter in Ireland and while this meeting would usually take place on decent ground, it was midwinter heavy at the County Meath venue and the ground was sticky with the morning sunshine. Only nine of the seventeen completed but it was business as usual as Willie Mullins brought home a 1-2-4 headed by JADE DE GRUGY who had got outpaced at a vital stage at Cheltenham before running on to finish fourth. Over an extra 600m and on even slower ground, she was always going the best and is a mare of considerable potential and we'll see if she goes over fences next year.

I thought JETARA had a chance two out but JADE DE GRUGY was always travelling and JETARA weakened after the last leaving the winner to be chased homr by her stable mate SPINDLEBERRY who is one to also note for a chasing campaign. She had won a maiden hurdle over the course and distance but is bred to love the bigger obstacles.

The WillowWarm Gold Cup over 4000m for the novice chasers saw a rematch between the Mullins challenger BLOOD DESTINY and SPILLANE'S TOWER who had been beaten six and a half lengths last time but was in receipt of 7 lbs.

Not a dry eye in the house as SPILLANE'S TOWER made it a first Grade 1 win for veteran trainer Jimmy Mangan (father of Jane, one of the leading Racing UK presenters in Ireland) 

The weight concession made all the difference in the tacky ground and SPILLANE'S TOWER ground out the win in a race where they went steady and only raced from three out. BLOOD DESTINY couldn't jump out of the tacky ground and between that and the weight couldn't quicken. TACTICAL MOVE was prominent all the way and I'm interested in him as a second season chaser given he was form at 4400m.

Willie Mullins cleaned up with five winners on the second day and showed his continued dominance of jumps racing. Indeed, if he were to saddle the winner of the Grand National, there's a fair chance he could win the Trainers Championship in Britain as well.

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A quiet weekend coming up which gives me a chance to do a little housekeeping.

The Grand National meeting kicks off on April 11th and runs to the 13th and from the 16th to the 18th we have the Craven Meeting at Newmarket and on the 20th the Scottish National and the Newbury Spring Meeting. The 26th has the first British Group 2, the Mile at Sandown and the 27th the finale of the jumps season at the same venue. A week later, on May 4th, we have the 2000 Guineas and on the following day the 1000 Guineas both over the straight 1600m at Newmarket.

The current ground at Aintree is Soft on the Mildmay Course and Soft, Heavy in places on the National course with more rain forecast.

My coverage for the Flat season will be as follows:

Britain: Group 1 and Group 2 races in detail - mention of Group 3 events especially classic trials.

Ireland and France: Group 1 races in detail - mention of Group 2 races.

Elsewhere in Europe: mention of Group 1 races with UK or Irish runners.

North America: mention of Grade 1 races with UK or Irish runners.

Obviously, the big meetings such as Royal Ascot, Goodwood, the Derby meeting, the May and August meetings at York will be extensively covered and hopefully Trackside will cover them for those who fancy spending the night watching top European racing.

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Really sad to hear today of the passing of Stefano Cherchi at the age of 23 from injuries sustained in a fall at Canberra a couple of weeks ago.

Cherchi was apprenticed to the Marco Botti yard and was on the verge of breaking through in the UK before getting the opportunity to move to Australia to continue his development.

Jockey Stefano Cherchi dies aged 23 after race-riding incident in Australia | Racing Post

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The seasons change but the domination of Irish racing by two or three trainers continues.

The Group 3 Ballysax over 2000m at Leopardstown on Sunday has an illustrious roll of honour including Galileo, High Chaparaal, Yeats, Fame and Honour and more recently Broome.

All trained by Aidan O'Brien and he has eight of the ten entries for the 2024 renewal. Possibly the best are ILLINOIS and CAPULET. The former was third in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and the latter was third in the Royal Lodge at Newmarket so solid Group 1 form. Also entered is OCEAN OF DREAMS who won on debut at Leopardstown over 1600m and went straight into the notebook as a potential 3-y-o to follow.

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The weather continues to play havoc with the fixture list up here. Three meetings lost today, two already gone tomorrow and two more facing morning inspections.

The rain has been relentless but I'm sure eventually that will change.  However, since January 1st, 78% of turf races have been run on soft or heavy ground compared with 43% in 2023 and 42% in 2022. Field sizes have suffered with good ground horses staying in their boxes.

In France, they seem more used to heavy turf and Longchamp stages the first European Group 2 on Sunday with the Prix Hocquart over 2000m. FEED THE FLAME was eighth in the Arc and should find this an easier task. MILITARY ORDER represents Charlie Appleby and William Buick and won the Winter Derby at Southwell on the Tapeta. How he'll go on this ground I don't know - it was soft when he won a Newbury maiden last year. HORIZON DORE will be better for his pipe opener at Saint Cloud a month ago and shoukld be thereabouts.

We ave the five day entries for the first day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree where the ground remains Soft, Heavy in places on the National course. The meeting has improved leaps and bounds in recent years and there are four Grade 1 championships on the opening afternoon.

The 4000m Manifesto Novices Chase has attracted a very strong field of 18 runners with top Cheltenham performers IL ETAIT TEMPS,  GREY DAWNING, GINNY'S DESTINY and CORBETTS CROSS all in the mix. The Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle has attracted 13 entries. One of the features of the Cheltenham Festival was the absence of the Henderson runners as the stable was going through a period of poor health. There's some evidence a corner has been turned and SIR GINO, who was the Triumph Hurdle favourite before his withdrawal, is 5/4 favourite to follow up here. KARGESE, who was second in the Triumph is 11/4. The ground was pretty bad on Gold Cup day and she had a hard enough race in defeat. Paul Nicholls saddles Adonis winner KALIF DU BERLAIS but he's a big type who might not enjoy the sharpness of Aintree.

12 go in what I shouldn't call the Gold Cup consolation but the Aintree Bowl over 5000m is a decent prize in its own right. Ryanair winner PROTEKTORAT should enjoy this more but he faces the Gold Cup runner up GERRI COLOMBE, King George winner HEWICK and the enigmatic SHISHKIN.

The 4000m Aintree Hurdle is often seen as the next step for the Champion Hurdler but with STATE MAN waiting for Punchestown and CONSTITUTION HILL out for the rest of the season, the Cheltenham runner up IRISH POINT has a huge chance over the extra 800m.  

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A dry and quite warm weekend in southern England but plenty of rain in Ireland and Scotland causing more abandonments.

The ground at Aintree remains Soft, Heavy in places.

Another four championship races on Friday starting with the Mildmay Chase for the staying novices over 5000m. Turners winner GREY DAWNING is one of a number who have been declare din this as well as the Manifesto on Thursday so we'll need to see how this shapes up midweek,.

The 1-2-3 in the Supreme head the field for the Top Novices Hurdle over 3250m. SLADE STEEL and MYSTICAL POWER were split by a length and a half at Prestbury Power with an arguably unlucky FIREFOX close behind. CALDWELL POTTER won the Future Champions Novices Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmasn but the owners lost a couple of young horses in quick succession and sold off their entire string soon after. This one was bought by the successful Mason, Ferguson, Hales and Done syndicate who have the likes of PROTEKTORAT with Dan Skelton and any number of good young horses with Paul Nicholls. The absence means the horse comes to the race fresh and that's often worth noting at this meeting.

The Melling Chase over 3980m is another of the meeting's features and draws a strong field of chasers wir5h form from 3200 to 4800m. JONBON has been entered as has Ryanair winner PROTEKTORAT but with a lot of double entries with the Bowl the previous day, I'll hold fire on this until we see the shape of the final field. 

The 1-2-3 in the Albert Bartlett all line up in the Sefton Novices Hurdle over 4850m. STELLAR STORY beat THE JUKEBOX MAN with DANCING CITY third at Cheltenham. SHANAGH BOB won a Grade 2 at Cheltenham and swerved the Festival in common with so many other Henderson runners but he brings a significant new dimension to the race.

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We've now got the entries for Grand National day.

The Mersey Novices Hurdle over 4000m completes the trio of novice hurdle races with the other two championship races over 3200 and 4800m so as you might imagine plenty of double and even triple entries so we'll know a lot more on Thursday when we get the final declarations.

The Liverpool Hurdle over 4850m is the staying hurdle championship race. TEAHUPOO won the Stayers at Cheltenham and is a likely runner as is the runner up, FLOORING PORTER and a number of those further back are also having another try. CHAMP missed Cheltenham but this may be his last race. IRISH POINT and HEWICK would be interesting if they ran.

As there are a number of novice hurdles over various distances, the same is true of the novice chasers with the Manifesto opening the meeting on Thursday and the Maghull over 3100m the penultimate race. Again, a number of double declarations so we'll see who decides to run here in preference to the other novice events.

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The final declarations are through for the first day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree. The ground remains Soft, Heavy in places and the weather looks set fair after today's rain.

The card opens with the Manifesto Novices Chase over 4000m. Just five go to post. The first and second from the Brown Advisory re-oppose. GREY DAWNING beat GINNY'S DESTINY two lengths at Cheltenham but the former has always looked a stayer as he showed in the Kingmaker at Warwick while the latter may be much better suited to the sharper track and I think the places will be reversed. However, into the mix comes IL ETAIT TEMPS who has been beaten twice this season by GAELIC WARRIOR notably last time in the Arkle at Cheltenham. IL ETAIT TEMPS got outpaced but ran on well up the hill and I think this trip is what he needs and at 7/2 I take him to score an early Irish win against the two locals.

Six go in the Anniversary 4-y-o Hurdle and as I've mentioned, SIR GINO missed Cheltenham due to the health issues in the Henderson stable. He was the dominant British juvenile and having swerved Prestbury Park, should be spot on for this. KARGESE ran a gallant second in the Triumph but that's always a hard race and it takes a very good one to back up here.  KALIF DU BERLAIS was an impressive winner of the Adonis at Kempton but he's a great big thing and physically looks a chaser in the making. I just think at this stage SIR GINO will be too sharp for him but the former is certainly one with a big future.

Seven go in the Aintree Bowl over 5000m and this is one of those races which you can argue dozens of different ways. Ostensibly, it's Aintree's version of the Gold Cup though it's more like the King George run the other way round. GERRI COLOMBE was second at Cheltenham and BRAVEMANSGAME fifth but the latter failed badly in this two years ago and I have my doubts. GERRI COLOMBE won at Down Royal and a 23 length defeat by GALOPIN DES CHAMPS at Christmas became just three and a half lengths at Cheltenham and on the latter form he's going to take some beating.

However, into the mix comes the enigmatic SHISHKIN who who won this last year and was travelling powerfully in the King George when stumbling and unseating the rider two out. He's a quirky soul as he showed at Ascot and that would be my worry. If he's on his best behaviour I think he can beat GERRI COLOMBE though there's little between them. CORBETTS CROSS won over 6000m at Cheltenham but this is a much better race. I'm not playing given all the variables but put 20 dollars of @Ohokaman's in my hand and I'll play on the favourite at 6/4.

Eight go in the Aintree Hurdle over 4000m - sometimes the Champion Hurdle form gets a testing in this but not this year and indeed this looks a sub standard renewal. BOB OLINGER was second and IMPAIRE ET PASSE third in the Irish Champion Hurdle but neither went to Cheltenham. Both should relish the extra 800m and for all BOB OLINGER was very good in the Relkeel, I remember IMPAIRE ET PASSE only just failing against TEAHUPOO in the Hatton's Grace and on that basis I just prefer him.

LUCCIA was third and NEMEAN LION sixth in the Champion Hurdle and the former isn't to be underestimated while LANGER DAN won a warm handicap at Cheltenham but this is a stronger race.

Selections - Day One:

Manifesto Novices Chase: IL ETAIT TEMPS

Anniversary Hurdle: SIR GINO


Aintree Hurdle: IMPAIRE ET PASSE


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We've got the declarations for the second day of the Grand National meeting on Friday - the ground is now Soft, heavy in places on the Mildmay course while the National course is Heavy, Soft in places.

Four more championship races to preview - the card opens with the Mildmay Chase for the staying novices over 5000m. The nicely named INOTHEWAYURTHINKIN hacked up in a warm handicap at Cheltenham and while this is a big step up to Grade 1 class he's obviously improving very fast. CHIANTI CLASSICO won a similar handicap also at Cheltenham and these handicap winners are always worth following - the 2023 winner of the equivalent race was CORACH RAMBLER and we all know how much he's gone on.

IROKO represents the solid form having run fifth in the Turners and we know he goes well round here because he was third in the Sefton last year so he's right in this as well. I wouldn't rule out the lightly raced HEART WOOD who won a decent handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival back in early February and is another in the "could be anything" section. INOTHEWAYURTHINKIN is the one for me but this is an interesting race for the future.

The TOP Novices Hurdle over 3250m has the second and third from the Supreme at Cheltenham and there's very little between MYSTICAL POWER and FIREFOX - I thought the latter didn't get the best of runs at Cheltenham and I think he'll come out on top. DYSART ENOS hasn't run in this company over hurdles for all he's unbeaten in five races. He won the Grade 2 Bumper over the course and distance last year. GOLDEN ACE was a surprise winner of the Mares Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham and that gives him claims but I prefer FIREFOX this time.

When you get six horses rated above 160 in opposition you know you have a serious race on your hands and for the jumping pursuits the Melling Chase over 4000m is the highlight of the meeting. JONBON is favourite for all he has beaten in the Clarence House at Cheltenham. He had previously won the Tingle Creek but this is his first run at 4000m - I think it will help if anything to be going a notch slower but the trip is a legitimate concern.

PROTEKTORAT won the Manifesto in 2021 but had his time in the wilderness before returning to the top table in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. This 4000m trip seems to suit his front running extravagant style these days and he's on the short list as is the intermediate trip expert PIC D'ORHY and were this race taking place at Ascot or Kempton I'd fancy him strongly but he won this (albeit a weaker renewal)  last year so has to be considered. ENVOI ALLEN won the 2023 Ryanair and was second to PROTEKTORAT this year - on this track I'd fancy him to reverse the places and in a race with a lot of angles I just fancy ENVOI ALLEN to prevail.

Nine go in the Sefton for the staying novice hurdlers over 4850m. The Albert Bartlett form from Cheltenham is represented by THE JUKEBOX MAN (second) and DANCING CITY (third) and you can argue both have a claim to come out on top. SHANAGH BOB from the Henderson stable has a bit to find but if the stable has rediscovered its form could go very close. MY idea of an each way fancy is KYNTARA who was second in the long distance handicap hurdle at Cheltenham, is a course and distance winner and comes here with plenty of experience.

Selections - Day Two:


TOP Novices Hurdle: FIREFOX

Melling Chase: ENVOI ALLEN

Sefton Novices Hurdle: KYNTATA (each way)

No sign unfortunately of any Trackside Live Coverage of the Grand National meeting or the big race itself which is disappointing.

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The final day declarations are in for the Grand National meeting and while we'll get to this afternoon's excitement in good time, for now time to look ahead.

Nine go in the Mersey Novices Hurdle over 4000m. Cheltenham form is represented by BRIGHTERDAYSAHEAD, runner up in the Mares Novices Hurdle and by the second and third from the Gallagher, JIMMY DU SEUIL, who completely outran his odds of 66s and ILE ATLANTIQUE. Neither were any match for the potential superstar BALLYBURN but I think ILE ATLANTIQUE could be the one to come out in front.

The interesting one is CALDWELL POTTER who won the Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown and was on course for Cheltenham when his owners, having lost a couple of young horses in quick succession, decided to get out of racing. All the horses went to a dispersal sale and CALDWELL POTTER was bought by the Hales, Mason, Done and Ferguson syndicate and sent to Paul Nicholls but the time out of training had taken its toll and the horse couldn't be got ready for Prestbury Park. If he brings his best form to the table he has a big chance and he's my idea of the winner.

Twelve go in the Liverpool Hurdle for the stayers over 4850m. SIRE DU BERLAIS was fifth in the Stayers at Cheltenham but has won this the past two years and for all he is now a 12-y-o, he has a big chance. FLOORING PORTER has been second and third in the past two runnings and at Cheltenham was second to TEAHUPOO (who swerves the gig this time). Is this the time for the younger horse to prevail? Possibly. CRAMBO won the Long Walk at Ascot but disappointed at Cheltenham and I just think he might want quicker ground. The other interesting one is the lightly raced HIDDENVALLEY LAKE who won the Boyne at Navan last time and is on the upgrade. STRONG LEADER is fascinating over this course - he was second in the 3200m novice hurdle last year but ran well in the Cleeve at Cheltenham at the end of January and will be fresh for this race. Into the mix we can throw King George winner HEWICK but he was nowhere near as good as hurdles and while some believe Shark Hanlon can perform miracles, this will be right up there with the parting of the Red Sea.

I don't have an angle into this race - the old stagers look vulnerable as they showed at Cheltenham while the younger horses have question marks over the ground. In the hope of some drier conditions, I'm going to side with CRAMBO. 

After the Grand National, we have the final championship race, the Maghull Novices Chase over 3200m. FOUND A FIFTY was no match for GAELIC WARRIOR in the Arkle but there's nothing of that class in this field. The likes of ETALON, HERCULE DE SEUIL and LIBBERTY HUNTER are solid Grade 3 performers but this is the top table and I've had a nice bet on the favourite at 5/2 which looks huge.

Selections - Day Three:

Mersey Novices Hurdle: CALDWELL POTTER

Liverpool Hurdle: CRAMBO

Maghull Novices Chase: FOUND A FIFTY (nap)


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1 hour ago, Craig hitchcock said:

Evening Stodge , great picking day one and yes all races were shown live.Cheers


Good to know - it would have been a shame not to show one of the great UK meetings of the year.

The Grand National will be 3am Sunday morning for NZ so if you're staying up, well done.

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Already got a scratching on today's accumulator and other bets with CALDWELL POTTER taken out this morning. I've switched to ILE ATLANTIQUE.

The National is down to 32 runners with two morning scratchings. I AM MAXIMUS has been supported in to 6s - he has solid form but tends to jump left and over 30 fences that's going to cost him ground and energy. CORACH RAMBLER was 4/1 (a stupid price) three days ago but is now 8s.

The ground on the National course has dried to Soft, Good to Soft in places so it's not going to be as attritional a race as seemed likely at the beginning of the week except it will be - the ground is tacky and holding and if they go too quick early, they won't get home over 6850m.

My two against the field are last year's runner up VANILLIER, who is well weighted with a number of these but he's 16s which is too big each way. I've also had a small punt on ADMIRABLY CHOSEN at 50s who won over 5200m at Down Royal last time but all his form is on drying ground and he could be unexposed.

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The first day of the Grand National meeting took place on ground described as Soft, Heavy in places on the Mildmay track and Heavy, Soft in places on the Grand National course.

Four Grade 1 championship races on the day and the card opened with the Manifesto Novices Chase over 4000m which saw the 1-2 from the Turners at Cheltenham (GREY DAWNING and GINNY'S DESTINY) take on the third from the Arkle in the form of IL ETAIT TEMPS.

IL ETAIT TEMPS had been let down by his jumping in the Arkle but he's got a serious engine and Paul Townend declined the early gallop sent by Harry Cobden on GINNY'S DESTINY. They went a decent but not insane gallop but on a flat track IL ETAIT TEMPS seemed much happier which he had shown in the Irish Arkle in February.

When Townend put the horse in the race at the third last it was game over for both GINNY'S DESTINY and GREY DAWNING who both look like 4800m chasers for next season and IL ETAIT TEMPS powered away to win by nine lengths. I don't know if Punchestown is on the agenda and the problem they are going to have with this one is he doesn't quite have the speed to mix with the 3200m types but has too much tactical speed for the 4800m races. A race like the Melling here next spring over the same course and distance would be ideal.

Nicky Henderson had a wretched Cheltenham failing to secure a win for the first time since 2008 but with signs the stable was coming back, SIR GINO was strongly supported for the Anniversary 4-y-o Hurdle against the Triumph runner up KARGESE and the promising KALIF DU BERLAIS.

An emphatic win for SIR GINO who was simply too good for KARGESE after the last and you'd think on that line he'd beat MAJBOROUGH as well. Whether he'll be asked to go to Punchestown I don't know but Henderson commented the horse might go chasing in the autumn rather than be aimed at the Champion Hurdle. KARGESE ran well and is the best juvenile filly out there and will no doubt pay her way next year.

The track was all wrong for KALIF DU BERLAIS who looks like a chaser now and I think would beat SIR GINO over fences but that's a question for another day.

Just 27 days after finishing runner up in the Gold Cup, GERRI COLOMBE was a big fancy for the Aintree Bowl. Among the opposition were Gold Cup also rans BRAVEMANSGAME and GENTLEMANSGAME and the enigmatic SHISHKIN as well as the promising staying novice CORBETTS CROSS.

A workmanlike win for GERRI COLOMBE who ultimately had too much class for AHOY SENOR who, as usual, raced close to the pace at a track where he always performs well. CORBETTS CROSS looked to have every chance two out but couldn't go with the leaders in the final stage. SHISHKIN ran okay but didn't jump with much fluency and I just think he prefers decent ground these days while BRAVEMANSGAME has disappointed all season and I think the hard race in the 2023 Gold Cup bottomed the horse.

CORBETTS CROSS is only a 7-y-o and this was a run full of promise and I can see him being competitive in the Gold Cup next year as we know he stays strongly. AHOY SENOR was runner up to SHISHKIN in this last year and again ran a blinder. He seems to prefer the flatter tracks and doesn't perform at the likes of Cheltenham.

GERRI COLOMBE was no match for GALOPIN DES CHAMPS at either Leopardstown or Cheltenham but he's a very good horse and also has time on his side. He's another who looks to like faster tracks and quicker ground and given how wet the winter has been he's done well. I'd love to see him in the King George at Kempton on decent ground.

There's no Grade 1 4000m hurdle for those outside novice company and the Aintree Hurdle fills the role for the intermediate specialists though plenty of Champion Hurdle types have run in the race in times past. This year, IMPAIRE ET PASSE was backed into favourite having missed Cheltenham but looked to have plety to do against BOB OLINGER who had chased home STATE MAN in the Irish Champion Hurdle and for whom the return to 4000m was a big plus.

A race with drama and controversy in abundance and tv viewers got to hear the jockeys giving evidence at the subsequent stewards' enquiry (though not the deliberations of the stewards themselves). From the second last there was a lot of pushing and shoving among the first three home and with IMPAIRE ET PASSE jumping right at the last and LANGER DAN jumping left and the two jockeys trying to correct their mounts, it all got very messy and with BOB OLINGER also leaning in close to the post and the front three split by a nose and a short head you can appreciate the sense of drama.

In the end, I suspect, the stewards opted to file the whole thing in the "too difficult" column and IMPAIRE ET PASSE kept the race. You could argue both BOB OLINGER and LANGER DAN were unlucky and on another day you might get a different result. The winner has had a difficult season and I do wonder if they will finally put him over fences in the autumn. BOB OLINGER is a solid performer at this trip and while LANGER DAN won a handicap at Cheltenham I can't help but think he might be the one to try over further and join the stayers division.

I'll mention the fact I gave you all four winners because no one else will. I backed them individually but wish I'd done the accumulator - £10 on the four winners paid £546 which would have kept Mrs Stodge in steak and champagne for a week or so.

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On to the second day of the Grand National meeting and despite a little overnight rain, the ground remained Soft on the Mildmay course.

A drier and warmer day brought a larger crowd for Ladies' Day which is more often not about what the ladies are wearing but what they aren't. 

On the track, four more championship races kicked off with the Mildmay for the staying novices over 5000m. Just six went to post and INOTHEWAYURTHINKIN went off favourite following his wide margin win in the Amateur riders handicap at Cheltenham, GIOVINCO had run third in the Brown Advisory while IROKO had shown a lot of promise on his chase debut before missing much of the winter through injury.

A 1-2 for the JP McManus colours but those who had backed the favourite were getting ready to tear up their tickets three out as the horse wasn't jumping and was actually last of the six on the home turn but as had happened at Cheltenham Mark Walsh followed the famous adage that when the going gets tough the tough get going and INOTHEWAYURTHINKIN quickened well between the last two to seal the race. He's obviously a fast improving type and you just wonder where he could go next - he won this off 158 so he'll be in the elite 160s cohort putting him right in the mix for all the top staying chases next season.

IROKO did little wrong for all I think he prefers better ground. The race was marred by the loss of GIOVINCO who took a fatal fall at the last.

The Top Novices Hurdle over 3200m saw the second and third from the Supreme at Cheltenham, MYSTICAL POWER and FIREFOX, renew rivalry. Many thought the latter had been unlucky at Cheltenham and the two dominated the betting market, the race having lost some of its interest with the late scratching of both DYSART ENOS and GOLDEN ACE, two serious local mares who might have had a real say in this.

MYSTICAL POWER is a son of the great Annie Power (out of Galileo) who herself won 15 of her 17 races including the 2016 Champion Hurdle following up in the Aintree Hurdle which proved to be her swansong.

The progeny is heading in the right direction and has a lot of his mother's tenacity and courage which he needed to repel FIREFOX who got to within half a length. As expected, the two dominated and both are exciting prospects for next winter whether as hurdlers in open company or over the larger obstacles.

The day's feature was the Melling Chase over 4000m and while the quality of this race has been diminished slightly by the coming of the Ryanair it remains the focal point for the intermediate and speed chasers to meet. JONBON had swerved Cheltenham as part of the issues with the Henderson camp and with EL FABIOLO failing it must be considered a lost opportunity yet for this top 3200m chaser it was a first foray over 4000m. He faced PROTEKTORAT, the former Gold Cup third who had re-invented himself over the intermediate trip this campaign culminating in his Ryanair win. Both CONFLATED and ENVOI ALLEN were strong Irish challengers along with intermediate specialist and former winner of this race PIC D'ORHY who has continued to excel on his favoured right-handed tracks.

A treble for owner J P McManus but this time from the stable of Nicky Henderson and redemption of sorts for the Cheltenham problems. Rather like his stable companion SHISHKIN who in his younger days had excelled at 3200m before finding a second career over further, JONBON made light of the step up to 4000m and looks a serious contender for races like the Ryanair next season. There was talk of a trip to Punchestown but I think they'll give him a go at the Celebration at Sandown in a couple of weeks.

CONFLATED ran his best race for a while and has mixed it with the likes of GERRI COLOMBE and GALOPIN DES CHAMPS this year. Aintree seemed to suit him just as Leopardstown does and you could argue on some form lines he comes out very near the head of the table. He reversed Cheltenham form with PROTEKTORAT who, conversely, didn't seem to take so well to the flatter track of Aintree.

PIC D'ORHY didn't enjoy either the ground or the track or indeed the way the race developed and while the finale race at Sandown would be ideal in some respects I just wonder if he's done enough for the season.

Finally, we had the staying novice hurdlers in the Sefton Novices Hurdle which oince again saw Cheltenham form represented by THE JUKEBOX MAN and DANCING CITY who had finished second and third in the Albert Bartlett, albeit split by seven lengths. Nicky Henderson had a wretched Cheltenham and SHANAGH BOB, who had looked good when winning at Cheltenham before Christmas, had been his Albert Bartlett possible. With the stable back to some kind of form and the horse fresher than many, the punters backed SHANAGH BOB accordingly and he went off second best at 7/2.

THE JUKEBOX MAN tried the same front running tactics which had so nearly worked at Cheltenham but both he and KYNTARA, who disputed the lead, probably went half a stride too quick. KYNTATA was exhausted when falling at the last (got up okay) and THE JUKEBOX MAN was easily picked off by DANCING CITY who comprehensively turned round the Cheltenham form and won this well despite idling in front. I imagine we'll see DANCING CITY over a fence next season and he looks a nice prospect as does the runner up.

The second day then dominated by J P McManus and the ongoing three way battle for the Trainers Championship between Paul Nicholls, Willie Mullins and Dan Skelton with the biggest pot of them all, the National, just a day away.

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1 hour ago, Ohokaman said:

Not all beer and skittles then Stodge, but probably not a surprise to many…


No and I suspect they would find something similar at many Saturday and evening meetings during the summer.

Less of a problem at the midweek day meetings when it's very much the "beer and skittles" brigade in evicence and at some meetings they announce the crowd changes to the jockeys.

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FInally, time to review Grand National day at Aintree and a dry night and a warm and dry afternoon left the ground on the Mildmay course Good to Soft.

Three championship races alongside the feature handicap starting with the Mersey Hurdle over 4000m for the intermediate novices. The morning scratching of CALDWELL POTTER left BRIGHTERDAYSAHEAD a warm favourite against the second and third from the Gallagher, JIMMY DU SEUIL and ILE ATLANTIQUE who had no answers to BALLYBURN at Prestbury Park.

An impressive performance by the mare BRIGHTERDAYSAHEAD who looks destined for much greater things on this evidence. Trainer Gordon Elliott has always held her in high regard and her defeat by GOLDEN ROSE at Cheltenham was a real blow. Over this trip and on this better ground, she looked much more at ease and fences look on the cards next year - it's been a while since we've had a really good staying mare among the chasers but this one could put that right.

ILE ATLANTIQUE ran far too keen through the first circuit and was beaten two out and it was the outsider STAFFORDSHIRE KNOT who made it a 1-2 for Elliott and Gigginstown Stud with even bigger outside BUGUISE SEAGULL outrunning his 50/1 odds in third.

The staying hurdlers had their turn in the Liverpool Hurdle over 4850m and this looked an open race. FLOORING PORTER, second in the stayers at Cheltenham, went off favourite while there was support for the Irish challengers HIDDENVALLEY LAKE and BUDDY ONE in a race perhaps a notch below the usual quality.

I've been a fan of STRONG LEADER for a while - he ran a fine race in the Cleeve at Cheltenham and it's quite clear connections were waiting for this race and also for better ground and the ground dried enough for him to show his best. He was always travelling well, indeed a little too well down the far side on the second circuit and Sean Bowen had to take a pull but he was able to pick up HIDDENVALLEY LAKE and BUDDY ONE approaching the last and won with authority.

 Although a 10-y-o, MONKFISH doesn't have many miles on the clock and continued his revival here - back in 2021 he was one of the top novice chasers and there's another big race in him on this evidence. FLOORING PORTER did his usual front running effort but I thought he went quick enough and he was well beaten two out and put in a disappointing effort. CRAMBO jumped poorly and I just wonder if he prefers to go right handed.

After the theatricals of the big race, we still had a final championship race - the Maghull Novices Chase over 3200m and to be honest I thought FOUND A FIFTY was a certainty and had placed a big bet (for me) at 5/2 ante post and it's always good to see the on-course punters agreeing as he went off 11/8 favourite - doesn't make him a winner though.

As you can imagine, I died a thousand deaths up the run in but credit to Jack Kennedy who had ridden the second in the National an hour earlier. I thought FOUND A FIFTY was a certainty and up to the second last I was confident but MASTER CHEWY who had fallen two out in the Arkle when arguably heading for third place put in a much better effort and outjumped FOUND A FIFTY at the last. On another day, he'd have prevailed but Kennedy and the winner were the epitome of courage and tenacity and rallied to snatch the spoils.

LIBBERTY HUNTER ran on into third but was beaten 11 lengths. The winner might go ever further next year but MASTER CHEWY looks a real 3200m type. Never mind, it was a good run and cleared a decent profit on the meeting where I think I offered six of the eleven championship race winners so well done to me.

The Trainers' Championship looks like it will go right to the wire - thanks to winning the National and other big races, Willie Mullins has poached a £40k lead on Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls despite only having won 19 races in the UK. - the table is ranking, trainer name, winners, placed horses,  number of runners and total win and place prize money.                                                      

1 W. P. Mullins 19 64 124 £2,874,693
2 Dan Skelton 113 360 733 £2,834,894
3 Paul Nicholls 123 239 513 £2,756,253

There's still the Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr this weekend and the Finale at Sandown on Saturday week. 

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Plenty going on up here but not the highest quality currently. There's been no Grade or Group 1 since the last day of the National meeting and the next Group 2 is at Sandown on Friday and the next Grade 1 at Sandown on Saturday.

Catching up on recent events under both codes:


Classic trials are very much the order of the day with the Craven meeting at Newmarket and the Spring meeting at Newbury last week both being of interest to an extent. Newmarket's opening meeting of 2024 took place on quick spring ground. The opening day card was low key - the highlight was KIKKULI winning the 1400m 3-y-o maiden. He's a half to none other than Frankel and if he can get anywhere near what that champion achieved, he'll do very well.

The quality pushed up a notch last Wednesday - JAYAREBE was a likeable winner of the 1800m Listed and could be seen next in a race like the Dante at York but the fillies had their trial in the Nell Gwyn. DANCE SEQUENCE, second or third favourite ante post for the 1000 Guineas, went off a shade of odds on but was just beaten by PRETTY CRYSTAL. The former remains 5s for the classic on May 5th and Charlie Appleby was very much of the view the run and an extra 200m would see her improve a lot - she'd need to on this evidence but the race was run in a very good time and may turn out to be decent. Two other fillies caught my eye at the end of the day - BOLSANA won the 1600m maiden and could be anything while KALPANA was kicked up from 77 to 94 after a ten length win in the 2000m handicap - it will be interesting to see where both go next.

The final day featured the Craven over the full 2000 Guineas trip for the colts. There were some tall reputations on the line with the best form arguably from the Dewhurst third EBEN SHADDAD but he was put in his place by HATTAM from the Richard Hannon stable which has started very well. The winner won the Vintage at Goodwood last year but was eight and a half lengths behind CITY OF TROY in the Dewhurst. The trainer thought better ground would see the horse to better effect and I can see him running well at a price in the 2000 Guineas. The French raider ALCANTOR disappointed by pulling too hard as did the Godolphin challenger NATIVE APPROACH while CAMBRIDGE, from the Aidan O'Brien yard, was well held in fourth.

On to Newbury's two day card and the one from Friday's racing was the Hannon filly STAR STYLE who bolted up in the 1400m for unraced 3-y-o. She might have beaten trees but she did it well and I look forward to seeing her run again. Saturday saw the two classic trials over the straight 1400m on ground just on the easy side of Good. The Dubai Duty Free for the fillies had only six runners and it was a very tight three way finish which went the way of FOLGARIA who had won five in Italy as a juvenile. How good she really is I don't know but she showed the benefit of experience over some other types who looked gree under pressure. There was another bunch finish in the Greenham for the colts - ESQUIRE produced a shock at 16s but as a gelding cannot run in the 2000 Guineas. Barely half a length separated the next four home with a dead heat for second and third suggesting the form probably isn't that strong.

The current ante post betting for the 2000 Guineas has CITY OF TROY at 4/6 and ROSALLION at 4s. HAATEM is 20s and there are worse each way bets for all the stable thinks ROSALLION is a bit special.

The 1000 Guineas is more open - FALLEN ANGEL, who had a racecourse gallop on the Wednesday morning, the 11/4 favourite with YLANG YLANG at 3s and DANCE SEQUENCE at 5s.

The other points to note are both the Ballydoyle runners at Newmarket ran moderately and the stable hasn't had many runners in Ireland yet while the Newmarket horses seem behind those elsewhere especially Lambourn - the Gosden horses all ran as though they would come on a lot for the race.


The season starts to wind down after the National but the ongoing Trainers' Championship battle has provided a real element of interest in the closing stages. The better ground has also meant some types who have basically been unable to run due to the incredibly wet winter, are finally getting a chance to shine. IN EXECLSIS DEO won the 4000m Grade 2 chase at Cheltenham last Wednesday and he's a fine example of a good ground performer - he had run with credit when fifth in a handicap at the Festival on ground which was too slow for him. MALAITA was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 4000m Mares Novice chase on Thursday and is very much one for the notebook.

The circus moved to Ayr on Saturday for the Scottish Grand National meeting. Willie Mullins effectively sealed the Trainers Championship with a four timer including the £112,500 National over 6400m which saw MCDERMOTT win by a nose. There was a bunch finish for the Grade 2 Scottish Champion Hurdle which saw FAVOUR AND FORTUNE keep the prize for the British just holding off BIALYSTOK from Team Mullins. Mullins will be twisting the knife with a strong raiding party for the three day Perth meeting starting tomorrow and while Dan Skelton is talking a brave race, £180k of gap looks too much to close now.



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Looking ahead to the weekend, the centre piece is the two day Sandown meeting which used to be one of the few Mixed (both flat and jumps races) meetings in the calendar but the two cards were split a few years back. Friday is all flat racing while Saturday is the Jumps Finale. The ground on the flat course is Good, Good to Soft in places while the Clerk has been watering the track for the past fortnight to ensure Good ground for the jumpers. In the past, the Whitbread Gold Cup (the final big handicap) was often run on Firm ground.

Friday's Flat card features the Group 2 Sandown Mile which is run over a mile (not surprising) at Sandown (even less surprising). NOSTRUM is favourite but for me he's been a bit of a talking horse while LORD NORTH was disappointing in the Dubai Turf. CHARRYN looked good at Doncaster but I like POKER FACE who looked to be on the upgrade when winning the Daniel Wildenstein at the Arc meeting last autumn.

Saturday is the big jumping day - 14 have been entered for the Grade 1 Celebration Chase over 3150m. It's a cracking field and indeed had this lot turned up for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham you wouldn't have batted an eyelid. EL FABIOLO made a desperate mistake at the fence past the stands at Cheltenham and that ended his participation - if he does that at Sandown the result will be the same. JONBON missed Cheltenham but looked very good at Aintree over 4000m. I just wonder if he has the gears these days for a strongly run 3200 (or 3150m) race. GAELIC WARRIOR is the up and coming novice who won the Arkle - apart from his lacklustre performance at the Dublin Racing Festival he's looked very good. EDWARDSTONE was aruguably held by CAPTAIN GUINNESS when coming to grief two out in the Champion Chase. The eventual winner is well held on some pieces of form but looks a solid each way option at 9s. These five dominate the race - the remainder are 150s rated handicappers who will struggle to live with these top notchers.

The Grade 2 Oaksey Chase over 4450m sees Aintree second AHOY SENOR as favourite but this isn't really the track for him in my view. The stables of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead are well represented in the entries and JOURNEY WITH ME from the de Bromhead has real claims if acting on the quicker ground. The Select Hurdle, another Grade 2 over 4200m, has a number of entries who are also in the chases so we'll know more after the final declarations on Thursday.

France stages the first European Group 1 of the campaign on Sunday with the Ganay over 2100m - more on that as we get to the final declarations on Friday.

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It's been mentioned elsewhere but Olivier Peslier has retired at the age of 51. The two horses with whom I associate him most are PEINTRE CELEBRE and GOLDIKOVA. The former had a srellar season in 1997 winning the Jockey Club, the Grand Prix de Paris and the Arc and his performance in the Arc, when he demolished the track record by three seconds, was brilliant.

GOLDIKOVA was the top European older horse in both 2009 and 2010 and won a string of Group 1 races at a mile and topped it off by winning the Breeders Cup Mile in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

One of his biggest friends is Frankie Dettori and he has sent a fulsome tribute to his weighing room colleague.

Back to the action at hand and we have the declarations for Sandown's flat card on Friday. Seven stand in the Group 2 Mile and as expected the money has come for CHARYN who mixed it in the very best company last season including runs behind PADDINGTON in the Irish Guineas, St James's Palace and Sussex and he was beaten only four lengths each time so that looks good form in Group 2 company. I still think POKER FACE as the one to put up against him but the each way angle has gone so I'll probably stick with CHARYN who wouldn't mind any of the forecast rain.

There are a couple of Group 3 races on the card and the Classic Trial over 2000m includes Godolphin's ARABIAN CROWN who is currently 12s for the Derby.

Just seven first entries for the Ganay at Longchamp on Sunday where the ground is Very Heavy. FANTASTIC MOON is one of the better German horses and ran midfield in the Arc. The return at Hoppegarten over Easter was okay and he should be spot on for this. The lightly raced AL RIFFA is interesting for Joseph O'Brien. FEED THE FLAME was three places in front of FANTASTIC MOON in the Arc but was very disappointing in the Harcourt on reappearance.

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Final declarations are through for the big Saturday meeting at Sandown.  

It would have been a strong candidate for Race of the Season had all those entered for the Celebration Chase gone to post but the proximity of the Punchestown Festival (starts next Tuesday) always meant that was unlikely.

It's still a decent race with seven runners but it looks between just three with EL FABIOLO, JONBON and EDWARDSTONE looking to dominate. EDWARDSTONE was closer to JONBON in the Tingle Creek here than he had been in the Schloer at Cheltenham but I'm not sure JONBON is now as well suited by 3200m as he was - indeed, his performance at Aintree strongly suggested 4000m and points onward might be where his optimum trip now lives. EDWARDSTONE was very good in the Game Spirit at Newbury but was going to be second best in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham when falling two out.

In truth, EL FABIOLO should beat them both (indeed has done) but the mistake at Cheltenham last time weighs on the mind and 4/6 probably isn't a price to take on what is arguably the second biggest jumping test in UK racing after Cheltenham but he's the one they all have to beat. 

The Grade 2 Oaksey Chase also has seven runners over the specialist 4400m trip. In truth, this isn't a strong renewal. The favourite is HITMAN and he'll love the better ground. THE REAL WHACKER beat GERRI COLOMBE in the 2023 Brown Advisory but has had a moderate campaign and pulled up in the Gold Cup. Again the hope will be the better ground will spark some improvement. There's some good ground in 2022 which puts EASY GAME in with a chance but he was pulled up in the Melling at Aintree. G A LAW was pulled up in the Ryanair and AL DANCER isn't without hope albeit he's mainly a Grade 3 horse. HITMAN is the percentage call but it's a race I'll be avoiding from a punting perspective.

Eight go in the Select Hurdle over 4250m. IMPAIRE ET PASSE edged out BOB OLINGER at Aintree and there's a little evidence he'll thrive on this better ground so 5/6 might not be a bad price. LANGER DAN won a warm handicap at the Cheltenham Festival and was a short neck back in third behind IMPAIRE ET PASSE at Aintree so has real claims though I'd fancy him more if this race were over the full 4800m. BALLYADAM has a 10 lb turnround for three and a half lengths from the aforementioned Cheltenham handicap and that's significant. He's very consistent and is going to be there or thereabouts.

At a bigger price I've had an each way interest on BREWINUPASTORM who did what few British trained horses have done last season and went to Ireland and won one of their Grade 2 races. I remember him winning the National Spirit at Fontwell on decent ground and at 25s I'm hoping he can run to his best.

Looking ahead, the Punchestown Festival kicks off on Tuesday and the ground is currently Good to Yielding. It's a five day meeting and a mixture of championship races and four cross country races including the famous La Touche over 6600m.

The opening day has three championship races.

The Champion Novices Hurdle over 3250m has attracted both novice hurdle winners from Cheltenham with BALLYBURN, the Gallagher winner, 5/4 against Supreme winner SLADE STEEL at 3s. Both JONBON and EL FABIOLO have been left in the Champion Chase but they will more likely turn up at Sandown. Champion Chase first and second CAPTAIN GUINNESS and GENTLEMEN DU MEE re-oppose buy both my struggle against the improving mare DINOBLUE. The Champion Novices Chase over 4850m features Brown Advisory runner up MONTY'S PASS and a number of more unexposed Irish novices.

We'll know more after final declarations on Sunday.

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Nine declared for Sunday's Ganay at Longchamp, the first European Group 1 of the new season.

Two supplemented runners this morning - Harcourt winner ZARAKEM looks a serious contender as that was a big step forward on his 3-y-o runs and he wouldn't be the first Aga Khan type to improve with age. Also added was HORIZON DORE who looks held by ZARAKEM on Harcourt form but if he could reproduce some of his good 2023 form such as his third to KING OF STEEL in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, he'd be right in this.

ZARAKEM is my idea of the winner despite the obvious claims of FANTASTIC MOON and HORIZON DORE.

I'll talk more about this later in the weekend but Wednesday's Punchestown Gold Cup is a rematch of the 2023 renewal when FASTORSLOW upset GALOPIN DES CHAMPS. The latter is 4/7 to reverse the places but SHISHKIN looks a dangerous opponent at 11/2. We also have 2023 National winner and this year's Gold Cup third, CORACH RAMBLER, whose attempt to win back to back Grand Nationals ended at the first fence, at 10s.

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We'll get to Sandown presently but looking ahead to the big Irish meeting at Punchestown this week.

Wednesday's card has three championship races - the Channor Group Novices Hurdle over 4800m has 18 entries, 11 of which are from the Willie Mullins yard. It features Cheltenham winners STELLAR STORY (Albert Bartlett) and BETTER TIMES AHEAD (conditional jockeys handicap) as well as recent Aintree winner DANCING CITY.

The Punchestown Gold Cup is the feature race of the meeting. I've previewed it on the previous and GALOPIN DES CHAMPS, despite defeats on his last two visits to Punchestown, is 4/7.

Mullins has nine of the eighteen entries in the Champion INH Flat Race and they are headed by Cheltenham Bumper winner JASMIN DE VAUX who renews rivalry with runner up ROMEO COOLIO.

Thursday's Barberstown Castle Novices Chase over 3200m has just nine entries and Mullins has six of them including Arkle winner GAELIC WARRIOR who is 1/3 to follow up his Cheltenham success. Aintree winner IL ETAIT TEMPS is in the entries but I think he now needs 4000m to be at his best. Gordon Elliott has been very much in the Mullins shadow of late but he dominates the Champion Stayers Hurdle with Cheltenham Stayers Hurdle winner TEAHUPOO and the useful IRISH POINT who chased home STATE MAN in the Champion Hurdle but who looks more of a stayer.

IRISH POINT has also been declared for Friday's Champion Hurdle but he must renew rivalry against STATE MAN who is 2/7 to win another championship race over the 3200m hurdle distance. BALLYBURN is in Tuesday's Champion Novice Hurdle over 3200m but he's 1/2 for the Champion Novice Hurdle over 3950m on Friday.

We'll know a lot more once we know how Willie Mullins shuffles his stars during the week ahead.

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