For sheer diversity, quality and globalism, the racing calendar rarely gets better than this Saturday. Races from Britain, Ireland and the States encompassing hurdles, chases and the flat are run on both turf and dirt and include 21 listed and graded races, bulked out by nine straight Grade 1s at the Breeder’s Cup.
The prize money on offer at Santa Anita’s is, of course, staggering. The two-day meeting claims to be the single richest sporting event in the world with well over $25 million on offer to lucky connections. The Classic (on current lists, the third richest race in the world after the Dubai World Cup and the Arc) and Turf pay out over $3m each to the winner. Hell, even Bo Derek likes it! “The fastest horses in the world will be coming to Santa Anita to compete in the Breeders' Cup in November. It's the richest, most exciting event each year and makes most other sporting events look, well, quaint.” So there you have it.
But at my shivering core I remain a solid jumps man. Sorry Bo. So let’s start the previews in quaint and homely West Yorkshire.
12.35. A lunchtime start is needed to squeeze in this good seven-event card. This is an excellent race to kick off the action. I only hope enough people get down the A64 and past the queuing Saturday shoppers to see Overturn’s debut over fences. This won’t be a betting proposition as McCain’s stable star (although there are others who could rightly claim that mantle) will be unbackably short. The race will be all about how well this extra-ordinarily talented, gutsy and versatile gelding takes to fences. Ulysse Collonges brings some reasonable French chase form on heavy ground to his British debut, and is most likely to pick up any pieces should Overturn fragment.
1.40. I backed Our Island to distraction last season, on each occasion being convinced that there as enough latent talent, particularly in testing conditions over long trips, for him to get his head in front. Sadly this didn’t happen until last month, when I let him go off an unbacked favourite in a little event at Kelso. He didn’t beat that much there and I refuse to revert to losing ways with him in this better class race off top weight. Fill The Power has an almost identical profile, having been campaigned in similarly lofty races last term. He is discounted for the same reason. Brady may be reinvigorated by a fresh challenge tackling fences for the first time, but is also considered risky after two flops. Preference is for Micro Mission to find improvement for her fencing debut behind Our Island in that Kelso race and assert with a weight advantage.
2.40. A listed mares only hurdle. Une Artiste is a class act and will be looking to assuage her bad behaviour last time at Punchestown where she threw her toys out of the pram. Alasi won this last year, though a weaker renewal. There’s nothing here to suggest she has the beating of Une Artiste. Baby Shine makes more appeal, but at the prices I prefer to side with She Ranks Me around the 7-1 mark. On the book, she has plenty to find with the principles, but the price reflects that and she is 40 To Follow mare, so it would be churlish to desert her this early in the season.
2.50. One could set one’s watch by the seasonal reappearance of Tidal Bay, Restless Harry and Fair Along in this race. Tidal Bay just needs marathon trips these days, as his tremendous win in the Betfred Gold Cup showed in April. He might not have enough furlongs to warm to his task here, though. The other two are previous winners of this event, but are massively inconsistent. Cape Tribulation had a belting season last year, winning at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. He is feared here, though has plenty on his plate out of handicap company. However, I am all in with the other market principle, Smad Place (another of my 40TF horses), third in the World Hurdle after an interrupted season, and a contender on the up slope rather than the downturn.
3.25. The archetypal small but select field, suffering, as I’ve said elsewhere, because of the prominence of new kid on the block, the United House Chase at Ascot. I’m playing a value call on Planet Of Sound at 11/2 here. He should like this flattish track and genuine good to soft will be fine. He has class but needs the cards to fall his way to show it. In the Grand National he was absolutely tanking, and was undone by Dickie Johnson acted like a six-month conditional in gunning him round in front when stamina was always a question. Ridden with a touch more restraint he should be lively in what is a tough race to crack. Time For Rupert showed a return to something like old form in a strangely run Gold Cup and Silviniaco Conti brings high quality, but I’d argue, too highly rated, novice form and will be favourite. Midnight Chase might want a more undulating track, though I like him a lot. Master Of The Hall is a difficult one to weigh up. The best of his form is probably a bit short of what is needed here.
2.35. A big handicap hurdle and one that sees two of my 40TF selections at either end of the weights. I love the attitude of both of them. Raya Star hardly missed a beat last season, only missing the frame in Newbury’s former Tote Trophy from a clutch of top handicaps. I had expected Alan King’s charge to go chasing. Another handicap, now off top weight, looks tough. Il De Re, on the other hand, is absolutely hurled in on the basis of his flat form (Chester Cup and Northumberland Plate winner and not disgraced on Champions Day last month). 3-1 looks skinny though. I don’t fancy either of their prices. There are plenty here at bigger odds with strong claims. But with two 40TF entries I can’t duck out. Maybe a low stakes combi-exacta with Jonjo’s It’s A Gimme who looks primed for this.
3.10. Another very decent 3 mile chase and a competitive field. Two Nicholls’ horses head the weights, but Poquelin can’t be fancied off 11st 12lb. His recent form doesn’t stack up to that much and I’m happy to discount. Join Together has more chance. Early season form last year would have put him bang there, but a shocker in the RSA and a poor effort behind Silviano Conti at Aintree mean there are question marks. Duke of Lucca is interesting. Frustrating over hurdles, he seems to be delivering on his potential over fences, and is learning his trade well. He’s one for the short list. But I’ll stick with 40TF entry Alfie Spinner. After being set too many tough tasks against top drawer novices last season, here he has a chance, though (just) out of the handicap and ideally preferring softer ground, he’s much better than he showed last year. At 7/ or 8/1, I’ll play.
2.25. The day’s third high class 3m chase, a Grade 1 and Down Royal’s best race of the year. Sizing Europe has already augmented his splendid record this season by emphatically claiming a Grade 2 2m chase at Gowran. With 11 chase wins, he is the absolute class act in this field. But he’s been beaten in this race twice and 3 miles clearly isn’t his ideal trip. First Lieutenant will be much nearer to him than at Gowran where he looked very undercooked. There are a few here with questions to answer: Joncol, Kauto Stone, Quito De La Roque. I’m prepared to give Realt Dubh a shout at 7-1. Still lightly raced, he will have some improvement in him. This Noel Meade charge ran Sizing Europe to 2 lengths at Punchestown over an inadequate two miles in April, and has looked like he needs a trip for some time now.
10.18. Though the card is star-packed and the quality undoubted, there is in truth very little here for me. I was more lively on the punting front when the Filly & Mare Turf and the Marathon were run on the Saturday. Their switch to the Friday a couple of years ago has diluted my interest here. It will be a great spectacle and I’ll enjoy the coverage. But I don’t do the juveniles, I don’t do the dirt and I know nothing about the American runners. I have no angles on any of that form. So, with a staggering leap of logic, I’ll only get involved in the Turf. St Nicholas Abbey is priced up with UK bookies to be favourite. I can see why: won this last year and has top quality form on firm going. On the other hand (there’s always one of those…), his form is a notch below the level of last year. His only win this season was in a weak Coronation Cup renewal. I like Shareta. Good overall standard of form before coming unstuck in the Arc (like St Nicholas Abbey). Always a risk that a race like that leaves its mark, but I’m a sucker for the fillies and I’ll take her prominent style of racing against Point Of Entry for the home team who seems to have an impeccable record this year.