The 2017/18 National Hunt Season drew to a close in both the UK and Ireland last week. However, whilst it was Altior who proved the star turn at Sandown on Saturday, it was Willie Mullins who was the star of the Punchestown Festival. He may have won races with many a second, third, or even fourth string last week but, not only did he win nearly €1,000,000 more than Gordon Elliott at the Punchestown Festival to win the Irish National Hunt Trainers Title, he also pinched Elliott’s record of having the most winners in a season. Mullins finished with 212 winners to Elliott’s 210, an impressive statistic considering he only saddled 797 runners compared to Elliott’s 1,255.
However, horse racing’s focus turns to the flat this week, as the first English classics of the season, the 2,000 and the 1,000 Guineas take place at Newmarket on Saturday and Sunday. However, there’s also a nice meeting at Ascot on Wednesday to break-up what is otherwise a quiet mid-week of racing in regards to quality.
Ascot (Wednesday 2 May)
The Sagaro Stakes 3.10
The Sagaro Stakes was first run at Ascot in 1978, having been named after Sagaro who won the Ascot Gold Cup winner in 1975, 1976, and 1977. It was promoted to Group 3 status in 1984 and is now run over a trip of 1 Mile 7 Furlongs and 209 Yards. Its most popular winners are probably Double Trigger, Persian Punch, and Estimate, with the latter going on to win the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup for her majesty The Queen. There are no strong statistics for the race, though only two of the last 10 winners were returned bigger than 9/2. This year’s renewal is set to feature last year’s Ascot Gold Cup fifth Torcedor, with Raheen House, Montaly and Desert Skyline all rated within 3lb of him.
Merriebelle Stable Pavilion Stakes (3.45)
The Pavillion Stakes is a race for 3-year-olds and is run over 6 furlongs. Having been a Listed race when it was first in 1999, it was elevated to a Group 3 in 2015. Since then, it has been won by Limato and Blue Point who have both gone on to prove themselves top-class sprinters. Last year’s winner Blue Point was quite experienced by the time he won, and Charlie Appleby’s runner this year Sound And Silence has a similar profile, as does Invincible Army who is trained by James Tate. However, with four of the last six winners having won last time out, Abel Handy and Laugh A Minute may be worth a second-look.
Celebrating The Commonwealth Paradise Stakes (4.20)
The Paradise Stakes was first run in 2004, and it is a Listed race run over 1 Mile for horses aged four and older. John Gosden has trained two of the last five winners and, though he isn’t represented this year, he did used to train Crazy Horse, who is joint top-rated along with Century Dream and Victory Bond.
Newmarket Saturday 5 May
Palace House Stakes (2.20)
The Palace House Stakes is a Group 3 Race run over 5-furlongs on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile Course and is open to horses aged three and older. It has been won by some top-quality horses in recent seasons, including Sole Power, Goldream, Profitable, and Marsha, who were all proven or went on to prove themselves at Group 1 Level. Of this year’s runners, Havana Grey has gone closest to winning a Group 1, when he was second to Unfortunately in France, and he’s already won a Group 2. He has 6lb+ in hand of some mainly exposed rivals, though Aidan O’Brien could run a couple of potentially interesting 3-year-olds in Murillo and Declarationofpeace.
Jockey Club Stakes (2.55)
The Jockey Club Stakes is a Group 2 Race run over 12-furlongs. It dates back to 1894 and is open to horses aged four and older. The best recent winners of the race are Seventh Heaven and Al Kazeem, who were both genuinely Group 1 class. Defoe is the highest-rated runner in the field after he won on his seasonal reappearance, though he only has 1lb in hand of Khalidi who ran a cracking race at Royal Ascot last season. Algometer, Count Octave, and Danehill Kodiac don’t have much to find either, with Count Octave definitely an interesting contender as there are high hopes he’ll make up into a Cup-Horse this season.
Qipco 2,000 Guineas (5.35)
The first Classic of the season was first run in 1809 and, like all English Classics, is restricted to the classic generation (3-year-olds). It is run over the straight Rowley Mile at Newmarket, and Aidan O’Brien looks to have a strong-hand in Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior as he bids to win the race for the fourth time in seven years, with his last three winners all being sent-off favourite. Masar and James Garfield are two interesting rivals having claimed two of the main Guineas Trials, whilst Without Parole and Elarqam are both unexposed after just two runs in lesser company. Expert Eye could also be the type that thrives off the strong-pace that a Guineas usually provides.
Newmarket Sunday 6 May
Dahlia Stakes (2.20)
The Dahlia Stakes is run over 9-furlongs and is open to fillies and mares aged 4 or older. It was first run in 1997 and was upgraded to a Group 2 in 2015. Sir Michael Stoute has an excellent record in the race having won six of the last 11 renewals, whilst Andre Fabre has sent two genuine Group fillies over the English Channel in Estoterique and Usherette to win two of the last four renewals. However, as neither of those trainers will be represented this year, this could be a good opportunity for Wuheida who was last seen winning the Filly and Mares Turf at the Breeders’s Cup.
The 1,000 Guineas was first run five years after the 2,000 Guineas in 1814, and the first fillies Classic is run over the same straight mile just like its male counterpart. These Classics all come the same for Aidan O’Brien though, who has also won three of the last six renewals, just as he has the 2,000 Guineas.
However, last year’s winner Winter was not sent-off favourite, though several of her connections landed a gamble on her as she was backed-in form 33/1 in the week before the race. O’Brien has five possible entries this year, including this year’s likely favourite Happily, who impressed when winning last year’s Grand Criterium. Nell Gwyn winner and runner-up Soliloquy and Alytn Orda could be the main hopes of the English contingent, though it will be interesting to see if Laurens has trained on.