Everyone is on weather watch this week with the Grand National meeting just over a week away and, if the forecasters are right, there could be plenty of juice in the ground come the big race. That’s hardly surprising this season though, and it could be time to try and work out which of the Grand National runners might stay the equivalent of 5-miles rather than the actual distance of 4 miles and 2 furlongs.
The rain has already caused quite a few race meetings to be abandoned in the early part of this week but, hopefully, there won’t be too many more abandonments as we look forward to some of the highlights of this week’s racing calendar. However, we’ll look back at a couple of the highlights of last week first, the Irish Grand National and the Dubai World Cup.
The Irish Grand National
Whilst many of us probably regret wasted opportunities – I get the feeling Gordon Elliott tends to make the most of all of his. Since he became Gigginstown Stud’s number one trainer, he has simply gone from strength to strength, relentlessly ticking off milestones like very few trainers that have gone before him.
On Easter Monday, he passed two more as he became the first Irish National Hunt Trainer to record 200 winners in a season when General Principle won him his first Irish Grand National in one of the most thrilling finishes for many a year. General Principle only jumped the last fence in fifth place under JJ Slevin but, as he avoided the carnage caused by a poor jump by long-time leader Bellshill, he stayed on best of all to get up in the last couple of strides. Elliott also saddled the fourth Folsom Blue, who looked the unlucky horse of the race. Meanwhile, Willie Mullins will have to wait at least another year for his first Irish Grand National winner after his Isleofhopeandreams could only finish second.
There were some stunning performances at Meydan on Saturday as the Dubai World Cup took centre stage. The 2017 UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow returned to his best after being the subject of a gamble from 20/1 to 8/1, and the gamble was duly landed as he won the Dubai World Cup by an impressive margin.
However, the most impressive performance of the meeting was that of Mendelsshon in the UAE Derby as stormed to an 18-lengths success over previous winner Rayya in a course record time. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner looked right out of the top-drawer after being backed into 13/8 from 5/2 and he’s now favourite for the Kentucky Derby with most bookies.
There was also Group 1 success for Jungle Cat who, in winning the Al Quoz Sprint, confirmed the impression that he’s improved at the age of six this season. It will be interesting to see how he fares back on turf in England in the early part of the season.
Meanwhile, another 6-year-old who confirmed he could be a force to be reckoned with again this season was Vazirabad as he won his third consecutive Dubai Gold Cup. However, the one to take out of the race could be Sheikhzayedroad. David Simcock’s charge wasn’t at his best last season but, in finishing runner-up here, suggested he could be a player in long-distance races like the Ascot Gold Cup and Doncaster Cup.
Leopardstown Wednesday 4 April
The Heritage Stakes (5.30) is a Listed Race in which the popular 9-year-old Brendan Bracken looks likely to start favourite as he bids for an eleventh career win. There’s also two more course and distance winners in the field in Onenightidreamed and Pincheck. However, the one that could be interesting is Larchmont Lad. The British raider placed on both his starts for David O’Meara last season and O’Meara could easily have improved him since. O’Meara also does well with his Irish raiders with the likes of Custom Cut enjoying plenty of success.
Warwick Thursday 5 April
The St Mary’s Lands Handicap Chase (3.35) takes centre stage of Thursday at Warwick, and there are a few old favourites like Dell’ Arca, Straidnahanna, and Templehills in the early declarations. However, none catch the eye as much as Red Infantry who was a seriously impressive winner over course and distance last time.
Kelso Saturday 7 April
There could be an interesting clash between Nietzsche and Silver Concorde in the Tote Scoop 6 Handicap Hurdle (2.25). However, the most intriguing clash could be in the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase (3.00) as Eider Chase winner Baywing could take on Betfred Grand National Trial winner Yala Enki.
Kempton Saturday 7 April
An excellent all-weather card is arguably this week’s racing highlight. Former Group 1 winner Goldream could take on Tomily in the Betfred Mobile Handicap (2.05), whilst Tropics and Mazzini could be two significant runners in the Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Handicap (2.40). Meanwhile, a name to watch out for in the Betfred Home of Golden Goals Snowdrop Fillies Stakes could be La Figlia. Jeremy Noseda’s twice-raced 4-year-old is beautifully bred being by Frankel out of Finsceal Beo and she’s expected to make up into a group race performer this season if she stays sound.
Cork Saturday 7 April
The Cork Stakes (3.20) is the highlight on the card and Aidan O’Brien has a trio of interesting entries for this Listed Race in Intelligence Cross, Fleet Review, and Declaration of Peace, with the latter a subject of a failed gamble at Royal Ascot last year. However, Downforce could prove the value in the race if the ground rides very soft.
Naas Sunday 8 April
There are a couple of Group 3 Races on Sunday’s premier card, and the Gladness Stakes (3.45) could be the seasonal debut of the interesting Spirit Of Valour for Aidan O’Brien. He also has War Secretary entered, whilst Flight Risk for Jim Bolger and the improving Making Light for Dermot Weld could be interesting opponents.
However, it’s the Alleged Stakes which seems highest on O’Brien’s list of races to win this weekend. He has six high-class entries including St Leger winner Capri and Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher. However, if the ground rides really soft, Air Pilot could be an interesting alternative.