A preview of May’s UK Horse Racing
May ushers in the first Classics of the current turf Flat season, beginning with the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 6. All eyes will be upon the short-priced favourite George Washington as he bids to bring trainer Aidan O’Brien back-to-back victories in the colts’ Classic following Footstepsinthesands smart success twelve months ago.
In recent years the 2,000 Guineas has been the personal preserve of the Flat’s big battalions with Sir Michael Stoute, Saeed Bin Suroor and Aidan O’Brien dominating the race year after year with a succession of expensive blue-bloods.
This time around it’s the tight-lipped O’Brien who seems to hold all the aces courtesy of the aforementioned George Washington, a brilliant, if at times temperamental, colt who swept all before him as a juvenile and sets out this season to prove he’s not just a two-year-old wonder but can mix it with the best and come out on top as a three-year-old.
Only Barry Hills and Dermot Weld have broken the big boys’ monopoly of the 2,000 and this year it’s Marcus Tregoning who has been cast in the role of party-pooper as he bids interrupt the top guns by training Sir Percy to land the opening Classic. Regarded as the best horse that he’s ever trained by his astute handler, last season’s Dewhurst winner is sure to go close in a race that will be run to suit his talents.
On the same day Newmarket stages the Palace House Stakes, a Group 3 for up-and-coming sprinters and the fast-improving Reverence well be an interesting runner while over at Haydock, the jumps stages a last hurrah with the valuable William Hill Swinton Handicap Hurdle, and Philip Hobbs could hold a strong hand here courtesy of Wellbeing and Motorway, two progressive and late-blossoming timber-toppers.
On Sunday May 7, it’s the fillies’ turn to strut their stuff in the 1,000 Guineas where Gololphin’s Silca’s Sister, Ballydoyle’s Rumplestiltskin and Race For the Stars will do battle with John Gosden’s Nanina for the fillies’ Blue Riband. On the same day Breeders’ Cup hero Shirocco is likely to come up against Sir Michael Stoute’s late-developer Hard Top and the evergreen John Porter winner, Mubtaker, in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket. Spring gallop s reports have singled out the Stoute horse for top honours.
Chester’s prestigious three-day meeting follows hot on the heels of Newmarket and the Derby hopefuls will be on show in the MBNA Europe Bank Chester Vase (May 11), with the fillies taking centre stage in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks on May 10. Barry Hills has a superb record on this turning track and any horse he runs in the previous two races will be worth close inspection.
On Wednesday May 10 the totesport Chester Cup is the meeting’s big betting race and recent Newmarket winner Mikao set down an early marker for this big staying prize. Four-year-olds often run well here and trainer Barry Hills boasts an excellent record. Friday, May 12, closes the Chester meeting and the feature race for the older horses is the Blue Square Ormonde Stakes landed last year by Day Flight.
The run of Classic trials continues at Lingfield on May 13 with the Letheby and Christopher Derby Trial and the totesport.com Oaks Trials respectively for the real things at Epsom the following month. It isn’t just the Classic colts and fillies that are in the firing-line at Lingfield because the Surrey course also stages the totesport Victoria Cup, a closely fought and always influential 7f handicap that frequently throws up a Royal Ascot winner or two.
Over in France the following day, May 14, the European Flat season raises the volume with the Poule de’Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) and the Poulai d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) on the same card at Longchamp.
Ballydoyle and Godolphin have begun to target these two important races in recent seasons and their runners should be respected, but Criquette Head-Maarek’s Quiet Royale will be fancied for the ‘Pouliches’ after a satisfactory spin in second at Longchmap the other day.
Flat racing’s domestic caravan rolls on to York for their three-day Dante meeting and the potential Oaks fillies will run in the Musidora Stakes on May 17, the meeting’s opening salvo which is now a Wednesday on account of the fixture moving forward by a single day.
On May 18 the Derby hopefuls will run in the Dante Stakes and it’s worth recalling that in recent times, North Light and Motivator, the last two winners of this race, have gone on to glory at Epsom in just over three weeks’ time, while looking a little further back in the race’s illustrious history, it’s worth noting that Shahrastani, Reference point, Erhaab and Benny The Dip all went on from the Dante to Derby success.
This mile and a quarter Group 2 contest has clearly become a key Classic trial in recent seasons and mustn’t be missed. There’s sure to be a host of top-class performers in contention on the Knavesmire and Sir Michael Stoute has the best contemporary Dante record with two winners and three placed horses.
On the same day as the Dante keep a close eye upon the outcome of the Hambleton Stakes, a valuable mile handicap that has a habit of throwing up the winner of the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot the following month especially if the Hambleton winner is trained by Sir Michael Stoute.
The final day of the Dante meeting sees the stayers take centre stage in the Yorkshire Cup, a useful pointer to the rest of the campaign’s leading staying races. Alan Swinbank’s stable star Collier Hill, a winner of the Irish St Leger last season, is a likely runner and may well be capable of surprising more fancied horses.
On May 20 it’s the turn of the season’s crack milers to unleash their firepower in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury and this has been a good race for Saeed Bin Suroor and the boys in blue in recent seasons, and it would be no surprise to see them land this Group1 event with Proclamation, who is surely heading for the top after joining Godolphin on the back of a brilliant three-year-old season.
In France the following day Longchamp’s Prix d’Ispahan always draws the top mile and mile and a quarter horses and this a race that mustn’t be missed as a key pointer to some of the season’s top races over this classic ten furlongs.
The month of May rounds off with the Irish 2,000 Guineas on May 27 followed by the Irish 1,000 Guineas on the following day. Both these valuable races tend to go to horses that have raced in the equivalent events at Newmarket and inevitably British trainers hold an excellent record in both races.
Finally, Sandown’s two-day fixture at the very end of the month is always informative with the Henry 11 Stakes for top-notch staying horses on May 29 followed on May 30 by the Temple Stakes for sprinters over the minimum trip and the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes in which trainer Sir Michael Stoute boats a useful record. Any runner from his yard should be noted carefully.