This weekend sees the first all-flat TV racing card of the season, and it’s a big one, with the excellent 2,000 Guineas card from Newmarket making up the bulk of the action. The fledgling flat campaign has already provided a number of highlights and eye-catching performances, but this is where the serious competition really begins.
Handicap fans are well catered for, with four competitive puzzles to solve from Newmarket, Goodwood and Thirsk, as the entertainment builds to the crescendo of the opening Classic of 2023. Here we pick out our best bets in each of the seven races on offer in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
2:15 Howden British EBF Ellen Chaloner Stakes
This day may be all about the colts but the fillies and mares kick off the action in this Listed Class sprint contest. The ground at Newmarket is currently described as good to firm but, with heavy rain forecast, this seems likely to change. As such, it may pay to side with those performers who are versatile regarding conditions.
The Michael Dods duo of Azure Blue and Gale Force Maya each boast a course and distance win to their name, and are currently vying for favouritism. They likely won’t be too far away, whilst Karl Burke’s Fast Response is also fancied to go well stepping back up to six furlongs. However, the one for us at a decent each-way price is George Boughey’s, Queen Olly, who drops back in distance, having faded out of contention in the Nell Gwynn. In two efforts over this trip, she has finished third to 1,000 Guineas-bound Mawj and Lezoo in a Group 2 and filled the runners-up spot in a Listed event – both runs coming at this track. That form puts her firmly in contention here, and any improvement for the first-time tongue tie will hopefully see her go close.
2:50 Howden Handicap
Class 2, 6f
We stick to the same six-furlong course and distance in our next event but drop into handicapping company in what looks like a fiendishly competitive affair. Any trend which helps to whittle down the list of runners is always welcome, and it may be worth noting that nine of the past ten winners have been aged five or younger.
Of those to fit into that age bracket this time around, defending champion Blackrod makes obvious appeal on his second start for Roger Teal – with Oisin Murphy being an eye-catching booking in the saddle. Strike Red is another viable each-way option, and can certainly be expected to fair much better than when completely blowing the start here in 2022. However, narrow preference is for last year’s third-placed finisher, Chairmanoftheboard, who gets in off a six-pound lower mark having only gone down by just over a length. Sporting the first-time cheekpieces, he looks a solid bet to at least make the frame once again.
3:05 William Hill Epic Value Handicap
Class 2, 1m2f
The only race of the day from Goodwood up next, with 10 set to line up for this 1m2f handicap contest. The Charles Hills-trained Maghlaak is the one the punters have latched onto, with the Muhaarar colt having landed two of his three starts last term. Making his handicap debut off a mark of 86, he is the horse most open to improvement and may well be up to the task. On the downside, those in behind for his most recent success have done little to advertise the form, and he looks short enough at the prices.
Take a chance instead on the Jim Boyle-trained six-year-old Bad Company. A six-time winner over this trip, he looked as well as ever when scoring at Epsom last time out. A five pound rise in the handicap makes life tougher, but much of that is offset by the three-pound claim of the talented Benoit De La Sayette, who takes over in the saddle. Fully effective on ground ranging from Good to Heavy, he looks like a solid option to run another big race.
3:25 Howden Suffolk Stakes
Class 2, 1m1f
Jimi Hendrix was out of tune in the Lincoln on his seasonal return but bounced right back to form with an authoritative success in the Spring Cup at Newbury last time out. Getting in here under a five-pound penalty, he unsurprisingly heads the betting with Rossa Ryan in the saddle. He was however beaten by over eight lengths in his only previous outing at this track, which is enough to put us off at the prices.
Majestic (fourth in the Lincoln) and John Quinn’s Empirestateofmind make the shortlist, but at a significantly bigger price, we can’t resist a small each-way punt on the Michael Appleby runner, Howth. Formerly with Aidan O’Brien, this son of Churchill boasts several pieces of form which make him of interest here, including when beaten by only three quarters of a length in a Group 2 at Leopardstown. He did go off the boil last season – prompting the switch to England – but was a big eye-catcher when storming home for second at Chelmsford last time out. If rediscovering his old sparkle, a mark of 92 may well underestimate him, having been rated as high as 102 in the past.
3:40 Vickers.bet Thirsk Hunt Cup Handicap
Class 2, 1m
Off to Yorkshire for race five on the TV Card, as Thirsk stages its standout contest of the year. Never an easy race to call, just the one favourite has prevailed in the last decade, with 66/1 shot Redarna coming home in front 12 months ago. In a typically wide-open affair, Thirsk Summer Cup third, Pisanello, is currently shading favouritism from course winner Symbolise, who ran a decent prep when staying on over seven furlongs at this track.
Safe Voyage catches the eye from towards the head of the weights and would be thrown in on his old form. However, he is 10 years of age now, and we prefer the younger legs of Eilean Dubh. This one looked all at sea in a heavy ground Lincoln last time out, and we are happy to draw a line through that effort. Going back to last season, the Karl Burke-trained five-year-old won competitive events at York off marks of 84 and 90, and effectively runs of 91 here, once the three-pound claim of Pierre-Louis Jamin is factored in. With a number of firms offering additional places on the race, he looks well worth an each-way punt.
4:00 Howden Palace House Stakes
Group 3, 5f
Group class sprinting action in the final event before the feature, with a big field of 17 standing their ground. Frankie Dettori takes the ride aboard the hattrick seeking Manaccan for John Ryan, and there’s a lot to like about this son of Exceed And Excel. The fact that he is the only runner in the field saddled with a three-pound penalty is, however, a little off-putting.
Charles Hills Equality looks the type to improve this season, whilst Vadream appeals each way if returning to the form of her win in the Cammidge Trophy two starts back. Overall, we suspect the market has this right in rating the Henry Candy-trained Twilight Calls as the one they all have to beat. Only fifth in this 12 months ago, that finishing position doesn’t tell the whole story as he raced on the wrong side of the track and was pushed wide in the closing stages. Last sighted finding only Australian sensation Nature Strip too good in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes, there is unlikely to be anything of that calibre amongst the opposition here, and he can get back to winning ways under Ryan Moore.
4:40 Qipco 2,000 Guineas Stakes
Group 1, 1m
The best is saved until last, with one of the most anticipated flat events of the season rounding out the TV card. Fourteen go to post, with all of the major racing powers represented in a field jam-packed with wonderful pedigrees and top-class juvenile form from last season.
Charlie Appleby landed a famous one-two in this contest in 2022, as Coroebus held off stablemate Native Trail, and the Godolphin handler sends a two-pronged attack this time around. William Buick has opted for Autumn Stakes winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up, Silver Knott, but it couldn’t have been an easy decision. Noble Style was a perfect three from three last season, and whilst those efforts came over six furlongs, his sire Kingman thrived over this trip, and the step up may even see him improve. At 18/1, he seems sure to prove popular each way.
Another on the shortlist is Chaldean, who boasted a perfect unbeaten record – before depositing Frankie Dettori into the turf last time out. That was hardly an ideal prep, but he did at least blow away the cobwebs by galloping riderless to the line. A tenacious winner in the Dewhurst at this track, he shouldn’t be far away if handling this one-furlong step up in trip. Roger Varian’s Sakheer also appeals at a double-figure price, having ended last season with an extremely impressive win in the Mill Reef Stakes. He’s another who is up in distance but is coming in for support in the lead-up to the race.
As talented as the above runners appear to be, we suspect all may well play second fiddle to Auguste Rodin from the yard of ten-time winner Aidan O’Brien. Beautifully bred – by Japanese wonder horse Deep Impact and out of Oaks runner-up Rhododendron – he looks an ideal Derby type on paper but showed enough speed to score twice over this trip last season, including when powering home to land the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Stakes at Doncaster. Closely related to 2018 Guineas hero Saxon Warrior, he is taken to add another Classic to the O’Brien haul.