It’s All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, live on Sky Sports Racing, and presenter Simon Mapletoft previews all seven races here.
2.00 Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships Conditions Stakes (2m)
Top-rated contender RAINBOW DREAMER looks the one they all have to beat. Alan King’s gallant eight-year-old has improved with every race following an autumn in the paddocks and should be cherry ripe for this first-ever run at Lingfield.
Effective around Wolverhampton and a multiple winner at Kempton Park, Rainbow Dreamer has already proven himself tactically versatile on a sharp track and can adapt better than his rivals in a race that may not be run at an even, end-to-end gallop.
His regular jockey Hollie Doyle, who has won on him four times, rides Amtiyaz for her retaining owner Imad Alsagar. John and Thady Gosden’s four-year-old is a whole stone wrong with his older rival on these terms but is open to improvement. His three wins have come at different tracks this winter so he is equally versatile but thrives on a good tempo and has been beaten for a turn of foot at this trip.
The Marathon Final has been the main objective for Roger Varian’s Australis all winter. He has never encountered Lingfield but for such a big horse does have a gear change and showed enough athleticism to win around Wolverhampton in the New Year, despite a muddling pace. It’s worth noting that he ran well above his mark when beating Rainbow Dreamer in a Fast Track Qualifier at Newcastle in December and rates the biggest danger to my selection.
Heather Main’s Island Brave excelled himself when taking the scalps of Australis and Rainbow Dreamer at Gosforth Park. His record at Lingfield is an impressive 31312 but he hasn’t run at the track in three years and his latest effort in a Newcastle handicap was underwhelming. He is entitled to sharpen up for that, however.
Ranch Hand was well-positioned to win a slowly run Fast Track Qualifier at Chelmsford City and is another who won’t be seen at his best if the gallop isn’t a strong one. In his comfort zone on conventional tracks, he possesses undoubted quality but looks more of a Northumberland Plate type if he returns to synthetics.
Only a neck behind Ranch Hand at Chelmsford, Ralph Beckett’s Rock Eagle is also closely matched with Amtiyaz on Kempton form but this long-striding chestnut is another who is likely to be caught out of his ground on an unsuitably sharp track. Both he and Ranch Hand finished in front of Mark Johnston’s Lucky Deal on similar terms at the Essex track and he has more to prove than his rivals.
SIMON’S SELECTION: RAINBOW DREAMER
2.35 Ladbrokes All-Weather Fillies’ and Mares’ Championships Conditions Stakes (7f)
INDIE ANGEL hasn’t been seen in action since winning the Listed Fleur De Lys Stakes over the Lingfield mile at the beginning of Season 8 but is the class horse in a weak renewal and should be hard to beat. John and Thady Gosden’s filly drops back to a trip short of her optimum but the presence of trailblazer Fizzy Feet will make it the strongly run race she needs.
I expect to see Martin Harley’s filly finish her race strongly enough to claim the title, even though she would undoubtedly be better suited by 1m. She ran a 10.98 sec furlong from the two pole in the Fleur De Lys which was quicker than Fizzy Feet or any of her rivals could record at the same track in a Listed sprint.
David Loughnane’s Fizzy Feet will attempt to steal this from the front and India Angel certainly won’t have the speed to lay up with an improved filly whose ability to scrape the paint at a high cruising speed helped her finish second in the Listed Kachy Stakes over 6f last month. She has never run over this longer trip so there has to be a doubt about the petrol gauge holding out in the charge for the line.
Shimmering Dawn is a solid benchmark, having won a Fast Track Qualifier over 7f at Chelmsford City before struggling against the boys in the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton. James Tate’s filly isn’t slow but lengthens more than quickens and didn’t look best suited by this track when making hard work of a 7f conditions race in December.
Richard Hannon’s Arafi has 16lb to find with Indie Angel but has progressed nicely this winter and wasn’t fazed by a 13lb hike when running a smart rival close in a 1m Newcastle handicap last time. Dropping back to 7f is in her favour but this is a very big ask.
SIMON’S SELECTION: INDIE ANGEL
3.10 Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships Conditions Stakes (6f)
This strong renewal promises to be run at a break-neck pace with trailblazer Lord Riddiford drawn to attack in stall three, which might play into the hands of the deeper closers.
There was no fluke about Exalted Angel’s win in the Listed Kachy Stakes over course and distance last time. He overcame a poor draw to gun down Fizzy Feet in a good time on his first start at the track, and his first attempt at 6f. Karl Burke’s gelding, who looked in great shape when I saw him gallop on Middleham Moor last week, has improved 29lb since winning at Southwell just over a year ago and is better berthed in stall five this time. He has the turbo to finish off strongly from a stalking position and is respected.
Fellow Northern raider VENTUROUS shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, either. Like Exalted Angel, he has improved beyond recognition this winter, scoring four times since winning a 5f handicap at Doncaster in October off a 22lb lower rating. His trainer David Barron deserves great credit for breathing new life into this eight-year-old who won a 5f Fast Track Qualifier at Newcastle in January and showed his effectiveness over 6f when charging late to thwart the re-opposing Aberama Gold at Wolverhampton.
It’s also worth noting that he’s beaten Exalted Angel three times this season and although he steps onto the Lingfield Polytrack for the first time, this race promises to be run to suit his fast-finishing style and he represents considerable value at around 13-2 from an ideal draw in stall four.
Archie Watson has no qualms in dropping Highland Dress back to 6f. He ran a solid fourth in the Listed Golden Rose over course and distance and has since won twice over 7f on the Lingfield Polytrack, which seems to bring the best out of him. He, too, is fairly drawn and should be among the strongest finishers.
Tim Easterby’s Lampang has been lightly campaigned this winter but is reported to be in great form after qualifying on the Fibresand at Southwell. He is best judged on his second to Good Effort in the Golden Rose in November, when he was able to travel on the heels of the leader. This lightly raced four-year-old remains relatively unexposed but has been done no favours by a wide draw in stall 10.
Harry’s Bar won a 6f Listed race at Dundalk on his first start for Irish trainer Ado McGuinness and was a money-spinner for James Fanshawe in good All-Weather handicaps prior to that. However, he struggled on dirt in Saudi Arabia before failing to see out 1m at Dundalk last time and will have to be ridden for luck from an even worse starting position in gate 12.
SIMON’S SELECTION: VENTUROUS
3.45 Ladbrokes 3YO All-Weather Championships Conditions Stakes (6f)
Like the Sprint Final, this will be run at a frenetic pace with Mighty Gurkha the obvious pace angle. Archie Watson’s colt brings the best CV into the race, having won the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes at Kempton Park last year before clinching his place with a Fast Track Qualifier win over the same course and distance.
Mighty Gurkha, who bids to repeat Watson’s 2018 success with Corinthia Knight, defied a 5lb penalty to get back up and beat the re-opposing Zamaani that day, and in doing so proved he is far from one dimensional. He isn’t ideally drawn in stall seven but has the gate speed to get across and won’t give up the lead at the business end of the race without a fight.
However, he will need plenty in reserve to repel Listed Spring Cup winner APOLLO ONE, who would probably be a shorter price if attached to a more fashionable stable. Skilfully trained by Peter Charalambous, he impressed me with his turn of foot in that 7f Fast Track Qualifier and certainly has the speed to cope with a drop back in trip on that evidence. In fact, sprinting may well be his game as he clocked a blistering 10.64 secs and 10.88 secs from the three pole to the final furlong in the Spring Cup.
Third in last season’s Group 3 Solario Stakes on only his second start, the son of Equiano is the top-rated horse in the line-up with just 1lb in hand of Watson’s star but remains open to enough improvement to claim this title and send his burgeoning career into orbit.
The unknown quantity is Clive Cox’s Diligent Harry, who only made his debut in January but quickly rattled up novice stakes wins at Wolverhampton and Kempton. He may well have won a hot course and distance handicap last time but for a slow start and wasn’t given a hard time by Adam Kirby in finishing a closing second.
Though he has the potential to be a better horse than his current rating of 93 suggests, he’s tasked with finding the best part of a stone to beat Apollo One and Mighty Gurkha on these terms.
Victory Heights hasn’t looked back since wind surgery, nosing out Mighty Gurkha in that Wolverhampton qualifier – form that entitles him to be involved – while Water Of Leith was on a progressive curve before boiling over at this track last time and could easily out-run his big odds for the each-way players on his first start for Rebecca Menzies.
SIMON’S SELECTION:APOLLO ONE (Nap)
4.15 Betway Easter Classic All-Weather Middle Distance Championships Conditions Stakes (10f)
This is the weakest line-up in seven runnings of the Classic, due mainly to the lure of better prize money in international races in the Middle East in February and March. While it is impossible for the All-Weather Championships to compete with races like the Bahrain International, the Saudi Cup and the big nights in Dubai, organisers Arena Racing Company (ARC) acknowledge that the re-positioning of the Winter Derby Trial and Winter Derby proper – both Fast Track Qualifiers for the Classic – may be necessary if they are to attract more of the best 10f horses next winter.
BANGKOK, who missed the Winter Derby to run in the $20 million Saudi Cup, can make a winning return to his favourite track in the day’s most valuable race. Andrew Balding’s five-year-old comfortably beat Forest Of Dean in the Listed Winter Derby Trial over course and distance in February – he shattered the track record in the same race in 2020 – but the lure of big prize money in Riyadh prised him away from the Group 3 showpiece.
Although he could finish only eighth behind John and Thady Gosden’s brilliant Mishriff in the Saudi Cup, Bangkok still scooped almost £300,000 for his owners King Power Racing, vindicating the decision to send him to Saudi Arabia.
In his absence, the Gosden-trained Forest Of Dean stole a weak renewal thanks to a fine front-running ride by Robert Havlin, but I expect Bangkok to confirm himself the better horse after sweeping past his closest rival so readily in the Trial.
Bangkok’s jockey Silvestre De Sousa will almost certainly sit close to the flanks of Forest Of Dean in a race that promises to be run at a good tempo, with Mark Johnston’s Sky Defender likely to give them a lead into the straight.
Forest Of Dean has, in fact, finished behind Bangkok twice this season. They were second and third in a conditions race at Wolverhampton won by Marco Botti’s Felix – another high profile Middle Distance performer who would have been a major player in this race but ran in last weekend’s Dubai Turf instead, earning almost £300,000 for his owner Kulbir Sohi.
Ed Walker’s Assimilation has improved 10lb since the autumn and won a course and distance handicap in January, so deserves to take his chance, while Brian Meehan’s Palavecino ran with credit in the Listed Churchill Stakes and Listed Quebec Stakes at this track, but it’s hard to imagine either finding the necessary improvement to overcome the potency of on on-song Bangkok.
Ivan Furtado’s promising gelding Byford completes the line-up and while he is in too deep, it will be interesting to see how far he has progressed since winning a Class 3 course and distance handicap in February for his capable handler.
SIMON’S SELECTION: BANGKOK
4.45 Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championships Conditions Stakes (1m)
Joint-top rated in this ultra-competitive renewal is Roger Varian’s Khuzaam, who has the opportunity to confirm what a classy horse he has always promised to be. The sparely campaigned five-year-old won his first start since being gelded when edging out Sprint finalist Highland Dress in a 7f conditions race at Chelmsford City.
His habit of idling was in evidence again that day, when he edged left under pressure – a trait that probably cost him at least once in his previous three starts when he was run down close to the line. That said, he is nicely drawn for a prominent racer in stall two and has to be high on the shortlist.
Mums Tipple shares Khuzaam’s rating of 109 after being raised 7lb for winning the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes over 7f at Wolverhampton. That signalled an overdue return to form for a four-year-old who had failed to build on his considerable exploits as a juvenile.
Richard Hannon chooses this race in preference to the Sprint Final, which was certainly a viable option judged on his luckless run behind Exalted Angel in the Listed Kachy Stakes over 6f at this track. A smooth traveller who can switch off in his races, he must prove himself over 1m but If he stays looks sure to make his presence felt.
FOX DUTY FREE is the dark horse in the line-up. A reformed character since joining Ralph Beckett, he refused to race at Chester last September but has certainly got his act together since, rattling up a hat-trick at this track over 7f and 1m. He has 11lb to find with Khuzaam and Mums Tipple, but I believe he has the potential to be become a legitimate Pattern performer this year. Beckett wouldn’t have swerved a run in the Lincoln off an attractive weight if he didn’t think his son of Kingman could make a bold show against this level of opposition off level weights and the draw has been kind to him, too (5).
Simon and Ed Crisford have booked top jockey James Doyle for Intuitive, who has taken his form to a new level since undergoing wind surgery. He looked at his best rattling home off a strong pace in a course and distance handicap two starts ago and this race should play much more to his strengths than the tactical, four-runner contest he came unstuck in here last time.
Francis Graffard sends Silver Quartz over from France, buoyed by back-to-back victories on Polytrack at Deauville and Chantilly. The gelding is no stranger to Lingfield, having finished last in this Final in 2019 for Archie Watson and needs to take another big step forward under Hollie Doyle if he is to continue his country’s excellent Good Friday record.
SIMON’S SELECTION: FOX DUTY FREE (NB)
5.15 Bombardier All-Weather Championships Apprentice Handicap (7f)
MAGICAL WISH hasn’t always been the most consistent but has plenty going for him in a finale that has dealt some of the more fancied runners a poor draw. Richard Hannon’s gelding, the mount of the talented Thore Hammer Hansen, goes well fresh so should have benefitted from his winter break and has run some big races in top handicaps off a similar mark.
Fairly drawn in stall six for a prominent racer, he returned from an even longer lay-off last March to beat the smart Keyser Soze in a Class 2 course and distance handicap and a reproduction of that form would definitely see him in the mix at rewarding odds.
Amber Island, one of two in the race for owner Dave Lowe, is an improving filly who gets in off a light weight and has the added bonus of top apprentice Laura Pearson’s 3lb claim. Well drawn here, she is effectively just 1lb higher than when winning over this trip at Chelmsford City last time and can carry Lowe’s Kachy silks with distinction.
Lord Of The Lodge has run well this winter without getting his head in front and was far from disgraced when second to the rejuvenated Mums Tipple in the Listed Lady Wulfruna Strakes at Wolverhampton last time. Karl Burke’s stable apprentice Pierre-Louis Jamin takes off a useful 3lb and another big run looks assured, even though this front runner may be a shade vulnerable to a closer under his big weight.
The booking of John and Thady Gosden’s star apprentice Benoit De La Sayette for Ayr Harbour certainly catches the eye. Mick Appleby, who is set to be crowned champion trainer for the fifth time, has freshened the gelding up since his win on the Southwell Fibresand on New Year’s Day. His rider’s 7lb claim effectively puts him on a lower mark and last year’s course and distance success demonstrates his versatility, but Appleby would have held his head in his hands when his car park draw in stall 14 was revealed.
Archie Watson’s Harrison Point could be well handicapped, too, but has been dealt a similarly bad hand, racing out of stall 13. Proven on the track and gelded since flopping in Listed grade in France, his second to the highly progressive Misty Grey at Wolverhampton in November off a similar mark represents some of the best recent form on offer and the experienced former amateur Jo Mason is good value for her 3lb claim.
SIMON’S SELECTION: MAGICAL WISH