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Racing fans enjoyed a TV viewing, still sadly not race going, treat over the weekend with some pulse pumping performances out on the turf as the big guns were produced from some of the top yards. It was a mostly rewarding weekend for punters who like to get stuck into the short-ones in the class races. 

First up was at Newmarket when Ed Dunlop’s William Buick ridden John Leeper justified 6/4 favouritism to win the Betway Fairway Stakes (Listed). He must have given his more nervous backers a bit of a fright, or others would argue money’s worth before winning by 1 ¾ lengths. He raced a bit keen, made headway between horses to lead, was ridden and headed then rallied and had a look about before getting his act together to kick on. 

Talking to Racing TV after the race the winning trainer said ‘He is named after my father, so that is about as much pressure as you can get. He was a little bit keen and fresh and inexperienced, but he can only get better with more racing. I am sure the owner will want to go to Epsom, she has had the dream to do it, and as long as he is OK that is what we will do’.

Bookmaker reaction to the colt’s win was mixed, prices for the Derby range for 6/1 to 10/1 with a firm you’ll probably need to ask you mum to open an account with to get on.

Arguably the most impressive winner of the day was when William Haggas’ colt Al Aasy who literally cantered to victory in the Al Rayyan Stakes (Group 3). Sent off the 10/11 favourite his supporters didn’t get any excitement at all but instead had time to savour their shrewdness as their investment cruised to an effortless win under Jim Crowley. Talking to Nick Luck after the race, the winning trainer said, ‘You couldn’t really fault him today, he was very relaxed, he travelled strongly and Jim [Crowley] said he just had to go, he would have waited a little longer if he could, it was a nice performance. He’s just getting a bit above himself – I don’t usually like to go for a Group Three after winning a Group Three but we plumbed for this as it fitted in. He’ll now got for the Coronation Cup. He’ll glide around there. He’s such a strong traveller, he works like that at home, we never get him off the bridle, he looks like Nijinsky compared to the others’. Jim Crowley gave the quote that made the headlines saying ‘He’s a monster of a horse, I just had a double handful throughout’.

The bookies are taking no chances with the son of Sea The Stars with a few going the top price 6/5 for the Coronation Cup at Epsom. 

Had Al Aasy not won so easily all the plaudits would have been saved for Palace Pier, the winner of the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (Group 1) for John Gosden under Frankie Dettori. Sent of the ‘bottle-on’ 1/2 favourite the four-year-old was never in danger just having to be pushed out to win by a length and a half from 22/1 chance Lady Bowthorpe who was clear of the rest. 

His trainer said ‘He came through very nicely, he [ Frankie Dettori ] said he had it won two out’. On his immediate plans he said, ‘It’s pretty obvious at this stage to go to the Queen Anne  [Royal Ascot] and think about it after that, whether we want to change trip.

Winning jockey Frankie Dettori described the ride as ‘mind boggling’, he said he usually hits a flat spot, he took him by surprise and found himself in front. He added he’s a very happy horse that saves his best for the races, he’s on the way to being one of the best horses he’s ridden and that he’s a joy to ride, floating like a hovercraft over water, concluding ‘He’s a proper good horse’. 

Sunday’s group action turned to France and Paris Longchamp where Aidan O’Brien claimed his fifth victory in the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Group 1) when his charge St Mark’s Basilica won the race under local jockey Ioritz Mendizabal. Making his seasonal debut, the colt quickened up nicely after being raced midfield for much over the race  and eventually won a comfortable looking 1 ¾ from 80/1 chance Colosseo.

The winner returned 9/4 or 41/10 depending on if you took the Industry SP or the French prices. Poetic Flare was sent off 15/8 favourite to follow up his Newmarket 2000 Guineas success but had to settle for sixth. 

The winning trainer told reporters ‘The plan last year was that he would go to the Lagardere and then on to there. He quickens very well. He has an option to go to Ascot or go back for the French Derby. The original plan was that he would go there and back for the French Derby. He’s been working lovely, and you saw the way he progressed through last year. They all couldn’t go to Newmarket and when he was to go to France last year, we said we’d stick that way.

The winning jockey was quoted as saying ‘It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to ride for Aidan O’Brien. As he is able to successfully tune a colt to win a Group One race first time out, that’s why he’s the best trainer in the world. It took me a little while to get a position. I was able to get on the tail of Sealiway, who was one of the leading fancies. He gave us a tow to the 300-metre mark. My mount really was a cut above the rest.

O’Brien wasn’t quite so fortunate in the fillies equivalent the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Pouliches when his charge and 6/4 favourite. Mother Earth, was no match, beaten a 1 ¼ lengths for bookie friendly 38/1 winner Coeursamba. This time the Industry SP would have been the price to take, returning 66/1. 

The winner is trained by Jean-Claude Rouget who said ‘We are very pleasantly surprised. I was surprised by the acceleration that she showed, double the acceleration of some very good fillies’.

So, the bookies got some back in the French 1000 Guineas, but it was mainly happy days for the punters over the weekend. Racing purists as well as punters would have been excited by both some of the performances and the lip-smacking prospect of plenty more to come in the forthcoming season, which had so far been a bit of a slow burner. Bring it on.

Simon Nott

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