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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Five races to look forward to for the coming Flat season

Wings Of Eagles swoops late to land the 2017 Investec Derby
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Feeling weary as a result of the hour's less sleep last night? There have got to be some advantages to the clocks going forward. One such is that with British Summer Time comes thoughts of the Classics, Royal Ascot and clashes of generations. Here are a few of the goodies in store and a reminder of the leading contenders.

2000 Guineas
Newmarket, May 5

Flat and jumps share the stage from now until the Guineas, which provides the first British Group 1 race of the summer. 

It would be fair to call Aidan O'Brien the dominant force in the race in recent years, though he has not monopolised the roll of honour like he has in certain other races, such as the Irish equivalent.

O'Brien has trained four of the last ten Guineas winners and has the big stack again this year, with Saxon Warrior, Gustav Klimt and US Navy Flag all in the top four in the ante-post betting.

The resistance is led by the regally-bred Elarqam and Expert Eye, who flopped in the Dewhurst when last seen but looked oh so good when winning at Goodwood before that.

Crowds line the walls to watch the racing at Chester's massively popular May meeting
Chester Cup
Chester, May 9

Chester's May meeting is the first real summer festival and, besides its trials for the Derby and Oaks – Aidan O'Brien has a habit of sending some of his better hopes here – the main draw is the Chester Cup, a unique staying handicap around Chester's tight bends.

The race is more than a curate's egg, too. Trip To Paris won three years ago on his way to success in the Gold Cup at Ascot, while 12 months later the runner-up was Nakeeta, who won last year's Ebor and ran with great credit in the Melbourne Cup.

The Derby
Epsom, June 2

Perhaps not the ultimate race it used to be but still Flat racing's most transcendent prize, the Derby tests the temperament, stamina and class of three-year-olds still in the early stages of their second season racing.

Drama is more or less guaranteed and they don't come much more dramatic than last year's renewal, won by a last-gasp swoop from 40-1 shot Wings Of Eagles.

That was a sixth win in the race for Aidan O'Brien, who would tie the all-time record of seven victories for a trainer should he take a fifth win in the last seven years. 

With ready access to Galileo, the 2001 Derby winner and the greatest middle-distance sire of his or perhaps any generation, it is no surprise that O'Brien once more carries the greatest weight into the race. Saxon Warrior is favourite, as he is for the Guineas, with The Pentagon just behind. 

The leading British hope at this stage is Roaring Lion, who looked to have the measure of Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy, the most indicative two-year-old race with respect to the Derby, for much of the final furlong.

Queen Anne Stakes
Ascot, June 19

We might, just might, see Winx. The Australian wondermare is being considered for a tilt at Royal Ascot and the meeting's curtain-raiser, one of the world's best mile races, is her most likely target.

Even if Winx does not make the journey this race, following on from the Lockinge (Newbury, May 19), will help form the new pecking order among the older milers, with there being room at the top following the retirement of Ribchester at the end of last season.

Ulysses edges out Barney Roy in the Eclipse
The Eclipse
Sandown, July 8

The great thing about the Flat season, and the flip side to the oft-cited criticism that the turnover of horses is too hard to keep up with, is that so little of it is pencilled in at this point. 

Were the Eclipse, which is perhaps the crossroads of the entire season, a jumps race the majority of the field could be named several months in advance. As it is, we will just have to hope that the Guineas winner and Derby winner – assuming they are not the same horse – meet with the best of the older horses. And we will also hope for a finish half as exciting as last year's, when Ulysses held off Barney Roy by the narrowest of margins.


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Flat and jumps share the stage from now until the Guineas, which provides the first British Group 1 race of the summer
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