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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Roll up! Roll up! Whatever your fancy it's here on a day of end-to-end thrills

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Variety is the spice of life and there's certainly something for everyone on Saturday. Lingfield offers potential Classic clues, a big handicap puzzle is the star attraction at Ascot, and if you want the best of both worlds then there's a mixed card at Haydock.

With the Guineas now in the rearview mirror, all roads lead to Epsom and the Investec Derby and Oaks. Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore, as is their wont, have been making hay on the Roodee this week with Rostropovich and Magic Wand emerging as potential Classic contenders.

Now the stage switches from the tight turns of Chester to Lingfield's turf course, which with its sweeping downhill turn offers an Epsom-lite challenge for those competing in the Oaks and Derby trials.

O'Brien and Moore have a runner in each, with Flattering in the fillies' trial and Kew Gardens in the male equivalent. It could be the Betfred Mobile Oaks trial in which O'Brien's hand is stronger, with Flattering a general 20-1 chance for the Oaks, while Kew Gardens can be backed at 33-1 for the Derby.

With eight meetings spread across Britain and Ireland, and largely clear skies forecast, attendances around the tracks should be healthy. Temperatures will not reach the highs of the balmy Bank Holiday weekend, and let's hope that helps cooler heads prevail in the stands after last week's abhorrent scenes at Goodwood.

Beckett a ladies' man in Oaks Trial

Ralph Beckett has a fantastic record in Lingfield's Oaks Trial, with his most notable runner coming in 2008 when Look Here – who went on to Epsom glory that year – finished runner-up.

He has won the race twice since 2013, and whatever filly he decides to run here generally goes on to better things.

This year's candidate is Kempton debut winner Cecchini, who lit up an evening meeting in November when setting a course record.

Ralph Beckett: stable form was hit by a virus last season

Lingfield's turf course presents a very different challenge, but Beckett is keen to see how she fares, and said: "I like the race because it gives you a clear indication as to whether they will handle Epsom. That was initially why we went there, but I think it's become more competitive than it was. It's a good place to find out anyway."

On the chances of Cecchini, he added: "Not many break a track record on their debut, and we'll see here whether she's as effective on turf. Her page suggests she should be, but when they go that well on Polytrack it just creates that nagging doubt. Her work last week was good and we think she should run well."

Stat of the day

Since 2008 Ralph Beckett's record with his runners in Lingfield's Oaks trial is 25321148234, and he couldn't be in better form coming into this year's race with six winners already on the board this month. 

Pedal power to horsepower

Harry Dunlop is busy getting in training for a cycling challenge in July, but on track he has a potential Derby contender with Knight To Behold.

Dunlop, who will be riding 100 miles in a day on July 29, going from London to Surrey in aid of charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, is looking forward to seeing what Knight To Behold can do at three after a promising juvenile campaign.

The colt finished second on debut before winning a Newmarket novice last season over a mile and should relish stepping up in trip.

"It's a tough race but we want to see what we've got. It'll be very interesting," the trainer said. "He's bred for this and he's physically done really well. He's stronger and we're happy with him."

Anyone wishing to make a donation to Dunlop's charity ride can do so at

Tricolore could be flying high

Given how events unfolded at Lingfield's last high-profile meeting, All-Weather Championships Finals Day on Good Friday, there may be stands offering crepes suzette and coq au vin rather than the usual fare of burgers and ice creams, such was the domination of the French raiders.

Victories in three of the seven races was a stunning return, and now Henri-Francois Devin's Hunaina bids to continue the fruitful forays for the French in the Group 3 Betfred "Supports Jack Berry House" Chartwell Fillies' Stakes.

It is a race that has been targeted from across the Channel before, with Sabana Perdida successful for Alain de Royer-Dupre in 2008, while Jean-Claude Rouget's Qemah was a beaten favourite last year when runner-up to Mix And Mingle.

Hunaina has already made one trip to Britain this year, landing Kempton's Listed Snowdrop Stakes, but she will need to prove her effectiveness over turf, having won once from ten previous starts.

Louie bids to defy longest of layoffs

Winning a race as competitive as Ascot's totescoop6 Victoria Cup takes skill, and with a 29-runner field, no small amount of luck.

A 1,381-day absence would seem to make Louie De Palma's task almost insurmountable, but Clive Cox's six-year-old has not gone unbacked this week and is now the 7-1 second-favourite after starting the week at 16-1.

Big Ascot handicaps falling to horses returning off a long layoff is not unprecedented – Laddies Poker Two's Wokingham win in 2010 probably still makes some bookmakers wake up in a cold sweat – and Louie De Palma did show smart form when last seen in 2014.

He finished runner-up to the classy Ivawood in Goodwood's Group 2 Richmond Stakes, and Cox said of his returning runner's chances: "It's a huge ask for him – it will be jolly difficult and it’s undoubtedly a very hot race, but on his rating it looks a good race to start him in." 

Scotland is another runner on Ascot's card who will be sighted for the first time in a while as he returns from a 695-day absence in the Listed Carey Group Buckhounds Stakes.

The seven-year-old has a lot of placed form at a good level, and was second in this race two years ago. Trainer Andrew Balding said: "It's no secret he wants further than this trip and looks very well but will no doubt come on for the run."

New team bidding for Swinton success

At the start of the week it was announced that Donald McCain had appointed Brian Hughes to be his new number one jockey.

Hughes has hopes the move could enhance his chances of claiming a maiden jump jockeys' championship, and victory in Haydock's Grade 3 Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle would be a fine way to start the partnership.

Brian Hughes: new job with Donald McCain

Hopes rest with the tough and progressive Dear Sire, and McCain said: "Obviously he's going up the weights all the time and it's getting tougher for him but he's a wonderfully consistent little horse who's in great nick and I think fastish ground round Haydock will really suit him."

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He's bred for this and he's physically done really well. He's stronger and we're happy with him
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