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Questions answered: big views on the hot topics and key races

Ribchester (left) and runner-up Lightning Spear make full use of the Newbury track in the Lockinge
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With trials season at an end, who’s your fancy for the Derby?

Michael Halford, trainer
It’s looking as if Churchill will be going for the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Saturday, in which case I’d be leaning towards Cracksman as the most likely Derby winner. Cliffs Of Moher would look the pick of the Ballydoyle runners.

Laura King, presenter
Nothing really stands out for me in an underwhelming year but I quite like the likely Ballydoyle second string Venice Beach. He’s not flashy but he might not need to be. Permian has proven he likes the course and is as tough as anything – he’ll be underestimated again, despite having won the best trial.

Luke Morris, jockey
I like Cliffs Of Moher – I can see him improving from Chester. That experience will have done him the world of good mentally and, in the absence of Churchill, he looks the strongest of the Aidan O’Brien battalion and the most likely winner.

Alan Reilly, BoyleSports odds compiler
With Churchill seemingly sticking at a mile the old adage about Classic form in a Classic is left with Eminent, who must put a poor Guineas run behind him. If anything the picture is cloudier than before the trials, but from a layer’s point of view that’s a positive and the prospect of a competitive Derby will elevate the race back among the top turnover races of the year.

Simon Sweeting, Overbury Stud manager
I’m sure Cracksman would have benefitted from another run but at least he was in a close race at Epsom and has experience of the course. Provided he stays he should still hold Permian, and I think he will. Pivotal is Cracksman’s damsire and also of last year’s St Leger winner Harbour Law, so stamina should be no concern.

And what about for the Oaks?

Michael Halford, trainer
I think Rhododendron will be hard to beat. She was a high-class Group 1-winning two-year-old and her run in the 1,000 Guineas had Oaks written all over it. She’s bound to improve and the trip should be fine for her.

Laura King, presenter
Notwithstanding Rhododendron’s good Oaks trial in the Guineas, it’s hard to look beyond the Gosden yard. Enable won well at Chester and obviously stamina shouldn’t be an issue so she might be the one. I think it’s very much the right decision to send Shutter Speed to France; she looks a mile-and-a-quarter filly to me.

Luke Morris, jockey
Rhododendron is likely to improve for the step up in trip but I liked the John Gosden filly who won the Cheshire Oaks, Enable. She is a typical improving Khalid Abdullah filly, and having proved herself round Chester she should handle the track fine. 

Alan Reilly, BoyleSports odds compiler
This looks a lot more straightforward with Rhododendron a warm order to go one better than at Newmarket as her Guineas-winning stablemate Winter is more likely to contest the Irish Guineas. Although well held, Rhododendron is most likely to improve at the trip as she was just finding her feet at Newmarket.

Simon Sweeting, Overbury Stud manager
Rhododendron, whose damsire is also Pivotal.

What did you make of the Lockinge?

Michael Halford, trainer
I thought it was a good performance by Ribchester, making all to win by almost four lengths. He stamped his class on the race and proved how good he is. Galileo Gold might not have been at his best but Ribchester is the best four-year-old about at around a mile.

Laura King, presenter
I thought it was a good renewal won by a horse who can really dominate the mile division this summer. That said, we definitely didn’t see Galileo Gold at his best, but even so I think Ribchester has his measure and the fact they can go forward with him now is another plus. I hope the Queen Anne doesn’t come too soon for him.

Luke Morris, jockey
I thought Ribchester looked very good. It was good to see him relax in front after being a bit fresh and keen in Dubai. He looks one of the best milers about and it would be an exciting clash with Churchill if they met in the Sussex Stakes later in the year.

All smiles: William Buick can’t hide his delight after Ribchester's big-race win
Alan Reilly, BoyleSports odds compiler
We took a very positive view of the race. The winner was so impressive, who is going to beat him in the Queen Anne Stakes? On face value our 5-4 for Ascot looks short, but when you look down the possible field it’s hard to imagine anything other than Lightning Spear, who can improve for the run, representing any danger.

Simon Sweeting, Overbury Stud manager
Having to make his own running shows what a versatile horse Ribchester is, as well as being high-class and consistent. I love his sire Iffraaj, who can get top-class horses at an affordable stud fee (so far!).

Who caught your eye at the Dante meeting?

Michael Halford, trainer
Considering the slow ground was all against her, I thought Shutter Speed did the job well when retaining her unbeaten record in the Musidora despite racing a bit keenly. The Prix de Diane is next for her and she looks a Group 1 filly.

Laura King, presenter
Simple Verse did all but win the Yorkshire Cup and surely has a future in these staying events. It would be wonderful to see her win the Gold Cup at Ascot and if the likes of Vazirabad stay away there’s no reason why she can’t.

Luke Morris, jockey
I was taken by Crystal Ocean, who seems to have a similar profile to Mirage Dancer, who I also like. He is a typical Sir Michael Stoute horse, one he will take his time with and who will come good in the end. I’m not surprised they are looking beyond Epsom because he is going to improve as the year goes on and be even better next year.

Alan Reilly, BoyleSports odds compiler
Crystal Ocean’s run in the Dante was very eyecatching. A big mover in the Derby market, it was quite evident that the hype could be well-founded. He will improve greatly for that and the King Edward VII Stakes looks a likely target for his trainer Sir Michael Stoute, who has such a terrific record at the royal meeting.

Simon Sweeting, Overbury Stud manager
I was very impressed with Dartmouth. He was brave and given a brilliant ride. It was as good a Yorkshire Cup as I can remember. I hope he wins at Royal Ascot, whether it is the Hardwicke or the Gold Cup.

Which two-year-olds have impressed you so far this season?

Michael Halford, trainer
Top of the list has to be Jessica Harrington’s filly Alpha Centauri. I was very impressed by her when she won her maiden on debut at Naas and even more impressed when she went back there [on Sunday] and won the Listed Coolmore Fillies’ Sprint very easily by five lengths. She looks very special.

Laura King, presenter
I was hugely impressed with Michael Bell’s Main Desire in the Listed Marygate Stakes and his comments afterwards were even more illuminating. She’ll have a big chance in the Queen Mary – although Wesley Ward is bound to have a say too.

Main Desire: fractured a hind cannon on Monday morning
Luke Morris, jockey
Corinthia Knight looked very good on his first two starts and the horse who beat him at Ascot, Frozen Angel, clearly improved a lot from his first run. Frozen Angel is a beautifully bred son of Dark Angel. He looked very good at Ascot and will have a solid chance in either the Norfolk or Coventry.

Alan Reilly, BoyleSports odds compiler
The obvious one so far is Main Desire, who fairly bolted up at York and her trainer says she’ll be better on a sounder surface. The Queen Mary looks her next target. Aidan O’Brien’s Storm Cat colt Declarationofpeace was highly impressive at Dundalk a few weeks back and might be a Coventry horse.

Simon Sweeting, Overbury Stud manager
Neola won very impressively at Nottingham on good ground ten days ago. She was beaten at York but the soft ground may not have helped. Being by Foxwedge, out of a Sixties Icon mare, she should keep improving.

Pricewise is tackling the Gold Cup tomorrow, who’s your pick?

Michael Halford, trainer
Last year’s winner Order Of St George has been beaten a few times when well fancied but if he’s on top of his game then he’ll have a big chance. I have a lot of respect for Vazirabad, who has won the last two runnings of the Dubai Gold Cup in addition to winning the Prix Royal-Oak last year and I won’t be surprised if he comes out on top.

Laura King, presenter
If he comes over, then Vazirabad would be the one to beat. He looked better than ever when winning the Dubai Gold Cup and stays forever. He’s pretty ground-versatile too. If he doesn’t travel then Simple Verse must be taken very seriously.

Luke Morris, jockey
If Order Of St George comes into the race in the same form as last year he will take all the beating. Vazirabad is a high-class stayer. Christophe Soumillon seems to have the knack of riding him as he has to be delivered very late. He is slightly a hostage to fortune but the race could be between those two.

Alan Reilly, BoyleSports odds compiler
It was a satisfactory return for Order St George in the Vintage Crop at Navan and it will be difficult to stop him completing the double next month. However, I thought Simple Verse ran a cracker at York and her trainer has made no secret of his belief that she will stay at Ascot. Any double-figure price available represents good each-way value.

Simon Sweeting, Overbury Stud manager
Simple Verse from Order Of St George, assuming Dartmouth runs in the Hardwicke.

Ribchester looks one of the best milers about and it would be an exciting clash with Churchill if they met in the Sussex Stakes
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