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Monday, 21 January, 2019

No reason to get left in the starting stalls on the Flat

David Carr casts his eye over the plethora of 2018 previews now on the market

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When I was a young(er) man at Timeform, there was a famous TV racing presenter who apparently regarded our products as an anathema.

Not that he had anything against us personally up in Halifax, striving at the coalface and trying to chisel out the winners. Rather, he regarded what we were doing as something that anyone with a pair of binoculars and something between their ears could do for themselves – golden nuggets of information gleaned from watching and interpreting races were supposedly for acting upon rather than sharing.

Heaven knows what he’d think were he to pass a modern racing bookstall weighed down with guides offering the inside track on 2018. In spring a publisher’s fancy certainly turns to thoughts of winners and there seem almost as many guides to the Flat season as there were British winners at Cheltenham – not Irish, obviously: no market could be that flooded.

Of course, as at the festival, you can only truly separate the insight from the waffle when you see the results. But the dark horses are certainly out there, even in this information age.

This time last year Enable, Cracksman and Battaash, who ended 2017 as three of the top six horses in the British Isles on Racing Post Ratings, had two wins in Newcastle maidens and one in a Bath novice event between them.

And there’s no better way to get yourself ready for what’s to come than immersing yourself in this little lot. Whatever Julian Wilson might have said . . .

100 Winners: Horses To Follow - Flat 2018 
Published by Raceform £5.99

Just about the simplest idea in publishing, the aim of 100 Winners is to offer exactly that. The list is slanted towards three-year-olds and, having included Enable and Cracksman in 2017, it leans heavily on their trainer John Gosden plus Aidan O’Brien, who between them provide more than a third of the chosen 100. Decisive judgements range from "it’s hard to see her being beaten in the 1,000 Guineas" and "looks made for a major sprint handicap" while the write-up on one potential top-notcher concludes with the intriguing words: "Buckle up for an exciting ride".

Well-Handicapped Three-Year-Olds 2018 by Jon Gibby Raceform, £7.99

Another simple and effective concept and another book that provides just what it says on the cover. Jon Gibby writes up a reassuringly precise 68 well-treated three-year-olds – no including a few duffers to up the list to a round number – in a collection that has already provided winners for early buyers. That suggests there's gold in these pages, as well as the identity of the third-season trainer who is one of just six men with a strike-rate of better than one-in-five with three-year-old handicappers.

Racing & Football Outlook Flat Racing Guide 2018
Raceform 2018, £10.99

A more encyclopaedic offering, right down to the individual course guides and oft-underestimated fixture list – not everyone has a racing diary or access to the racing admin website. A comprehensive review of the Group 1 and top two-year-old races of 2017 offers pointers to the future as well as providing a historical record, as do breakdowns of the top trainers’ statistics and analyses of what it takes to win each big race. But the USP is probably the individual RFO tipsters' guides to the upcoming season, together with horses to follow and analysis of the Classic picture. Any book that chooses pair-on-the-up Iain Jardine and Richard Spencer – look out for the unraced Derby entry he insists "could be very good" – as its trainers to profile is clearly looking to the future.

Racing Post Guide To The Flat 2018 
Racing Post, £12.99

Less encyclopaedic in approach than the RFO version, with no fixture list or course guides, the Racing Post Guide is all about finding this season's winners. Many of the Post's team of writers make an appearance and editor David Dew's selection policy has them playing to their strengths. So Nicholas Godfrey – who else? – assesses the international challengers who could run in Britain this year and Richard Birch highlights half a dozen horses to follow at his beloved Brighton. Dylan Hill's analyses the season's 'key horses' while in-depth rundowns with nine trainers offer plenty of pointers for the season. Adding the progressive Scot Keith Dalgleish to the more familiar names shows this is not a feature resting on its laurels.

Mark Howard's Ahead On The Flat 2018 
Mark Howard Publications, £9.99

It's been a miserable winter in the north of England but there's one corner of Lancashire where it's been spring for a while. Mark Howard has been burning the midnight form books and video replays in Kirkby Lonsdale to compile Ahead On The Flat – a book that ITV's Ed Chamberlin calls "the best value Flat annual on the market" in his introduction. It features comprehensive interviews with ten trainers clearly chosen for their likely profitability to follow and its various well-considered sections include an unabashed write-up on 'Stable Gossip'. But Howard's real insight comes in his Top 40 prospects for 2018 – look out for the unplaced three-year-olds described as "very much one to follow", "a smashing long-term prospect" and "a top-class handicapper in the making, at least".

Timeform Horses To Follow 2018 Flat Season
Timeform Limited, £9.95

The team in Halifax are still doing their best to spread the word to those who actually have to work for a living. This traditional 50 to follow contains the usual mix of dark horses and potential champions, and the ten selected for special consideration include a strangely neglected Classic candidate from a less-than-obvious yard who "is sure to have plenty more to offer". That was all you got for your money in my day but the work-rate has clearly increased since then and this book also offers incisive analysis of last season's most significant two-year-old races, chats with several top trainers and a focus on the likely rising stars of 2018. And even if none of his predictions come to pass, Jamie Lynch's inimitable writing style makes his guide to the Classics, with walk-on parts for Bruce Willis and Madness, the usual joy to read.

Click here to purchase these titles on the Racing Post website


Decisive judgements range from 'it’s hard to see her being beaten in the 1,000 Guineas' and 'looks made for a major sprint handicap'
E.W. Terms
Sky bet