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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Superb Flat action from Newmarket and Chantilly to lift us all to fever pitch

David Baxter sets the scene for part one of a dazzling weekend

Nelson, pictured winning a Group 3 at Leopardstown, bids to be another Ballydoyle ace in the Royal Lodge
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As the leaves change and fall, the jump racing fraternity have started clearing their throats off-stage, but for now some fantastic Flat racing remains front and centre with big race after big race to enthrall us on Saturday and Sunday.

Newmarket's Cambridgeshire meeting has already provided one name to conjure with through the winter, as Elarqam showed just what 1.6 million guineas gets you when making all in Thursday's Tattersalls Stakes.

Mark Johnston has a potential 2,000 Guineas contender, and once the Royal Lodge, Cheveley Park and Middle Park have all been run, there should be some more names to throw into the mix for next season's Classics.

Search for a star

With a bad scope ruling out Herculean, the Royal Lodge looks an open goal for Nelson, another possible star rolling off the Ballydoyle conveyor belt.

The colt has shaped like a potential Investec Derby contender with two wins over a mile, most recently when making all in a Leopardstown Group 3.

It could be another afternoon to remember for O'Brien, Ryan Moore and 'the lads' as, after Nelson, Clemmie is next into bat in the Cheveley Park.

Churchill's sister has improved with each start, and she was a comfortable winner of the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes when last seen at Newmarket's July meeting.

This promises to be a stiffer challenge as the field contains several dangers, including Lowther winner Threading and French challenger Different League, whose last trip to Britain brought Royal Ascot success in the Albany.

The final juvenile Group race on the card is the Middle Park, which features a rematch from the Phoenix Stakes, with Sioux Nation again taking on Beckford.

Throw in Unfortunately, who has been making hay in France for Karl Burke, Gimcrack hero Sands Of Mali plus Coventry winner Rajasinghe and you have all the ingredients of a corking Group 1.

A pair of red-hot handicaps

The headline news from the sales ring this week was Sheikh Mohammed's purchase of Galileo progeny from fellow superpower Coolmore, and this seismic shift in policy seems timely when looking at the weekend highlights.

There are no Godolphin-owned runners in any of the juvenile Group races at Newmarket, but they have a trio of chances in the Betfred Cambridgeshire. 

However, the prestigious handicap offers the platform for a smaller yard to shine, with the favourite Thundering Blue trained by David Menuisier and ridden by champion jockey Jim Crowley.

Formerly assistant to John Dunlop, Menuisier has enjoyed a fine second half of the season after a slow start and Thundering Blue comes into the race chasing a four-timer.

Big Country (Michael Appleby), Leader Writer (Henry Spiller) and Chelsea Lad (Martyn Meade) are other prominent contenders from yards for whom winning a Cambridgeshire would be a big deal.

The race has the second-biggest field of the entire year behind the Grand National, so for a punter to find the winner is a big deal too, as it will be at Haydock, where the artist formerly known as the Ayr Gold Cup is staged in a different guise after the unfortunate loss of last week's Western meeting.

Testing conditions await the field – at 17, smaller than it would have been at Ayr – but heavy ground will not inconvenience one of the runners rerouted from Ayr, Ice Age.

Like Thundering Blue, Ice Age is bidding for a fourth consecutive win and he would be providing trainer Eve Johnson Houghton with a major strike in what is already a career-best season.

French fancies in Paris

The domestic plate is piled high, but further top-class racing is ladled on from Chantilly over Arc weekend.

Big Orange, whose Gold Cup victory at Ascot is already etched in folklore, and Robin Of Navan, are the leading British Saturday contenders on a card that offers a tasty aperitif to Sunday's Arc-driven main course.

Big Orange: 'He's in very good form,' reports Michael Bell

Big Orange and Frankie Dettori take on Vazirabad and Christophe Soumillon in the Prix du Cadran, with the popular Michael Bell-trained horse seemingly in for another battle – he finished behind Vazirabad at Meydan in March and, surprisingly, the ground might not be too different.

Big Orange, Big Country, big races here, there and everywhere. To say Arc weekend begins with a bang seems almost to be putting it too mildly.

Saturday's Newmarket card, form and betting

Saturday's Chantilly card, form and betting

Read exclusive previews from 6pm daily on


Menuisier has enjoyed a fine second half of the season after a slow start, and Thundering Blue comes into the race chasing a four-timer
E.W. Terms
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