At this early stage of the Flat season it is all about perceived and possible improvement to come in the following six months or so on the turf.
I’ve mixed and matched high-brow horses with logical ante-post targets along with some less-exposed types to look out for.
1: RAINBOW HEART (William Haggas)
This regally bred filly, out of a Pivotal mare, looked all class on both her juvenile starts last season and following a promising staying on third in a Newmarket maiden over seven furlongs (second subsequently won) she opened her account at the second time of asking with a nonchalant eight length success in another 7f maiden at Headquarters.
The form of that race may not add up to an awful lot, but it was the way she travelled through the race that impressed me. Over a mile or more I fancy that she can make her mark in at least Listed company and probably higher. She is not entered in the Oaks, but if she makes giant strides this spring that position could always be rectified.
2: CROSS COUNTER (Charlie Appleby)
Six wins from just the nine starts in his career to date and this still improving stayer is the one stamina charge I want in my locker this year. With Stradivarius up against a bunch of better lung-bursters than last year, the Melbourne Cup winner is huge value to land the Ascot Gold Cup in June.
His comeback run in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan was arguably a 4lbs better performance than he produced at Flemington Park, with William Buick only needing to push him out hands and heels to saunter home.
The extra yardage at the Royal meeting will suit him down to the ground and his turn of foot at the end of a staying race is a huge weapon in his armoury.
He looks outstanding value for the Gold Cup.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) November 6, 2018
3: KING FAN (Mark Johnston)
I have heard that this speedy youngster has been impressing everyone at home through the early part of spring and is expected to land an early-season maiden before possibly contesting some of the better two-year-old contests.
It is interesting that Mark is now getting a good mix of longer-term staying bloodstock and matching that with some precocious sorts of which King Fan falls into the latter category.
4: MACKAAR (Roger Varian)
The master of Carlburg Stables has a number of youngsters entered in the Derby including the promising Apparate, the unraced Look Closely and the more experienced Three Comets, but this beautifully bred bay could well prove the pick of them.
The fact that all of his three runs have come on the all-weather is not a problem in my eyes, as that is now a given medium worth pursuing to educate a young horse.
Following a promising fourth at Kempton in November, he really impressed me with strong-finishing success over an extended 9f at Wolverhampton and then easily topped that performance on his three-year-old debut when landing a novice event over 1m 2f at Lingfield at the beginning of April.
On each occasion he has benefited from racing over further and it could actually be that 1m 4f will be a minimum for him this season when he steps up in class. Do I hear St Leger ringing in my ears? Well it’s a bold statement to make, but he could win a nice staying prize this summer and is certainly in good hands to make the most of his undoubted latent talent.
5 TEMPUS (Roger Charlton)
A half brother to Time Test, this once-raced colt has plenty going for him in his second season, under the master of slow-burner handlers.
The youngster took plenty of time to come to himself last year, but when he eventually reached the race track he looked more than a shade unlucky not to overhaul Star Safari in an extended one mile maiden at Nottingham.
A scopey and languid sort, he has reportedly wintered nicely and I will be surprised if we don’t see him on the edge of taking on the very best around towards the back end of summer.
6 NEW GRADUATE (James Tate)
I was at Thirsk last April when this athletic sort made his debut over a mile and I loved the way he stuck to the task, despite being plenty green enough, when second to the now 108-rated Zaaki.
He returned to the Yorkshire track to win a novice race and on his only subsequent start, second over a mile at Haydock Park, he absolutely hated the very deep ground at the Lancashire track.
The son of New Approach was due to make his four-year-old debut at Nottingham on Wednesday April 10th, but Tate pulled him out due to the drying ground. I suspect on good or good to soft turf he is well treated off a mark of 90 and I know that Tate feels he can make up into a top-class handicapper – if not more.
7 MANSFIELD (Stella Barclay)
So from the sublime to the slightly more ridiculous. This six-year-old is a totally exposed gelding, but one who looks primed to strike on the all-weather following several unlucky runs.
One career win from 28 starts, on the turf which came way back in August 2015 is hardly the recommendation you probably want for a flat horse to follow, but there are reasons to be cheerful about Mansfield.
Rated as high as 86 in 2016, he has gradually fallen down the handicap and has narrowly failed to win off marks in the mid to high 60’s when unlucky in the run.
Now down to 59, his turn is just around the corner and was third earlier this month to Mystical Moon at the Wolverhampton track where 6f is definitely his domain. His style of racing probably hinders his winning percentage, but I am firmly of the opinion that he will add to his hold-up style of solid runs with a couple of wins at the Dunstall Park track shortly.