Standfirst Timeform’s John Ingles highlights three things to watch this weekend across the Curragh and Newcastle.
Zoffee Time at Newcastle on Saturday
Zoffee wasn’t rated highly enough to make the cut for last year’s Northumberland Plate but gained some sort of compensation by winning the consolation event, the Northumberland Vase. But with his British Horseracing Authority (BHA) mark having risen to 95 in the 12 months since, there’s no danger of him missing out on a run in the main prize this year, one which his trainer won three years ago with Caravan of Hope.
Zoffee has continued to run well since winning at Newcastle last year, making the frame in two of the other big staying handicaps, the Cesarewitch and Chester Cup. He was beaten only a neck at Chester, and ran at least as well in last week’s Ascot Stakes where he did well to finish as close as sixth after having to chart a very wide course from well back in the field. Calling The Wind and Law of The Sea, who ran well to finish ahead of him in second and fourth respectively at Ascot, could be among Zoffee’s rivals again.
Michael Bell has won the Northumberland Plate before with Juniper Girl though that was back when the race was run on turf. The surface is an unknown for his contender Adjuvant who won well at Newmarket last time and rarely runs a poor race but has yet to run on the all-weather. That’s not an issue for another couple of leading Newmarket contenders but both Post Impressionist and Omniscient will be bidding to win the Plate on their first runs of the season. That’s not necessarily a negative, however, as their shrewd trainers, William Haggas and Sir Mark Prescott, may have had this target in mind for some time given that both horses, progressive three-year-olds last year, ended their seasons on a winning note, Post Impressionist at York and Omniscient at Southwell.
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Auguste Rodin has Derby double date with destiny
The Irish Derby is back in a Sunday slot for the first time since 2011 with Auguste Rodin attempting to follow up his win at Epsom earlier this month. Aidan O’Brien has won the Irish Derby a record 14 times but, surprisingly perhaps, you have to go back to Australia in 2014 for the last Ballydoyle colt to complete the Derby double at Epsom and the Curragh. The only colt to win both races since was the Dermot Weld-trained Harzand two years later.
Auguste Rodin put a disappointing reappearance in the 2000 Guineas well and truly behind him when putting up a high-class performance over the extra half-mile at Epsom as he and runner-up King of Steel drew a long way clear of the rest. The second has franked the form since, by winning the King Edward VII Stakes, while the sixth Waipiro was also a winner at Royal Ascot last week.
That leaves the Derby third and fourth, White Birch and Sprewell, both also trained in Ireland, to take on Auguste Rodin again at the Curragh, and the connections of both colts are entitled to think they might at least get closer to the winner this time. Ballysax Stakes winner White Birch, also runner-up in the Dante at York, emerged with plenty of credit at Epsom as he was still last of all three furlongs out before staying on well, while Sprewell, winner of the Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown, was the only horse in the race to meet significant trouble but recovered well enough to be another keeping on at the finish.
Among potential new rivals for Auguste Rodin this time are Up And Under and Proud And Regal, who finished placed behind Sprewell at Leopardstown, and Salt Bay for Ralph Beckett who was successful last year with Westover. Salt Bay ran a promising third behind Proud And Regal in the Criterium International last season and can probably be forgiven a disappointing return at Newmarket but Sprewell could be the one to chase home Auguste Rodin with better luck in running.
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