The Group 3 Blue Square Winter Derby from Lingfield is the weekend highlight the biggest meeting on the all-weather calendar. The draw hasn’t been kind to the two ante-post market leaders Cai Shen (13) and Premio Loco (11) and it has to be said it doesn’t look a vintage renewal of the flat season’s winter flagship.
Junoob has been a revelation of late and has a good draw in stall 2 but in what looks a wide-open event the nod goes to Black Spirit (3.25) who is closely matched with Cai Shen on Doncaster running last autumn at the revised terms and is well housed in stall 6.
The selection has yet to prove he acts on polytrack but he goes well fresh and can reward each way support at 16/1 (1/4 first 3) with BetVictor.
Richard Hannon saddles two in the opening 10f maiden and both have chances but preference is for Hefner (1.50) who was just touched off at Newbury on his final start as a juvenile over a mile and promises to improve for the step up to 10f this term.
Bannock (2.25) would be something to bet on if it were not for his modest draw in the Spring Cup but he could be a class apart from his rivals having finished runner up in Group 2 company at Goodwood back in July; he didn’t go one as I expected but this looks an excellent starting point and if the excellent Joe Fanning can get him competitive from his high draw he has an outstanding chance.
Guineas entry Hazaz has the best form on offer in the mile maiden but there is a thought he may have been flattered to finish third in the Grade 3 Horris Hill and the once-raced Forgotten Hero showed distinct signs of promise on debut at Newmarket and this colt owned in partnership by Sir Alex Ferguson still holds an entry in the Derby.
There is a terrific jumps card at Newbury where Kentford Grey Lady is likely to be all the rage for the Mares’ Hurdle Final after finishing runner up in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but Florafern (2.40) despite running from 1lb out of the handicap is suggested as an each way alternative.
The selection had finished runner up in four of her previous six starts before breaking her maiden tag at Exeter last time and she has always been considered a decent prospect. This race is always ultra competitive and any number look as if they have been laid out for the race but Florafern gets the nod in a cracking renewal.
Nicky Henderson had a well-backed Bumper winner for us last weekend and I can pass on a good word for Snake Eyes (4.50) who is considered one of the better types in a yard full of starts and potential stars. In the colours of John Magnier AP McCoy takes the ride and connections will be disappointed if he doesn’t make a winning debut.
Imperial Leader (5.35) looked a sure-fire winner when chasing home The Romford Pele on debut and granted a modicum of improvement must go close in the Bangor finale. The winner has certainly franked the form running a cracker in the Festival Bumper and the Twiston-Davies runner must go close.
Mr Syntax (3.30) is dropped back down in trip at Kelso having failed to land a gamble at Newcastle last time having been collared on the run in. He would not want the ground to dry out too much and Time Out has won his last four and remains fairly-treated off only a 3lb higher mark but the selection remains lightly-raced and open to considerable improvement.