Wednesday, 22 April 2009

April Racing Returns to Epsom

Today’s Blue Riband Trial at Epsom is unlikely to present the future Derby winner (not least because some of the major contenders for Britain’s classic aren’t seriously tested before gracing the Epsom turf in June), but it’s nevertheless nice to see this traditional race and raceday return after a one-year hiatus.

2007 winner Raincoats didn’t look too bad finishing second in the Dante Stakes (England’s most meaningful Derby trial), but couldn’t make an impression when subsequently running in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby). 2006 winner Before You Go finished in the bottom half of the Derby, as did 2003 winner Franklin Gardens. The race has stopped being a true Derby Trial a while ago, a major reason for this being the minimal number of starters. The last five runnings attracted a total of 20 entrants, the most crowded edition being in 2005, with five horses.

In light of this, the field of seven assembled for today’s race is actually good news, especially since there are a few promising ones among them. Most intriguing is Hamdan-Al-Maktoum-owned Mustaqer, who was a good runner up when making his debut in a Listed race last August but looked very green in his two attempts after that, even though he won one of them. He’s a horse that needed maturing and should return much improved for his 3yo campaign. Today’s 10-furlong distance will help, too. He’s 7-2 with the bookies, and definitely worth choosing over Debussy, whose status as a favorite is based on a 9-lenght romp in a Maiden race over Lingfield’s polytrack.

Also carded are two historic feature handicaps, the 15K (pounds, of course) Class 3 Great Metropolitan over the full lenght of Epsom's weird Derby course and the 50K Class 2 City & Suburban over 10 furlongs. To emphasize exactly how historic, suffice it to say that these are the namesakes for Belmont’s Metropolitan and Suburban Handicaps.

Btw, isn’t it interesting that the centuries-old Great Metropolitan doesn’t carry Heritage Handicap status, but the Stakes (a Kempton polytrack handicap first run last October) does?

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