2.25 Sandown

bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes (Group 3) ' 1m2f, 4yo+ ' ITV4/RTV

Can Stoute's ninth winner becomes his tenth?

Nobody is better at getting the best from horses as they get older than Sir Michael Stoute, and you have only to look at the ten-time champion trainer's record in this race to see that.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Stoute is into his 47th year as a trainer and has used this contest as a springboard for numerous top-class performers such as Singspiel (1995), Ask (2008) and Ulysses (2017), to go on to greater things as they have matured and reached their physical peak.

Last year Crystal Ocean became Stoute's ninth winner of this race when touching off Fabricate, who reopposes, and he took his form to a new level with subsequent success in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot and second-place finishes in the Champion Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, in which he was beaten by his year-older stablemate Poet's Word.

Owned and bred by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, Crystal Ocean escapes a 5lb penalty for his Ascot Group 2 victory and reunites with Ryan Moore - who has been beaten only once in five rides on the five-year-old - for the first time since June.

Can Trais Fluors stay the distance?

Andre Fabre, himself no stranger to big-race success with older horses, is using this early season contest to experiment with Trais Fluors.

The five-year-old, owned and bred by Andreas Putsch, has enjoyed back-to-back wins on the all-weather, and Fabre is hoping the step up in trip can open new avenues.

"He hasn't run many bad races and is a good, consistent horse," said the trainer. "The distance is a question mark, especially at a course like Sandown with its uphill finish, but we'll have an answer, and if he stays it opens up some doors.

"He's now five so he has strengthened a lot, he's in good shape and will run well."

Is there still more to come from Thundering Blue?

This time last year Thundering Blue was being beaten in a handicap at Epsom off a rating of 93, yet by the end of the year he was just touched off in a Grade 1 in Canada having earned a huge number of fans along the way.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

The six-year-old, pride and joy of trainer David Menuisier and enthusiastic owner Clive Washbourn, was a revelation last season. He gained victories in the Group 2 York Stakes and Group 3 Stockholm Cup, as well as finishing second in the Woodbine International and third in the Juddmonte International.

Andrea Atzeni is back in the saddle for this reappearance run after Fran Berry, the third key member of last year's journey, retired this month due to injury.

Menuisier said: "We're very pleased with Thundering Blue. He had a good break over the winter and he's as good as he's ever been in the mornings.

"He likes Sandown and we're going there to try and win, but this is very much a starting point. He'll improve for the run, but we're looking forward to it."

What they say

Roger Charlton, trainer of Extra Elusive

He settled well last time and stayed on nicely to the line, so I was pleased with him. He needs to step up considerably again on what he's done, but he's in good order and I think the track will suit him.

Michael Bell, trainer of Fabricate

He just got chinned in the race last year and he's a wonderful old horse to have. Hopefully going back to Sandown he can put in another good run for Her Majesty.

Harry Dunlop, trainer of Knight To Behold

He's in good form and doesn't have to carry a penalty for his Group 2 win in France last season. I'm pleased to see some rain around. He enjoyed making the running when he won in France and we hope he's a stronger horse this year. It's a tough race but it will be a good pointer as to where we go for the rest of the year.

Andrew Balding, trainer of Pivione

Historically he's needed a run or two to put him straight so he'll improve for his run at Chelmsford. I'm hoping he could develop into a stakes horse as the season goes on.

3.00 Sandown

bet365 Classic Trial (Group 3) ' 1m2f, 3yo ' ITV4/RTV

Can Bangkok show he's the right type for Epsom?

Silvestre de Sousa has proved an instant hit in his new role as retained rider for King Power Racing, and connections will be hoping they have a live contender for the Investec Derby in Bangkok.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

De Sousa and Bangkok's trainer Andrew Balding have made a fast start to 2019, with the jockey already having 11 winners from 19 rides in the King Power colours before racing at Chelmsford on Thursday night, the bulk of which have come for Balding.

Commenting on his flying form, De Sousa said on Thursday: "The horses are running well and you're only as good as the horses you ride. The trainers are working hard and the horses are performing."

Fox Power, Bye Bye Hong Kong and Shine So Bight have been among those performing particularly well this spring for an operation which lost its founder, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was also chairman of Leicester City, in a helicopter crash in October.

His son Aiyawatt has taken over the reins, and the blue and white silks have become one of the most familiar and successful sights on the racecourse.

Although winless in three starts as a juvenile, Bangkok achieved a strong level of form finishing behind Prince Eiji, who was due to reoppose but became a non-runner on Thursday, and Feilden Stakes winner Kick On.

Bangkok started off this season in a maiden at Doncaster rather than exploiting an opening mark of 88 and ran out an easy winner by a length and a quarter.

That race has worked out well, with runner-up Telecaster dotting up by nine lengths at Windsor and now under consideration for the Dante.

Bangkok is a general 33-1 shot for the Derby, and De Sousa, who has high hopes for the colt, added: "He's a nice, improving horse. With improvement I think he could do something special."

Will John Gosden triumph again?

John Gosden has a fine record in this race with four wins since 2010, and is bidding for a hat-trick following Cunco and Sevenna Star's victories in 2017 and 2018.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Of those four winners, Western Hymn fared best in the Derby, finishing sixth at Epsom in 2014, and this season Gosden has two contenders for Sandown's trial.

Chelmsford debut winner Alfaatik is the least exposed runner in the line-up, while Travel On also comes into the race off the back of an all-weather win at Lingfield last month.

Gosden said of the duo: "Both are nice staying colts with progressive profiles. Alfaatik ran down our Pianissimo at Chelmsford on his debut over this trip when doing all his best work at the end. He's short on experience and has yet to run on grass but has been working nicely.

"Travel On won well at Lingfield the other day and ran some nice races on turf last year, and has pleased since."

Can Technician build on Leicester win?

There was a lot to like about Technician's seasonal reappearance at Leicester earlier in the month, and among those to take note were US-based owners Team Valor, who subsequently purchased the colt.

Trainer Martyn Meade holds Technician in high regard and is excited to see how the son of Mastercraftsman performs in better company.

"He's raring to go and has thrived since Leicester," Meade said. "The little bit of rain we've had in the last couple of days will suit as it will have taken any sting out of the ground.

"I think Sandown will suit as it's fairly stiff and we want to make sure he easily gets the mile and a quarter on a stiffer track. We'll have to see how he goes."

Could Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds have a Classic contender?

A runner in the Derby would be a big deal for Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, who have operated successful syndicates for more than 30 years.

Their hopes rest with Persian Moon, who is the most experienced runner in the field with seven starts at two.

He signed off his juvenile campaign with a win at Epsom, so connections know he handles the unique track, and Friday's race will indicate whether he could be in line for a return to the venue in June.

Sam Hoskins, representing the owners, said: "He's out of a High Chaparral mare so the step up in trip should suit. He's done well over the winter but we know it won't be an easy task.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

"Hopefully he can run a nice race and tell us where we're going for the rest of the season."

3.35 Sandown

bet365 Mile (Group 2) ' 4yo+ ' 1m ' ITV4/RTV

Sharja Bridge 'needs career best'

The urge not to get too carried away with early-season form runs head-long into the seduction of a visually very impressive recent performance at Doncaster from Sharja Bridge.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Sheikh Obaid's lightly raced five-year-old rounded off his 2018 campaign with success in the Balmoral Handicap on Champions Day at Ascot, and he showed every sign of having progressed again when travelling strongly through his Listed return to action, putting away his rivals in the Doncaster Mile with a degree of authority.

While he still has 6lb to find with top-rated Addeybb - winner of this race 12 months ago off an even bigger leap up the ladder, having previously won the Lincoln - Roger Varian has restricted Sharja Bridge to just ten starts.

"We're looking forward to the race as he's in great form and has trained well since Doncaster," said Varian, whose team are operating with a 22 per cent strike-rate this season.

"He'll need a career best but looks like he's ready for this grade. We'll have to see whether he's good enough to win but I'm very pleased with his training and his preparation."

While several of his rival trainers will be looking anxiously to the skies, Varian is relaxed about underfoot conditions for Sharja Bridge.

"He's versatile and, while it's not often they're uncomplicated, he appears to be," he said. "If I had the choice I'd prefer a drop of rain, but if it doesn't come he's run perfectly well on good to firm before."

Rain a must for Addeybb and Mitchum Swagger

Last year's record temperatures and lack of rainfall were a constant thorn in the side of William Haggas when it came to campaigning Addeybb, who won this race stylishly but was restricted to just two more turf starts for the rest of the year.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Haggas said: "He's desperate for rain. He's ready to go, and has been for a while, but there are only a certain races he can run in and it hasn't been conducive for soft-ground horses so far.

"The only meeting where it's been really soft was at Newbury and there wasn't a race for him. He won't run unless the word soft appears somewhere in the going description."

Facing a similar dilemma is Ralph Beckett, who picked up the Listed Ben Marshall Stakes with Mitchum Swagger at Newmarket last November and backed up that performance when beating all bar Kourkan at Saint-Cloud on heavy ground three weeks later.

"I'm not sure anyone knows what's going to happen with the weather," said Beckett. "He's working well and I want to run him but he's ground dependent."

What they say

Silvestre de Sousa, rider of Beat The Bank

I spoke to Andrew [Balding] the other day and he's hopeful he'll run a big race.

Richard Hannon, trainer of Oh This Is Us

He gained his 12th success last week at Lingfield and is better than ever. This looks like another nice opportunity for him to get involved at Group company. He's fit and well and should be right there at the finish. He loves his racing and it would be fantastic if he managed to bag a Group race one day.

Chris Richardson, racing manager for Cheveley Park, owners of Regal Reality

The combination of a tough race on heavy ground at Haydock that wasn't suitable, and then perhaps rushing him back a little for Newmarket, means we're pretty confident his last two performances weren't a real reflection of his ability. He's had a relatively straightforward preparation this spring and this looks a good starting point, although it's quite possible he might need a bit further in due course.

David O'Meara, trainer of Suedois

It's a good race and he can often improve for his first run, but he's had a good preparation.

Preview from www.racingpost.com/racecards

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