Preview Of Today's Racing - 17th April
Breath Of Air sets the standard
Charlie Hills saddles Breath Of Air, the likely strong favourite, in the opening bet365 Handicap (1.50), a 6f sprint he won with Salt Island in 2015.
Breath Of Air, who will be ridden by Ryan Moore for the first time, signed off his first campaign last October with a third to San Donato in a Listed race at Doncaster.
That sets a good standard and, with the prospect of even better to come as a three-year-old, it would be no surprise if many punters latch onto the son of Bated Breath.
Hills said: "His work has been good all spring and this looks a good starting point."
Richard Hannon is represented by Moyassar, who has his first start since undergoing wind surgery, and dual juvenile scorer Naughty Rascal.
"Moyassar should be bang there," said Hannon. "He's done well for his winter break and will be aimed at some of the bigger sprints during the year.
"Naughty Rascal should be able to run in the first four. I've been happy with his progress over the winter."
Bet365 Wood Ditton Maiden Stakes
Hills on hunt for another success with Mutaraffa
The Wood Ditton once had a reputation for producing well-bred winners who did not progress as much as one might have anticipated.
That is no longer necessarily the case as Mukhadram, who was awarded the race on the disqualification of the Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained Mariner's Cross in 2012, went on to land the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse two years later.
Punters annually face a tough task in making a selection from a field full of unraced three-year-olds, and this year is no exception.
On paper the Roger Varian-trained UAE Jewel looks a likely type for the ITV4-televised race, and the son of Dubawi holds an entry in next month's Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.
Charlie Hills, a trainer who often does well at the Craven meeting, took the Wood Ditton with Ajraam in 2013.
He sends out Mutaraffa, the mount of Richard Kingscote, and Caesonia, who will be partnered by Jamie Spencer.
"Mutaraffa is a nice, big horse, and I'm sure he'll run a nice race," reported Hills.
"Caesonia works okay and I'm looking forward to getting her started too."
Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Chase
Can cheekpieces fire former festival winner?
Mister Whitaker was a ready winner of the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival and was widely fancied - especially when the rain arrived - for the Ultima five weeks ago.
However, the seven-year-old, owned by Tim Radford, failed to fire and was pulled up two out.
The cheekpieces, therefore, go on and trainer Mick Channon's son and assistant Jack said: "He ran below par at the festival and we felt his jumping wasn't as accurate as it can be.
"We've done a bit of schooling and decided to put on a pair of cheekpieces and it's sharpened up his work. He seems in good form and we're hopeful he can get back to where he was."
The going at Cheltenham was described on Tuesday as good, and Channon added: "I'd like to think they'll do a good job ensuring the ground's not too quick. Really quick ground wouldn't be ideal, but as long as it's good it should be fine."
Ground for hope for Gordon?
Just like Goldilocks and her porridge, Highway One O One wants the ground to be just right.
A fine second to subsequent Aintree winner Kildisart at Cheltenham in January, the seven-year-old was a well-beaten tenth in the Close Brothers at the festival, but the rain was a particular pain that day for Chris Gordon.
"He's in good order," said the trainer. "The festival went against us ground-wise. It bucketed down. He got headed after the third-last and I'd told Tom [Cannon, jockey] to be easy on him once his chance had gone."
Gordon does not want conditions too rapid, however.
"He didn't have a hard race there and I was looking forward to running him at Ascot a couple of weeks ago but the ground was a little on the quick side," he added.
"This meeting was plan B, and provided it's safe ground on the easy side of good he'll run.
"I'd be very positive about his chance. He was pushed up to a rating of 145 after festival trials day and that form has been franked with Kildisart winning at Aintree."
Will they go quick enough for Got Away?
Oliver Sherwood is another trainer who would prefer different ground, but he does not dismiss the claims of Got Away, who is aiming to give her Lambourn yard its 32nd winner of a productive campaign.
Successful at Leicester in February, the useful mare was a respectable third at Newbury last time and Sherwood, whose best tally since the 1990s was the 34 winners he enjoyed in 2013-14, said: "I'd like the ground to be softer, but she's won on this and I think she's definitely got a good chance.
"She had issues earlier in the season and kept on having poisoned feet, but we've always liked her and she had really good form in France.
"Physically she's much stronger and I'm dying to step up her in trip. If it was soft ground I'd be fancying her really strongly, but it's a stiff track and they'll go a gallop, so that will suit her."
What they say
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Wenyerreadyfreddie
He's in good form and he's a summer, good-ground horse, so he's had time off and is ready to come back. He beat Kildisart, who won at Aintree, at Ascot in November, which was good form. Last time at Newbury it was a bit of the ground and trip, and him saying he'd just done enough. He's had a rest and here we go again.
Kerry Lee, trainer of Tree Of Liberty and Kings Monarch
Tree Of Liberty is stepping back up to two and a half miles, which he won over at Musselburgh over hurdles, so I'm hoping - after running good races at Wetherby and in the Grand Annual under welter weights - that can help him. Kings Monarch has gone up in the weights after two wins in much lower grade than this, but he's progressive and I feel now's the time to have a crack at a race like this - he's for sale too! The ground will be okay for Kings Monarch. I'll be walking it for Tree Of Liberty, but I'm sure it will be fine for him as well.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Rene's Girl
We've kept her for this race after Aintree was so competitive, but this is a very competitive handicap, as it always is. It's her first run in a handicap over fences, so it'll be interesting to see how she gets on, but we're very happy with her and looking forward to it. The ground will be lovely for her, ideal.
Connaught Access Flooring Abernant Stakes
Brando has already been well backed to land this early-season Group 3, and it's not difficult to see why.
Winner of the race for the last two years, he boasts a 100 per cent record on the Rowley Mile, having also landed a sprint handicap at this meeting in 2016.
Trainer Kevin Ryan has made a happy habit of landing the Abernant - he also won it with Astaire in 2015 and Hamza in 2014 - and is seeking a fifth victory in the last six years.
A proven performer at the highest level - he won the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in 2017 - Brando has pleased connections in the build-up to his seasonal debut.
The trainer's son and assistant Adam Ryan said on Tuesday: "He's going for a hat-trick in the race, which is a big thing. It would mean a lot if he could do it.
"He's fit and well, and clearly enjoys going to Newmarket. There's something about the characteristics of the Newmarket tracks which bring out the best in him. He's also placed in two July Cups on the other course there."
Ryan added: "Brando is the one to beat on form, and we're very happy with him. He's a proven star. Everything has gone to plan.
"I imagine he'll take the same sort of route through the season as in previous years. It would be great if he could win a Group 1 in Britain this season. He's gone agonisingly close before and surely deserves to win one."
The 116-rated Brando, owned by Angie Bailey, is 6lb superior to nearest market rivals Dreamfield, Yafta and Gifted Master based on official marks. Regular partner Tom Eaves is in the saddle.
What they say
James Doyle, rider of Dreamfield
I haven't sat on him this year but the trip and ground should be fine for him and we know he handles the track as he won on the Rowley Mile as a two-year-old. He's a speedy horse and this looks a good starting point for him.
Charlie Hills, trainer of Equilateral
He's a big price but I've been very happy with his progress since Doncaster.
Tim Pinfield, trainer of Sir Thomas Gresham
He's relatively unexposed and is at a point in his career where we need to take a chance in a race like this. He ran better at Lingfield than his finishing position suggests, and there were reasons why he didn't perform to his best at Wolverhampton. It's a tough race and there are some really good horses in there, but Sir Thomas Gresham is in really good shape and we'll give it a go.
Richard Hannon, trainer of Yafta
He's been a yard favourite for a long time and has come back better again this year. He managed to bag a Group 3 last year, and I don't see any reason why he shouldn't do the same again. Brando deserves to be favourite, but if Yafta can run up to his form at Newbury last year he should be very competitive.
Bet365 Craven Stakes
Can Zakouski follow in Masar's footsteps?
With just over two weeks until the first British Classic of the season, pointers on who could be primed for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas have been in short supply.
Too Darn Hot was forced to miss his intended reappearance in last weekend's Greenham, while Aidan O'Brien's leading hopes, Ten Sovereigns and Magna Grecia, have also remained at home rather than take in a trial.
As late an Easter as there can be in the calendar has left the Craven meeting sneaking in from stage left this year, with the three-day fixture's highlight unusually taking place on a Wednesday, although it will revert to Thursday next year.
Of the leading Guineas contenders, Zakouski, who is fourth in the betting behind Too Darn Hot, is the first to put his head above the parapet on what will be only his second start.
Winner of a Kempton novice in November, the son of Shamardal has been increasingly popular in the ante-post market in recent weeks and is now a 7-1 shot for the Guineas.
Trainer Charlie Appleby, who sent out Masar to win the Craven last year en route to a memorable success in the Derby, said: "Zakouski was a backward type last year and we gave him plenty of time, but he ran very well on his only start.
"This is a fact-finding mission and we'll know a lot more about which route to take with him following this race."
Can Bin Suroor and Soumillon do it again?
Saeed Bin Suroor's appreciation of Christophe Soumillon is well-documented, and the pair teamed up on one of racing's biggest stages last month to capture the Dubai World Cup with Thunder Snow.
Bin Suroor has turned to Soumillon again, with the jockey partnering last season's Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Royal Marine.
Soumillon has not ridden on the Rowley Mile in the last five seasons but will be kept busy with four rides on Wednesday's card, all for Bin Suroor and Godolphin.
A return to turf should help Royal Marine, who failed to fire at Meydan in January, and Bin Suroor said: "Royal Marine didn't enjoy racing on dirt in Dubai but has been doing really at home and has been working well.
"He prefers easy ground but is in good form and ready to go."
Will Skardu remain unbeaten for Haggas?
Five of the nine-strong field are bringing unblemished records into battle, including Skardu, who was a surprise 33-1 winner on debut at the track over seven furlongs last September.
His odds for success in the Craven are appreciably shorter and trainer William Haggas said: "Skardu has done well over the winter, I'm very happy with him. All he's done so far is win a maiden, which I wasn't expecting, but he won easily in a good time against a good field.
"He's come to hand a bit quicker than I expected - a month ago I didn't think he'd be ready for the Craven, but the dry weather and dry ground has helped him. He'll come on for what he does - it's a trial for a better race."
Can Set Piece translate all-weather form to turf?
Hugo Palmer tasted 2,000 Guineas glory in 2016 with Galileo Gold, and his main hope for the race this year is Set Piece, unbeaten in two all-weather starts.
Enable and Jack Hobbs have highlighted how high-class horses can start off on the all-weather before moving on to bigger things, and Set Piece looked good when winning at Kempton and Newcastle over the winter.
Palmer said: "He's done nothing wrong. He's got a beautiful pedigree and is unbeaten. This is a trial. He'll learn a lot, and so will we."
What they say
Gay Kelleway, trainer of Global Spectrum
It's a tough ask but Gerald Mosse tells me the horse has improved from Qatar and is good enough to hold his own in this sort of race. His main aim is the French Guineas but we'll have a crack, and the fast ground will not be a problem.
Tom Dascombe, trainer of Jackstar
We've always really liked him. He had a blowout at Wolverhampton to get his eye back in. I'm sure he'll hold his own and hopefully won't be too far off.
Richard Hannon, trainer of Watan
He's done really well over the winter and has strengthened up in all the right places. He was still a big baby last year and I feel he's matured a lot. This looks the ideal starting point, and looking at his run in the Acomb that will give him a solid chance here. He'll come on for the run but all being well can put himself among the Classic possibles.
Martyn Meade, trainer of Confiding
He has been off a long time and it is a tough ask. He will benefit from the run and this will show us where we are with him.
Thanks to www.racingpost.com/racecards for the information