Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's major races
Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's major races

Alex Hammond column: Weekend racing preview

Our columnist looks back on a brilliant weekend of action and ahead to the Ayr Gold Cup where she has a shortlist of three.

It was wonderful to be at Doncaster last week for the Leger meeting and even better to soak up the atmosphere from the enthusiastic crowd.

Saturday’s noise levels built to a crescendo by the time the Cazoo St Leger was run and the victory for hot favourite Hurricane Lane meant that the Sky Sports Racing crew struggled to hear each other over the noise!

It was a nice problem to have. Hurricane Lane looked like a monster in the paddock beforehand and has that real X-Factor. Some horses have presence, and he is one such horse, I’m sure he knows he’s a star. The way he powered away from his rivals was a sight to behold and the roar from the Doncaster crowd made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

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Hurricane Lane is no plodder that’s for sure and has thrown his hat into the ring for a tilt at the Arc, alongside his stablemate and Derby winner Adayar. The latter is 7/2 second favourite with Sky Bet for the race with Hurricane Lane next up in the market at 11/2.

There was plenty to take out of the weekend, but the one I’m sticking with for the ParisLongchamp spectacular is Tarnawa who looked unlucky not to beat St Mark’s Basilica in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

She was carried across the track by the winner and beaten less than a length. The step back up to a mile-and-a-half in October will suit her well and she remains my (& Sky Bet’s 5/2) firm favourite for the autumn showpiece.

St Mark's Basilica gets the better of Tarnawa
St Mark's Basilica gets the better of Tarnawa

Back to Doncaster and it’s possible the crowd noise was amplified because the last 18 months have been largely silent and those working on racecourses have had to create their own buzz for the winners, from the handful of us that were lucky enough to be on track.

There have been many challenges thrown up during the pandemic, but on a personal note one silly administrative issue cropped up for me this week. It’s incredibly minor in the big scheme of things but looking forward to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and my upcoming trip to Paris to cover the action for Sky Sports I decided to check my passport.

To my horror there is only five months left on it before it expires, and France require six. I still don’t see the point in this, surely an expiry date is an expiry date. Anyway, I’ve sent off for a new one and keeping everything crossed it’s back in time. Wish me luck that it falls into the lap of an efficient administrator. Any suggestions that might help, feel free to let me know!

On to this weekend and the action is much closer to home with superb cards from Ayr and Newbury.

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Newbury’s feature is the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes where there are some smart juvenile colts, and possibly fillies, ready to take on this Group Two test.

Dhabab is a worthy favourite for John and Thady Gosden with three runs that have yielded a win in a Leicester maiden, an unlucky not to finish closer sixth in the Coventry at Royal Ascot and a third to subsequent National Stakes winner Native Trail in the seven-furlong Superlative Stakes at Newmarket. That trip just stretched him.

So, Saturday’s six-furlong test will suit well. He’s going to take some beating, but at 5/2 favourite with Sky Bet, I’m more inclined to side with the William Haggas-trained Maglev who is 7/1 at the time of writing.

He has finished second on his two most recent starts and met trouble on both occasions. He was runner-up to Harrow last time out in a York nursery and that horse franked the form at Doncaster last week with an impressive win in their valuable sales race.

Jockey arrangements won’t be firmed up until declaration time, but it looks like regular rider Tom Marquand may be going to Ayr on Saturday (Addeybb is entered both there and at Newbury), so Ryan Moore is jocked up on Maglev. Happy days.

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Ayr host their annual cavalry charge that is the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday, plus it’s two consolation races. Ed Walker’s Great Ambassador has been well supported for the feature race and is now 11/2 favourite, but with 25 runners to contend with, it’s best to look for some each-way value with Sky Bet already paying five places.

Haggas and Marquand combined to win with the very well-supported Nahaarr 12 months ago and they will be hoping to repeat the performance with Boosala, who isn’t much more attractively priced at 10/1, but can’t be left out of calculations. He has the sort of profile that has handicappers sweating with fear, having run just three times in his life and never in a handicap. He’s not chucked in off 100, but who knows how good he could be?

Popmaster is a 12/1 shot and I like this lad. He needs two horses above him in the weights to come out and not slip into the Silver Cup, but you’d imagine that should be likely. He hails from the same stable as the hot favourite but is slightly well-in at the weights thanks to a 5lb penalty for his recent Ascot win.

He’ll be 2lbs higher in future contests. As a three-year-old he gets a couple of pounds off his older rivals too. Another to note with a progressive profile is Roger Varian’s Boomshalaa.

He’s 14/1 with Sky Bet. If you can forgive him one bad run, he’d be much shorter in the betting, but his penultimate effort at Newmarket was disappointing.

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Boomshalaa bounced back to win a lower grade race at Chelmsford last time out (the penalty he picked up for winning that gets him into this race at the lower end of the handicap) and that may have got him back on track.

He could do with a bit of rain before Saturday and if it comes, he’ll have a great shout. It’s fiercely difficult to find the winner, but that trio should run well if they head to Ayr for the race.

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