It's a packed Saturday of racing, with the showpiece unquestionably the Coral Eclipse at Sandown. There are seven live races on Channel 4, and this post offers a few thoughts on them (some more than others!)
The going is an imponderable at both Sandown and Haydock, where forecast rain would ease the ground from its current footing.
Good to firm overnight, a band of persistent rain is expected Saturday morning meaning it's likely to be somewhere around good by off time.
Steps has the plum one draw, though his 'miss the break' style will mean he needs luck in running, something often not found on Esher's straight piste. In any case, he has a stride to find with Ahtoug who beat him that far last time in the King's Stand Stakes, the Group 1 five furlong event at Royal Ascot. The latter was entitled to need that after a break since racing in Dubai in the spring and, drawn in six, he has the pace-pressing style to take advantage of his top official rating.
It's soft at Haydock and could get softer, making the decision to put 6mm of water on the track Wednesday evening a lamentable one by a clear of the course with a growing number of blots on his copy book. No matter, we'll assume it to be quite testing, and look for horses that can handle such a challenge.
Captain Ramius and Annunciation both look well treated by race conditions, and Morache Music is due a bit better luck. But Soul loves it quaggy and should travel very well into the race. Whether he quite gets home on seasonal debut is another question, but 6/1 is enough for me to want to find out.
Baltic Knight has a lot of weight, more than any other in fact, but he's not badly handicapped. Indeed, he's just two pounds higher than his last winning mark and there can't be enough rain for this fellow. He's in better form than plenty of his rivals and 14/1 is a dribble of each way value in a wide open contest.
Last time out winners - progressive types in other words - have a really good record in the Lancashire Oaks, and there are three in here, two having their first runs of the season. The one that is not is Sultanina, a course and distance winner in a Group 3 last time. That was on good to soft, as was her only prior run/win, so she has to prove she'll act on slower, but she gives the impression it will be in her favour. With just two runs on the board and match fitness in her corner, she could improve a good bit and be hard to beat.
Seal Of Approval, winner of the Champion Filly and Mare race at Ascot's Champions Day last back end, is the top rated, and she goes well enough at Haydock. She was progressive last year, and her trainer, James Fanshawe, is in good form. But at 11/4, I have to look elsewhere.
The two unbeaten seasonal debutantes are Pomology, for Johnny G; and Marco Botti's Italian import, Charity Line. The former won a Group 3 at Deauville when last seen in August 2013, but I wouldn't be convinced her US breeding screams soft ground, and anyway she's been off a long time.
Charity Line has won on good and heavy, so there are no going concerns with her, but she's stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time. Interestingly, her trainer doesn't think she wants it too soft, which is a bit of a negative, but he does believe the trip will be in her favour. Tough to assess and, on balance, a watching brief makes most sense.
This is a really good race, and I think it's worth chancing Sultanina against more established levels of form. She has plenty more to come before she's fully exposed, whereas the likes of Talent and Seal Of Approval may already be as good as they're going to be. She could be a better filly than that pair.
A tricky little affair, but Crowley's Law looks worth another chance. Only beaten six lengths when eleventh of 24 in the Listed Sandringham Handicap, she had previously been seen in best light when dominating in small fields. She'll have a chance to do that here, and though both Queen Catrine (second) and Wee Jean (third) were in front of her at Ascot, they'll have to get by her pace setting ways if they're to prevail.
Perhaps a bigger danger than both is Johnny G's Belle d'Or, a twice raced Medaglio d'Oro filly. She needs to improve a stone and more to win this, but the nature of her victory last time means her official rating of 87 is little better than an educated guess, and she could be capable of making the jump forward.
Still, Crowley's Law looks likely to have things her way and might just be good enough.
The Old Newton Cup this year is a near twenty runner soft ground handicap run over a mile and a half. Four year olds have an incredible record, winning twelve of the last 17 renewals, and they account for just six of the seventeen this year.
The one I'm drawn to is that man Fanshawe's Magic Hurricane. A winner over course and distance and on soft ground last time, he looks to have more scope than most of his rivals after just six runs. Fanshawe is in great form, as mentioned, and jockey Freddie Tylicki rides Haydock well, and knows this horse inside out. Magic Hurricane is flexible as regards pace, and should make the frame at least if he can overcome stall 15.
Havana Cooler has gone up a stone in the weights without winning and, while he's deserved that rise, he's short enough considering.
Sennockian Star would come into it at a big price if staying, but that's a serious doubt; and Pallasator will be staying on when others have had more than enough.
The Coral Eclipse, and a cracking looking renewal. The problem here is the ground, which could change in the morning. Basically, on quick ground The Fugue is a fine bet. On rain softened ground, perhaps Kingston Hill is the play.
I slightly favour The Fugue, unless the word 'soft' appears in the going description, and there's no point me further previewing the race when it is so totally ground dependant.
Beyond the above, all I'll add is that the best outsiders on a sound surface might be Trading Leather at 20/1; and on good to soft or softer might be Tullius at 40/1.