Racing: Alexis in the mood for Masaka

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The Independent Online
IF YOU are involved on the Flat you have to enjoy this time of the year. It might be the only chance you get.

Early spring is when the pump inflates equine reputations around the country, and just after early spring is when a sparkling pin comes along and pricks most of them.

The poppings begin traditionally at Newmarket's Craven meeting, which starts on Tuesday week, although Haydock and Kempton hold the Flat fort this afternoon. There are televised races too from Towcester and, if you can get away with it, it is possible to watch nine contests from your lounge today at regular intervals, from 1.30 to 4.45.

Haydock's card was abandoned 12 months ago, because of waterlogging, and the going will be soft this afternoon. It was heavy ground at Kempton last year, but at least they got the meeting on and were rewarded with some decent performers. Scorned won on that Sunbury card and he went on to be placed in three Group races and win Newbury's Listed Arc Trial.

The Masaka Stakes was collected by a horse that proved to be even better qualified. Richard Hannon's Tadwiga graduated to a Group Three event at The Curragh and added it to her list of accomplishments.

Today's running of the Masaka features a filly who also made her name in Ireland but who now resides in the racing capital of Newmarket. Alexis was trained by Dermot Weld in her juvenile season but now gets her mints from Jeremy Noseda at Shalfleet on the Bury Road, the yard made famous by Paul Kelleway.

These must be exciting times for Noseda, who has packed six years with John Dunlop, five with John Gosden and two with Godolphin into his 35 years. Now he is in his second season with a British licence and seeking to make an imprint. At present he is just trying to steady himself. "We're looking forward to the season, while mindful at the same time that anticipation doesn't win races," he says. "About 95 per cent of people's dreams will be blown out of the water in the next six to eight weeks, so it's a time to stay realistic.

"I've been lucky enough to have been around a lot of very good horses and I recognise that ones like them are few and far between."

Noseda recorded 19 winners last season, a figure he regards with the archetypal trainer's lament. However, two of those successes were the Cheveley Park Stakes and Cherry Hinton Stakes in home town Newmarket, with the splendid filly Wannabe Grand. "I would have hoped to have more individual winners, but winning a Group One and a Group Two with her in my first year made me feel better," he says. "I would have settled for that.

"She's in good form. I don't dream too much because I like to keep my feet on the ground. We'll make a decision about whether she runs in the Nell Gwyn in a week's time because it's a question of a trial or going straight to the 1,000 Guineas. Touch wood, things have gone very smoothly with her."

Before then, though, Noseda hopes he has another filly to light his qualities. ALEXIS (nap 3.40) is going well. "She's in good form and she's fit enough to do herself justice," the trainer says. "It looks like a pretty good contest, with a strong field of fillies. You can't nick races like this, even at this stage of the season. But everything has gone well and her preparation has been good.

"As with all fillies at this time of year, she'll look better and she will be better in a month's time, but she's well enough forward now to put in a good show."

Elsewhere on the Kempton card, Tumbleweed Quartet (4.10), who was last in the Racing Post Trophy on his final start last season, looks set to finish at the other end of the field. He won on his debut last season.

At Haydock there are possibilities about Samraan (1.30), who did not win last season, but has the best form in a race named after one of the most beautiful settlements in the north-west. His trainer, John Dunlop, always has his horses well forward at the start of the season. One we know comes to hand early is Bryan McMahon's Perugino Bay (next best 2.30), and this appears an early reward for the hard and consistent labours of his two-year-old campaign.