Always a rogue element in the racing calendar, this time round Easter falls quietly between the Turf's richest race, and its most famous steeplechase. A week ago Mickael Barzalona was riding Monterosso to win the Dubai World Cup; today he resurfaces on the all-weather at Kempton for his first British assignment since signing up for Godolphin. Some of the jump jockeys riding at Haydock this afternoon, equally, will already be allowing their thoughts to stray a few miles up the road to Aintree, where they will be contesting the John Smith's Grand National in seven days' time.
The Irish will be staging their version first, at Fairyhouse on Monday, and Flemenstar will meanwhile attempt to seal his emergence as an outstanding novice in the Powers Gold Cup tomorrow. The programme in Britain, however, amounts to still less than was once the case. The Classic trials formerly staged at Kempton are now reduced to mere conditions races, neither of them dignified by terrestrial television coverage. Even so, the one for fillies provides Barzalona with the chance to reiterate his qualifications as heir – and rival – to Frankie Dettori.
Certainly, it can no longer be assumed that Witnessed, winner of her sole start at Beverley last season, is necessarily considered the better of two fillies saddled by Mahmood Al Zarooni, simply because Dettori is in the saddle. She may ultimately need farther and Tactfully (3.45) had looked such a smart prospect on her debut at Nottingham that it is worth pardoning her failure to live up to expectations in her only subsequent start, a Listed race right at the end of the season. Mind you, Bana Wu could very well prove the best of this lot once stepped up in trip, and the fact that she could show as much as she did over seven furlongs in the Rockfel Stakes entitles her to go close anyway.
Activate's fine record when fresh warrants respect in the Betfred Queen's Prize, but he faces several progressive sorts, among which preference is for Thimaar(3.15). Raised just 4lb for his win at Ascot last autumn, his only start over this trip, he remains almost totally unexposed as a stayer and could also improve again now that he has been gelded. It is worth remembering that he was given a chance in no less a race than the Great Voltigeur Stakes last summer, and his stable has made a brisk start to the campaign.
However he fares later, Dettori has excellent prospects for Al Zarooni on Double Dealer (2.05). This one looked unlucky not to win both his final starts last autumn, and it seems significant that Godolphin are persevering with him at four.
Channel 4 also offers Flat racing from Musselburgh, where Switzerland (3.50) already has the air of a colt who will soon be plying his trade outside handicaps after annihilating his rivals at Wolverhampton last time.
Over at Haydock, Brian Ellison has targeted the valuable Betfair Handicap Hurdle with no fewer than seven runners. Hada Men was mighty impressive on his handicap bow at Carlisle, but is up sharply both in class and in the handicap here, and also faces very different conditions. Top Smart (2.55) is the value to intrude on Ellison's project, having looked better than ever when travelling sweetly throughout at Sandown last time.
Faster going is widely thought to account for a rather tame finish from Carrickboy (2.25) at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has run well on decent ground in the past and the race may simply have come too soon after a generous effort at Hereford.
Chris McGrath's Nap