Gamilati hot – before a tot of Whisky?
Originally devised to keep the racing and betting industries on the move during exactly this kind of freeze, the all-weather has since evolved into a surface for all seasons. Many trainers nowadays like to start off well-bred young horses on the polytrack rather than on firm, heavy or unevenly watered turf.
In 2009, indeed, Ghanaati won the 1,000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes on the foundation of two maidens round Kempton. The deeper surface at Southwell, equally, provides the nearest available approximation to American dirt racing, and has come to be respected as a discipline in its own right.
Nobody, then, should disparage the surviving programme should Ffos Las today join the other jumps cards in succumbing to the weather. It would certainly be a shame, however, as the hot favourite for the William Hill Welsh Champion Hurdle is due to run in the colours of Dai Walters, who has gained so many friends since building our newest track on the site of an old mine. Having won the inaugural race last year, horse and owner are entitled to another lap of honour before the proud folk of Carmarthenshire.
Admittedly, some of Oscar Whisky's admirers are still imploring Walters and his trainer, Nicky Henderson, to persevere at two miles in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month. Their cause is hindered by a want of competition today, as Oscar Whisky can hardly make a compelling case for doing so simply by outclassing his inferiors. Moreover, it is easy to see why Henderson should instead be disposed to try him over three miles in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, even if he must meet a stayer on the brink of history in Big Buck's. The bottom line is that he was readily outpaced by Hurricane Fly when third over this trip at last year's Festival, and the champion's breathtaking comeback at Leopardstown last Sunday leaves Oscar Whisky between a rock and a hard place.
At least he would return to Cheltenham as an unknown quantity over the longer trip, and three starts at intermediate distances this season have done nothing to discourage the experiment. You would love to know whether Big Buck's could run third in a Champion Hurdle. We will never find out, but perhaps he will at least meet some of the protagonists over two and a half miles at Aintree in April, in the very race won by Oscar Whisky last season.
Whatever the stewards conclude as they prod beneath the frost covers this morning, one or two of them might secretly wish they could instead be serving in a similar role at Meydan. It was gratifying to see a first winner out there for David Barron, an excellent trainer normally confined to Southwell at this time of year. Hitchens got up in a photo under Silvestre De Sousa to win a Group Three prize over six furlongs.
The class act was Gamilati, who coasted home from her stablemate Pimpernel in the UAE 1,000 Guineas. Mahmood al-Zarooni is now likely to train Gamilati for the UAE Oaks, which may well dilute her prospects for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas when Godolphin return to Newmarket. For now she is 12-1 from 16-1 with Paddy Power. A Classic over the Rowley Mile may seem something of a mirage, at this stage, but at times like these you must settle for whatever cold comfort is available.
Chris McGrath's nap
Handy Andy (2.10 Ffos Las) Irish point winner and looked a smart prospect at Newbury last season.
Cashelgar (3.35 Lingfield) Very well treated on smart form in his younger days and shaped well on his debut for this yard last time, looking ready for this step back up in trip as he closed from midfield.
One to watch
Right Enough (Tim Walford) gave the winner a bit of a start at Newcastle on Wednesday but the way he kept on confirmed him on the upgrade.
Where the money's going
After his rehearsal at the track last weekend, Midnight Chase is 16-1 from 25-1 with William Hill for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.
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