STAR PREVIEW Sat: Irish Derby/Northumberland Plate

This is a flat season like no other. The Guineas on the first weekend of the season. Royal Ascot behind closed doors. Overseas, the Belmont Stakes, run over nine furlongs, was the first race of the Triple Crown this season and now we have an Irish Derby which takes place a week before The Derby.

That means we have a unique renewal this year (7.15), but it’s very much the same old story in betting terms as the first two come from Aidan O’Brien’s yard, whilst Joseph O’Brien has the third favourite and Donnacha – who has started training just this year, has the fifth favourite. Indeed, the O’Brien clan have 10 of the 15 runners – and that alone makes it the biggest field since 1977.

Impressive Queen’s Vase winner Santiago took a giant step forward for a new trip there, and won’t mind the rain that’s set to hit the Curragh this afternoon, so his position as favourite is understandable. However, the Queen’s Vase was a very hard race, run at searing fractions, and just an eight-day turnaround from that doesn’t give him much in the way of recovery time, whilst it’s possible that he will be better going even further than the 1m6f he relished at Ascot.

Arthur’s Kingdom, whose second to Pyledriver in the King Edward reads well on face value, would actually make more appeal of the top two. That form may be stronger than Santiago’s Vase win and he’s also had three more days to recover from that effort to boot, but in an open race the first two are taken on.

Corssfirehurricane impressed with his Gallinule win, although a lot of rain is a negative (and that’s not the case for the staying on third Sherpa) but the vote goes to Jim Bolger’s Fiscal Rules.

Fiscal Rules has been seen just twice on the racecourse, but on the first occasion he managed to run Wichita to within a head last summer, a performance of immense promise if viewed through the winner. The rest of the field hasn’t achieved a great deal since but Fiscal Rules backed that up with a fine fifth in the irish 2,000 Guineas, doing his best work in the last furlong after hitting a flat spot.

That form is right amongst the best performance here, and his pedigree offers hope for his chance of staying. Whilst he’s by French 2,000 Guineas winner Make Believe, he’s out of 1m3f winner Gold Mirage and he’s a half-brother to Cimeara, a winner over 1m6f, so there’s every chance on paper; He’d be suited by the track avoiding the rain, but his second to Wichita came on yielding ground, and from 15 runs on soft, his sire Make Believe (winner on soft and heavy) has two winners on soft ground from 10 runners, none of whom would have had the ability of Fiscal Rules.

A whole host of lightly raced horses have the potential to improve just like Fiscal Rules in a wide open renewal.

The other pattern races on the card will make for fascinating watching, although neither the Vintage Crop Stakes (7.45), First Flier Stakes (6.45) or the Celebration Stakes (5.45) or Alleged Stakes (4.45) make huge appeal as betting contest, especially if the ground begins to change through the card.

Mixing up your Saturday night with action from Belmont (four Stakes races, including the Grade 1 Just A Game Stakes) is an excellent idea for racing purists – and yours truly will definitely be tuning in – there wasn’t enough juice in the price to justify backing Come Dancing to return to form in the Vagrancy Handicap (9.32 Belmont) or Uni to be straight enough first time out to hold off Newspaperofrecord & Get Stormy given that she had a minor splint issue through the spring.

So it’s off to Newcastle (a course which has played a key role in the rescheduled flat season) for another quality card) where Major Jumbo is is the pick in a cracking renewal of the Chipchase Stakes. Much of his form gives him a belting chance in this contest and he ran a storming race in the Palace House at Newmarket when just behind Judicial. This stiffer six furlongs – and he has already run very well on all-weather surfaced before – ought to suit him more, giving him every chance of turning that form around, and a bold bid looks to be on the cards.

In the Northumberland Plate a whole host of horses have serious chances, but two made more appeal than the field for various reasons. Smart Champion ran a storming race to be fourth in the Ascot Stakes at the Royal Meeting, a run for which he’s very well treated by going up just 2lbs. He has quality form here, having beaten solid C&D yardstick Carnwennan when winning here in February (and perhaps with more in hand than the half-length winning margin suggested).

This is a quick reappearance, but David Simcock did the same thing with him when he needed the run badly on his first start for the stable before he was second to the progressive Land Of Oz in the Cesarewitch Trial and the yard’s horses have thrived for their reappearance runs.

Cosmelli (fifth behind Smart Champion in February) is much more exposed than the leaders at the top of the market, but few are better handicapped; He loves it here, having won the Plate consolation race over C&D in 2018 before finishing a solid fifth in what looked a well upto scratch renewal last year, and now he appears here 8lbs lower, having run well at Chelmsford over 1m6f when finding that trip too short.

Newmarket’s quality card – which has the Criterion and Fairway Stakes backed up by good quality handicap – could well be changed by a number of flash showers, which means that a tempting set of races are perhaps best avoided.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Fiscal Rules 1 pt each/way in 7.15 Curragh at 15/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Major Jumbo 1 pt win in 1.50 Newcastle at 9/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Smart Champion 1 pt each/way in 3.35 Newcastle at 17/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Cosmelli 1 pt each/way in 3.35 Newcastle at 17/2 with starsports.bet


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