There are now less than 50 days to go until AW Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Easter Friday, 25 March, and Spring at last seems just around the corner.
While there has been something of a lull in proceedings on the all-weather of late, with no listed or Group races and only one Fast Track Qualifier since the last update, things step up a gear from this weekend onwards. That one FTQ was on 23 January at Lingfield Park for the 32Red.com Marathon and went to Anglophile for the second year running, this time by half a length and a length further from Ballynanty and Pinzolo. Less than three lengths covered the first six home of seven runners, and even without sectionals the bare form looks somewhat suspect. Sectionals confirm that the race ended with a sprint, and Anglophile (who had shown a rare turn of foot for a stayer previously) was one of three to break 23.0s for the last two furlongs according to Timeform. What is not obvious from those bare figures is that Anglophile (pictured) got a clean run while Ballynanty and fourth-placed Blue Surf encountered significant trouble. It would be no great surprise to see the form turned on its head in the Final, for which Anglophile is quoted at 6/1 (Ballynanty at 8/1) by Coral. The best effort in the same period on both time and form came from Realize, who won a handicap off a mark of 98 at Lingfield Park the day before, running to a Timeform rating of 111, which is good enough to win many a listed race. Such company may be on the cards for Realize at some stage, but he gets a chance to prove his worth in handicap company again at Lingfield Park this Saturday on what promises to be an excellent card. Realize goes in the seven-furlong Ladbrokes Handicap, one of three £45,000-added contests at the Surrey course but not only meets last-time runner-up Shyron on 1 lb worse terms for a neck but will have to overcome a wider draw (stall 10 as opposed to 4) this time. The sectionals in that race suggest Shyron may be the better horse – he ran a notably fast 22.6s for the final quarter of a mile – though he has a rather lazy way of going about things. Timeform’s marginal top-rated in an ultra-competitive contest is Dutiful Son, who comes here on the back of an excellent second at Kempton just three days ago. Dutiful Son won off this mark of 85 as recently as November. The other two valuable races at Lingfield Park on Saturday are both FTQs (the winning of which would guarantee a berth on Finals Day). The listed Unibet Cleves Stakes (FTQ for the same sponsor’s Sprint Final) features the Group 2 South African winner Cold As Ice, who won well at Chelmsford City in December, Chookie Royale and past Finals Day winners Alben Star and Lightscameraction. Chookie Royale is in flying form, and has an inside draw from which he may well attempt to make all, but Cold As Ice – who is currently ante-post favourite for the 32Red.com Fillies and Mares Final – promises to be suited by the return to the shorter distance of six furlongs and may have a fractional class edge. The coral.co.uk Winter Derby Trial is every bit as high in quality and sees the return to action of the Godolphin-owned Festive Fare, last seen winning a handicap at Wolverhampton before Christmas off a mark of 103. The son of Teofilo has won all three of his starts on all-weather and deserves to be favourite in this better company. He should stay this easy ten furlongs and showed he has plenty of speed – last two furlongs in just a fraction over 23.0s – in that Wolverhampton race. There are some familiar faces among his eight rivals, though Captain Cat and Lamar only just stay this trip and Grendisar may ideally want a fraction further unless the pace proves to be strong enough to cause the leaders to come back to him late on. Gracious John has frightened off most of the opposition for the totequadpot FTQ at Chelmsford City on Sunday, though Field of Vision (beaten a length and a half by him at Kempton recently) and Kadrizzi should ensure things are not totally one-sided. Kadrizzi won a decent handicap at Lingfield last time and is getting better. But it is interesting to compare and contrast that win of his with the one of Gracious John at the same course and distance a couple of weeks earlier. After adjustment for the speed of the surface, Gracious John was still more than a second quicker overall, and exactly a second quicker over the first three furlongs, too. Kadrizzi is useful, but an on-song Gracious John is better than that and quick enough, too, to settle matters before they get to the business end.