Now we are into March, there are only a few cards left to be played in advance of the third All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.
The vast majority of Fast-Track Qualifiers have been run, and a couple of the recent ones in particular look likely to have a significant bearing on events at the end of the month. The Coral Winter Derby, also at Lingfield Park, is the only AW Group race of the midwinter months in Britain and Ireland, and its being moved forward a couple of weeks to a slot at the end of February restored the 27-day gap between it and the Coral Easter Classic on Finals Day on 25 March. Grendisar (pictured) looks destined to go off favourite for the latter race after he followed up his win in the Winter Derby Trial with an even more emphatic one in the Winter Derby itself. In what was a truly-run race, resulting in a time only 0.05s outside the course and distance record, Grendisar travelled smoothly and quickened to lead in the final furlong. His defeat of the smart trio of Maverick Wave, Furia Cruzada and Festive Fare (the last-named arguably confirming fears from the Trial about his attitude) is worth a Timeform rating of 116, equal to the figure recorded by Grandeur on Finals Day in 2014, if behind Tryster’s 122 in 2015. Like many of the best acts, Grendisar is an overnight sensation that has been several years in the making. This was his thirty-fourth run and ninth win in five seasons, and, while he is now hitting greater heights than before, he has hardly ever run a poor race. It is the kind of profile that many a jumps star might fail to emulate. The success of Lightscameraction (pictured below) in the listed Unibet Hever Sprint earlier on the Lingfield Park card qualified that one for a crack at the same sponsor’s Sprint Final, but the Gay Kelleway-trained gelding looks some way down the pecking order still. He and second-placed Take Cover got the run of what was initially a steadily-paced race, and they may both do well to confirm the placings with the held-up pair Muthmir (who carried a 7 lb penalty) and Line of Reason another day. Also bound for Finals Day is Captain Cat, winner of the Ladbrokes AW Mile in 2014 and victorious for the first time since later that year when holding Sloane Avenue in a 32Red FTQ at Kempton recently. Captain Cat is usually held up, but Jamie Spencer rode a peach from the front, setting soft fractions before coming home in a sprightly 33.92s for the last three furlongs. The most recent FTQ came at Chelmsford City on Thursday evening and produced a live contender for the 32Red.com Marathon. Notarised broke the track record by nearly 1 second in beating the reliable John Reel by a ready two lengths, though that was in part down to a fairly quick surface and a solid early gallop. Nonetheless, the Mark Johnston-trained five-year-old has only Famous Kid and 2014 winner Litigant clearly ahead of him on ratings for the long-distance event. Saturday’s card at Lingfield Park sees the penultimate FTQ of the campaign – only the listed Ladbrokes Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton a week later will remain – in the shape of the 32Red Spring Cup. This is a strong contest for a three-year-old listed at this time of year, with 11 declared runners including a colt (Adventurous) who led for a long way in the Dewhurst Stakes on his last run and a filly (Great Page) whose last six runs were all in Group company. Better than them both, however, look to be Race Day and Abe Lincoln, who finished first and third respectively in a useful FTQ here in November. Race Day had three quarters of a length to spare over Abe Lincoln that day, and meets that rival on 3 lb better terms, but there are good reasons to think the latter can come out on top this time. That was Race Day’s sixth start, and he got a clear run in front throughout. By contrast, Abe Lincoln had seen a racecourse just once previously and looked very green before finishing strongly after being forced wide on the bend. There still looks to be plenty of potential there. Elsewhere on Saturday’s Lingfield Park card, Royal Birth bids to make up for a couple of unlucky recent third places in the five-furlong Unibet Handicap. The five-year-old gelding was fastest late on at Chelmsford City and then Wolverhampton last month and will surely get things go his way sooner rather than later.