There are just five weeks to go until the third AW Championships Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, 25 March, and many of the pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to slot into place.
The majority of Fast-Track Qualifiers have been run – 18 of the 28 ignoring those at Dundalk this Friday evening – and only one horse (Lamar) has managed to win more than once. Remember that a win guarantees a slot on the million-pound-plus Finals Day. Two particularly significant FTQs were run at Lingfield Park on 06 February, just after the last update. The Unibet Cleves Stakes went to Rivellino, while the coral.co.uk Winter Derby Trial went to Grendisar, both of them six-year-old sons of Invincible Spirit as it happens, if running at markedly different trips. Rivellino (pictured below) is a sprinter, pure and simple, and his jockey’s opportunism in lying close to a muddling pace in a 6f contest proved crucial. He held fellow pace-forcer Gamgoom by a neck, the pair running to Timeform ratings of 112 and 114 respectively, but sectionals strongly suggest the “moral” winner was back in third. The ex-South African Grade 2 winner Cold As Ice was a well-backed favourite but got into a poor position in a messy opening quarter of a mile and turned into the short straight in eighth of 12. She flew from there to be beaten less than two lengths, with her last-2f sectional of 21.12s bettered at the track in recent times only by the remarkable Tryster (20.97s) on Finals Day last year. A tailwind in the closing stages exaggerated matters, but only a little, and sectional analysis suggests Cold As Ice should be rated the winner by around a length. It was no surprise to see Cold As Ice harden as favourite ante-post for the 32Red.com Fillies & Mares Final, and she could be something of a “good thing” come the day: granted good fortune, of course! It is also worth pointing out that Justice Good ran notably fast late on (21.23s) in the same race from a similar halfway position to finish a close sixth, with sectional analysis suggesting he was the equal of the winner. The 10f Winter Derby Trial was less messy, and less illuminating also, but it underlined Grendisar’s (pictured below) tactical versatility and speed (22.36s last 2f) in a race that did not play to the strengths of many of his rivals. Runner-up Festive Fare ran creditably while looking less than straightforward, and plenty are likely to be looking to take him on in future. That horseracing is not always a question of the best animal winning was underlined the following day when Gracious John got turned over at odds on in the totequadpot FTQ at Chelmsford City. The smart David Evans-trained sprinter emerges with significant credit in being beaten just a length into third given that he forfeited considerable ground by hanging on the bend and was later found to be lame. Nonetheless, 106-rated Kadrizzi goes into The Form Book as the winner and gets a passport to the Unibet 3YO Sprint Final. The AW Championships reaches parts that other racing initiatives do not reach, with recent FTQs taking place at Dundalk in Ireland and Cagnes in the South of France. The former – a Ladbrokes-sponsored contest – saw last year’s AW Mile Final third Captain Joy land the spoils narrowly with the fastest last-3f sectional (33.30s) at the course this year, running to 102 compared to his peak of 115. The latter saw the promising three-year-old Hurricane (rated 105p) run out a decisive winner. Fast sectionals are a function of pace, track speed, and other things, but more often than not they identify interesting horses, too. There have been a few of them in evidence in recent weeks. Quintus Cerialis shaped well (22.46s last-2f sectional) when a closing third in a handicap at Lingfield Park on 13 February; Bravo Zolo (22.12s sectional) shaped as if another win was imminent when filling the same berth at the same venue earlier on the same day; and Royal Birth ran the fastest recent last 3f at Chelmsford City (33.28s) when a never-nearer third in a handicap on 07 February. Incidentally, the (unofficial) sectional track records at both Chelmsford City and Lingfield Park are held by Tryster, who is now making a big splash in Dubai. There is a slight lull in AW proceedings this weekend, though the 6f Unibet Handicap at Lingfield Park on Saturday has attracted a select if small field. Nuno Tristan could well be popular on the back of a good second to red-hot Bosham at Chelmsford City recently but has not raced at this track before. Spring Loaded certainly has, winning cosily here last month, and is fancied to confirm placings with Barracuda Boy from that day and make it five wins from his last seven starts.