Following hundreds of races – including 28 Fast-Track Qualifiers at venues as far afield as Dundalk in Ireland and Cagnes-sur-Mer in the South of France – and nearly five months of action, the third All-Weather Championships comes down to seven contests for over £1m in prize money.
This year’s Finals’ Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday promises to be even better than the two which preceded it, notwithstanding the absence of the 2015 Easter Classic winner Tryster, who will be flying the flag in Dubai the following day on the World Cup card.
There are still some familiar names, and some less familiar names, as well as some open-looking contests and a few which are more lopsided.
The opening 32Red Fillies’ and Mares’ is in the latter category courtesy of Cold As Ice, who won at Grade 2 level in her native South Africa and ran the fastest last two furlongs of any horse at Lingfield Park this winter (21.12s, or 42.6 mph) when storming into third behind Rivellino in February.
Cold As Ice is the best performer in this race by a comfortable margin. But, not only are her odds very short, she has a draw in stall 10 to contend with. Lingfield Park is a fairly tight left-handed track and, unsurprisingly, low-drawn horses generally have an advantage as a result.
Volunteer Point (drawn in 3) is as superior on form to the rest as Cold As Ice is to her, and is consistent and a course winner. She looks to represent a solid each-way alternative.
A similar problem has befallen the long-term favourite for the Unibet Sprint, Lancelot du Lac, who has been a model of consistency but now has to contend with a draw in stall 13 of 14.
The likelihood of a strong pace, with a handful of habitual front-runners in attendance, could sort out his rivals sufficiently, but it may also bring the veteran Alben Star into the reckoning.
The Richard Fahey-trained gelding has won and been second in this race in the past and has had excuses for a couple of substandard runs recently. He usually thrives on his racing and is seen to good effect when the pace is strong.
Moonrise Landing goes for the 32Red Marathon on the back of a hat-trick of successes but has not been seen since December and faces stiff opposition, including from the progressive Ballynanty, who might have been unlucky not to beat Anglophile over course and distance in January. The Andrew Balding-trained colt should not be far away.
Mindurownbusiness has been unstoppable at around a mile this winter but will have to be at the top of his game to see off the classy veteran Sovereign Debt in the Ladbrokes Mile.
The latter was desperately unlucky in this race 12 months ago and there is more than a slim chance that this year’s version – in which there is little obvious pace – will also be messy. But Sovereign Debt comes into this with a rock-solid prep at Wolverhampton under his belt and will surely go close.
The Coral Easter Classic is arguably Grendisar’s to lose, though that is reflected by some pretty skimpy odds. He was an honourable third to Tryster in this 12 months ago and has won the Winter Derby Trial then the Winter Derby itself on his last two starts.
It is certainly not far-fetched to think that Maverick Wave – second to Grendisar in the Winter Derby after a lengthy break – may reverse placings this time, especially as he has since run well under a big weight at Kempton Park.
A scorching pace seems assured in the Unibet 3YO Sprint, in which several pace-forcers take each other on over the minimum trip. Best of them is Gracious John, who got close to the course record of 56.67s when winning here in January and is drawn in stall 2.
He is easily excused his defeat by Kadrizzi at Chelmsford City last time, as he hung right and was later found to be lame, but he will also have to cope here with up-and-coming Wolowitz. If a pace collapse occurs, Aguerooo is not a forlorn hope to pick up the pieces at a long price.
The 32Red 3YO Mile rounds off proceedings and features one of the more appealing favourites to side with in Haalick.
He surprised plenty with his win in a listed race here in March but did so with a sharp closing sectional while many of his rivals were getting in each other’s way. An extra furlong now should be no problem, and the likelihood of a good pace should play to his hold-up style.
Haalick might seem a relatively obvious selection, but there are valid alternatives to many of the other forecast favourites. Remember that last year’s Finals’ Day featured a 20/1 winner and only two successful market leaders!
1:40 32Red AW Fillies’ and Mares’: VOLUNTEER POINT (e/w)
2:10 Unibet AW Sprint: ALBEN STAR
2:40 32Red AW Marathon: BALLYNANTY
3:10 Ladbrokes AW Mile: SOVEREIGN DEBT (pictured)
3:45 Coral AW Easter Classic: MAVERICK WAVE (e/w)
4:15 Unibet AW 3YO Sprint: AGUEROOO
4:45 32Red AW 3YO Mile: HAALICK