Racing News, 2 May 2017: Flat Set to Take Centre Stage with Classics

The 2016-17 National Hunt season certainly had its share of highs and lows, from sad farewells to the likes of Vautour and Many Clouds to the highs of a spectacular Cheltenham Festival and injury-free Grand National. This weekend saw the rollercoaster reach its final destination as the seasonal honours were dished out at Sandown.

Paul Nicholls still had a chance of clinging on to his Champion Trainer’s crown headed into the final meeting of the season on Saturday. In the end though, Nicky Henderson took the prize in style, winning three of the finale meeting’s seven contests, and going down by a whisker in the days most valuable handicap, as Vyta Du Roc lost out to 40/1 shot Henllan Harri.

Most impressive of all though was Altior, who was simply monstrous in slamming this year’s Champion Chaser Special Tiara by a yawning eight lengths in the Celebration Chase. He’s just one of the reasons we are already looking forward to the next National Hunt season. One man who is also no doubt making his preparations for the next campaign is Richard Johnson, who made it two Champion Jockey titles in two seasons since the retirement of his long-time nemesis, Sir AP McCoy.

Tight Battle in Ireland

Over in Ireland it looked for a long time like we may have a new name on the Irish Champion Trainer’s Trophy this year as Gordon Elliott swept all before him in the early stages. In the end though he could not hold off the late challenge of Willie Mullins whose excellent Punchestown Festival propelled him to the lead just as the finishing line approached. This was a pretty remarkable effort from Mullins considering he lost no fewer than 60 horses at the start of the year and is a fine advertisement of his training prowess. The master of Closutton now has 11 trainer’s titles in all. Ruby Walsh meanwhile went one better in becoming Irish Champion Jockey for the 12th time – a new record.

The Guineas are Here!

Looking ahead to the coming weekend, the flat season really kicks into gear as Newmarket plays host to the first two domestic Classics of the season. First up on Saturday is the 2017 edition of the 2000 Guineas (2000 Guineas betting offers). We look set to have the smallest field for this in some time, but whilst it may lack in numbers, it is certainly not short on quality. Aidan O’Brien’s Champion Juvenile, Churchill heads the betting at 7/4, but will face a stern challenge from Godolphin’s Barney Roy, French raider Al Wukair and others.

24 hours later the fillies line up at HQ for the 1000 Guineas, with Aidan O’Brien once again responsible for the current favourite. By Galileo and out of Irish 1000 Guineas winner Halfway To Heaven, Rhododendron certainly makes plenty of appeal on paper and has shown signs of sparkle on the track. She’s in at 5/2, but this will be by far her toughest test to date. John Gosden looks set to put up a bold bid for the home team with his impressive duo Daban and Dabyah.

As if all this high class domestic action wasn’t enough, Saturday evening also sees one of the most famous races in the world run over at Churchill Downs in the States. No horse has really stamped their authority on the American three year old division this season. As such, this year’s Kentucky Derby looks a wide open affair. One of the more interesting outsiders is a one-eyed horse. Patch has a decent chance and he looks set to be popular each way on the day.