A memorable jumps season will be drawing to a close after Sandown’s finale meeting on Saturday, swiftly followed by five days of top-notch fare at Punchestown next week.
So it’s time to concentrate on the Flat as we work towards the first Classics, the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket at the beginning of May.
Our resident racing expert RICHARD SILVERWOOD is already concentrating on the early skirmishes on the level -- and spent two days at both Newbury and Newmarket for their pipe-openers to the campaign.
As gateways to the Flat season, the meetings are unmissable. Not only do they serve up Classic trials, but also a host of fascinating maidens and handicaps for unexposed three-year-olds.
Pointers to the future were plentiful, headed, of course, by a sensational performance from KINGMAN, the new, hot favourite for the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday 3rd May.
Here, Silverwood lists a string of other horses to follow in the coming weeks, based on their promising displays at Newbury or Newmarket.
BRIGHT APPROACH (Won, Newbury 11th April)
3yo filly (John Gosden)
I cannot remember Newbury’s Greenham meeting being dominated with such force by one trainer. John Gosden saddled no fewer than seven of the 15 winners, including this debutante in a richly competitive maiden. As a daughter of 2008 Derby winner New Approach and a dam by 2003 Arc winner Dalakhani, she is perfectly bred for middle-distance Classics and could now be heading for the Cheshire Oaks after storming home most impressively.
BROWN DIAMOND (3rd, Newbury 12th April)
3yo filly (Charles Hills)
Pitched into a terrific maiden against the colts was a big ask for this small daughter of fast-emerging sire Fastnet Rock. But under a typical waiting ride by Jamie Spencer, she acquitted herself with huge credit, running on nicely from the back, and is sure to be winning good races when returned to fillies’ contests.
BRONZE ANGEL (7th, Newbury 12th April)
5yo goelding (Marcus Tregoning)
At long last a serious sign of a return to form by the 2012 Cambridgeshire winner, who is back down to a workable handicap mark. Fitted with first-time blinkers, he travelled noticeably well in what was a typically competitive Spring Cup, and although he didn’t find as much as expected when let down, he was entitled to need the run and could be interesting at around 1m this term.
CLOUDSCAPE (Won, Newmarket 17th April)
3yo colt (John Gosden)
What looked like a competitive 10f handicap beforehand was bossed by this son of Dansili and the Richard Hannon runner-up, both of whom look capable of progressing into Group races. John Gosden’s attractive, heavily-backed winner travelled powerfully throughout and when his rival refused to go away, he showed a good attitude in stretching clear up the hill for a couple of backhanders.
CONNECTICUT (3rd, Newmarket 16th April)
3yo colt (Luca Cumani)
This fine 10f maiden was largely dominated by horses with previous experience and by horses who raced up the centre of the track. So Luca Cumani’s expensive son of New Approach deserves huge credit for running on so well up the stands side in the final furlong of what was his racecourse bow. Very much bred to stay at least 12f, he should develop into a successful handicapper at least.
DANZENO (Won, Newmarket 16th April)
3yo gelding (Micheal Appleby)
Newark trainer Michael Appleby, who is beginning to make quite a name for himself, was not shy, pre-season, about his lofty Group-race hopes for this grey sprinter. And given the way his charge won on his seasonal debut, he was right. Ridden positively and prominently, he quickened to the front some way out and ran on strongly, despite obvious signs of inexperience.
EAGLE TOP (Won, Newbury 12th April)
3yo colt (John Gosden)
The powerful Newmarket yard of John Gosden has unleashed any number of exciting three-year-old prospects in the opening weeks of the 2014 campaign. But few more exciting than this well-bred debutant, who had little to beat but did it in eye-popping fashion with an impressive, sustained turn of foot to come from a most uncompromising position in rear. His dam won an Oaks, and it would be no surprise to see him at Epsom too on Derby Day.
GOSPEL CHOIR (4th, Newmarket 17th April)
5yo gelding (Sir Michael Stoute)
It’s not often Sir Michael Stoute keeps a five-year-old gelding in training. But this son of Galileo was in the process of developing into a hugely promising sort two seasons ago and after a truncated, injury-hit campaign last year, he now looks ready to resume his progress on the evidence of this seasonal re-appearance. He had a lot to find on official figures and was tackling a starkly inadequate trip, yet was noted finishing with gusto.
HANNO (4th Newbury 12th April)
3yo colt (Ed Dunlop)
Ed Dumlop has made a slow start to the new Flat Turf campaign, but is almost sure to be picking up some prize-money soon with this handsome son of 2008 dual Guineas winner Henrythenavigator. In one of the best maidens of the first few weeks, he travelled well and kept on encouragingly without being given too hard a time. His opening handicap mark should not be too harsh.
LUCKY BEGGAR (Won, Newbury 11th April)
4yo colt (Charles Hills)
As the winner of only one of his previous 13 starts, this grey son of Verglas might be considered a curious choice for a horses-to-follow list. But he really caught the eye in the paddock before this competitive sprint handicap -- and confirmed his trainer’s assertion that he has improved by making all over a 5f trip too short. Expect him to step up to Pattern class soon.
MARSH DAISY (4th, Newbury 11th April)
3yo filly (Hughie Morrison)
A hot maiden likely to throw up a host of future winners, including this daughter of Pivotal out of a dam by the brilliant 1995 Derby and Arc winner Lammtarra. Stamina is likely to be her forte, and she might well develop into an Oaks contender, given the eyecatching way she ran on late at the end of a most encouraging debut.
MATALLEB (Won, Newbury 12th April)
3yo gelding (John Gosden)
Hamdan Al Maktoum’s good-looking son of Elusive Quality was so badly behaved as an unraced juvenile that he was gelded. But while that rules out a tilt at this term’s Classics, he can still bag Group prizes judging by the way he quickened up to land this warm maiden over Newbury’s straight mile. He lowered the colours of a better-fancied rival under the same ownership who had the benefit of a previous run.
MIND OF MADNESS (Won, Newmarket 16th April)
2yo colt (David Brown)
Juvenile form is only just starting to unravel. But I will be surprised if we see many better two-year-olds in the run-up to Royal Ascot than this son of four-time Group One winner Azamour. Sitting quietly tracking a fast pace, he could be called the likely winner some way out, and didn’t disappoint with the turn of foot he produced. On appearance, he’s sure to come on for the run too, while on pedigree, he’s sure to get further.
POSTPONED (3rd, Newmarket 17th April)
3yo colt (Luca Cumani)
Most eyes were on Richard Hannon’s Guineas fancy Toormore in this decent renewal of the Craven Stakes. But you could not help being drawn to this son of crack sire Dubawi running on nicely in behind, over a trip palpably inadequate. I have been taken by the way the colt has improved with each of his four runs. He is clearly Group class, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him progress again when upped to 10f.
TRUE STORY (Won, Newmarket 16th April)
3yo colt (Saeed Bin Suroor)
The runner-up for this Feilden Stakes, Ger Lyons’s highly-regarded Obliterator, was backed as if defeat was out of the question. But he was duly obliterated by this son of Manduro, who bolted up by seven lengths, with a further six lengths back to the third! Whar’s more, he did it despite keenness early on and greenness late on, to back up form of his two-year-old displays that really stacks up. Unquestionably Group One material.
WESTERN HYMN (Won, Newbury 11th Aptil)
3yo colt (John Gosden)
Clockwatchers raved about the sectional time posted in the final 2f by this son of 2002 Derby winner High Chaparral when he won on debut at Kempton last December. He produced a similarly fetching effort on this step-up in class, switched to Turf, powering clear to take apart a decent field. Sure to stay 10f, he is Group class and will take in a Derby trial next.
WINDSHEAR (2nd, Newmarket 17th April)
3yo colt (Richard Hannon)
Given that he’s the son of an Arc winner (Hurricane Run) out of a dam by a short-head Arc runner-up (Hernando), 10f is clearly the minimum trip Richard Hannon’s colt should be tackling. But he almost pulled it off in a hot handicap, sensibly attempting to make all, and after finding plenty at the business end, he was only overhauled by a classy, heavily-backed John Gosden favourite close home. Compensation awaits -- in spades.