Following 38mm of rain between Monday and Thursday, the heavens opened once again on Saturday morning which ensured it was testing ground for Haydock Park's mixed meeting. Unfortunately, that didn't do my selection for the Swinton Hurdle, namely Ballinsker, any favours. Evan Williams' gelding attempted to make all the running and was still in front between the final two flights. The game was up soon after over as he dropped away tamely on the run-in. Even on better ground, the six year old would have had his work cut out to cope with the impressive winner Copperless though. A faller at the second last in the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle at Aintree last month, he was still going strongly on that occasion but Olly Murphy's charge gained ample compensation here. Given a confident ride by Aidan Coleman, the Kayf Tara was still on the bridle approaching the final hurdle and once shaken up, he readily pulled clear to win hard held by eight and a half lengths making a mockery of his rating of 126. His trainer suggested the Galway Hurdle as an option during the summer with the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November also on the agenda. The handicapper will have his say but, with only a handful of runs over timber to his name, the six year old is open to further progression and he clearly handles all types of ground.
Earlier on the card, it was impossible not to be taken by the performance of Aleas in the one mile handicap. Twice a winner as a juvenile (finished in front of the leading Epsom Derby contender Mohaafeth when runner-up at Salisbury on his debut), Ralph Beckett's gelding was allocated an opening rating of 86. Partnered by Hector Crouch, the son of Archipenko was always travelling smoothly and eased clear inside the final furlong to win by nine lengths. Similar to Copperless, the assessor is unlikely to show much mercy but the winner looks tailormade for the ten furlongs handicap at Royal Ascot (19th June) - the Golden Gates Handicap Stakes (0-105). Twice a winner on heavy ground, it remains to be seen how he handles a sound surface. He is a potent force on slow ground though.
The same connections were responsible for Albaflora who was equally emphatic in victory when capturing the Listed Buckhounds Stakes at Ascot. From a family who improve with age, the daughter of Muhaarar put her rivals to the sword in the homestraight stretching clear to win by seven lengths. While she stays further than twelve furlongs, a race such as the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks at Haydock in July looks tailormade for her. Like stablemate Aleas, she has yet to encounter a fast terrain.
It was another excellent day for the Talking Trainers section in Ahead On The Flat on Saturday with 11 winners - Albaflora (4/1), Aleas (11/8), Barney's Bay (11/2), Boardman (9/1), Cape Byron (3/1), Cloudy Dawn (1/4), Cochise (100/30), Light Refrain (4/1), Loughanini (9/4), River Nymph (11/1), Third Realm (14/1).
Tim Easterby continues in rampant form with 4 winners on Saturday, including two jumpers at Hexham, while both Ralph Beckett, Roger Charlton (a welcome change of fortune), William Haggas and Roger Varian sent out doubles, while Clive Cox nominated the Victoria Cup at Ascot as a likely target for River Nymph on page 75 of Ahead On The Flat.
York stages it's three day Dante meeting this week and it promises to be a cracking meeting - the ground on sunday morning on the Knavesmire is described as good to soft. Fingers crossed, the Top 40 starts to pull its finger out and gets a few winners - they are badly needed.
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