Back on political duty with CNN in election week, I came across a dead rat in Downing Street. It had to be an omen, but had the rodent been leaving or arriving when he met his fate, presumably in the jaws of the lean-looking fox who loped across the No. 10 doorstep shortly afterwards? Perhaps my furry ex-friend, too, had been misled by the polls but then we all have to make do with the best information we have available, as I did with our list of winter jumpers. After that heady summer of 2014, when our Twelve produced a profit of £171, I feared a setback and so there has been, but not on the Lib Dem scale. A tenner on the winter twelve every time they ran (choosing just one when two of our selections clashed) would have seen a profit of £19. Not enough, I concede, for a jolly dinner at Le Caprice, but sometimes one is more in the mood anyway for a curry and a large Cobra.
Seven of the twelve won, the star being Cole Harden, trained by Warren Greatrex and ridden by Gavin Sheehan, the trainer and jockey I urged you to watch. Cole Harden won Cheltenham’s World Hurdle at a tasty 14–1 while Sean Bowen, the other young talent I urged you to follow, won the conditional jockeys title at only 17. Nick Williams’s Aubusson took a big Haydock handicap at 9–1, and his Tea For Two ran away with the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton at 9–2. Very Wood, our Irish hope, had good days and bad ones, but he did score at 13–2. Mick Channon’s Knock House, after a promising fifth at Cheltenham, then coasted in next time by 30 lengths. Unfortunately, by then most punters were aware of his talent and he started at only 1–2. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s consistent Blaklion should have had a second victory but was chinned on the line by a horse he never saw running up the other side of the track. The talented Aurore d’Estruval won well but was then injured. Non-contributors were Hello George, who twice failed to complete, Baron Alco and, surprisingly, the Philip Hobbs-trained pair Fingal Bay and Colour Squadron. Fingal Bay alas burst a blood vessel in the Hennessy. Colour Squadron basically decided he didn’t want to be a racehorse at all: every time his jockey gave him a winning chance he downed tools.
So now for the Flat and I start with Andrew Balding’s home-bred Elm Park. A son of prosperous globetrotter Phoenix Reach, Elm Park is my idea of the Derby winner. Sir Michael Stoute’s older middle-distance horses usually have class too and the five-year-old Arab Spring looked one to follow when winning the Dubai Duty Free John Porter Stakes. The same applies to Denis Coakley’s Miss Marjurie, a game Goodwood winner when her jockey was forced to send her into the lead sooner than he would have wanted. Roger Varian’s Igider has promise and over longer distances there was no more eye-catching run last season than that of Dermot Weld’s Forgotten Rules at Ascot. Ralph Beckett is the man for fillies and his Bellajeu made an impressive seasonal debut in Lingfield’s Oaks Trial. When I bumped into Ralph at Epsom, I had the Twelve in mind and he reckoned I could do worse than include his Great Glen, second over 1m2f at Newmarket last month and likely to benefit from going further.
I always like a few sprinters because we see them more often. I am including Michael Dods’s Mecca’s Angel, an impressive winner of a Listed race at Doncaster last season, and James Unett’s Monumental Man, a winner at Epsom early this season who could be back there for the Dash on Derby Day. ‘He’s got a lot of speed out of the gate,’ said jockey David Probert. His trainer added, ‘He kills them off and disappoints the horses behind him.’ The prolific David O’Meara could have a nippy character too with Algar Lad, who finished fourth at Ripon after traffic problems late in April. A horse likely to contest top sprints is Goldream. Few handle speedsters more successfully than Robert Cowell, who says, ‘The key to him is fast ground.’ The same applies to Luca Cumani’s miler Ayaar, an impressive winner at Newbury who is being aimed at Ascot’s Royal Hunt Cup.
As for the two-year-olds, we don’t have much to go on at this stage but I liked the way Michael Bell’s Academy House shaped behind Zebstar at Newmarket. And my names to watch for this year? Newmarket trainer Hugo Palmer is fast climbing the ranks, Mick Channon’s young jockey Charles Bishop, seen to advantage winning the Tattersall’s Millions three-year-old sprint on Bossy Guest, is improving with every ride and Simon Crisford, for so long a mainstay of the Godolphin operation, won with his first runner Mutawathea. There will be more. But don’t forget the canny veterans too: back after a break in Ireland John Egan is driving home some impressively long-priced winners.