If you spent the entire festive period following the jumps, honouring perfunctory family obligations and shopping, then shame on you as you have missed some excellent All-Weather Championships action that really deserved more of your attention!
There have been just two Fast-Track Qualifiers since the last blog, admittedly, but there have also been several smart efforts, against the clock as well as on form.
Those FTQs came at Deauville on 27 December, when the listed Prix Miss Satamixa (a qualifier for the 32Red.com Fillies & Mares Final on 25 March) went to Caointiorn, and at Chelmsford City on 02 January, when Lancelot du Lac won a Conditions Stakes and gained automatic entry to the Unibet Sprint Final.
The former ran to a Timeform rating of 108 in victory – the Mick Channon-trained Volunteer Point seemed to perform to her 104 previous best in fourth – which would have been good enough to win both past runnings of the Final. This year’s female division already looks like being quite a bit stronger than previously, however.
Lancelot du Lac impressed in every way possible in the latter, breaking the five-furlong track record held previously by the Royal Ascot runner-up Medicean Man by 0.33s, with an overall time of 57.39s, and seeing off the German raider Gamgoom and last year’s 3YO Sprint winner Lightscameraction with authority.
Strictly speaking, Lancelot du Lac’s 114 rating on the day would have seen him picking up only minor prize money in the Sprint Final in the last two years, but he can run faster still – not least when returned to six furlongs, at which trip he has posted a 121 – and is proving admirably consistent.
Speed was indeed the word where much of the AW Championships in the last three weeks is concerned.
Assuming Lancelot du Lac does turn up on Finals’ Day, he could well cross swords with Chookie Royale, who was third in the Sprint last year and has come back to form with a vengeance of late with wins at Kempton Park and Wolverhampton. The latter has a Timeform rating of 119.
The David Evans-trained Gracious John will presumably be aimed at the Unibet 3YO Sprint and sets a high standard. His easy success over Group-placed Ornate in a three-runner Conditions Stakes at Lingfield Park on 05 January was backed up by a good timefigure and an overall time that was less than 0.5s outside the course record.
Gracious John is now rated 113 by Timeform and has won four of his last five races. He is a young horse going places!
Not quite so fast, but every bit as good, is the ex-South African Cold As Ice (pictured below), who won a strong Conditions Stakes at Chelmsford City on 21 December and recorded a 114 form rating. She could be another contender for the Fillies & Mares Final, though seven furlongs seems very much the limit of her stamina.
The Godolphin operation had been highly successful before Christmas in this season’s AW Championships, but have been less so since.
Nonetheless, their Mulzamm put up one of the handicapping performances of late when storming away with the Ladbrokes Handicap at Lingfield Park on 28 December, running to a figure of 112. The time was decent, too, as was the winner’s last-two-furlong sectional of 22.55s. We should hear more of Mulzamm.
Anyone looking for a real sectional eye-catcher in recent weeks could do worse than check out Cambodia’s performance on the same course on New Year’s Eve. The Chris Wall-trained gelding’s last two furlongs of 21.76s were, by Timeform’s reckoning, the fastest by any juvenile at Lingfield Park in 2015.
But Cambodia had got into a poor position and his storming late run was only good enough to take him into second behind Shypen. Compensation surely awaits.
The fastest sectional two-year-old of 2015 at Kempton Park was flagged up in a previous blog. Singyoursong thundered home into third behind Cajoled in December and is due to make her next appearance at Lingfield Park this Saturday.
You are unlikely to get fancy prices about Singyoursong, but her debut effort had the hallmarks of a useful filly in the making, and this could be a stepping stone for something bigger.
The Lingfield Park card also includes the £19,000-added Ladbrokes Conditions Stakes, whose five runners include the last two winners of the same sponsor’s AW Mile, in Captain Cat and Grey Mirage, as well as Lamar, who has qualified (twice!) for this year’s Fillies & Mares Final.
Lamar looks the least beholden of that trio to the run of what could well be a tactical race.
Next week sees a lively sprint at Kempton Park on Wednesday (Chookie Royale is already jocked up) and the final FTQ for the Fillies & Mares at Chelmsford City on Saturday. All roads now lead to Finals’ Day at Lingfield Park on 25 March!