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Alex Hammond blog for Good Friday racing



Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond marks your card for the All-Weather Championships Finals at Newcastle on Good Friday.

The Easter weekend kicks off with a bang with the culmination of All Weather Championships Season 11, and a cracking card at Newcastle which dovetails beautifully with the Vase card from Lingfield.

There are 84 declarations for Newcastle’s seven-race card which shows that the transition to handicaps from conditions races for the finals this year has been a positive move. It’s meant some highly competitive fields which is great news for racing fans and punters.

I’ll be at Newcastle with our top team for Sky Sports Racing, so hope I’ve managed to find a winner or two for those races.

The first is the Burradon Stakes, which is a Listed contest over a mile, and not part of the final’s day championships. What it does offer though is potential classic clues with six of the nine declared runners holding entries in various classics across the UK and Europe.

However, the likely favourite is Silent Age for Charlie Appleby and leading all-weather owner Godolphin, and this horse doesn’t hold any fancy entries, and as a gelding he doesn’t qualify for the classics. However, as he was gelded before making his debut, I imagine it was felt he needed that intervention to progress, and progress he has. He’s won both his outings to date, making all and landing the odds both times.

The race was won last year by Dear My Friend who was a big shell of a horse twelve months ago but has really flourished this winter and is a leading contender later in the afternoon. So, I expect this to be a springboard to bigger targets for several of the runners on Good Friday. However, he’s Sky Bet’s 2/1 favourite so I’m taking him on with 10/1 shot Habrdi who could kick off a successful afternoon for trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam.

Sky Bet are paying four places here and I’ll be disappointed if he can’t finish in the top four. He’s in the German and French Guineas and he should be sharper for his run in the Spring Cup at Lingfield last time out.

Race two is the Marathon Handicap and Spartan Army could be a bit special in this division. He’s one of two in the race for trainer Alan King, who will be retiring his other runner Rainbow Dreamer after this contest.

The eleven-year-old won this last year when it was run as a conditions stakes and he deserves a good send off here. His sprightlier stablemate Spartan Army could win his owners a bonus if successful under David Probert, as he won one of the trials at Lingfield earlier this month and qualifies for an additional £30,000 if he lands this race.

He’s won all three starts this year and I hope he can make it four, although probably not as much as his owners the McNeill Family, Patrick, and Scott Bryceland! He’s 3/1 favourite to do so.

The next race is the 3yo Championships Handicap and I think the winner of the trial at Newcastle on New Year’s Day, Blue Prince, can win.

He’s trained by David Evans who does well with this type of horse. Even though he’s more exposed than some of his rivals I wouldn’t put it past his trainer to improve him further. The horse was also runner-up at Lingfield in the trial there earlier this month and I hope he can beat this red-hot field. He’s a 7/2 shot.

Then it’s the turn of the Fillies’ and Mares’, with their final being run over seven furlongs. Nine Tenths has top-weight in this handicap and deservedly so.

William Haggas has group races in mind for her this summer, so she should be capable off a mark of 100. She’s more attractive still with 7lb off her back thanks to apprentice Jack Enright’s claim. He’s relatively inexperienced though, and it could be a big day for the young jockey.

Similar comments apply to Laura Pearson, although she is much more established. She has struck up a great partnership with the Jane Chapple-Hyam trained mare Shades Of Summer with the pair combining to win three races this winter.

With Nine Tenths 9/4 favourite, I’m going to take a chance on the latter, who at 7/2 is appealing, and I’m a big fan of her rider who deserves her chance in these valuable races.

It could be a young trainer celebrating in our next race with Harry Charlton saddling Batal Dubai in the Sprint Handicap. The horse is 9/2 second fav behind John and Thady Gosden’s Cover Up, who is the 7/2 market leader. I feel the favourite could be vulnerable over this stiff six-furlongs, but Batal Dubai is a dual course and distance winner and relishes the test here at Newcastle. I hope there is more to come from him in his four-year-old season.

Then we have the most valuable all-weather race in Europe, the Easter Classic Middle Distance Handicap over a mile and a quarter worth £200,000. I’m putting up two here.

Top weight Elegant Man could give Amo Racing and new retained rider David Egan their second big win in a week after they lifted the Lincoln Handicap last weekend with Mr. Professor. Adrian Murray trains this son of Arrogate who has untapped potential having just had the three lifetime starts.

This is his handicap debut and whilst it won’t be easy off 108, he should go on to bigger and better things. It won’t be a disaster if he doesn’t win this hugely competitive contest and it will be a learning curve for him at this stage of his career.

Penzance must be on anybody’s shortlist given the form he comes into the race. He was bought for just 31,000 guineas in July last year and has gone from strength to strength under the tutelage of Mick Appleby.

Appleby is in line to be champion trainer for the eighth time but has a fight on his hands that will go right down to the wire with Tony Carroll and Charlie Johnston snapping at his heels. Penzance is 7/2 favourite with Elegant Man at 5s.

I think Charlie Johnston will win the finale, the Mile Handicap. He trains Dear My Friend who has turned a corner this winter after a gelding and wind op.

He was a huge shell of a horse when he won the Burradon Stakes last year, but time has done him good, and he’s three from three this winter on a synthetic surface.

As a winner of both trials for this contest he’s in line for a £75,000 bonus if he can defy top weight here. He’s favourite and hope he’ll show us how good he is under Joe Fanning.

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