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Flat Out

by Noel Hayes |  Published: Apr 01, 2008

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At a glance, the flat-racing calendar appears to be a familiar journey for a flat-racing fan. As with somebody who travels the same road over and over again, they become familiar with certain landmarks, hitching posts, and twists and turns.

The flat-racing year is one such journey. The journey begins with the Lincoln Handicap meeting in Doncaster, then we swing by the classic trials in Newmarket, and then take in the Guineas. After a brief stop in Chester, the Derby and Oaks lead us into Royal Ascot, and we follow up with Glorious Goodwood, York, Newmarket, and the year tails off with the St. Leger, the Champion Stakes, and the two big handicaps that comprise the autumn double of the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch.

The most exciting part of the year is the early season, when last year's leading 2-year-olds return to the racecourse in a bid to confirm their early promise and cement themselves as real classic contenders. Bubbles will be burst and hopes will be dashed, but not before classic winners are crowned and new stars are thrust centre stage to carry with them the mantle of the next great thing in horse racing.

With the advent of all-weather racing, flat racing now takes place year-round, but Doncaster racecourse still holds the mantle of the traditional start to the flat season. The Lincoln Handicap meeting, which begins on March 22, is the first major race of the year, and this year, Lang Shining looks to be the one well placed to land the spoils.

Beyond the Lincoln meeting, attention and focus turns to the first classics of the year at Newmarket, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas. New Approach is deservedly the red-hot favourite for the colts' classic after an impressive juvenile career. The better horses always have something to shoot at, so once these races are out of the way, focus turns to Epsom for the Derby and then in turn to Royal Ascot and beyond.

One thing is certain: The action looks to be of a high standard. Some of last year's better 3-year-olds and older horses will be returning again to racecourse action, and we look set for a treat from some of Ballydoyle's older horses, such as Peeping Fawn and Yeats. Detailed below are some horses to keep on your side over the course of the coming year.

Horses to Follow
3-Year-Olds
New Approach:
An outstanding juvenile who will begin his campaign with a weight of anticipation. Hailing from the Jim Bolger yard, the public is looking for this chap to fill the void of expectation left behind by his ill-fated stablemate, Teofilo. Having captured the Tyros, Futurity, National Stakes, and the Dewhurst in his juvenile year, it is little wonder that he carries the mantle of antepost favourite for the Guineas at skimpy odds of 2/1.

Ibn Khaldun: The partnership of Godolphin and Frankie Dettori have an exciting prospect to look forward to for the coming season in the shape of this home-bred prodigy of top milers Dubai Destination and Gossamer. Having progressed steadily from maiden to nursery to take in the end-of-season Racing Post Trophy, this adaptable sort looks likely to find plenty of opportunities in the coming year.

Henrythenavigator: It's difficult to talk about exciting 2-year-olds maturing into classy 3-year-olds and not mention the Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore combination. This animal was most impressive in his debut, and followed up when capturing the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot when dropping down in trip. His form later tailed off when he fell short of what was required on softer going. Despite these defeats, he remains a highly exciting prospect, and I would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the ground proved his undoing in his latter races. The Guineas may not provide the required underfoot conditions, but by the time Royal Ascot rolls around again, and already having shown his adaptability to the track, he may prove to be the pick in the St. James Palace Stakes.

Myboycharlie: An exciting prospect with an ironic name, as he was the animal that Kieran Fallon was riding the day he tested positive for cocaine in Deauville after winning the Prix Morny. One mile may stretch his stamina, but he should be very competitive in a host of the six-furlong sprints in the coming season.

Jupiter Pluvius: Another Ballydoyle inmate who had a late start to the season. He did the job nicely in a back-end Curragh maiden and followed up eight days later in Leopardstown Group 3. As it was late season, there wasn't enough time for the media hype machine to champion this horse's wares. Nonetheless, this animal is a highly promising individual who looks certain to improve with time.

Zarkava:
Trained in France by Alan De Royer-Dupre for the Aga Khan, this is one of the most promising fillies for the 2008 season. A seriously impressive winner of the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day in Longchamp, this animal is one of the leading fancies for the 1,000 Guineas in Newmarket. On the basis of what we have seen thus far, the hype is warranted.

Listen: Hailing from the Ballydoyle/Coolmore camp, this regally bred filly has thus far performed as well as her pedigree would suggest. She rounded off a good season by securing victory in the Fillies Mile, where she claimed the scalp of both Proviso and Saorise Abu. Having shown a liking for an ease in the ground, she should get the required conditions in the early-season classics, where she looks certain to perform with credit.

Twice Over: In the hands of Sir Henry Cecil, this is a horse for the purists. Twice successful in the latter parts of the season, this chap looks likely to take the Dante route to the Derby. Whatever his route, if he continues his progress from last season, he will be a genuine contender for yet another classic victory from Cecil to add to his most recent Oaks triumph with Light Shift in 2007.

Burn The Breeze: Not immediately identifiable as a classic prospect, I have chosen to highlight this filly as one who will progress immensely from 2007 to 2008. Having run three times in 2007 with her best placing coming when third in a back-end ordinary-looking maiden in Nottingham, this filly looks likely to attract a favourable handicap mark, which she should be able to exploit in 10-furlong-plus early-season handicaps before possibly progressing into an Oaks contender. This is one filly definitely worth watching closely.

Older Horses
Yeats:
Champion stayer for the past two seasons, it will take an act of extreme misfortune for that crown to be wrestled from him over the coming year. A highly promising young horse, this animal has taken his time to get over injury, but has now cemented himself as one of the leading stayers of a generation. The long-distance cup races will all be his for picking up in the coming year.

Peeping Fawn: In a break from tradition, Coolmore has allowed this outstanding filly to remain in training beyond her 3-year-old career. Following a slow start to the season, her first sign of real promise came when she chased home Finsceal Beo in the Irish 1,000 Guineas; however, what came after marked her down as a filly of considerable class when she won the Pretty Polly Stakes, Irish Oaks, Nassau Stakes, and Yorkshire Oaks. She looks certain to be the leading older filly in training over the coming season, and I would suggest that when tackling her own sex, defeat will not be a consideration.

Pipedreamer: A highly progressive 3-year-old who numbered three victories from six starts in 2007. He looks a likely sort to progress even further as a 4-year-old under the care of John Gosden, who should place him to maximum advantage over the coming season.

Lang Shining: Hailing from the all-conquering Sir Michael Stoute stable, this chap looks likely to be highly competitive in the opening Lincoln Handicap, and in many more beyond over the course of the season. His record of four runs, one win isn't very inspiring, but he looks to have the ideal profile for a race of this nature, and also looks to have been specifically aimed at the race by his astute trainer.