Dark horses to follow as horse racing returns to action

(PINATUBO) – Champion 2yo Pinatubo, who is a warm favourite for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas this Saturday. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)(PINATUBO) – Champion 2yo Pinatubo, who is a warm favourite for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas this Saturday. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(PINATUBO) – Champion 2yo Pinatubo, who is a warm favourite for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas this Saturday. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
As racing returns to action, the name of one horse is on the lips of all punters when assessing the Classic generation of 3yos.

The Godolphin-owned PINATUBO is that horse after winning all six of his starts as a juvenile last year, two of them at the highest level and some of them in sparkling style.

The evidence garnered so far suggests Charlie Appleby’s son of Shamardal could be one of the best colts of recent years.

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But he had a very hard race on his final 2yo assignment in the Dewhurst Stakes and has yet to prove he has trained on, so odds of 10/11 for the re-scheduled Qipco 2,000 Guineas this coming Saturday do not tempt me.

(AL MADHAR) – Al Madhar, one of Richard Hannon’s brightest 3yo prospects, wins on his debut at Newmarket last season. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)(AL MADHAR) – Al Madhar, one of Richard Hannon’s brightest 3yo prospects, wins on his debut at Newmarket last season. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(AL MADHAR) – Al Madhar, one of Richard Hannon’s brightest 3yo prospects, wins on his debut at Newmarket last season. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Mind you, I’m not too keen on nominating anything for the early Classics, given that all the usual trials have been victims of the coronavirus lockdown. The fact that the runners will be plunged into Guineas action on the back of long absences adds an extra layer of complication to puzzles that are always tricky to solve.

Instead, when it comes to 3yos, I am preferring to concentrate on animals largely unexposed and currently flying under the radar.

Here is a list of 25 dark horses who showed bags of promise as juveniles and are worth following through the re-organised 2020 campaign. Several are due to run this week.

AL MADHAR (Richard Hannon)

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(MAX VEGA) – Max Vega, a possible for the Derby next month, streaks home at Newmarket last season. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)(MAX VEGA) – Max Vega, a possible for the Derby next month, streaks home at Newmarket last season. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(MAX VEGA) – Max Vega, a possible for the Derby next month, streaks home at Newmarket last season. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

For my money, the maiden at Newmarket’s July meeting, won by this colt, was the hottest of the 2019 season. Aidan O’Brien’s strongly fancied favourite was hammered back in fifth, and this list contains all four who finished in front of him, including a Godolphin runner-up, who went on to win at York’s Ebor meeting and was then placed in two decent Group Three contests. Hannon’s winner, who cost 200,000 guineas as a yearling, could hardly be better bred as a son of crack sire Siyouni out of a Galileo mare, and although he was not seen again after his debut, the trainer insists there was nothing untoward and spent the winter convinced he had a Group horse on his hands.

ART POWER (Tim Easterby)

One of racing’s wisest maxims is to be wary of wide-margin winners on testing ground, particularly late in the season, However, it might be unwise to ignore the visually pleasing triumph of this speedy grey, who scorched home in a novice event in the York mud last October. It’s a long time since Yorkshire handler Easterby had a serious horse on his hands, but he regards this son of Dark Angel as “a little machine” with “a great temperament”, and the colt could develop into a real money-spinner for increasingly influential owners, King Power Racing.

BORN WITH PRIDE (William Haggas)

(PIERRE LAPIN) – Pierre Lapin, pictured winning at Newbury, could develop into a top-class sprinter. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)(PIERRE LAPIN) – Pierre Lapin, pictured winning at Newbury, could develop into a top-class sprinter. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(PIERRE LAPIN) – Pierre Lapin, pictured winning at Newbury, could develop into a top-class sprinter. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

There are few better, or punter-friendly, trainers in Europe than Haggas, so the very fact that he pitched this filly into a Listed event for her debut at Newmarket last backend spoke volumes about her potential. Given this, and her big, scopy physique, it was a surprise that she was ignored in the market, but she proceeded to gallop her rivals into submission from the front. There is a suspicion that, on heavy going, she travelled on the least testing part of the Rowley Mile, down the centre, but it was still a performance that persuaded Haggas to train her for a tilt at an Oaks this term. It’s possible the French version will be preferred because he suspects she wouldn’t handle Epsom.

BRENTFORD HOPE (Richard Hughes)

I am sure it won’t be long before former champion jockey Hughes enters the top echelon of trainers, and this well-bred colt might help him get there, judged on his sparkling winning debut at Newmarket last October. Given that the maiden was run over 10f, a long trip for 2yos, and on soft ground, the race might have contained an armada of slow boats. But few could knock the smooth way the son of Guineas and dual Derby hero Camelot travelled, under one of Jamie Spencer’s textbook rides, nor the way the colt quickened up and sprinted clear when popped the question in the final furlong.

COLD FRONT (William Haggas)

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It’s hard to say how strong the big-field, heavy-ground maiden was in which Haggas introduced this son of Lope De Vega at Newbury. But he was significantly well backed, and I have no doubt he was the best horse in the race, even though he was touched off in the dying strides. He travelled beautifully, quickened and ran on perfectly well enough to finish clear of the rest. The colt might always need cut in the ground, but he is sure to be found races, especially as the dam hails from a family Haggas knows very well and has already provided him with a Group One winner in One Master.


Trainer Kevin Ryan unveiled a handful of exciting 2yos last season who didn’t quite go on to fulfil their potential. With another winter behind them and armed by generous handicap marks, they could well enjoy a profitable 2020. The pick might be this daughter of the 2011 champion 2yo Dabirsim, a striking sort who wasn’t seen after making a winning debut in a 1m novice at Thirsk in August. An expensive buy, she fluffed the start and lost several lengths but she not only recovered to challenge, she also found more at the death just as you expected her to blow up. Ryan has very high hopes for her.

DOMINO DARLING (William Haggas)

As a daughter of the brilliant Golden Horn, belonging to the same octogenarian owner (Anthony Oppenheimer), Haggas’s filly has Epsom written all over her, and that’s where she could well be heading in July after a taking performance to win on her debut at Doncaster last autumn. Jockey Tom Marquand felt she didn’t enjoy the soft ground at all, but once shaken up, she still managed to reel in a well-regarded favourite. The pair pulled streets clear of the rest, yet the third, fifth and sixth have all won subsequently. Haggas reports that she has done very well, physically, over the winter.

ENEMY (John Gosden)

Champion trainer Gosden has a nice bunch of maiden-winning youngsters, for whom the Classics might now come too soon after the coronavirus delay. However, they look sure to mature into smart Group animals, including this well-bred, expensive son of outstanding sprinter Muhaarar and half-brother to top-class middle-distance fillies, Magic Wand and Chicquita, both trained by Aidan O’Brien. Owned by Qatar Racing, he was seen only once last season, and was expected to need the experience, but under a lovely, educational ride by champion jockey Oisin Murphy, he defied greenness to get home late on.

FIRST RECEIVER (Sir Michael Stoute)

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In four runs in Meydan this winter, the Godolphin horse who edged out this colt at Kempton in November did absolutely nothing for the form and has now been gelded. However, bearing in mind he was coming back from a long absence after a slight setback, I still feel Stoute’s son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach is worth following. Owned by the Queen, the colt had shown bags of promise on his sole previous outing in a hot maiden at Newmarket’s July meeting. Distances of 10f-12f are likely to suit.

FOX DUTY FREE (Andrew Balding)

I will be flabbergasted if an opening handicap mark of just 79 does not seriously under-estimate the ability of King Power Racing’s well-bred son of Kingman out of a dam by Arc winner Rail Link. The reason for such a generous rating is that he was a tad disappointing in a couple of outings at York in August and October. But on his debut, at Newbury in midsummer, the colt could not have shown more promise, recovering from interference early on, making up a lot of ground and picking up strongly in the last furlong. He was well backed that day, suggesting a lofty reputation at home and reflecting his hefty price-tag as a yearling.

HEAVEN FORFEND (Sir Michael Stoute)

You have to go back to 2003 for the last time Stoute saddled the winner of a two-year-old race as early as mid-May. But this son of the mighty Frankel almost pulled it off after being sent off, significantly, as favourite for a maiden at Newbury. As a result of his performance in finishing second, he was pitched into a terrific renewal of the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and was far from disgraced behind star juvenile Pinatubo, especially after he was hampered late on. He was then off the track for three months and probably needed the run when disappointing at Sandown, but he remains a colt of considerable interest.

HEIRESS (John Gosden)

Testing ground and a howling wind made the November novice at Newmarket, in which this filly launched her career, a very difficult test for inexperienced 2yos. But whichever way you slice it, the impeccably-bred daughter of Kingman and Sir Henry Cecil’s Oaks winner Love Divine was extremely impressive in victory. Always travelling with purpose, she forged clear powerfully from the Dip, for just pushed hands-and-heels, advertising her credentials as an exciting prospect over middle-distances this year. She is also a half-sister to 2006 St Leger winner Sixties Icon.

KING RAGNAR (Roger Varian)

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Handicaps over 6f or 7f are on the agenda for Varian’s progressive colt, a son of Hot Streak, who was a high-class speedster from five or six years ago. An opening mark of 82 seems perfectly reasonable, particularly based on his promising debut at Newbury in September when he was as green as grass early on and short of room as he made ground, but still picked up nicely to snatch second. On each of his three starts, including when he got off the mark at Newcastle in November, he has attracted telling market support.

KINROSS (Ralph Beckett)

I wonder if Beckett’s son of top-class miler Kingman might slip under the radar on the strength of his disappointing effort in the re-routed Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy in November. Instead, it might be worth acknowledging the trainer’s insistence that he didn’t handle Newcastle’s all-weather track that day and also worth remembering his debut win a month earlier, which was one of the best 2yo displays of the season. Settling in mid-division, he made a stylish move before sprinting clear up the Newmarket hill to elicit the well-worn phrase ‘could be anything’.

MAORI KNIGHT (Richard Hughes)

This son of former Epsom hero Camelot won’t make the Derby, for which he was entered. But his progressive profile entitles him to plenty of success at a lower level, particularly as he has scope to climb the handicap from his perch of 83. Backed at huge odds for his debut at Newbury last July, he displayed substantial promise, running on to finish never nearer after an awkward start and over-keenness. He improved next time and then again when breaking his duck by making all in February at Chelmsford, where the step-up to 1m suited him well.

MAX VEGA (Ralph Beckett)

Trainer Ralph Beckett caused a stir during the coronavirus lockdown when calling for the resignation of BHA chief executive Nick Rust. He will trigger an even bigger one if he lands the Investec Derby for the first time with this cheap buy, who improved with all three runs as a juvenile. His stamina for Epsom is certainly guaranteed, given the way he romped home in the 10f Zetland Stakes on soft ground at Newmarket in October, and Beckett feels sure he will handle the Surrey track’s notorious gradients. He was a small colt last year, though, so much might depend on how well he has developed, physically, since Christmas.

MISHRIFF (John Gosden)

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I do fear that this Prince Faisal-owned son of French Guineas winner Make Believe might prove hard to place. Too good for handicaps (already rated 101) but not top-class, leaving him stranded in the twilight zone. But I have no doubt he is highly talented and very much on the upgrade, as he proved in Riyadh this winter when an eyecatching, fast-finishing second, up in class, after missing the break and needing to be scrubbed along most of the way. It took him three starts to get off the mark as a 2yo, but he was most impressive when bolting up at Nottingham, two weeks after a luckless run at Newbury. He should improve again when tackling 10f, and better ground than he has encountered so far.

PALACE PIER (John Gosden)

Although Newmarket is on his doorstep, Gosden often likes to educate his best 2yos on the slopes of Sandown, and so it was last summer with this son of his crack miler Kingman, himself a Sandown scorer back in the day. Despite looking green, the colt, who cost a massive 600,000 guineas as a yearling, showed a terrific turn of foot to win on debut and then returned to the same track to defy a 6lb penalty from the front. A minor injury scuppered his step-up in class, so connections are likely to go softly-softly with him when this term gets under way, but he is unquestionably an exciting prospect for Group contests over trips of 1m and 10f.

PIERRE LAPIN (Roger Varian)

Because he’s already mopped up a Group Two prize, defying a four-month break from his winning debut to take the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury, Varian’s colt is hardly flying under the radar. But at a time when most of the focus is on Classic contenders, he might not get the attention he deserves, given that he is earmarked instead for sprint events. If he follows in the footsteps of his half-brother, Harry Angel, who won the July Cup as a 3yo in 2017, he won’t be doing too badly. The Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, in which Harry was just touched off, is his first big target.

RIOT (John Gosden)

This Qatar Racing-owned colt, a son of Kingman, was made a short-priced favourite for all four of his runs as a 2yo, reflecting how highly he is rated at Gosden’s Clarehaven Stables. While he was beaten into second on the first three of them, in no way did he appear an ungenuine sort. He finally made the winner’s enclosure at Kempton in September when given a more patient ride, and is the type to make his mark in handicaps this term, particularly as his mark of 92 seems more than fair. Looking at his pedigree, he might even be suited to a drop from 7f to sprint trips.

SPRING OF LOVE (Charlie Appleby)

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Quite how I’ve come to include only one 3yo from Godolphin’s Newmarket yard of the brilliant Charlie Appleby is beyond me. However, I am confident that sole choice, a well-bred daughter of Invincible Spirit, is a good one. She’s been seen just once but made such an impression when winning a Rowley Mile maiden last backend that Appleby immediately nominated her for 1,000 Guineas trials this spring. Now that those trials have fallen prey to Covid-19, her road-map might be altered, but the polished way in which she travelled, quickened and ran on at HQ, despite obvious greenness, suggests she could be top-notch.


This is a real shot in the dark, given that he hasn’t seen a racecourse for almost a year. But that racecourse was Royal Ascot, and the son of Equiano (who himself triumphed twice at the royal meeting) was sent off a short-priced favourite to bag the Norfolk Stakes and, indeed, looked the winner until the furlong pole when emptying dramatically. It has never been properly explained what happened, but the colt was subsequently switched from Ireland to the stable of Varian and if the Newmarket handler can revive the form he showed before Ascot, then he may yet turn out to be a top-class sprinter. It was form that saw him effortlessly dismiss Aidan O’Brien’s Arizona, who went on to beat 2,000 Guineas fancy Threat and develop into a Group One performer.

TSAR (John Gosden)

The brilliant Kingman has become as successful in the breeding shed as he was on the racecourse, so it’s hardly surprising that this list contains several of his progeny. Like the champion 3yo of 2014, this colt is owned by Khalid Abdullah and, like his sire, he is almost certainly heading for Group-race prizes. As a 2/7 favourite, he had every right to win a modest race at Newcastle in October, but it was his display on debut in a searingly competitive maiden at Newmarket’s July meeting that marked him out as star material. Not only did he miss the break badly, he was also transferred from wide on one side of the track to the other, yet still he made telling progress from mid-race to finish a close fourth under tender handling.

WHITE MOONLIGHT (Saeed Bin Suroor)

For a trainer with such a magnificent CV, it almost beggars belief that it is now seven years since Suroor saddled a Group One winner on UK or Irish soil. He might get the opportunity to put that right in 2020 with this exciting filly, who won on each of her two starts towards the end of last season before being shipped out to Dubai for the winter. Particularly taking was her pillar-to-post success at Newmarket, which suggested she will continue to improve when tackling middle distances. Indeed her Dubawi dam is a half-sister to a St Leger winner.

WITH THANKS (Willam Haggas)

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Considering she was green at all stages of the race, from being keen early on to wandering around at the business end, no doubt buffeted about by a raging wind, Haggas’s filly did remarkably well to win on her sole 2yo outing, Defying heavy ground, she showed a tremendous attitude to reel in an odds-on favourite who had the benefit of a previous run. Targets over 1m are on her agenda, although it is a slight worry that the trainer reports “there’s not much of her”.